Saturday, June 30, 2007

Amigos de la biblioteca (Friends of the library)

No ladies and gentlemen, I´m not talking about the kind men and women who set up shop at libraries and sell used books and other things. I´m talking about ratones - rats.

Two days this past week I came into the library to discover a little bag of creamer on the floor with a hole in it and half the creamer eaten. Hmmm... Friday I got started cataloging the reference section of the library. This is the last section of shelving over by the wall. As I looked at the books and the shelves I realized there was evidence of some sort of rodent (i.e. droppings) all over the place!

It really can´t be helped. The windows here don´t close well and there is a giant gap under all three doors in the library. It would be no problem for some small or even medium sized creature to squeeze in every night and make itself at home, snuggled up between stacks of books. Luckily, as far as I can tell, they haven´t started stealing pages from the books to make themselves nests.

We´ve found a total of 4 or 5 books that have been eaten straight through by some sort of mysterious bug that I have yet to see. The librarians are being good about disposing of these books right away.

It´s kind of a never ending battle to keep books in good condition here. It rains all the time, at least in the rainy season, and there are no temperature controls or humidity controls which can cause some books to get damp and mildew. And of course there is no stopping any sort of creature from getting into the library. It´s a very interesting experience after the temperature controlled, light controlled, humidity controlled, non-rodent, non-pest, quiet libraries I´m used to in the states.

Oh, this week I got help from a couple students from Probigua. They came in and stuck spine labels on books for 3 days, four hours a day. It was wonderful to finally see all that work complete. I really feel like I´m getting somewhere now. I have almost 400 books cataloged and still have three weeks to go.

I´ll try to keep updating you all on my adventures. It was hard this last week because the internet was down all week. A big rainstorm over the weekend took down some trees I guess. We have been having fabulous rain storms with huge bolts of lightening and never-ending rolling thunder almost every day for the last week. I love it!

Friday, June 29, 2007

There ARE bus stops here...somewhere

This afternoon I got off work and went to wait for my bus. It was starting to sprinkle and I was anxious for the bus to arrive. I finally saw one coming that I’m sure said Antigua on it. I’m sure it did. I jumped on and after a couple minutes the helper came to collect money. I asked for Antigua and he said no. This bus does not go to Antigua.

The bus came to a halt and I got off with some other women. I assumed this spot in the middle of nowhere was a bus stop. The other women climbed up the hill, to her home no doubt. I stood by the side of the road and waited.

Cars kept coming by and they were giving me funny looks – like it was kind of weird to see this white girl hanging out on the side of the road. At least one guy started slowing down like he was going to stop. I ignored him. I don’t even take rides from strangers in Seattle!

Finally I saw the right bus coming. I waved at it as it sped on by. Apparently I was not actually at a bus stop. Crap! I had no idea where the next stop was, since nothing is marked, so I started to walk. Up a huge hill around a sharp curve. And it began to pour rain.

I was really getting looks now. Guys on the side of the road and people driving by were saying things (I have no idea what) and whistling. I was in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but cornfields for as far as I could see, no sign of a town or anything. This could be a bad thing.

I kept looking back as I heard vehicles, hoping to flag down a bus. I looked back at one point and saw a police truck approaching. I’m sorry to say this didn’t make me feel better. Just this morning one of the students at my house was saying that violence is growing in Guatemala, and the police aren’t quite as corrupt as they used to be. They drove by and parked on the side of the road ahead of me. They were helping out some motorist. I walked by and kept on going.

I finally came to a possible bus stop. A concrete pad with four wooden posts and a corrugated metal roof. Good enough. I stood there hoping this thing was actually a bus stop (and praying like crazy!).
Then the police truck came by again. They pulled up right in front of me and rolled down the window. One of them (there were three) asked where I was going. I told them I was just waiting for the bus to Antigua. They nodded and paused for a moment, talked amongst themselves. Then they drove forward and backed up next to the bus stop. I thought they were just going to turn around and go back the way they came, but the driver switched off the engine. I just stood there like I knew what I was doing and there was no trouble at all. Best not to freak out until things really do get crazy.

Then the driver rolled down his window and told me there was a bus coming. I looked down the road, and sure enough! And it was even the right bus! I jumped on and shouted thanks to the policemen. And thanks to God as well!!

I settled onto the bus and looked around at the usual icons and signs: bugs bunny, winnie the pooh, and Jesus. And this great photo of a yellow school bus with about two dozen LED lights set into it that were flashing to the beat of the music.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Probigua Library Bus 2

Here is the other video!

Probigua Library Bus

Here is one of the videos that was taken on Monday. I don´t have sound here so I can´t hear it, but I´m sure it´s great!

Friday, June 22, 2007

moscas, cucarachas, and silverfish

This morning there was the biggest cucaracha in the bathroom, on the wall next to the shower. Sometimes a bug is so big, it ceases to be gross and becomes fascinating. At least, I kept telling myself that as I looked at the three-inch antennae swivelling about and its hairy legs and big beady eyes. I was going to take a picture but another student saw it and asked Tomás to take it away. Lo siento! Next time tal vez.

Moscas are flies and they are everywhere. I´m sure I don´t see a single one all day until food is served and then they are out in force. Have you ever seen someone sitting around with flies on them and they don´t brush the flies away? Now I understand why. It´s too much work! You would be constantly waving your arms and brushing them away and they keep coming back. You just give up after awhile (as long as they aren´t on your food anyway).

Silverfish are one brand of bugs that like to eat books. I have now found two books in the library that have been munched on. For the first book the bug must have eaten itself to death. It munched on quite a bit of the book but I don´t know where the bug disappeared to. The librarians seemed to think this was bad and they took the book away, but they haven´t disposed of it. I´m convinced they´ll put it back on the shelf once I´m gone.

I found another book today that had a hole straight through it and the bug had also eaten a line cutting the cover into two pieces. The librarians had taped the cover back together and put the book back in the stacks! Que horor!

I understand books are valuable and people don´t want to get rid of them, but if there is a chance there is a bug that can eat the rest of your books, I think it´s worth it to toss the books out. Different culture though.

Back to the books. And the bugs.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chicken bus

Let me start this post by saying that I will (probably) NEVER complain about the buses in Seattle again!

I´ve seen a lot of chicken buses in the last week or so and yesterday was my first chance to ride in one. From the outside they are all old school buses from the 50s, some still yellow and black, others brighly painted with green, red, yellow, purple, white, and other colors. They often seem packed with people inside and packed with baskets and boxes of things on the roof of the bus. And they often seem to be in an incredible hurry - speeding through town and countryside at unbelievable rates, taking corners so fast it looks like they´ll tip over, and passing cars and trucks (especially around blind corners or in narrow streets or if other vehicles are coming at them).

There are no bus stops that I can see. People congregate alongside the road and if you see a bus coming that you want, you hail the driver or the helper. I know there is a name for these guys, but I can't remember it right now. There are one or two helpers per bus. They help the driver by letting him know if there are people who want to get on or off, by running ahead in towns to check intersections, by taking money on the bus, and by putting packages on top of the bus (and retrieving them later).

For my first experience, I had gotten directions to go to the corner of the park near my house and wait there. Buses kept coming down the street and I finally spotted one that said Antigua, Parramos, Chimaltenango. I hailed the driver. He stopped just long enough for me to get my foot in the door and then took off. The doors don't normally close because one of the helpers is always standing on the step hanging outside the bus.

I found a place a few seats back. After awhile the bus left Antigua, Jocotenango, and Parramos and headed into the country. The helper headed back through the bus collecting money from every who hadn't paid yet. Four quetzales and he gives change. We headed up a hill past a cemetery, then through farmland with lots of corn, down into a valley past a mustang ranch, up another winding hill road, more farmland, down into another valley past a fun park with a water attraction, then up another steep winding road and Pedro Molina Escuela is at the top of that. The ride is about half an hour.

The ride was fun and I had no troubles, but my adventures hadn't truly begun yet! That night when I left work I crossed to the other side of the street from where I got off the bus and waited for the return bus. I assumed it was a bus stop since there were several other people standing around. Eventually the Chimaltenango, Parramos, Antigua bus came into view. It was packed. I could see people standing all the way to the back, all the seats full, and people on the steps of the bus. Three boys at the stop decided to get on. Two were literally hanging outside the bus as it took off, one of them balancing himself on the front wheel guard so he didn't fall off. The buses take curves so fast I wouldn't be surprised if people went flying off the bus from time to time.

I decided to wait for the next bus.

It arrived with standing room only, but I was able to fit inside this time. Now, I'm sure the school buses I rode in grade school weren't this small, but I could be wrong. The aisle in the buses is about 8 inches wide, barely wide enough for most people to squeeze through sideways. During the busy times, you'll find three adults per seat, with other people somehow managing to stand in the aisle (even sardines aren't packed so tightly), and sometimes children sitting on laps as well. No - the seats are not wide enough for three people. The person on the end has one cheek on, one cheek off, and with your narrow aisle, that means the people sitting on the ends are, uh, cheek to cheek. =) So I don't know how people manage to stand in the aisle when it is so full like that! Lets just say you get really, really close to people.

Once I was packed on the bus, careening through mountains and valleys and countryside, I looked around at the inside of the bus. The drivers spend a bit of money on decorations and nice speakers and paint. At the front of my bus yesterday hung a big poster of Jesus. He was partly covering a large cross stitch that said something like "Jesus guards your entering and leaving, something-something now and forever." Hanging from the roof of the bus on either side of Jesus and the cross-stitch were two round dangling key-chain pictures of Mary. They were those pictures that change as you move the picture left and right. There were pink and blue tassles hanging off of these. Then there were two multi-colored rabbits feet hanging off the mirror. There was also a small wooden cross hanging off the mirror. Right in the center of the window was a big wooden crucifix with Jesus on it and half a dozen rosary necklaces hanging from it, all set in a bouquet of red and white flowers. On the wall behind the driver was a big sticker of the Tasmanian Devil.

I couldn't help but smile all the way home.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

libros! libros!

I was supposed to start my first day of work on Monday, but there was a change of plans. There was a videographer in town and they wanted to take her around to show her the different libraries and schools Probigua/Child Aid is helping out.

So first we went to Pedro Molina, the school in Chimaltenango where I’ll be working. This is a converted military base. Part of the agreement made at the end of the civil war was that some military spending would now go towards education instead. I guess the military took this to mean they could hand over bases as part of the deal (Guatemala spends an extremely small amount of their GDP on education, something like 1.7%).

I think the school is for grade school up to high school and there are quite a few students that board here. Some of the classrooms are in former barracks or other buildings. The library/computer lab is in the former mess hall.

I have no idea what it must have been like here during the civil war. Horrible probably doesn’t describe it enough. It is great to see this army base reclaimed for education and children. Where soldiers probably once drilled, girls were playing an uproarious game of soccer this morning, with friends sitting around the field cheering and laughing.

Our next trip was to visit the Bibliobus. It was parked at a school in another town. As soon as recess was over, two classes of girls came running over to the bus. They had about 30 minutes to sit on the bus or outside the bus on chairs and read books. The bibliobus librarian had placed brightly colored plastic chairs and tables outside the bus and had piled picture and story books on each table. As the girls were assigned tables they pored over the books available, trading with friends, looking at pictures, sometimes reading the stories too. At the table I was near I saw several versions of Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood, which were the favorites at that table.

Our last stop was at Melotto (I think that was the name of the school). The videographer talked to students in a classroom and then asked if the students could go to the library so she could film them in there. The kids were ecstatic! They jumped out of their seats and ran for the door. Their teacher dismissed them and they ran across the open field to the library building. We passed out stacks of books to the kids and they came to the shelves to exchange books they didn’t like for better books. After filming was done, we asked the kids to close their books and return them to the shelves. The kids were not happy. Three girls came up to me and asked if they could borrow the books, just for one day. I’m sorry, we had to say, not today. You see, most libraries here aren’t set up for lending books. They’re working on this but things are slow here.

In fact, at Pedro Molina the library is what we call closed stacks. That means no one but the librarian can go in the stacks. This makes it difficult since there is no online catalog or catalog of any sort for the students to look up books. I guess they just tell the librarian what subject they are looking for or particular books if they happen to know, and she gets the books for them.

My job for the next four and half weeks is to catalog as many of the books as I can so students can see what is in the library!

Monday, June 18, 2007


It took FOREVER to upload these, something like 5 minutes per photo, so sorry there aren´t many. I´ll keep working on it.

Antigua a Panajachel a Chichicastenango a Antigua!

Buenas tardes amigos! It was an extremely busy weekend for me.

After class on Friday I joined five new friends for a trip to Lago Atitlan. A tourist bus picked us up at 1:30. We were on the main highway for a little while but then our driver swerved off. He said there was road construction and lots of traffic so he would take us a different route: the back roads.

We were climbing impossibly steep roads up mountainsides and then down the other into deep valleys, swerving around hairpin turns, passing other buses and cars at breakneck speeds around blind corners, and having other vehicles pass us around blind corners as well! I don´t get carsick but after several hours of this I thought it just might happen.

And thanks to my mom who taught me to be prepared. We stopped in the middle of the mountains for some guys in the van who needed to use the bathroom. One of the guys cut his hand on a rock and came back bleeding all over the place. I quickly pulled out tissue for him to clean up and a couple bandaids. If only I had brought along Neosporin! =)

We finally made it to Panajachel around 4ish in the afternoon. We checked into our hotel (Hotel Regis) and went down to look at the lake. The lake is enormous. It is 5128 feet above sea level, 12 miles long, 6 miles wide, 1049 feet deep, with an area of 49.3 square miles. It is surrounded by the volcanoes Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro, as well as some other outlying ones I think. It is the deepest lake in Central America.

After taking a look, the six of us went back to our hotel which had two natural hot spring pools. We relaxed in the hot springs for a couple hours. I actually sat on the side along with another woman because we didn´t have swimsuits with us. That water was unbelievably hot!

Saturday morning we set off for a 7 hour boat tour around the lake. It was a bit cloudy, but still a beautiful day. At the first town we visited we only had an hour and a half which we took up with an incredible breakfast. We sat on an open deck looking out on a bay and the lake. It was gorgeous! Of course there are many differences between here and the US. For instance, the moment we sat down women and children began coming to our table with baskets of food and other items trying to sell us things. And there were also a ton of flies. Flies everywhere!

We left that town and moved on to the next. (sorry I can´t recall the names right now!) At this small town little chilren and old women came down immediately to meet the boat and start begging for quezales (money) or for us to buy something or to go on a tour.
We were befriended by a young boy, Pedro, who took us up to the church and showed us around town. He was an excellent guide. He kept track of all six of us and kept watch on the time to make sure we got back to the boat on time. He was also very respectful of the church even though he isn´t Catholic. He also showed us, we think, the home of their local god, who, as legend tells, saved the village from a sickness a long time ago.

We left Pedro with a big tip and travelled to the next small town. It being rainy season, and it being afternoon, the wind was starting to pick up a bit and there were white caps on the lack. It also started to sprinkle a bit. Most of the people moved down below on the boat, but several of us stayed up top. We had only a half hour in the last town, which was good. It was a very poor town and the beggars were quite insistent. They apparently called some of our group bad names when they wouldn´t buy things or give money.

I certainly, as well as others, began to wonder what we were doing. Are we rich white people coming to gawk at these poor people, take pictures of them, and then depart on our private boat back to our comfortable lives? It seemed a bit that way. The lake is beautiful and the towns are fascinating: clinging to the sides of mountains, with steep, steep streets winding up and up. The small houses painted in many colors: red, orange, green, yellow, white, mint, pink, and so on. The houses seem to be piled one on top of the other and the towns are full of roaming dogs, chickens, and men, women, and children selling every sort of tourist trinket you can imagine.

We left the last town a bit sad and overwhelmed. The rain had picked up so very few of us stayed up on deck. For our last hour or so boat ride home, the wind was stronger, the waves were higher, and it really began to pour! When the thunder and lightening started all but myself and Margy went below. I had to try out my new raincoat. =) Our little boat was rocking back and forth, up and down, as we motored through the troughs of the waves, water splashing over the front of the boat as we crashed down into each time. The sky was growing darker and the clouds were getting lower. It was very exciting!

We finally reached home and rested for awhile before heading out to find dinner. The streets were absolutely flooded with water. We had to wade across to a restaurant on the other side of the street. As we sat on the second floor looking out at the town, I thought for sure there would be no street left by the time we finished dinner. It rained harder and harder and harder. But the rain finally let up and we made it home mostly dry.

On Sunday morning we boarded a return bus. Our bus wound up and down the mountains and valleys again and stopped at Chichicastenango. This is a small town which has a humongous market on Sundays. They sell everything! Handicrafts, food, flowers, clothing, animals (dead or alive), machetes, carved wooden masks, medicinal plants, pottery, wooden boxes, candles, bags, tons of jewelry, blankets, pillows, and lots more. We walked through the market for about 4 or 5 hours and bought some things. =)
We had a nice lunch at a hotel nearby and eventually returned to our bus with our purchases.

As we neared Antigua the sickness began. One of our party said she didn´t feel well so we dropped her at home. A few hours later I began to feel sick as well as the other girl in my house. This morning we heard a fourth friend had come down sick in the middle of the night. Ugh. Two of the group seem to be fine so far, but, as they say, vamos a ver: we´ll see.
For me I think it was a combination of too much traveling on curvy roads, the food, too much sun, and my really bad sunburn I got on Saturday.
I´m feeling much better today, though still a bit funny.

I´ll be sharing photos soon!

Friday, June 15, 2007


Thursday afternoon I returned to the school for salsa lessons. There were several girls gathered at the top level of the school and the two instructors. (I was informed later that these guys are 'mangos' = hot guys!)

The girls formed a line and the lesson began. It's very easy, our instructors said. Tiene ocho partas - there are 8 parts. Right foot back, left foot steps, right foot forward = uno, dos, tres. Pause. Left foot forward, right foot steps, left foot back = cinco, seis, seite. Otro vez! uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! (Yes, he skipped cuatro because that was a pause.)

Then we learned a sidestep move: uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! Otra vez!

Then we learned a spinning move: uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! Otra vez!

Over and over and over we practiced the steps. It was getting darker and darker as the clouds rolled in for the afternoon rain. uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! Otra vez!

The salsa music was turned up on the tape player and the wind picked up. uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete!

Then there was a large crack of thunder and lightning lit up the sky. uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete!

It began to rain and the thunder rumbled. uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! Otra vez!

There were three or four girls for each guy, so we all kept up the dance moves and the guys moved down the line, dancing a complete set with a girl, then moving on to the next. uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete! uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete!

After 45 minutes, I think I got the steps down!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

papayas, mangos, y piñas

One of the estudiantes in my house is leaving after tomorrow. She had the idea of buying fruit from the market and making a giant fruit salad. During our break today, several maestras cut up watermelon (sandia), cantelope (melon), bananas, papaya, mangos, pineapple (piña), y oranges (naranjas). Then they served the salada de frutas with ice cream (helado) or yogurt. So much fruit!

We had piñas, papaya, sandia, y mangos for breakfast (desayuno) this morning, as well as bread and tea or coffee. Te for me!
Yesterday it was eggs (huevos), bread, and perhaps something else.
We´ve had lots of rice (arroz), some chicken (pollo), beef, beans (frijoles), cucumbers, green beans with garlic, tomatos, and always fresh made tortillas or bread. Most of the bread here is very sweet, pan dulce.

I just discovered a shop that makes crepes a block away from the school, I´ll have to try them out soon. The other day on my way to the market I saw a McDonalds, which I´m sure was not here last year. Tomas says there is also Burger King and Dominos, though I haven´t seen these. I´m more interested in the carts selling mangos y papays or the tortillas made fresh on the side of the street.

This afternoon I will try my hand at salsa dancing!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Robberies, earthquakes, and rain ~ oh my!

I had four hours of spanish lessons this morning. My brain can´t take much more!

Sometime around 10am there was a disturbance. Lots of students were gathered in the lower part of the school looking out to the hotel two doors down. (Our space is covered by corrugated metal and there are walls about 8 feet high, but is open otherwise.)

A woman was squatting on the ledge of the second story of the hotel. The story came to us that masked robbers (banditos) had entered the hotel and tied up the workers, but this woman had escaped and was hanging on to the outside of the building. The next couple hours were somewhat tense. For some time all the students crowded into the front of the school while the policia got into the hotel and looked for the robbers. We were never clear if there was one or more or if they escaped or not. I don´t know if they were found. Everything is back to normal now and there are police all around, so if you´re thinking about worrying, don´t!

Later in the afternoon, after lunch, I was sitting in my room and all of a sudden everything started shaking. I had a few seconds to think about what was happening, then I got up and went outside my room where the rest of the houeshold was gathering. We stood there in the courtyard for several more seconds as the ground kept shaking. It´s the strongest earthquake I´ve ever been in!

Tomas says earthquakes happen now and then, but not usually this big (muy fuerte). It was apparently 6.8, centered off the coast, and was felt as far as the border with Mexico. My first thought of course was the volcano nearby that is steaming, but I guess this is just an active area for this sort of thing.

As for rain, it has been threatening all day, but not much has happened, though I´m sure I´ve heard thunder a few times.



Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (and busses)

Hola from Guatemala!

I have had a long, long day of traveling but finally arrived in Guatemala city this morning at 6:30.

My travels began with a train from Seattle to Portland, then a bus from Portland to Salem. I visited my family for a few hours in Salem. After an interesting visit we drove up to the airport in Portland.

I went to check in my suitcase at the United desk and they informed me that my itinerary had changed and my flight had left three hours earlier - or it had been cancelled, I'm not quite sure what happened. They had record of leaving me a voicemail a month ago, but I never got it! So they booked me in for some other flights and I took off for the first leg which was about to start boarding!

I flew from Portland to San Francisco, San Francisco to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Guatemala City. All my layovers were about 30 minutes and I think my seats were upgraded along the way, so that was nice.

I settled into my window seat for the last leg with the intention of going to sleep. We were set to take off at 10:55. Sometime near midnight they informed us that there were troubles with the plane and we'd all have to get off and get further instructions on what to do next. As soon as this announcement was made the flight attendant got new information and told us to sit tight. A few minutes later he announced that the captain decided he would fly this plane after all and we would take off soon. How confident we all felt!

But there were no troubles with the plane and we arrived safely this morning. I was concerned whether or not my ride would still be waiting since I was an hour and a half late. But he was still waiting - thank goodness!

As we neared Antigua, on a steep, steep, switch-back road, he pointed out one of the nearby volcanos with a column of smoke rising from it. He said that at night you could see fire spitting out of it. Excellent.

I am spending today napping and settling in. Happily I am staying with Tomas and Delcia, where I stayed last year, so I know where everything is and how to get around town with no troubles. Tomorrow I begin a few days of Spanish classes!



Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Okay, so it's probably a bad use of the word, but that was the word going through my mind today as I did a few things to prepare for my trip to Guatemala!

I picked up traveler's checks at the bank and turned in a card at the post office asking them to hold my mail for the next six weeks.

I'll be flying to Guatemala on Monday, June 11th. I arrive in Guatemala City at 5:00 am Tuesday morning where I'll be picked up and we'll head for Antigua. There I'll settle in my new home, maybe check out the market, and brush up on some Spanish. I'll take language lessons Wednesday through Friday. For the rest of the five weeks I'll be working at a school library in Chimaltenango, a short 30-minute chicken bus ride away. On the weekends I may take trips to see different parts of Guatemala, or I may hang out in Antigua.

No matter what, I hope to update the Vicarious Travelblog with pictures and stories so you'll all feel like you're there as well!

I'm sure it will feel more real for me once I actually start thinking about packing... =)