Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunburn in September

So, I look like my Swedish friend, "la belle tomate," or "the beautiful tomato" after a WONDERFUL day of sitting in the sun beside a pool, READING. I love to read. And I always bring way too many books with me wherever I go. But I like books.

So, today's post... I don't know! What do you want to hear about? I guess I'll address the misconception that my life is "adventurous." It is somewhat I would say, but there are many others who are far more adventurous than I.

No matter where you go, life falls into a routine. Even things like not walking alone after 7 p.m., or thinking about where to hide your cash on your body, or paying attention to who's walking around you become a routine. Methods of public transportation... Almost everything. :) Even throwing toilet paper in a wastebasket rather than in the toilet becomes routine!

I also wouldn't consider myself adventurous because I'm doing "sure" things. I got picked up at the airport, the school took care of figuring out phones for us, I get picked up by a teacher bus to go to school every morning, and already when I arrived I had a ready-made network of people who already know what to do. I didn’t have to figure out how to open a bank account on my own, or how to go about getting insurance, I didn’t have to find a place to live… I have the support of my parents (i.e. they hold back their, “You really shouldn’t…” comments)…

I’ve had people tell me that they’re envious of me, but in terms of adventure, I envy those who go alone, don’t take anything but a backpack, and who don’t have a plan: they just show up wherever with the confidence of being able to find a safe place to stay. Do they even expect to find a safe place? To me, that’s adventurous. And sort of an analogy to the way I believe we’re supposed to follow God. I’m pretty confident he doesn’t exactly give us the map of our life at the beginning of it. But we like to make plans. We don’t like to take risks, and it’s a risk to say, “Ok, God. Put me where you want me, and I’ll try not to want to know where that is before you tell me.”

The word “adventurous,” according to my Mac’s Oxford English dictionary, means “willing to take risks or to try out new methods, ideas, or experiences,” or “involving new ideas or methods,” or “full of excitement;” excitement being “a feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness.” Now, I’m definitely willing and excited to try out new methods, ideas, or experiences, but I certainly don’t feel like I’m extremely willing to take risks. If I was, I might just take a walk around town alone at midnight. (Does all risk equal stupidity?) But even during the day, there is a certain amount of risk involved in being here, though it doesn’t feel like there is. Being caught in a sticky situation is a risk of just being alive and I don’t like not knowing how I would respond, but who among us does know how we would respond to things like having a gun pointed at us, or being kidnapped, or any number of other things that we hear about happening to “other” people? Every one of you is my “other.” Comforting thought, eh? (No, nothing has happened to me, I just think about these things occasionally.)

But speaking of risks, leaving the house in this country, as in any other, is definitely a risk. :) If I were to die here, there’s about a 99% chance that my cause of death would be somehow related to a vehicle, whether it be from being hit while walking on the sidewalk, or getting into a crash on the highway or somewhere in town. To give you an idea of what it’s like here, I’ll describe my trip to the pool on Saturday, which led to my tomato-ness.

The only rule in Guatemalan public transportation is, “pack vehicles as full as you can,” so it’s not uncommon to see vans, or “microbuses” (said “meecro-boos-ase”) crammed with as many as 20 or so people. The big public transportation buses are all school buses (some still yellow, some painted with artwork) that trail black exhaust behind them wherever they go. The buses that go between towns are called “chicken buses,” I’m not sure why, and they are commonly packed with 5-7 people across a row. (“Sitting” is made possible by the squishing of your thighs between two other people’s thighs.) Thankfully, none of the chicken buses I’ve been on have been that packed, but there are definitely times when it’s been 3 per seat, and it’s also difficult to get on and off the bus because of all the people in the aisle.

Xela is in the mountains, and I know my brother hates mountain driving, but I really don’t think he’d have a problem with it here in Guatemala. You see, his complaint is that you have to go so slow, especially around the turns and stuff. Well, that’s not necessary here: you just go as fast as you want. Going down the mountain from Xela to Irtra, where the pool was, you just kinda coast down the mountain, building speed, stopping occasionally to pick people up or drop them off. Fruit and snack vendors hop on and off along the way, but you don’t eat that stuff if you want to guarantee not getting sick. (The consistency of your poop is acceptable table talk here among most of the expats. :) Street food is known to play a role in its status.) Occasionally… no, more often than occasionally we pass people we think are going too slow, and then another 500 meters down the road we pull over, so it wasn’t really necessary to pass anyway. Natives eat their fruit that was wrapped in plastic, throwing the seeds and pulp from their limes on the floor, and when they’re finished, the peel and plastic wrap go out the window. The surest way to get trash thrown into one place is to put up a sign that says, “no tirar la basura,” or “don’t throw your garbage here.” I have a feeling that there would be a lot less trash on the street if every garbage can had that sign on it.

Driving up the mountain, all the trucks laden with… who knows what are way too slow, so we pass everyone we can. It’s definitely better to pass if you see a car coming, and also if you have to slow down and stop to pick someone up right after you pass. Definitely make sure you hold onto something attached to the bus as you whip around turns so you don’t ram the neighbor woman and her child, who are both staring at you not-so-surreptitiously. Don’t let it bother you when there are baskets set on your feet, either. Everybody needs to fit! But actually, it’s kinda fun to ride in the chicken buses. They’re really not bad, but I guess I haven’t ridden in a jam-packed one before. I’ve heard they can get pretty bad.

Now, contrary to what you might believe after reading my description, I actually hear about far more robberies than I do traffic deaths. I haven’t heard of any chicken buses crashing since I’ve been here. So all in all, the public transportation is good, if not a little into emitting tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.

But that’s all this belle tomate has for today. Daily life goes on here just the same as at home. Except that here, cats jumping on the roof make your walls shake at night. (This just happened – I type my blogs at night in Word while I don’t have internet, so I don’t have to waste precious time trying to describe life while sitting in a cafĂ© trying to chat with friends.) If what I wrote in this blog makes you a bit dubious, don’t be. You just use your brain, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be all right. Does that one time out of 10 make this whole experience an adventure? A risk? I’ll let you decide.