category: Jims Guatemala

One of the funny things about blogging is that we develop these weird one-way relationships with a bunch of people you don’t know. They are like voyeurs into our lives, and know an almost uncomfortable amount about us. After more than a year of reading comments, though, Emily and I have started to know a handful of people that we feel are “friends”, even though we’ve never met them: Mike Bosio, Larry from Mazatlan, Beth in MN, Norm Kwallek, Trudy… But a few days ago, we got a rare opportunity to make one of those connections a two-way street, when I received this email out of the blue:

Jim, I am in country and have rented a 4×4 next week, is there anything you need muled up from Antigua? Norm Kwallek

Are you KIDDING me? That’s fantastic! Emily and I were already planning on being in Antigua about then anyway, and yes, we DID have something that needed to be hauled to our site: the rest of the computers for the computer center. We bounced a few emails back and forth with Norm, and arranged to meet him in the central park in Antigua a few days later.

When the morning arrived, we were sending off our friend Alice (more on her in the next post) and, as usual, the Guatemalan driver was late. So Emily stayed with her, and I went to go find Norm. As I reached the central park, I suddenly realized: I had no idea what he looked like. I stopped, feeling kindof silly, and heard someone call my name. Of course! He would be able to recognize me; he’s been following the blog for a while. I turned around to meet Bruce Willis, without all the scars and frowning.

That is another weird thing about this blog business. I don’t have any idea how old any of our readers are, or how tall, or what color, or anything. This internet is kindof cool that way; it’s a great equalizer. I can’t even always be certain of someone’s gender… names usually give it away, but I had an embarrassing incident last week involving “Jamie”.

After some introductions, I left with Norm and his brother-in-law Steve to go get the rental car. Although calling it a “4×4” was technically accurate, it was nothing like I’d expected. Instead of the fire-breathing Toyota Landcruiser I was expecting, their car was about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, and as Norm pointed out, had an engine smaller than a Harley Davidson. Getting half a dozen computers and monitors inside with the four of us would be challenging.

ns_carSM.jpgUndaunted, we picked up Emily and drove up the mountain to the Peace Corps headquarters. While I got computers out of the storeroom and shoehorned them into the tiny vehicle, Emily took Norm and Steve on a tour of the training center. It turned out that we could fit two computers in the cargo area with our backpacks, and a monitor up front on our laps. Although that’s less than half of the computers I still need to transport, it was a HUGE help, and I thanked Norm profusely.

“It’s no problem, really,” he said cheerfully. We all piled into the clown car, and started the trip.

Thus, we turned what would normally be a hard 11-hour chicken bus ride into a pleasant jaunt through the Guatemalan countryside. When we hang out with readers we DO know, we are always repeating stories they’ve already read. But where do you start with someone who knows nothing of you except what’s on the blog? Going into this, I was a little worried that we might dig ourselves into a trap of listening for hours to painfully annoying people. As it turns out, we met a pair of really interesting guys that are full of pleasant conversation about politics, sociology, geology, technology, and a dozen other themes. Norm and Steve are adventurer-explorers: only recently retired, they like to drive around the back roads of Mexico and Guatemala, seeing beautiful vistas and meeting new people. As luck would have it, the trip to our village was just the sort of thing they like. After hours of beautiful scenery, winding roads, and Mayan towns, we arrived in our village- just as the sun was setting.


After a brief discussion with Don Palxun’s family down the hill, we got permission to leave the 4×4 in their yard for the night and they we hiked up the path to our clubhouse. We made introductions to the family members, then we whipped up some dinner. We talked until pretty late, but were eventually overcome with sleepiness. Like the few guests we’ve had before them, Norm and Steve had the chance to try our the guest loft.   


Because of their travel schedule, they planned to leave reasonably early the next morning. We got up at sunrise, made pancakes, and took them for a brief tour of our village. Norm has a small farmstead in Ohio, and was pretty interested in seeing our garden and greenhouse, as well as the various livestock our neighbors keep. Steve is a doctor, so we stopped by the health center to show them around. While we were there, we unloaded the computers we’d hauled up from Peace Corps HQ.

norm_steveSM.jpgSoon, however, it was time for the two adventurers to return south. Shortly before they left, I heard Nas Palas’s voice next door. “Would you like to meet Nas?” I asked.

Norm smiled. “Actually, that was one of the main reasons I wanted to come all the way out here.” Funny, I remember Emily’s dad saying exactly the same thing only a month before.

Nas Palas came over, and everyone was all smiles and handshakes. Norm and Steve don’t speak Spanish (and Nas doesn’t speak English), but everyone was very pleased to met each other. Emily and I translated their shared greetings, and Norm turned to open his bag.

“I have a present for Nas,” he said, then paused. “Do you think it’s appropriate to give him something?”

Emily and I looked at each other. “Sure, I think so.” Gift giving is always tricky, but Nas is a special case… he doesn’t ever expect anything anyways, and he is a safe person to give things to, since he sortof represents his whole family, and to some extent, the community.

Norm produced a set of four matching padlocks, keyed alike. A very interesting, curious gift; but something practical that they can use, that isn’t really available here(1). Nas accepted the gift thankfully, but excused himself because he had a family meeting he had to leave for. “It’s a shame they aren’t going to be around later, I’d like to know them better” he said as he made his goodbyes.

As Norm and Steve drove off down the dusty dirt road out of the village, I had the same thought.

(1) They have padlocks, but not the keyed-alike variety. Very handy.

Posted by: jfanjoy