Friday, September 17, 2010

That Time of Year

I knew it was that time of year again when I started hearing my neighbor kids practicing Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” and the theme song from “Titanic” on their school issued plastic recorders. To me the recorder playing signals the eminent arrival of Independence Day, or as I refer to it, Independence Week. A few weeks ago when I heard kids hitting off key notes around town it immediately made me think back to my host sister Lidia in Alotenango. She too practiced the recorder around this same time and then it dawned on me that I have been here long enough to start noticing yearly seasonal and cultural patterns. It kinda makes Guatemala feel a little bit more like home.

This Independence Week played out much like it did last year. Parades, running of the torcha, fireworks etc. The first activity I participated in was the crowing of this year’s “Señorita Independencia.” You’ll remember from my last post that we had a few beauty pageants in town recently- none of which was used to decide on the Independence Day Queen. Nope, there is no judging when it comes to choosing the Queen it’s done democratically through public voting. But remember, we are in Guatemala so instead of casting a ballot, you cast your vote (or votes) in currency. The girl with the most “votes” or “queztales” is crowned queen. In other words, its really just a test to see who’s parents love their little girl enough (and have the means) to fork over a few hundred Q’s to win her that sash and crown. Democracy Guatemalan style.

One other new activity for me this year was the singing of the national anthem. I guess last year I missed this but no fear, I got my fill this year. I went to a total of three Independence Day activities at the local schools, each of which started with the National Anthem. First, at the crowning of the “Señorita Independencia”, kids lined up in front of the stage and sang along with a recorded version of kids singing the anthem. To me it was a bit awkward - I felt like I was watching a lip-sync contest without the enthusiasm. Second, at the “Premaria” or elementary school activity the director of the school must have been embarrassed about the previous Milli Vanilliesque anthem performance and made a BIG deal about having everyone sing the anthem a cappella. He even insisted that the vendors stop selling food while the anthem proceedings were underway. To Americans this may seem like standard procedure, but then again our national anthem isn’t ten minutes long. Yes folks, I think the Guatemalan anthem might be the longest in the world- its like a marathon- I agree vendors should stop selling but only because they should be passing out gatorade to quell exhaustion from undertaking the venture. Jokes aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the publics performance sans recording. Almost everyone knew all of the words, or did a good job of faking it.

I’m going to leave you with some wonderful sights and sounds of the Independence Day hoopla. Viva Guatemala!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pageant, Flood, Pageant, Flood, Pageant

I'm beginning to believe there is a correlation between beauty pageants and torrential downpour. Someone needs to inform Guatemala that the gods feel they are the only ones capable of judging human beauty.

August 18th Senorita Revista beauty pageant

August 18th-20th Torrential downpour

August 25th Mister Instituto beauty pageant postponed during Talent segment due to thunderstorms

August 26th: Flooding in Casas Viejas

September 2nd: Mister Instituto rescheduled again due to heavy rain
September 3rd: Flooding in Casas Viejas

September 8th: Mister Instituto beauty pageant successfully completed

Now I'm just waiting for the gods' response.

But, in all seriousness, I've seen better days down here. This rainy season has been the worst in recent history. You may have seen in the news that the excess rainfall has caused catastrophic landslides placing Guatemala in a state of emergency. Casas Viejas has had more than its share of the travesties. My town is situated on a floodplain and surrounded by a river/canal system that runs from the mountains to the ocean. Rain has been pounding us consistently and on top of that the rivers surrounding us can't contain all of the rain that is rushing down from nearby mountains and is spilling out and flooding the town. For the past week or so there has been flooding all around me. The roads have turned into rivers. Cattle are roaming freely because their pastures have been converted into lakes. Our electricity is continually disrupted. Hundreds of people have been displaced. Yet, everyone is handling the dire situation with palpable resilience. Life, after all, must go on and beauty pageant queens (and misters) still must be crowned.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Change is Contagious

Hector the shop boy quit. He worked exactly 18 days at the Coop tienda. His reason for leaving: he wanted to move to Esquintla to live with his sister and get a job there. I was sad to see him go, even bought him a desert empanada as a going away present, and wished him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Iris, Hector’s replacement, trained with him on his last day. This gave me much pleasure because I was able to watch as Hector explained to her how to maintain all of our books. He had learned the system I taught him well enough to teach another individual- the key to sustainability. Iris proved to be an even better bookkeeper than Hector and on her first day was only short Q0.40 from the register.

But alas, change must be contagious because Iris quit too. She worked exactly 8 days. Her reason for leaving: her brothers (who all live in Irvington, NJ) want her to stay at home and help her mother. Tomorrow is Iris’ last day. It will be sad to see her go, I plan on buying her a desert empanada as a going away present (or maybe a chocobanano if the empanada lady doesn’t pass by the store tomorrow), and will inevitably wish her all the luck in her future endeavors.

We still don’t have a replacement for Iris. Should be an interesting next few days.

In other news, I have new neighbors. See, change is contagious. They moved today into what was previously an empty house to the left of mine. Tragically, the family was displaced due to all the flooding that has been happening on the North side of town. Those effected by the flooding have been living in knee high water for the past three days. Families are sleeping outside on the elevated road in front of their homes, afraid to leave for fear of being robbed. I have consistently told Don Edgar (whose house has been flooded 13 times this year) that I think we should gather the people who have been effected and discuss what we can do to improve the situation- maybe ask the government to send an engineer out to see what is causing the flooding and how it could be avoided, or research costs for elevating their homes. So far I’ve had no luck in convincing him to do this, most likely because every other day he is occupied with bailing his house out. I may have better luck when the rains subside in October- will keep you posted.

So back to my new neighbors... I’m not so sure how this change is going to effect my way of living in the long run but I do know my new neighbors and I are going to get real close real fast. To explain, the chain-link fence that separates our houses is great for keeping their chickens on their side of the fence but doesn’t do much good in the privacy department. In fact, I happened to catch a young man showering in his turquoise tighty whities through the fence tonight as I was walking to my kitchen to cook my dinner. Two seconds later I overheard him ask, “who is that?.” The response was, “The Gringa.” Luckily, my shower is tucked around the other side of my house so I won’t have the same bathing privacy issues.

However, I have a feeling I’m no longer going to be able to keep my weekly routine of “Julianne Hough Cardio Ballroom” and “Jullian Michaels: 30 Day Shred” exercise videos a secret anymore. And, now when I eat my dinner alone at my little plastic table in my backyard, I won’t really be alone. Which is funny because before it didn’t bother me to eat alone but now that other people will be watching me eat alone, I’m gonna feel awkward and, well, alone. Its kinda like going to Buca Di Beppo and asking for a table for one. You know the waiter is thinking, “does this girl know we do family-style here?” and all the other patrons are giving you pity looks. Its just so awkward. Yes, I quite like this analogy. All that is missing is the garlic bread and checkered table cloth. Ciao- Let's Mangia.