Mother from Limitless Horizons Ixil artisan program with daughter in the town of Chajul
It takes a lot of guts to uproot a life you are so comfortable with in the US and move to a new country – so first off, we’re impressed. Tell us what motivated you to move to Guatemala?
Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala's second-largest city
Describe how you were feeling the first day you arrived to Guatemala.
Youth scholar from Limitless Horizons Ixil in traditional dress from Chajul, Guatemala
What has been your biggest challenge since you arrived to your new home?
Describe a typical day in your Guatemalan life.
Every day is different! It's one thing I love about life here—people are always doing different things, and they really go with the flow. I try to start every day with a few minutes of yoga and meditation, and then my boyfriend and I cook breakfast of eggs with veggies and coffee. From there, its always different. Usually at some point I go into town to buy things, and end up chatting with friends I run into on the street. Often I'll drop by TinteMaya, the women's weaving cooperative I work with, to check in on a customer order or just see what's going on, and I spend a few hours working from my computer most days. The house we just moved to has a fire-burning sauna, which is a traditional Maya way of bathing, so we've started to do that most nights before we go to bed.
Woman from sunny Sacapulas, Guatemala
Where do you live in Guatemala? Any specific communities you would recommend for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I live in San Juan, la Laguna, which I love because it is on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlán and the community is really organized at the grassroots level to promote social welfare. For example, it is full of cooperatives of women weavers. There are a ton of NGO's in Guatemala, so people looking to do service work can find lots of opportunities. Most are around Antigua, around the lake (where I am), or in Xela, which is also a great spot—a very cool cosmopolitan city, but not a huge city. It's the second biggest in Guatemala. I think if I didn't live here, I would want to live there.
What would be your advice to someone who is considering a move to a new country?
People often say things to me like, "I wish I could do that!" and I just want to tell them, "you can!" I had a lot of things holding me back but I knew it was the right move for me. If its right for you, nothing should hold you back. And if it's not right for you, stop daydreaming and be present for your life. I know that's easier said than done, and it's hard to be patient with yourself when things are unclear, but it's a practice—life is all about learning how to live.an done, and it's hard to be patient with yourself when things are unclear, but it's a practice—life is all about learning how to live.
Weaver in TinteMaya cooperative, San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala
Describe your favorite day since you moved to Guatemala.
The first nonprofit I worked for here provided scholarships to youth in a small village. Every year they take a field trip in a big chicken bus—which is a school bus from the U.S. that gets taken to Guatemalan and painted in bright colors, souped up with a big new engine and tires for mountain roads, and used for public transportation. The year I worked for them, all the youth and our entire team piled into a rented chicken bus (we were so many people we had to put little benches all up and down the aisle), and rode 2 hours down the mountain to a little town with hot weather called "Sacapulas", to a center with swimming pools and sports courts. Our team worked so hard all year, and so did the kids—they came from poor families and had to struggle to help their families while fulfilling school responsibilities—but that day, everyone let loose and played like we were all little kids.
Is it expensive to live in Guatemala?
Not at all. At my highest earning period during my time here, I was making $1000 a month and spending all of that, but I was also living in Antigua, which is an expensive tourist town. Now I maybe spend half of that a month, unless I travel or splurge.
View of Lake Atitlán from San Marcos la Laguna
What do you to make a living and afford your life?
Well, having a low cost of living and my savings in USD helps a lot. It means I don't have a ton of financial pressure in my life and can work freelance even if that means the income is inconsistent. At the moment I'm doing a combination of communications work for local NGO's and fair trade sourcing for customers like Sunshine Tienda that want to be able to offer unique goods direct from artisans—I've worked with several artisan organizations during my time here. I also help TinteMaya, the weaving cooperative in San Juan I've worked closely with for two years, publicize their products and workshops, which overlaps nicely with the sourcing work.
If you do something from your computer you can do remotely, living in a place like Guatemala with a low cost of living and making even a modest income in USD is a pretty great set up—I've known a few people who do that. I've also known a lot of people who do the Peace Corps or take a job with a non-profit that offers a stipend commensurate to a Guatemalan salary (like I did my first year here). You can live that way, but it helps to have some savings so you can travel and splurge every once in awhile.
Danielle, thank you for sharing your incredible life with us! We are excited to see where our partnership take us!