During our first week in Guatemala, I went with my Spanish teacher to a factory near Xela which produces blown glass. It certainly intrigued me as I have never been to a similar factory anywhere in the world, and my Spanish teacher promised me that it will be a very interesting experience. It started with my first ride on a typical Guatemalan chicken bus, which culminated with a group of people getting on the bus through the emergency back door while the bus was moving at a worryingly fast speed. I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt at that moment – entertained or shocked!
After about a 15-minute ride from Xela, we arrived at the place excited and intrigued to see how the famous blown glass objects are crafted. After we passed through a nice little shop in which all the glass objects were displayed, we entered the actual factory, and the image of one of the employees moving glass pieces from a huge pile without any protection for his hands and face saddened us. Going a bit further into the main room of the factory, we watched how the glass was actually blown by a group of incredibly fast and efficient men moving around in an organized mess.
After being amazed for a few seconds by how fast and how precisely those men worked with the hot piece of glass, we all could not stop ourselves from thinking of the dangers to which they were exposed on a daily basis as a result of the lack of adequate protection and the rush in which they worked. It was almost like you could read the sadness on their faces. Noticing my shock, my teacher told me that those men are probably paid less than the minimum salary by their employer and are forced to work from early hours in the morning in extremely harsh conditions. Later on, we also found out that all the employers have a certain number of pieces that they must finish every single day, otherwise they would get fired. My teacher also added that the biggest buyer of the glass products for many years used to be Walmart, which confirmed my suspicions that despite all the hard work the products are sold for cheap prices in the end anyway.
Overall, it was a very interesting experience and we all enjoyed watching the employees mastering the art of modelling blown glass. However, it was an eye-opener at the same time, making me extremely sad to acknowledge a reality that hurts.