Monday, November 19, 2007

Pollo Campero

National pride in Guatemala appears to revolve around two products: 1) Gallo Cerveza and 2) Pollo Campero. Everyone consumes them as if they are part of the national anthem and pledge of allegiance to Guatemala (imagine: “Gallo Cerveza y Pollo Campero confiamos en ustedes! Somos orgullosos de nuestros productos nacionales! Gallo Beer and Country Chicken we trust you! We are proud of our national products!” I can hear the jingle now). They certainly are formative parts of their culture.

I remember when I first moved to Guatemala all people talked about was how I just had to eat Pollo Campero because it’s sooooooooo good. I ignored these Guatemalans for months because I didn’t want to do what everyone does and eat the Pollo. Everyday someone would ask me if I’d tried Pollo Campero and I would say no. “No!” they’d exclaim, “You have to try Pollo Campero! You can’t leave Guatemala without trying Pollo Campero!! WHY haven’t you eaten Pollo Campero yet!???” After every encounter my head would spin at their firm and loyal exclamations about fried chicken.

It was months before Pollo Campero came to me. In Flores, Peten, at the end of September’s data collection period I was staying with a Rotary family who ate good chapín (Guatemalan) food. On my last day we drove to the Pollo Campero truck (they don’t have a restaurant in Santa Elena) where Flor hopped out of the car and trotted up to the Pollo truck (like a taco truck but less cool). She came back carrying containers of fried chicken, tubs of cole slaw, a bag of cheap white bread rolls, and a two-liter of Pepsi. Right on. It was time to try the Pollo.

At the lunch table the whole family got right into their chicken. “Mmmm, nothing beats fried chicken and nothing is better than Pollo Campero,” they exclaimed. Mmm…. It’s decent as fried chicken goes, but Guatemalans have an insane level of pride in their national fried chicken.

Back in the capital, now that I’ve had my Pollo Campero cherry broken, I occasionally order the Pollo Campero meal for take out because nothing beats fried chicken. Only once have I stayed and that was to initiate Nick and Brian to the experience. You see, you can’t leave Guatemala without having eaten at Pollo Campero!

Walking into the restaurant is instant chaos. The restaurant is always busy. And I mean always busy. No matter the time of day the restaurant is packed with Guatemalans happily gnawing on chicken legs, dunking champuradas (like a cookie) in sugary coffee, and licking soft serve white and pink ice cream cones. People are happy to be in Pollo Campero. It’s a privilege to eat at the nation’s most popular restaurant. They are proud of their Pollo Campero!

Dozens of bustling employees dressed in immaculate khakis, bright orange hats, and orange and yellow Pollo polo shirts dart towards you directing you to empty seats, handing you brightly colored menus and scattering to other calls being shouted through their radio headsets (whose heard of sit-down-before-you-order fast food?). Waitresses take orders on electronic pads meaning your order of the Pollo Campero combo (two pieces of fried chicken, one small fry, one unhealthy white roll, and a small Pepsi cola) is instantly relayed to the five guys waiting to fill orders. Five seconds later (literally) out comes a tray full Correl indestructible plates laden with the grease bomb order. There’s hardly time to breath before your order is ready. I can picture the staff in the back high-fiving at another successful 5-second delivery of fried chicken.

There is always some orange and yellow employee bustling around mopping or sweeping the floor right under your feet, hovering around to take your plate the instant it is chicken-less, or waiting expectantly for you to order their delicious coffee and champurada snack-time offering. It’s always time for refacción, or snack hour, in Guatemala, and what is better than a tummy full of fried chicken topped off with coffee and champuradas, pues.

Pollo Campero is really something. It’s the Bonanza, the Texas Steakhouse, the McDonalds, or the KFC of Guatemala. But, as Guatemalans so frequently say, “Oh, but it’s so much better than KFC! I had KFC once in the United States and Pollo Campero is just soooooo much better than KFC, pues. Sí, vos, mucho mejor, Pollo Campero. We used to take it on the airplane when visiting family in the United States, vos. That’s all they wanted from Guatemala was Pollo Campero because it’s sooooo good, vos. Pues… sí…delicioso.” It is considered a sacrilege not to consume the Pollo Campero.

It is also probably the most common place to take a girl out on a date. I mean, who could resist the irresistible smells of fried chicken and a date at the country’s most popular fast food restaurant? I, for instance, have now officially been asked on two dates to Pollo Campero. The latest happened just today. I was walking down my street towards home when the new little guard for the thirteen story apartment building trotted across the street saying, “Ah, yes! You live around here? Oh yes, I thought, I hadn’t seen this blanquita, this little white lady, before. Oh, yes. I will take you out to Pollo Campero on a date? Just come by? Give me your phone number and we can go to Pollo Campero.” I tried not to laugh because I suppose that takes a lot of guts to just ask some random white girl on a date. As politely as I could I said I was engaged (I’m not) and continued my walk down the street as the guard said, “Pues… sí… Pollo Campero! God bless you! Just give me your number and we can go to Pollo Campero… sí, pues....

Pollo Campero… national pride. Hooking guys and girls up for decades over a hot plate of fried chicken.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Guatemala City

Every visit to Tikal, I spend time conversing with visitors who inevitably ask me what Guatemala City is like. I always feel like this question is so loaded because every guide book and website and communication about Guatemala talks about how horrible, terrible, awful, disgusting, polluted, oppressive, and dreadful Guatemala City is. Every guide advices people to get out as fast as possible and travel to Antigua, which is a much nicer place to visit. My general answer revolves around the positive and negatives of GC. The positives include several good and interesting museums and a few places to go out. The negatives involve pollution, difficulties and potential dangers of public transit, and general difficulties of negotiating the town. I advise them to see the museums and Central Plaza if they really want to hang out in the capital and otherwise to hoof it out of town. For me, I appreciate seeing two sides of Guatemala, provincial in Tikal and metropolitan… or enormous city… in Guatemala City.

How can I describe Guatemala City?

A constant cacophony of sounds crashes in my ears as I walk along Vista Hermosa Boulevard. Rumbling cement trucks, garbage trucks, semi trucks, and chicken buses cruise by at neck-breaking speeds as if the Boulevard is the Daytona 500 and which ever massive machine reaches Carretera El Salvador will win the grand prize. Only here there are no prizes and the aggressiveness of drivers seems unwarranted and out of place in this upper class zone.

Vista Hermosa is one of the main arteries in town and connects Zona 10 with Carretera El Salvador, rich neighborhoods with other rich neighborhoods with slums just blocks away. High rises and volcanoes loom in the horizon as slowly these hulking concrete buildings pop up in low-lying family units. There seem to be no building codes here just a frantic push towards development, constructions, and moving asi adelante, pues, moving forward. On early mornings or on rare days I can look out from the pedestrian cross walk and see Volcan de Agua’s conical shape rising distantly over the city. Normally, however, a thick layer of grey smog coats the city and obscures even the nearest mountains from view. When this happens only the imitation Eiffel Tower and high rise office buildings near Zona 10 are visible in the distance.

My ears protest as the beastly form of a corroding number 1 bus careens past me. It’s grumbling sound changes to a shrieking cry as the driver takes his foot of the gas, pushes in the clutch, and jams the bus into a higher gear. The grumbling continues until all it leaves behind is the impermeable cloud of black diesel smoke that covers the entire street. I cover my mouth with my sleeve as I walk through the cloud of acrid, dirty smoke. People look at me like I’m crazy, but anything I can do to prevent lead build up in my lungs is something. Synonymous with the smoke, smog, and general overwhelming air pollution of the city, my lungs begin to ache, nose begins to run, and I begin to cough as my body fights the allergic irritation of air pollution. Brian wondered how people can possible exercise outside here – the pollution truly must shorten your life by several years.

I watch as the Number 1 Centro bus hurls down the opposite side of the street. It’s packed so full of people that men are clinging precariously to the front and back bumbers and wheel rims, anywhere they can in order to get to their destination. I always pray those men won’t fall off, get run over, or be trampled by the reckless driving surrounding them. They’re like martyrs for the revamp, red school buses whose lives have been miraculously sustained by replacement parts and acts of God to keep them running. On more than one of those buses the floor is rusted nearly or completely through. Sometimes it offers a view of the pavement whirling away below. Other times the drivers have covered the spongy metal, hot from the engine, with plywood, as if that inspires confidence in the security of the floor.

A car backfiring like a gun shot jars me back into consciousness on the Boulevard. Cars backfiring, firecrackers, and fireworks mark any moment of the day. It seems as though Guatemalans light firecrackers for any and every situation. For me, I am always startled and shocked at this noise that I firstly associate with gunshots before realizing that there is yet another celebration of noise in the neighborhood. Maybe this paranoia comes from the constant stress of hearing deadly stories of life in Guatemala. Maybe it comes from the recollection that only ten years earlier the country “ended” a thirty-year civil war. Or maybe it comes from the jolting reality of hearing gunshots to terrible results in ever quiet and peaceful Moscow this spring. I think it’s the combination but it always makes me so edgy and nervous and exposed to hear these sounds.

Boys no older than 14, who probably only studied until second grade, sit resolutely outside Blockbuster and pitch their collection of pirated DVD’s packed squarely into their worn out second or third hand L.L. Bean and Jan Sport backpacks. Peliculas, seño? Son originales! Films, lady? They’re originals!” they exclaim as they try to convince me to purchase their films. By original I’m sure they mean filmed in the movie theater, which always reminds me of Mystery Science Theater as people’s heads pop up when they leave the theater to purchase popcorn, soda, or to use the bathroom. I shake my head and continue down the avenue past maquila clothing stores where Koreans sell clothing made in their Korean-Guatemalan factories for less than Q25 per shirt (~$2.00). They are always the latest Latina fashion of brightly colored printed baby-doll shirts with hearts, flowers, stripes, and large plastic butterfly buttons adorning the front. I imagine 20 year olds wearing these shirts that make them look pregnant and 12 years old at the same time. It’s not an attractive image.

The wrinkled lady who sells hot tortillas from a large plastic container sits everyday except Sunday outside Paiz, the grocery store, waiting to sell the corn flatbread to passersby. I stop to talk with her and she greets me happily. Her mouth is full of red gums and broken, jagged teeth. No le había visto, seño. I haven’t seen you, ma’am. I was wondering when you would bye tortillas again.” She scoops 8 tortillas into a pink plastic sack for me as I dig in my coin purse for 2 quetzales. It’s such a juxtaposition to see this poor woman sitting outside Paiz, owned by Wal-Mart, where all the wealthy neighborhood people purchase their groceries. Across the access road from her are two indigenous women cackling over a small wood fire where they are preparing humble meals of chicken, rice, and beans for the poor workers in the neighborhood. Their eyes have the glazed, bluish grey look of cataracts caused by standing over the smoky fires day after day.

Down the street a Mayan woman sits in the shade with her small stand of avocadoes, papayas, strawberries, and pineapples waiting to sell her wares. I ask the price of avocadoes and while exchanging money she asks if my hair color is original. I tell her it is and she exclaims, “Qué calidad! That’s quality!” It makes me smile as it’s definitely the best compliment I’ve ever received about my hair color. Quality.

There are always these small fruit stands or trucks around the neighborhood. When they drive through the neighborhood the venders announce their produce in mournful, drawn out voices as if there were nothing more serious in life than selling a tomato, lettuce, or oranges (“tomaaaaaaaaaaates, lechuuuuuuuuugas, naraaaaaaaaanjas!”) to the maids of these households. Others drive in their decrepid Toyota trucks and call through loud speakers, “Hay naranjas, uvas, limon.... There are oranges, grapes, limes.” At home I always know which vender is coming by the sound of their voice, the time of day, and occasionally the tinkling bell of the ice cream cart.

In the stores the same people work all day every day. I know all the grocers in Paiz, for example, and they always smile when they see the red head (though I’m sure they think I am blond) come through their aisle. “How was Tikal this week, seño?” they always ask as they pack my groceries in three times as many yellow plastic sacks as is really necessary. Whenever I insist that I don’t actually need a bag they look at me for a good 10 seconds, continue to bag, until I firmly say that I really don’t need a bag, thank you. Then they look at me some more, ask if I’m sure, and as if I’m crazy, hand me whatever small item I’ve purchased. Gringa loca.
It’s funny how insanity is common here like how people drive, fail to learn to parallel park, honk, and generally live in a chaotic, overwhelming style. It must just be the difference in culture for me where I find no sense of normality over the blatant holding-life-in-the-palm-of-your-hand manner that Guatemalans exist. I am constantly amazed, for example, at how they drive exceedingly fast in residential streets, on highways, or in traffic with no seatbelts on. I wonder how there are not more accidents or traffic confusions but people seem to understand the normalcy in the insanity, the life-threatening mediocrity of situations. In this constant threat, fear, and struggle they live, survive, and thrive.

How can I describe Guatemala City to a passing tourist? It is an overwhelming proposition.

One Hundred and Fifty-Seven

I normally wouldn't write about work here but, it is an exciting day. I just returned from Tikal and have officially broken the 150 mark of surveys. 157 and counting! COUNT IT!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Frogger

At 4:30 every afternoon the local street food stands wrap up business for the day. They seem to know people's tastes change from their grilled sausages and tacos to atol and bread. At this time, one stand in particular always sticks out. A young boy of about 15 years mans a grill shaped like a Pepsi Cola can. He spends the entire day talking with the other vendors, cooking meat for tacos, and standing slouched over by his Pepsi grill.

When 4:00 rolls around, he takes down his grill's awning, packs his products inside the can, and begins to valiently push the heavy cart up Vista Hermosa Boulevard to the nearest crossing. Vista Hermosa constantly has traffic on it. Normally this can be bumper to bumper and backed up several kilometers from Pais, where the taco boy has his stand. To get across the street, the boy has to strategically plan the crossing so he can get enough momentum to push the grill uphill and across the first lanes of traffic. Every afternoon, walking back from my excursions out of the house, I stand on the pedestrian overpass and watch as he pushes the cart just barely into the intersection, braces his legs, and waits to propel the grill across the intersection.

From this verticle view, I have a clear view of the complicated game the taco boy is playing. It brings to mind Seinfeld's Frogger episode, where George buys a Frogger machine with his top score on it and has to cross one of NYC's avenues to save his score. He darts across the street like a frog leaping across a street in the video game. Resolutely cheerful arcade music plays as he pushes, pulls, and propells his Frogger machine across the avenue. Just as he reaches the other side, he can't get the top-heavy machine over the curve and it gets smashed by a semi, loosing his top score and destroying the beloved and expensive arcade game.

Taco boy reminds me of George as he darts through the traffic to reach the other side. Every second he calculates his odds at crossing the 5 lanes (made 6-8 by crazy Guatemalan drivers) of peril with his only livelihood in tow. I sit in suspense, the Postal Service's arcade-like music pulsing in my head, wondering, "WILL HE MAKE IT!???" It's a gamble, an exciting moment as he shoves the grill across the street, narrowly colliding with a motorcycle, and makes it to the meridian.

Now comes the more complicated side of the Boulevard. Can he cross the three, heavily trafficked lanes to reach 19 calle?? Can he do it!? He waits for the break in traffic. He stands, poised, to push that cart into the lanes of cars. A red bus thunders by spewing him with thick, cancerous smoke. A car weaves past honking manically as he tries to venture into the on-coming traffic. The Vesuvio Pizzaria motorcycle with its chimney shaped delivery basket zips along the road. How will the taco boy make it? But yes, just like Frogger, he sees a break, pushes the grill into the street, darts around on-coming Mercedes, Volvos, and beat-up Dodges until he makes it, just barely missing another Red Number 1 bus, to the safety of 19 Calle. He made it! High score goes, yet again, to the taco boy!

Thursday, November 8, 2007


November whooshed into Guatemala in extremes. Overnight from October 31 to November 1 everything changed. November came in like a lion with cool, brisk breezes that pulled little boys kites high into the air. In two days I went from short sleeves to long johns as the warm air of the previous nights was replaced by cold seemingly arctic air (probably 50 and 60 degrees). All of a sudden September and October’s sad persistent grey clouds that indicate rainstorms were pushed away, leaving clear bright blue skies and smiling sun overhead. Golden rays of light replaced the fierce direct sunbeams of July and August. There has been no oppressive humidity like that that made my hair curl and armpits sweat as soon as I step outside in the capital. Now, it’s just refreshing light air to match the sun rays, blue sky, and wispy clouds overhead.

Everywhere flowers are blooming red, magenta, orange, and yellow. They are in the trees, on the bushes, hidden in the grasses. They smile out at me as if exclaiming the joy of life. High in neighborhood trees hang heavy branches of yellow-green Valencia oranges. I can taste their sweet juice when I close my eyes. The coffee beans are ripening on the bushes outside. In the countryside the tall corn stalks hang heavy with cobs. It’s like rebirth here in November. All the heavy oppression is gone with the breeze that blows through the trees, rustles branches, and sends the occasional orange to the ground.

November’s combination of air, light, flowers, and colors has transformed this country. It is beautiful.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I Live in the Matrix

My Sociology of Development class closely parallels classes I have taken at UI. So, to save time, I always try to revamp essays to apply to the class. This unit we discussed Bourdieu and Giddens, two macro-society theorists. This was convenient because I had already written an essay on their theories for Theory class last fall (thanks Troy). While rereading my paper over Bourdieu and Giddens’ macro theories on society, I realized that my life in Guatemala City is a reflection of their theories. My life is the Matrix!

Giddens and Bourdieu discuss what is called habitus, where people have to accept their lot in life because normally they don’t have the individual power to change it. It’s pretty much maintaining the status quo, which happens all the time here (the poor stay poor and the rich get rich). My habitus is accepting that I appear to have capital, yet really having few social and economic connections, and also to be a hermit-esque ex-pat. Since I live alone it’s really hard to get inside of Guatemalan society.

Giddens also talks about how people perform the same behaviors, miming the people who are in the society to fit in (or until the wrong behaviors are corrected). Here, since I live all alone, I never get to know about Guatemalan anything. I’m a genuine ex-pat. I need an insider to explain things like “gordita” means “looking good!” and that if I am going to miss class I don’t tell the teacher but the department why I’ll be gone (hierarchy is very important here). Without an insider I have no idea the things I’m doing are wrong. So, I’ve done or understood things wrong and sometimes people are nice enough to explain them to me (phew).

That brings me to power and Bourdieu. Bourdieu explains that society is run in different fields. People live in different fields, or life statuses/realities, where they have different amounts of power. Power is what Bourdieu calls “capital” and there are three kinds of capital: economic (wealth), cultural (university, going to plays, listening to opera), and social (being well connected like a WASP). The more capital you have the more power you have in society. Economic and social are the most powerful (think about how much influence oil companies have in the USA) and influential. Here in Guatemala, I live in Zona 15 (where really rich people live), go to a ritzy school, am connected to Rotary International, and I’m a white American. This makes Guatemalans perceive that I have great amounts of economic and social capital. The truth is, I’m poor but chose to live in Zona 15 for safety reasons, go to Universidad del Valle for the ease of acceptance into the school (social capital!), but I have no connections to anyone important in Guatemalan society (well… maybe through school and Rotary). As an American it sure looks like I have lots of capital (hm… I should take advantage of that). I feel like it looks like I can play on different fields here, but really, I’m an out of place college student living in a ritzy neighborhood. It’s like living in the Matrix, playing on different fields, and really realizing that this life is not reality (or my reality).

I’d like to give one more example of how my life reflects Bourdieu and Giddens theories (which are rather like the Matrix). I like to go to Café Barista, the local coffee shop, because I like good lattes. It’s a really modern building with hip architecture, square chairs and couches (like a magazine picture). They like to play Putumayo music, probably to make them seem more globally conscious or organic or something. However, it always bothers me that people who go there look like tools and stooges, which makes me worry I’m a tool for going to the coffee shop. At any rate, I’m out of my comfort field….

Today there was an incredible amount of rich looking Guatemalans in Café Barista. It made me think of the Matrix because as a white American going to Café Barista, it probably seems like I’m on the same playing field of these rich Guatemalans. Yet, they all wear trendy clothes and have cool cars, are well connected, and probably can more easily afford their “mocha frappuchinos” than I can a latte (I should stop drinking coffee).

I realized this bizarre intersection of my middle-class Americanness (western Americanness at this point) at Café Barista today. I feel like I don’t have the same levels of social, economic, and cultural capital as these other people, yet I am able to frequent the same locations as they are (perceived social and economic capital). This came to a head today when a well dressed man started talking to me about what I’m doing in Guatemala (the conversation brought on by the fact I’m reading a leftist novel about Guatemala). He’s an important lawyer and was very proud to show me his last name was COLOM, meaning he’s related to the incoming president. Talk about social, cultural, and economic wealth! And he established his power over me by using all of those in the conversation (e.g. important lawyer, well connected, sophisticated). All that went through my head was BOURDIEU and wishing I could STICK IT TO THE MAN and, of course, THE MATRIX!!!! I realized, again, that I live in the Matrix in this complicated society of playing fields, power, capital, and hierarchy. I hope no one realizes that I’m really like Keanu and trying to escape this system. But, well… if Keanu can do it, anyone can (actually, the cockroach that lives in my house is probably more like Keanu than I am. I’m the clone that tries to kill it every day and it escapes…).

My life in Guatemala is not reality, but a playing field. The Matrix exists.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Standing in the American Airlines check-in with Brian, we began to notice several moms and dads with little babies. I thought nothing of it until Brian said he reckoned those were all adopted babies. Awakened to this fact, I looked at each of the oddly matched parents and babies standing for long amounts of time in check-in. Sure enough, those brown little babies with their white, happy parents must be products of Guatemalans who put their children up for adoption. I turned to Brian and said, "You know, there is a myth here among the country folk that Americans adopt babies from Guatemala to eat them." Mmmm, grilled Guatemalan is such a delicacy in the USA. The strangest part is they say it with such belief and conviction in their eyes....

As I looked at these newly created families, I wondered what their lives would be like in the States. Would the parents keep the kids original Spanish names like Carlos, Natalia, Rodrigo? Would they receive new Anglo-Saxon names like Josh, Helen, Robert? Imagine what it must be like to be whisked away from Guatemala, a developing country where presumably they would end up as shoe shiners on the street and instead would grow up in the suburbs playing soccer and piano. When will they begin to wonder about their biological families? Is it possible for the “parents” to love the child as deeply as if biology were involved?

They looked so happy there cooing their new kids and rocking back and forth. I wonder what the babies thought. If they realized what was happening? If they were scared or anxious? If they knew their mama and papa didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them? What was going on in their little heads? Not one of them cried. Not one of them made a single sound the entire time we were in line. Maybe they were okay with the idea of going to the Promised Land. Maybe they felt safe and secure in the arms of their loving adopted parents. I hope they all have good lives.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Barriletes in Atitlan

The late afternoon light illuminated the cobble-stoned streets of San Juan la Laguna, Atitlan. Shadows elongated as the sun moved slowly towards the horizon, casting the towering volcanoes and rugged hills in golden-pink light. The wind off the lake caused small white caps to form and slap persistently against the reed-covered shore near the town. Women and men of all ages sat in shop doorways talking in the wind-echoing sounds of T’zutujil, an indigenous Mayan dialect found around Lake Atitlan. They would switch quickly to Spanish as I walked down the street greeting them. Buenas tardes,” they responded politely before continuing their relaxed conversation with their neighbors.

Trotting down the street, I noticed the signs of November surrounding the small town. The sky was clear and free of the persistent clouds that marked the rainy season. There was a constant, yet unreliable, wind that cooled the sun-warmed afternoon and summoned the evening. The light was fading although it was only 5:00 in the afternoon in the tropics. And more than anything, there were kites everywhere, a sign of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations recently passed.

Several Guatemalans have told me that kites help unite the spirits in the sky with the ground below. Indigenous Maya will write wishes or thoughts to their ancestors and tie them to their kites’ frames to send to the heavens. With any luck, they will be able to communicate with their dead loved-ones. What a beautiful idea.

I looked into the sky at the cirrus clouds that cast ribbons through the deep blue and noticed on every telephone wire and nearly every tree the limp forms of battered home-made kites. It reminded me of Charlie Brown and the Kite Eating Tree, only in Guatemala there were Kite Eating Wires as well. Hopefully if those kites had wishes, they were sent to the sky before being devoured by wires, trees, and poles.

Loud cries of T’zutujil sounded from the street startling me out of my sky-dreaming. Small boys, their pants dragging on the street and hands grasping toilet paper rolls wound with string, ran swiftly to catch the finicky wind that would take their hand-made kites into the sky. The bright, octagonal shapes lifted up, up into the sky, born into the wind rising from the mountains. Each of the homemade kites, a mosaic of blue, orange, red, yellow, and green patchwork, lifted cheerfully into the heavens. Their long tails caught the breeze and waved merrily at the passersby below. I hoped their kites wouldn’t meet the same fate as the dozens hanging limply in the poles and wires above. But, just as I hoped this, the wind died, and one of the octagonal kites fell dispiritedly on the opposite side of a phone line as the boy-owner. He and his friends began to giggle and tried to pulley the kite back over the wire and onto their side of the street. They tried and tried but gravity persisted and the kite lay defeated on the other side of the wire. I walked away from their persuits, but sitting here now, I wonder if they ever saved their brave barrilete (kite).

The wind picked up again and in the distance, dancing between the mountains and the sky, I saw another barrilete begin to fly. It looped and twirled beautifully in the windy air and I smiled, remembering all my fond memories of kite flying throughout my life. It was so interesting, I thought, that here everything is opposite the United States. There, March is the windy season when every girl and boy pulls out plastic kites and run to the nearest field where, in teams of two, they run, run, run until the kite catches air and launches into the sky. Here, only boys fly paper crepe kites in the windy month of November. The little frames need barely any encouragement, and certainly only need one boy child to coax it into the sky. How very different.

Eventually night grew closer and closer with the ever-growing shadows on the street corners. The boys, clutching those kites that had survived the day, ran giggling home for their nightly meal of tortillas, beans, and eggs. Those kites that had met the kite-eating fate hung sadly in the wires, their tails begging to launch into the sky again.

I watched the sky change from the lingering traces of red, pink, and purple, to the dark blue-black of night in the Highlands. At the hotel, I climbed to the re-bar baring roof and stared into the sky. I felt lonely there on the rooftop, shivering slightly in the cold breeze. And then I saw the stars and the Milky Way. It is my first recollection of looking at stars in Guatemala. How could I have passed four months with no recollection of the twinkling lights overhead?

Yet, still, my loneliness persisted for even though I knew it was the same sky my family and friends saw, it was completely different. Like kite-flying in November and not March. I couldn’t identify a single constellation. Where, oh, where was Orion? I needed to find it to connect to all I cared about at home. But to no avail, I could not see it. Saddened, I returned to the second floor and sat staring out into the dark night until as if framed by the ceiling and balcony railing, as if I needed to sit there for it to appear, I found Orion. He was lying on his side, his great arm rose over his head and bow in hand, his belt twinkled at me as if saying, Nancy, I’m still here. It is November after all.

Excited and rejuvenated, I clambered back up the uneven steps to the broad rooftop to spy on Orion. There he was as backwards as kites in November and clear skies instead of rainy Moscow. A smile spread across my face as I realized that the same sky my parents see is here, only sideways. My eyes finally spotted Cassiopeia’s W-shaped form, Taurus’ upside down V, the Pleiades, and Cassiopeia’s husband (whose name I always forget). Seeing those stars, connecting to the sky like the cheerful crepe-paper kites, was like coming home again. Eagerly, I searched for the Big Dipper and the Northern Star to complete my constellation search, but I could not find it; it was not out yet. Still, my heart filled at the site of the darkened sky overflowing with lanterns of light. I had connected to the night sky, to home, and perhaps, like the Mayas’ persistent little kites, to the spirits above.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Four Months

October seemed to pass in a whirlwind. I feel like I hardly returned from the September Tikal trip before I was heading up the long, winding road yet again to the flatlands of Tikal. The week was less productive than the first data collection period, but accented by Mayan descendents dressed in traditional huipiles and cortes playing hand-made harps, violins, and guitars. Black smoke filled the air on October 12 when hundreds of Mayas came to celebrate Día de la Raza with a Mayan ceremony in the Grand Plaza. I left to receive Brian into Guatemala.

Having Brian in Guatemala made the happiest three weeks here. We explored Antigua and Tikal’s ruins, enjoyed each other’s company, caught up, had coffee, and made delicious food. Home had come again. For Halloween we carved pumpkins, made pumpkin cobbler and ate delicious homemade Cornish Pasties – a Halloween and fall staple.

Today, Brian left, making today the saddest day yet. It’s Day of the Dead here, and I feel as though half of me is gone. The apartment is awfully big and lonely now.

This also marks half way through my time here. My mind is turning towards things Iam looking for until December. I have two other visitors – Hanne and Bridgette – coming to stay for awhile but even more exciting is thinking about Christmas time when I will go home to see my family.

It’s been a long four months in Guatemala. It’s at that slump time where so much has gone but so much more remains. I suppose the time will pass quickly and soon it will be December, then January, the February, then home. I look forward to returning to home. I look forward to May when Brian will be back from his journey to Chile. I look forward to greeting you all again. Four months down and four to go – halfway through this Guatemalan Adventure.