Tuesday, July 24, 2007


It took two days to download these - even with a fast connection! I hope you all enjoy them. =)


Update: Some of you may have thought to yourselves, "wow, I went through those 289 pictures really fast!" That's because 89 of them were chopped out the album because of a glitch with photoworks. You can now go back and see the rest of the photos in my 'part 2' album. Enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Drum roll, por favor...

My last week has been interesting and full of activities - and speaking spanish! Okay, so I´m usually doing that, but I think I´m speaking and understanding more. I´m quite proud of myself.

Tuesday Juan and the other computer lab guys invited me to have some pizza with them at lunch. We sat around for an hour chatting and laughing and joking. In Spanish! I´m still amazed.

Wednesday night I went out to dinner with the Guatemalan director of Child Aid and the volunteer coordinator. Thursday I had lunch with the founder and director of Probigua and his wife and another couple. This meant a half day at the library since I had to take the bus back to Antigua, wait a half hour for everyone to show up, then travel to Jocotenango for lunch. It was apparently a typical Guatemalan meal. First they cook a chicken, a really tough little chicken, in the soup broth so it has the flavor of chicken. They take that out and serve it on the side, all dried out and tough, with rice. So you put rice and the chicken into your soup. But apparently most people don´t get chicken often. It was an interesting meal.

Today was my last day in the library. It was somewhat frustrating for me. The computer would not work this morning. I kept restarting it and trying everything and it just got to a startup screen and wouldn´t go any farther. I was disappointed to lose time cataloging, but I could wait for Juan to arrive. Well - Juan was really, really late today. He had been in the process of buying a motorcycle and he got the call this morning that paperwork had gone through and he could come get his bike. So he motored into work (literally wheeled the motorcycle into the library!) after 12:00!

While I was waiting for him to arrive and fix the computer I taught myself the numbering system in Kaqchikel then I watched the students out in the field next to the library. There were dozens and dozens of students out, rough-housing and playing games and cutting the grass.
Yes - they were cutting the field... with machetes. I think every person around here has a machete, big 2 or 3 foot long blades. They bend down close to the ground and hack and hack and hack at the grass and grass is flying everywhere.
Loud music was blasting out into the field - I could feel the bass vibrating in the library wall. Students were doing handstands, walking on their hands, doing cartwheels, playing soccer, salsa dancing, and playing hackey sack with soccer balls and bouncy balls. Every now and then some guy would go down and a dog pile would commence - with the last several guys taking running leaps and jumping onto the top of the pile. Then the guys would all go crashing down and the guy on the bottom would get up and go chasing after the guy on the top, running through the field, past the library, all through the campus.
I looked over to another side of the field and saw many students gathering up piles of grass and throwing it in a pile on top of another student. Three pretty girls in tight jeans and pink shirts walked by, chattering and swinging their machetes.

It was a sight to see.

Juan finally showed up and came over to help with the computer. I´m really quite embarrassed. A student had left a disk in the computer and that´s the only reason it wouldn´t turn on! I knew disks left in the computer caused problems - which I learned back in the age of the dinosaurs when I still used disks. I mean, come on - who out there has used a disk recently? Anyway, by the time it was fixed it was time for lunch. The two librarians and Juan bought lunch and we all ate together. We were all too stuffed to eat the chocolates I had brought for them - but I´m sure they´ll be enjoyed next week.

Anyway, now for the moment you´ve all been impatiently waiting for!

I finished today with 1,096 books.

Congratulations to Andi at OHCS who wins her very own chicken bus! This chicken bus comes complete with fruit and a chicken, but you´ll have to provide your own people. With approximately 3 adults and at least one child per seat and the aisle packed, you´ll need about 40 some people. Good luck!

I also decided to give a runner up prize. This prize isn´t for the next closest guess though. I realized I was having you all guess how many individual titles I was cataloging. But I´ve had to touch a lot more books than that because of all the duplicates. I´ve had to make sure they all had the Dewey number in them and had a codigo (spine label) printed. The total number of all books, with copies, is 2,108.

Congratulations to Phil, who wins his very own Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala!

Thanks for playing everyone. Stay tuned and I´ll post pictures next week after I return home!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Last week my friend Jen found a little advertisement for the Quaker meeting near Antigua. I had found their information online weeks ago but the phone numbers didn´t work. I called the new number – which worked! – and arranged a ride to meeting this last Sunday.

Loren and his friend arrived just before 11 a.m. to pick us up. We bounced along through the streets of Antigua, past the market, until we came out onto the “highway” to Ciudad Vieja. The meeting is actually held in the home of one of the members, halfway between Antigua and Ciudad Vieja.

We arrived a bit late for the 11 a.m. meeting,, but Loren explained it was okay because the meeting was so small, the others would just wait for us. It was indeed very small: just three members last Sunday. And what an eclectic group they were!

Loren is an older man, tall, slim, and slightly stooped. He had a bit of a raspy voice and it looked like the years had been hard on him. He is a direct descendant of the founders of Mormonism. His ancestors trekked across the US following Joseph Smith. I believe his particular ancestors were part of the group that traveled without oxen or horses, lugging all their own belongings. I guess quite a few of them died trying to do this. But Loren is completely Quaker now. He comes to the meeting from Parramos, on the other side of Antigua, but only lives in Guatemala part of the year.

One of the other members, an older, jolly-looking woman, has been in Guatemala for 20+ years. She travels from Guatemala City for every meeting and is originally from the US.

Margaret, whose house we met in, is originally from Scotland. She is an older woman with long grey-white hair and kind eyes behind her glasses. She speaks slowly and precisely, with a wonderful Scottish accent. She was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a brightly colored butterfly. Her house was amazing, with lots of tile and wood and windows and animals. Two dogs and a cat joined us for the meeting. Attached to the back of the house was an enclosed butterfly garden with a hundred butterflies fluttering around.

After a little bit of chatting the five of us settled down into cat hair covered couches and chairs for an hour-long silent Quaker meeting. It was very peaceful and quiet. For the most part. As you settle into silence you start to hear a lot of things.

Growling and gurgling stomachs
The rain
Children laughing and running out in the street
A ticking clock
People shifting in their seats
The dogs taking in deep breaths and sighing
Other dogs barking outside
The heat clicking on
The cat licking itself (and licking and licking with the most disgusting sounds a cat can make – cats always want to be the center of attention)
A bell somewhere out in town chiming the hour

After an hour one of the women took off her glasses, which was the sign I guess. We all stood up and held hands in a circle to close the meeting. Then we sat down around the table for a potluck and the three members of the meeting had a brief business meeting.

Margaret took Jen and me outside to the butterfly garden after lunch. As Margaret reached the back of the garden she exclaimed, “We have a birth! We have a birth!!” She opened a little hatch on the wall and I saw a big black and orange butterfly flopping and fluttering about, its chrysalis empty on floor of the little hatchery. Another bright green chrysalis was hanging nearby, promising a new exciting birth in another week or two.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Walking tour of sorts

I was considering taking a walking tour of Antigua today with Elizabeth Bell. She´s a well known character around here and knows everything about Antigua apparently. In the end I decided I would rather have my last Saturday to myself and not be "trapped" in a tour - even if it was good.

I went to the market and got the prize for the contest as well as a few other regalos.

I was leaving the market and as I came to the end of a block I heard the sound of drums. I love drums. If I hear a marching band, drum line, any sort of drumming, everything else in the world disappears. I came around the corner and saw a marching band coming up the street.

There were three girls dancing in the front, followed by guys with snare drums, trumpets, saxophones, trombones, other horns, xylophones, different unidentifiable percussion instruments, and bass drums (I think that´s what they are - the big ones!)

I took a video of them and as they passed I saw there was a great crowd of people with banners following them. Well, I couldn´t help myself - because of the drums - so I joined them! I walked with this random group of people, following the marching band, through the streets of Antigua for an hour and a half!

The parade spectators sort of appeared about a block ahead of us as we went and either joined or wandered off as we passed. Every few minutes the sound of the band was joined by the sound of car alarms, since the loud drums set them off.

A little boy became very interested in the band and started following closely. He was probably 5 or 6 and wearing a bright green striped shirt. His father tried to stop him but the band members encouraged him. For perhaps half an hour he walked along with the band, completely enthralled by the drums and brass instruments. One of the drummers gave him a drum stick so he could beat the big drums. Then later a trumpet player gave the little boy his trumpet and the little boy tried to play it. The trumpet was almost as big as this kid!

The parade of people was led by several people holding a big banner - which I never got a chance to read. Leading the pack in front of the banner was this crazy old lady. She looked to be 80 years old, about 4 1/2 feet tall, very wrinkly, and hardly any teeth. She was wearing a bright orange t-shirt, shiny black work-out pants, high heels, and a big floppy blue hat and carrying a big umbrella. Her grey-brown hair was tied back. When the music really got going she was a dancing maniac - twisting and shaking and shimying (is that even a word?) and sometimes some really risqué looking dancing. After a bout of dancing, she would bow and blow kisses to the crowd, turn to us behind her and shout out something and everyone in the people parade shouted back and blew whistles and laughed.

As we got close to Parqué Central two women started talking to me. They asked if I lived in Antigua. I said no I was just here for six weeks. They wondered if I was alone. I said yes, my novio is in Seattle. When I told them I was getting married they asked if they could come! They were being a bit silly I think. They told me that this was a big event put on by the government or perhaps it´s an election rally; I´m really not sure. When we got the Park there were tons of tents set up and stages with people singing - a huge fiesta!

Well, this was all before lunch. We´ll see what the rest of the day brings...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More tales from the chicken bus

An hour a day on the chicken bus has made me think that I could probably start a blog just about chicken buses!

The other day a woman got on and sat next to me. She had a baby on her back and was carrying another bag. After a few minutes I started hearing a funny noise and decided surely the baby was not making the noise. I realized the noise was coming from the bag she was carrying. I asked her about it and she told me it was a chicken. Then she opened the bag so I could peak in, although I only saw feathers. There really are chickens on the chicken bus! The woman proceeded to ask me where I was going and what I was doing. I told her I was working at the library at Pedro Molina and she thought this was very good.

Oh, I probably forgot to mention a few weeks ago our bus, despite sort of braking a little bit, hit a dog. I didn´t see it but I heard it. It was pretty awful. There are often close calls with all the stray dogs running around, but usually they´re paying attention and get out of the way in time..

Yesterday was yet another fun experience. The bus was a little bit late. When we got to one of the towns, perhaps Pastores, they decided to change drivers. So the driver got up out of his seat and the new driver slid into his spot. It was a really quick switch - just a few seconds. The catch is - the bus was still rolling! They didn´t turn it off or set the break or anything, just kept going while the switched!
I think the new guy was a race car driver. I started praying that we would make it safely to Antigua! He was driving so fast, passing semis on curvy mountain roads, trying to pass anything he could in fact. We almost took out a bicyclist as we tried to pass him and then had to get back in the lane when a truck was headed toward us. I heard the bicyclist yelling at the bus. And then I started feeling this weird thumping under the bus, like something was loose - perhaps they were racing back to Antigua and the bus lot before the bus fell apart? Who knows, but we did make it safely.

Yesterday I got on the bus in the morning and there was another American on the bus. I sat with her and we got to talking. She said she had seen me several times- but I had never seen her! She´s a nurse and has been here in Guatemala for 4 years. She´s teaching a number of Guatemalan nurses and does clinics and trainings all over the place. She knows the chicken buses pretty well - enough to even recognize the crazy drivers and not ride on their buses.
She said one time she was taking some visitors out to another town. They got on the bus and didn´t see the driver. When the driver got on Ruth recognized him as a totally insane driver and she wondered if they should get off. But they didn´t. The whole trip she was praying that they didn´t have an accident or die because the driver was so bad and so fast! Every now and then she would look back at her guests in the seat behind her and smile. When they arrived safely at their location she apologized profusely for the ride. But her guests said it was just fine. They were worried at first, but when they saw she seemed fine and didn´t look worried they thought it must be normal and okay!

A week or so ago I was getting on the return bus and was just able to fit in the stairwell. Now, this has happened a time or two before and usually the bus takes off with me hanging on for dear life. But this time the driver didn´t move. He started calling for everyone to move back and to make sure I got a seat. It was very nice of him. But at the next stop several women got on, with kids, and he took off with them in the stairwell. Perhaps they´re used to it and I´m more likely to go flying out the door on the curves.

Well, back to cataloging... =)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Weekend report

Last weekend was full of actividades!

The weekend started late Friday night when one of the candidates running for president had a little parade through town: starting about 9:00 pm. This consisted in a truck with loudspeakers driving through town yelling out all the reasons why people should vote for this candidate. The loudspeaker quality was so bad I couldn´t understand even a single word. There were also lots of horns honking and “bombas,” explosions of fireworks. I rarely see fireworks though. They just set off things that sound like bottle rockets or pipe bombs or something. They are really loud. Qué ruido! Then of course all the dogs around the neighborhood start barking.

There is a law in Antigua that election candidates can´t put up billboards (in fact there are no billboards of any kind in Antigua) so the candidates put billboards in their trucks and drive through town blasting obnoxious music or shouting out why people should vote for them. Or they put up “temporary” billboards just for the day – erecting huge scaffolding on the side of the road and hanging giant posters of the candidate – only to take the whole thing down at the end of the day.

Saturday morning after breakfast I met my friend Kristen for tea/coffee. She is the volunteer coordinator for Child Aid. We stopped by to see her friend Hector. He is preparing to open a new café here in Antigua. It is a very small restaurant with the kitchen and a couple tables all in one room. It is absolutely beautiful and Hector is building a lot of the furniture for the restaurant. Now I have to come back to Guatemala when the restaurant opens. =)

After lunch I went with my friends Scott and Jen to the market. They were looking for a few more gifts and for fabric. I was looking for a sombrero. After they bought a bunch of fabric I asked where we could find sombreros in the market. The man pointed in a general direction through the market.

Last year I talked about the outside market, for those of you who remember. We were in the inside market on Saturday. The inside market is a huge building of sorts, some open to the outside, some of it not. It is an enormous dark labyrinth of tight pathways twisting through scores of little shops selling everything you can imagine: fabric, fruit, nuts, vegetables, bras, tricycles, huge bags of spices and cooking ingredients (you scoop out what you want), cut flowers, clothing, shoes, toys, baby clothes, drugs (like tylenol – that sort of drug!), live plants, pots for plants, barrels, raw meat (chicken, fish…and other unidentifiable animals), dried fish, dried iguanas, candy, and more than I can even remember. I guess it´s like a Fred Meyer – only it´s kind of dark, the ceiling (when there is one) is very low, there doesn´t seem to be any organization to anything, there are no signs, it´s not very clean, and sometimes it really smells awful!

So, off into this labyrinth we were directed. The man had gestured with his arm straight and then left – directo y izquierdo. After some time we still hadn´t found sombreros. I asked another person and their answer: directo y izquierdo. So we hadn´t passed them yet! We kept wandering through the maze, always straight ahead and taking lefts when they looked promising. We kept asking people every few minutes and kept getting directo y izquierdo. At long last we found sombreros! We had lots of fun trying them on and posing for silly pictures.

We agreed to go out to eat Saturday night and give our host family a break from cooking for us, mostly because they had begun the moving process that day. The family I´m living with is moving! They were going to move on the 20th, but when I reminded them I was staying till the 21st, they changed their plans. Part of the moving process involves removing everything they added to the house. They had added on a whole section in the back for their rooms and they removed all of that and moved into one of the rooms that students usually live in. Things are getting interesting around here!

On our way to dinner we stopped at La Merced, one of the big churches. The International Olympic Committee was in town and they were having a huge final event in the ruins next to La Merced. I guess Guatemala is pushing for the Olympics to be held here in 2014.

We went off to a lovely dinner after that at some restaurant I can´t remember – sorry. But it was really old and had really great food. We always smell garlic while walking down this street and it turns out the garlic was coming from this restaurant. So we all ordered lots of extra garlic with our dinners.

Sunday morning I went out to breakfast with Scott and Jen at Café Condessa. This used to be a home for some Count back in the 1700s. The rumor is that one time the count came home early from some travels and caught his wife with the butler. It was said that he buried the butler alive in the house. This rumor was (perhaps) confirmed when the house was being renovated and they found a skeleton entombed in the pantry walls – standing up.

After that lovely breakfast we went to the ruins of Iglesia y Convento de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, Las Capuchinas. The convent was completed in 1736 but when the big earthquake hit about 40 years later the nuns abandoned the building for something safer elsewhere. Not much damage was done to the building in that earthquake though. Scott and Jen and I spent three hours wandering around the ruins and taking photos. We found one great room that was down a flight of stairs under the ruins. It looked like I was going into a deep black pit but when I got into the large round room it was light because of two vents cut at angles letting light in. The room had amazing acoustics. The three of us went into the room and attempted to hum Gregorian chants. It sounded pretty good…at times.

After a little plate of nachos, some ice cream, and a brief rest at home, we climbed up a hill overlooking Antigua. There is a huge cross up there and a lot of postcards and pictures of Antigua are taken from this hill. It had been a beautiful day but we could see clouds starting to come in. I saw several bolts of lightning around Volcan Agua, the volcano that rises above Antigua. On our way down the hill a person in our group heard a large boom or explosion. We looked to the west, to one of the volcanoes ringing the area and saw a column of smoke rising from it. Qué interesante! But we haven´t seen any more activity from that volcano.

So, that´s just an overview of my excellent and full weekend! And now it´s back to work…

Friday, July 06, 2007

Guessing Game

Well everyone, I´ve been cataloging away for three weeks now – two weeks to go! As I neared 600 books today, I had a brainstorm: why not let you all in on the fun by guessing how many books I´ll catalog before I go?

The person with the closest guess gets an authentic, made-in-Guatemala souvenir (it´s a surprise! – because I haven´t bought it yet…)

Some facts (for those of you who want to make this a math problem – hee hee: good luck!)

1st week: ended with 232 books cataloged (there were about 140 already in, but I went through all those records to verify them and add more info).

2nd week: ended with 363 books

3rd week (today): ended with 616 books

The fine print:
Leave your guess as a comment.
Only one guess per person.
I´m not splitting up the prize, so if a number is taken, choose another (or it goes to the first person who picked the number).
I´m not going to share my progress anymore after this point so guess any time.
I´ll post the final number and winner on July 20th – so please post a guess by 4:00 p.m. Guatemala time on the 20th!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Language & the rainy season

One of the interesting parts of this job is assigning subjects to books – in Spanish. Some books have these little info cards in them that say exactly what the book is about. I love those books! But sometimes there is no information and I have to skim through the book and try to figure out what it is about. This has actually gone well for me and I´m picking up all sorts of words that are totally unhelpful for every day conversation. Words like desarrollo (development), siglo (century), aprendizaje (learning), enseñanza (teaching), and idioma (language).

Speaking of language, other than Spanish there are somewhere between 20 and 30 indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala. Some are spoken by as few as 1800 people and others are spoken by nearly 2 million people. Since education has been improving (or the attempt is being made) there is more focus on bilingual (bilingüe) education so I´ve found several books in these Mayan languages. I can barely read Spanish to figure out subjects, let alone Kaqchikel or some other language! But usually the books are also Spanish.

Some of the languages spoken are:

Popti´ (Jakalteko)

And here are a few examples – just bits of titles from some books :

A´ sa k´uchax u jikla chusu´m ech sa ch´expu u qatine´
Chuck´al yol tuk´ vatzib´al u ixil/kaxhlan

Riqow etamanik kuk´ ri qa nan qa tat
Ch´iysel toj xnaq ´tzb´il ex xnaq ´tzb´il toj ch´iysel

Rujotay Kaqchikel ch´ab´äl
K´ak´a´ taq tzij richin retamab´alil kajulew

I don´t have the first clue how you pronounce any of that. There are some students here at Pedro Molina who speak some of these languages. A girl spoke Kaqchikel to me a couple weeks ago. I can´t wait to hear some more.

Now, about the rainy season. A couple weeks ago we (estudiantes) were all surprised when it didn´t rain for three days in a row. I thought this was the rainy season! Tomás explained that in the dry season they had rain too, but it might go 10 or more days without rain. In the rainy season it doesn´t usually go more than three days without raining.

And it rains hard here. It´s the most amazing, fuerte (strong) rain I´ve seen. I think it has now rained every day for the past week and a half. The day usually starts out sunny and warm and beautiful, then the clouds roll in and it starts pouring sometime between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon. It´s amazing how predictable it is. (In fact, it´s raining right now, so hard that I can´t even hear the clicking of the keyboard as I´m typing, or the music the guys in the computer lab are playing!)

Sometimes it will also rain during the night. The rain is almost always accompanied by lots of lighting (I watch bolts of it streak across the sky as I´m walking through the streets of Antigua) and the most incredible thunder that often sounds like explosions and keeps on going and going.

We had a really hard rain on Sunday night. Monday as I was going to work and passing the cornfields, I noticed that quite a bit of the corn had been flattened. I guess this is a common thing – que triste! Then I noticed trees that had come down and lots of branches. In a couple towns there were mudslides with a couple inches of mud over the roads. Traffic continues on as normal of course. This morning they finally had a couple guys digging the road out with shovels.

Out in the mountains boulders fall on the road when there is a lot of rain. They don´t close the road – and who knows how long it will take for the boulder to be removed. People just honk and speed around, and hopefully don´t hit oncoming traffic!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Don´t I know you?

I was just thinking yesterday that I´m really getting comfortable (sort of) with things here. The routine and familiarity of everything is somewhat comforting.

Every now and then I see a Probigua student out in town, though I´m not sure how much longer that will last since people don´t usually stay for that long.

Just today I was coming home and saw, half a block ahead, Delcia and her kids. I caught up and said hi and talked with her for a couple minutes.

Saturday I was walking through town and Juan, the computer lab guy, was going the opposite direction on the back of a motorcycle. He called out hello. I responded ¨Hey!¨ and then shook my head a moment later as I realized ´hey´is not a word in Spanish. Tomás and I and the other students at the house had a good laugh about this.

I´ve been riding the chicken bus to work every day for 2 and a half weeks now. I think I finally am recognizing the driver and one of the helpers, not to mention a few of the people that get on the bus at different stops. Everyday after we´ve passed through most of the town, the helper guy comes through the bus collecting fairs. He usually says ¨Chimal¨(short for Chimaltenango) as he walks through, just to see where people are going. I usually nod or don´t say anything - most people do the same unless they´re getting off at Parramos. Then of course I always get up to be let off at Pedro Molina. Yesterday morning the helper was going through the bus as usual. He stopped at my seat to take money from the guy next to me and mumbled Chimal, then he looked at me as he took my money and said ¨Pedro.¨ Si! Gracias! So, now the bus helper recognizes me and remembers where I get off.

Today as I was returning home a woman came and sat next to me on the bus. She seemed very nice, but people don´t often talk on the bus. We were speeding along quite fast and there is this one little hill where it feels like we fly for a bit, if we´re going fast enough. We went over the hill and the woman next to me made a comment about the bus driver going fast. I agreed. We started talking and she said my Spanish was really good. Wow! Wow! It was so nice to hear her say that, since sometimes I feel like I struggle so much to communicate with people. So thanks Estela - much gusto!

p.s. for John Cz: El Domingo, yo compré un cuaderno sin lineas y un lapíz. =)