Thursday, January 29, 2009

The best thing about public transportation

is the people you meet on the bus. In this area of the country, almost all of the buses are little microbuses, (14 passenger vans that sometimes hold up to 30, although I have heard the record is 32 plus a chicken). There is no central bus station here, which I thought was very confusing at first, but now I appreciate it because I never take the wrong bus--all of the buses from my particular station are going to the location I desire. If I want to go somewhere else, I just have to find that bus station (station is a bit too grand word for a dirt parking lot at which the buses wait).

So. Every afternoon after my Spanish classes I take the bus (3 Quetzales each way, about 80 cents altogether) from Carchá where I live to San Juan Chamelco, where I volunteer at the library for a couple of hours each afternoon. (How did I find this library, you may ask? Sonia, of course, who is cousin of Maria, girlfriend of Joe, roomate of Bryant, friend of Kevin, whose mom worked with my mom at an elementary school in Abq.)

Now that I am a regular on the bus, I am getting to know the other folks who ride it. There is a Mayan woman who has a chubby-cheeked son--she always comes to catch the bus first and then he comes running as we pull away, carrying the last few things they needed to buy at the market, and she tells the conductor to please stop for her hijo. She is the most joyous person with whom I have ever had the pleasure of being crammed into a microbus--full of laughter and jokes and funny comments for everyone. Sometimes I ride with her when she heads home with her groceries and then again when she comes back with the finished product--fried chicken tacos with cabbage salad and a splash of red picante sauce, served in a plastic bag for 3 Q each. There are students going to and from the two schools on the road--one for indigenous men and one for students of agriculture. They wear rubber boots and sun-drenched faces and carry notebooks or backpacks.

Today a local woman, mother of 7 children (I later found), questioned me relentlessly about why I am single at my age. Luckily my Spanish is not good enough to know if she was trying to set me up with someone she knows.

My newest friend on the bus is one of the drivers, Juan Carlos. We have a special handshake and he and the local bike mechanic started teaching me a bit of Q´eqchi. (see side bar to learn some with me.) I have discovered that learning Q´eqchi is the way to people´s hearts here. Even when I say the most basic thing I receive gleeful responses (perhaps because my pronunciation is so poor it amuses them?!?)

Apparently, gringas who can speak Spanish are a dime a dozen, but one who can speak a little Q´eqchi--now that is something to write home about!

Altogether my daily commute is about an hour and fifteen minutes, including walking to the bus station and back home. But there is no traffic, no stress, no problems. I could do this every day for a long, long time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A few fotos. . .

Carchá is in a river valley surrounded by hills like this one.

Brrr! We had a few really cold nights and I slept in all my clothes, ski socks, and my wooly hat!
Pero leo La Prensa Libre, because I am a snob!
Mi casa -- I live in the room up on the roof!
Las bibliotecarias en la biblioteca en Chamelco -- Sonia, Gabby, y Doña Gloria

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Un toro en una tienda de platos

"Like a bull in a china shop"is a pretty accurate desciption of how I feel in Guatemala the majority of the time, and so that is what I told my new Spanish teacher, Alex, when we met my first day of lessons. He laughed heartily, since I am almost 8 inches taller than him and have over 20 pounds on him. And because I hit my head on the stairway going up to my room three times (hard) before I remembered to duck sufficiently to miss the low ceiling on the landing.

Such is life here in San Pedro Carchá, near the 3rd largest town (Coban) in the central part of the country known as Alta Verapaz. Gringos are much more sparse here than in Antigua, so I create a little bit of a spectacle every where I go. And Alex, well, he may as well be mayor of Carchá, since he knows everyone in the entire town, as far as I can tell. I like it here--it reminds me of being in the Safeway in Fraser. You have to schedule in about 20 extra minutes for small talk because you´re always sure to see someone you know.

The area around Coban is green and lush, with steep hills and volcanic rock rising out of numerous sinkholes. The trees stick up from the tops of the hills like characters from a Dr. Suess book. When I wake up to go running at 6 am, we are usually socked in with fog, but by 10 am it is warm and sunny.

How did I end up here, since it is a part of the country I only visited briefly during my first trip? Again, it comes down to who you know, and I know Maria, who is girlfriend of Joe, who is roomate of Bryant, who is friend of Kevin, who is son of Linda, who used to work with my mom at an elementary school in Albuquerque. Small world, indeed. I now live with Maria´s aunt and uncle and their daughter Alicia in a little green and pink house on a hill overlooking an outdoor soccer court where boys play soccer with an empty plastic bottle on Sunday afternoons. Makes me wish I had packed a soccer ball.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I witnessed Jehovah--but it was on accident

It looked like a church and smelled like a church and we sang a hymn of sorts when we first arrived. But my host mom, whom is a wonderful, giving, generous woman, had told me before we went that it was kind of like a discussion group, a public speaking group, and a philosophy group all at once, and I figured it would be good for my Spanish.

So I went, on Thursday night, and I didn´t quite get saved all in one night, but they have me in their sights and I am pretty sure I have a good chance!

Monday, January 19, 2009

After two days and five stiches

"Guatemala--take two" has been interesting. This time, there were no tears when I hugged my dad good-bye at the airport, there was little apprehension about flying, and when I arrived everything was familiar. But along with the comfort of knowing a place, there was a little less anticipation and excitement in my stomach as I de-boarded the plane.

In any case, I would have to say that it was easier the second time around. It´s like I´ve been here and done this before.

And now on to my most recent mishap which resulted in my first official Guatemalan medical treatment. On Friday morning, I was playing with Bryant´s dog, Remy, in their back yard. Remy loves to play fetch but doesn´t always find and return the sticks that we throw down into the barranco (canyon) behind the house. So at this point, Remy was stickless and I set out to remedy the problem.

I had never before ventured into the barranco, as it is steep and covered with vegetation. I found a decent sized stick on a downed tree, and was working at detaching it when I lost my footing and fell into the tree. I landed with my shin against the end of a broken branch, which punctured my leg and left a dime-sized hole in my lower left shin.

I was more in shock than in pain, as you could see into my leg and it was kind of fleshy and oozing stuff. I was heading to Camino Seguro for the day to volunteer at the English Office, and Bryant had to go to work, so I tried to put on a brave face and I stuck a piece of T.P. on my leg and we set off. (Never mind that I started feeling slightly ill and faint upon walking to the truck.)

En route to Camino Seguro, Bryant helpfully snapped his fingers in my face and yelled, "Don´t you die on me!" with volume and enthusiasm, which helped keep my mind off the swelling that was turning my lower leg into a kind of ugly, swollen version of its former self.

Luckily, Camino Seguro has a medical office with a wonderful and talented enfermera named Lucy. Lucy cleaned up the wound and agreed with me that it was "muy feo." She tried to close it up with a butterfly bandage, but it continued to gape and so she determined that I needed stitches. I have only had stitches once before in my life, but it is a testament to her that she was able to do such a good job (note the photo) since there was no flap of skin with which to cover and stitch up the wound. Not to mention that I continued to be faint and slightly nauseous during the entire visit. (I guess I won´t be trying to get into Med School)

She had me good as new in about 45 minutes, and I went to work for the day. So much for that expensive travel medical insurance!

Now I am healing quite well (check out that photo!) and have a whole new group of Spanish vocab words at my disposal: branch=rama, wound=herida, stitches=punzadas, y hinchazón=swollen part.

And so, despite my "extensive" travel experience at this juncture, all it took was two days back in Guate and a vicious game of fetch to land me under a nurse´s care.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The people who knew you when

I sat at brunch yesterday at a table across from two of my oldest friends. We have known each other almost as far back as my memory stretches. They were my friends through my awkward years; we played at recess and scratched our initials in wet cement; they knew me when I was afraid of the dark and had to call my dad late in the night to pick me up from sleep-overs. They know what I look like in a girl scout uniform. They were there the first time I kissed a boy, the first time I drank too much, the first time I stood up for myself when I sensed a grown-up was being unfair. They know me almost as well as I know myself. And even though our lives have changed dramatically since then--countless boyfriends and apartments and jobs and years studying and now mortgages and husbands and babies--they still know me. And they love me for who I am now as much as who I was then.

It's funny that I thought I had to travel all this way and meet so many new people in order to discover more about who I am and what I want. When the people who knew me when are here with open arms, ready to see me succeed, and standing like obnoxious fans in the home section of the stadium, cheering loudly for me every step of the way.