Monday, April 19, 2010

The Silent Genocide in Guatemala

Okay, enough about Belgian frites and waffles. Time to get back to the serious stuff.

In between working full-time and my graduate studies, I decided to take a little vacation.

Destination: Guatemala.

In February, I traveled to Guatemala City on my own where I volunteered through the organization, Cross Cultural Solutions. In addition to helping create a computer room for children in a school, I had the opportunity to play with the children while experiencing the culture all in a short week. And with minimal knowledge of Spanish. I was a source of entertainment for the children as I failed miserably at speaking their language.

A week was not enough to absorb the full essence of Guatemala but for what little time I had, it was an amazing experience. The volcanic and mountainous landscape was phenomenal, the people were friendly and warm despite the language barrier and the hospitality of my home-base manager was endearing.

The country has one of the most unequal economic distributions within the western hemisphere according to the World Bank and over fifty percent of the population live in poverty. Guatemala City, its capital, is adorned with vibrant colored buildings that are contrasted with stiff coils of barbed wire and cold steel bars on windows. Antigua, the country's former capital, offers more antiquity with its cobble-stone streets and beautiful churches.

Three of Guatemala's most popular volcanoes: Agua, Fuego and Acatenango

The streets of Antigua

A Mayan woman making traditional coffee

Despite the reality of poverty, I still found myself getting lost in the charm of the people and quickly adjusting to what Guatemalans referred to as "Latin American time" which offered a welcomed break from the rigid precision I am used to in my everyday life here in the States. But just as I found myself easing into Guatemala, I was reminded of the turbulent past the country has had, learning surprising details about a genocide I had never heard about.

I was aware of the Civil War that raged on for over thirty years from 1960-1996 but was clueless to the Mayan genocide that took place during it. As I sat down to hear about the country's history from the guest speaker that came to talk to the volunteers, I was completely caught off guard by the information and testimonies that were presented.

The war, fought between the government and insurgents, was sparked by a military takeover and civil unrest. The Guatemalan military targeted the country's Mayan population, claiming they were an internal enemy with a communist plot to take over the government. Over 200,000 Mayans were killed or disappeared in the conflict with the peak of violence occurring between 1982-1983. The stories of men, women and children being tortured and raped were horrifying.

Despite the atrocities that occurred, it was not until 1999 that the genocide gained attention, when the Commission for Historical Clarification in Guatemala released its report, "Memory of Silence." In the report it was revealed that the United States gave money and training to Guatemalan military who carried out acts of genocide.

President Clinton apologized for the U.S.'s role in the genocide, noting, "We are determined to remember the past but never repeat it." How ironic that five years prior in 1994, history had already repeated itself yet again in Rwanda.

Discrimination against Mayans is still prevalent today in Guatemala. Despite their contributions to the country's rich history, they are still looked upon as inferior people and it is a struggle for them to maintain their indigenous roots and lifestyle.

Below is a video with more in-depth information about the Mayan genocide in Guatemala.

Guatemala - La Cama Massacre from Suneil Singh on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Belgian Frites by Saus

Yes, shame on me, I've been MIA again. It's amazing how much time work and grad school take.

But I digress. And I'm going to get off topic even more. But it's my blog so I can.

I wanted to spread the word about a little endeavor by one of my friends. Coming soon to Boston is Saus, a Belgian street food restaurant specializing in traditional Belgian pommes frites and Belgian waffles with dipping sauces for both. Because I'm a food enthusiast and I'm so proud of the progress my friend and her business partners have made, I wanted to give a shout-out from the virtual rooftop.

Check out their coverage in the Boston Globe and their humorous blog that follows the (mis)adventures of opening a restaurant in Boston.

It's good stuff. And the Boston Globe article talks about their use of social see, my post isn't completely off topic.

If you're in the city, be on the lookout for this place.