Saturday, March 26, 2011

Last night in Guatemala City 3/26

I'm at Harold's house for the last night. Tomorrow, I go to Antigua and my Spanish classes start on Monday. Yesterday night, I went with Stephanie to her university class - something like a philosophy/cultural geography course. With the help of the powerpoint pictures, I could understand the gist of discussion focused on global warming and natural disasters like the 2010 Hurricane Agatha and sink hole in Guatemla City and volcano nearby. Everyone was very warm and friendly and talkative.

Today, I went with Harold to the market for a few hours in the morning. Its unbelievable how many fruits and vegetables Guatemala's extremely rich soil yields. The market was quite the experience - full of stimulation. Dyed baby chicks and regular chicks. Dead chickens killed with unlayed eggs inside, apparently a delicacy, short men carrying huge loads on their back and being payed pocket change to do so, small children with baskets on their heads selling trinkets, sellers sing-song calling out sales, and the intense smells and noises the photos only sanitize. Harold purchased 50 tomatoes for about $1.25. Almost everything is sold in bulk.

We've been eating fruits and vegetables all day. I made smoothies for everyone with pineapple, mango, cantaloupe, strawberries, bananas, blackberries, yogurt, honey. All produce must be either washed with a little bit of bleach or boiled because consuming untreated water or produce washed with untreated water will likely lead to worms in your stomach and illness - if you don't have a tolerance built up to the bacteria.

I took two long walks when I got home, one in late morning and one in late afternoon. Its easy to feel at home in Harold's house and great to experience what its like to live in his life in Guatemala City. I'm relaxing more than I expected to. Last night, we watched "I love you Man" and this afternoon I watched some of the movie "Tourist" with them. I rarely watch movies or t.v., but sometimes, its okay and nice to be lazy.

I have to mention the Trova Jazz night briefly too - the music I went to see that Sonia invited us to. The bar felt very European, lots of nice-looking, intelligent people there. Apparently there used to be more places like that in Guatemala City, but now there are not as many. Everyone, everyone, everyone sings along to the lyrics with seemingly deep-felt passion. The music really comes from the heart and can be felt so strongly there. Its funny and different how people sing along to a cover band in a bar here. It was the birthday of one of the bandmembers and friends brought him a cake on stage. I enjoyed seeing Sonia again and sitting with her, her friends, Harold and Stephanie. I tried the standard Guatemalan beer, Gallo (rooster), and I tried it mixed with tomato juice and spices - which is a great idea!

Guatemala City is not somewhere I'd like to stay for more than a few days though because there isn't easy access to the things I like to do - outdoors, active, nature stuff, art galleries, cultural things.

Interlude: some friends of Harold's just arrived at the door, so I'm going to say hi to them...

Back: that was cool. 4 of Harold's friends just showed up. Harold says that in Guatemala no one calls before coming over, they just stop by. That's a pretty interesting cultural difference between Guatemala and the states. It could drive you nuts, but I like it (some of his relatives popped by this morning for instance too). We were just having a quiet evening, but having a group of people show up caused Stephanie to order pizza and then we all had some interesting conversation and looked at photos. It was fun. The visitors just left and then I talked to Stephanie and Harold some more and am now heading to bed soon. I'm grateful and lucky I had the chance to stay with them my first 4 days here.

Tomorrow: Antigua, which everyone tells me is one of the most beautiful cities in Guatemala.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First two days in Guatemala, Guatemala City 3/23 & 3/24

Yesterday, Sonia, a couchsurfer, found me immediately in the welcome area crowd at the airport. She gave me a big hug and I felt so lucky to be greeted like that by someone in a new country. She drove me to a patio cafe/bakery for lunch called Los Alpes, about 10 min. from the airport. The airport is right in the center of the city. Sonia explains that the city is arranged in a spiral of zones. Often when people say Guatemala, they are referring to Guatemala City rather than the country. The nickname Guate is commonly used for the country. States are called Departementos.

Los Alpes was the perfect place for relaxing and catching up - that is what everyone seemed to be doing there. No one was rushing in and out quickly. Service was a little lazy. We arrived at 12:30 and stayed until 2:30. Lunch time in Guatemala is more like 2pm. I had a delicious salad composed of piles of each: cucumber, grated carrot, sliced tomato, sliced hard-boiled egg, cooked cold green beans and cooked cold brocoli...followed by tres leches cake - I had to scrape the frosting off because it was too sweet. Sonia told me the Spanish word for too sweet, but I don't remember. Too much to take in. Lots of pretty flowers, bright colors, traffic, greenery, birds perched on chairs waiting for crumbs.

Sonia works as a journalist and as a journalism teacher at the university. Her job has allowed her to travel free to many places around the world. She lives with her sister, niece, and nefew and helps her single-mother sister raise the children.

Harold, my couchsurfing host, meets us at Los Alpes at 2:15 after he gets out of work. He owns his own teaching English company. He has coffee with us. Sonia tells us both about a band playing the following night and invites us along. I think Sonia and Harold enjoyed meeting and talking. Couchsurfing is so great!

Harold lived in Guatemala until age 6, then he moved with his family to New Jersey where he learned English and grew up. In the meantime his dad moved back to Guatemala. When he was 27, Harold returned to see his dad and ended moving back and starting his own English teaching company. Now he is 35.

Last night was a quiet one. I went for a walk around the neighborhood accompanied by Harold. He insisted I do not walk around the city by myself even though his neighborhood appears so friendly and nice at first glance.

This morning, I woke up at 6am and went with Harold to the English class he teaches every day at an energy/fuel plant/company called Eliott. Eliott's slogan is: "Making the world turn. Eliott. Fuels." Harold taught the main class and he put me aside with a second chair. Each of the 6 men in the class came over and sat next to me for one on one conversation practicing. I would ask them questions they had been learning:
What is your name?
What is your work email? Personal email?
How old are you?
How big is your family?
What are the names of your brothers, sisters, father, mother?
What do you do? (mechanic, welder, accountant)
and then I started making up new questions out of curiosity and because there was still time:
Where have you traveled?
Were you born in Guatemala city?
Where do your brothers/sisters live? What do they do?
What are your favorite places in Guatemala?
and then I gave them the chance to ask me questions, which I could tell they really wanted to do. They were curious\surprised that I came here by myself and that none of my family lives here. At the end of class, I joined the main group and they quizzed me/helped me learn some Spanish, which was great. Harold said later that they all really enjoyed talking with me and practicing with a foreigner. I will help again tomorrow!

Then, Harold and I went back to his house for breakfast at 9:30am. The maid fixed us a traditional Guatemalan breakfast - refried black beans with creama and eggs scrambled with onions, peppers and tomatoes. Harold explained that maids are very cheap in Guatemala compared to the U.S. The maid, Angelica, comes every day from 9-3.

After looking at my guidebook, Harold picked out some places to take me that he had not been to before and we took off to explore. Our first stop was a botanical garden where I saw lots of beautiful plants and flowers. My favorite tree is the towering, thick-trunked Ceiba. Then, we went to a museum of Mayan ruins - all the collection was excavated from the spot the museum was built upon. In the back of the museum there is a mound where a temple was dug up. Several zones of current Guatemala City used to be a Mayan City 3,000 years ago and the Mayan city became covered up and over grown.

Traffic is pretty crazy. We always lock the doors and roll up the windows. "Chicken buses" - repainted in crazy colors U.S. school buses packed with people, and motercycles, are the craziest drivers. Harold's car has multiple dents from collisions with motercyclists - accidents mainly caused by the bikers. I have seen maybe 2 police cars in my 2 days here. Harold says the police hardly do anything. Especially in small towns, ghetto areas crime is taken into the hands of the people and the police actually protect the criminals from being lynched. Ambulances pass by and only half the cars move out of the way. The other half either don't move or else they get right on the tail of the ambulance and try to get ahead in traffic. Unlike in Taiwan, where driving is also congested yet where cars/scooters yield and merge with the awareness of a school of fish, here in Guatemala, traffic is aggressive and there are a lot of accidents. Its very interesting, the comparisons and difference I see between Taipei and Guatemala City. Even though Guatemala City is huge, the air seems cleaner and you can still smell all the flowers. Both places have that jungle/mountain scenery.

We came back to the house after exploring, for lunch. Harold says the lower class and the upper class almost always come back to the house for lunch - the lower class because they have flexible jobs like selling bananas on the street; and the wealthy because they can afford to. The middle class tend to eat lunch in their offices.

Harold also tells me about house-hold dating culture in Guatemala. Young men and women live with their families until marriage most of the time. Harold's girlfriend, Stephanie, moved in with him a year ago and that was a huge deal for her family. Even now, when they get together with her extended family, her parents introduce Harold to their relatives as Stephanie's husband because they don't want to explain that he isn't and be embarrassed. It is uncommon for a girlfriend or boyfriend to be allowed to spend the night at the parent's house. For this reason, something called auto-hotels exist in which couples can drive their cars into a garage, and pay an hourly rate for a room above. Rooms range from incredibly sketchy to extremely posh with waterbeds, hot tubs, gardens etc. So, apparently it can be pretty pricey to have sex here, or, as Harold says, "get your rocks off."

Back at the house, Angelica has fixed us the kind of lunch I would have wanted to fix myself: pureed squash/cilantro soup, and one each of a slice of squash, corn on the cob, boiled carrot, thin slice of breaded steak, and some kind of delicious white vegetable I had never tried before, which tasted earthy like a brazil nut. Mucho gusto.

I take a long nap after lunch and awake to a cockroach crawling across my arm. I'm pretty used to cockroaches from living in Austin, but that does not mean I am happy to see them. At least now, I can remain calm and kill it with my shoe.

The sun is starting to go down. The flowers in Harold's garden, which emerge at night time, smell divine. I think we will go out soon to see that band Sonia told us of and she will meet us there. Harold went out to drop Stephanie at university. She studies law from 6-9 at night after working in the office from 8-5 during the day. She is such a talented and dedicated student that her university offered her a half scholarship out of the blue. She is Guatemalan, 25, and beautiful. She always gives me a kiss on the cheek hello and good bye. That is customary here. I love that warmth/physical ease of Latin countries. At the same time, Harold tells me Guatemalans in general are a very repressed people and even he feels that from growing up with a Guatemalan family in the states. He tells me that often it is hard for Guatemalans to feel comfortable demanding what they want or saying no to what they don't want and that frequently, you will get a yes answer face to face only to never get the follow through.

Uploading pictures now, and dinner soon. Dinner is the lightest meal and I'm still full from lunch :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

waiting for my plane to Guatemala city to depart - 3/23

Sitting on the runway, waiting to take off to Guatemala City. 2 hours and 20 min. to get there on a Spirit Airlines flight for $175 one-way - I say $175 because that includes the $30 each baggage fee (even for carryons) so be aware of that on cheap flights. Its easier and cheaper for me to fly to Guatemala than to my parent's in Maine.

We're leaving from Fort Lauderdale airport. I spent last night in Miami at a hotel there because that is where I booked it thinking that's the airport I was arriving at. Luckily, the airports are pretty close together by train and I kept the reservation and enjoyed taking the train back and forth and seeing a little bit. The Fort Lauderdale airport has free wireless. Free/cheap transport and free airport wireless always put me in favor of a place. The weather is kinda humid and low 80's. On the train ride to the airport, I notice lots of Palm trees propped up with supports like they couldn't be trusted to stand on their own. And there are many canals. At first I thought, "oh, how pretty, kind of like a marshy, tropical Amsterdam," until I notice instantaneously, all the trash along the banks. Yuck! There is so much litter in some spots, it seems like a hurricane must have hit.

I would definitely like to come back to Miami sometime to explore. I will be passing back through Miami in a few months on my way to Europe for a wedding, but no time to be a tourist then either. Its a good thing I thought to bring my ongoing Europe Itinerary with me - otherwise they would have given me trouble boarding the plane to Guatemala with only a one-way ticket. But I want to come back because the people seem overwhelmingly friendly and happy in the brief time I've been here. Everyone's calling me "Sweetie" and "Honey." I was standing next to a beautiful elderly lady in line at the airport. She was heading to Puerto Rico to see family and she has not been back for 30 years. I told her I liked her pretty white spiked hair. She said that I would love Guatemala and to have a safe trip. Then I saw her 10 minutes later in another line. She said, "You're so pretty and cute, nice to see you again," I think I would love to be friends with her if we were neighbors.

I noticed on the plane, all the strangers talking like friends. There are a lot of missionaries heading to Guatemala. And a lot of English teachers. And a lot of women tourists heading down in groups without their husbands. I have a window seat and no one is sitting next to me in the middle. The people behind me are discussing portabella mushrooms in white wine sauce, "It is sooo good. It is soooo good," they say.

I'll be in Guatemala City for the next 4 days. Then, I'm heading to Antigua where I'll be staying with a Guatemalan family and going to a Spanish immersion school there. I have a feeling I am not going to want to leave...and that I will be returning. I am happy and excited to have this opportunity for Spanish immersion.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sitting in front of Crimson - 3/19/11

I'm sitting in front of my aunt's hairdressing studio in Austin waiting for my friend Jenny to pick me up. The studio is called Crimson and its on 8th and West. The air is balmy, breezy, humid and the skies are overcast. 11:15 am. Writing, waiting, looking up. The trees are green, new spring green, or bare. Some have flowers. White, purple, yellow. Parking is full and traffic steady.

Later in the day, I think I'll go to Fliphappy crepes and Barton Springs. Bathing suit is on under the clothes. 70ยบ and rising.

Free music in the p.m. Bright Eyes, The Felice Brothers, and Middle Brother, all favorites I've seen in some form or another before.

I had a late start this morning because the clock beside my bed was an hour off and I didn't know it. The gray skies kept me in the dark. Lazy morning. Left over Texas Bass and jalepeno cornbread for breakfast.

The sun is beginning to poke its nose through the haze. A little bug keeps trying to land on my finger while I write. Now its on the bird print on my skirt, now the wind carries it off. I see Jenny driving up....

Road trip from Santa Fe to Marfa..... 3/16/11

Pulled into Marfa last night. Daeryl greeted the 4 of us and showed us our cozy abode for the night - an airstream in her backyard. Perfect.


We are sitting at Squeeze Marfa now. Kristin just looked over at me and said, "God, Jeanne, I love those earrings!" with a funny smile. Mae asked, "did you give them to her?" Kristin nodded, "The earrings said they needed to be on Jeanne's ears." I smiled. I like wearing and bringing things on my travels that were my friends.

The food is arriving at our picnic table. I ordered a Forbidden Fruit smoothie. It is yummy, contains pink guava and passion fruit. Its me, Kristin, Mae and Mae's friend Caitlin on our road trip from Santa Fe to SXSW in Austin.

We are reminiscing about the spirit/clairvoyant group session we just experienced last night with Daeryl - our couchsurfing host and my friend (since a previous road trip of mine from Santa Fe to Austin a year and a half ago). That time I was solo, but Daeryl and I immediately got along. Daeryl is a wise woman/clairvoyant of sorts and she used to be a graphic designer before she switched careers. For the past 5 years, she has lived in Marfa, TX with her artist husband (who used to live in Santa Fe for 25 years when it was a very different place than it is now). I did not meet her husband last time I was here because he was a on a road trip himself with their airstream. This time he and the airstream are here. And the four of us girls got to sleep in the airstream - slumber party style.

Before sleeping however, we had some interesting events to experience.

First, we walked to the Get Go, a healthfood store/grocery, with Daeryl for dinner ingredients: pasta, apsaragus, cheese, crackers, wine, beer to add to my collard greens, carrots and apples from Trader Joe's. But before cooking dinner together, we all had a spirit talk. The four of us sat in a semi-circle around Daeryl in her living room.


Now we are back in the car and I'm completing my entry after leaving Squeeze Marfa and the food. We are listening to a SXSW playlist and gazing at the gorgeous west Texas landscape stretching out in front and behind.

Back to the spirit talk. Daeryl began by closing her eyes and calling in her spirit guide. She gave us an overall description of our group energy. That we are all extremely different people and that our souls have known each other in past lives and that we will have a good time together on the road trip.

Then she focused on each of us individually. I was first, after I repeated my name 3 times, she got an overall image of my energy and translated it into words. Basically, she said she got an image of a straight line going along like a skier on straight ground and then it flipped up like a snowboarder halfpipe, went full circle and continued along on the straight path. She said this picture represents my energy and life - going along practically and responsibly and then going "wheeeee" for a while and coming full circle to continue along on the path I left off on. She said I am about to do this "wheeeee" right now in my life and to go with it and relax into it and trust it. That I will do this a lot in my life. She could not have been more accurate about that - I am about to take off from the practical working, studious path, and go airborne in a sense to a country I've never been to learn a language I don't know and meet entirely new people. And I'm excited for it!

She then asked me if there were certain questions I had and to state any topic I was interested in knowing more about. I said there were 3 topics: Guatemala, the spiritual internship in Albuquerque, and my relationship. I'm not going to post everything here though. But it was very interesting. You can read into these things however you want - and there is always going to be some slant that fits spot-on if you choose to see it that way. Its also an interpretation/translation of energy that is sooooo dynamic. Nothing is static and set the way its going to be. Take the advice and wisdom that helps, but also don't let it dictate your decisions.

The best advice Daeryl gave us girls, applicable to all, is, don't settle for just a piece of the pie. Know you deserve the whole and that sometimes the pieces are necessary to ready you for the whole.