Saturday, January 29, 2011


There has been a mini-explosion in internet usage here in Guatemala (here meaning the altiplano) over my several trips here. There used to be one internet place in Chinique; now there are several. Zacualpa has a couple. I haven't enumerated the ones in Sta. Cruz del Quiché but it's safe to say there are several in the blocks around the central plaza. A number of people in Chinique and environs whom I know have mobile internet, like I do. It's both comforting, in a way -- I can follow the street protests in Cairo from my living room in Chinique -- but I also have to confess I miss the old days of going to a public internet/computer locale. Perhaps I could compare this to the advent of home television or VCRs -- movie-going (which I still like to do) is a collective, social event, whereas watching at home is more individualistic, atomized. The computer/internet centers in these towns were usually populated with young kids, mostly boys between the ages of 10 and 14. Last year, most of them seemed to be busy with video games. One day last summer when I was at the internet place I patronized in Zacualpa -- run by the ebullient and helpful Don Chanino -- and was posting something on Facebook I looked up to find myself surrounded by 5 or 6 boys, looking on with fascination. I explained to them what I was doing (I was also reading the NY Times and checking email) and they then sat quietly and watched me.  Of course I was writing in English so no worries that they would understand much of what I wrote, although they did try their few words in English out on me.

This year, before I bought my USB modem. I went to Don Chanino's place -- there are, as I mentioned, a few internet places in Chinique but when I arrived they were all closed for the fiesta patronal (most regular grocery/convenience stores were open, and so was the ferreteria or hardware store, but for some reason all the internet places were closed). So I had to go to Zacualpa to read email and pay bills. This time, there were  both boys and girls, and they all seemed to be online; in fact, a few were chatting on Facebook and also engaging in a modest competition to see who could add more "friends".

It was one of Don Chanino's employees, a young man named Brian, a fairly unusual name up here, who told me where I could get the best price on a USB modem, and who also helped me work through the kinks in the installation -- especially necessary as the oh-so-helpful instruction booklet neglected to mention some very important things, like needing to purchase a minimum of Q5 of airtime to activate the modem (it comes with a month free airtime and then I have to choose a plan; the "basic" plan is about Q140 (or under $20 a month).  

So, once the modem was installed and activated, I was free to log on wherever, whenever ... which is both liberating and a bit scary (as it is possible to get caught up in the world online and forget about the world outside one's door).

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