Nightly feasts of ¨white meat¨

Every night at sundown I get swarmed by a ridiculous amount of mosquitos. They are everywhere but somehow, only I seem to be suffering from the interminable itchiness that these mosquitoes have introduces to my body. It could be that the locals are used to it, however, as my host father suggested, it could be because mosquitoes just prefer ¨carne blanco¨ or white meat. Whatever it is, they are sure getting a treat. 
I know that the level of itchiness and the craziness of the situation has gotten to the next level because..

– I dont want to itch my mosquito bites because not only will the get inflamed and last longer but in the short term it just makes them itchier. 

– a good alternative to itching is slapping my mosquito bites. I would do it more often except I think that my host family already thinks I am crazy, so hearing slaping noises from the room won´t really help that perception. 

– I fantasize about removing my mosquito bites with a scalpel. Sometimes however, I would prefer to just chop off my feet entirely. 

– Another alternative to itching is letting the strong waves crash on my feet and indulging myself by digging my feet in the sand. So good…

– My mosquito repellent (the stuff with extra deit) doesn´t work on mosquitos. However, luckily for me it smells so bad it does a pretty good job at repelling people. Unfortunately I am experiencing the same problem with my stop itch product that I bought. 

– I use one hand to eat dinner and the other hand to swat away mosquitoes. It is good practice at multi tasking. 

– Despite 30 degree plus weather with crazy humidity, I walk around at night with jeans, long sleeve shirt, and most beautiful of all .. socks and flip flops. I look like a total crazy person to the locals. 

– I am woken up at night with overwhelmingly strong urges to itch my feet. 

 

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The Carnage of Carnival

There is alaways something going on at the school that I am volunteering at. Today I asked a girl in the class if she had the worksheet on farm animals I gave out last class and she replied that she was from a whole other grade. Since I am not volunteering for that long, I haven´t really learned most of the kids names and they apparently always interchange classes. It is impossible to know from looking at a kid what grade they are in. For example, in first grade there is one kid who is really big and is almost as tall as me but other kids in the same grade barely come up to my waist. Indeed, the guy in first grade is bigger than some of the first graders. Sometimes when I teach the real teachers are in the class and help me control the kids, sometimes they are taking notes from the board to learn English as well, and other times they are completely MIA. My favourite is the teacher of third grade always brings her toddler to school.

Between the other volunteers and I, we teach 5 classes. They teach 1,2, and 3 and I teach 4 and 6. 5th grade is currently being punished for bad behaviour with no English classes for a month. However everyday one or both of our classes are cancelled. The third grade for example, is never around because either the teacher (or her toddler) is sick or the kids just don´t show up. This was more or like the school I volunteered in India except for in India sometimes the teachers wouldn´t show up and Jen and I would have to teach kids math (what a disaster!) and other subjects. The other volunteers get annoyed but I feel like irregularity is normal.

On tuesday I woke up feeling pretty bad. My body ached and I had an interminable headache that ibuprofen would not cure. So, obviously, I was in perfect condition to celebrate what they call ¨carnival¨ at the schoool. I don´t really understand that much of what was going on but this is what I got from observation and a few questions. The girls from each grade compete to collect egg shells and whoever gets the most is called the queen of the carnival or at least queen of her grade. This was all decided beforehand because on Tuesday all the queens showed up in dresses and make-up. All the eggs that they had collected had been dyed and there was coloured paper sprinkles in them as well as corn flower. The teachers have a huge box of the eggs and the kids buy them for cheap. Some kids also bring bags of coloured paper sprinkles and (my least favourite) bags of corn flour. What results is a crazy war of smashing eggs on eachothers heads. It is like Holi in India except it is only for children (thank godness) and in my opinion it is waay more violent. It doesn´t take much to break a mostly empty egg on someone´s head, however the  reality of the situation was a bunch of kids hitting eachother unnecessarily on the head with only an eggshell as a buffer. Maybe this is just how it seemed to me because I had a horrible headache but honestly it was scary!

I bought some eggs as a means of defense. However, unfortunately for me I learnt that sometimes (or maybe always?) an action that one percieves as self defense can percieved by others as an act of aggression. Or in other words, now that I had eggs I was in the war too. Indeed, I began to be attacked on all fronts but especially, of course, on my poor head. I noo choice but to in turn use my eggs (carefully) ont the heads of the children, and also Jorge and the other volunteers. I was particularly disconcerted at Jorge´s lack of expression as he said, ¨los sientos,¨ reached into a bag and inundated my face and hair with corn flour. I had enough flour in my hair to make the tortillas for lunch.

At one point I noticed that one of really clever but small kids from 1st grade was chasing around a taller kid and crying that he had stolen his egg. The taller kid grinned mischeviously and then smashed the egg on the smaller kids face. It was so cruel and pathetic. To help out the underdog I went and bought some more eggs and gave one to the smaller kid. He greedily took it and immediately demanded another. Suddenly, I had at least 20 kids including the small kid from 1st grade attacking me, and asking, no demanding eggs as well. I tried to run away but they formed a tightly knit cloud of entitled grabbing hands. I feared for my life. I had no choice but to egg my way out of the situation and show the kids that I was no softie to be messed with.

If you have never smashed an egg on someones head I recommend that you try it because it is immensely gratifying. But it gets old really fast especially for the head smashee, and especially if you have a headache. I tried to escape but I was merely a sitting duck waiting to be victimized. There is nothing like the expression on a child´s face when they want to smash an egg on your head. I tried standing against a wall, but unfortunately for me, the wall turned out to be a window. Those little devils. I findally sat on a bench, exhausted and body aching, with Mira, Kati, and Jorge. Most of the kids were gone or cleaning up the grand mess and I was at last safe. Or at least I thought I was because a that moment Mira (another volunteer) smashed an egg on my head. Well I think that karma got the best of her afterwards because way later after she had gone in the ocean to clean herself off she got an egg an the head from some kids on the beach. Muahaha.

The Myth of The Mormons Who Don´t Dance

Well, chicos there is much to write about and I will write about this and try to write more this weekend.

Yesrterday I told two different groups of people here in Candelaria that I am Mormon and both times their first reaction was a pensive pause and then (no joke) to say, ¨Mormons don´t dance do they?¨ BOTH TIMES! It is funny because usually when I tell people I am Mormon , they usually scrunch up their face and you can tell that they are thinking aren´t Mormons the wierd ones? When I tell people I am Mormon I usually get one of the following responses ¨aren´t Mormon´s polygamists?¨, ¨you must LOVE Romney don´t you?¨ , ¨what kind of underwear are you wearing?¨, I have also gotten ¨Don´t Mormon´s believe in aliens?¨. But never have I heard, AND as the first reaction too, the myth of the Mormons who don´t dance. I wonder what has happened here for people to become so aware of this erroneous stance on dancing. I mean, fair enough, Mormons don´t drink so you probably won´t see too many at the bar dancing but I would be lying if I said I have never gone out dancing.

I assured my host parents (the second group of people I had told that day) that even though I don´t drink alcohol, that I can still dance. And by that I don´t mean to say that I am good at dancing but that I can live out my religiousity and dance without there being any contradiction. I smiled to myself because Mormon dances are a big part of my teenagehood and singe adult life. The Mormon dances in basketball gyms with streamers and balloons. The type of dances were you dance a bible AND Book of Mormon width apart from the boys and with our hands safely on the boys shoulders and the other hand in their hand (and not around their neck). Indeed, Mormons dance albeit in an entirely different culture then the way that most other people our age.

My host parents recently converted from Catholicism to a Evangelical church. We discussed many similarities between Mormonism and their Evangelical church like the three hour meetings on sundays, meetings during the weeks with children and teenages, no drinking of alcohol etc..

¨Except,¨ they said¨definitively, ¨we don´t dance.¨

My ability to remain religious and to still dance remained the single and definitive point of separation between our two faiths. I asked them, since we were in the topic, if Catholics danced.
¨Pshtt of course¨ would´ve been their response if we were speaking in English. Instead they said, ¨There is a discoteca right next to their church!¨

Words.

Does anyone know what is like when you are completely and utterly immersed in a different launguage and every communication takes effort? When you spend a whole day trying to learn a language from scrath and you are totally exhausted even though you haven’t done any physical exercise. That is everyday for me right now. Sometimes I am surprised that even though I don’t understand anything that through context, facial, expressions, and hand motions I can still comprehend what is going on. Other times I wonder how with all the studying I am doing, why I can’t understand word. Sometimes someone will say a sentence and it will sound exactly like French or English and I will get it. Other times people might as well be speaking Arabic or Russian.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE where I am staying. Jorge, the program director is very kind and generous with his time, talents, and possessions. I live at his house with his brother’s family. His brother is a fisher and pretty much everyday we have fresh fish for lunch that he has caught only hours ago. There is a tortilla-ria (what a word!) just 30 minutes from the house so every meal is accompanied by a stack of steaming hot tortillas. They buy milk from a cow nextdoor and the milk goes straight from the cow to the bottle, from the bottle to my cereal. Ya baby, everything is fresh and local. By now my co-horts from the greenhouse should be drooling. 

But still there is that age old problem of communication. At least when I was in an immersion program in Chicoutimi, I had a foundation to build on. In Spanish I have no foundation, everything is new. I keep trying to draw on words I may of learned while watching tv (like hermano in Arrested Development), and in songs (like in the song “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” when he sings the numbers up to six). My travels thus far have buffed my Spanish skills so that I know vaguely what I can order on a menu. It is pretty terrifying when your Spanish teacher asks you to make a sentence and you have already exhuasted the words pollo, pescado, and carne. You know your spanish is bad ( and that you are hungry) who someone says something and you hear the word “burrito.” Knowing someFrench has come to my aid during this process. However my havbit of switching to French hasn’t always been helpful. When I first arrived in Central America I couldn’t stop staying “oui” even though I know the Spanish word for yes is “si.” Apparently my brain cannot handle the idea of speaking any other languages besides French and English. 

But happily, it is slowly working; I can botch together a sentence in Spanish! In reality, I am in the perfect enviroment to learn Spanish. Although Jorge can speak a bit of English, he usually doesn’t. There was another volunteer here last week from the US. Her Spanish is much better than mine, meaning she can speak it. Following instructions from Jorge, (and much to my lonely annoyance) she didn’t speak any English at all to me at first. I was annoyed about this because especially on the first day I was desperate to commnicate with someone with ease. I slowly wore down on her though, so that I could get a bit of English out of her. Her name is Madysen with a “y” and she is very muscular. She looks like the Roxy  postergirl just with less makeup. 

Jorge’s brother’s family doesn’t speak to me in English either , because, well, they don’t know any. His two kids (6 and 8) helpfully communicate with me by counting too 10 in english and asking me (in Spanish) to draw them a dog. Tomorrow two other volunteers are coming which means that I have to move host families to Jorge’s sister. 

In summary, I think the best way to learn a language, along with studying, is to scare it into someone. That is how missionaries learn languages – they are put into what would normally be considered at terrifying social situations and asked to speak a different language. Normally I am somewhat of a lazy language learner and I will fall back on English because it is so widely used. Here I speak English only if I want to talk to myself. This means of course that next week my Spanish will increase 10 fold because that is when I start teaching English to kids who speak less English than I do Spanish. Ahhh! Oh and as a bonus apparently they are really badly behaved as well. A few days ago er went to the parent teacher conference and were granted permission (as non-official teachers) to throw naughty kids out of our class. Apparently this was a big step in the right direction and Jorge was happy all day. I, although present, didn’t understand any of this and was only informed hours later when Madysen translated what had happened. 
Wish me luck amigos! 

PS I later found out that when I heard the word “burrito” it was probably the word “aburrido” which means bored. 

Gringolandia

Gringo – A person usually thought of as white from a developed country such as Canada, the US, or somewhere in Europe. The term also refers to a tace with pineapple in it invented (this is what I heard at least) by a few female backpackers in Mexico some 30 odd years ago.

Guatemala is overrun by gringos. Or more accurately, Antigua and certain segregated parts of Lake Atitlan are overrun by gringos. When I told my host family here on the west coast of Guatemala I had been in Antigua, they corrected me saying that Antigua is in fact Gringolandia.  Some are snowbirds, that is, they are escaping from the cold northern winter. Some, however, are here to stay. The Lonely Planet describes Guatemala as a “magical place … (and when) people come, they stay.” And it’s true. Sometimes when you meet people here (often older  white people) and ask them where they are from, they will say Guatemala. Then they will clarify, “well actually I am from California (or insert other name here), but now I only spend a few months there!”

Some people are here to relax, enjoy retirement,  or their extended vacation in the most chilled out way possible. Some backpackers are here to party, smoke weed, and who knows what else. While in San Pedro, Faisal and I encountered several groups of drunk gringos wandering around the touristy areas of the town yelling obscenities (I say areas because the tourists are sectioned off in albeit the nicest area of town.)Other gringos are more enterprising; our hotel in San Pedro was owned by French Canadaians. In fact I had the impression that San Pedro was full of French Canadians until I met some Israeli’s who were convinced that San Pedro was full of Israelis. 

Besides foreign hotel and restaurant owners, I also saw hippy gringos ( a special breed of gringo that Lake Atitlan fosters) competing with locals to sell handmade jewelry on the streets. I met my favourite enterprising gringo when Faisal and I decided to go into a bookshop that bragged over 2700 but from the outside (and indeed from the inside too) looked like nothing more than a sketchy dingy room. When we worked up the the nerve to go in, we found an older white man who spoke English with an identified accent, chain smoked, had gray haid down to his belly button, and was incredibly dirty. Faisal, who detests smoke, lasted all of two seconds in the shop, and coughed while he waited for Ilona and I outside. Despite the apparent sketchiness of the bookstore, he had the best books of any bookstore I had visited during this trip. I bought Casino Royale by Ian Flemming from him. 

The last kind of gringos that I have met are the benevolent gringos. On  Faisal and I’s first day in Antigua we met up with our friends from the boat and they showed us some neat nooks and crannies of Antigua. They also introduced us to their friend, Deit (pronounced like the active ingredient in mosquito repellent). Deit is an energetic woman who fundraises for NGO’s in Guatemala, is constantly networking, rides her bike everywhere, and just celebrated her 75th birthday. As we came into her small dwelling she fussed over us telling us to sit down and bragging about her new  plastic-free water filter. She took an immediate liking to Faisal, telling him that skinny, dark, and curly hair was just her type. She sat down and talked to us about all the projects that she was involved in. One of them was called WINGS and focused on giving Guatemalan women family planning options. Another was a project that collected plastic garbage from the street, stuffed them in used plastic coke or wattle bottles, and then used them as the base for building houses. 
“Sorry to talk so much, but I’ve raised a lot of money in the past by just talking.” I love her! 

Diet invited me to a dinner that night that she organizes on Sunday nights called “ladies of a certain age.” I wasn’t of that certain age, but she said she would make an exception. I asked if I could bring Faisal and she said, “He doesn’t even look like a girl and that is a good thing!” That meant no. I was told to meet at a certain corner at 530 gringo time. When I got there there was a crowd of 19 cotton tops (is that the word?), they had broken their record today. The oldest women there was a stylish yet alarmingly skinny woman named Audrey who still worked as a caterer. 
“This december nearly was the end of me,” she said. “I had four events to cater, one right after the other, and the last one was for 50 people.” 
I felt impressed that this 82 year old was doing anything at all. All of the women seemed to be connected to some NGO project. As they talked, I noticed a certain lack of men in their conversations. I asked if any of them lived with anyone here, like other women or their partners/husbands. They all chuckled to themselves I was informed that they were all divorced except for Audrey who was widowed. Diet laughed and quoting one of the other women, said, “the biggest mistake I ever made was getting married!” All the women laughed for a long time knowingly. 

Livin’ La Vida Loca (Boat Trip pt. 2 )

One day I woke up on the boat and it was really windy. The night before I had woken up a few times and each time I felt really bad for the two crew members who were sleeping outside in hammocks. To be honest the word “hammock” does not really describe what these they were sleeping in; it was more like nets made from thick rope that connected the catamaran in the front of the boat. At one point in the night I heard the two crew members speaking excitedly in Spanish. It was 3 in the morning. I later learnt that a huge wave had come and completely soaked one of them. Ariel, the cook, told him that he could join him in his hammock but soon enough a wave from the other side came and soaked the two of them while they were sharing a hammock. Poor guys.

When we all got up, we comforted ourselves that it wasn’t raining. after breakfast I decided I was in need of exercise and that I wasn’t going to mope around like everyone else. Maybe, I thought, my swimming will inspire everyone else to swim too. So despite the wind I pulled on my polka dot one piece, snorkel, goggles, fins, and I (quite optimistically) put camera around my neck.Once I was in the water, I fit my goggles and snorkel on and tried to find some underwater friends. But without delay the waves spilled into my snorkel (giving me a mouth full of salty water)and leaked through my goggles, By this point I looked up and realized that the waves had pushed me a reasonable distance away from the boat, Since I could still see people on the boat and vice versa I wasn’t in a panic. Swimming towards the waves was no use because they just splashed in my face. So I layed on my back and using my fins I kicked as hard as I could. To my dismay and slight worry, I appeared to be moving just enough to stay in the exact same spot and not to be carried anywhere by the waves. I wasn’t getting any closer to the boat. So with a greater amount of effort I slowly inched my way back to the boat. When I was in voice range I yelled to so that they would let down the latter, which Thomas and Steve clumsily fit together. All and all, I was out there for a half hour. At least I got my exercise!

Shortly after I got back on the boat it was time to move again – first to the immigration island in Belize and then back to the Guatemalan peninsula. As soon as we were out of our nook on the reef, the waves got much larger and they freely splashed up on the sides of the boat. At  first Faisal, Marilyn and I sat huddled on the side of the boat, with me at the front absorbing (literally) the blows of the crashing waves. There was not much to do; it was too rocky to read, write, or even talk and soon rain started to beat down on us. We all congregated at the the back of the boat where there was less rocking and splash (not that being wet really mattered at that point anyways) and stoically focused on the horizon. Luckily for me I didn’t feel sick and was enjoying the adventure. Faisal wasn’t so lucky, and he watched as the crew caught and bludgeoned to death the fish (the eyeball popped out at one point) we would be eating that night. Finally Faisal and I had enough of the rough seas and rain; we were soaked. We crawled into our little cubby hole and I fell asleep listening to the Lana del Rey album “Born to Die.”

One of the advantages of our cabin (or disadvantages depending on how you feel) is that only a flimsy curtain separates us from the kitchen. I woke up from my nap smelling something delicious. I thought perhaps that I would go into the salon on the other side of the boat and enjoy some lunch. Laying down I felt hungry, but every time I tried to get up I felt queasy. Finally the rocking boat had gotten to me. Finally Faisal and I ended up both laying down, our plates in the middle of us, trying to eat a small amount of rice that the cook had given to us through the curtain. I imagine that this pathetic scene was not what my parents had in mind when they recommended the boat trip to me. I have also begun to rethink my dream of owning a sail boat.

Sometime around five I because aware that the boat was no longer rocking and that I had only an hour left of sunlight left in the day. Slowly me and the other popped out of our cabins like ground hogs. That night for dinner, I felt as if the crew had tried to make up for the awful weather because we got served one of the best dinners I have ever had. We were given giant plates of fresh tomato with chunks of lobster meat in it. We were then served a giant communal bowl of lobster and crab arms an legs with a wrench to pry them open. They even gave us make-shift garlic bread, which was served in a pot to avoid getting soggy from the drizzle that was still coming down. Some of us stood, some squatted to avoid the wet deck but nevertheless I felt like I was in good hands as I ate this delicious dinner. When I was handing our dinner plates to Zaquao in the kitchen, I saw him pull out a cross-hatched pie out of the oven. I admit that when I saw this I let out a genuine huge movie-like gasp. The pie was made from fresh pineapples and might as well have been sent directly from God himself.

Maybe on the boat, I got less picky and more sensitive to the beautiful things in life. Someone on the boat with better Spanish than me asked Ariel how he made the amazing crust. He shrugged and said “flour.” However to me, the crust tasted like he had used crushed up nuts butter and sugar all in one. It was as if flour had never even entered the beautiful mixture.