The posh and the poor: Duality in San Marcos la Laguna

posh and poor in guatemala

Last Updated on April 21, 2023 by Ellen

A small boy asked in broken English, “For me? You buy?” He pointed at a six-inch clear plastic bag of chopped up coconut with a slice of lime on the top. He wanted us to buy him food. He looked about six or seven years old, or maybe he was older – he could have been malnourished. He wanted us – strangers to him – to buy him food. He was that hungry, and it is obvious we are not starving.

We were standing at a man’s temporary fruit and nut stand when the boy had approached. He was with another boy who was shy and didn’t ask for food right away, but he also wanted a bag of coconut.

Right across the street from where we stood, there was a “whole food” store – organic this and that, specialty drinks and foods at high prices, with tourists of means bustling about. A short stroll down the road, various businesses offered specialty massages, cacao ceremonies, yoga classes, relationship coaching, vibration meditations, volcano tours, and on and on, for a hell of a lot more money than the 28 cents the vendor wanted for a bag of chopped coconut, which we bought and gave to the boys.

Welcome to San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala. Although to be fair, this scene could have played out in any number of the small villages on Lake Atitlan. Poverty is omnipresent here.

A fruit stand where boys approached us in San Marcos la Laguna, near the Catholic church.

Next, we headed to where we had planned to go – a restaurant that is 100% nonprofit, Konojel. All profit goes to help feed hungry children in San Marcos. The irony, right? We walked to the village to buy groceries, and to eat at this nonprofit restaurant in support of the community.

I found Konojel through a Facebook group I joined, since we will be living on the lake for five weeks. The organization runs a community center and restaurant in San Marcos that helps locals with food, education, a lunch program for kids, and more. Seven out of 10 children are malnourished here, according to Konojel.

Konojel restaurant in San Marcos. It’s at the end of the path from the dock to the town square.

I had a lovely full meal. (They only serve vegetarian food.) The day’s special was a full plate of black beans, rice, fried broccoli, shredded carrots and cabbage, flavored water and thick tortillas. We ordered one to share, along with two bean and cheese puposas. The bill was about $7 USD, and we left a tip for the women working in the kitchen.

Plates of vegetarian food at Konojel in San Marcos.

The meal was tasty, and also depressing. I kept thinking about the boys who asked us to buy food. I can enjoy the feeling of a full belly while so many people here, including children, are hungry. I thought about the seven in 10 children who are malnourished here with nearly every bite, as oblivious tourists took vacation photos for Instagram and spent big money on exclusive tours and some week-long retreats. I know the pricier tourist attractions are a good thing! I know their business helps to boost the local economy. I get it. And I also know there are many tourists who do make significant contributions to support the community because they are aware of the poverty problem here. Still, the unfairness and the suffering troubles me even though I can’t do anything about how the local economy operates.

I can’t do anything about what’s happening at home, either. Extreme greed and fear of having less are pervasive in D.C. So many Americans think they have it so bad. They are comparing how far their dollar goes now to the unusual boom time of an old generation. Trump supporters are duped into believing lies that they’ll have better lives with more secure jobs that will translate into more money to buy more consumer shit that eventually just gets thrown away, or buy another gas-guzzling SUV, or a bigger home that has more empty space to fill with more fucking tchotchkes. Trump supporters have no idea how good they have it compared to most of the world. Or worse – they do have an idea and they don’t care. They feel they deserve more simply because their souls were physically born into bodies within the borders of a nation. It’s that sense of entitlement – that sense of superiority – that sickens me.

After we ate at Konojel, we went for a walk through the small area in San Marcos that caters to tourists on the path leading to the dock. A girl was selling sweet bread loaves with her mom. Chocolate or banana. I asked her which one was her favorite and she lit up as she answered definitely banana, it was the best! (She looked at her mom, then went on.) Although chocolate was her second favorite and was very good, too.

This girl also was thin, despite selling food. We bought a banana loaf for the equivalent of one dollar and thirty cents. My spouse is enjoying a few slices right now with his morning coffee as I type this.

During our time here, we will buy more goods from locals, we will go to Konojel for more plates of vegetarian food, and yes, I will slip a kid some quetzales now and then when I can. None of that will solve the duality riddle of the haves and have nots, but at least it will make me feel a little better.

posh and poor in guatemala
Two different homes on Lake Atitlan, both with the same view.


3 thoughts on “The posh and the poor: Duality in San Marcos la Laguna”

  1. Hi, my name is Ivy and I am one of the Directors at Konojel. I came across this post during a google search for articles about Konojel. I just want to thank you for supporting our cause by coming to eat at our restaurant and also helping to spread the word about the reality of life for the indigenous community in San Marcos. Keep up the good work by being socially responsible and empathetic. The world needs more people like you!

  2. The children in Mexico always get me too. Unless you have seen them and watch how they live it’s hard to make someone state side even get it. We always try to help them too. We eat in their little food stands, buy what they have to sell, and press a few coins into their little hands. God is smiling on you today.

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