Muslim/AfroArab in Guatemala

My relationship with Eid is interesting. When in Philadelphia, I always found excuses to skip going to the Masjid for Eid prayer with my family. Whether it was work, schoolwork (when Eid fell right before finals) or practically any reason I could come up with, they always drew me away from the responsibility of having to be with family and community members for Eid lunch (Yes, that sounded terrible to me). 

Moving to Guatemala was very difficult, as all major transitions are in my life. I was forced to reconcile with the absence of familiar faces, routines I was accustomed to, streets I could easily navigate, and most importantly, food I grew up eating. My first few weeks in Guatemala I had to grapple with a lot of anxiety. I was nervous mainly about having to part with the familiar things in my life and so many ‘what ifs.’ My move was intentional and deliberate yet the doubts that lingered for the first three weeks in Guatemala were consistent. 

I began being home sick for my friends, family, and the food. I don’t remember ever being so homesick that I made ful medames and ta’miya (falafel) from scratch to last me the month. I divided each day’s portion and put them all in the freezer, a cooking tip I inherited from my mom. I would occasionally cook for my roommate, and she would eat my food while I dragged on about small but significant memories of food in Philadelphia, Egypt, Sudan, or the UAE, all the places that have given me great memories of food. I would occasionally invite my new local friends in Guatemala to the only Arab (Jordanian) restaurant in Antigua. I loved to brag on about how amazing MENA region food. Not only that but I loved to share the memories attached to each dish, tell them how it’s made, and convince them how nutritious or yummy it is. 

Guatemala

Ramadan came and I felt more homesick. I had no one to fast or break my fast with. I was experiencing a lot of common foreigner digestive illnesses that never stopped until my third month in Guatemala. It was difficult to keep fasting throughout the day. One day I posted on a local Facebook page for foreigners living in Antigua about where I can find tahini. I was sent a message by a woman from North Africa who said she was fasting and wanted to break her fast with me one day. It was a surreal message to receive with all the emotions I had during that month. My Tunisian friend and I met up in the Jordanian restaurant one night and broke our fast together. 

We also had Eid lunch together. She had invited her Guatemalan business partner and together, we took turns sharing memories of Eid, the food we eat during that beautiful day and the people we shared it with. It was truly an emotional Eid for me, thinking I would spend it solo. I spent the three days before Eid blasting takbeerat al Eid and teared up a lot during it. I was grateful for that day because while sitting in the restaurant we were in; we found a Muslim women sitting next to us. We grew very excited as we tried to convince each other to get up to say ‘Eid Mubarak’ to her. We did and we chatted for a time before we had to leave. We found out that she was a Guatemalan Muslim woman who was celebrating Eid in Antigua with her friends. It was a very simple but fascinating moment to experience in a largely Catholic country. 

My first encounters with Arabs or non-Arab Muslims was in Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala. I was walking down one of the governmental zones when I heard the Arabic language. Hearing it made it seem as if it was the most familiar sound to me and it compelled me to immediately turn around and speak to the person. It turned out to be a Palestinian father with his family. They were living in Guatemala for an unknown period of time. While I knew that there was a huge Levantine diaspora in Central and South America, it was unknown to me that there was a huge Palestinian diaspora in Guatemala City, specifically there are 200,000 of them in the country. While I only spent a few days in Guatemala City, my hope is to go back, visit the mosques in the city, and learn more about the Muslim population there, whether Guatemalan converts or the Levantine diaspora. I am fascinated by how globally interconnected the world is but witnessing it in person is a different experience. I am reminded that we are all products of global and intersectional challenges that force us to seek new avenues and places that temporarily provide us a home. As strange it was to me to see Arabs/Muslims in a predominately Catholic country, I realized it is inevitable thing that happened.

Amna Khalafalla
Drexel University Co-op with Al-Bustan

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