Prevention and cure: Dealing with mildew

Ok, so we spent a few days getting settled in to our apartment in Guatemala before heading off to the states for a visit. Right before we left, my dear husband closed the windows and the doors to our room, and sprayed some bug spray to try and keep any curious bugs away. We thought we were set for six weeks of traveling in the states!

Little did we know that for those six weeks the humidity in the highlands of Guatemala would continue to climb and our nicely closed up rooms would become giant growth chambers for mildew and mold!

Sure enough when we arrived back from our visit stateside, our bedroom welcomed us with the dank scent of mildew. Our clothes were damp, our pillows discolored and the musty smell was almost deafening. Yes, it hit our senses so hard we almost lost our hearing! Continue reading

US Citizen born in Guatemala = Paperwork

If you’re an expatriate and you’re having a baby in Guatemala, be ready for some paperwork. It takes work, but it’ll be worth it.

As new missionaries in this beautiful country, we moved to Guatemala while we were pregnant and started getting all the advice we could on what paperwork we needed for our baby. Here are some of the things we learned…

Step 1: Schedule a US Embassy appointment

If you’re anywhere within three months of the birth go to the US Embassy website and set up an appointment for a couple weeks after the due date.  (UPDATE: As of(May 2014 the US embassy in Guatemala  now only opens appointments about one month prior to the appointment date. So you’ll have to check in about a month ahead of the date you want.) These appointments fill up and it can be very difficult to get in if you don’t get something scheduled early. You can change it if you have to, but better to have the appointment scheduled than to find out you can’t get an appointment for two or three months after the baby  is born when you may be wanting to travel.

TIP: I think you could probably have your spouse sign up so you have two dates to chose from. Then just cancel the appointment you don’t want! Continue reading

Residency papers for expatriates in Guatemala

As new missionaries in Guatemala, we needed to get our residency papers so we didn’t have to leave for Mexico every six months and still be legal in Guatemala. Here are some of the things we wish we had known when we were going through the paperwork process for residency after we moved to Guatemala.

U.S. Paperwork prep

Read on, but get the following papers together so you can impress your lawyer and get things moving quickly:

  • Complete copy of your passport
    • Yep, even the blank pages and the full cover
  • U.S. Embassy validated copy of passport at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala
    • WARNING: This may be the U.S. Embassy but validation takes time. Get there before 12 noon and you can probably get it at 2:30 that afternoon. Get there in the afternoon and you’ll have to go back the next day. Oh, and each validated copy will cost you US$50. They do accept credit cards if you don’t have the cash.
  • Criminal background check (This must be less than 6 months old when you turn it in and will require you to get things done in the U.S. so plan accordingly.)
  • These may not be necessary but are recommended to have ready:
    • Birth Certificates
    • Marriage Licenses
  • Legalize it all…

NOTE: If your US passport is going to expire in the next year, I recommend that you get to Guatemala and immediately apply for a passport renewal BEFORE you start this process. (It only takes about 10 days to get your new passport from the embassy.) I had to go back through part of the process since my passport expired shortly after we got the permanent visa stamp. Keep your old passport to show the entry date to the immigration office.

Guatemalan Residency Visa Options

According to our lawyer  and other sites there are three main long-term residency visa options (not including student, diplomatic, etc.) Since we just had our baby here in Guatemala, we opted for the Parents of Guatemalan child option. While others are available, I have listed three main options here: Continue reading

New baby papers in Guatemala

U.S. citizens who live abroad need to get their paperwork right when they have babies abroad. Here’s how we got our Guatemalan birth certificate and passport after our son was born in Guatemala.

Before you go

Before go to get your baby’s papers,  you need to get your papers together. We went all out because we knew we’d need to get our Residency Papers filed later so we  had more than required. Here’s what we needed in 2011 when it came to getting our son’s birth certificate and Guatemalan passport.

  • Actual Passports of parents
  • For birth certificate: copy of both parents passport ID pages and covers
  • For Passport: copy of both parents passport ID pages and entry stamp page
  • Birth information page from your midwife or doctor

We also needed to pay several fees at BANRURAL, the national bank where you can pay for taxes and fees for your paperwork. Often there are BANRURAL locations near the paperwork offices, but you can go to any BANRURAL to pay for the following:

  • Boleto De Ornato (30Q)
  • Passport fee (231.60Q)

Here’s how the process worked for us…

We went to the San Cristobal RENAP (Registro Nacional de las Personas) office because it was nearby, but they said we could not file for our son’s birth certificate outside of the district he was born in unless we could show a utility bill from the San Cristobal district that has our name on it or by brining our landlord with us to prove that we live in San Cristobal.  Since we couldn’t do any of these, we had to head into Guatemala City to the Central RENAP office to get the birth certificate. You should be able to go to the RENAP in the municipality or district where your child was born without any trouble. Continue reading

Natural childbirth in Guatemala


Chrisi at the Chichicastenango municipal sign

Pregnant and moving to Guatemala

On January 28th of 2011, we moved to Guatemala to serve as missionaries when we were six months pregnant (about 25 weeks) with our first son. We wanted to have our son naturally, and we very quickly found out that this would be a bit difficult. With C-section rates at 80% in the private hospitals in Guatemala, we realized that we needed an alternative in order to have the birth we wanted.

For months we’d been preparing, reading and learning about giving birth

Download a free book on Healthy pregnancy (52 Brilliant Ideas) from Amazon!
Other books we found helpful as we prepared for our little one are:

Ok, Back to Guatemal…we started checking our options. We were studying Spanish in Xela so we checked out an APROFAM public clinic that has a birthing center, but it still wasn’t what we were looking for.  We did have an ultrasound and bloodwork done at APROFAM and every thing was looking great!

BabyBjorn Travel Light


In Xela we prepped the baby’s bed by buying 5-inch mattress foam and cutting it to fit inside our BABYBJÖRN Travel Crib. We used three pieces and had them covered with regular sheet material we had purchased at Megapaca. A sastre or sewing guy, made the mattress cases with a zipper for us so we can change them as needed. The new mattresses gave 15 inches of lift to the modified play pen so our baby would be at a bassinet level and we can lower it as he gets bigger. Continue reading

The midwife option for natural birth in Guatemala



Family at clinic

Centro De Parto Natural

While Mayan midwives or comadronas are common across the countryside of Guatemala, finding an English-speaking midwife in Guatemala can be difficult. As best as we can tell, we found the only American-trained, English-speaking midwife in Guatemala City when we found Hannah Friewald at the Centro De Parto Natural where she specializes in water births and has one of the only, if not the only, water birth centers in all of Central America.

Hannah’s Story

Initial newborn exam

Hannah is from Germany where home births are the norm. She has been around it her whole life and also speaks perfect English. She trained in the States through Maternidad La Luz in El Paso, Texas and is also certified in Guatemala (which can be an important thing if your international medical insurance only gives coverage for certified medical care).

Hannah has worked as a midwife for years and has attended some 1,400 births as of May 2011. She said that she has never lost a baby and even told of a couple breech babies she has delivered and some v-bac babies she has delivered, along with a couple emergency situations. She has delivered babies for the ambassadors of a couple different European countries here in Guatemala and seems to keep a full schedule. Continue reading

San Carlos University Desfile Bufo Parade (Huelga de Dolores)

Masked studentsEvery year, students from the public San Carlos Universityof Guatemala  (Universidad San Carlos De Guatemala) gather for the Desfile Bufo…a time of student drinking, extortion and rants about public officials.

Students take a week or so off of classes right aroundThe parade in action!

Semana Santa (in 2011 it was the week plus a few days prior to Semana Santa) and on the parade day (also called the “Huelga de Dolores” parade)  they take to the streets dressed in masks that look like colorful Ku Klux Klan outfits or Halloween costumes. Continue reading

The Quetzaltenango to Tapachula Visa Run

When your 90-day tourist visa is about to run out for Guatemala. It’s time to visit Mexico!

Border marker for Mexico-Guatemala international border

OK, so you’re a student from Europe, Canada, or the U.S. and you’re studying Spanish in (Xela) Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. When you entered Guatemala you received a 90 day tourist visa, but that’s not long enough to really get the language down. Before your 90 days are up you need to renew your visa in the capital, Guatemala City (about 4.5-5 hours away) or you can get a fresh new visa good for 90 days by leaving the country. Time to head to Tapachula, Mexico!

Why Mexico?

At the end of 90 days you will need an extension or a new stamp in your passport to legally remain in Guatemala. That’s why you’ll need to go to Mexico. Some people say they require you to be gone for 48 hours, but we found that by leaving on Saturday and returning on Monday, we were able to gt the stamps we needed without any problems. Continue reading

APROFAM Medical Clinic in Quetzaltenango

Are you an expatriate looking for a women’s health clinic in (Xela) Quetzaltenango, Guatemala? Maybe you’re a Spanish school student, missionary, or traveler needing some extra medical attention.

We moved to Xela for Spanish school and we also happened to be pregnant so we checked out the APROFAM (Asociacion Pro Bienestar de la Familia) Clinic. Since we were looking for a place to have our baby in Guatemala. Here’s what we thought…

Especially for women,  APROFAM provides a full-service clinic and mini-hospital complete with multiple in-house surgeons, doctors, overnight rooms and birthing facilities.

This clinic is part of a nation-wide clinic service and offers an all around good choice for locals and expatriates as well. Located on 3 Calle 7-02 Zona 1 in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, APROFAM is just a few blocks from Parque Central (Central Park) just off of octava avenida (8th Ave.) Phone: 7765-3886 Continue reading

Guatemala’s Romeo and Juliet — The Story of Vanushka

The grave stone of Vanushka Cardena Barajas, the young gypsy who died of a broken heart.

Here’s the story of Vanushka Cardena Barajas roughly based on the tale told to me by a Spanish-speaking guide at the cemetery in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and other sources I could find. Legend says it happened about 1927 though details are not verified.  Recently, the Guatemalan songwriter Alvaro Aguilar wrote a song dedicated to Vanushka.

Vanushka was a young Roma/Gypsy woman when she moved with her family from eastern Europe (possibly Hungary) to Guatemala. They traveled the country performing in a circus to make money and because entertainment was the trade they knew. When they were in Quetzaltenango (also called Xela) they settled in and promoted their circus.

A statue of Vanushka lies on her tomb in the El Calvario Cemetery in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

One evening a young man, who we will call Javier for his name has not survived the years, arrived at the circus tent. Javier was from a wealthy family, (some say he was the son of a Spanish ambassador) and that night he visited the circus with some of his friends. He was handsome and something about the way he carried himself among his peers caught the eye of one of the performers, Vanushka. She was observing the crowd from off stage until it came time to take her spot in the ring.  That night Vanushka’s performance was better than ever and her beauty and skill caught the eyes of everyone in the crowd, but no one was so captured as the wealthy young man.

After the performance, the Javier saw Vanushka leave from a side entrance and he rushed away from his confused friends as he made his way around the tent to try and speak with this beautiful girl. He did catch up with her and they talked the entire night as they walked around and around the circus tent.  As dawn broke they said farewell and promised to see each other at the performance that night.

This continued for several days and at the end of the week, they had confessed their love for each other and were trying to figure out how to share their new-found love with their families. Her family had already seen the blossom of love on her face as she watched the stands for this striking young man and no one could miss seeing them walking hand in hand as they circled the tent each night.

The fourth  night of the performance in Xela, Javier was joined by his father as he went to the circus. Javier’s family had started to suspect that something was happening since their son was hardly sleeping and had that dreamy look in his eye of a lovestruck youth.

It didn’t take Javier’s father long to realize that this match would never work, for their families were so different and came from such different backgrounds and there were so many wonderful plans he had for his son. Father and mother tried to talk Javier out of love, but nothing seemed to work. They reminded him of his education, his station in life and his responsiblities that just would not fit when combined with this wandering daughter of a circus master.

Despite their attempts at reason, Javier was convinced that Vanushka was the one for him. Out of desperation, Javier was ordered to leave for Spain the next day to spend four years in university there.

The Vanushka tomb showing Vanushka holding a photo of her beau.

That night Javier wept as he bade Vanushka farewell. She was heartbroken and clung to him as he was torn from her arms by his valet whom his parents had demanded he take with him. That morning he left in a carriage for the coast to catch a ship to Spain for what he imagined would be the worst four years of his life. Sadly, he was only slightly incorrect.

For days Vanushka wept in her tent. Her mother could not console her and even her father’s demands were not enough to get her to eat. Slowly, the beautiful Vanushka became strained and pale. One night only a few weeks after Javier left. Vanushka slipped into a troubled sleep that slowly calmed to a deathly pale.

As her mother kept watch by her bedside, Vanushka gave a shudder and weak sob as a tear streamed down her pale cheek. Then her hand went limp and she breathed the long shallow sigh of death from a broken heart.

The entire gypsy family wept for Vanushka as they carried her lace draped casket through the streets and to the Calvario Cemetery where they laid her in a tomb.

People still write on Vanushka's tomb hoping to have their distant loved one restored.

Although people debate whether she died because of the distance between them or because they were kept apart by their families, most people in Xela agree that she died of a broken heart.

As legend has it, a young woman heard

the story of Vanushka’s sorrow and went to her tomb to weep for she had a similar separation between the man she loved and herself. Soon, they were reunited and the tale grew into one that says that one who visits Vanushka’s tomb and leaves flowers or writes a note on the tomb will be reunited with their love.

The dedication information on Vanushka's Statue placed on her tomb February 14, 2011

While there is  only a little evidence for Vanushka’s story here, there is clear evidence that many people still visit Vanushka’s tomb and leave both flowers and notes. In fact, in February 2011, a new statue was placed on her previously simple tomb depicting the lovesick girl in repose with a photo of her beau in her hand.

If you want to visit Vanushka’s tomb for yourself, you can find it when you enter the Quetzaltenango Calvario cemetery. Once you get through the gate, the tomb is just off the main path to the left of the entrance. It’s kind of tucked behind the first couple of large tombs, but if you walk around them you’ll find it. If you have difficulty, ask around and someone will surely help you!