Friday, February 13, 2009

The Dream is Over

I feel like I'm swimming in vaseline.  People in the Houston airport are doing all the things you'ld expect, yelling into cell phones, pushing, shoving, all manner of typical type A behavior.  I can't seem to get into gear so I casually lean against the people mover and rest my bag on the railing as the natives streak past to my left. I've got almost three hours to kill before the flight to Newark and eventually I wind up in Pappadeauxs for the bargain lunch time buffet. It's $23 bucks including a glass of wine to fortify my spirits and a tip.  The food's ok but I'm spoiled, I want the fresh stuff, cooked to order for a fifth of the price, oh and throw in a lot of smiling, friendly faces instead of all these high-powered masters of the universe, please.

"The current threat advisory level as determined by the Department of Home Land Security is.............ORANGE"   Runnnnnnnnnnnn!  Now it's.............. YELLOW, because you've just wet yourself, ...................oh no, it's worse, check your shorts, it's BROWN!   Be afraid, be very afraid, and don't forget to vote. 

Guatemala isn't for everybody (I hope).  There are lots of problems.  It's very poor.  There is some nasty crime.  The government benefits the few and tries to BS the rest (well OK there are similarities here too).  If you go take your street smarts.  Don't look rich(leave your jewelry and Rolex home).  Don't get drunk and stupid and act like a fool(you just might offend someone carrying a knife or gun).  It's best to use the buddy system (although I did most everything on my own).  Xela isn't Guatemala City but the guys riding shot gun on the beer trucks carry real shotguns for some reason.  Anyplace you go you'll be recognizable as the outsider(unless you're very small with dark features) and perceived as more likely to have something of value in your pockets than most of the other available targets.  I took taxis home from el centro any night after 8:30 or so and often times the driver would wait and watch me walk the 100 feet to my door.  Drink bottled water and no ice as in most countries south of the border.  As much as I wanted to I didn't eat anything off the street vendor's carts.  If you acclimated with acidopholus supplements or yogurt you could probably graze at will from any of the vendor's that have a strong local following(they know who runs a clean, ship-shape operation).

I spent a full four weeks, walked over 100 miles, lost 10 pounds and never once felt threatened. I've been in much scarier places within 250 miles of home. The people were friendly and helpful or at the least tolerant and sometimes amused.  My school, with full room and board was $155 week. My Guatemalan mom wants my wife and I to visit next year and I'm sure that my school was taking more than half my tuition to cover their end of things so with full room and board we might spend $75/80 week.  Even if you stayed in a basic hotel and ate typical foods in local restaurants you should be able to get by on less than almost anywhere else in the world.  You'll need a little spanish but you can get a start with cd's or dive right in at one of the many available schools.

I loved my school, El Mundo en Espanol.  The instruction was thorough and enjoyable.  My teacher and her family treated me like an uncle they were fond of. The garden setting with occaisional volcanic eruptions in the background made an awe inspiring classroom.  The other students were fun and very tolerant of an old guy in their midst.  My guatemalan family was great.  The conveniently located "Ponderosa" had ice cold Cabros and Gallos served with a smile by the friendly barkeep Erik(hard to resist after a long afternoons walk). Oh and let's see you could live very well for maybe $1200 a month.  Hey, maybe next election I'll vote with my feet.

Photos from the top:

My teacher Gladis with one of her instructors, Maurice.

My family, Sebastien, a shy secretarial student, Pedro, Julio, Mama Esmerelda, Juan.

To market to market to buy a fat pig, or anything else at San Francisco el Alto.

My front door, bedroom window, and The Ponderosa.

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