Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jonesing for a Good Micro Brew

Do you ever have those days where all you want is to crack open a brewski, sit down with a sigh, and enjoy the hoppy taste of an IPA? Oh man, on Saturday I was jonesing for a good beer. Tired from staying out late to celebrate my birthday, waking up early for class, and attending yet another brutal session of guilt-ridden God-finding with my 19 year old friends in the religious youth group, all I wanted was to sit down and sip on some cerveza. Saturday was a long day.

As was custom, after the God hour and snack time, the “cool” kats in the youth group decided to head to Applebee’s for some late night snacking. I’m not sure I’m actually one of the cool kids or more like a chaperone, but I hopped into Manuel’s car and we cruised down to Zona Viva. Cervecita was on my mind. In the restaurant, everyone ordered foo-foo shakes except me, the rebel without a cause. I looked at the waiter imploringly and said, “Un Gallo, por favor.”

Fifteen minutes later, out came elegantly shaped glasses full of milky liquid with pineapple-maraschino cherry garnishes on top. I about despaired, had he not heard my urgent request for a beer? But no, up came a waitress with a pint glass and bottle of the Gallo for me. Oh, how I had forgotten that seductive (ahem) color of the Gallo Cerveza. How could I have forgotten its rich, near-water taste! (Alas, where was my beloved 1554 from New Belgium Brewing Company?) Well, when there is little else, even the Gallo tastes good. Maybe not quite as good as Dave’s homebrew or the Pacific Northwest’s microbrews, but still….

Manuel proceeded to tell me about how beer in the US has only 3.5% alcohol and Gallo has 5%. I looked at the light color of the beer and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is 5% alcohol?” At any rate, the following day I looked up the alcohol content of Deschutes brews. I’m proud to say, their beer is nowhere near 3.5%. Oh no, more like 6%. And it’s quality too. Mmm.

If anyone from home is reading this, please after a long, hard day, crack open a New Belgium, MacKenzie River, Deschutes, Missoula Brewing Company, home brew, or any other microbrew and savor that delicious flavor for me. Thank you.


“Looking for some hot stuff, baby, this evening! Looking for some hot stuff, baby, tonight….” The song pounds out of Curves’ stereo system interrupted every 30 seconds by a friendly female voice announcing it’s time to switch circuits. The walls of the gym are decorated with a profound purple and acid green and a mural of a joyous group of women getting themselves pumped up about exercise. Oh yeah. I glance around at the other women, most of whom are in their 40’s or 50’s, working the Curves magic to loose the extra pounds.

In between the Curves machines, little aerobic pads await the jumping, marching moves that we women make to keep out heart rate up. I prefer kick boxing moves. In between the frantic meringue beats, occasional Madonna, and frequent salsa beats, I throw a jab, cross, uppercut. It wouldn’t do to let my kick boxing skills fall below par.

The Curves concept revolves around a 30 minute circuit on aerobic blocks and hydraulic machines. The faster you do sets on the machines, the harder it is. Then, since stretching is 19% of results, off the women go to loosen their warmed-up muscles.

Most women do two rounds of the circuit before retiring to stretch. Thirty minutes of cardio and they’re done. I can’t justify only spending thirty minutes on the organized activity. Instead, I walk to the gym, spend 45 minutes in exercise and an additional 15-20 on abs, glutes, pecs, biceps, triceps, etc. before continuing my merry way back out into the Guatemalan day.

Who would have guessed I would go to Curves?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Really Awesome Pictures

So, I added a link to www.flickr.com to this blog. If you scroll down, you'll see it on the right side. Click on it and be amazed with my stellar photo collection. I only take my camera with me when it seems safe (mostly only if I get rides places), so the collection will grow very slowly but will be rad all the same. Whoop whoop. The link is courtesy of my awesome brother knowing everything there is to know about technology. Hats of to Dan.


Yesterday I turned 24. It was probably the funniest birthday I have had in a long time. Firstly, I went to Curves to work out and in the middle of some hot leg work, all the employees came over and sang happy birthday to me and handed me my first birthday present: a card with a nail filer. Pretty awesome.

When I got home, Roberto and Rosemarie had me over for lunch (meatball soup).

Then, I went to class.

Then, I went out with all the hard core Development Master's students and we went to a pizza parlor where we ordered an enormous pizza. It was a meter long. Seriously. I might have underestimated the amazing eating ability of my hobbit friends.

Friday, July 27, 2007

July 27, 1983

Happy Birthday, Nancy!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Slowly grey dawn creeps over the sleeping city. Out of the misty early morning stillness emerge the trees outside my window. High in their branches, perched near the ferns that make their homes on the tree limbs, birds begin to chirp their cheerful greeting to the dawn. I wake in the dark stillness of my apartment. Nature’s alarm clock alerts me that it is time to rise and join the world for another day.

Slowly, I stir under the covers. The familiar pang, the pang of loneliness, hits my chest. The pang that reminds me every day that Brian is far away, as are my mountains, family, and home. It’s the sullen ache that reminds me I left everything I hold dearest thousands of miles away.

Resolutely, I get up, determined to make the most out of the day. I rub the sleep from my eyes and wander to the kitchen, where I prepare my solitary breakfast of toast, yogurt, and fresh pineapple. The tangy-sweet bite of yellow pineapple stirs me into greater awareness of place. It awakens me to the sound of trucks rumbling over potholes in the street to reach the tin-fronted construction site half a block down the road. The glass rattles in the windows and car alarms shriek their warning as the trucks jolt everything and everyone out of their early morning stupor.

I dress and pull on my tennis shoes before unlocking the door and escaping into the early morning sunlight. It is a rare morning, where the perpetual smog has lifted and reveals stunning views of the nearby volcanoes. I often forget these volcanoes exist as only when I leave by 6:30 in the morning are their smooth, conical shapes exposed.

Quickly, I make my way to the corner, avoiding the mud from the construction site, and minding my steps as I walk like a trapeze walker over uneven cement and unexpected holes in the sidewalk. One wrong move would result in a sprained or broken ankle. As I walk, I greet the early morning joggers; dog walkers; and workers who rush to their posts as maids, construction workers, or gardeners.

It rained last night, puddles still pooling on the stairs of the crosswalk. Quickly, I hurry up the steel steps, listening to it ping pang as it flexes under my feet. I check for people before I cross the cement walk and descend the other side towards, Paiz, the grocery store. At the foot of the steps, a woman already has her small coffee stand started. Baskets heaping with rolls, breads, and pastries along with two steaming thermos filled with sweetened coffee await the sweatshirt-clad workers. They clutch the warm drink in their hands and munch greedily at their rolls, check their wrist watches for the time, and wait anxiously for the señora to unroll her fistful of Quetzales and make their change.

My feet beat the familiar path up the street to the gym. I walk by stores selling Korean-owned clothing made in local maquilas. They still have protective grates across the glass display window; the owners have not yet arrived. Up the street I march until I arrive at McDonalds and McCafe, where people are alternately buying their McSandwiches or their freshly made lattes. Across the street, the flower vender has already set up his array of exotic blooms. Birds of paradise, roses, and tropical flowers grace his white buckets, enticing passersby to purchase the flowers for a loved one.

I enter the secure parking lot of the gym and stop briefly to greet the familiar guard. As he casts me his usual morning greeting, my eyes are drawn to his two front teeth, which have been surrounded in gold to keep them from further rotting. As I hustle inside for my morning work out, I know when I leave this quiet, early morning movement will be replaced with the chaos and rush of people hustling to work, to shop, to classes. I let that thought pass me by. The morning was so beautiful, it’s better to cherish it than dwell on the city bustle. With one last wave to the guard, I walk inside to prepare myself for the rest of the day.

Magic Moment

Vista Hermosa Bookshop, its familiar organized book stacks, so unlike Bookpeople, greeted me as I hurried through its opened doors. It was July 21, 2007, the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I waited, anxiously, but patiently, for the seller to wrap an elegant package for the couple ahead of me. Finally, after asking for my name, she hustled into the back and returned with a plastic wrapped copy of the book, with my name on it. As we exchanged Quetzales for the book, I felt a shiver run down my spine. I could hardly wait to open its beautiful yellow cover and begin the final installment of the epic Happy Potter series.

Yet, I had made myself promise to finish listening to Number 6 before creaking open Number 7. Impatiently, that evening I listened to the final hours of Number 6, hugging Deathly Hallows to me, before I fell asleep to Jim Dale’s soothing voice as he read about Dumbledore’s funeral.

The next morning, I sat with Harry Potter in front of me and, with trembling fingers, reverently opened the final novel. My breathing came shallow and fast. I felt shivers run up and down my spine as I read J.K. Rowling’s dedication of seven parts, concluding with “…and to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” Slowly I began to read the novel, absorbing every word, every thrilling event in the novel. My body continued to quiver with the anticipation of this most anticipated book.

This moment, this Magic Moment, is the very moment Scholastic worked to protect as the release of Harry Potter approached. I read an article about this protection and that the true magic of the Potter series comes when one sits alone with the book and opens the novel for the first time to begin the latest journey. The burst of excitement that emerges in physiological changes, the child-like abandon with which one gives oneself up to the magical world of witches and wizards, the moment when one discovers whether good will vanquish evil, this is the Magic Moment.

The Magic Moment came to me strongly, as I sat, absorbed, pouring myself into the book and into this refuge from the world. My Magic Moment where I know, in the end, good will always overcome evil. We must just let that side of ourselves be revealed in order to heal and nourish our beloved world.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Alley…

On a rainy Sunday morning, I am taking advantage of the pearl white tile floors of my apartment. Tunes of the Decemberists, Dave Matthews, Dar Williams, the Be Good Tanyas, even the Dixie Chicks are pulsing out of my portable stereo. I dance without abandon in my kitchen and hallway. When I close my eyes, I imagine I’m in John’s Alley listening to Sol’Jibe and joining the freely dancing hippies with no inhibitions as we listen to the beats coursing from the band’s instruments. I picture Emily’s willowy frame as her skirt swirls around her, her boney arms gracefully leading her head and body to follow them as she whirls, swoops, and pulses to the music. My disco, while missing $1.00 PBR’s, crowds, funky clothes, and the overwhelming cloud of cigarette smoke found in the Alley, is top notch, and rather exclusive. By that I mean, it’s me, myself, and I as the principle owner, dancer, and DJ. Man, this dancing life is good. I better pull out Madonna and really get this party started. Oh yeah, it’s time for Brian’s hip thrust dance move!

Gallo Cerveza

Roberto and I had a heart to heart about beer on the way home from Paiz, the grocery store. He filled me in about the local beer, Gallo, and its many flavors (varying from light to dark beer and a slightly more specialty brand), and confessed his love for Samuel Adams to me. Since we were in beer confession, I admitted I love micro-brews, especially from my beloved Pacific Northwest. I just love a good sip of New Belgium, Deschutes, Missoula Brewing Company, even good old Coeur d’Alene’s brews. Little can compete with oat stouts and Dead Guy Ale.

Roberto was pretty shocked that I hadn’t tried the old Gallo yet. So yesterday, he and Rosemarie took me to their country club, Club Alemán, for lunch. Every time they go, Roberto likes a nice pint of the Gallo to enjoy with lunch. Yesterday, he ordered two Gallo Claros, one for him and one for me.

I must admit, I was pretty impressed. I thought I would have to live without the classic PBR, the Pabst, the Pipper for a whole 10 months before returning to the land of college student preferred beers. But no, Gallo, although disguised as Gallo, must be closely related to that friend of poor college students, PBR. It must be like a first cousin of PBR and a second cousin to the Bud, Miller, and Genuine Draft that passes as brewski in the USA.

The Gallo came out in a gleaming pint glass. Its perfect golden color, so reminiscent of urine, glimmered expectantly in the glass. The white fizz sizzled away as I examined the cerveza and thought longingly of a pint of Dead Guy Ale. Roberto and I lifted up our heavy glass pints and exclaimed with gusto, “SALUD!” As the Gallo flavor past my teeth and touched my taste buds, I instantly remembered a conversation between Kofi and Craig over Kofi’s pitcher of Bud Light in Mingles this May:

Craig: Kofi, what’s the difference between American beer and having sex in a canoe on a lake?
Kofi: Yes…. I don’t know, Craig.
Craig: They’re both f*** close to water.

Hands up for the Gallo. Salud.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What about Second Breakfast?

I am a giant in the land of… hobbits. All around me Guatemalans appear to be no taller than around five feet or less. Many of them have round faces with pronounced cheek bones, making them look like hobbits from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. My land lord has the innocent, yet mischievous look of one of these small creatures. His stooped shoulders and large, gentle blue-brown eyes emphasize this appearance. While these hobbits speak Spanish, instead of Irish-English, and they don’t tend to wear short pants or suspenders, the similarity is remarkable.

In Xela on Tuesday, while eating lunch in a taquería, I had an interesting conversation with a group of conservation officials from CONAP. As we discussed food, one of them admitted to Guatemalan’s bad habbit of eating snacks. He said, “It’s terrible really. We have breakfast, then a snack at 10:00 then lunch then another snack then another snack before dinner…. It’s okay if you’re hiking all day, but when you’re just sitting in an office….” I tried with difficulty to repress the laughter bubbling up inside me. His words reminded me forcefully of Pippin and Strider’s conversation:

Strider: Gentlemen, what are you doing? We do not stop ‘til nightfall.
Pippin: Making breakfast.
Strider: You’ve already had breakfast.
Pippin: We’ve had one, yes, but what about second breakfast!?

Wherein Strider huffs off and throws apples at the hobbits.

Merry: I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevensees, luncheon, tea, dinner, supper!?

Hobbits in Guatemala, incredible.

Wireless Internet

Today Roberto informed me the wireless network was set up and ready to go. Excitedly, I brought my computer over to Roberto and Rosemarie's to set up the computer's wireless. It functioned great, until I got to the door of my apartment (probably 25 feet away from the network device). Like a kick to the butt, the wireless router kicked my computer off the connection. This led to an afternoon filled with moving the wireless router around and trying it with the laptop. No luck.

From there, Roberto turned on his laptop and began walking slowly towards the apartment to see where the connection stopped. The first time, it turned off as soon as he walked in the door. The second time, it lasted into the living room. The third time, it kicked him off as soon as he walked out his door. Who knew wireless was such a temperamental beast?

Roberto suggested we wander around with our laptops to see where the range varied. From there, he and I walked, our eyes transfixed on the green connection bars, like synchronized zombies towards the apartment. I felt like we looked like two aliens walking around and trying to get our antennas the right direction for a good connection. At the same time, the internet kicked us off - kaBAM- as though filling our antennas with white noise. We persisted for some time before finally sitting at the dining room table to read about oil spills off New York and to check e-mail. So much work for a Saturday, we decided to see if we can get a longer cable on Monday so the wireless router reaches closer to the apartment, which, by the way, shares the same walls as the house.

Until further notice, my apartment remains an internet free zone.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

In the Name of Development

The wind outside reminds me of Moscow’s constantly changing weather. The sky is a clear, light blue, yet the constantly present pollution caused by the hundreds of cars and black, lead-filled smoked emitted by the city buses obscures the view of the volcanoes that overlook the city. It should begin raining this afternoon. Huge thunderclouds with white voluptuous tops and ominous black bases will soon threaten the valley where Guatemala City is located. Yet for the last week, these clouds have merely threatened imminent thunderstorms for it has barely rained these last days. They say here it is a la Niña year, which makes the weather erratic. Maybe that’s why the rainy season has actually been dry.

Outside, the garden is filled with plants that we would only see as house plants in the United States. Spider plants are a regular feature in gardens. Succulent plants flourish in these gardens, their swollen leaves puffed like cheeks filled with air. I hope these plants flourish in the thick carbon dioxide poison that is spewed from the cars speeding by on this small pedestrian street. I hope they return a small bit of oxygen for me to fill my lungs with clean air.

Thankfully, the overwhelming stench of low-grade diesel does not permeate the inside of the apartment. Yet, as I sit here, I think of Drs. Von Walden and Lee Vierling’s discussions of climate change. I think about global change caused by humans cutting down forests, contaminating the earth with pesticides, and polluting their water sources with human waste.

I can’t help to think that while the United States emits 25% of the world’s carbon emissions, at least in most of the country we can breathe the air and not worry about lung cancer, lead poisoning, and the black lung. At least in most places we can drink the water, sit on the grass, escape to a park, and live in a clean environment. Most of us have the right to a decent, equitable life.

I sit and ponder the emphasis Moscow, Idaho, places on recycling and composting waste. I think about how Maggie and I had one bag of garbage a week. If only we had had a way to compost, we would have had virtually no waste. All the values I hold, the concepts I have towards minimizing the waste I contribute to the environment are in conflict here. All my environmental and social values collide with the realities I experience in Guatemala. I hope their values do not include poverty and pollution in the name of development, yet I fear they do.

As I drove with Sandra and Bill to Xela, we saw construction workers tearing the mountains down to widen the highway. Fine cream colored dust filled the air, kicked up by cars as they screamed past us through the construction zones. People too impatient to wait for the on-coming traffic to pass through the construction site caused further problems by blocking the one lane through which traffic could pass.

From no where emerged people in the informal business sector passed by the cars peddling handicrafts like musical boxes shaped as Ferris wheels and brightly woven hand bags, and selling habas, chifles, mangos, stuffed chiles, and chicken lunches. They yell in their harsh voices to announce what they sell. Straggly feral dogs trot along behind them hoping one of the women may drop her wares and provide them with a free lunch. People got out of their cars to smoke, take a piss, and stretch their aching legs as the line of automobiles grows ever longer, spreading back towards Xela from the road construction site. It’s as though everyone knows it will take at least 40 minutes to pass through a 500 foot stretch of construction.

Finally, the traffic began to move. First from the opposing side, the drivers forced their way through the double and sometimes triple lanes of impatient drivers clogging the road. Then, to further frustrate the situation, the cars, buses, and trucks that had passed illegally and clogged traffic honked their horns, yelled, and shoved their way back into the one lane of traffic going through the construction site. The lack of order destroyed whatever efficiency existed in the destructive construction zone.

Eventually we started driving again through the precarious zone to continue the long and sinuous drive back to Guatemala City. Black smoke poured from the tail pipes of the trucks and brightly painted second-hand school buses as they huffed and puffed around the tight corners and over the mountain passes on the narrow highway. My lungs, already aggravated by the dust, were further molested by this poison inflicted upon them. I could feel them begging me to return home to the clean western air of the United States. My mind and heart agrees with them, beating a steady rhythm that forms the words, “It’s time to go home, home, home.”

Previous rainstorms had ripped through these construction sites, carrying off the valuable top soil and layers of other soils from the mountain down into the ravines below. Huge rivets coursed through the loose soil by the road construction. On the downward side of the construction, the erosion is so bad it threatens to destroy the roadway in a matter of years, months, or even weeks. On the hillside above, hovels, where entire families live, hang dangerously close to the precipice. Their precious corn field, planted inches from the roadside, is covered with the same fine dust that coats the roadside construction area.

We passed by signs stating “Do not throw garbage. Fine Q 5,000.” Yet, all around the signs lay heaps and piles of plastic containers, pop bottles, grocery sacks, food waste. Painfully thin dogs, their ribs protruding from their sides, dug through the piles with their muzzles and paws searching for some bit of worm-filled meat, molding bread, rotting vegetables to fill their stomachs. The trash heaps cascade down the mountainside, into the waterways below. Probably these rivers are the only source of water for the wretchedly poor populations of rural people living in this area.

Beautiful views of exotic conical volcanoes were marred the entire drive by the cinderblock constructions that pass as dark, dank homes for these country people. Most are partially constructed. Rebar sticks out of the roofs, a reminder of hope for better days to build a second floor sometime, who knows when, in the future. Bare grey blocks plastered together and occasionally coated or painted remind me of prison cells filled with prisoners of poverty. Little to no expense is spared to make these buildings aesthetically pleasing. The repetitive construction of these Soviet style constructions fails to orient me to where we are in the country. All the buildings are identically constructed in the square, squat manner. All spread dismally across the landscape and function for utility rather than for comfort.

I look at the land, which is in its own right beautiful. But, I think despairingly at the atrocities that humans have done to it in the name of development. In the name of development they are tearing down mountains to widen a road. In the name of development, they credit cinderblock homes as being safeguards against earthquakes. They use these instead of traditional adobe construction. In the name of development the poor rifle through garbage in search of recyclable material to sell for a meager profit. In the name of development, they let their fields be drenched in pesticides and chemicals. They allow their rivers to be filled with contamination. They let their stomachs be filled with amebas.

As I observe this stark reality I think, “If this is development, I want nothing to do with it.”

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Guatemala has 12 million inhabitants, 1.5 million of whom live in the USA. I learned today in an Economics class that Guatemala's population doubles every thirty years. That means in thirty years this small country will have 24 million inhabitants. The carrying capacity of humans is around 36 million inhabitants here. In less than one hundred years, Guatemala is going to have too many people for the land. And I thought 12 million was a lot.

My professor, Dr. Von Walden, once quoted Dr. Albert Bartlett, "the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."


In the airport in Chicago, I stopped at a Starbucks to savor the delicious flavors of a latte one last time. As I sipped the espresso flavored milk I thought sadly, "goodbye coffee until next year." The reason for this depressing thought was the result of living in Ecuador for a year. Even though Ecuador grows some coffee, everyone drank NesCafe. NesCafe, from Nesquick, is instant coffee that Ecuadorians would shovel into their hot milk or water and drink as "coffee". After living in Moscow for the last 3 years, I have grown used to good old One World Cafe and their delicious lattes. The thought to be without a coffee shop to hang out in was pretty depressing that day in Chicago. Then, I remembered that Guatemala produces coffee!

Coffee is truly everywhere here. There are coffee shops at the university and down the street from my house. Coffee shops where they serve real coffee, espresso, lattes, every kind of coffee I could imagine! Coffee plantations grace the areas around the city, where I can go and learn how it's grown.

It's incredibly exciting to have a cup of Joe these days. Yum. Straight from the source.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Cell Phones

Cell phones permeate Guatemalan society in the capital. I walk down the street or through the university campus and everyone I see seems connected to these electronic devices. But, why shouldn´t they; after all companies like Tigo and Claro offer easy to use pre-paid prices. A cell phone costs around Q250, which is about $30. From there, you just buy "phone cards" to recieve minutes on the cell phone. I don´t know if it turns out to be less expensive than the US, but there is no service plan and no two year contract. It´s like self service cell phone use.

After just 3 days here and subtle observations that there don´t seem to be a lot of public phones easily available, I decided I would feel better if I got one of these little devices too. I walked over to the mall and up to the Tigo booth and bought one of the least expensive phones. $35 and a free t-shirt later and now I am connected to the magical cellular world of Tigo (best cell service in the country). The SIM chip is installed and the cell phone number is plastered by the battery so if I ever forget my number, I take off the phone back and there you go. Tigo 51961693. How convenient. It even lets me call at a decent price to the USA.

At the beginning of the month, Tigo phone card sellers in their brilliantly blue shirts, put on a red vest labeled "hoy doble." On the "hoy doble" days, the Q100 are double value. For Q100 you get Q200 (twice the amount for $15!). Now I just have to find one of these guys and I´m set. Tigo a la orden.

Monday, July 2, 2007


Guatemala is half the size of Iowa and has 12 million people (several times the population of Iowa). How is there room for them all?

Transportation on the Chicken Bus

Defying all rules of safety or even basic ideas of personal space, transportation in Guatemala requires a person to deflate their personal bubble and become intimately aquainted through proximity with one´s neighbor. The ancient Blue Bird school buses from the United States are here painted gaudy reds, oranges, yellows, and revamped for maximum capacity, well over that of a normal school bus ride. The buses in Guatemala City have had the cheerful blue synthetic seats replaced with chairs that one would see in a middle school auditorium (like McKinley) - old, rickity, wooden. While the chicken buses maintain the school look, they manage to fit more people than a normal school bus ever could. I look up and read the signs painted in gothic writing on the insides of the bus: Jesus, mi fiel amigo (Jesus, my faithful friend), Dios bendiga este bus (God bless this bus). I certainly hope Jesus is the bus driver´s faithful friend and that God is indeed watching over this overcrowded machine.

Like sardines, three people to a seat and aisles full to bursting, the bus from Xanacoj kept stopping to let more people on the bus. In the front, the bus attendant hollers that there´s more space in the back of the bus. ¨Adelante señores!¨ is his call as he squeezes through bundles, past women in woven skirts, shoves by men in suits to collect the bus fare. To let the people squashed in the back off, they open the rear escape door and the passangers leap out onto the pavement below.

I found myself directed to sit in an already full seat, half of my butt on the seat, the rest of my body tense and bracing myself so I wouldn´t fall off the seat onto the floor as the bus screeched around tight corners. My face started to sweat and I had to carefully time when I would move my hands from their deathgrip on the bar to wipe off my sweating face. I felt it trickle down my back and wondered why on earth the people by the windows didn´t open them to relieve the heat.

Finally, Mirta signaled that it was time to get off the bus. Slowly, like slow moving lava, we oozed our way to the front of the bus past the multitudes of people squashed together in the aisle, clambering over the women in their woven skirts and huipiles and squeezing, much like toothpaste squeezed from a tube, between the men in their dark suits. Finally, we reached the door and, like a Christmas cracker that pops when it´s pulled, or a pressurized can that explodes, we burst free from the overcrowded bus. The acrid, sweet smell of low grade diesel filled the air as the bus huffed and growled and grumbled away with is precarious and precious human cargo.