Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Salud, Dinero, y Amor...


When one sneezes in Guatemala you say "Salud", if they sneeze again you say "Dinero", and if they sneeze a third time you say "Amor". Health, money and love, these are the only three things you apparently need in life. Here, there is at least a lot of the latter.

I still remember my first night in Xela, Guatemala, it was November 4th, the night of the American election. Ironically, in a place called the Guatemalan cultural centre there was an election party under way where the many Americans around Xela gathered to celebrate Obama´s impending victory. I was tired after travelling and after checking into a hostel I went in search of food and found myself in a quaint little restaurant where wonderful aromas crept from the back and an old television buzzed in the corner. I ordered the special of the day and spent the next few hours watching the election coverage in Spanish with the owner of the restaurant named Renee, and his amigo. Renee was a perfect example of the kind of person you find here in Xela, a perfect example of why people from around the world come here to learn Spanish. Renee had the patience to sit through a long conversation of my severly broken Spanish regarding politics and world issues, always with a smile and a look of intense interest. It was invigorating for me, and it was the perfect start to a complete immersion experience studying Spanish here.

It´s been over two weeks since then, and my level of optimism, naturally, has faded as the frustration has set in. Learning a second language is no easy task, and I knew this coming in, but the more people I meet the more I want to be able to converse in Spanish - it is a feeling of hopeless desperation when there is something you want to say to someone so badly, but the words are none existent to you. I´ve been persistent though, studying hard and trying to think in Spanish all the time.

It has been an experience here in Xela with both positives and negatives. I´ve lived with two different families in two weeks, both completely different from one another, and if they have taught me anything, its that I cannot fully escape the needy North American in me, try as I may. The food in Guatemala is incredibly tasty, but the portions that my families would feed me always left me feeling hungry and more often than not I would end up buying a second meal. Besides that problem, and a lack of hot water to shower with in the frigid mountain air, the families have been a rewarding experience. Talking with them during meals, learning about their everyday lives, getting drunk and laughing uncontrollably with them, have been moments I will remember forever.

Xela is such an interesting city, and under careful inspection many oddities abound. While I was travelling through Mexico I witnessed several violent incidences. On one occasion I saw a taxi driver stop the flow of traffic to get out and lay a few punches to the face of a jokester playing dangerously with fireworks. On another occasion I watched a man get knocked over unexpectedly from behind and then relentlessly kicked in the face. This left me with the impression that Mexico can be quite the violent place if you don´t watch yourself. Here in Guatemala though, I´ve yet to witness anything of that nature, but the people talk as though violence is a norm, and that the streets here at night are a dangerous place to be. After attending a lecture about the modern history of Guatemala this is not surprising at all. The last 50 years here have been comprised of military dictators, guerilla warfare, and violent massacres. They say that the term "Banana Republic" comes from a coup d`etat in Guatemala orchestrated by the C.I.A and the highly influential United Fruit Company, whose main export was bananas. Evidence of the war can be found in not only the cautious and weary mindset of the people but also the abundance of weapons. People carry guns around in Xela as though they are umbrellas on a sunny day. I watch people on their way to work dangling their shotguns precariously at their side. The other day I went for a morning coffee in a cafe, and I felt safer than ever sipping my steaming drink with an armed guard watching the door...

Visually, Xela is a beautiful city, but one of my biggest problems with it, and a big reason why I´m anxious to move on, is the pollution. There is garbage everywhere in the city, and when you try to escape into the mountains, or along a path that you find, the garbage only seems to get worse. Every night I walk home past this one quiet intersection close to the central market where the people have decided that they would leave their garbage. They all pile it up on the road at the end of the day, the swarms of stray dogs have their evening meal here, and what is left is then burned. There is nothing like the smell of burning garbage when you wake in the morning and stroll to class.
Xela is nestled within mountains, and this geographic feature, combined with an abundance of old cars and absolutely no emissions standards, means a giant pit of smog. The roads are always swarming with quick moving vehicles billowing black smoke as they go, stopping for no one. In Guatemala, cars always seem to have the right of way. There are buses everywhere, of all shapes and sizes and fabulous colours, its incredibly easy to get one and they go everywhere you need. Public transportation here is hilarious, it is not a service as much as it is a commodity being sold. Walking along the street buses always roll by with a fellow dangling on the door screaming locations as if he is selling them. Often, this fellow will point at me shouting his destination at me with devotion over and over, even after I say no thank you. Perhaps here in Guatemala people often give in to these tempting rides on buses to places they don´t need to go, but I won´t let them get me...

I´ve enjoyed my time here in Xela, but I am more than ready to move on. It really is the loving people that make this place so attractive, I´ve met amazing locals and foreigners alike, many whom I know I will remember forever. That love though, comes at a cost, and the longer I stay here the more my money seems to escape into the masses of needy hands, and the more my health seems to be exhaled away from me...

Soon I will be in El Salvador, a place that seems to be considered the forbidden land around here. The weary locals say El Salvador is even more dangerous than here, and most travellers I come across seem to have passed over El Salvador, or intend to. To me, this sounds like the perfect place to go. And besides, the waves abound in El Salvador...

3 comments:

Tristan said...

yo nice one! yo edit these for grammar, star. You are a university graduate! Ha ha--no discouragement. I love reading these journals. You can tell I read them as soon as you publish. Sounds like a crazy world scene. More burning garbage, eh? El Salvador should be a trip. Did moops aller a Guatemala? Glad you're still alive and well, and thinking thoroughly. Stay alert, stay safe.
PEACE

Anthony P. said...

Yo thanks man,I appreciate the support, and the comments. Ya moops is here, studying as well, we kind of just see each other when we see each other in central park. I think we are both heading to El Salvador together, we are going to need to watch each others back...
And thanks, I did a little more proof reading...

Leslie Lim said...

First time I commented in a blog! I really enjoy it. You have an awesome post. Please do more articles like this. I'm gonna come back surely. God bless.

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