05 Oct A Love Letter to Guatemala
“Que Linda Guate,”
My phone illuminated as I received a WhatsApp message from a contact I had saved as….
Que Linda Guate…..
The text was only one word.
Si!!! I replied with several exclamation marks and a selfie. I was sitting on the plane that would bring me from one America to the next.
“I can see it in your eyes,” he replied.
Over the last seven days, I have had the pleasure of knowing your many sides, Guatemala.
From dusk to dawn, I have been dazzled and delighted.
And for a week now, at the beginning of each day and the end of each night, I have asked myself what I would write to you, about you, with you, for you.
The little things.
It’s always the little things I look for when I first arrive at a place.
I walk the streets to see what foods show themselves off with frequency.
I seek out wild nature and see which symbiotic relationships exist between these wonders and those that care for the land.
I ask the locals I get the good fortune of meeting about the things that matter most to them and their hearts.
The food and the forests, the people and their places – are vast and layered.
I expect this. I look forward to, even crave a vast and layered search, experience.
But sometimes, if you are lucky, a place puts a surprise in your path.
And on this trip, Guatemala, you did just that.
You gave me the gift of one person. One person who would somehow unlock an entire country for me.
His name is Jorge Aldana, a 29 year endlessly optimistic, supremely kind, creative visionary from a town called Zacapa. He runs a media platform sharing stories of hope from every corner of this country.
It’s called, appropriately, “Que Linda Guate,” which loosely translates to – “What a beautiful Guatemala.”
I had never met this man before coming to your country, with a strike of good fortune, Philip Wilson used his gift of intuition and spirit to not only help me realize the dream of this love letter but built a bridge across the Americas by connecting me to Jorge. We had a 15-minute zoom call, he sent me an itinerary that I did not look at, and a month later, together with the woman I love, we jumped on a plane. Hours later, we were picked up by Jorge. Under the roof of a 4×4 car (thank you for that, Alamo), we traversed over 1,000 kilometers of infinitely curvy highways and breathtaking views, gravel roads and potholes, lessons and laughs, and we landed here.
Together, we saw many of your sides – the known and unknown, the hidden and seen.
It’s hard to describe the power of people who come together for a short period of time to have what feels like an infinite amount of profound experiences together.
But we did.
I asked Jorge questions. And then more questions, and then more questions.
Thanks to an immense generosity of spirit and an intense love for his country, his answers were rapid yet reflective, comprehensive yet concise. I must have asked him over 100 questions, but in an unplanned, yet perfect way, 4 questions, as Guatemala has 4 capitals, really shaped my experience.
We were driving from Tecpan to Lake Atitlan when I asked him the first question.
“What do you love most about the culture here?”
Less than one second after my mouth uttered the question, he answered:
“Lo que sale de los manos de la gente,” which translates to… “That which comes from the hands of the people.”
From that moment on, all I could see was a country through the eyes of their hands;
the hands that make you, you, Guatemala.
I have tasted your tortillas before, but this was the first time I took a moment to watch the hands that rolled, stacked, and packed them onto every table at every meal.
I adore the cheer your Marimba brings to the streets of San Juan La Laguna, but my eyes were drawn to the hands that held the sticks that struck your stunning instrument.
I have admired your Güipiles, but have never had the pleasure of seeing a cooperative of 34 women at Casa Flor Ixcaco sewing a scarf with hands that work to preserve culture without sacrificing fair wages for their craft.
I’ve studied indigenous culture with deep awe and respect but was blown away when I toured the Mayan ruins and saw how entire civilizations were built using the vision of hands.
Hands that stirred the horchata, hands that rowed boats on the lake, that hugged a child, that held as lovers, hands that drove tutus and squeezed orange juice, and chopped wood. Hands that fed the dogs on the street that can’t feed themselves. Hands that caress the national flower of the Monja Blanca, hands that paint the red and green contrast of the Quetzal. Hands that build the roads that take us to each other.
The hands that make you are…. strong.
The second question happened on our first night. We stopped for dinner in San Lucas before heading to Tecpan. We ordered a Te de Jamaica, and I asked for water.
“Aqua Pura,” Jorge repeated for the server.
Is the water filtered here? I asked him.
Jorge went on to tell me about Ecofiltro, a company and social movement of which I was familiar. The CEO, Phillip Wilson, who in addition to connecting Jorge and me, and believing in the vision of this letter, is a social entrepreneur extraordinaire that I deeply respect. Jorge explained the process of how through a combination of clay, carbon, and colloidal silver, the water is purified and safe to drink. We talked about the evolution of Ecofiltro and its mission to reach 1 million families in rural Guatemala by 2025.
That’s a lot of people, I thought. And much like the hands that I could not stop seeing, I started noticing that in every corner of the country, there seemed to be beautifully decorated, vibrant, Ecofiltros. In elaborate hotel lobbies on Lake Atitlan, small cafes in pueblos, orchid sanctuaries in the jungle, conference rooms in the cities, humble homes in the campos
What I found particularly moving about this movement was that each Ecofiltro that I saw was purchased by the person or organization using it. I once heard Phillip speak and say something along the lines of people feel empowered when they purchase something, especially when they feel included in the active participation of their health and well-being. One of the most humane and empowering approaches to offering a basic human right that I have ever seen, and one of the purest examples of a future of building businesses for good.
I thought about water – how it runs through us, how it surrounds us, and how abundant it is in this country. I felt it splashing on my back as we rode a lancha from town to town on Lake Atitlan. I rinsed my face with it after a mystical walk through La Laguna Magdalena. Perhaps most spectacularly, and spectacular it is, was jumping into Sumac Champey, which literally means – where the river hides in the mountains. It contains 7 natural pools with crystal turquoise waters that invite you in beyond your wildest dreams.
If your hands are strong, your waters are healing.
The third question happened after we took a sunrise hike to the Rostro Maya. A 3:30 a.m. alarm to hike to the top of the world overlooking Atitlan was worth every second of sleep we left behind and every step we chose to climb. After our descent, and before heading to HueHueTenango, I learned more about Jorge’s work with Que Linda Guate.
What do you love most about the work you do?
That it is not about me – it’s about the people that make this country special. Stories like Alma de Colores that give professional opportunities to people with disabilities where they feel heard and seen for the first time. Or Colegio Impacto that not only offers girls from underserved communities the opportunity to get a world-class education for free but also goes the extra mile to visit the homes of these students to ensure their families are supporting their progress rather than forcing unwanted antiquated systems on them.
I heard story after story; First from Jorge, then from others that we met along the way. We ate rice and beans in a stranger’s home, we visited artists at Galeria Chiya, we talked to new friends on the bus, and with every story shared, every photo previewed, and every memory remembered, I felt it…..
or in Spanish, Orgullo.
Pride in country.
Pride in family.
Pride in diversity.
Pride in roots.
Pride in history.
I realized that there were many people in this country that were just like Jorge. People when asked why they loved what they loved, replied with an answer that had nothing to do with themselves.
If your hands are strong and your waters are healing, your pride is expansive.
And then there was the final question.
Nestled some 13,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of Huehuetengo, there is a place called Unicorno Azul. This house is home to horses that have been rescued from exploitation and also opens itself to guests who want to enjoy the rarer and rarer gift of nature’s silence. Jorge and I sat at a rustic wooden table over a few cups of hot chocolate and a single flame. It was late and I was ready to head to my room and bundle up for a good night’s sleep after a long day.
But this time, the roles were reversed, and Jorge asked me a question…..
Why do you think we believe in what we can’t see? And then take a chance that the journey there will be worth it? He asked me…..
I am going to think about that, I told him.
I woke up early the next morning and walked up a sendero. The beautiful thing about being 13,000 feet above sea level is that you get the unique chance to be above the clouds. And for a rare moment in time, as I look out at the clouds below me, I thank them for the thousands of times I’ve been able to look up to them.
As I have countless times during this week, I find myself in a state of wonder.
I wonder if the barking dogs are hungry. Or dog dreaming?
I wonder if any of the people I most love are looking at the rising sun at the same time.
I wonder what the birdsong is saying?
I wonder how many more times I will get to stand above the clouds with my bare feet on the Earth?
And then I wonder about Jorge’s question from the night before.
Why do you think we believe in what we can’t see?
And then take a chance on the journey being worth it?
As I thought about the question, I realized my answer, to the best of my ability today, is…
What I’ve seen while writing this love letter.
I think we believe in what we can’t see because it’s how we create something out of nothing with our hands.
I think we believe in what we can’t see because it’s how we bring clean water to a country in a way that makes human rights feel human again.
I think we believe in what we can’t see because we have an intrinsic truth that when we make our life about more than just ourselves, it expands in ways we can’t even imagine.
I think we believe in what we can’t see because what we want the most in life is to believe in something.
If your hands are strong, your water is healing, and your pride is expansive, then your future is hopeful.
7 days ago, on a plane 2,000 miles away from you, I received a text from a stranger that now feels like family.
Excited? He asked.
Yes, I replied.
I can see it in your eyes, he responded.
And today, these excited eyes say thank you…
Because 7 days ago, 3 words appeared on my phone.
And 7 days later, those same 3 words have shaped my heart.
Que linda, Guate.
Que linda, Guate.
Que linda, Guate.
Thanks for reading!
This letter is part of Brian Rashid’s “Love Letters to the World,” a global initiative bringing stories of hope, humanity, and connection to our world.
A huge thanks to Philip Wilson, CEO of Ecofiltro, for sponsoring my tour around Guatemala; to Jorge Aldana, founder of “Que Linda Guate,” for being such an extra mile, knowledgeable, and caring guide, and to Volcano Innovation Summit for allowing me to present this letter at their 2023 conference in Antigua, Guatemala.
If you’re a reader and would like to support my work on a one-time or ongoing basis, please visit BrianRashidGlobal.com/postage.
If you’d like to partner and collaborate on a series of love letters in your organization, city, or country, please write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, you can follow the journey on all social media platforms @BrianRashidGlobal and read the full collection of love letters at BrianRashidGlobal.com/LoveLetters
Thank you so much for being here on what is literally my dream coming true.
Oh so true!