First Days in Antigua, Guatemala

Hey friends,

My first post on arriving in Guatemala was a bit of a dump. Guys, I’m emotionally exhausted. Bear with me. I’m still chipper most of the time, but I am always on the brink of a breakdown at the moment. Tomorrow is Saturday. I plan to sleep in, pamper myself with rest and tea and possibly a swim, and hopefully by Sunday my emotional energy bar will be closer to maximum again. A girl can hope.

Upon waking up yesterday morning, I felt 12x better about life, the universe, and everything. My apartment is adorable. I’m in love. It’s a beautiful location, a cute me-sized home, and the wifi actually works. This is the first time I’ve been in Guatemala and been able to work from home reliably. What luxury. I made a cup of tea and did some of my own personal work before heading out for my first day on the job at CIRMA.

CIRMA stands for the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica. In English, that’s the Regional Research Centre of Mesoamerica.

What that actually means is that CIRMA is an enormous archive of photographs and documents relating to the history, geography, culture, and archaeological projects of this part of the world. The archive is broken up into three sections: the Library of Social Sciences, the Fototeca (photography collection), and the Historical Archives. In the library alone, there are, “over 35,000 monographs, 7,000 documents, (and) an extensive range of magazines.” The Fototeca, which is where I’m working, contains over 1 million original negatives and positives, as well as several copies of photographs from other collections. The photos come from dig sites, discoveries, documentation of traditions that have since passed into antiquity, photographs of entire museum collections, etc. It’s unbelievably cool. I’m in geographer heaven.

I made my way to the CIRMA building without getting lost. Once there, I met Anais, who is overseeing my work. She showed me around the facility. Surprisingly, it’s run by only a very few people. I’ve only seen perhaps a dozen so far. She showed me the photographic archives. Stacks upon stacks of boxes, fancy air-conditioned filing cabinets, hundreds of thousands of tiny square negatives neatly lined up. As she toured me around, she explained that our project is to organize and label all of the collections as accurately as possible. Many are donated without description of the contents. Where’s the photo taken? Who’s in it? What’s going on? This is the task that the Fototeca is working on.

I met my teammate, David. He seems like a great guy, though we’ve hardly spoken to each other because we’ve been so focused on the work. He looks at each individual photo and determines what’s in it. After going through a collection, he writes up a description. He’s been doing this for months already and has racked up a long list of descriptions. My job is to take those descriptions and accurately translate them to English. Whew. Wouldn’t have minded a bit of warning on that one, so I could’ve studied. Oh well.

So far, everything is going great! I’m actually pretty good at this translation work, much to my surprise. CIRMA has invited me back to work with them on a different year. I think I will. It’s fascinating work. Yesterday I was translating the description for the collection of original photos taken at the discovery and initial restoration of Tikal. Holy. Crap. And now my name is on that document. I think that takes the cake for the coolest thing I’ve ever been allowed to work on. ;)

Antigua is beautiful, I’m already beginning to feel at home, and my job rocks. Life is good.

5 Replies to “First Days in Antigua, Guatemala”

  1. Wow! And Wow again!!! To the work AND the apartment. Wouldn’t I LOVE to help!!! Love you!

    1. I’ll ask if they need another intern for next year. ;)

  2. Yeah. Glad that the initial shock has worn off.
    Looks like you are going to have your time go by so fast, because you are doing something you love. Much love

  3. Granwa Marj says: Reply

    Sounds absolutely fascinating!

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