ReConnect and Back to Work
category: Emilys Guatemala

Alright, so I wrote most of this one time, and it didn’t save. Lord knows how I did that, but it pissed me off so badly it took me a long time to get back to it. My apologies. As I left on in my other post, I was quite ready to take leave of Temux. Their party style is just a little too much for me, and I’d been dreaming of tasty restaurant food for days and weeks…

To do the trip to Antigua in one day is possible, but it’s killer. Your body feels a bit like your feet do when you take them out of roller skates after a few hours at the rink. That is to say, there is this bizarre feeling of constant vibration running from head to toe after some 12 hours on chicken buses. You basically feel wrecked. So we split the trip in two days and stopped over in Guatemala’s second largest city, Xela, where we met up with some other volunteers. There’s a restaurant there called Sabor de La India (Taste of India) that Fletch had been dreaming about for a few weeks, and though it’s pricey up against our budget so none of our friends wanted to go, we’d been in our site for weeks, where we don’t spend much money on anything, so we went alone. At first we joked about it being a date, but when you spend almost every blessed second together, “dates” don’t really hold as much appeal as they might otherwise. 🙂 We were excited about the food though, and we’d managed to find something to talk about.

peekingunin.jpgWe were jabbering and mainly just excited to be out of our site. You don’t realize how much pressure is on your day to day to existence in site until you leave. Here in the village, everyone is watching you, everything you do is strange and interesting. Literally, kids will stand and watch us do our dishes in the stream without ever say ing a word to us. They watch us at our door to see how we sweep our floor. Women who happen to walk by are amazed to see Fletch doing the cooking, so they stop and watch. In the village, anyone who wants to feels like it’s okay to come wake us up at 6 am to give us hot tortillas they just made us. Yes, it’s VERY nice of them, but I like to decide when my first encounter of the day will be. When we leave the village I feel like every pore of my body lets out a sigh of relief. So there we were, in Taste of India, and the food came. As we took our first bites, all talking ceased. We started eating faster, and faster, the spices kicking in. We started sweating. WE COULD NOT STOP EATING…and then our plates our clean. It was basically the most amazing food we’ve eaten in months. So now we know our favorite restaurant is a mere 6 hours from home. And to think we used to view driving to Davenport, Iowa for Thai food (from Galesburg, IL 45min. in our own vehicel) as quite the big adventure.

Thing is people like to go out to eat because it’s relaxing, right? But EVERYTHING in our house, every meal of the day is basically made from scratch–that is minus the Mac n’ Cheese some of you have sent us–but seriously, it’s a lot of work. It’s a good thing there are two of us here to trade off or I have a feeling I would eat a lot of eggs and oatmeal plus whatever a neighbor brings by on any given day. We do have the time, but we get tired of spending it cooking. Then there’s clean up. No running water in the house. The dishes all pile up, and we have to carry them all to the stream where we wash them in freezing water, freezing our hands, more likely than not on a very cold day and sometimes in the rain as well. Do you get the point? Eating at Taste of India was like heaven times ten. It was in every way possible a break from Guatemala if just for an hour. I’m still so excited about it, 3 weeks later, I had to tell you all.

So the next day our crew started out as a group of 6 leaving Xela in the morning and grew as we got closer to Antigua. It was so strange going back. We lived our first 3 months in Guatemala there, and we had to pass through our old towns to get to the city, first through Fletch’s then through mine. It’s strange how distant that part of our service, that part of our lives, feels now. Those were the days I lived in a suite room bigger than our entire house is now. I had my own bathroom where the toilet flushed and I could have hot water showers most hours of the day. Those were the days Fletch and I barely saw each other, were sometimes sad about it, had to talk on the phone at night before going to bed like teenagers. Not anymore. We did not stop to say high to our families but blew right on through. The visit would come later in the week. We had the pressing business of finding Halloween costumes to attend to.

thecrow.jpgI’m not kidding, we got off the bus, dropped our bags at the hostel, and went straight for the PACA. I think I might have explained this before, if so forgive me. PACA is short of empacador which means package. The empacadores starting arriving as relief aid in the early 70’s shortly after a massive earthquake killed about 200,000 Guatemalans. The quake hit early in the morning while most people were still in bed, and their tile and adobe houses fell right in. So after everyone had recovered from the quake, some enterprising folks decided they would start selling the cheap ropa americana for profit. Thus we have a Guatemalan equivalent to Goodwill. Antigua had a sizeable selection at their PACA. Fletch wanted to be the devil and had shaved his head in advance. I was stoked to be a flapper, but then found a cheaper dress that I thought the devil’s girlfriend could wear. Meanwhile our friends were bargaining down the dresses that would allow them to be 80’s prom queens for the evening. Unfortunately, we never found the red body paint we thought would make the costumes, so Fletch looks like something from The Crow. I was pretty afraid the velour pants we found for Jaime would be a bit too small. As it turns out it’s a good thing I had my knitting kit with me because I had to safety pin the butt in two places for them stay up. I must say, this picture illustrates one of the reasons I love Fletch. He cracks me up. I could not look at him on Halloween without laughing. Not only did we all get a break from being PCV’s, Halloween kind of gave us all a break from reality. YAY.

The next day started off groggily, as we all tried to get ready, eat, and find the proper bus to take us to a kite festival some veteran PCV’s had mentioned was worthwhile. It’s kind of ridiculous the coordination required to get 12 adults moving in the same direction. It shouldn’t be that hard, but it was. Sometime around 11 am, as we were waiting to get on the bus that would take us to this festival we heard someone say it was set to end at 11:30. GREAT. But we tried to make it for the tail end anyway. We came running in to the town park at nearly noon, and then we were sad. It looked like they were taking all the kites apart.

Then I realized no one was leaving, in fact, the food vendors looked like they were just getting started. People were pretty well settled in to some grassy spots watching the deconstruction. So I asked a lady what was going on. “They’re putting the kites together.” YAY! We had gotten there for the beginning instead of the end. By 6 pm, when we were all back in Antigua exhausted from staying up the night before and sitting outside all day, we were really glad we hadn’t gotten there any earlier. The whole production was pretty impressive. Apparently the kite teams are kept absolutely secret while the designs and sizes are figured out so that there is as little favoritism in the judging as possible–Guatemala, like many third world countries has a problem on all levels with “favoritism”, it is also sometimes called nepotism or just plain corruption. But the kite contest, or Barriletes are a very important matter, not to be messed with.

kites1.jpg barriletes3.jpg barriletes2.jpg

The first few kites to go up were only between 6 and 10 feet tall, from younger less experienced groups. The longer the festival went the bigger the kites got. The designs were pretty much amazing. It was a very big deal as they prepared to right the next kite. Everyone would hold their breath, the crowd was tense. The men on the ropes would start pulling, while the men on the kite would start pushing and running and pushing and running until the kite emitted huge cracking gasps, the crowd screamed and the men ran out from under it. Or until the kite was standing. The former seemed to be a more frequent occurrence than the latter, but it sure did make the whole scene pretty dramatic. It was, more than anything, a game of art. The only thing I’ve experienced like it were the castilleros (Robin/Toni is that how you spell that?), the teams of people who made human towers during all the festivals in Catalunya, Spain. That is to say, it’s something that doesn’t seem to have a point, but people put a lot of time and effort into doing it, and for that it is something beautiful and moving.

We had two days of reconnect, that felt a lot like training. We had lots of talks on different themes, we got shots in each arm, I got sick. Just like injection2.jpgtraining! Only this time my amoeba test came back negative and I got better before losing 25lbs. YAY. The rest of the week was spent in Spanish class, except I don’t really need Spanish class. Since Fletch did they let me stay and wait for him rather than sending me back home alone. It was pretty much fantastic, as I spent multiple mornings in the Cafe Condessa, a restaurant off the main square in Antigua in a colonial mansion. They also have fantastic coffee, and the best deal in town, at 9Q for a mug with endless refills. ZZZIIINNNNGGG! I sat in the courtyard by the fish fountain being anonymous with my coffee, reading, and hanging out with my bad self. Alone time happens so infrequently here. It was nearly as amazing as the indian food.

We did go back and visit our host families as well. We spent a few nights at Fletch’s old house. Since he was pretty much their hero in residence, the kids have been asking their moms and grandma every day since his departure when he would come back. There was much squeeling and excitement every day we showed up there. His host family is amazing. They are so kind, so humble, and so giving. The kids are polite and fun and funny. We ended up playing cards with them both nights. Guess what Timmons kids? Egyptian Rat Screw is now their favorite game as well because Fletch taught it to them when he lived there. They had us read them stories (Where the Wild Things Are, in Spanish!). One afternoon we all played soccer together in the courtyard, until the light went away, and as I looked over my shoulder, the two boys, one a foot taller than the other, were walking off together with their arms slung around the others shoulder. They took such great care of Fletch during training, and were always so welcoming to me. I struggle to find the words to describe how it feels when complete strangers truly take you in and make you part of their family, but we do feel like part of theirs now. Jovita, the host mama, had to have serious talks with both of us, individually, about our weight. She asked, “Is there food there where you live? Are you sure you’re eating enough?” She just had to check on us. We assured her we eat tons of things that are so bad for us we probably shouldn’t, tasty things like scones and cinnamon rolls and pancakes. We told her we eat lots of fruits and vegetables too. She seemed to, well, kind of believe us. At least our stories matched. The last night we said good bye to everyone as we had to leave before the kids were up. They nearly cried to let us go. The 7 year old, Luz Maria, had saved me a goody-bag from her birthday party which she gave me, and Memo, the 9 year old had saved a goody-bag for Fletch from his first communion. He also gave Fletch a picture of himself so, “You won’t forget me.” And Luz and Andres both gave us pictures they’d drawn us. Here’s our life, according to Luz Maria.luzdrawing.jpg

My host family was a very good one as well, and I tell Fletch all the time, I probably would have loved them even more if didn’t have his family to compare them too. My host parents were great to talk to, but often unavailable. They are more affluent, their kids are involved in lots of activities, so they are always running around away from the house. We stopped by and visited with them on Friday afternoon. It was good to see them, but in typical style my host mom seemed offended we weren’t staying the night as she ran off to the gym and I stayed to visit with her mother and brother a bit before we headed back to Antigua. All in all, Fletch and I have continued time and time again to luck out, I think.

So that was reconnect, and then we had a long long long trip back home. Shortly after was the trauma with Galindo. He’s doing amazingly well, though he lost a staggering amount of weight and he occassionally has vision problems. He seems to be getting back to himself, but then again, we’d never expected him to do such a thing since his regular self is so calmly content, polite and kind. That’s about all for now folks. Hopefully I will be more timely with these things in the future

A last general announcement: The road to Quixabaj did collapse as we had predicted. Thankfully we were wrong about the part where we thought people would be crossing as it finally caved. We were supposed to go this month, but for the reconstruction will not make it there until at least the second week in December.

Posted by: emily