Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Last week we had field based training aka FBT. This is the part of training where we go out to a more remote part of Guatemala to stay in a village where volunteers currently live and work to get a feel for what life will be like when we move to our sites. All three training groups went to different places- Food Security went to Jalapa, Municipal Development went to Huehuetenango and my group, Agricultural Marketing, went to Coban. Coban is a small city about 3 hours north of Guatemala city. Google map it. We were up there visiting an aldea of the city where a volunteer works at a rural tea cooperative run by Q’eqchi Mayans called Te Chirrepeco.

We arrived at the cooperative in the dark of Sunday night and all 7 volunteers crowded into the Te Cherrepeco office and drew host family names out of a bowl- a lottery of sorts to determine which family we would be living with for the week. I drew Gerardo Bac and off I went with Gerardo to find his house in the dark hills of the expansive co-op. When I arrived I was greeted by the entire family: the mother Lucia, four daughters: Blanca, Olivia, Maria, Elvira and her daughter Haiti, one son Ramon (the others live in the city), his wife (whose name has at present escaped me and it was quite rare so I don’t think its coming back soon), their newborn daughter Bianca and about five dogs and two puppies. One of the puppies was named chucho but they didn’t have a name for the other so I named him Lefty because his front left leg is white whereas all the rest are brown. The family liked the name and started calling him by it.

The rest of the week proved to be an exhausting one. I would wake up at 6 and take a warm bucket bath with heated water from the wood burning stove where breakfast was being prepared. The water had a rustic smokey scent that surprisingly was quite comforting. After a breakfast of eggs, salsa and tortillas (the biggest tortillas i’ve ever seen) I would walk 45 minutes through acres upon acres of lush green tea fields with Maria until we arrived at the Cooperative’s main building to meet up with the other volunteers for the day. Throughout the week we took a tour of the Tea Co-op, gave training to associates at a local coffee cooperative and visited an organic candle making operation. We also had an afternoon with Anacafe, the leading authority on coffee classification and certification in Guatemala, that consisted of a lesson on cupping and classifying coffee quality (surprisingly similar to wine tasting) and a field trip the their experimental coffee finca/plantation.

On the third morning, as I was packing up my backpack for the day, I noticed a huge cockroach sized beetle struggling on its back (visualize an upside-down turtle) on my bedroom floor. I had never seen such a strange bug so I took a few pictures of it and then showed the fam who thought it both hilarious that I would take pictures of bugs and fascinating that my camera’s zoom function could magnify it so much. Then Maria asked if she could enter my room and without a peep swept the bug onto the front lawn and crushed it with her shoe. I asked what the bug was called and she said “Ronron” which could be the spanish or Q’eqchi translation because the family speaks both. And then she said, ”para la cena” or “for dinner” and chuckled a little.

That day we visited a few businesses, two micro-finance/credit and loan companies and one governmental training office. All three are potential resources for our future work in the field. We arrived back at the tea co-op around 6pm and after downing my nightly cup of tea I chatted with the girls in the outdoor kitchen (dirt floors, walls made of large branches, laminate ceiling, complete awesomeness) until dinnertime. Conversing with the family was always entertaining because there were translations being thrown around all over the place. Lucia, the mother didn’t speak much Spanish so everything between us was getting translated. Luckily, Ramon’s wife is Poqomchi Mayan and is just now learning Q’eqchi so I wasn’t the only one needing the translations. From Spanish to Q’eqchi, from Q’eqchi to Spanish, and even sometimes from Spanish to English to Spanish to Q’eqchi when they were asking how to say English words like “shoe” “good morning” and “nice to meet you” which sounded a bit like “nycechomeecho”.

We were all chatting and laughing as Lucia and Maria made tortillas over the stove and Olivia, Elvira and Blanca husked corn on a long wood bench, when all of the sudden a huge bug fell from the ceiling onto Elvira’s foot. She violently shook her foot and the bug flew into the air and landed on the floor in front of my feet. It was a dark red and black hairy caterpillar-like bug that gathered itself and began to slowly crawl along the dirt floor. Blanca came over with a kernel-less corn cob and speared the bug with the tip. The process made me squirm a bit but when she looked up at me I said, “otro ronron para la cena? Vamos a comer buenisimo esta noche” “Another bug for dinner? We are gonna eat well tonight.” Laughing, Blanca threw the dead bug into the flames under the stove.

The next day we were chatting in the kitchen as usual when out of no where came scurrying a black skinny runt of a puppy that I had never seen before. He ran through the legs of my chair and hid under the kitchen table. As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty dogs in the house. The majority of which would chase and bark at me whenever I pass the kitchen or walk to the back outhouse. This caused some issues early on because in the middle of the first night I woke up and had to use the outhouse but I was A.) worried that the dogs would violently bark at me and wake up the rest of the house and B.) scared that i’d get bit and have to rush back to Santa Lucia to get rabies shots (standard procedure for any mammal bite). With all this in mind, that first night I just held it in until daybreak which i’ll admit was unpleasant. Wanting to avoid further unnecessary pain, the next day I asked for a “palo” or stick to use to scare away the dogs at night (all dogs here, even street dogs, have an innate fear of sticks, its great). So the family armed me with a broom stick, nice and thick and very frightening. The rest of the week I walked around the house with my palo, even after the dogs became accustomed to me, because the family insisted I keep it on me at all times (they thought it was hilarious). Whenever I was without it they’d ask me, “Annalisa, donde esta tu palo?” “Where is your stick?”

So back to the random dog in the kitchen. It was extremely frail and evidently undernourished. I was shocked to see this strange dog just chilling in their kitchen so I asked where it had come from. Maria translated the question for her mother and from what I could gather from her facial expressions Lucia must have said something along the lines of “I have no idea” in Q’eqchi. So jokingly Maria said, “It just fell from the ceiling like a bug.” She then threw the scrawny dog a hardened tortilla. As the three puppies fought for the food I announced that this new addition to the household was in need of a name. Maria asked me what we should we name it, and I said “Ron-ron.”

The fate of that dog is still TBD. I don’t know if the family will proactively adopt Ronron into their already full-house or just leave him be in the kitchen eating scraps and see what happens. All I know is he was still scrounging for food the morning I left the Tea Co-op. The family did invite me back for Christmas (and has already called my cell phone three times to check in on me) so I’m sure I’ll be back for a visit and when I do go I’ll let you all know if Ronron is still there. The dog that is, not the bug.

Bac Family Album

Bac Family, Haiti, Lefty, Ramon's wife tortillando and the ronron...


Coffee Plantation, Tea Co-op, Giving Charlas etc.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Independence Day Addendum

I realized I forgot to mention two very important independence day festivities in my last blog post and felt it necessary to fill you in. Both activities take place in every towns main plaza and both involve pig fat. Men in town are challenged to first climb to the top of a flag pole greased with pig fat. The first to reach the top wins money- anywhere from 300 to 1000 Quetzales (equal to 40-120 dollars). In the second competition the men chase around a pig greased in pig fat (if only the pig knew right?) and whoever catches the pig gets another nominal prize. The day after independence day I came to find out that after three hours worth of attemps not one person from Alotenango successfully climbed the pole to win that game and the guy who was able to ¨capture the pig¨ broke his two front teeth in the process. Sadly, I don´t think the $40 he won will be enough to cover his dental expenses.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Feriado aka Independence Day

September 15th is Guatemalan Independence Day. Although its technically a holiday, Guatemalans celebrate it as a holimonth. Starting September 1st the national flag began to appear everywhere. Schools put on cultural performances and began organizing events and band practices. Eswen is in his school band so I had the pleasure of passing by his band practice in the street outside of his school on a few occasions and embarrassing him with attention.

The few days leading up to independence day La Torcha began. La Torcha is a Guatemalan pastime where people from all over the country run from town to town carrying torches a la the olympics. On numerous occasions I asked people about the origin of or reason for this activity and the best response I got was that it represents liberty. After some more questioning I came to realize a few things about La Torcha 1.) there is no particular path or pilgrimage with the torch. Guatemalans start running wherever they want to start and end wherever they want to end. Esquintla to Alotenango, Solola to HueHue, Ciudad Vieja to Aguas Calientes. Any route is fare game. 2.) There is a trick to La Torcha. The torch carriers have an entourage usually following 50 meters behind in a pick-up (or camioneta/bus if its an entire school of torch runners). The torch runners typically only run through the center of towns they pass and when they get to a stretch of highway they get in the car or bus and drive to the next town. Giving the perception that they are running long distances but actually aren’t. There are some faithfuls that run the whole way or that have a relay of sorts with their reserves in the truck that switch off running with the torch. 3.) Those citizens who don’t particularly like to run or choose not to participate will line the main streets where La Torcha passes and throw water on the runners. Silvia told me its to try to put out the Torch. This seems a little ironic, if the torch symbolizes liberty, why would anyone want to extinguish it? Whatever, I’ll go along with it anyway.

On the 14th we had classes in Santa Lucia but had to get a ride back in a minibus because all the camionetas had been rented out for La Torcha. The traffic was insane and all along the route we saw hundreds of torch runners on the highway, soaking wet, blowing whistles and having the time of their lives. A few times our bus was also the target of water balloons and hoses.

In the evening I went with my family to the Alotenango plaza to watch Eswen perform in the band. The Alcalde was giving a speech and everyone congregated around the high schoolers waiting for the performance. I tried to keep as low of a profile in the crowd as possible. PCs have been warned that sometimes if we are spotted in the audience of a ceremony out of nowhere the person with the mic will say, “Let the Gringo talk” and an impromptu speech by the volunteer is expected. I preferred to avoid the extra attention so I hid behind a tree (although I did recite what i’d say in my mind just in case). The Alcalde’s (governor) speech was a bit long winded, so much so that the band struck up in song before he ended and he was fighting to be heard for about two minutes until he gave up and let the band take the spotlight. After one song the Alcalde got back on the mic and started saying something about not playing with fire and before I knew it there was a highschooler in a metal pyrotechnic cow apparatus in the middle of the street letting of flares that exploded into the crowd and rained sparks all over the place. Not sure if it was all that safe but everyone seemed to be enjoying the show. After the performance I went back to the house in Don Miguel’s pick-up. I actually rode in the front with him cause I was worried people might still be throwing water. On the ride back he asked me if I liked his car. I of course replied yes and he said, “look all the lights on my dashboard work”. Its amazing how much small luxuries can be the foundations of great pride here.

On the 15th all the kids woke up early to get ready for the big town parade. Every child in Alotenango (all 8,000 or so of them) participate in this parade with their respective school. So by the time I got up Silvia, Lidia and Eswen had already left the house. Since the 15th is Independence day PC volunteers get the day off so I was able to participate in some of the festivities. I woke up late, did a load of laundry in the pila, ate bread and homemade strawberry jam and chatted it up with Dona Paula. Quick note, almost all of our conversations turn to marriage. Usually she asks me when I’m going to get married but on this particular occasion she began telling me about marriage here in Guatemala. It struck me how matter-of-fact she told me that married men often take mistresses. But sometimes it can get expensive to have to give monthly payments to a wife and kids and support a mistress so a lot of times the men will go to their wives and ask for forgiveness and if the woman is a good wife (yes, GOOD wife) she will take him back. Sometimes women are “strict” and don’t take their men back and then they have to live on the streets but if a wife is good woman she’ll take him back. What does one say to this? I mentioned how in the States it isn’t uncommon for married people to separate if they fall out of love and then they may remarry and form new families. Her response to that was that divorce isn’t very popular here.

At 10 Dona Paula and I walked up to the gasolinera vieja (old gas station) to watch Eswen and Lidia and Silvia pass with their schools. It was adorable watching all the youngsters walk by - each school with their own theme. One class held global warming signs which was a huge surprise to me, another represented national symbols such as the Quetzal (national bird), Monja Blanca (national flower), Cieba (national tree), Others wore traditional clothing, there were bands and more bands and princesses... Finally Lidia walked by dressed in basketball gear- her school was representing all the sports of Guatemala and Eswen passed by with his band. When Silvia walked by she urged me to join the procession with her students so I jumped in and started walking down with 40 darling kids dressed in central american clothing. At the end of the parade some of the kids parents asked if they could get a picture of their kids with “the gringa” and then the photo ops began. Its interesting how amazed people are with white people. So I posed for a few pictures and then walked home with a very tired Silvia (she had to walk the entire parade in high heels) to rest and eat lunch.

Below are a few more pics of the parade.

Independence Day

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Las Camionetas

All volunteers spent Labor Day exploring the capitol, Guatemala City. We made the venture because the Peace Corps deems three locations imperative to know: the US embassy, the hospital and Tikal Futura, a shopping mall slash hotel slash concert and convention venue where there is a Payless Shoe Source, a food court and an entire level dedicated to sporting goods shops, one of which specializes in tennis rackets (my spanish teacher thinks the biz is a little fishy cause, lets be honest, how many Guatemalans really play tennis?) The Peace Corps likes this mall because its one of the places in the city where its safe to call a taxi.

The trip into Guate wasn’t anything overwhelmingly exciting although I did treat myself to a double scoop ice cream cone that tasted like heaven in my mouth. Besides the magically refreshing helado, I found the bus ride the most exciting part of the trip. I have grown to love the camionetas here. The buses are retrofitted american school buses painted funky colors on the outside and decorated inside to the driver’s (or as the are called in spanish chauffeur's) liking. Unfortunately, one rarely can enjoy the interior decor because there seems to be no limit to the number of people that can be crammed in these buses. In fact, on this very day, Shaila and I opted to pass on a ride from a camioneta that had people hanging out the side. Literally, three men flailing and clawing for dear life while holding on to some indiscernible pegs or handles or railings outside of the front side door of the bus. Now imagine what the inside of that bus musta looked like. Brings a whole new meaning to the word packed. Every bus ride is an adventure in itself because everyone is crammed three to a seat, the chauffeur drives like a 16-year-old boy in his dads BMW, and the roads are bumpy, hilly and windy. The windiness is key here. It can get so swervey that my friends and I have begun playing a game called “grab-the-oh-shit-bar” on certain stretches of highway. You know those teacups at Disneyland that you spin and spin until you feel like your cheeks will permanently be windblown to one side of your face. Thats the extent of the g-force felt on the bus rides. So you get the picture. Now, it may be hard to believe but, the ride itself isn’t the best part- the people are. I’ve never experienced a better location for people watching. And since everyone is so close, like on each others laps and butts-in-your-face close, its almost impossible not to eaves drop on peoples conversations. My favorites are always the ones involving twenty something guys picking up on eighteen year old school girls in uniforms,

Boy: “Whats you’re name”
Girl: “Lucia”
Boy: “Thats my favorite name, no kidding, I’ve always said when I have a baby girl I’m going to name her Lucia etc. How old are you etc. Can I get your phone number etc. etc.”
I must admit although entertaining, I kinda got upset about overhearing this convo because Lucia is one of MY favorite names and now its tarnished.

I was too quick to judge camioneta crushes because before I knew it, I was experiencing one myself. Moments after internally rolling my eyes at the above conversation, at the Jocotenango stop, on walked the most beautiful Guatemalan God I’d seen since stepping foot in this country. Tall, dark and perfect. At this very instant I thought to myself, “so this is what my dad was worried about” (refer back to my first post re: taking a Guatemalan back to The States). I blushed while this beautiful specimen got on the bus and quickly turned to Shaila who was sitting two rows back and motioned to her to check him out. She gave me the smile and nod of full approval. Eight minutes later my Guatemalan David got off the bus at the Antigua stop. No words were exchanged, just a few looks and I doubt i'll ever see him again. However, now I am particularly attentive at the Jocotenango stop.

A Few More Photos

Shaila and me at our Gym, A few PCV's out in Antigua watching American Footbal and the US v. El Salvador soccer game (go USA), Church in Pastores and Spike and Keiser (just for you Doug)- Spike is the lighter colored one.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

My House in Alotenago

Here are a few pics of my house- The courtyard, the pila... will try to post more later.

¡Que Rico!

About a week after we arrived in Guatemala and a few days after settling into our three month stint in Alotenango we were informed that during training we would be working with local artisans to help them sell their products. The artisan group is a formal association comprised of about 30 craftsmen and women whose specialties range from candle making to weaving to cooking dulces tipicos (local sweets) to whittling wooden owls (that look eerily similar to the ones my dad puts on our dock in California to keep the ducks away). For the last few weeks we have been meeting with the artisan group to get a feel for how we can support them. It has been eye opening to see what they struggle with, keeping invoices, looking for new markets, researching competition, counting their own labor as a part of their cost of production etc. This past week we went around and began visiting the artisans in their homes or shops to build good report and see their products first hand.

Shaila and I had the opportunity to meet up with Don Luis at his house where he weaves everything from pillow cases to large blankets. When we arrived he greeted us with his adorable pint size wife and their youngest of five sons Wilber (age 11). They sat us on their porch and we began chatting about their products and Don Luis showed us pictures of some of the rugs and hammocks he had woven and brought out some samples of pillow cases and table runners (don’t worry mom, already thinking xmas gifts) that he had woven and napkin holders his wife had hand made. We talked and talked... about the weather, about the volcanos, about US immigration (Shaila’s favorite topic), about airport security in the states. One thing led to another and before we knew it we were off the porch and in the garden where Luis and his family were pulling tangerines, jocotes, nispero (loquat) off their trees left and right and handing them to us to eat. Most of what was handed to me i’d never heard of or seen before but I just put it in my mouth and complimented Don Luis on how delicious it was “Que rico!” as juices ran down my chin. At one point I did turn to Shaila and ask if it was kosher to be eating right off the trees without washing the fruit- she shrugged an “uh, sure” so we continued to munch away. We were finishing up a handful of nisperos when Don Luis pointed out his sugar cane growing near a fence and I was naive enough to say, “I’ve never tried sugar cane before.” This of course triggered a, “Wilber get the machete” Wilber ran back into the house and before we knew it Don Luis was chopping down a stalk of sugar cane with his machete, peeling off the outer bark and breaking the stalk into portions for us all to begin gnawing on. We all stood around a pile of the bark debris, talked as we chewed on the sugar cane (more juices running down my chin) and spit out the fibers like a bunch of pura Chapinas. I learned that it took a year to grow the sugar cane and, apparently when hosting two gringas, only minutes to chop it down. Don Luis’ hospitality is not uncommon here in Guatemala and we spent about two hours just shooting the shit. There is a saying that my spanish teacher uses: American’s think time is money, Guatemalans think time is life. This couldn’t be more true.

After promising a second visit to his house, including a soccer match with all five sons, we parted ways with Don Luis and headed to another artisan’s house, Dona Mercedes’, were we were to taste her dulces tipicos. Another chat on the porch, this time with all four of us Alotenango volunteers, more sharing of food- this time honeyed yams and sweetened figs, more “Muy ricos!” and more promises to visit again. By the time we were finished with our rounds my shirt was stained with at least three different colored juices and my stomach was fully satisfied. Just in time for lunch.

Later that afternoon Shaila and I made a trip to the gym then ran home to change for a fiesta. Amanda’s host mother had invited all of the volunteers and our host families to a joint birthday party in honor of her 28-year and 22-year-old sons’ and 90-year-old mother-in-law. This would be my second birthday party in Guatemala and I was so excited to have something fun to do on a Friday night that I actually blow dried my hair for the occasion (only after asking Lidia if the electric system could handle it). I wasn’t the only one to go to great lengths to prepare for the event. Don Miguel had washed the family’s red Nissan pickup and parked it outside for the journey across town (which we normally just walked). Shaila ended up coming over to go to the party with my family because hers had prior commitments. At 7:30 Don Miguel closed the molino business for the night and we all piled into the pick-up. Eswen, wearing his “Relax, I’m a massage therapist” shirt, was ordained the chauffeur. Most hopped into the cab but Silvia and I sat in the bed, ok, so I sat in the bed and Silvia stood up holding the support bars like the “king of the world” as we rode a half mile to Dona Ana and Don Manuel’s house. When we entered the house there were about 50 white plastic chairs set up in the courtyard/driveway and my family immediately took their seats. Shaila and I decided to look for Amanda and Pati. We found them upstairs (the house is a two story palace by my Guatemala standards) with Melanie, a Peace Corps volunteer that had done her training in Alotenango and keeps in touch with Dona Ana’s family. Melanie told us that the white chairs were set up for the bible study of sorts that would take place before we say our happy birthdays and dive into the tamales and coffee. And sure enough, thirty minutes later we were all sitting in the white chairs listening to an energetic woman preach, “God here are my hands, here are my feet, here is my body” I looked around and noticed girls across the isle painting each others fingernails pink. The woman continued, “the worst thing you could do is have doubt, don’t doubt because with god everything is possible”, The guy in front of me was nodding his head and listening intensely as the woman sitting to his left was cradling and bouncing a 40 day old baby on her lap. About 20 minutes into the preaching it hit me that I was starting to get hungry. I thought to myself, “Maybe I should have eaten a little something, something before leaving my house”. The sermon continued but the woman stopped talking and instead put some christian music on (which my family knew all the words to thank you very much). Shaila got up to go to the bathroom and didn’t come back. My stomach started to growl. After three songs it was back to the preaching and this time the woman asked if anyone wanted to stand up and say something, “any youngsters, or teenagers”, but not a soul stirred. “Thats ok” she said, “just remember that if you have something to say to God, you should say it, life is short, very short...” And I was thinking, “tell that to the woman in the front row turning 90”. The preaching continued for another 15 minutes and after everyone said their last amens I got up and walked over to where Shaila and Amanda were helping Dona Ana unwrap tamales and put them all on styrofoam plates with a fork and bread. When in doubt, help in the kitchen right? We set up an assembly line and as I unwrapped tamales I was sizing each of them up, literally, I wanted to find the biggest one to save for myself. We kept unwrapping and I kept choosing “my” tamale, only to see it swept up from under my nose and trotted off to some awaiting lap over in the mass of people in white chairs. After unwrapping a good 75 tamales we were rewarded with our own plate and I told Dona Ana that I would prefer a shovel to a fork cause the tamales were “tan ricos!” I could eat ten of them. I ended up scarfing down two- they were heaven in my mouth. Shortly after we finished our tamales and cafe my family said it was time to leave so we all piled back into the pick-up. This time Shaila opted to take the adventure in the back with Silvia and me and at 10PM we bounced along back home.

When we pulled into the driveway Eswen had to back the truck into the driveway. Don Miguel threw our dog Spike into the bed of the truck then directed Eswen into the spot. It took 5 minutes but everyone stayed in the car, even Silvia kept standing in the bed of the truck as he maneuvered back and forth, straightened up and backed into the spot. When the car was finally parked, everyone jumped out of the truck but Spike who was stuck cause he was afraid to jump over the side. I said my goodnights as Spike was wagging and whimpering trying to find a way out of the truck. I asked if anyone was going to help him out and as they walked away Lidia said, “In the morning” and everyone went to bed. All night long Spike joined in the standard neighborhood barkfest from the bed of the red Nissan truck.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mi Hogar

some more pics of my house in Alotenango. My room (thanks for the pillow danica)the kitchen with my abuelita making tortillas and Don Miguel watching, mimi the cat.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Omar the Trainer

Thursday I got a personal trainer. I’ve actually never had one before so it is most peculiar to have my first experience with one in Guatemala. If you don’t mind, let me explain.

Shaila and I, both of us being used to regular exercise routines in The States, have been trying to figure out how to work some cardio into our weekly schedule. We tried soccer but found out that girls can only play on Saturday and Sunday. Then we tried running outside, but its only safe for girls to run along the careterra (main thoroughfare) where bus fumes choke the lungs, tuk-tuks swerve and honk, dogs chase and people stare, really stare and oftentimes whistle, so we started looking for other outlets. I started dancing (god i miss “So You Think You Can Dance”) and doing basic tae-bo moves in my room to Britney Spears, T-Pain etc. which was serving me fine until Shaila mentioned one day that her Dona said there were gymnasios in town. Then the search for a gym commenced. There turned out to be two in town. The first we visited was in the back room of a clothing shop- old weight machines and a broken elliptical. not too promising. The second was just a few blocks down from our houses it actually had a name “Lifesport Gym” with a mural of a buff blonde guy painted on the entry wall. When we entered Euro rave music was blaring in the background and about five short buff men stopped their lifting and just stared at us. The gym was the whole bottom level of someone’s house and the facilities were decent, free weights, random exercise machines AND three spinning bikes. Perfect. We were sold. The owner was very kind and enthusiastic and said we could use the gym on a day-by-day basis for 10Qs or $1.25 an hour and a half including a trainer. We said we’d be back.

Thursday we did go back. We spent thirty minutes on the bikes during which we realized were technically in the “dining room” of the converted house, a 6 year old smiley faced kid entered the gym and pushed his bike upstairs and the family dog ran in and out and around the equipment for a good 10 minutes. This is how things are run in Guatemala. When we were done with our cardio Omar (the trainer) appeared. He is a personable fellow about 5’2 stalky with big muscles, probably half chinese half Guatemalan and dressed in a full black workout suit with a gatorade logo on his chest. Without hesitation he just started giving us different exercise to do. He let me plug my ipod into the gym’s “stereo system” and after a good 15 minutes of quad work including many unsuccessful attempts on my part to perform squats to his liking we decided to call it quits. We stretched, chatted it up with Omar a bit more, he showed us the garage where a carpet is rolled out and the karate classes take place and then we headed home for cena (dinner).

So that’s my Omar the trainer story but of course the fun didn’t end there and since I haven’t kept bathroom stories from you thus far, why stop now...

When I got back to my house I told Dona Paula that I needed to take a quick shower before dinner. So I ran to my room grabbed my bathroom stuff and jumped into the shower room. Just to give you a visual. The house is a huge square with rooms all opening into a large courtyard in the center where the cars are parked, the roosters have their pen, the clothes hang to dry and there is a little garden. My room is across from the kitchen and about ten steps to the left of the toilet room and the shower room (remember all open directly onto the courtyard). The shower room is the size of a handicap bathroom stall and has a narrow space with a chair between the door and the shower curtain to use as the “dry area”. Ok so I'm in the shower room and I check to make sure the water (its cold water) is running cause it sometimes isn’t in which case I have to fill a bucket with water (again cold water) from the pila outside and bring it into the shower room to bucket bathe. Luckily, the water was running so I jump in the shower and turn the water on, rinse, turn the water off, lather (remember the steps Dona Brenda taught me) turn the water on, or at least I turned the nozzle in the “on” direction but no water came out. I turned the nozzle off and back on, off and back on a good eight times before giving up. Ok great, so the water stopped running mid shower and there I was all sudsed up with no water to rinse. So now I have to get out of the shower and somehow get a bucket of water from the pila into the shower room. I step out from the shower curtain soaking and soapy to the “dry area” to grab my towel to wipe the suds from my body but my towel wasn’t there. In my haste to quickly shower I had somehow forgotten to grab my towel. Shit right? But this is the randomness that i deal with everyday so I wipe the suds off as best i can with my hands then throw my clothes on and go outside. I fill a bucket with water from the pila and put it in the shower, run to my room to get my towel, run back, jump back into the shower room and bucket bathe.

The rice and beans I had for dinner that night tasted delicioso after that ordeal.