Two Brians and some Chickens
category: Jims Guatemala

Sometimes I think that Peace Corps volunteers are like astronauts. We work in an alien environment, doing a lot of things no one really understands. We are celebrities (in our village, anyways). But most importantly, we have a huge team of people who work behind the scenes to support us and have contributed a lot to get us here. I’m not just talking about the US taxpayer (who is getting a pretty good deal; the average Peace Corps volunteer only costs Uncle Sam about $20,000 per year). Rather, I am talking about the lady at the airport who waived our excess baggage fee, my dad who sends us care packages filled with beef jerky, my brother-in-law who took us out to breakfast, Emily’s elementary school teacher who slipped us $20 at the Christmas party. Every PCV has friends like these who make it possible to be here.

I was pondering this today, and remembered the Brians. When I was 9, my family moved to Virgina and I made two new friends, both named Brian. One lived three houses to the left, and the other one about twice that far to the right. They were the best friends a kid could ask for, and we supported each other through all sorts of adventures, things like Boy Scouts and summer camp and so forth. Now, nearly three decades later, they are still there for me. Any time you see a “Brian” commenting on the blog, it’s one of them (the confusion still lingers after all this time). They are always encouraging and supportive, as well as having lots of clever insights to our various third-world challenges.

They also help in uncalled-for ways; it’s Brian who donates the server space for this blog and manages the technology to keep it running. He and his wife Mel sent me a sizeable gift when I was freezing to death and needed a way to heat my house. The other Brian and his wife Lori follow the blog closely, and share it with their kids (who are really cute and funny). When our chickens turned out to be roosters and we were forced to eat them, Brian and Lori sent me an email:

“Sorry about your chickens, Jim. How much do laying hens cost? Lori and I would like to sponsor a new pair.” (a rough paraphrase)

I was tickled. What a kind offer! Chickens are pretty cheap here (once quetzales are converted into dollars at about 8 to 1), and he paypalled me the money for two hens the very next day. In gratitude, Emily decided that Brian’s kids have the right to name the new hens.

This was about two months ago, and since then things have been hectic, and we’ve been too busy to search the valley for people willing to part with their hens. But three weeks ago, Lina came by the house.

kaxlan2sm.jpg“I hear you’re looking for chickens. Want to buy one of mine? My husband’s been drunk all week, and I need 50q to buy sugar and corn for the kids.”

We get this kind of thing sometimes. My first thought was, “How did she know I was looking for chickens?” Is it bad that my SECOND thought was about the status of her domestic situation? Aaah, Guatemala.

“I’d love to help you out,” I said, “but we’re going to be away for almost three weeks, so I don’t want to buy until I get back.”

“That’s OK,” she replied, undaunted. “You can pay me now, and I will keep the chicken for you until you return.”

I felt a little iffy on it; people have subjective memories here, and this is the same lady that we had to hound for weeks the one time we made the mistake of lending money for food, and the same lady who mistakenly thought our last batch of chickens had been stolen from her coop. But I talked it over with Emily, and we decided that the worst that could happen is we’d be out 50q. Not the end of the world.

Fast forward three weeks. We return from our trip, and I mosey over to Lina’s house. After the required half hour of pleasantries, I asked if I could have my hen.

“Sure!” she said. “But funny thing, it’s a rooster!”

I was not amused. “Um, I told you I wanted a hen. For eggs. You agreed to that.”

“Si, hombre!” she smiled. “But yours turned out to be a rooster!”

I reiterated my case, and got the same reply. She held up a medium-sized rooster as evidence.

I frowned, and made it apparent I was NOT going to take the rooster that she was holding out towards me. She looked sheepish, and took me around to the other side of the house.

“Well, if you MUST have a hen, I can sell you this one. But it’s worth 75q.” I almost lost my cool, then I remebered that this is Guatemala. From her perspective, she’s not trying to switch-sell me or cheat me. She really sees it that way.

I counted backwards from ten, slowly. Then I realized that maybe paying 25q extra for someone to watch and feed our chicken for three weeks wasn’t THAT bad a deal; I just had to reframe my outlook on the situation. “OK, done,” I said, sealing the deal and carrying off a very hansome looking bird. “I’ll bring the extra 25q by… tomorrow.”

Does it make me evil that I still haven’t paid her?

kaxlan1sm.jpgHere is the second hen. She was much easier to get; a lady we know across town had one she was selling as well. Brian: once they have names, just let me (and everyone else) know by commenting. Thanks again, to you and Lori.

Posted by: jfanjoy