In Panajachel, a little lakeside town in Guatemala’s western highlands you'll find Dr. Carlos Cunningham.
We met Dr Cunningham on our recent visit to Guatemala. We found him to be talented, extremely dedicated, enterprising and brave. From what I understand, Dr Cunningham is the one and only African American expat in Panajachel! ("So black people you need to add Pana to your relocation/visitor list and go check the brotha out")
I am sharing his inspirational/interview story with you below
(a short video follows at the end of the post)
Carlos: I am the Founder of Naturopathic Medicine for Global Health now ( Princeton Center For International Health). PCIH has worked in Guatemala for 5 years. During the 5 years, we built 2 clinics, established a Community Health Worker Program, created a Diabetic treatment program, served as a rotation site for medical students from the US and Canada, conducted medicals missions for the public, National Police, EMT' and others.
My most recent accomplishment was working through a small grant from the World Bank in cooperation with the Guatemalan Ministry of Health to train Mayan Traditional Midwives in an attempt to lower Maternal death rates in the area of Lake Atitlan.
Q: One of the goals of this blog is to encourage more African Americans (young and retired) to travel and explore the world outside of the U.S. There are very few black people in Guatemala and even fewer in Panajachel. How long have you lived in Guatemala and what made you decide to move there?
Carlos: I have lived in Guatemala for 5 yrs. Since the focus of the NGO ( PCIH) was Naturopathic Medicine in the context of Global Health it was suggested that we investigate Guatemala as a possible work site due to the wide use of natural medicine among the Guatemalan population, as well as the great need for health care. We chose Panajachel after meeting with an NGO that expressed the need for our services in the area. Also, Panajachel is a somewhat international spot in Guatemala. While Mayan comprise the majority of the population, on any given day you will hear languages from all over the world on the streets. The beauty of the lake region is mystical and where most Guatemalan come to vacation.
Q: More and more people are becoming expats, and I expect even more with the present political situation. Why did you decide to leave the US?
Carlos: I never really left the US....until this last year I always travelled back every 3 months to fundraise, meet with my board and committees and recruit students.
Q: It can be very overwhelming to pick up and move to a new country. Did you know anyone living in Guatemala when you moved? Depending on where you relocate, it can often be very different from your "home" country and expats encounter many new experiences. What was your first "aha" moment about the culture in Guatemala?
Carlos: No, I did not know anyone when I moved here. Growing up around Guatemalan neighbors I knew about the politics of the country but not the indigenous Mayan culture. My aha moment was when I realized that historically their struggle was our struggle in many ways.
Q: As an expat myself, I know from experience that you will always encounter situations that you may not have expected. How have you changed since moving there?
Carlos: Living here has taught me patience!
Q: Thank you for inviting us to attend your Biketoberfest opening night (par-tay) in Guatemala in October (where btw, we had a fantastic time - good music, EXCELLENT food and great fun). It was our first time visiting the beautiful country (and definitely not the last) We also had the pleasure of meeting you in person! Please describe your latest venture?
Carlos: I am the owner of El Caribe Bar Caribbean Biker Bar. We opened in March of 2016 for Semana Santa. El Caribe is something I wanted to bring to the area to offer my love of Caribbean Food and Motorcycles.
I also wanted the bar to become an Oasis for black travelers and Expats passing through Panajachel.
"I invite you to visit El Caribe Bar in Panajachel located in what is called la Playa Publica (Public Beach). We have a bar on the lower level as well as a 360 degree view terrace bar. In addition we are attached to Hotel Playa Linda which allows our guests pool access as well. Our cuisine includes a Caribbean menu with dishes from Jamaica, and Puerto Rica. Lots of Reggae, salsa, soca, African and Neo-Soul music."
(Video link below for email subscribers)
There's a party up in here - El Caribe Biker Bar/Restaurant Panajachel, Guatemala from Devon on Vimeo.
In closing, if you ever have the opportunity, GO and visit Guatemala (specifically see Antigua and Lake Atitlan). It is one of the best kept secrets!
You will not be disappointed!
I also have to say, Lake Atitlan is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen.
If you are in Panajachel stop by El Caribe and tell Carlos, I sent you!