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Summertime and the living is easy.

Written on: Monday January 19th, 2009

A journal entry from: Guatemala, mi amor.

I can't believe that I am only entering into week three of being here.  It feels like I've been here for ages, which really isn't a bad thing.  I still love it as much as I did on day one.  The one thing that I haven't quite been able to become accustomed to is the loss of independence.  I'm sure many of you have heard of Guatemala's history/track record for safety.  Ultimately, it is not a place where you walk around late at night by yourself past 9pm.  Really, you should always walk with 2 or more people with more being the better.  I am currently in my room at 8:40 on Sunday night knowing that I will not be leaving again until morning.  I really have no reason to, but it seems like a luxury to be able to just go out for a walk.  On nights that I am restless, I have books and my roommate Mel to keep me company but it is still a great leap from living in a city where I could go anywhere on a whim.  I also think I definitely took for granted having a library that I would work in until all hours of the night.  Over all, I think the transition has been easier for me than for others because I not only have Mel to walk with, but I also have 4 other people in a really close proximity to meet up for team walking.  Generally, if we go out, there will be at least 2 people from our area going to the same place so its lucky in that respect.  Our group of 29 as a whole is very widely spread out as I am in the far west (and quite close to the school) and others are in the far east or south.  There are some in the north but not as concentrated.
    I still love living with my family and have discovered that Mel and I both take it to heart when other Spanish school students come to stay in the house then decide after 30 minutes that it's not good enough.  They have absolutely no idea what they're missing out on!!  One woman apparently stopped by today and after being a bit snobby to Mel turned around and decided to go to a different house.  I'm not going to lie; I do want my family to myself.  I really don't want to share them with anyone but this is their business and livelihood.  Their home is modest but very comfortable (well, maybe not the bed but spines can adjust ;).  They also actually live in the house as well so anyone expecting a hotelesque experience should just go stay in one here or in their home country and learn Spanish there.  This past weekend when we were in Guatemala City, Mel and I missed out on their grandson's first birthday party.  Mel and I were invited but had the field trip so we had to miss out.  I told them to take pictures and found out that they didn't have a camera.  Considering that there were 28 students going to the capital, people were bound to have cameras so I lent my camera to the family to take pictures of the party.  I received my camera back today with over 200 photos of the party.  They celebrate with piñatas and the piñatas were ¾ of the size of a door.  Here are the party stats:  2 piñatas, 2 clowns, 4 cakes, buttloads of soda, 30 little girls, 30 little boys, with 100 guests in total all somehow related to the little birthday boy.  They had invited us to their little granddaughter's baptism but we're going to be on another field trip at that time as well.  At least, I think they invited us?We're not going to be around anyway so I don't need to deal with the awkwardness of showing up uninvited and trying to explain myself in broken Spanish ;)
    I feel as though my Spanish is actually getting worse rather than getting better!  When I first touched down, my accent was pretty wicked (according to my ears) and I was remembering things that I am now forgetting.  I like my Spanish teacher as she is really funny and puts up with my unexplainable sleepiness.  I think the quote of the class happened when we were discussing holidays in Guatemala and she said 'where is the boss?  The boss is in a motel with the secretary.  And THAT is what happens on Secretary's day.  It's a real problem here in Guatemala.'  I laughed about that one for at least an hour and told her that it should be renamed 'boss's day'.  I really hope she intended it to be funny because I thought it was!  My friend Brie has her own private tutor on the other side of the roof and told me I say 'Oh my god' at least 5 times a class.  
Normally my teacher and I discuss current events (Gaza, economic crisis, Obama/American politics) and she tells me her view on Guatemala.  I definitely heed a lot of her warnings when it comes to what I do.  I also appreciate her views on the poverty here.  It's difficult to be critical about poverty but hearing it from her sounds a lot better than my reading it in an article and re-stating it.  She told me that she does not agree with the women (and 99% of the time it's women from what I've seen) who sit on the street with their children and with their hands held up to accept handouts.  The children are being used as a tool to conjure up sympathy and their wages are paid by the extent of their apparent destitution.  They are able bodied (with the exception of one woman I've seen) and it appears as more of a choice than a last resort.  I was sitting in the central park and there is a man with a cane and a painful looking leg deformity who shines shoes.  He gets down on his little chair, puts his cane under his feet and does a hell of a job.  I wear sandals so I have to go by what of his work I've seen on others' shoes.  Also, we have a World Vision sponsor child school right behind our school.  The kids we saw in there looked happy, but the school still looked very poor.  From my birds-eye view, I could tell that the orphanage in Peru looked better off than this school.  My teacher pointed out their kitchen and said that they make cheap food to sell on the streets.  She stated that by having cheap food, they are enabling the beggars to continue in their line of work (honestly, its like paid wages pretty much).  I certainly do not agree with everything she stated (as I'm sure many of you don't either) but, it is definitely one way of looking at it and I won't deny that she knows Guatemala better than I do.  
In an effort to get to know Guatemala, we had a little field trip to Guatemala City.  We went to a giant map of Guatemala and our Geography professor joined us to explain about the topography and little historical tidbits that have impacted the literal nature of Guatemala.  Apparently, Guatemala has just as much eco diversity as Costa Rica (which is one of CR's leading tourism draws) Guatemala just hasn't had the same number of researchers or research funding.  After the map we went to central park for a whopping 30 minutes.  There was a 10 minute overview of the area and then we were set loose.  Apparently we are going back, but it was my first experience with street food.  Yes yes, I know I said I was never going to have street food but there was the most delicious looking pre-cut mango and I was a goner.  I survived and am thus a promoter of street fruit consumption ☺  After the park we went to a clothing museum.  It was fascinating as it discussed the Mayan history through the evolution of their clothing.  I think many of us wished we could have gone to a different museum with more information addressing a broader history.  Such is life.  There was one exhibit that displayed a woman's paintings of indigenous people and they were absolutely beautiful.  I think her name was Georgina Patterson, but I forget and cannot find her on Google.  We completed our day in Guatemala with a trip to the mall for some food.  It was a nice mall with stores way, way, way out of my price range.  I am going to get some new clothes while here, but I think I'll save my shopping for the local mercados where I can get fun clothes for cheap.  
This week we're going on another trip but this time its about a 5 hour bus ride away from Antigua so I think we're going to be making heaps of stops on the way.  We're heading to El Estor and Rabinal.  That's all I know.  You'll hear more next Monday when I've actually experienced them both.  Luckily for me, I have no stress because I decided to drop one of my classes so now I'm down to 3 plus my supplementary Spanish class.  It's a good number ☺
Thanks for your comments on my posts!  I appreciate that you're writing them and I love reading them.  Last week William wrote on my blog and he was right – I got a pretty fierce scratch the other day (skin didn't break or anything - but I did have a malaria med-induced dream that I was in an episode of House...that's not supposed to make sense) and so I'm having to limit my Quecho time!
All in all, things are good here! Hot showers, good food, cheap gym, and fantastic friends!
Take care all!

p.s. I'm reading Jane Eyre and have heaps of quotes but forgot the book at home so I've got nothin'.  


From Andre on Jan 19th, 2009

They say street food might be unsanitary, but I say that convenience and deliciousness trump sanitation. Also, I was listnening to 'summertime' this morning, and have since had it stuck in my head. When I read the title of your post I thought: Music transcends all! Hope the sleep issue starts sorting itself out (is it an altitude thing, maybe?) take care, andre.

From Marcelo on Jan 25th, 2009

I love street churrasco con tortillas! It's all about being carefully selective in finding the right vendor. Which gym do you go to? I took tai chi classes at the main one, near the Spanish school. It is a dangerous place. I went out quite a bit with German and Dutch housemates. All the ninos rico from Guate come up on the weekends to party like mad with all the tourists. And there's always tons of gangs from the outskirts, Jocotenango, etc. Some of the tuk tuk drivers have been known to rob and kidnap people leaving the bars late at night. I enjoyed going to the library at El Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española. There's always good stuff going on there. And besides, it's just such a beatiful place to chill out in. It's in the old Jesuit monastery, which in more recent history was the old marketplace.

From Meghan Barnhart on Jan 26th, 2009

Thanks for the comment Marcelo! I am definitely stoked to be here. I haven't taken a Tuk Tuk nor do I plan to. Also, I don't really go out until late at night so I have managed to avoid any adverse run-ins with disagreeable people! Otherwise, I have felt safe here and have and will continue to go out of my way to keep it that way :) I have loved spending time with the people here :) I will definitely go to that library as I am always trying to find new places to work and study so I appreciate your recommendation! The gym is the one by the school which is also close to my house :) I go early in the morning and so its nice and quiet!