Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cock a doodle doooo!

Well, I just had my first experience with unreliable power. I was typing the last paragraph of my next post and....silence and blackness....shit. Nearly an hour´s worth or typing, editing and re-editing gone. Lesson learned: save drafts often. So, here it is again, completely rewritten- probably not as detailed/refined and a bit bitter....{saving now....} Luckily, I am using entries from my paper journal to write some parts.

Rafael told me yesterday that I would have to get used to the sounds of Guatemala. This morning I started to do just that- `Cock-a-doodle doooo!´ at who knows what hour. I know it was early though because I tried for a long while to go back to sleep only to be reminded many times that it was not possible. Cock-a-doodle doooooing numerous times, birds clicking around on the roof, {save} and the little neighbor girl speaking to her mother outside my window- her voice is so sweet. I wish I could speak Spanish as well as she does. I got here around 9am and that was after a leisurely morning of showering and putzing around preparing for my day. Despite the unwanted alarm this morning, I slept very well.

On my way home from this cafe last night, a girl in Guatemalan dress was selling sliced mango on the street by my house. She was fanning it, I think from the flies. {save} I love it here! I wish I could buy mango from her. She is so humble and happy. I wish I had the enzymes to protect my body from the ´bacteria´ in street vendor foods. {Note: the power just failed again.}

Rafael is adorable- he sings when he cooks and I can hear him from my room. Last night he cooked a fabulous dinner of pasta, salad, bread and sea bass (robalo.) Alejandro, Samantha, Adrian (the guy from the southern US), Rafael and I sat down promtly at 7pm. The pasta didn´t have sauce, maybe just a bit of oil. {save} The salad had tomatoes and a dressing that tasted very mayonaissey and the robalo was very salty but everything was so delicious!

Everyone in my house can speak English but they almost always speak Spanish- that is, unless I don´t understand and need something translated. It´s good for me to get used to the language and I feel like I understand most of what they are saying, though I can´t usually respond in Spanish which is becoming increasingly frustrating for me and probably frustrating for them as well. Tomorrow is Guatemala´s Labor Day, so I won´t get to start my espanol classes until Tuesday! I feel like I´m in a marathon with a broken leg. It also seems like when they ask me {save} a question directly, I don´t understand. I can´t tell yet if its because I´m being put on the spot or if they are challenging me. I hope it´s the latter. Either way, I am anxious to get going with Spanish classes again.

Today I will explore Antigua. {save} Sundays are the only day that the family does not provide meals, so I get to experience the cafe/restaurant scene. I can´t wait to see what else is going on here. Today is overcast but warm and the air smelled of smoke when I got up this morning. I can´t see the volcano. {save}

Any PC users out there who know how to change the language of my computer, I beg you-please share!! I am managing, the icons are the same as the US but there is no Safari/Macs here. {power just failed again} In the meantime, please forward synonyms for fabulous, delicious, amazing. I am serious. {save}

Saturday, April 29, 2006

First Impressions


I made it to Antigua! It is so gorgeous here.

The flight into Guatemala was both breathtaking and eye-opening. From above I could see the mountains, the enormous urban sprawl and all the rusted roofs of the hillside shacks. The buildings here are mostly one or two story structures and because of the population in Guatemala City, the footprint seems to go on forever winding around steep vegetation and divided by streets.

Our flight arrived about 35 minutes early, so I looked like the very lost American tourist until the guy from the school arrived. He was super nice and friendly. He spoke very good english (thank goodness) although he denied it. He gave me all kinds of tips and I asked him questions about the local football scene and what a few unfamiliar words meant on the billboards.

Driving through Guatemala City was fun. There are Pizza Huts, McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and Burger Kings just like every other city I have ever been to, though it didn't make me feel at home... There is an amazing mountain pass between Guatemala City and Antigua. The hillsides look like jungles and all kinds of people are walking up and down the steep shoulders of the road, some women were balancing baskets on their heads. For the most part, the "highway" didn't have any defined lanes and everyone tailgates and cuts evereyone else off, it kinda felt like I was in a video game.

In Antigua, the streets are all cobblestone which adds to its enormous charm. The locations of my accomodations, the spanish school and the elementary school is so ideal. They are all within about 7 blocks of each other and are all very close to the main square here in Antigua. The internet cafe I am at is 2 blocks from the Rodriguez' place and costs about US $1.50 or 8q per hour.

My host family and "roommates" are also very friendly. I am so lucky to have been placed with Rafael and Violeta. Rafael asked me all kinds of questions about my food preferences- making sure I don't eat meat (except for fish), what was my favorite food, were there any vegetables I didn't like....that is truly amazing. I did not expect that. I told him I was very pleased that he was so accomodating but that I wanted the true Guatemalan experience (minus the meat, which there isn't much of here anyway) and not to cater to my tastes.

The Rodriguez house is so great. The "houses" here in Antigua are a block-long continuous facade and each different apartment or house is painted a different color, similar to Burano, Italy- they are all bright and it appears as if they all try to contrast the neighbor's color as much as possible. The Rodriguez' house is a light but vibrant blue and there is a huge wooden door that is right at the sidewalk. In the 'entry' they have a tiny restaurant, maybe 8'x12' with about 4 or 5 tables. (I'm not sure what the hours are or what the deal is exactly with this restaurant thing as it was closed, but my driver is friends with them and told me- I will find out more.) Past the restaurant is a narrow hallway that opens up into a small sunny courtyard. Rafael keeps his 2 parakeets there. Straight past the courtyard is another student room and the Rodiriguez´ rooms On the right in the courtyard is an exterior stairway that I'm sure to break my ankle on before I leave. None of the risers are the same height and vary from about 3" to 7" each. The stairway is probably 2'-6" wide with a minimal iron railing. I know these may seem like petty observations, but architects notice these things.....I also think the walls and floors are concrete and/or concrete block, but I haven't inspected fully yet.

At the top of the stairs is a small common area with a washer and dryer and a table with four chairs. My room is straight ahead. The walls are pink and bare of decoration, but I have a small window that faces the volcano and overlooks the neighbors' courtyards and roofs. I even have a skylight!! Ok, a translucent corrugated fiberglass section of roof (among corrugated metal roofing) but it lets a fair amount of light in. I am the architect and I call it skylight. The bed is huge- probably king size (I've never owned anything bigger than full) and there is one nightstand and one armoire with mirrors. The belongings I brought don't even fill up a quarter of the armoire. I love living simply.

Across the hall is the bathroom- shower, toilet, sink. You can't flush tp here, so there is a wastebasket next to the toilet. This will be interesting. Down the hall are 2 more doors- one is Samatha's room and the other is a girl from Japan. She is traveling so I haven´t met her yet. Samantha is here from England- I will be taking over teaching her english classes after this coming week. She is here because she was also burnt out on her job!

NOTE: I realized how freaked out it made some people when they read some parts of my first post (ie- "They will kill you for that") so I would like to reassure everyone that Antigua is very safe and I have been given detailed directions about what to lookout for and where and when not to walk around alone. I am pretty cautious anyway, but really- I have nothing of value for anyone to steal. I will not be carrying my passport or large wads of cash around. Please do not worry about me. I am almost 29 years old.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Taking Off

I would hate airports if it weren't for people watching. The crappy food is overpriced, there's too much time spent waiting in lines, poor pedestrian circulation and unfriendly airport workers should make for a horrible flying experience. But I'm happy in my cozy seat by the window. I could be facing the window, watching the huge hunks of metal called airplanes take off and land which has always fascinated me. Or I could be enjoying the soring day's sunlight. Instead, I have my back to the windows. I am facing the moving walkway and the rest of the seating at Gate D5.

I see four men in my vicinity with laptops. One younger guy is obviously on a business trip. He is typing away in his headset and his crisp blue button-down & khakis with his suit coat tossed strategically over his briefcase so as not to wrinkle it too much. He is talking loudly and confidently to Jerry in Atlanta.

One other guy is older, he may be working- he's also got the khakis and he gazes very seriously at his screen with his index finger at his lips, his chin supported by his thumb. Another guy is dressed in his "In-N-Out Burger" t-shirt, faded jeans and his tired white sneakers. He is not on a business trip. I would assume he was surfing porn if his back weren't to the main circulation of the D concourse.

Then there are all the old people. They are so adorable. You can tell they aren't at all comfortable with technology and they have way too much time on their hands. The old man with the beard is reading the newspaper through his bifocals, frequently checking his watch. The old lady behind him has a head of unnaturally dark dark permed hair. She has a perfectly matching pink outfit with tiny embroidered flowers and shiny gold jewelry. She is reading a small book, probably a romance novel, trying to relive her younger days. She moves slowly and she has a hard time understanding why she had to take her shoes off at security and how the man at the gate can just wave her ticket under the blue light and with a beep, POOF! She's ready to go.

Then there's the big youngish guy with the obnoxious "DUCKS FOOTBALL" t-shirt who's reading "Truckin" magazine. In a lot of ways, he is still in college even though he graduated 6 years ago. He's still got his goatee and buzz cut, the same style he's had since his junior year of high school, only now he's sporting the band on his left ring finger, so he doesn't have to comb his hair if he wakes up late.

And THEN.... there are kids. Kids are perhaps the most entertaining of all airportgoers, whether they're at the airport or not. I always wonder how some poor mother gets stuck withOUT her husband but with three kids and all their crap for hours and hours in confined space and the boring setting of the airport. These moms are forced to pack and be responsible not just for themselves, but clothing, toys, diapers and food galore for THREE more people. (I've never seen a mom with more than three.) On top of that, she has to entertain and keep track of them the whole time. Just keeping track of THREE kids makes me cringe. Sometimes, the kid who is old enough to walk carries his own backpack or rolling suitcase and a complementary Batman figurine or Dora the Explorer doll in hand, making it complicated to mount the moving walkway. I have to give kudos to mom for delegating some of the load.

But kids ON the plane is another thing. On one flight I had long ago, I was suffering from a horrible headache. Some family thought it would be a great idea to bring one of those beeping, buzzing, dinging toys that their child adored. Thankfully, I was not the only one who also didn't adore the damn toy. There was the time (or many times) that I boarded the plane hungover as all hell and....sweet! Two kids in the seats directly behind me. Can someone tell me how you can let your kids repeatedly kick the seat in front of you, never suggesting that it might be rude, disruptive and inconsiderate. Parents- always assume that the person in front of you has a REALLY bad hangover. Imagine what that would be like....and act accordingly- I beg you. Or drug your kids beforehand. It's good karma. Some of us still aren't convinced that we want children at all.

It still amazes me how these high maintenance suburban women can wear heels and 8 pounds of makeup and not break a nail digging through their hideous knock-off purse for their $20 lip gloss. (Why the hell do you need lip GLOSS walking through the airport anyway?)

I sat next to a guy once who talked pretty much the entire 3 1/2 hour flight. He expressed early on that flying made him very nervous, which I had already gathered by the time of disclosure. It wasn't just his endless nervous chatter, it was also his white knuckles at take off along with his incessant figeting that clued me in. Anything that resembled even minor turbulence, my new friend would tense up like he was being tazered. I did my community service that day, that's for sure.

I do quite enjoy taking off & landing though. I find it so exhilarating. Or at least it's more exciting than beverage service. I like take-off because of the speed, the acceleration. It is so relaxing to just sit back and feel heavy, like putting that lead vest on at the dentist's office. And near the end of the runway you can feel the nose of the plane starting to point upward and then suddenly, every tiny blemish on the tarmac is gone and you feel light again.

On arrival, you can see the ground getting closer and closer you see your destination as a patchwork, bisected by lines and scattered with dots. I like the anticipation of the moment when we will kiss the ground and dip an bit....and sometimes bounce! How exciting!! Weeeee! Buh-bye Portland. I love you.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Countdown

The countdown has begun. I am packing away luxury items like my tweezers, razors, (lightly!) padded bras, cute shoes, hair conditioner, checkbook, steamer, my iPod & workout clothes. I like the idea of living without these things for a while. Soon I will be handing over my cell phone and my pickup. I no longer have a "home"- I turned in my apartment keys on Tuesday....

I have been realizing how much I will miss Portland and all the fabulous people here. Spring is here and the trees are pollenating, making some miserable but they are still coming out of the woodwork as they always do when the sun finally stays out for the day. Springtime in Portland is like a drug- everyone gets uncontrollably euphoric.

I am mentally preparing myself for a simpler life. I won't be able to just pop over to Powell's to get that book I heard about or call up a friend to meet for brunch at the Stepping Stone or "run" to Target for Honey Bunches of Oats and frozen Weight Watchers lunches. I won't be able to dial some 1-800 number and speak to someone in India when I have a question about my account because for a month, I have no accounts! I will miss dinner on Tuesday nights. I will miss Trader Joe's. I will miss being able to call someone that I trust and love to give me their honest opinion, a hug, reassurance or encouragement.

Although I will miss all these things, I know I will have an incredible trip. I will develop new passions in Guatemala, things that I will miss when I get back home to Portland. I am lucky to have so many places I can go to in my mind to escape.

And although I dislike relying on technology, I will be so grateful for the internet.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The reality of leaving for a month still hasn't really sunk in yet. I know I'm leaving but I have been briefly emotional only a couple of times and I still have my daily routine until the day I leave- everything is still very normal.

Yesterday I got my host family info. I can't wait to meet them and be a part of their lives and culture.

Mother: Violeta Occupation: Business woman
Father: Rafael Occupation: Teacher

Children who live with them:
Bryan (11) student
Julián (17) teacher
Alejandro (25) Lawyer

I have found out more about the teach English program as well. I will be teaching 4 days per week. I will be teaching classes of 40 girls- 3rd grade for 1/2 hour and 5th and 6th grade for 1 hour each. I may also be teaching firemen and policemen if requested of me. I get private Spanish lessons daily. I have Wednesdays and weekends free to travel and explore. I am also super excited for the food. You all know how much love beans, rice & tortillas!

I am so thrilled to be somewhere else besides this office chair for awhile.....