Thursday, December 27, 2007

The First Night

Stepping off the plane into the cold wintery night of New York City, I felt the emotion growing inside me. Finally I was home, home for Christmas. Along with the other travelers, I filed off the plane, down the empty no-space corridors, and through customs. We passed a sign that announced, "Welcome to NYC." Thank God! I thought, I am back in New York!

It was amazing to be able to understand everything that went on around me. Without trying I knew how to work the public transportation, how to respond to questions without pondering the motives, and how I felt at home for the first time in six months.

In the dark December night different people helped me with my backpacking pack, steered me towards the correct public transit, and playfully commented, "I'd like to go camping!" when they saw my bag. I turned towards them and said, "Yeah, I'd like to go camping too."

I hopped on the A train and took its clickity clack ride across Brooklyn to Jay Street. Dan had told me to exit by the Polytech university and wait for him in Starbucks. Thoughts of the golden light of the coffee shop warmed me as I watched the subway zombie people. Finally the train approached the stop with a squeal of breaks and I hopped off the train and onto the platform.

I emerged into the night to be greeted by a Plaza full of white Christmas lights decorating the deciduous trees and a large Christmas tree. There was the Starbucks where I awaited, contentedly sipping Oregon Chai as I waited for Dan to find me in the Christmasy night.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Street Venders

An important sector of Guatemala’s economy falls in the informal sector. This includes food sellers, fruit venders, shoe shiners, scavengers, and street venders. As Ana described it to me, “Everyone in Guatemala sells something. I sell clothes and cleaning products from a catalogue. Other people sell silver and gold jewelry. You should try to sell something, pues, Nancy.” In a developing country, it makes sense that most people try to make it by any means possible.

Street venders seem to be the largest faction of this informal sector of the economy. In any touristy town women dressed in traditional indigenous clothes comb the streets for gullible foreigners to by their myriad items. As a very white, red headed woman, I have the recipe for instant attraction of all the street vendor flies. They swarm around me whenever I appear in an area shoving their metallic necklaces, florescent fabrics, and rainbow hair bands in my face. The typical strategy of these street vendors is to first offer the good, then become indignant about it if you say you don’t want it, continue to thrust the item at you, lower the price repeatedly, and eventually, to refuse to take no for an answer. They are all about the hard sale.

I’d like to provide some examples:

1. Nut Sellers

Standing outside the US embassy waiting to meet one of Hanne’s friends, an elderly man walking on the shady street honed in on the fact that not one but three Americans were standing complacently by the embassy entrance. He stopped and began to proclaim, “Cashews! Cashews!” When we said we didn’t want any, his eyes widened and thrusting his plastic nut sacks towards us exclaimed, “CASHEWS! They are cheap and good!” We continued to express our disinterest even as the man continued his exclamations at the benefits of eating his cheap and good cashews.

2. Pirated DVD/CD Sellers

As if on clockwork whenever I leave Super Center Pais with my groceries, hoards of young men with hand-me-down L.L. Bean backpacks and hands clutching stacks of burned movies and CD’s latch on to me yelling, “Películas, CD’s, música!” It’s as if, since I’m a gringa, I will obviously want to buy their pirated material (although they often insist that their DVD’s are originals, which means they were filmed in the theater). Sadly, for these desperate chaps, I have neither a DVD player nor a CD player and am decidedly disinterested in collecting crap anyway. I always shake my head and continue on with their shouts of the greatness of their movie collection echoing in my ears.

3. Food Venders

Perhaps the least pushy group of the street vender crowd is the food venders. They generally seem to think, “If you’re hungry, you’ll come to me.” That’s probably a good assumption. When I’m in Xela or Antigua, I love walking through the market inhaling the odors of grilled chicken, burning wood, hot atol, heated tortillas, and hot chocolate. Que le damos? What can we give you?” the señoras ask, but they don’t push their luck. If it’s obvious I’m not that interested, they stop pestering me. The same happens with the fruit and vegetable venders who yell, “Hay mandarinas, naranjas, fresas, sandia, melon…. There are mandarins, oranges, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe.” But, whenever I state that I’m headed off on another expedition, they say, “Okay, maybe Saturday,” And leave it at that.

4. Sticker, Card, and other such Venders

One day in Guatemala City, while Pibs, Hanne, and I were trying to enjoy an open-air taco meal (bad idea to eat in the open in Latin America) flocks of boys (who should be in school) came up to our table. One boy with Power Ranger stickers attached himself to Hanne. When she insisted she really didn’t want any Power Ranger stickers he steeled himself and began flipping through the stickers as if thinking, “If I show you more Power Ranger stickers you will obviously want to buy them.” He finally realized he was wasting his time. Pibs credited him with persistence, which I suppose is true.

In Antigua, Hanne and I were sitting on a park bench when a little boy of five came up to us. Coooooompra,” he said with Bambi eyes, “Coooooompra. Mira. Muy bonito. Buuuuuuuy, look, very pretty.” He was trying to get us to purchase little cards with a painting of Antigua’s plaza and a prayer on the back. We attempted to tell him we really didn’t want to buy them, so he leaned his little body on me and shoved the cards directly into Hanne’s boob. “Whoa!” She exclaimed, and again insisted she didn’t want them. He switched aims and shoved the cards into my boobs, where I also exclaimed, “Whoa, kid!” Persistently staring at us with his big brown eyes he kept grinning and saying, “Coooompra! Bien, compra!”until after an awkward conversation with his mom, who did not call him off our boobs, he wandered away.

5. Craft venders

Single handedly, my least favorite, the pushiest, and persistently annoying group are the handicraft sellers. They are absolutely convinced that every white person wants whatever junk they are trying to sell. Walking through Panajachel I was accosted every minute to purchase ugly necklaces decorated with ceramic people-beads, pens covered in bright embroidery thread, my name written on a piece of rice, or richly colored and decorated clothes. The general tactic to convince gringas to purchase this stuff is to shove the item three inches from their face and insist that they need to buy it. If that doesn’t work, they will tend to show the person 5,000 of the same item (in different colors) convinced that if the gringa sees more of the item they will obviously want to buy it. Often these strategies come accompanied by attempts to speak English or to call the woman, “baby, muñeca, cariño, reina, or Barbie (one kid called me Barbie and I stopped, glared at him, and said, “don’t f***** call me Barbie!” I was pissed).

My favorite of such interactions was on the lakefront where Bridgette and I sat trying to figure out what to do. A woman came up, her arms laden with multicolored fabrics. She had targeted me and began explaining all the merits of purchasing a baby-blue quetzal decorated fabric. I told her over and over and over that I really didn’t want to buy anything. She said, “Look, so beautiful. Muy bonito. For you mother. Yes. For you mother. A present. A present from Guatemala. For your sister. For your aunt. For your brother. If not for someone you like, for your enemy. Buen precio. How much you pay? Good price. Okay, mira, for your Q40. Siiii, compra. In the end I had to get rude and tell her I really didn’t want to buy her fabrics. As soon as she backed off another person came up targeting Bridgette. Really people!

6. Beggers

Little snot-nosed, grubby, and probably, lice-infested kids also like to attack the gringas. I suppose we seem sympathetic. Their attempt is to get coins from the tourists (or get them to purchase whatever junk they’re selling) for “noble causes” that range from bread, water, candy, shirts, shoes, to you name it, they’ve got the answer.

In Panajachel a boy loudly smacking and chewing a piece of white bread smothered in refried beans came up to me trying to sell some particularly unattractive coin purses. Watching him simutaneously eat and haggle was quite impressive. He followed me for at least two blocks saying, “Cooooompra. Mira, cooooooompra. UN quetzal. Mira, dame un quetzal. Quiero agua pura. Dame un quetzal. Sí. Sí. Mira. Sí. Un quetzal. Quiero agua pura. Buuuuuuy. Look, buuuuuuuuy. One quetzal. Look, give me a quetzal. I want purified water. Give me a quetzal. Yes. Yes. Look. Yes. One quetzal. I want water.” For two blocks! He really was convinced I was going to give him something. Finally, some other likely-looking tourist attracted his attention and I was free for 30 seconds before 4 other street kids came up asking for gum, bread, water, anything under the sun. The worst thing is they say it indignantly. It’s not a request or a plea it’s a you-better-give-me-something-and-I-know-if-I-say-it-demandingly-enough-you-will-give-it-to-me kind of approach. It is not cute, charming, or heart-wrenching but strictly frustrating and annoying. These kids need a begging lesson.

What gets me is when people say the junk is cute and actually buy the ugly necklaces, traje-clad dolls, cheaply made purses, and embroidery thread pens (come on, that’s soooo fifth grade!). Apparently the hard approach works for some people. Personally, I think the greatest help to development in Guatemala would be for business students to come down and teach this informal sector how to sell goods. Maybe a little supply/demand, strategies, coaxing, and teaching an approach besides the hard sell would be effective here. It might even get cheap tourists like me to consider being more interested in their items. As it is, I get really irritated every time I hear some people come up saying, “COOOOOOMPRA!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The hulking metal-framed Linea Dorada bus wheezed 25 miles per hour through the Interamerican Highway construction zone near Tecpan. I watched the scenery change gradually from the hot, cement sprawl of Chimaltenago to the lush cornfields by Tecpan. Shortly, we passed several restaurants that serve delicious local foods like blue-corn tortillas, locally cured hams, cheeses, and freshly made jams. My mouth salivated as I thought of how delicious the hot chocolate is in one store before remembering that Xelajú has the best cocoa in the country.

Slower than George, the tortoise, the bus groaned up the mild grade past Tecpan and on into the second leg of the potentially six hour journey to Quetzaltenango. It was 10:00 am and as we passed these restaurants reeking with the smells of garlic, green onions, and coffee, I breathed a sigh of relief. We might just make it to Xela without stopping for refacción. The bus began to pick up speed as it edged over the end of the grade and along the sinuous highway. We drove speedily away from Tecpan and on towards Xela.

Then, as the bus slowed gradually for what appeared to be another construction zone, it jolted over the pavement onto the gravel road and eased into a parking area in front of a small, run-down restaurant. The breaks squealed as the driver excitedly parked the bus and the attendant hopped out to get in line. We all sat solidly on the bus, not believing that after only two hours of driving we would be stopping. Finally, the portly driver stood up and faced the crowd. Es hora de refacción. It’s time for snack break,” he said in a gleeful schoolboy voice. We all had to file off the bus, where the Guatemalans proceeded to excitedly purchase and consume coffee, tortillas, meat and cheese. Snack time is very important to them. “I hate refaccion,” Hanne and I said bitterly while Bridgette laughed. Thanks to refacción, we arrived in Xela at least an hour late….

…. Returning from Xela in a double decker Linea Dorada bus, Hanne and I sat praying the bus driver would just floor it to Guate. We got a late start and progressed slowly through the construction zones and paved highway. Our bus, going a maximum of 30 mph, was too timid to pass the myriad other vehicles on the road. Occasionally, I asked Hanne the time, despairing as I calculated that in three hours we had gone approximately 70 kilometers, not even half the distance back to Guate. Finally after hours, the lights of Tecpan blinked past and it seemed that yet again we were in the clear of refacción.

A Texaco gas station’s neon and florescent lights loomed ahead of us. “No, no, no!” Hanne began to moan next to me. I realized what was happening as if in slow motion. The bus was jack knifing itself a place to stop in the parking lot, “No, no, no!! REFACCION!” I exclaimed. “I’m boycotting it,” Hanne muttered, “I’m not getting off this damn bus.” We slumped in our seats as the attendant came up and called out, “15 minutos para descansar. 15 minutes to break for refacción.” Excitedly, the Guatemalans marched out of the bus to buy their nachos, tamales, tostados, aguas, and candies. They must have been starving after not eating for like two hours.

Disheartened, I walked to the bathroom where several Guatemalan women exclaimed in the same breath, “Aiiiiiiiii, it’s taking soooooo loooooong to get to Guate! Aiiiiiiii, I can’t believe we only have 15 minutes for refacción!!!!!!! Aiiiiiiiiiii, no! That’s not enough time.” I glared at them, thinking that without refacción we’d be a whole lot closer to Guatemala. Hanne had been kicked off the bus by the attendant who insisted that everyone needed the 15 minute descanso. She got off the bus muttering that if we were going to take freaking refacción then she was going to get something to eat too. I looked around at the people and said, “I don’t get it. Guatemalans eat snacks all the time; they’re constantly eating. How come they aren’t all fat?” Hanne looked at me and through gritted teeth said, “They are all fat! They just short and squat too!” When she said that, I started looking around, and indeed, the Guatemalans were all short, stocky, with substantial waists. Refacción! In the end, 15 minutes was 30 minutes and it took nearly 7 hours to drive the 200 kilometers to Guatemala from Xela….

…. Driving in microbus from Panajachel to los Encuentros, I thought the drive was going to hurl the bus over the mountain into the canyon. Maybe he’s just in a hurry for refacción, I thought. We arrived in los Encuentros before our connection shuttle to Xela. On the side of the dusty, congested highway Bridgette and I waited impatiently with the microbus driver. Where was the freaking micro already!? Gosh! Finally, the little white van drove up, pushed us inside, and started the three hour trip to Xela. Barely two minutes down the road, the driver pulled over, stalled the car and mumbled, “Sorry, sorry, I just…” and got out of the car with the attendant. Bridgette and I looked at each other, “refacción!!!!” Sure enough, five minutes later, the two drivers hurried back to the car, their arms full of Pepsi cola, bread, and potato chips. Bridgette concluded that refacción must have developed when most people still worked in hard labor, meaning they needed more calories. Most of them certainly don’t need those calories today. Refacción!....

…. Finally, this morning driving from Xela to Antigua I watched the miles melt under the microbus’ tires. We passed construction site after construction site, drove by chicken buses who in turn passed us, and forged a path through the persistent black exhaust of the construction cars. Halfway through the journey, we passed los Encuentros and turned left. “No, no, no!!!” I screamed in my head, “they can’t be stopping for refacción!” But indeed, it was 10:00 am and the drivers looked around at their load of foreigners and said, “Okay, we have 10 minutes for refacción.” Ten minutes, yeah right. After twenty minutes the drivers finally came back clutching Styrofoam cups of atol and frantically eating fluffy white rolls. I scowled at them, willing them to get back in the car so we could get Antigua before afternoon. We continued the journey with no more stops, but all I could think was, “I hate refacción.”

These hobbitish people are seriously serious about their food. At 7:30 it’s time for breakfast. At 10:00 it’s time for refacción. At 1:30 it’s time for lunch. At 3:00 it’s time for refacción. At 5:00 it’s time for refacción. Finally, at 7:30 it’s time for dinner. Where do they put all those calories? How do thy burn them off especially when exercise is a very novel concept? That question will continue to bother me as refacción will continue to harass me on my journeys around this country.

American moral of the story: Being well fed is the key to inefficiency.

Guatemalan moral to the story: When it’s time for refacción, it’s time for refacción, pues.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Turtle Liberation Front

As the sun began to sink towards the horizon, changing the sky to brilliant golds, reds, and oranges, humans emerged on the black sand beach and pelicans began swooping along the waves of Monterrico’s Pacific coast. A cluster of tourists stood excitedly by the Tortugario, or turtle hatchery. Their voices rose and fell with the emotion when one of the workers finally appeared with a large plastic tub filled with what, from a distance, appeared to be two-inch pebbles. The worker marched down the steep beachfront and drew a line in the still damp sand. Behind him impressive 5 to 12 foot waves crashed dramatically against the volcanic beach. The tourists clustered behind the line, eager to hand over their vouchers and receive one of those mysterious moving pebbles. Each one exclaimed as a tiny, freshly-hatched sea turtle was placed in their palms.

The baby turtles looked terribly fragile in their saviors’ hands. Their small gray bodies blended perfectly with the volcanic sand of the beach. In the people’s hands they moved their tiny flippers, ready to be liberated into the great Pacific Ocean. The worker announced it was time to release the turtles and each person squatted and placed their precious turtles in front of the line drawn in the sand. The worker emptied the rest of the hundred or so turtles from the bucket and the mad race began.

Each of those tiny turtles was programmed to flipper their way to the sea. Slowly they inched their way down the steep beach towards the crashing waves. Their small flippers pushed them across the black sand towards the ocean. Yet with every slamming wave the little turtle bodies were tossed and twisted with the waves. Some of the turtles could strain their flipper muscles against the waves force and propel themselves to the safety of the ocean. Others were tossed further up the beach where they had to begin the arduous liberation process anew. Finally more and more of the turtles made it to the sea and only the stragglers were left behind. A little boy in red trunks hurried forward and reoriented the stragglers towards the sea. This independent member of the Turtle Liberation Front insured that the remaining turtles were washed into to the fierce ocean.

Finally all the tiny bodies had been washed out into the ocean to meet their coming fate. Perhaps some would be eaten by pelicans and other fish. Others might not survive their first hiatus into the Pacific. Only 5% of those recently hatched turtles would survive to adulthood. Those 5% would continue to propagate and save the turtle species… as long as they could avoid their largest threat, humans. The Turtle Liberation Front watched as night fell on the Pacific and wished their liberated turtles the strength and fortune to survive in the wild world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The dark and the thin air pressed in around me. At base camp the air was still below freezing and dawn was hours away. The nineteen other hikers, three guides, and I stood huddled by the tents waiting for Justin, the leader, to indicate it was time to attempt the summit. I shivered as I stood in the predawn morning wondering if this hike would be as strenuous as Saturday had been.

On Saturday morning we Quetzaltrekkers had all awoken at 4:30 am hopped on two chicken buses, and transported ourselves towards Mexico and towards our destination of Tajumulco. We had hiked from 3000 meters to 4000 meters over the course of six hours. Each step up the hill grew slower and more arduous until the final half mile took nearly 45 minutes to complete. I had stayed at the back of the group with some other hikers and a guide where I resolutely climbed 5-20 steps before stopping, panting, for breath. “Slow and steady wins the race, Nancy,” I kept reminding myself, grateful that it was not actually a race of this peak. Although it was exhausting, each time I looked back at Asier, the guide, I smiled. It was thrilling to be on the mountain, in alpine air, in pine forest, amongst lupine and alpine grasses, and staring out at the amazing landscape Guatemala has to offer. Thrilling but harder than any hike I had ever done before. What would Sunday have in store for us?

I looked up at the looming black shape of Tajumulco. We had to climb 220 meters to summit before the sun rose over the horizon. Finally, Justin, the lead guide, indicated it was time to hike. I clicked on my headlamp, got in the middle of the crowd, and started the hour climb to the summit. Almost immediately my lungs began to protest the physical strain of low oxygen and the steep climb ahead of me. A steady stream of clear mucus began dripping from my nose onto the rocks below. As I ascended, I determinately and fixedly stared at the pool of light illuminating my next step. “It’s just like climbing, Nancy. Just focus on your next move and mind that foot placement,” I thought as I resolved to move steadily uphill. Slowly the meters melted behind me as I took careful steps up the rocky slope towards the summit. Two hundred meters… 190 meters… 150 meters…. My breath came at slow, regulated pulses made to match my determined march up Tajumulco. The rock turned to loose pebbles, boulders, and scree. I pulled with my arms and pushed with my legs, forcing out the final 50 meters to the summit. Finally, I could see the rock falling away from above me, the slope flattening out, the stars glimmering overhead, and the thin golden line of sunlight to the east. We had made it! A grin burst over my face as I realized I had reached the summit of the highest peak in Central America.

Hanne and I bundled up in sleeping bags and huddled behind a boulder out of the wind to watch the sun come up. A sea of clouds swallowed the mountains below us, reminding me that Tajumulco means “above the clouds.” What an appropriate name. The crystal clear sky became a palette of colors as the sun moved gradually into the eastern sky. Profiled on the horizon sat a line of dynamic volcanoes stretching from Antigua and Lake Atitlan to Xela. Occasionally great bursts of ash would rise from Volcanes Fuego and Santiaguito, two of the most active volcanoes in the country. The cold air sucked the heavy sheets of clouds into the valleys below, making the sky look like a great river of clouds. Behind, Tajumulco’s blue shadow fell over Tacana, the second tallest peak, darkening its tall, stark form.

I breathed in the cold, pressing air, and found satisfaction in the wind whipping around the peak, the brilliant colors exploding from the sunrise, and the magnificent view that stretched from the volcanoes of the east, to Mexico, and to the Pacific Ocean. It was heaven to see this glimpse of the world from Tajumulco, the tallest mountain in Central America. I had bagged my first peak and what a peak it was.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


At Tuesday’s Rotary Peten meeting, the club realized that two of their club members were celebrating birthdays on Saturday. Since Don Pedro is a professional mariachi singer, what better way to celebrate than to have mañanitas and sing mariachi songs for the lucky birthday boy and girl?! This is what happened on Saturday morning.

The tinkling alarm of my Nokia cell phone startled me out of my profound sleep. Was it 3:45 already? I groaned, clicked on my headlamp, check my sandals for cockroaches, and switched on the overhead light. It felt like I had fallen asleep moments before; how could it already be time to wake up? I shuffled into Flor’s bathroom to wash my face and prepare for this early morning. At least I am used to getting up at 5:00 am when I’m in Petén, I thought, 3:45 isn’t that different. The shukos, or hotdogs, I’d eaten the night before grumbled in my tummy. Shukos are cheese-filled sausages covered in guacamole, cabbage, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup, and laid in a toasted bun. They’d been delicious the night before, but they, like I, protested this early morning wake-up call. I lay back on my bed, waiting for Flor to stumble out of her room. It was time for mañanitas with Flores’ Rotary Club.

Frantically, Flor rushed out of her room at 4:15 talking loudly to Don Pedro, “Ayyyy, me pasó la hora! Ahorita llegamos! I just woke up but we’re on our way, Don Pedro!” Outside Javier’s white diesel pickup rumbled up to the house. We rushed from the house and hopped into the truck to pick up Don Pedro and his stereo equipment. Flor stayed on the phone calling all the Rotary members to meet at Doña Aida’s house to begin her birthday right or at least really early. The caravan of cars rolled across the gravelly, pot-holed streets of Santa Elena until we reached Doña Aida’s humble house. The men hauled Don Pedro’s stereo system on the roof of the pickup while Flor pulled out a pack of fire crackers from the back of the truck.

With a loud burst of explosions and white-hot sparks, the fire crackers gave a shocking wake-up call to the still dark and silent night (except for the dogs barking and roosters calling but they’re a regular morning feature in Peten). Don Pedro, in his moment, announced the lucky birthday girl and began singing his heart out to Doña Aida. All us Rotary members cracked up at the noise and commotion as we waited anxiously for Doña Aida’s sleepy face to immerge from the house and announce the end of her manañita. Her whole family appeared at the door as we shouted, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS Doña Aida!!! Then, we all tumbled back into our cars, with the birthday girl’s family in tow to celebrate the next Rotarian’s birthday.

Down more dark, early morning streets our caravan drove until we reached San Benito and Julio’s house. The routine repeated itself. Loud ruckus of fire crackers exploded in front of Julio and Sofi’s door spraying sparks and shredded newspaper all over their door step. Don Pedro began his deep mariachi singing to Julio (“Y sigo sieeeeeeeeeendo el reeeeeeey!”). We shouted and hooted for Julio to let us in to wish him a happy birthday. Finally, Julio and Sofi opened the door to the mañanita crew and we tumbled, muddy footed, into their living room.

The women busied themselves in the kitchen heating tamales and coffee, unwrapping the hot cornmeal from the banana leaves, placing them on plates, and passing them to the 14 hungry people waiting in the living room. Julio tuned in music on the radio and settled on techno, adding to the already frantic, heart-stopping morning of fire crackers and mariachi songs. We ate and boogied at 5:30 am in Julio and Sofi’s home. These Rotarians from Peten know how to celebrate birthdays. By 6:30 we began to yawn and think of the days obligations. It was time to go home.

Five Months

Another month is done here in Guatemala. This month has led me to thinking about how time ebbs and flows, how it seems to change me as much as the light changes every day.

Beautiful long shadows, clear skies, and golden light characterized this month. I loved watching shadows elongate and land features illuminate with the near-winter light. In Tikal, the temples glowed golden-red by four in the afternoon. I wished I had my camera, but as Brian said, nothing can really capture the power of those buildings.

My heart filled with the sight of one of my best friends, getting to know her dad, and meeting invigorating and inspiring people in Tikal.

Here are the ebbs and flows, comings and goings, successes and hardships of this month:

  1. Brian left, closing that happy chapter in Guatemala, but opening a new chapter for him in Patagonia, Chile.
  2. I took advantage of the closing semester and traveled to Atitlan, Tikal, and Antigua.
  3. The semester finished finally. No more school in Guatemala for me!! I made a vow in Ecuador never to take classes at a foreign university again. I broke that promise here, but I’m back to reinstating it! Nancy, NO MORE class for you!
  4. We exchange students bonded, just before the other two left. Their time in Guatemala is done, but exploring how Guatemala has changed them is just beginning. They expressed their own love/hate relationship with Guatemala.
  5. I realized going to Café Barista several times a week is worth the money just so that I’m out of the house.
  6. Hanne and Pibs came to see me. We hiked an active volcano and hung out in Tikal.
  7. I decided to grab the brass ring.
  8. Spanish interviews now total 31. English interviews are at 40. I’m done!
  9. It rained so much in Peten that Hanne asked if my hands and feet grew webs. They probably should have, but with my trusty raincoat and pack cover I survived.
  10. My lungs are protesting the heavy layer of pollution in the city. I always cover my mouth when I go outside and people look at me like I’m nuts. I don’t want to say when I go back, “I’ve got the black lung, pop!” (Zoolander)
  11. I realized I’m not the only one who feels tension in Guatemala. I met a young woman in Tikal who lived by the Lake who said, as I have said countless times, “I was just over it. I always felt so much tension and thought at any moment someone would just start shooting. I left two months early.” My jaw dropped. That is exactly how I feel.
  12. This same young lady and I also shared the feeling that Peten is an infinitely happier and safer-feeling place than southern Guatemala.
  13. In Peten men asked every day if I was going to get married when I go back to the States. Women stated that I would find a Guatemalan, get married, and stay here. I shook my head violently and generally exclaim (at least in my head), “HELL no!”
  14. I felt included by Guatemalans (in Peten, of course) in social activities and didn't feel like I was invited out of politeness.
  15. I still have to hold my breath when I walk by security guards with their huge guns.
  16. I threw up for the first time in three years. That was fun. Nothing like food poisoning to make your day.
  17. Hanne showed me where the US embassy building is. I finally know where to go. It’s on Avenida Reforma and looks like a tank.
  18. I’m curious about how this tense and lonely experience in Guatemala has changed me. It’s going to be a trip for the next few months.
  19. At five months, I’m on the downward slope. The count down continues.
  20. I’m going home for Christmas in 19 days.