category: Jims Guatemala

Oftentimes, I fall into the trap of thinking that the way we live is the only way Americans live in Guatemala. Last week, however, I saw a glimpse of the other side.

Remember Mark, the fellow who started the heated debate back when Emily posted about teaching family planning methods? At the time, I was pretty irked that someone would start such a fracas on MY piece of the internet turf, and I was on the verge of deleting his comments when calmer heads (Emily) prevailed. “We’re about open dialog here, remember?” she said. “We can’t just sensor people.” She then asked that he tone it down a bit, and he did. What you didn’t see behind the scenes is that we then started a rather cordial conversation via email. Taking a hint from one of my Mormon friends, I decided we really need to just have dinner with the guy, to see what he’s really about. Upon hearing the suggestion, he raised the ante with the offer to buy us drinks or make us dinner at his house, our choice. All we had to do was get to Antigua.

Last week, we finally got the chance to hear his story.

Mark is a former investment banker, turned entrepreneur. Last year he saw the economy turning sour, so he packed up his bags and family, sold his house, and moved to Antigua Guatemala. Some people think that Emily and I live a pretty “extreme” lifestyle, what with washing dishes in the stream, pooping in a hole, living in a wooden clubhouse, things like that. But Mark has outdone us in an entirely different way. I can’t imagine putting 10 kids on a bus from Arizona to Mexico, then on to Guatemala, with not even a house lined up to put them in.

Did I mention he has 10 kids? I was a little shocked at first (he’s the same age as me), but when we met them, they were all polite and friendly, and the entire family welcomed us into their home. And it was a home unlike any I’d seen in Guatemala before: a little gated suburban community with carefully manicured yards, screens in the windows, a kitchen with a stainless steel sink set into a tile countertop. Of course, it still had a few nods to Guatemala, like the 10 foot high concrete wall around the yard and the armed guard outside, things like that.

His wife Sara is equally friendly, and told us stories of their Guatemalan life as she made us a VERY tasty dinner of chicken stir fry and biscuits. Sara doesn’t speak much Spanish, so she doesn’t get out much… not like she has the time to anyways, since she feeds, cares for, and home-schools 10 kids. They have a three-person household staff to help with things like washing clothes and getting groceries from the market.

Mark spends his time researching existing businesses to invest in, such as the RumBar restaurant in Antigua; as well as creating new ones, such as importing old Mercedes sedans and hiring Guatemalan drivers for his new taxi/shuttle service.

In all, we had a wonderful evening chatting with people who are intresting and NOTHING like us in a great many ways. I guess that is what makes life fun, right? It also amazes me that two American families can come to Guatemala and have such different experiences. If you want to read more about Mark and his Guatemalan adventures, you can check out his blog at

Posted by: jfanjoy