Saturday, 26 January 2013

Buenos Nachos

It’s crazy how time flies. It seems like just two and a half weeks ago that I boarded a plane for Guatemala. Since then I have had quite a few interesting experiences. Below are some of the experiences I’ve had and observations I’ve made arranged in a completely random but extremely organized way for you to enjoy.

In a Nutshell…

After I arrived in El Chal I basically just joined the work crew from Woodlawn that was already here. Joining them doesn’t just mean that I did the same work as they did. I worked with them, ate with them, went swimming with them, and even slept in the same attic as them. School started a week and two days from the day I arrived and there was much to be done before then. The main projects that I helped with during the first week were cementing and painting.

I helped paint most of the outside of the old school.

Juddy and I painting

I don’t know a whole lot about cementing, but I do know that five pails of gravel get dumped into the mixer. Then a bag of cement. Then four pails of sand. Oh yeah, and water gets added to that mixture randomly. Then, after all that mixes for a little bit, it gets dumped into wheelbarrows and taken to the pouring site. Then that process is repeated… and then repeated again… and again… and again… and it’s hot… and the sun is blazing. Basically, cementing is fun!
Cementing is fun!

On Monday evening (Jan 14th) the work crew got on the night bus heading for the city. I definitely missed working with those guys. Those were some good dudes. But I did not mind getting the upstairs attic to myself.

Top row: (left to right) Max, Me, Jay, Juddy
Bottom row: (right to left) Jesse, Jason, Nick, Greg, Trevor

My sleeping quarters for the first week
My sleeping quarters for the second week

Jason’s family and his Grandparents (Paul and Fern Huber) were visiting Jason as well. They stayed in El Chal until Friday morning. We spent that week finishing up a few jobs that needed to be done before school for grades 1 to 6 started. Basico (grades 7-8) started a week later. One thing about the second week that was very different from the first week was the temperature. On Tuesday (Jan 15th) it rained really hard for a good part of the afternoon. The next three days after were really damp and cold. One night the temperature dropped all the way down to 17 degrees Celsius. But trust me, it felt a lot colder than that because of the wind chill. I actually had to dig out my sweater. 

On Thursday a bunch of the staff went to a restaurant in Flores called Villa del Chef for Melanie Mummeret’s farewell. The evening was quite enjoyable as well as the food. I had a chicken burrito with guacamole on the side. I’m pretty sure I can get used to the food here in Guatemala.

On Saturday Stephan wondered if I’d go along with him and his boys to Santa Elena. I said, “Sure!” Santa Elena is a city about a half hour north of El Chal. Kevin and Chito have computer class there every Saturday and Stephen needed to run a few errands. When we were about to leave Stephan asked me if I wanted to drive. I didn’t, but I decided that if I don’t ever start driving in Guatemala, I will never learn how to drive Guatemalan style. So I drove… and I’m still alive. But I did learn a few things about driving in Guatemala. For example, if the vehicle in front of you is signaling left he most likely is not turning or switching lanes. He is probably telling you that you can pass him on the left. He might be turning, you just have to figure out what he’s doing based on the situation. Another thing I learned involves roundabouts. In Canada, the vehicles inside the roundabout have the right of way. In Guatemala, it’s the exact opposite. The vehicles entering the roundabout have the right of way, which means you may have to come to a complete stop inside the roundabout to let traffic enter. Not all roundabouts are like this, however. You just have to know which ones are and which ones aren’t. Stephan was on his phone when we entered a roundabout and he didn’t explain the whole “right of way” thing. But he did mention afterwards that the tuktuk driver that I totally went in front of probably had a few choice words for me. But we asked God to help him be understanding. One day of driving in Guatemala under my belt.

Jason and I spent the beginning of my third week here finishing up some last minute projects before Basico started. We got all of them done except for some painting and putting wooden frames on white boards. School started on Thursday as planned so obviously we did our job.

Top 5 Highlights…

·      Swimming at Cotusa. It’s this place way back in the middle of nowhere. You have to drive for twenty minutes on a really bumpy road and then walk for another ten minutes to get there, but it is totally worth it.

The tall waterfall we jumped off of

It's just a nice place to swim

·      Lunch at James and Sylvia’s one afternoon. Hamburgers. Enough said.
·      Going to the beach. The work crew and Stephan’s went to a lake near San Jose one afternoon. After some swimming, we had a nice supper on the beach. We even got to hear Jason, Trevor, Greg, Max, and Jesse’s rendition of “I’m My Own Grandpa.” Lovely evening.
·      Learning how to weld. But only because Stephan was teaching me. Stephan could probably even make something like learning now to change a diaper fun.
·      Wednesday night volleyball. Every Wednesday night Douglas gets a bunch of guys together from town to play volleyball at the mission. Then, after volleyball we go out for coke, and you know how I feel about coke!

Top 5 Quotes…

“You can land a helicopter on the new school. But the old school… don’t you dare even ride your bicycle into it.” – Stephan

“When I get home, I’m going to flush an entire roll of toilet paper down the toilet… just because I can.” – Nick Huber

“Well… I guess Kevin lost that battle.” – Paul Huber (said when we were half way done pouring concrete after Stephan had been pushing to get it done that day and Kevin was going to convince him to wait until Monday)

“Hurry up Reekey! You are like molass in January!” – Kevin

“It’s a great phone to have because it’s cheap. Like, you can drop it in the lake and not even cry.” – Stephan

Spanish Vocabulary…

escoba (ehs KOH bah) – it means “broom”

Memory tool: picture Yunel Escobar playing short stop with a broom and you will never forget this word. That worked for me anyway. 

Fun Facts…

In Guatemala…
·      You can arrive at an event half an hour after it was supposed to start and still be on time.
·      You can be painting… in the shade… in January… and still sweat buckets.
·      The pigs run free… the way it should be.
·      You can ride on the back of a pickup with the tailgate down whenever you want.
·      It is a tradition at birthdays to convince the person with the birthday to take a bite of their cake. Then, when they are about to take a bite, someone shoves the cake in their face. I can hardly wait until my birthday.
·      You can drink more coke than in Canada… because the coke in Guatemala is just better.

More to Add…

Two more things:

1. For some reason, it is a whole lot more fun to say “Buenas nachos” instead of “Buenas noches.” Don’t ask me why.

2. I thought I’d let you all know that I’m learning how to drive a motorbike here. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it and I haven’t wiped out more than once.

Thank you everybody for your prayers! Buenos Nachos! 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

From Buffalo to El Chal

Here’s the game plan: every two weeks I post an update on this blog about what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been learning, etc. Since I have not been here for two weeks yet, here is my “journal” about my journey to Guatemala. Enjoy!

January 8th, 2013…
>>We got to the airport this morning in good time… about two hours before my plane left. I checked my bags and then said a very sad goodbye to my family. No problems going through security other than an older gentleman trying to run off with my computer. He had a MacBook Pro identical to mine and came through security right behind me. I grabbed his computer and he grabbed mine. I thought something didn’t look quite right with the computer I had, so I asked the man if he was sure he had his. He was. Thankfully, I was able to convince him that there was a chance we had switched. We fired both computers up made sure that we each had our own.

The first flight (Buffalo to Atlanta) went very smoothly. It seemed really short plus I got a glass of Coke and a cookie. That was a nice addition to the ham, egg, and cheese sandwich I had for breakfast at the airport. Little did I know at this point how much I should enjoy each ounce of food. One simply does not know where his next meal will come from while traveling to Guatemala.

I had a layover in Atlanta with a duration of 1 hour and 9 minutes, a perfect duration. Plenty of time to ride the train to concourse E and find the gate for my next flight, but not to long that I had to wait forever to board. I fell asleep during the takeoff of the next flight, and when I woke up everyone around me was filling out immigration papers. I was sure that I had just slept for 3 and a half hours straight and missed the drink cart completely. Thankfully, on Delta international flights they hand out immigration forms early. I still got a glass of coke… and a small bag of pretzels, which was the last food I would consume for a loooooong time. I sat beside a Guatemalan family of four with two really cute children. I was sitting beside the Mom and didn’t talk to her a whole lot. I did find out however, that they live in Guatemala, and I told her a bit about what I’m doing the next two years. I’d like to say we conversed in Spanish... but we didn’t. She spoke English perfectly. But at the end of the flight she gave me a paper with her and her husbands name (Poncho and Miriam) and a phone number. She told me to have a good trip and to call if I ever needed help! I thought that was pretty cool!

Everything it the Guatemala airport went as smoothly as it could have. I went through customs, found my luggage almost right away, and then went through another custom thing without any problems. Then I stepped out side and figured out that I have absolutely no idea what the guy picking me up looks like. There were just a lot of Guatemalan people staring at me. Some had signs, some were yelling “Taxi!!” (it’s nice that some words sound the same in English and Spanish). Then I saw two guys that were looking at me like they were the ones going to pick me up. So I walked over to them. One of them asked, “Are you Ricky Martin?” to which I responded “Yes, I am!” I’ve never felt so happy to be Ricky Martin. Lee and Tim were the names of the guys that picked me up and they helped me take my luggage to the Mitsubishi van. Tim told me that usually people hold up a sign saying who they are. Man, some people think of everything.

Once we were on the road, Lee told me that he’s taking me directly to the bus station to take the bus to El Chal. He asked me if I had a cell phone. I didn’t. He asked me if I had any Guatemalan money. Eleven quetzales. He told me that I probably wouldn’t need money until I got to El Chal anyway. So he bought me a ticket, told the bus driver that even though my ticket says Santa Elena, drop me off at El Chal. I also got a chance to talk to Stephan a little bit. The first thing he said was, “You’re not in Guatemala, are you?” I told him I wasn’t really sure where I was. Then he suggested making friends with someone on the bus and asking to use that persons phone to call Stephan when I was getting close. I figured I’d just try to talk to whoever sat beside me on the bus, but nobody sat beside me. So I figured, “Hey, I got eight hours… no need to rush this.” I got some sleep and woke up to a lady rambling of a list of food items in Spanish. “Oh, nice!” I thought. “Finally some food.” When she got to me I asked her, “Cuanto cuestan?”
She replied with, “Quince quetzales.”
That was four more quetzales than I had on me, so I shook my head no. I don’t think she understood the reason I said no, because next thing I knew she was holding some food up to my nose for me to smell. I didn’t know how to tell her that lack of money was the problem here, not lack of hunger.
I did try asking, “Dolares Americano?”
But she said, “No.”
So I decided that I’d just have to be fine with water until I got more food.

Then it got dark outside. This made me wish I had tried this whole “making friends” earlier when I could see my “friend” and my “friend” could see me. After a little while, the bus stopped and some guy yelled something in Spanish to everyone. All I caught was “veinte minutos.” When I saw everybody exiting the bus, I assumed that the bus was stopping for twenty minutes. This is when I had to make my move. It was now or never. So I just took a deep breath and walked up to a guy that had been sitting on the seat in front of me and asked him where we were. We talked for a little while, but all I understood was that we were in the town of Morales, and that we were still 3 hours from El Chal. Then I think he asked me if I was the guy sitting behind him on the bus. So I said, “Si. Diecisiete.” (my seat number) Then I went and bought a bottle of coke. I should have probably bought food, but I didn’t think I had enough Guatemalan money. The 10Q bill that I gave the lady to pay for my coke got rejected. I don’t know why. Maybe it was too old and wrinkled. The guy in line behind me held it up to the lights and then laughed. Whatever that means. I still have the bill and I’m going to try it somewhere else and see what happens. Thankfully, they excepted my dolares Americano at this place.

After we got back on the bus I asked my buddy (Freddie was his name) if I could borrow his phone. I think what I literally said in Spanish was something like, “I can to use your telephone, please?” But he understood me! And he let me use his phone!! Such a nice guy! So I was able to tell Stephan that I was just outside of Morales and he said he’d have someone there in El Chal to pick me up. He also said that he was impressed that I was actually calling him from a complete strangers phone. I thought that was nice, because when I talked to him before, it seemed like he thought if I can’t do a simple thing like make friends with someone on a completely Spanish-speaking bus and use their phone to call him I should just turn around and go right back to Canada. Instead, he said that I was already getting points.
I was like, “What kind of points? Do I want to be getting points here?”
“Oh yes!” he said, “They’re brownie points!!”

Long story short, I made it to El Chal at about 10:30 Guatemalan time, 21.5 hours after my day started. Jason game me a plate of noodles so I didn’t go to bed hungry<<

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers everybody! In my next update I’ll tell you about what exactly I’m doing down here, but for now I’ll just say that it’s hot and we’re doing a lot of hard work but I’m having fun!
Buenas Noches!