Guatemala has not had a functioning national postal service since 2016. Private courier services can be utilized if needed at the cost of the individual Volunteer. Volunteers maximize the use of electronic communication with friends and family and purchase needed items on the local market.
Trainees are assigned basic cellphones and cellphone plans during their Training Orientation to use throughout their service as Volunteers in Guatemala. This is an important communication tool for Volunteers and Staff. Additional airtime or internet credit is easy to obtain by going to any store or supermarket. 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. need to be unlocked to accept a SIM card in order to be compatible with local networks.
Most Volunteers bring laptop computers with them, which they use for work and personal purposes. Internet is available through WIFI modems or cellular phone data plans.
Housing and Site Location
Peace Corps staff works with your host agency and local leaders to locate appropriate sites in which living conditions meet selection criteria established by the Peace Corps. Because community integration enhances the quality of volunteer’s experience, you will 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 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 town centers, you will likely have plumbing, although water 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 with a tin or cement roof and a tile or cement floor. Electricity is present in all areas. However, power outages are frequent and you may come to rely on candles and lanterns. Electric current is the U.S. standard 120 volts.
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 are preferable to cash. It is important for Volunteers to maintain a US bank account open for the duration for service as Peace Corps will process end of service readjustment allowance to that account.
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. There are 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 on spices, peanut butter, or imported ingredients when visiting larger cities. Being a vegetarian as a Volunteer is not difficult. In many of the less developed 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 navigate these situations in a culturally appropriate manner. Volunteers will learn how to identify food sources that have less chance of contamination as well as how to disinfect water and produce products during the pre-service training period.
Peace Corps/Guatemala has implemented a comprehensive transportation and travel policy for trainees and Volunteers that limits travel in the country. 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 inexpensive transportation in major urban areas and relatively good access in 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.
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 these local activities is the easiest way to integrate fully into your community.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
During service Volunteers are representatives of the US Peace Corps. Through appropriate dress Volunteers can demonstrate professionalism and respect for cultural norms. The clothing may vary depending on the project work, however local work partners and project staff can orient you to what is most appropriate for different situations. For men, pants or jeans with a clean button-down shirt, polo, or nice T-shirt are common for work and casual wear. 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. Tattoos and any type of piercings on men are associated with drug dealers and gang members. Male volunteers must remove piercings and cover tattoos. . Female Volunteers usually wear knee length or longer dresses/skirts, pants, or jeans, with short-sleeved or modest sleeveless blouses in hotter climates. Women in professional spaces in Guatemala opt for more conservative dress and therefore shorts, bare shoulders, mini-skirts, and tank tops are not appropriate for work or life in the community. Women are expected to cover tattoos in public and remove any visible piercings other than ear piercings.
Volunteers will also need to learn about the local culture, norms and behaviors and find ways to adjust to the local community norms. This modification of behaviors is a key to intercultural competency and allows Volunteers to demonstrate respect for local conditions and beliefs. For some Volunteers, these adjustments may be more difficult than others based on personal identities, life experience or relinquishing independence. However, they are fundamental in maintaining the professional reputation of the Volunteer and Peace Corps in the country. Some examples of behaviors include using alcohol in moderation and in private contexts, refraining from smoking tobacco in public, adapting to local norms around friendships and intimate partner relationships, and selecting leisure activities. It is critical that all Volunteers recognize that all use of illegal drugs including marijuana, is strictly prohibited by the Peace Corps and all drugs are illegal in Guatemala. Volunteers who utilize drugs will not be able to continue in service and can face legal prosecution in Guatemala under local law.