Sunday, November 21, 2010

Personal Space

“I guess I am most surprised by the lack of respect for personal space.”

This was Julia’s response to my question, “What about Guatemala is different than you expected?”

It’s true that the buses are so crowded that passengers are expected to sit three to a two-person bench seat. Every time the bus pauses, at a corner, at a stop, at a road block or in traffic, vendors and preachers climb aboard pushing and squeezing their way through the already crowded aisle. Plump women carry dehydrated plantains, fruit or fried chicken on their heads while conducting a sing-song sales pitch in a tight nasal voice, “plataninas, jovenes, plataninas.” Boys hop on carrying nuts, candy and beverages and clean shaven men tote bibles and preach the good word, instantly converting the bus into a mobile house of worship. Julia got a taste of all of this while visiting me and quickly realized after being smacked by a basket carrying chili rellenos and a life size piñata why the window seat is the most coveted spot on the bus. Luckily, she kindly considered our bus rides cultural experiences.

Julia also got the full exposure of boom box and loud speaker presence in my town. There is not a moment of silence here. Beginning at 6:30 am
the guy across the street gets on his loud speaker and preaches to the town while sitting on his front porch with a microphone in hand. At about 8:00 my neighbors to both sides alternate playing their radios at maximum decibel levels. Lastly, the day is topped off by the broadcast of the evangelical sermon and accompanying congregational clapping and singing down the dirt path. I guess the constant blaring noise isn’t what you’d typically consider a physical encroachment on one’s personal space but it is still behavior that effects one’s ability to live without outside influences. In order to better block out the noise, Julia requested that we leave my fan on at night so the humming noise would drain out the early morning gospel and allow us to sleep at least until 7:30.

She got one more dose of lack of privacy while in my town. One day Julia and I were in my backyard eating lunch and she asked me where my neighbor’s bathroom and shower was. She was peering through the chain link fence that separates my yard from my neighbors and I turned to see what she was looking at. One of my neighbors was showering in her pila- fully clothed in a tanktop and shorts. “They have a shower and toilet under the steps but I think they just prefer to shower in the pila,” was my response. It makes perfect sense really. After washing all the clothes Saydee, my neighbor, is hot and sweaty and ready for a wash herself, so she just starts dumping water over her head, scrubs and showers right then and there in the middle of the backyard.

Thanks for visiting me Jules and letting me rediscover Guatemala through fresh eyes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Odd Jobs

For the past two weeks every time I stop by our old tienda location where Eslin works under new ownership some rounded middle-aged woman with a long dark ponytail is behind the counter instead of Eslin. Today I decided to find out why Eslin wasn’t working and sauntered over to Brenda’s salon “Beautiful Star” to get the scoop. Brenda informed me that a week or so ago Eslin had symptoms of a miscarriage and hasn’t been working since. That’s all she said and told me I should go stop by her house to see how she is doing.

After I gave my English lesson I made my way down the main street the hundred yards or so to Eslin’s house across from the cemetery. I found her at her fence chatting with her cousin wearing a bright yellow floral top, jean miniskirt and a pair of white Steve Madden sandals that I gave her (I love it when she wears them). All appearances looked normal and I was a bit relieved. She then invited me to her stoop to chat for a bit.

There was no jovial chitchat to commence the conversation because as soon as I told her I had passed by the store a few times looking for her but only saw some random lady, the floodgates opened.

“Oh Annalisa, you won’t believe what I have been through! That lady is the owner of the store and when she came back to Casas Viejas she told me I had to give my renunciation because she was going to take over. We went through all of the accounts, I closed out all of the credits, we did an inventory and everything was as it should be. But, when I left she started telling everyone that came to the store that I had stolen Q6,000. What would I do with Q6,000, that is a lot of money! And the store was still fully stocked. If I had taken the money I would have left the store empty. The rumors that she spread upset me so much that I almost lost my baby. I was tormented and sick and started to hemorrhage. Everyone thought I would have to go to the hospital, that the baby was going to come early, but thank goodness I got better. And now she is telling everyone that I was a pig and left the tienda dirty with trash everywhere. The worst part is she is family! She is Marvin’s aunt! (Marvin is Eslin’s husband). I refuse to go to the center of town. I’ve never been so embarrassed in all of my life.”

I was shocked at what she told me, Brenda didn’t mention anything about the animosity between the new owner and Eslin. I consoled her as best as I could, telling her that gossip is horrible and that I’ll do whatever I could to dispel the rumors. I assured her that anyone that has ever been to the store knows that she kept it extremely clean and this woman is going to lose customers by spreading untruths.

As she was thanking me for my support a man pushing a bike hobbled to the gate at the front of Eslin’s house and asked permission to enter. Eslin giggled and turned to me and began to explain, “Here there is a superstition that a woman who is pregnant with her first baby can cure ailments, that is why he is here.” The man limped to the front porch carrying some sort of cream and Eslin gave him a chair, took the cream and asked him what had happened. He replied, “I twisted my foot and dislocated my toe, it hurts tremendously.” Eslin then opened the cream, put some on her fingers and began stroking and soothing his right foot and baby toe with the cream. “Does it hurt?” she asked. “Yes, it still hurts” he replied with a cringe. As she kept at the foot he loosed up a bit and after about 2 minutes of “healing” she put the cap back on the cream and said, “all done.” He asked how much it would cost and she said, “nothing.” I watched as he hobbled back to the gate and climbed on his bicycle all the while thinking to myself, “well, since she lost her job at the store, she really ought to think about charging for this service, at least for the next six months.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ya Queremos Pastel (We Want Cake)

Today I celebrated my Birthday. Two months late.

When I arrived at the Coop tienda for our daily closing ritual Seno Maritza whipped out a cake box. Naturally, I thought someone in town had put in an order through the new bakery whose bread we are busing in from Chiquimulilla to sell at the store. Then she opened the box and beckoned me over. That is when I saw written in pink and blue frosting: Felicidades Analiza (that's me). I was so confused. Adan explained that they have been wanting to get me a cake since September 16th when we had our road trip to Jalapa. Two months later the cake made it to Casas Viejas and they all sang me happy birthday. I love Guatemala.

p.s. a lot of people here spell my name Analiza which also happens to be the third person singular form of the verb analizar. This translates to: she analyzes. I think the name is fitting.