Category Archives: #Xela

Serendipity and Loss

Sheri left Salt Lake City late Tuesday night on a flight to Los Angeles, and after a two hour layover she took a redeye flight that arrived in Guatemala City at 4:30 AM Wednesday. I was at the airport waiting for her with the taxi cab driver who had picked me up in Antigua at 3:50 AM. Sheri was a bit travel weary, but also very happy to be on vacation with me. And of course I was very happy to be with my Sweetie again after being apart for a month, by far the longest stretch we have been apart since we first met nearly 13 years ago.

We quickly settled into our home stay with a Spanish speaking family. Ruth lives in the home with her son who just finished high school, but two older daughters frequently stop by for a meal and to speak Spanish with the Spanish language students staying here. This is a beautiful and very large home with an interior courtyard (characteristic of the homes in Central and South America), where the family lives on the first level and the Spanish language students live on the second level. Ruth has had as many as 15 guests staying here at one time, however 5-10 is the norm. Ruth has been hosting students for nearly 20 years, and she is very good at what she does – this is her primary source of income. To begin with, Ruth is warm and gracious and funny. Secondly, she is an excellent cook who prepares for us 3 delicious and healthy meals every day (except Sundays when we are on our own). Another bonus is that Ruth is an excellent Spanish teacher, who not only requires that we speak Spanish in the house, but patiently corrects our mistakes while helping us to speak Spanish better. Finally, Ruth is a dog lover, and we have enjoyed getting to know her two boxers Rocky and Ruffy. Sheri and have our own room with a private bathroom here at Casa González, and we feel very fortunate to be staying here. Latinos often welcome family, friends, and guests into their home by saying, “Nuestro casa es su casa” (Our house is your house), and that is certainly the spirit in this place because Sheri and I feel very much at home here.

We’ve enjoyed several serendipitous moments since being here, and those moments always make me feel like I am just where I need to be. However, being where I need to be does not necessarily mean that everything is going my way, as I will explain a little later in this blog. Here are some of the fun chance encounters, coincidences, and moments of serendipity that have come our way: First, I kept running into the same fellow student from Xela during my first few days here, I bumped into Stella 4 times over 2 days and each time in a different part of the city. And the other day Sheri and I were wandering through the grocery store looking for granola when we bumped into another fellow student from Xela. Second, I went to a concert here before Sheri arrived and sat next to a couple who just happened to be studying Spanish at the same school where I had planned to start the next day (and there are dozens of Spanish schools in this city). But what’s more, Elena and Mark live in Canada not far from my home town of Toledo … and Elena’s birthday is in November (as is Sheri’s) and Mark’s birthday is in December (as is mine). Speaking of birthdays, a Third coincidence is that I share a birthday (December 20th) with the cleaning lady at our home Casa Gonzalez. (Oh, and Oscar my Spanish teacher in Xela was born the same day that Sheri and I were married, January 8th). Fourth, and back to the subject of my home town Toledo, the name Toledo has been popping up around here regularly … there is a meat distributor here in Antigua named Toledo … one day we met a man from Michigan with his young son, and we learned that the Toledo Zoo is one of their most favorite places to visit in the whole world. Fifth, a few seconds after saying goodbye to the man and boy from Michigan, we looked across the street and saw a residence named Casa Toledo … residences are often given a name here, and often the name is painted on a large square piece of tile that is affixed to the outside wall. Sixth, speaking of tile work, my first day at school I was explaining to my teacher that I dropped my given middle name Anthony when I got married, and that the name Anthony came both from my Grandfather and from the Catholic Saint Anthony of Padua … well, no sooner had I said the name Anthony of Padua when I looked up and saw a multiple-tile piece of artwork on the wall of the ancient convent that is now a Spanish school, the artwork was a painting of – you guessed it – Saint Anthony of Padua. Booga booga. These are all of the coincidences, chance encounters, and serendipitous moments that I can remember right now, but it seems that we have been saying, “Oh my gosh!” and “Can you believe it?” ever since we arrived here.

But sometimes I think that God has to bring us back to earth so that we don’t get too full of ourselves. We get to experience the excitement of serendipity and the feeling that everything is going our way … but we also get to slog along on occasion, to feel that we are swimming upstream, and to think that nothing seems to be going our way. The reality is that all of life is blessed, and we would all do well to accept whatever comes our way knowing that nothing in this world happens that God does not either cause or allow. Even so, we don’t have to wallow in pity feeling that the world is against us and that there is nothing that we can do to change our circumstances … rather, it is far better to do whatever we can to redeem the tough circumstances, to turn lemons into lemonade, to make the most of every circumstance we encounter. So I said all that to say this: Just when it looked like everything was going our way on this trip, that everything would go our way for the entire month we are here, that we had found the eternal spring … we had a tough day yesterday. It actually started out pretty well, we went on a fabulous tour of the city, the tour guide was knowledgeable and funny, and the tour was well worth the money we spent to participate. But then we went to the local sports bar to root for our beloved Utah Utes in their big game against TCU, a game that had national title implications. We got a prime seat right in front of a big screen TV, and proceeded to watch the Utes get slaughtered at home by TCU 47-7. What a bummer. But worse than that, one time when I could not bear to watch the game any longer and was looking for things to do, I went to the bathroom … and promptly dropped our digital camera in the toilet. Big time bummer. The camera is dead, and it does not appear to be coming back to life again. Not a huge loss, I purchased it used for only $80 specifically for this trip, we left our better camera in Salt Lake City. Nonetheless, I had big plans for the camera we brought with us, such as high resolution pictures of the nearby volcanoes (one volcano is active), pictures of this historic city, pictures of the people and markets bustling with activity, pictures of my lovely wife and I having big fun here, pictures posted to the web and shared with family and friends all over the world, etc., etc., etc. But now that there will be no more digital pictures of our trip here, you’ll just have to believe everything we tell you about this place and about what we are doing here. And true to my philosophy on life, I believe that dropping that camera in the toilet is the best thing that could have happened to me at that moment.

One last thing for this week … today we celebrated my lovely wife’s 50th birthday. We’ve had lots of fun today, we started the day at a fabulous breakfast buffet, went to church, had a nice lunch at a local restaurant, and after I finish blogging we are on a way to a have thali at an Indian restaurant, and afterward we are going to play Spanish bingo. So if you get this message, be sure to wish my Sweetie a happy birthday!

Also posted in #Antigua, #Guatemala, #learnspanish

The Chicken Bus Adventure

My last week in Xela went by fast, as last weeks do. Monday was spent walking all over over the place with two ladies from Pop Wuj looking for party supplies, we were planning the quarterly birthday party for the kids at the Guardería Daycare Center. We dipped in and out of makeshift booth after makeshift booth, into the small stores called tiendas, and back out again, in and through the booths of the various street vendors.

The Mercado (market) is quite a spectacle, it is near the center of town and is roughly 4 blocks long by 4 blocks wide. It is a cacophony of sounds, smells, and sights – hundreds of vendors selling clothes, plastic stuff, shoes, soaps and shampoo, underwear, cell phones, spices, sombreros, produce of seemingly every kind and color, and much more. A person could virtually buy anything they would ever need in this market, and for many this is their life – they don’t go to the bigger and fancier stores, instead they buy from each other, and sell to each other, while bartering often.

Most of the people here are much shorter in height, and I expect that centuries of malnutrition has something to do with that. So for whatever reason, God has raised up this culture to experience life in closer proximity to the earth, and indeed the overwhelming majority of Guatemaltecos seem much more appreciative of the earth and its bounty. I do not know what the statistics say, but based on my own observations, it is very common for someone here to be 4 feet tall or shorter, especially among women. I am only 6 feet tall and I stayed in the Xela region of 300,000 or more people for a full month, and without exaggeration I cannot recall ever seeing anyone taller than I … except for some of the gringos studying Spanish there. The sidewalks and streets are much narrower, the overhangs and displayed merchandise is much lower, so as you can imagine the circuit through the market while hurriedly trying to keep up with my 2 fellow party planners was a harrowing experience for me. At times I had to bend over at the waist to navigate pathways. And it was comical for the vendors as well, often they would smile and snicker watching me dip and duck my head to avoid knocking something out or even to avoid impaling myself.

Here is a funny story. I looked in several places for plastic bathroom sandals in my size 12, including 2 large department stores. The biggest size I could find anywhere was a 43, which appears to be a U.S. size 11. So finally I asked a sales associate in the shoe department if there was anything IN THE WORLD bigger than size 43, and then I pointed at my feet while saying, “Necesito algo mas grande.” She looked down at my feet and burst out laughing. I laughed too.

Nonetheless, we all know that the true measure of any person is not the length of one’s inseam but the size of one’s love. And in that sense, I encountered many giants in Xela.

Tuesday all 40 of the kids from the Guardería Daycare Center were bussed into town for the party (since the water source in their community was expected to be non-functioning for several days, if not weeks). We found a nice area on the lawn at the local sports complex where we could enjoy a meal together, potatoes in thick gravy with chicken, all folded neatly into a plantain leaf to keep warm. Each one of the kids who had a birthday in the past few months received a gift from the 3 quetzal store (our version of a dollar store). We had purchased 3 large birthday cakes at one of the many bakeries (or panaderías) in town, and smiling faces all around declared that the cakes were a hit. Finally, we strung up 2 large piñatas (one for the older kids, one for the younger) filled with tons of candy and nuts, which the kids took turns whacking. Interestingly, many of the kids took lighthearted whacks at the piñata before eagerly passing the stick to the next person, apparently to preserve the fun for as many others as possible. Finally, when each piñata had had enough, the staff person turned it upside down to shower candy and nuts down on all the kids who had gleefully scampered underneath.

Wednesday I chilled out, and Thursday I went to the weekly dinner that is prepared by students studying Spanish at Pop Wuj, it is a combination dinner and graduation ceremony. To my delight, there just happened to be a professional cook from Australia studying Spanish at Pop Wuj who had spent the last year with his wife in Mexico studying Mexican cooking while writing a cookbook. As a result, we feasted on mole chicken Oaxacan style, followed by a sumptuous desert of blackberry crisp with a sweet cream drizzle on top. After dinner all of the graduating students (including me) gave a brief speech in Spanish, and afterward each graduate received their diplomas, conferring herein all reasonable and expected rights and privileges henceforth and forevermore.

Friday morning I arose early in order to catch my 6:30 AM bus to Antigua, the last leg of which was The Chicken Bus adventure. Linea Dorada is the best, most expensive bus line operating Greyhound-type buses in Guatemala, but even their buses can be non-plush (as I discovered on the way to Xela from Guatemala City). And Linea Dorada has the only non-stop routes, faster and generally safer from point to point than the other bus lines. But alas, Linea Dorada does not go straight from Xela to Antigua, I would have had to go all the way into Guatemala City and back out again to Antigua. So, I took what I thought was the next best bus line, Alamo.

I had asked Alamo earlier in the week if each of their buses had a bathroom, and was told “por supuesto” (of course). Well, of course my bus had no bathroom – thank God I only had time for one cup of coffee in the morning before dashing out the door for the 3 hour ride to Chimaltenango. She was an older bus too, appeared even older than I – which is pretty old in bus years. And that old gal of a bus had a name too, the Pacific Princess. She reminded me of that cantankerous old comic strip character Maxine, not everything worked as well as it used to (or worked at all), but she was still feisty and ornery. While running through the gears on our way out of town, each new shift to a new gear was more than the grinding of a gear, it sounded more like a grinding plus clunking type sound. The bus was nearly fully when we left Xela, but then we started picking up passengers along the way. At the first stop before we had even reached the edge of town, we picked up some hombre who sat in the seat across the aisle from me. He promptly looked heavenward and made the sign of the cross – I took that to be a good sign! At the next stop, again while still on the outskirts of town, we let on the bus several vendors who streamed down the aisle holding buckets of tortillas, bags of donuts, and baskets of snacks, all announcing in Spanish at the same time what they were selling and at what price. Along the way we stopped at least 3 more times for these vendor opportunities. In fact, one time an indigenous girl and the little one tagging behind her got so carried away selling stuff to customers that the bus pulled away and started heading down the highway … they scrambled back to the front of the bus, and when the driver saw them he uttered what could have been a Spanish expletive before stopping the bus again to let them off to begin the long walk back.

One month ago I travelled by bus from Guatemala City to Xela at night, so I was not able to see clearly the devastation of the mudslides Guatemala has suffered this year. But the bus I took to leave Xela was during the day, and thus I got a good look at the devasting mudslides, in places the mud and rock not only covered the two lanes going in one direction, but the mud and rock was piled higher than the top of our bus. It was as if the whole mountain had moved over and took back two lanes of the highway forcing the traffic into a single lane going both directions. And there were even a few places where there was only one lane available, thus we queued up and waited for the oncoming traffic to pass through on the one remaining lane, and then the traffic going our direction was waved through while those headed for Xela had to wait. I expect that tt is going to take months to fully open that 4-lane divided highway.

I had assumed that at the “bus station” in Chimaltenango I would be able to find one or more of the supposedly four shuttle companies that shuttle people to Antigua about 40 minutes away. However, as we descended into town the bus driver’s assistant came to my seat and asked for my luggage tags. At the time I thought, “Wow, this guy is really efficient!” But shortly before the bus came to a stop the guy came back to me again and said something like, “Chimaltenango ahora! (now!).” The bus stopped in the middle of the road, thus stopping all traffic behind us heading into town, him and I jumped off the bus and he quickly opened the luggage compartment under the bus, I pointed to my bags and he grabbed them and tossed them into the street, he then slammed shut the compartment and jumped on the bus and away they went.

Perhaps you have been places where unemployed or homeless people try to help you with your bags. I remember one time exiting the subway at street level in downtown San Francisco only to be greeted by 3-4 people all wanting to help me with my bags (for a fee, of course). Well, when my bags were tossed into the street at Chimaltenango (literally into the street that crossed the road my bus was on), immediately several men grabbed at my bags. I literally yanked two of my bags back out of the grasp of my helpers, who are not really trying to run away with them, but the assumption is that if they carry your bags for a few steps then you will at least give them some money. And if you are not careful, in some instances your bags could walk away … or if you are not watching, some people will open some of the zippered compartments to see what they can quickly pilfer. I grabbed all of my bags while saying emphatically, “no gracias,” and shuffled to the nearest curb.

What now? I was at a crowed street corner in Chimaltenango, and there was nothing that even remotely resembled a bus station nearby. Beside me two muchachas (teenage girls) were selling fruit or something on the sidewalk, so I said to them in Spanish, “Where is the bus that goes to Antigua?” They both excitedly pointed at The Chicken Bus that had just arrived on the other side of the street and that was rapidly filling with people. I thought, “Oh what the heck, here we go!” I scrambled with my bags to the other side of the street, and then The Chicken Bus driver helper saw me coming and made a beeline toward me, and the 3-4 other bag helpers who had just tried to grab my bags saw me coming and they were back in the hunt, they all wanted to take my bags and stick them on top of The Chicken Bus. For local people who ride chicken buses, anything of any size gets put on top of the bus in racks welded to the top. I’ve seen just about anything you can imagine riding on the top of chicken buses … huge baskets of fruit, bicycles, crates of merchandise, car tires, you name it – if it does not fit inside with the wall-to-wall people, it goes on top. However, before coming to Guatemala I was told by friends who had been here to never let my bags out of my sight, and that stuff is too often stolen out of the bags that tourists allow to be put on top of chicken buses. So I clutched all 3 of my bags, and stuffed myself onto The Chicken Bus. (Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that they are called chicken buses because in the rural areas often livestock rides on the chicken buses together with the people).

By the time I got on the bus, all the seats were taken … with 3-4 people squeezed into each bench seat, people are often shoulder to shoulder across the aisle. There were also people packed into what was left of the aisle, standing among the mass of people. I was standing on the steps leading into the bus, the door of the bus was open and we were already going down the road. I had my backpack strapped on my back, and my 2 other bags were in front of me on the bus floor in the only remaining space on the entire bus. Then the bus driver and driver’s helper started yelling at me to get further onto the bus, and that I was not allowed to stand on the steps. I was thinking, “Where the heck do you want me to go?” In fact, I may have uttered that very thing out loud, but fortunately it was in English. Then they started yelling at those standing in the aisle – actually, the standing passengers were kind of sitting on the shoulders of the seated passengers, legs reaching down into whatever cracks that were available – that those standing in the aisle needed to move further down the aisle so that we could get my gringo butt off the steps and onto the bus. So the big squeeze commenced, each of us in the aisle squeezed down the aisle, past young and old alike, past mothers nursing their babies, past babies sucking on breast milk, me trying not to drop one of my bags on any of the wizened gray-haired abuelas (grandmas) at the end of their lives, trying not to drop one of my bags on the Abuelas’ grandbabies who are just getting started on life. At some point I was able to stuff my three bags into the racks above the seats, but the driver was barreling down the narrow curvy road, and at one curve in the road I saw my backpack fly off the rack and bonk a muchacho in the head. Fortunately, it was a teenage boy … he acted only mildly annoyed, and pushed my bag aside.

I was a bit on edge, even more so because the night before I left Xela I had heard about a language student who had been pickpocketed at the market. He foolishly walked around with valuables stuffed into his open jacket pockets, and got caught in a web of bandits who work as a team. Someone dropped something on the floor in front of him as a diversion, and when he stooped over to pick it up, his jacket pockets opened to the world, and from both sides bandits deftly grabbed what was inside (wallet, passport, etc) before disappearing into the labyrinth of vendor booths. So I was on The Chicken Bus feeling a little, shall we say “out of my element,” when suddenly I could feel someone tugging at the zipper of my zippered jacket pocket. Instantly I reached for my pocket and wheeled around while loudly saying, “No!” … only to find myself gazing sheepishly into the eyes of a baby girl.

And then The Chicken Bus driver helper started working his way down the aisle, climbing over people in order to collect the 5 quetzal fee from each rider. Perhaps they should instead pay people to risk life and limb like this. The smart people knew to get their 5 quetzales ready ahead of time, but the dumb gringos (yes, there were a few of us on board) had to apologize to everyone in the immediate vicinity that we bumped while trying to retrieve 5 quetzales from a pocket. Then about the time I started to think, “Okay, we’ve all paid, we can all now remain ‘comfortably’ packed like sardines for the remainder of the journey to Antigua,” about that time the bus driver stopped the bus to let off riders and take on more riders. We made 3 of these stops along the way … each time, people were squeezing out of seats, squeezing down the aisle, and then popping out the door almost like the cork on a bottle of champagne. One time I literally had to ask a woman to lean forward in her seat so that I could step on the seat behind her butt in order to rise up and let people pass who were trying to get off and/or on the bus. One time 3 ladies squeezed by me to get off the bus, but they got stuck going forward and could not get off the bus for all the people in the aisle, and thus those ladies came back past me and bailed out the back of the bus (which I thought was pretty clever).

I joke about it now, for all of us would do well to find ways to laugh about our humanity. At the time while on The Chicken Bus it all seemed so uncomfortable, maddening, even inhuman. But this is the daily reality for many who live in Guatemala, chicken buses are the cheapest form of transportation, and for many the only form of transportation. I am glad that I experienced it.

Believe it or not, I arrived in Antigua safe and sound; the only casualty that I am aware of is the canister of Pringles potato crisps that got crushed in my backpack sending little bits of crisps all over everything inside. Fortunately, The Chicken Bus parked in the chicken bus parking lot at Antigua with all the other chicken buses parked there for a brief siesta. I waited until everyone else had exited the bus before pushing my bags down the aisle, and then I stood on the steps of the bus one last time in order to thank the bus driver for patiently waiting for me to exit … and for patiently waiting for me to get my butt off those steps!

There were more bag helpers at Antigua, but I just kept saying “no gracias” while I ambled past dozens more vendors in booths, and then schlepped my bags up the cobblestone streets of Antigua, which was once the capital of Guatemala as well as one of the most influential and grand cities in all of Central and South America.

Also posted in #chickenbus, #Guatemala

Week 3 Update from Xela

My Spanish language learning school Pop Wuj (www.pop-wuj.org) was founded in 1992 by five people who wanted to create something different than the for-profit schools that began to proliferate at that time.  At last count there were 43 Spanish language schools here in Xela, Guatemala, but Pop Wuj may be the only non-profit cooperative run by teachers.  Pop Wuj is now managed by 12 Directors, each one with a different area of responsibility, such as President and Director of the Social Work program, Administrator, Treasurer, Secretary, Director of Academics, Director of the Medical Clinic, Director of the Stove Project, etc.  Pop Wuj is not the only school here that operates programs that use volunteers, for several of the other schools also connect language students with volunteer opportunities.

Monday I went with Carmen, President of Pop Wuj and one of the five original founders, to a community on the outskirts of Xela.  When we got there we were escorted behind a quasi-car repair shop to the dwellings in back, and then were invited into a room where there were seated 8 women on plastic chairs, as well as about 4 young girls and one baby.  Each woman gets 100 quetzales each month (about $12 U.S. dollars) from Pop Wuj to help pay for transportation to Xela for school for their child, and also to buy school supplies, food, etc.  However, since most of the families have several kids, there is some sort of sliding scale for multiple children, in other words 100 quetzales for the first child, 90 quetzales for the second child, and so on.  Carmen usually goes once a month to dispense the scholarship aid, however she began by apologizing for missing last month since she had a family emergency.  After Carmen finished speaking, I was invited to give my prepared presentation on the basics of computing, and on the positives and negatives of using computers.  You may not have known that though these indigenous people often live in concrete block homes with dirt floors, they are exposed to computers on a daily basis.  For one thing, many of them carry a cell phone (which is kind of a mini computer with an operating language and a keyboard that is used to give the cell phone commands).  Also, not only do they see computers every day around them when they are in town (at the bank, in stores, at the dozens of internet cafes here, etc.), but also all of the public schools now have computers that the kids are using.  Thus, though the parents may not know how to use a computer, they need to know what their kids are experiencing, and obviously they need to know that there are some risks with their kids surfing the internet, risks associated with excessive computer use, etc.  I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see a laptop on a bedside table in the room when Carmen and I walked in, evidently the whole community pitched in to buy the laptop for everyone´s use.  As a result, judging by the applause I received after my short presentation, I think they were very appreciative of the information I shared with them. It is interesting because I have never ventured too far into the weeds of computer technology, however to this small community of indigenous people I am perceived as an expert.

Tuesday Carmen, two indigenous women who work at the school, and I went to interview a woman to see if she qualifies to receive a concrete block stove to be built by the Pop Wuj stove project team, the school has built several hundred of these stoves over the years in the homes of indigenous families.  Many thousands of these homes still use an open pit fire in their home to cook meals, with no way other gapz between the wall and the metal roof to release the smoke outside. Over 60% of Guatemaltecos burn wood to cook meals.  Thus, over time the walls of the “kitchen” become caked with soot, there is a high incidence of respiratory disease in these communities, and everyone in the family risks getting burned by flames or embers at cooking time … especially the small children who wander about.   Pop Wuj builds a concrete block stove with a metal plancha top that also includes an exhaust pipe, not only does the exhaust pipe send the smoke outside, but the stove is 40% more fuel efficient (thus saving them money and saving the forests from being decimated), and the new stoves retain heat in the winter months (it never snows here, but it can be rather chilly on Winter nights).  To determine if this lady qualifies to have a stove built for her (which was a no-brainer in my opinion), we ran through a series of questions to determine her need.  My job on this day was to ask all the questions on the form while Carmen took notes, questions such as how many kids does she have, how old is each child, is each child in school or working, what is the name, educational background, occupation, etc. for both mom and dad (too often the dad has left to try to immigrate illegally to the U.S.), has anyone in the house been burned by the current stove (the answer to that was yes, but not seriously), and lastly why do you want a stove.  Not only was the cooking space for this woman caked with soot, she has 8 children living in the home raging in age from 9 to 22 (and two children had died, one at age of 4 and the other at age of 9).  She is 44 years old, but she looks like she is twenty years older, the only thing that gives away the fact that she is not older is that her hair is still jet black with no gray whatsoever.  It is really difficult to describe the living conditions in this home, I really have nothing to compare it to, but it definitely seems third world poor.  All of the floors are dirt (whereas in other indigenous homes there are at least concrete floors in one or two bedrooms).   While I was asking the questions, 2-3 chickens were wandering about in the room.  Life sure seems hard for this family.  Then we went to the home of the cleaning lady for the school, a bit nicer home in light of the fact that students of Pop Wuj over the last 15 years have constructed 75% of this home.  A few steps outside of the side entrance into the home compound there were two pens, one containing 2 turkeys and 6 chickens cramped together almost standing shoulder to shoulder, and beside that pen was a small pigpen about 5 feet by 5 feet with a pig in it, and there was a baby pig roaming about.  This indigenous family actually lives pretty well, they had concrete floors, a newer corrugated metal roof, and they seemed to have enough food available.  Even so, the poverty here is severe, but I suppose that if that is all you have ever known than perhaps it is more tolerable.  I don ‘t know.

Wednesday I went with the mobile medical clinic operated by Pop Wuj to a small indigenous village about an hour´s drive from Xela.  The school had rented a van to transport us, including the dentist who does contract work, a volunteer pediatrician from the States who is here for 6 months, 4 students from the States (two in med school, 1 RN, and 1 in nursing school), Carmen and her husband Roney (who oversees the clinic), and me.  The “pharmacy” we brought was a 4 drawer plastic filing cabinet filled with various meds, the dentist worked in one room of the concrete block house, the two medical school students received patients in another room, and the 2 nurses served on the frontline processing new arrivals while asking a bunch of questions and checking vital signs, etc.  Gradually people from the community started streaming into the clinic, and waited their turn in the “waiting room” on plastic chairs set up on the dirt floor of the courtyard outside someone´s home.  You may wonder what I was doing there … well, at some point I did get to work in the ¨pharmacy¨and was assigned the task of cutting pills in half; afterward, the pediatrician agreed that I could now put “pharmacy assistant” on my resume.  But we also gathered everyone in the waiting room around me on plastic chairs under a shade tree to hear my presentation on the positives and negatives of using computers.  One by one someone would hear their name called and leave my presentation to go see the doctor and/or dentist, and then return to the circle at the same time someone else was called out to get checked.  Then Carmen did her monthly scholarship gig, dispensing 100 quetzales per child (or less) to the mothers.

Thursday was a busy day as well, and what makes each day so busy is that I do the social work program in the morning, and then in the afternoon I have Spanish school for 4-5 hours until about 6:00 P.M.  After school I check email, go home to have our late dinner (sometimes as late as 8:00 PM), and generally fall fast asleep soon afterwards.  Thursday I went with Carmen, with the pediatrician, and with a new medical student to the daycare facility Guardería that Pop Wuj funds.  The doctors measured the height of each kid, checked their weight, gave each vitamins as well as anti-parasite medicine, and checked each for lice.  (Part of the reason we made the trip is that it was reported that several of the kids had lice, so they were also dispensing special shampoo).  Then each kid came to me and I recorded their name, birthdate, and age … in part to have a record of when to celebrate the kids´ birthdays, usually at a group party 3 times a year.  There are a total of 40 kids in the program at Guardería, ranging in age from 3 to 15.  Carmen has asked me to coordinate the school year ending party for them Tuesday of next week … including piñatas, treats, and what not.

Friday Carmen and I went back to Guardería, which is the third time I have been there.  Although it is only 20 minutes or so from the school, It is quite an adventure getting there … the paved roads end and the pot-hole filed dirt roads begin, made even worse this year by all the rain in recent months which came streaming down off the mountain creating big gulches in the road that are too deep to drive over.  Also, in spite of the holes, Carmen tends to drive as fast as she can, which makes the trip there a bone-jarring adventure.  Honestly, I don´t know how the shocks on her car last even a month.  When we arrived and stepped outside the car we could hear the unmistakeable sound of a tire going flat, there was a big ol´nail in the right rear tire.  So, with the help of a neighbor who had a jack, we first fixed the tire.  Then I went inside and gave my presentation on computers, and then Carmen went through the monthly dispensing of scholarship money to all the mothers and talked at length about hygeine, etc.  I was in the other room hanging out with the kids while Carmen was having her chat with the 15 or so ladies, and then just before we were about to leave one of the workers at the day care center brought me her laptop that was disabled by a virus, so I spent a long time with that … first I had to figure out how to boot up in safe mode while reading the instructions in Spanish, then I did a full system restore back to a date about 3 months ago (because they thought the virus hit them about 6 weeks ago),  and I had to wait for quite a long time for that program to run (since the laptop was much older and slower) … and voila, it appeared to boot up normally albeit without 3-4 programs they had installed in the last 3 months (one of which was a virus protection program installed after the problem was discovered).  Before I did the system restore I tried to explain in Spanish what I felt we needed to do, and that some of the recently installed programs would be deleted, but she had no clue what I was talking about and so she pulled over an 11 year old for me to consult with.  I explained everything to him as well, and he basically just kept nodding his head … so I figured, okay we are good to go!

So there you have it, this has been my life here in Xela for the last week.  The school actually asked me to go on a stove building project this morning, Saturday, but I had to say no … it has been an exhausting week, and today I need to do laundry and catch up on a bunch of other things.  And tomorrow I am going on an all-day trip with one of the Spanish teachers and 5 other students to an 18,000 acre coffee plantation, and it just happens to be harvest time so it should be very interesting.

Love to you all from Sheri and I, and if I may speak for the citizens here as well, love from all Guatemaltecos.

Also posted in #Guatemala

Guatemala – Rich, but mostly Poor

I just completed my second week here in Guatemala, and I would like to begin this entry by sharing a few stories about my experiences here in Xela.

It is hard to know for certain what a place is like until you actually visit it, and in my own life there have been times that my pre-conceived notion about a particular place ultimately proved to be completely mistaken. For example, for some odd reason when I was already in my early twenties I still thought of Canada as a vast wilderness with cute little villages sprinkled throughout. And then one day some of my buddies and I crossed into Canada at Windsor (near Detroit), and we drove the highway for several hours until we dropped back into the U.S. at upstate New York. Along the way we passed through Toronto, and seeing that huge, metropolitan, city for the first time completely and forever shifted my perspective on Canada.

Last night here in Xela I began my night by having dinner at Sabor de la India … and the food there was every bit as authentic and delicious as any Indian food I´ve had in the United States. Last week I had yummy Chinese food. There are many people here of German descent, in fact there are large sections of the main cemetery where only bodies of German descent are buried. In my school alone (and there are at least 35 Spanish language schools here) recently there have been people from Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Canada, United States, and various other countries of the world. And maybe I should not tell you this, but Wendy´s is here, as well as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Dominos Pizza, the Wal-Mart owned Paíz chain of stores, and of course McDonalds has a prime location here in Xela in a historic building right beside Central Park. Perhaps this picture of Guatemala is different than the one you´ve had.

After dinner last night I went to the grand Municipal Theater in downtown, a gorgeous (albeit aging) classic theater with two levels of balcony seating that wrap around both sides of the stage, where people sit at tables in little booths in the balcony and look down at the show and at those seated on the main floor. We were treated to a concert by a renowned classical guitarist by the name of Thisbault Cauvin, who hails from France, and though he is only 25 years old, he has already performed in Beijing, San Francisco, London, Paris, Hong Kong, and who knows where else. Yep, he performed right here in supposedly backward, unsophisticated, isolated, Guatemala … he is headed to Costa Rica next, and then to famous cities in South America.

After the concert I went to see the local professional soccer team Xelajú play in the downtown stadium. The whole stadium was ringed by vendors hawking merchandise, food, beer, and various other trinkets … just like you find at the stadiums in the U.S. In thrilling fashion, the goalie for Xelajú blocked a penalty kick in the 85th minute, thus preserving a win for the home team. The stadium was packed, although small by U.S: standards, it holds only about 10,000 people. But it is not small in spirit, for the end zone fiesta with all the fireworks, music, dancing, and banner waving by ravenous fans was about three times the size of the end zone fiesta at Real Salt Lake soccer games. By the way, this is the original fútbol … a sport far more popular throughout the world than American football.

However, Guatemala is indeed a nation of contrasts. The reality is that the majority of the people here live in poverty, and even the small middle class population here does not enjoy nearly as many creaturely comforts as we do in the United States. Unfortunately, our country has benefited greatly to the detriment of many who live here, you can read for yourself about the history of our stealing of resources from here, about the misuse both of the lands but also the mistreatment of the people. I´m not sure that much of anything will ever be done to change or fix that, but at the very least we can support organizations that provide assistance here, and each of us can do little things to help … such as support fair-trade organizations, buy authentic Guatemalan handicrafts, or even come here on a trip and infuse some tourist dollars into the economy. Here is a link to pictures of one little thing I participated in recently, http://www.flickr.com/photos/appleplatypie/sets/72157625051444517/, I spent a few hours helping to build a stove for an indigenous family. I twinge a little when I say the word “family” because many of these homes that are chosen to receive a brick stove (to replace the open pit fire used for cooking meals) are headed by single mothers with several kids, their husbands have either left to try and immigrate illegally to the United States, or the mother suffers from domestic abuse at the hands of an alcoholic husband. It must be said that there are many normal, happy, family clans living here, however the poverty is extreme … and you can see the collective burden in the faces of many here on a daily basis.

I hate to end this post on a sad note, but that is the reality in Guatemala. May we always be grateful for the opportunities that we enjoy, and may we always help those less fortunate.

Also posted in #Guatemala, #poverty

Cosi

He estado en Guatemala solo siete días pero ya tengo una buen amiga nueva. Ella se llama Cosi.

El primer dia llegué a la casa de mi familia anfitrión muy tarde, casi las once de la noche. Cosi el perro estuvo aquí y despierta para me saluda. Nuestro amistad comenzó cuando Cosi saltó sobre mi pierna. Estuve sorpresa porque no supe que pasó. Inmediatamente miré abajo y ví una cara alegre.

Todos los días desde llegué in Xela cuando regreso a la casa al fin del dia, Cosi corre a mi y me da un grande bienvenido. Ella me pregunta, “¿Cómo te fue hoy?” Siempre digo, “Me fue bien, estoy aprendiendo mucho. ¿Y tú?” Y siempre Cosi dice, “¡Me fue magnifica hoy!”

Ayer en la manaña después de desayuno, regresé a mi habitación y me fijé algo diferente. Aparentemente alguien hubo estado allí porque mi colcha fue en una diferente posición. Miré con más cuidadoso y encontré Cosi en mi cama escondando debajo de la colcha. Y cuando traté levantar ella, ella no quería salir.

Hoy en la manaña después de hacer mi cama fui a la cocina por un momentito para conseguir una taza de café, y cuando regresé – ¡otra vez! – me encontré Cosi en mi cama. ¡Por favor no dice a mi bonita esposa que estoy dormiendo con una señora aquí!




Also posted in #dog, Blog de Español