Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Define "Third World"

"The term "Third World" arose during the Cold War and it was used to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO or the Warsaw Pact." 

"Since most Third World countries were economically poor and non-industrialized, it became a stereotype to refer to developing countries as "third-world countries".

"Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the term Third World has decreased in use. It is being replaced with terms such as developing countriesleast developed countries or the Global South."


Our driver and tour guide for four of the seven days in Guatemala called himself Tony.  Tony's ready laugh, his excellent English (with timely detours into Spanish when only I was meant to understand a comment) and the prodigious knowledge of Guatemalan culture, history and tradition endeared him to the whole family, particularly Daniel. Tony's omnipresent Panama hat covered a head full of information and occasional shocking anecdotes.

Daniel and I sat in close proximity on the bench seat in our rental van through hours of jolting through the countryside, and I watched covertly as my son digested the latest history lesson. If the information had come from me, he would have tuned it out, but when Tony offered it, mixed with jokes, asides and "look over there!" interruptions, Daniel absorbed it hook, line and sinker.

One of the phrases that Daniel picked up on our trip was "third world" and he used it in his guest essay about our trip. When I read his paper, I had a vague sense of unease that the term was no longer politically correct, and did a few minutes of research (as evidenced by the above notes from Wikipedia.) I told Daniel that he should correct the phrase - which he promptly did not do - and now I'm motivated by a wavering fog of guilt and OCD need-for-accuracy to retract the phrase.

I confess that I did not do exhaustive research prior to writing this; I'm only going to excerpt portions of Tony's history lessons here. There are many similarities between this history and the histories of a legion of other countries in the beautiful and resource-rich global South. Guatemalan timeline according to Tony:

First: the Spanish came to Guatemala through Mexico - and with the help of indigenous Mexican tribes - in the 1500s.

The Spanish colonized Guatemala, converted the residents to Catholicism (forcibly when needed), built Catholic churches on top of Mayan pyramids, brought new traditions, foods, and ways of life to the country.

Second: Guatemala gained independence from Spain in 1821, but 200+ years of colonialism lingered and the country's developmental path did not run smoothly.

Third: United Fruit Company (formed in 1899) dug its claws into Guatemala to produce fruit - specifically bananas - and ship them for profit to customers in America. Such were the deep interests of United Fruit that the American government involved itself in Guatemalan politics and deposed a democratically-elected leader in the 1950's (he was ostensibly 'soft on communism') to protect United Fruit's interests. Here enter the phrases "banana republic" and "blood for bananas."

Fourth: This governmental interference led to Guatemala's 30-year civil war in which one faction was backed by the Soviets and one by the United States. Many civilians died as collateral damage, particularly innocent indigenous people (Mayan) in the interior.

As I listened to Tony, horror occasionally gripped me at the injustices perpetrated on its people by European and American governments. We have all heard the story before, not only in Guatemala but in Haiti, South Africa, and many countries wrung out and ripped apart by the global North. I pulled Tony aside in Antigua, after we emerged from a church, and confessed to being embarrassed by my country's role in their problems.  He touched my shoulder and shook his head: "No, Laura," he said. "We all have both the good and the bad. We need to focus now on the good, work together to fix our problems." I have a feeling that correcting the term "third world" isn't enough.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Guest blog: Guatemala

Today I have a guest blogger - my son Daniel, who turned 18 on our adventure-filled trip to Guatemala. Daniel was born in Guatemala and came to our family in the US when he was 23 months old. Here are his thoughts on our recent trip, which was his first return to the country of his birth. Take it away, Daniel!

"When you think of Guatemala, you may think that it's a third-world (better phrased "developing") country that's filled with poverty. This is not the case. Guatemala is a beautiful land with vibrant people. Our tour guide, Tony, was a perfect example of this.  

I was blessed with a chance to visit my birth country of Guatemala this month. Guatemala is a country with a rich history, from Mayan traditions to being the five - times - running international champions of rum! Guatemala has it all and the trip was filled with adventures and knowledge.

We started by visiting the Pacaya Volcano, one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala. At the top we got souvenirs that included pieces of lava rock from the previous eruptions of the past decade. The next stop was the beautiful city of Antigua, which is one of four UNESCO world heritage sites in Guatemala (although Coca Cola was nearly responsible for getting Antigua removed from this list because they put their logo on sponsored improvements!) This city is filled with rich cultural history, especially during Holy Week (Semana Santa), where there are processions and colorful sawdust carpets lining the streets.

Soon after we headed to Lake Atitlan, which is hailed as one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America. This body of water is located within a volcanic crater created from an explosion nearly 84,000 years ago. It has a depth of 340 meters. We went across it by boat to visit San Juan la Laguna, and we stayed near Panajachel. Those are two of the 11 villages surrounding Atitlan. In San Juan la Laguna the streets were lined with vibrant colors and art, with music playing as you walked down certain streets.

Our next stop was the city of Chichicastenango, at 7,000 feet elevation, which is known for its famous markets (Thursdays and Sundays). On Palm Sunday the streets were filled with food, clothes and just about anything you could sell. Everywhere you looked you could see petite women in traditional Mayan clothing and men carrying huge loads of products.

Finally, our last stop was the Mayan Temple complex of Tikal, which contains ancient Mayan pyramids in a subtropical Guatemala jungle. The jungle was full of beautiful trees and wildlife, from howler monkeys to peanut-headed butterflies. Every temple was majestic and giant; they were built to show power and wealth. Tikal is also famous for being in 18 seconds of "Star Wars: A New Hope."  

Guatemala is a land that I'm lucky to call home. It's been through a lot but has a sense of hope and community as it continues to thrive and provide unforgettable memories, rich scenery and traditions.