Guatemala

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail usually takes at least two weeks to arrive. It is recommended that you arrange a system of numbering correspondence with family and friends. Once you complete training and are assigned to your site you will need to inform family and friends of your mailing address in your community. Receiving packages can be problematic as packages might be held at the central post office for pickup and customs duties will be your responsibility. Experience has shown that small padded envelopes are most likely to arrive intact.

Telephones

Trainees are assigned of cellphones in the second week of training to use throughout their service as Volunteers in Guatemala. Virtually all PCVs make long-distance international calls from their own cellular phones using pre-paid telephone cards widely available around the country. Calls to the U.S. under most cellphone plans cost less than 15 cents per minute. Most Volunteers use the Internet for non-emergency international communications. Phones brought from the U.S. may not be compatible with local networks so it is generally advisable to use your Peace Corps phone.

Internet

Internet cafés can be found in most Guatemalan cities or towns. Many Volunteers bring laptop computers with them, which they use for work or personal purposes and, via USB modems, most will have access to the Internet.

Housing and Site Location

Peace Corps staff works with your host agency and municipal leaders to locate appropriate sites and determine if the living conditions meet selection criteria established by the Peace Corps. Because of the importance of community integration, you are required to live with a host family for the duration of your Volunteer service. Privacy may at times be scarce, but experiencing day-to-day life with a Guatemalan family will hasten your cultural adaptation, language ability, and help you appreciate the lifestyle of rural Guatemalan families. Houses in large towns will likely be a cement block house with a tin or tile roof. Most households in Guatemala have a pila—a large cement sink for washing dishes and clothes, with a section for collecting water. In developed areas, you will likely have plumbing, although service may be intermittent. You may have a flush toilet or use a latrine that is separate from the house. Volunteers in rural areas may live in a house of cement or adobe, with a tin or cement roof and a tile or cement floor. Electricity is present in almost all areas.Electric current is the U.S. standard 120 volts. However, power outages are very frequent and you may come to rely on candles and lanterns.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. 

Food and Diet

Throughout Guatemala, corn tortillas and black beans are a staple. Other common foods include eggs, rice, chicken, and bread. These foods are eaten daily in most areas of Guatemala. The most common fruits and vegetables include bananas, mangos, papaya, citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, avocado, a squash called huisquil (chayote). Chicken or pork tamales are also common, in addition to a sweet rice or corn drink called atol. Small local stores that stock snacks, sodas, and staples. Traditional outdoor markets, where you can find fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, clothing, and household items are open on a regular basis in central towns and are always open in main cities. In larger cities, you will also find supermarkets, where you can purchase nonperishable items and imported goods. Volunteers take advantage of the opportunity to stock up spices, peanut butter, and pasta when visiting larger cities. Being a vegetarian as a Volunteer is not difficult. In many of the poorer areas meat is rarely eaten. However, meat is prepared on special occasions and there will likely be situations when meat is offered to you. Many Volunteers have successfully served as vegetarians and you will need to find appropriate strategies to deal with these situations.

Transportation

Peace Corps/Guatemala has implemented a comprehensive, strict transportation and travel policy for trainees and Volunteers. Transportation and travel risks are some of the more serious safety and security concerns you will face while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Because of safety and security concerns, Peace Corps/Guatemala prohibits travel on some public intercity bus routes and has travel restrictions in place for various regions of the country. Some of these policies require use of specified transportation methods, avoidance of restricted travel zones, travel only in daylight-hours, and use of approved hotels and hostels. Volunteers must obtain advance authorization prior to traveling to Guatemala City or outside of designated geographic areas and must comply with travel and transportation policies. In general, Guatemala has extensive and relatively cheap transportation in major urban areas and relatively good access in some rural areas. Volunteers often travel around their sites for work activities on foot, in the company of other community members or work colleagues. For local travel, Volunteers usually ride in vans or “chicken buses” (U.S. school buses painted and outfitted with racks to haul supplies and sometimes animals). In other areas, pickup trucks provide transportation to villages on a regular basis instead of a bus. Sometimes, you may arrange for a ride with someone you know who has a car or pickup. For long distances on major routes, there are “Pullmans,” which are similar to Greyhound buses and provide a more comfortable and secure ride at a higher fee. In some rural areas, there may be only one bus in and out of your site daily leaving in the morning and returning in the afternoon. The Peace Corps/Guatemala transportation policy will guide you on the safest and approved routes and transportation methods. Volunteers should always use the safest transportation method available. Volunteers have to take the time to plan their official and leisure trips out of their sites, using the safest transport within their budget.

Social Activities

There are three prominent aspects of rural social life in Guatemala. The first has to do with the religious celebrations of the community and families. Births, confirmations, coming-of-age ceremonies, communions, marriages, and funerals are themes for the celebration of life. Funerals, in particular, are the recognition of the accomplishments and thoughts of the departed. The second aspect of social life in rural Guatemala centers on the market, which is far more than a place to buy needed goods. The market is the place to meet and visit with people to exchange news and have discussions. The third facet of social life is inter-community competition. Winning a soccer game against a neighboring community, or even losing, creates a sense of solidarity and identity. For most Volunteers, getting involved with sporting events and activities is the easiest way to integrate fully into the community.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

What constitutes appropriate dress for work will vary depending on the type of work you will be doing. Except in tourist areas and a few locations near the coast, men do not wear shorts or sandals. Pants or jeans with a clean button-down shirt, polo, or nice T-shirt are common for work and casual wear. Tattoos and any type of piercings on men are associated with drug dealers and gang members. Male volunteers must be prepared to remove piercings and cover tattoos. Long hair is uncommon for men and having your hair neat and worn in an acceptable style is required and allows for greater integration. Any type of military-style clothing (e.g., camouflage) is strictly prohibited because of association with the civil war. You will be expected to adjust your appearance, if necessary, to accommodate the above standards. Women in Guatemala tend to take pride in their appearance and “dress up.” Female Volunteers usually wear dresses, skirts, pants, or jeans, with short-sleeved or modest sleeveless blouses in hotter climates. Shorts, bare shoulders, and tank tops should be avoided.