Posted in June 2013

Decision

Country/Day: Guatemala/41

Bikes Fixed: 38

Bikes/Day Average: 0.93

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5 + 0.9

 

Before I begin writing, I want to apologize in advance, as I have been binging on Sherlock Holmes in my spare time. It’s likely my writing style may be a bit more, er, old-age. Despite the lack of quill and ink, sometimes I just can’t help myself.

 

My bikes/day average has finally fallen below one, and that means, if anything else, that it’s time to change something.

 

I have made a decision, and while I’m not entirely partial to it, I believe I’ve made the best decision I was able to, given a number of circumstances and reasons. I want to explain everything about it, as much for the case of my conscious as for the feelings of my supporters and the curiosity of my followers. There are certain conditions I have given myself, and there are other options which I want to expound so that I might name why I haven’t chosen them. At the end of all, I don’t expect there will be 100% accordance, but I hope you can trust I made the best decision I was able to.

 

I had decided some time ago to leave BiciTec. My mind was made up, perhaps, before I even made that blog post and sent that e-mail to my supporters, though I wanted an appropriate alternative before making the decision final. It is this feeling that led me to research other organizations, and even meet with one, in my search for a new purpose during my time here in Guatemala. Among others, I contacted an organic farm (through WWOOF); another volunteer-run bike shop; and Avivara, which connects volunteer educators to schools in need.

 

During my research and my last days at BiciTec I found myself, frankly, unenthused. Volunteering isn’t always supposed to be fun, or easy, or any number of adjectives one might use to describe something they enjoy. It is not only that I found experience unenjoyable, however, but I found that it sapped the energy from me.Upon arriving, I have in my possession something along the lines of enthusiasm. Somewhere along the line I lost it. I dreaded going to BiciTec because I felt unwelcome, and after putting so much time and energy into planning, fundraising, and trying desperately to make things work, it will come as no surprise that feeling unwelcome led to feelings of frustration and spiritual exhaustion. More, it felt like no matter my intention, there wasn’t a place for me. I don’t pretend this is solely one-sided. I expect that, given my imperfect Spanish, there have been some communication errors along the way, but these cannot possibly account for all that I have encountered. Whatever the case, I have come out the other side unhappy, unenthused, and unsure about whether I have it in me to continue volunteering.

 

After meeting with Gary, I had immensely postive feelings about volunteering for Avivara. They were my first choice. The meeting I had with Gary rekindled something inside me, a little voice I’d forgotten about that said being a teacher was awesome, and that I need to make it part of my life sooner rather than later.

 

I have chosen not to volunteer for Avivara, not because I don’t want to be a teacher, but because I’m worried that I can’t rekindle my passion so soon. It is not that I don’t think Avivara is a great organization, or that under a different set of circumstances I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I just don’t have the energy right now to stay in a country that made me feel so taken advantage of. I believe Avivara is a great organization, and it is for that reason exactly that I don’t want to involve them in any feelings of negativity I retain. I don’t think it would be fair to myself, Gary, or my future students to start volunteering with such fresh wounds. I don’t think it would be fair to the feelings I have about being a teacher to force myself to do something I don’t have the energy to do right now. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be healthy for anyone involved if I were to volunteer for a week or two, then find myself in the same situation and need to spend more of everybody’s time and energy figuring out yet another alternative volunteer situation.

 

As I weighed my options in Guatemala, I also kept in my mind the next event in this project, which is going to Zambia to volunteer. If I had a choice between arriving in Zambia depleted, unenthused, and wary of being taken advantage of, or arriving with energy and enthusiasm, I would choose the latter.

 

It seems to me then that the best option, the one involving the least risk, and admittedly perhaps the most selfish solution, is to return home to Minneapolis, recharge, and be ready to volunteer in Zambia with renewed enthusiasm and surety of self.

 

As I said, it is certainly not the best option, and there are conditions for it which I will lay out shortly. I do not pretend that the choice has been easy; indeed, it involves the emotions of myself, my donors, and a few volunteer organizations. For myself, it is not just feelings of “being tired,” but it also involves the commitments I have made towards myself and my donors. Admittedly, many of my ideals are at stake here too, but I don’t think it appropriate to go in depth there. Suffice it to say it was a difficult decision, that I don’t think there’s a “right” decision, and that I made what I believe is the best decision — even though it’s not perfect by any means.

 

The conditions:

(1) As I will have only volunteered in Guatemala for 42 of the 90 days I asked my donors for, I will return the other 48/90ths (roughly 1/2) of the donations for Guatemala. I keep a list of donors in the order and amount they have donated, so whoever donated, roughly, the last half of funding for Guatemala will have their donation returned (you’ll get an e-mail from me by the end of this week).

One alternative is that these donations go towards the remaining visas, medical expenses, etc., that have yet to be funded but that I am otherwise paying out of pocket. I don’t expect this.

Another alternative is that these are put towards an organization that could use them such as Bikes For the World or Avivara. I know, for instance, that Avivara recently funded a surgery retaining a little girl’s ability to walk. Cool.

Basically, there’s no right answer, so I’m planning on what seems like the simplest and most just action (returning it), but am open to other opinions and suggestions.

 

(2) As I have this time set aside for volunteering, I will continue to work in some free capacity during the time between when I arrive home and when I leave for Zambia. As I’ve said many times in many blog posts, “I’m not here to sit on my bum.”

I know it’s easy to say “Oh yea, I’ll volunteer!” and then not do it, so I wanted to list a couple ideas to show that I’m serious. I will commit to at least one of these within a week of arriving home:

– BiciTec does have some projects that need doing that there is no money for; namely, they need a promo video and they’d like a model of one of their bicimaquinas. I’m more than able to do both of these, and have been filming anyways during my time here. It’s not ideal, but it’s not something many other people can do (including those people being paid).

– The Grease Pit, a volunteer-run bicycle shop in Minneapolis, is likely busy this time of year, so I plan to stop by and see if they need any more volunteers (though last I checked they were full to the brim).

– A friend is starting a tutoring business, and needs, well, all those things new businesses need.

 

(3) I will look into leaving early for Zambia and volunteering for them longer than originally intended. This depends, of course, on whether or not the airline allows ticket changes, the visa requirements/restrictions, the availability of my host, and the cost difference (change in room and board, cost of the ticket change). I will look into this within a week of arriving home.

 

So, those are the conditions I’ve laid out for myself, and if you find anything missing or have any suggestions, feel free to post a comment below.

 

– – –

 

There’s not much more to say that doesn’t involve repeating myself. This was a tough decision for many reasons, I don’t believe there’s a “right” decision, but I do believe I’ve made the best and safest one for myself, Avivara, and Zambikes. If I wasn’t planning on going to Zambia, I would probably stay and volunteer for Avivara even though I fear it might burn me out. As is, I plan to be rested and recharged when it comes time to leave for Zambia. If the middle of this project can’t go perfectly, I’ve at least started with a bang, and I’ll finish with one, too.

4 thoughts on “Decision

  1. Marilyn says:

    I think that you’ve made the best decision in difficult circumstances, and handled yourself admirably. I also think that you’ve learned a lot about the ways of the world, which will probably become more clear after time. I look forward to seeing what decisions you make and your renewed energy for Zambia.

  2. Laura says:

    I am fiercely proud of you, and have nothing but respect for the decision you made. We can’t help create change in the world if we don’t first take care of ourselves. If we let a project drain everything from us, we won’t be able to keep giving. This was a smart, brave and honest decision.

  3. Mariya says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience in Guatemala. Considering the extent and goal of your project it is extremely important that you remain true to your values and fuel your passion and enthusiasm so I am impressed with how you are handling things and commend your decision.

    I am also leaving the invitation open to come help us at What The Fiets Stichting in Holland. We are in desperate need of expertise to breath life into many bikes that we have accumulated and a teacher to empower the WTFiets team and fellow patrons on how to repair their bikes. So if you re-energize sooner than expected or have some extra time after Zambia, we would welcome you with open arms…and tools 🙂 and would support you during your time here…

    Have a safe trip home!

    Met vriendelijke groeten,
    Mariya on behalf of What The Fiets?

    • Kyle says:

      Hoi Mariya,

      Thank you for your kind words. It’s funny, I really value your friendship, and we haven’t even met (yet?).

      If enthusiasm could produce money, we’d be set. I do genuinely hope to make it some day, but the entire cost of Guatemala won’t buy me the plane ticket to Holland. It’s… well, it’s really unfortunate. Maybe if you didn’t have such a nice country then tickets wouldn’t be so expensive. : o)

      Again, I appreciate your comment. Please keep in touch… I’ll get a paycheck again someday!

      Kyle

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Gary, The Wheelchair, and Other Revelations

Country/Day: Guatemala/34

Bikes Fixed: 38

Bikes/Day Avg: 1.12

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5 + 0.5

So, just a few days away from my bikes-per-day average falling below one, which will be rather tragic after finishing off India so strong. To BiciTec’s credit, Carlos picked up one of my ideas, and it seems like this one might actually happen (hence the extra half of a bicimaquina; but despite having built half of two different bicimaquinas, I still haven’t finish one entirely).

 

I want to start out by talking about Gary, and then, well, we’ll go in the order the title of this post specifies.

 

– – –

 

So who is this mysterious Gary person? It’s not my mom’s ex-boyfriend, I’ll tell you that. No, this Gary is the director (sort of) of a non-profit called Avivara. Avivara is a Washington-State-Registered 501(c)(3) (so if you’re looking for a place to put your next donation, there’s one option…) but most of their function is in Guatemala. They believe, in short, that “education is the pathway out of poverty.” Their purpose is, among other things, to assist in the education and upbringing of the next generation of Guatemalans. As far as volunteering goes, they help volunteers find a place to stay and a school to teach at. Most volunteers teach English.

 

I met Gary last Saturday in Antigua. I’ll forgo the description of Antigua for now as I plan on visiting again later and will do a more purposeful post about it then. For now, suffice it to say it’s a very touristy town – almost as many gringos as Guatemalans, and the prices made me weep.

 

Anyways, I wasn’t quite sure what sort of meeting this would be. I knew I wanted to learn a bit more about Avivara, and a bit more about Gary. Namely, I wanted to know if I would be happy volunteering there, and I wanted to be sure they had their stuff in order. I already had an inkling of the answer to these questions given my research on their website, but will always give preference to personal meetings – especially given the ordeal I’m still suffering with BiciTec.

 

I’m sure there’s some saying about how the first five seconds of a meeting tell you how it will go. If that’s the case, then I knew right away I’d be volunteering for Avivara. Gary is about my height; has a friendly, burly build; rosy cheeks with hidden smiles; jovial eyes; and a handsome yet nonchalant haircut. After shaking hands, the first thing he says to me is, “I’ve had a long day. Want to grab a beer?”

 

We head to a nearby restaurant and order a liter. In the first ten minutes we’ve established a good fit, and we spend the next two hours or so sharing stories and joking around. I have to admit, I was immensely curious about someone who would rather spend the latter part of his life running a non-profit in Guatemala than retiring in Hawaii. I was not let down.

 

Gary has an incredible philosophy about life and teaching. He was a teacher for many years before becoming a principle. After many years at that, he and his wife realized they weren’t quite satisfied with their lives, so they came to Guatemala to volunteer on year-long sabbaticals. After eight months in Guatemala, they decided not to leave.

 

Among other pontifications (many humorous, many riddled with philosophical anecdotes), Gary wraps up his life and philosophy with this: “Do what you love, and the rest will follow.”

 

– – –

 

So Carlos participates largely in the community – obviously, the bicimaquinas don’t necessitate themselves. He’s currently working with a group of students that wanted to build a pedal-powered wheelchair, and as part of my “there are no bikes to fix, what else can I do?” attitude, I was participating lightly – at first.

 

As the project progressed I become more and more involved. Carlos knows I like to design things, even if I haven’t had the opportunity to make many of them come to life while here in Itzapa. We got to talking, and there came to be a lot of logistical issues with a pedal-powered wheelchair. With the pedals directly in front, how does the user get in and out of the wheelchair? With only one crank, the wheels would always rotate simultaneously – how does one steer? In addition, transferring power from head-height to underneath the chair would require a lot of gears, chains, and infrastructure. This would be expensive and complex; complexity usually means it won’t work as well as expected and will require frequent maintenance and adjustment.

 

Alternatively, I suggest a lever-powered wheelchair. Two separated levers (instead of two pedals connected to one crank) would allow the user to control each wheel separately, making turning the chair very easy. Instead of having pedals a set distance away from the center of the crank, levers allow the user to choose what leverage they want: Grab them higher up for more leverage but slower movement, grab them lower down for less leverage but faster movement. Because the levers connect to their cranks by the user’s ankles, the system needs only one set of chains and cogs to run. This makes it less complicated, less expensive, and not as heavy. Once I had Carlos convinced, he had me do a technical drawing (I never took a class, but I taught myself in my spare time). Once I showed the students the technical drawing and explained my reasons, they were in.

 

So Carlos basically gave us all the parts we needed and put me in charge. Yesterday and today was spent ordering students around getting the parts ready, and towards the end of the day today, we started welding.

 

I’ll post the plans when I get back to the states, but I can post a photo of our progress thus far:

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The end product, of course, will be much more exciting.

 

Anyways, I want to talk about more about how I felt about this, because it will lead me into my next topic.

 

First off, it was obviously nice to have a purpose again. The whole “being involved” thing took place in small amounts over a few weeks or so, up until the past two days spent managing the students. This was the usual: Feeling like I was doing Carlos’s job for him. I enjoyed the work in and of itself, and indeed, felt like I was contributing, but still had the same mixed feelings I explained two posts ago. I also worked with the skepticism I had developed that nothing would come of this, since all the other projects I had proposed tanked for one reason or another.

 

To be frank, working with the students has been almost solely exhausting. Not in the way that would make you say, “I bet.” Not in the way that I was exhausted after student teaching two summers ago, which was one of the best experiences of my life. On the contrary, I quite enjoy teaching, and being a teacher is on my agenda at some point in my life. I also enjoy (and am experienced at) managerial work, and it was great to juggle the workers and the non-workers, to see students excel at what they were good at and to help them otherwise, to motivate the less motivated, etc. Experience-wise, I was very much at home managing a group of 10 students working on a project we all thought was awesome.

 

No, I felt – and get ready, because I’m about to get a little philosophical – I felt as if my soul was tired. I discovered working with BiciTec has been incredibly draining for me. Here was something regular Kyle would enjoy and come home and call his friends about, something he would find fulfilling and like he was doing what he was supposed to be doing with his life, like he was “making a difference:” encouraging students to excel; completing a creative, tangible, meaningful project. At the end of the day though, I really just felt more tired. Aside from the people involved, I’m not just enjoying myself. I don’t know if BiciTec has changed my outlook on volunteer work (I hope not), but I know I am hardly passionate about it anymore.

 

– – –

 

Which is why option (1) is Avivara, and option (2) is returning to the States.

 

Gary had said to me, “Do what you love, and the rest will follow.” I know I love working on bikes. There’s no way that in one month BiciTec has erased all positive feelings I get from being a bike mechanic or being a teacher. But as of right now, there aren’t very many left. I worry that if I dive into teaching without rekindling that fire, without resting and recuperating, I will find myself resentful and angry. I worry that any lack of passion, however temporary, will be unhealthy for me and my future students.

 

I know that volunteering isn’t always supposed to be fun, energizing, exciting, enjoyable, or all those other positive adjectives out there. But I feel like at the end of it you shouldn’t feel like a worse person, either. You shouldn’t give time away to something that takes away parts of who you are, and especially not one that extricates what you’re passionate about. I think at the end of it there should at least be a sense of satisfaction – even if not, “Yea, I did all that work,” then, “Yea, I made it through.” If these feelings continue, I can’t say “making it through” would be at all satisfying, sort of like “making it through” another week with unkempt housemates, a kleptomanic best friend, or an abusive spouse.

 

To be clear, these feelings are entirely separate from Avivara. That is, they are about the situation. I just wrote a page on how great Gary was so I hope nobody misinterprets and thinks I am saying working with Avivara would generate this sort of resentment. On the contrary, I mean to be talking about volunteering in general, anywhere, for me only, right now. In fact, what I find especially revealing is that despite my positive feelings about Avivara, I still feel as if moving forward would be unhealthy.

 

So, what, then? What does going home solve?

 

As you know, I’m not fixing many bikes anymore. I would like to do so when in Zambia, starting August 23rd, and I would like to do so without feeling the need to expunge my negative feelings in philosophical blog posts. I am considering that the best way to do this would be to rest and recharge until I leave for Zambia. If I continue to volunteer in Guatemala, and I feel worse at the end of it than I do now, the nine days at home won’t be enough to rest and recharge. If I go home now, my bet is I’d be rearing to go again when the time comes.

 

As an aside, I wouldn’t be sitting on my bum while at home. I would either volunteer at the Grease Pit, or find a temporary position, or both. Also, the remaining money for Guatemala would be returned to those who donated it – otherwise you’re just paying my rent, and that’s not the point of the project, nor would I be okay with it.

 

So anyways, nothing is set in stone yet, and I want to finish this wheelchair, because that’s at least something I can be proud of making it through… hopefully. Likely by my next post I will have made a decision. In the mean time, input is appreciated.

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Wow

Country/Day: Guatemala/31

Bikes Fixes: 38

Bikes/Day Average: 1.23

IMG_9002

Looking for, well, anything?

I have a very exciting blog post for you today, but first I want to touch on my latest post, and the e-mail sent out to my supporters: I am currently looking at other places to volunteer; namely, (1) I’ve found another bike shop, (2) There’s an organization called Avivara that does everything from tutoring to engineering projects – it’s two folks from Washington state who started the project instead of retiring, (3) There’s an organic farm I found on WWOOF that sounds very cool.

I will likely make a decision by the beginning of next week, and will post and e-mail when everything is final.

Anyways…

Yesterday morning I went to the market in Chimaltenago. I already posted about the market in Itzapas – it’s biggest on Sunday and covers maybe a gym-sized area. The market in Chimal is biggest on Friday and covers… er… the analogy I used was “it’s like the State Fair,” I think. It really is. I wish I had a map to confirm, but basically, it takes an hour to walk from one side to the other. The only difference is, instead of each building being one display, there is tent after tent after tent of venders selling everything from… well, everything. I said about the market in Itzapas, “this is a place you might say ‘you can buy anything at.’ “ I wouldn’t have said that. The market in Chimal? Yes. Anything. It was amazing. I could walk through that market every single day of my life and not get bored. It seriously is like the State fair, but better. At times, even when outdoors, as far as you can see there’s a “ceiling” made up of wares for sale.

Let’s get to it.

– – –

IMG_8991

We left about 6 AM in light of not wanting to bike back in the heat. I wore my jacket the whole way there as it was just a little chilly (and yes mom, I wore a helmet). On the way there we passed a lot of interesting things which reaffirmed my interest in bicycle-touring round these parts; namely, a lot of people going to work in every way imaginable. A number of people walking and riding horses. I saw an old school bus pull into a farm, then the emergency exit opened and workers started pouring out of it. There were also a few cyclists… I got a nice shot as some of the ones in front of me turned into a field on their way to work. I think I’ll call it “Sombreros get to work.”

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Oh also, from the time we left, we inadvertently didn’t look at any clocks until 10:30 AM, so I don’t know how long anything took. Mostly we just got lost in the market, and it was a blast.

So anyways, we arrived at X time, locked up our bikes, and started our trek through the best market ever. Sarah (another volunteer who has been here before, so acted as a sort of guide) was most familiar with a particular side of the market, so in order to be able to fetch our bikes we parked on that side. It was also the side with the animals for sale, so for a while we were wading our bikes through horses, pigs, and cows. After locking up our bikes we waded some more before getting to the material wares.

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Would you like a cow, sir? 

Aside from horses, pigs, and cows, there were also dogs and cats (and everything from babies to full-sized animals, so yes, we got to cuddle puppies). In another part of the market we would find ducks, rabbits, pigeons, and… well, I can’t possibly remember them all.

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Hey! It’s even smaller than the cafes in India!

(and fewer walls to boot)

Our first mission was to get something to eat, as that was part of the point of going to the market (“Breakfast is so good there!” said Sarah over and over again the night before). So we sort of ignored most of what was for sale, planning on coming back to it, and found a “cafe.” And by “cafe” I of course mean a square-shaped assortment of wood planks with someone selling something in one corner and seating everywhere else. We got chicken chiquitas with rice milk, and it was to die for. Q12 ($1.80).

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I’d want more, but there has to be something else equally as delicious somewhere else…

Then started the wondering, and there was, as I mentioned, everything for sale. I’d like to let the pictures do most of the talking, but I think some narration is warranted. We started by just picking a direction and walking.

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You think this is impressive? Things are just getting set up!

After a while you start to feel you might go so far in one direction you’ll miss out on something else, so you walk back to where you started from, pick another direction, and go that way instead. What really makes the experience though, is that every now and then you’ll turn a corner or walk past a barrier and see a wall of _____. Most of the vendors aren’t very organized; I was on the hunt for a belt, for instance, and we found maybe 10 different belt vendors, in all different corners of the market. So it’s pretty startling when you just see a wall of ____, or a collection of ____. This happened many times, and was never any less surprising for it. The first “wall” we saw was comparatively small – a wall of sombreros.

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After walking past a few suit shops and an umbrella store (Sarah bought an umbrella as she couldn’t fit one in her bag and it has been raining lately – Q30 ($4)), we turned a corner and were in a land of clothes. This was one of those places where the wares hung up high make a “ceiling” of sorts, and even if there wasn’t an actual ceiling, you couldn’t see much of the sky.

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As I mentioned, I was on the hunt for a belt. We had passed a few belt vendors at that time, but I was convinced I could find exactly the right one. After a while I wanted to compare belts from various vendors, as they were all “really close” to what I was looking for. Of course, I didn’t want to walk back and fourth from vendor to vendor, relying only on memory to compare them. So I lined up a few and started taking pictures.

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This is just four of hundreds of one style… of hundreds of styles.

I have many great photos of belt vendors which I will post at an appropriate time, but at that point in the day (or likely, still early morning), I was focused only on a particular kind. I had seen Carlos Jr. wearing a hand-embroidered belt at the shop, and I wanted one. Hand-embroidered belts, among other things, are one of the few things you can’t go back to the states and eBay (globalism sucks).

At some point during my belt-venture, we passed a small vendor off to the side, selling only belts in a rack about three feet tall and one foot wide (comparatively very small to the other vendors). Ithought I saw the belt I wanted, but was mistaken – it wasn’t even close enough that I could see myself ever wearing it. Despite that, the vendor was apparently very desperate to make a sale. Upon first inquiry he quoted me Q70 ($10), which I thought was a little high, given it was obviously used, and that similar belts elsewhere were starting at Q65 new. I told him no thanks, but he kept shoving it in my face and dropping the price. Sarah was letting me do my thing, as I can be a pretty competitive bargainer, but I wasn’t playing around. I told her (in English, to be clear it wasn’t a bargaining tactic – I figured the vendor wouldn’t understand me) I was ready to go. As we were leaving, he put the belt in a bag, tied the bag shut, and tried to put it in my backpack, saying “35! 35” (Q35, or $5). I felt bad, as it was obvious he wanted to make a sale, but no matter how little something costs, if you are never going to use it then it’s the most expensive thing in the world.

We kept wandering and at some point turned a corner and had another one of those “wall of stuff”  moments. Only, this was a “room after room of walls of stuff” moment. I was so startled I swore to myself. What was it?

Fabric.

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I can hardly begin to describe how much fabric there was. Together, the rooms comprised the floor space of a Jo-Anne Fabrics, yet each room itself had as much fabric as just one. You could have sewn all the fabric together and covered the entire country with it (each fold you see is at least a 10×10 piece). As if that wasn’t impressive enough, it’s all hand made. Yup.

Needless to say I couldn’t resist. I’m a bit of a seamster and am always looking for cool, creative projects (often inspired by unique fabric). This is another of those things that you can’t just go home and eBay. Fabric is probably one of the most expensive things you can buy in Guatemala, with prices for full pieces ranging from Q600 to Q3000 ($100-500), depending on quality and intricacy. You can make a lot with a 10×10 piece, but even fitting that in my suitcase would have been a hassle.

Fortunately, there were periodic piles of scrap pieces (by “scrap” I still mean 3×10′) at huge discounts. I fell in love with a 3’x6′ piece but wasn’t willing to pay much for it… I’m always hesitant to spend a lot of money, and knew I could come back for it if I changed my mind. The vendor quoted Q250 ($40). Again, I really wasn’t looking to spend a lot that day, so I tried to leave, but he kept asking me what I was willing to pay. I quoted something as a joke to try and show him I wasn’t serious – Q100 ($15). We both laughed, and he came back with Q180 ($25). I was surprised, but quickly became aware he really wanted to sell it, and he must have known I really liked it (unlike Mr. Belt Vendor earlier that day), so we settled on Q150 ($20). At Jo-Anne in the States, high-quality fabric is easily $20-30 a yard, and I got two yards of fabric, not to mention it was hand-made… so I’m alright with that.

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Would you like any grain ever (front)? Or any pepper ever (back)?

We ventured further into the market, having found a corner a while ago and being fairly confident in our bearings. This time we got the food section (different from the restaurant section – there isn’t one, they are everywhere), and, well, again… everything. Grains I didn’t know existed. Grains I knew existed but in colors I’d never seen before. Chicken legs. Frog legs. Hog heads. Everything (by the way, there will be more photos on Facebook once I get back to the states. They just take a while to upload).

We also found another section of animals for sale and got to cuddle kittens and bunnies.

On our way to (finally!) another corner of market (actually it wasn’t a corner, just the vegetable section, very similar to the market in Itzapa) we found another “restuarant” and sat down to eat. This one was off to the (a?) side and seating was at a sort of bar, so you could see out and watch people move by with things for sale and things they’d bought and, well, needless to say it was a hubbub of people moving about.

Oh and by the way, while navigating through the 3′ wide aisles you run into all sorts of people, and there’s always people carrying huge carts of stuff (I almost got a great picture of one but at the last second someone walked in front of my camera) shouting “Permisso! Permisso!” (“Let me through! Let me through!”). Sometimes you and the ten people behind you back up for twenty feet before you find a shop to step into. The small spaces make photos frustratingly difficult.

Anyways, at that point we saw a clock (10:30 – we’d been there for about three hours) and realized we should think about heading back. I have only the one pair of shoes and had seen another pair I was interested in, so for the next 40 minutes we learned how hard it was to find something for a second time. I did get a cool picture of a belt vendor though:

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Or more, someone selling belts “one the side” (or the ceiling, as it were).

Target ain’t got nothin’ on that.

We finally found the shoe store and, after the vendor disappeared into a hole in the ceiling, found out he had my size, but not in the color I wanted (he suggested I paint them), started trudging back to the bikes.

We used the bathrooms on the way back (Q1.50, $0.18 per use, and oh – no seats). Coming out of the bathrooms, we saw a new section of market we hadn’t seen yet (as if we’d seen it all anyways). This was, as Sarah so poetically put it, “the junk section.” You know the idiom – one man’s trash…

I had already bought a belt at the point (and am convinced it’s the coolest best I’ve ever seen – we even swapped the buckle with another belt to get the colors right), but passed the second-coolest belt in a “junk”  pile, and couldn’t resist. At the end of the day I ended up with 4 belts, all very cool and unique (for those of you who don’t know, I tend to wear, er, unique clothing), and am convinced I’ll never have to buy a belt again. Two are the hand-embroidered style, one is made of purple webbing, the other… is… awfully abstract. I paid Q105 ($15) between the four of them. Score.

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Would you like some rope?

After the junk section we started through the animal section again on the way back to our bikes, and got to hold piglets (by the way, when cuddling puppies, I told the vendor (whose job was, essentially, to pass puppies around) he had a really great job. He thought so, too).

I feel like I could start that story over, tell it just again in as many pages, and mention completely different details. I mentioned it was as big as the state fair but with a new vendor every ten feet, right?

That was the market in Chimaltenago. When can I go again?

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Candid Thoughts

Country/Day: Guatemala/28

Bikes Fixed: 37

Bikes/Day Avg: 1.32

So, I have some mixed news. Or more, it’s something that I would like to have a candid discussion about with my supporters.

I’ll just start off hot: I have been considering volunteering my time elsewhere while in Guatemala.

 

The short: While Maya Pedal (the organization I was originally going to volunteer for) was a non-profit NGO, BiciTec (started by Carlos when he left Maya Pedal a few months ago) is a for-profit privately owned business.

Now, I didn’t know this when I came. I was under the impression (but to be fair to Carlos, never asked nor was directly told) that BiciTec operated under the same rules as Maya Pedal. So I was excited to come volunteer and, as they say, “make a difference.”

Because of the split with Maya Pedal, there was a period when Carlos did not have any volunteers – in fact, I am his first. I was under the impression (again to his credit, without asking or being told) that BiciTec was being run only by Carlos. However, BiciTec is being run largely by Carlos’s sons, Carlos Jr. and Antonio.

First of all, I think this is great. Just a few months after splitting with his former employer, Carlos has a bike shop up and running and completely self-sufficient? That is seriously impressive. I am genuinely happy for BiciTec, for Carlos, and for his family.

However…

I am of the opinion that BiciTec should not be accepting volunteers. My feeling is that it accepts them in the same way Wal-Mart or Target might accept volunteers: “You want to work for free? Okay! We can sure find something for you to do…”

To distinguish, here are my interpretations of the terms “work for free” and “volunteer:”

“Working for free:”

–        There is a job that needs to be done

–        There is money to pay someone to do it

–        Someone is getting paid that money to do it

–        By volunteering (doing that job for free), you allow that person to get paid to sit on their ass

 

“Volunteering:”

–        There is a job that needs to be done

–        There isn’t money to pay anyone to do it

–        Nobody is doing it

–        The only way it will ever get done is if you volunteer to do it

 

Now obviously I’ve been fixing bikes. I’m not lying about the count above (and hey, more than one a day – not bad). But frankly, Carlos Jr. and Antonio could handle the shop by themselves. Frequently Carlos Sr. spends more than half the day out on a household errand.

Again, I think this is fantastic for BiciTec. If I were Carlos Sr. I would be very proud of my sons and happy that I had built a business that runs itself. But I would not feel the need to take volunteers.

Indeed, sometimes there are so many people in the shop, it is difficult to work. There are only two “real” bike stands. There’s a third jerry-rigged version that can sit on the floor, but requires constant attention to keep from tipping over. When Carlos Jr., myself, and Antonio all work at the same time, someone has to use the jerry-rig. When Carlos Sr. and the three of us work at the same time – well, we can’t. At the shop where I worked in the States, we had at most two mechanics on the floor at a time. With Carlos Sr., Carlos Jr., and Antonio all on duty, BiciTec already tops this, and in a much smaller space to boot.

I have sometimes been told not to work. Multiple times now, I have come in and grabbed a bike, only to have Carlos come up and say, “We aren’t fixing bikes today. We have to sell some first. Otherwise, there won’t be enough room in the shop.”

Again: AWESOME. I wish that in the shop I worked at in the States my boss periodically told me, “Don’t do anything today.” But I didn’t buy a $700 plane ticket to spend three months of my life sitting on my ass.

Now the logical question is: What else is there to do? To start this off, I asked Carlos, “What is the most helpful thing I can do for you right now?”

“Fix bicycles.”

“I feel like Carlos Jr. and Antonio are more than capable of handling that right now.”

“Is there another project you’d like to do?”

These are the three projects I came up with, and what happened to them:

–        Making a poster-size drawing of a bike with all the parts labeled in English and in Spanish. Carlos let me work on this for a day before saying, “Oh, I forgot, we already have one of those in a box somewhere.”

–        Organizing all the extra wheels by size so they are easier to find. This was sidelined because Carlos doesn’t mind the extra time it takes to find wheels.

–        Building a cabinet to store all the extra spokes in. I drew up blueprints and calculated how much wood would be needed last week. Carlos has not yet bought the wood.

 

Basically, even with extracurricular activity, I feel like my efforts would be better used elsewhere.

Remember, this is a for-profit business, so Carlos is making money off of my work, which Carlos Jr. and Antonio would do if I wasn’t there.

This doesn’t really matter by itself, but when next to everything else, I find it a teensy bit relevant: I eat lunch at Carlos’s house and am required to pay for it. I pay 133% the cost of a meal at the average restaurant, and about 400% what I’d pay if I made it myself. I understand Carlos’s need to cover his costs, but it seems like he could cut his volunteers a bit of a break (I suggested paying the restaurant cost and Carlos said merely, “You don’t have to eat here if you don’t want to”).

If I did volunteer somewhere else, it would likely have nothing to do with bicycles. This is sad, but to be fair, volunteer opportunities abroad that deal primarily with bicycles are not very common. Instead, it is likely I would work on an organic farm. Here’s a description of one I found:

 

I am the father of two daughters, living all together next to the Petén Itza lake. My farm project has two locations: one is my house with a large garden where I have a plant nursery and 600m away I have 3,5 acres of land where I wish to expand all the experiments I have done in the past seven years. My farm project has many objectives: the primary one is to prove that we can develop and administer an ecosystem as a way of sustainable life that does not deplete the environment. The second is that, in addition to this, developing one´s spirit is the way to achieve a happy and fulfilling life. I recycled all kinds of organic materials in sometimes unusual ways. The ornamental plant nursery adds an element of beauty to the already peaceful village. In the community, I am working to develop in the young generation a sense of appreciation and respect for nature that begins with a trash separation and recycling program. I need help in finishing the dormitories for volunteers as well as the kitchen/dining area, the main house at the 3,5 acres land, as well as land clearing, animal pens and watering system. Lots of work… earthworm farming, composting, biogas fabrication, ornamental plant reproduction, cheese making, food preservation ways, animal processing, rope skills, survival skills and more you can expect to learn while you volunteer. The program asks for 30 hours per week that you can work in 3 to 5 days to allow you to visit nearby places like Tikal, Yaxcha, El Mirador and many others.

 

It seems to me like as far as long-term economic improvement, job creation, and sustainability go, that’s about as good as it gets. It’s like volunteering at a bike shop… except instead of bikes it’s dirt, worms, and weeds.

Plus, I might get to make cheese, which is a life goal of mine. And I don’t know what biogas fabrication entails, but that should probably be a life goal, too.

FYI, this is through a program called WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The idea is that volunteers pay a small administrative fee (for Guatemala, the fee is $4) and are given access to a list of organic farms in that country. Farms must be willing to provide room and board in exchange for full-time labor (or here, 30 hours per week, though I would probably work some 40-hour weeks). WWOOF has been on my to-do list since I first heard of it in high school.

How do my supporters feel about this? Am I turning my back on BiciTec? After all that fundraising where I promised to repair bicycles, would I be betraying those ideals by doing other work instead? I promised to be open and honest about everything that happens related to this project. Now I’m asking for your opinion in return. Please, comment below!

5 thoughts on “Candid Thoughts

  1. diane says:

    time to fly the coop Kyle. When you have to pay for your lunch and you’re volunteering? Hello? Yes, by all means make haste to the organic farm. Sound like they would appreciate you and you would learn a ton which I am interested in learning from you.

  2. Bob Iverson says:

    Kyle, The most important thing is that you feel you are contributing to something you believe in. Working for free as you describe it is to be taken advantage of. You have the opportunity before you have to work for a living to do something of value, to follow your heart and do something where your volunteering of your time leaves you feeling fulfilled, not taken advantage of. You are there to grow yourself and help with a situation you find value in. The farm could be interesting but be prepared and check it out in every way you can so it is what you want to spend your time doing. It could be long days and some hard work but there is value in that too. If you need help getting information on what your interested in we will help you from here. Let us know what you’d like done.
    Bob

  3. Leonard Adelson says:

    I think you have adequately honored your goal to fix bikes and should be comfortable with alternative volunteer service if you do not find donating you time to a for profit business rewarding.

  4. Jenna says:

    I have heard great things about WWOOF and have thought it is something you should do since I first heard about it! I think that if you are not feeling that your work at BiciTech is in line with why you are on this worldly adventure and you think something like WWOOF might be a more valuable use of your volunteering time/skills, then go for it! Keep us posted on what you decide to do (I’m sure you will 😉 )

  5. Marilyn says:

    I think that you are doing a great job figuring this out. Although the literal definition of “volunteer” is working without pay, I think that the commitment you made to your contributors is that you are also contributing towards helping needy families whose standard of living would be significantly improved by having a bicycle. It doesn’t seem like that is true in your situation in Guatemala.

    I would want to know whether your working on the WWOOF farm that you describe would benefit only the farmer who farms it or others as well. If he is selling the crops for his own profit, this may not be much different that the situation with Carlos, although it would be a wonderful experience to learn organic farming and to make cheese and you would at least have something to do.

    As a contributor, whether or not it is WWOOF, I would like you to find something to do that benefits the local people who are in need and is not just someone using you to make money for themselves.

    Good luck figuring this out. I support whatever decision you make.

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Short Stories (G1)

Country/Day: Guatemala/26

Bikes Fixed: 33

Bikes/Day Avg: 1.27

G1 stands for “Guatemala 1,” by the way – I also did a few posts with the same theme while in India. The idea is that a lot of small things happen to me, but alone, they aren’t enough to warrant their own story. They could be stories, moments, photographs, or a combination of all three. You know what – let’s get to it.

– – –

All Cats Are Gay

In Spanish, everything has a gender. When you say hello to a passerby, for example, the phrase is either buenos dias, buenos tardes, or buenas noches, depending on the time of day. Notice that there is either an “o” or an “a” on the end of the word “buen-” making it either masculine or feminine, respectively. That is, adjectives have to correspond to the gender of the word they are describing. So, “dias” (“day,” but used here to mean “beginning of the day,” eg, “morning” (same as in French)) and “tarde” (“afternoon”) are masculine, whereas “noches” (“night”) is feminine. Usually the genders correspond to the last letter in the noun (“o” or “e” being masculine, as in perro; “a” being feminine, as in semana), but there are some words that don’t follow this rule (such as “dia” and “noche” above).

I’ve made friends with a shop owner named Esperanza. I visit her shop on a regular basis, at least a couple times a week now, even if I don’t need to buy anything. I get to practice my Spanish, she gets a loyal customer, and we both get a friend. We were talking about the difficulties of learning Spanish, and I mentioned the gender thing. I explained that in English, there are no genders – everything is an “it” unless it’s literally a boy or a girl. I used cats as an example: We would say “the cat,” but in Spanish it’s “el gato” (as opposed to “la gato”).

She replied, “So wait – in North America, all the cats are gay?”

Side note: She spoke in Spanish except for the word “gay.” This happened in India too. No further comment.

Other side note: This gendering of verbs affects the way the speaker sees the world. There was a study done on the difference in perspective Spanish speakers have vs. French speakers for certain words. It was found that feminine words were always depicted to have more feminine characteristics, and masculine words more masculine characteristics. For instance, the gender of the word “bridge” (something you walk over) is different in Spanish than in French, and so was the way the Spanish speakers described the bridge than the way the French speakers described the bridge. Well, I think it’s interesting.

– – –

The Market IMG_8781

I’ve had a few requests for this one and I’m sorry to say I can’t make a complete post out of it. Part of the reason I’ll explain in my next short story, but basically, it’s a market. It’s very similar to a farmer’s market in the US, except bigger (bigger than most I have been to) and of course, there is some cultural food offered. Most of what’s there are the essentials – peas, potatos, lettuce, etc. In addition to food, there’s also the essential hard items – soap, toilet paper, cooking oil, cooking utensils, clothes, toys, games… I bought a mirror with which to shave, for instance. I imagine there are people who can only afford to come to town once a week, so they come on Sunday and buy everything they need for the following week.

The odds and ends are the same as you might find in the US. There’s always a few vendors with what seems like junk laid out – old car parts, random CDs, and whatnot. Of course, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

There’s the guy selling papaya who feels the need to announce it to the world. There’s also usually a few people walking around selling who knows what – leftover bread from that week, perhaps, or bananas. So far the teenager selling wooden spatulas is my favorite. Oh, and there’s frequently a beggar or two.

As far as ready-to-eat food goes, the choco-banana place I mentioned in my last post is right in the middle of the market. There’s a couple tortilla grills scattered about (circular, gas-powered, flat-top stoves maybe 3′ in diameter), there’s always people frying things (chicken and french fries are all I’ve seen to date – no Twinkies, sorry Minnesota), and there’s a fruit vender I’ve found to be delicious. For instance, you can get an entire pineapple cut up and served under various spices for Q5 ($0.80). Last time I bought a pineapple in the states, it was on sale for $2.99. Hmm…

– – –

Globalization Sucks

So as a slowly-becoming-avid traveler there is one thing I’ve noticed and that is that, well, globalization sucks.

It seems to me that people travel to experience other cultures. Right? Or am I wrong? Well, that’s why I travel. And there are some good things about globalization, like awareness, and the ability to provide aid. But for the most part I just feel like globalization has led to outsourcing and the destruction of cultural independence.

When I first arrived in India I noticed this a little bit, but thought nothing of it. People wearing “American Eagle” t-shirts, people wanting cell phones, North American cars (yup), whatnot. I thought, “Okay, so they are interested in our way of life, no big deal.” It really hit me on the head when I went to Darjeeling and talked to my guide about it. Darjeeling is a very cultural city (in fact, I do feel the need to go back at some point), and I felt it was less globalized than anywhere else I’d been in India (which is saying something, as I’ve been to 7 major cities). So I was surprised to hear my guide say he thought it had lost a signficant part of its culture to the outside world. He said the people there were still the happiest in the world, but that they were happier when they weren’t influenced by mass media. Nowadays, everybody – everybody watches TV. It’s not just an American thing. And oh, the ads I saw while in India (many used North American models, seeming to say, “Be American! Buy a washing machine!”).

But I’m in Guatemala. What of it? Well, there’s TV here, too, though not as much (I’ve only seen two, actually – probably due to the cost of electricity). The thing I’ve most noticed when it comes to globalization is the crafts. Yes, the crafts.  I noticed this in India too, but basically, anything you can buy here, you can buy in the States. More than that, most of the things are modeled after what you can buy in the States. When I go to a market in Guatemala, I want to see hand-made I-don’t-know-what. Instead I see plastic. Tons and tons of plastic. Nothing has a history behind it anymore… it’s all designed to be cheap, saleable, and like what “everybody else” wants.

Which is not what I want.

What happened to the world, and how do we get it back?

– – –

Garbage

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Something I think you wouldn’t find surprising (especially after visiting India) is that there is garbage everywhere. It’s not as bad as India, perhaps because the population density is less, but there’s still garbage everywhere.

This ties directly into my rant about plastic being everywhere, of course, because where there’s not established recycling centers (and there aren’t even many in the US, most of our recycling gets shipped to China), plastic just gets tossed. And especially plastic bags. It makes me wish I’d brought a reusable bag to take to market. You could try and sell them here… but they cost money… and people want what’s cheap (*ahem*).

So you knew this. And you’re like, “Kyle, why did I need to see that picture of garbage?” Well, the reason is because I think it’s a good thing.

Hold up. How is having garbage everywhere a good thing?

Well, that is not to say garbage itself is good. Obviously it’s bad, and for my part I do my best to produce as little of it as possible. But despite the fact that the garbage is visible, the people here still produce about 10x less of it per capita than the people in the United States.

Uh-huh.

Now I won’t argue this is because it’s visible. I would bet this is predominately because North Americans are just plain wasteful (sorry, but it’s kinda true). But it did make me think – does seeing the garbage keep you from producing it?

In the States, the media and the man are very good about hiding our waste… which (I believe) ultimately encourages us to produce more of it. If you can’t see it, it must be gone, right? So better fill up that can again! This isn’t, of course, the conscious thought we all have, but I do believe it’s a nearly unstoppable unconscious thought. As I said, the United States produces 10x more garbage per capita than the people here… but if we could see it, if we walked by it every day, if instead of seeing a “No Swimming, Water Bad” sign because garbage was upstream we just saw the garbage itself – would we produce less garbage?

Just a thought.

– – –

Motorcycle Ride

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– – –

You Are A Gringo

So I’ve mentioned this in my posts and I’m sure some of you have noticed it. I don’t call myself an “American” anymore, I call myself a “North American.” If I don’t refer to the United States directly, I say I’m from “North America.” This is because, as I’m sure (as I hope) you’re all aware, Guatemala is in America, too.

america

So if I walked around saying I was from America, people would look at me like I was a self-absorbed idiot (which a lot of North Americans are) and say, “Yup… me too!”

I did learn, in Spanish class, to say, “Soy de los Estados Unidos –” “I am from the United States,” which was good. But I didn’t learn what exactly we should call ourselves when in places like Guatemala. I asked around, and everybody has the same answer.

First of all, there’s North America, Central America, and South America. Central America is inclusively from Guatemala to Panama. Everything below that is South America. So if you’re in Canada, the US, or Mexico, you’re North American.

You’re also a gringo, and that’s not derogatory. Wikipeda says:

Gringo is a slang Spanish and Portugese word used in Ibero-America to denote foreigners, often from the United States. The term can be applied to someone who is actually a foreigner, or it can denote a strong association or assimilation into foreign (particularly US) society and culture.

In Spanish it does not have a negative connotation. Roger Axtell, a travel etiquette expert, notes that “[t]he word gringo is not necessarily a bad word. It is slang but is derogatory only in its use and context.

So basically, it means you’re from the US and visiting Latin America.

– – –

Loose Headset? We can fix that.

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– – –

The Girl at the Pizza Place

So a surprising number of people have taken an interest in my love life since I left for this trip. In India, Indians and North Americans alike asked me over and over: “Have you met someone yet?” “Are you dating an Indian girl?” “Did you ever get to date an Indian girl?” Same here.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cross-cultural dating. I think it would be a great experience, at the least, and who knows? Maybe my future wife is Guatemalan. But I think it’s a bit more different than most people make it out to be. In the movies, you see this (and for things nobody has ever experienced for real, I really believe a lot of their ideas come from movies): Guy visits country, guy meets girl, girl speaks perfect English, girl shares his North American ideas about relationships, magical night, and blah, blah, blah.

In real life it’s more like,

“Aw, well she’s cute.” — Doesn’t speak English.

“Hey, you speak English!” — Married.

“Wait, so you’re not married?” — Doesn’t date gringos.

And so on.

And no, not even conversational Spanish is enough to flirt with. “I think that you are pretty” is not flirting, it’s blatant. There’s nothing wrong with blatant, of course, but after that, all I’ve got is, “I am from the United States. Where are you from?”

Granted, I’m not really looking, either. I’ve got my mind set on other things. I’m of the philosophy that the best way to find a great other is to not go out looking for them – they’ll come to you when the time is right. I bet if I went to a bar (there aren’t any in Itzapas, but there are in Antigua, a bus ride away) I could find at least one person, between now and the time I leave, that isn’t married, that speaks English, that would date a North American… but… so much work.

So anyways, I did meet a cute girl, and manage not to scare her off by being blatant, and I thought I might share. I was waiting at the counter of a pizzeria (Ebenizer’s Panaderia and Pizzeria, by the way) and she walked up to the counter and stood next to me. I asked her a bit about the bread, because if you remember from my first food post, there’s all different kinds with all different names, which I have still yet to learn. We exchanged names, and I’d like to say I asked her for her number, but uh, I don’t have a phone, so… it’s up to chance to see if we meet again.

And there you have it. Now stop asking. : o)

– – –

The Toilet Paper Incident

If bathroom imagery makes you uncomfortable, skip this one. For me, it’s part of travel.

As in India, “some things” are different here… one of those things being what happens after you use the toilet. In India some of the toilets themselves were different, too, but I managed to avoid most of them when it would have been necessary to, er, compromise myself.

The first and most obvious thing is that, because the water isn’t on all day long (I only get it for 2 hours in the morning; if you’re in the middle of the city, you get another 2 at lunch time, I believe), you can’t flush the toilet with the handle. You have to get water from the sink via a bucket, and dump it in.

Okay, no big deal there.

The second thing I noticed was that, at Carlos’s house, to save money, they use newspaper instead of toilet paper.

Again, no biggie, except the first time I used the bathroom, I got a reprimand about newspaper not going in the toilet because it clogs things up (that’s what the waste bin next to the toilet is for – obviously).

At the house where I’m staying, we don’t get the newspaper, so I use toilet paper. After about a week, the toilet was clogged. There’s no plunger and I’ve honestly no idea what to do besides use a plunger, so the next day at work I told Carlos, who promptly exploded.

Apparently toilet paper also clogs the pipes. I find this hilarious. I was torn between laughing and feeling super embarrassed as Carlos railed at me for a good thirty seconds about it. I mean, nobody likes clogged pipes, so his fit was understandable, and if I were him I probably would have felt the same way. But having flushed down my toilet paper all my life, even in India, I just couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Anyways, there you have it – when in Guatemala, TP goes in the trash.

Oh, and to unclog the toilet, you just dump water in until the water pressure forces the clog down. The toilet will overflow, but all the bathrooms are either semi-outdoors or have a drain, so the water just disappears.

– – –

Quieres Ir a Mi Casa?

I mentioned this in an e-mail to my sponsors a while ago, but in Spanish, the subject of a sentence isn’t really necessary, because the verb conjugates differently for every pronoun. For instance, the verb estar – “to be” becomes estoy with “I” and estas with “you.” So in English you have to say “I am…” but in Spanish you can just say “estoy…” and you’re good to go. The conjugation implies the subject.

While this is somewhat artistic, it does mean more memorization (different conjugations for “I,” “you,” “he/she/it,” “we,” “you (plural),” and “them”) and it means if you guess wrong… well, read on, good friend.

I was talking to my shop owner friend Esperanza and was getting ready to go. I tried to say, “I want to go to my house,” but what I said was “Quieres ir a mi casa.” This translates to: “Wanna come back to my place?”

Fortunately she knows me well enough to know I wouldn’t ask a married, older women that question, (besides the fact that my Spanish isn’t perfect). What I wanted to say was quiero ir a mi casa. We both laughed, I a little more nervously than she, because I don’t really like making mistakes like that. She is a wonderful person, I am finding out. She understood completely and thought nothing of it.

Conjugations: They just might get you laid. Or slapped. Probably slapped. Quiero.

– – –

The Frying Pan

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So if you’ve been paying attentioned you know that I’ve been complaining just a little bit about the state of the frying pan here. It’s what I call “gluestick,” or “prostick,” at the least, instead of the ever-so-covetable “non-stick.” It is quite literally impossible to cook anything on it without getting something stuck to the pan, which results in burnt whatever-it-is and a laborious clean-up. No fun for anyone.

So I immediately went on a hunt for a better frying pan, and as it ends up, I found one. It’s a 12″ teflon-coated nonstick pan and cost me Q60 ($9) and they had to order it in for me. SO. WORTH IT.

If you know me (or if you read that post about the dinner I did in India) you know I take pride in my ability to cook, and I guess I wasn’t so aware that centered so much around cookware. I mean, obvioulsy cookware plays a part, but I guess I’ve just never used cookware that was that bad before. I didn’t know it existed.

Needless to say, I’m a much happier camper, and I’ve had perfect french toast every morning since I bought the pan.

Next up: No bake brownies.

– – –

Economic Surmising

Something my readers found interesting (and somewhat impossible to believe) about India were the income brackets. So I thought I might do roughly the same for Guatemala.

As I don’t have internet access while at home (where I type my blogs) I will try and remember to do some research to verify this before I post. I’d bet something valuable (not as valuable as my new frying pan though), though, that I’m going to forget. So, sorry about that.

I’ve got two things I want to calculate for you. The first is the income of Chiqui’s, the living-room-restuarant I now favorite, which was mentioned in my latest post about food. The second is the income of the various internet cafes around town, one of which I’ve taken a liking to and have started getting to know the owner of (who is 17, by the way, and in more of a high-school-drop-out sort of way than an entrepreneurial sort of way).

So let’s get to it.

Chiqui charges Q15 (about $2) per meal every meal, no exceptions. To date I have been there four times and have only seen one other customer, so it’s safe to say I either have really bad timing or I’m the only customer. She’s only “officially” open for lunch, so for simplicity, let’s just say she has one full house at lunch every day. There’s four tables each with four sides, so that’s 16 people. At Q15 a plate, she makes Q240 ($34) per day. She’s only open 6 days a week, so that’s about 313 days a year, so that’s Q75,000 ($10000) a year. That’s not her profit, of course, that’s just the amount she collects. If she keeps 75% of that (in the US the standard profit margin is 50% — not sure what it is here, so I’ll be generous) it means $7500 a year.

Okay, not bad, considering in India the 99% makes less than $1000 a year.

Now, the internet guy.

Internet is Q4 an hour. He’s got five computers, and they are hardly ever all being used, so for simplicity let’s just say an average of half of them are used for the entire day, and he’s open 10 hours a day (about right – he’s not open yet when I walk to work at 9 AM, he’s closed for lunch, and closes for the day about 10 PM). So that’s 2.5 customers * 10 hours * Q4 an hour = Q100 a day. He’s open 7 days a week, unlike Chiqui, and for simplicity let’s assume no holidays, which puts him at Q36,500 a year, or about $5000. Now, his operating costs are no doubt higher, because the business isn’t run out of his home, he’s gotta pay for electricity (which is expensive here), and he’s gotta pay for internet. So let’s put him at a 50% profit margin, which means he makes $2500 a year.

Again, not bad – he’d be in the top 1% if he were in India.

As a reference, a round-trip ticket to the States costs $700, and a US visa about $150, I believe. Also, my monthly budget here (which does NOT include rent) is $200/mo, or $2400/year.

I don’t think I have enough information for another, but it would be interesting to surmise about some of the market vendors – almost everything here is Q2-3/lb. ($0.30-$0.45), and they only sell on Sundays. Hm…

4 thoughts on “Short Stories (G1)

  1. Jenna says:

    Great post! I like the little stories format, it was like getting 12 blog posts today! And it works very well for little study breaks 😉

  2. Grandma says:

    Regarding garbage – I agree that we are a wssteful people – and greedy. I grew up in depression years and we saved ‘everything’, or used and reused until it couldn’t be used anymore so I still have a hard time throwing stuff away if usable.
    Then about ‘bathrooms – or toilets – growing up on a farm with no bathroom, we had the OUTHOUSE and used newspaper. But it wasn’t thrown in the trash! How exciting when peach season came and we got to use the tissue like paper that each individual peach wss wrapped in. Fun ? ! ? !

  3. Marilyn says:

    Fascinating blog. I agree, “what happened to the world and how do we get it back?”

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Food (The Second Course)

6 de Junio

Country/Day: Guatemala/23

Bikes Fixed: 34

Bikes/Day Average: 1.48

IMG_8866

So that makes it… more appetizing?

I decided to stop putting up the number of bicimaquinas I’ve built because, well, it less than one, and it wasn’t going up. To be clear, bicicletas (regular bicycles) come first. Bicimaquinas are extra. It’s likely I’ll get back to them later in the trip, but given the shipment of 300+ bicycles from Bikes Not Bombs a few weeks ago, we’ve enough bicycles on our hands to last a while.

Anyways, this will be another post about food.

“Another one, Kyle? Gee, there must be a lot of food there.” Well, yes… yes there is. That’s one reason. The other is it’s easy to write about, and I’ve sort of been constantly recharging since I’ve got here. I’ll write more about this later, but essentially, there’s a lot to get used to, and the fact that I don’t get much sleep really tops it off (I was woken up at 5:15 this morning by some fireworks, aside from the regular noise the ducks make, and sleeping on an air mattress on a tile floor). But I promise that once I get things figured out (which may involve convincing Carlos to invest in a mattress) I will write about other things. Namely, I’ve got to do my synopsis of his shop, how bicycles and the bicimaquinas fit into the way of life here, what the Saturday market is like, and probably a “short stories” post or two.

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(singing) Oh chicken salad…

(points if you know the reference)

So first off (but without a doubt the least important): Chicken. Chicken is huge here. It’s… well, it’s the chicken of the south. The rice of China. The baguette of France. The beer of Germany. The funny part is there’s a lot of advertising around it, and I don’t think it’s at all necessary. Chicken is just a part of the way of life here. I don’t know if it’s the easiest meat for them or what, but everybody loves it. Anyways, some of the chicken places use photos of Chicken Little, from his own movie, Chicken Little, to appeal to people (see first photo above). I think is hilarious, because it doesn’t make me want to eat chicken. He looks horrified in a sort of cartoony way… (he is, after all, a cartoon). I don’t know if that’s supposed to make it easier to accept the fact that you killed a cartoon character or what but… anyways.

For my part, I’m not much of a chicken person. I’m not really a meat person, actually. It’s not that I’m vegetarian, I just don’t like meat very much. So it took me a while to figure out places to eat… because the most obvious places to eat are the burger-and-french-fry places (I mentioned this in my last post about food). Anyways, I asked Carlos about it, and he suggested a restaurant called Chiqui’s (pronounced “cheeky’s”).

Chiqui’s is a godsend.

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As proof, the wall behind me is covered in Jesus posters.

It’s a nice lady named… you guessed it… Chiqui. Her husband, dressed in slacks, seats you in their living room, and she comes out and suggests things to you depending on what she has. The interesting thing is that they are only “officially” open for lunch. Carlos said for dinner, I had to knock. Since I eat lunch at work, I’ve only been there for dinner. After inspecting me through the window, Chiqui’s husband seated me, and then out came Chiqui.

(by the way, there aren’t really “menus” in Guatemala. There are sometimes price boards, but don’t expect to get to sit down and look up every word you don’t know… for the most part the chef will tell you what’s available, and if there’s a line, you have to make up your mind pretty quick. So far I haven’t ordered anything I haven’t liked, but sometimes it’s anybody’s guess what I order for myself. I haven’t gotten all the food words down… there are a lot of them.)

So basically, it’s home cooking… Guatemalan style.

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Beef spinach with a side of refried beans and rice.

One of the cool things about eating in Guatemala is that it’s cheap. To date I haven’t paid more than Q18 (about $2.50) for a meal. Sometimes this almost makes sense – it means fried food, for instance, is really expensive (compared to, say, the dollar menu at McDonald’s, the price might even be the same. This is better than McDonald’s, but it’s still fried food). Usually though, it’s a really good deal. Chiqui’s, for instance, is Q15 ($2) every single time. Ya. Awesome.

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Chili patties… with a side of beans and rice.

The Q15 includes a main course, a side of rice and beans, some bread (or tortillas, but I always have those for lunch, so I opt for bread), and coffee. If she’s feeling generous, she’ll throw in some sweet bread for dessert. Did I mention it’s awesome? On top of that, Chiqui is really nice. It makes me really happy just to go and talk to her, and she’s patient with my elementary Spanish.

As you saw above, Maria (Carlos’s wife) did do something beside the usuals for lunch one day – hot chicken salad. Admittedly, nothing you couldn’t get in the states (thought being it was homemade, it was pretty good), but worth mentioning. Oh, and yes, it did come with tortillas.

Also, I haven’t taken photos of the burgers, because… they are burgers.

The only downside to the meals here is the portion size. I think it’s because, despite being cheap, food is still labor-intensive. Especially after India, where the name of the game is “eat until you explode,” I constantly find myself hungry. Even without India as a reference, I’m a heavy eater with rediculous metabolism (a girlfriend once called me, affectionately of course, “the garbage disposal”) so I’m still trying to figure out those “filler” foods (I’ll talk about oatmeal in a bit here).

But what of desserts? There’s always sweet bread, and chocolate is available, though expensive. There’s also a cake shop which sells slices of cake for Q6 (about $0.80)… not bad, but still a but expensive in my opinion. No, my favorite thing to do is to get choco fruita. What does this mean? Well…

–        Take some fruit

–        Freeze it

–        Dip it in chocolate fondu, which promptly freezes over it

–        Eat it

There’s a shop in the center of down that does everything from choco banana to choco papaya to choco fresco (strawberries)… there’s a list of about ten fruits they’ll do. Most cost Q1 ($0.12) but the smaller ones (two strawberries, for instance) are Q0.50. You can also pay Q1 extra to dip it in mani, or (crushed) peanuts.

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omg.

So good… so cheap. If you eat it right away the chocolate will melt in your mouth, but you have to work at the fruit a bit. The fruit is usually overripe, so if you let it thaw a bit, it will melt into your mouth with the chocolate. It’s easy to let it get too far though, and I mean… chocolate… I’m impatient.

For snacks and whatnot, I’m happy to say I found a place that sells pizza by the slice – sort of. It’s Q10 (about $1.40) for three slices of pizza. They aren’t huge slices, but still worth it every now and then, especially if it’s the only source of “real” cheese available. For those of you who don’t know, cheese is my favorite food, and when not on pizza the only cheese you can get is queso fresco – cheese with a more powdery consistency and a bit of alcohol to keep it from spoiling (refrigeration is expensive). It’s alright, but not the same. At all. Not even close (yes, I am a cheese fanatic).

– – –

As far as cooking at home goes, not much has changed. I was able to buy a metal spatula, which has helped with the… er… the “frying pan,” if you could call it that (I’d use some choice words if it were up to me). Before the spatula it was a bamboo stick or a fork, either of which resulted in lots of burnt stuff. Just today, however, I was able to hunt down a nonstick frying pan (don’t worry mom, I bought a plastic spatula to go with it)… CANNOT. WAIT. to cook something that isn’t partly burnt. Namely, french toast. That’s right. I have a craving. Also, it will be a nice break from plain eggs and plain bread while still using both of them (they are staples here).

I also found out you can get oatmeal, which has always been a staple of mine (my favorite staple, by the way, is pasta with veggies and cheese, but without the cheese, it’s just not the same. So much so that I’m trying to get the pizza place to sell me cheese). It’s actually a bit more expensive here than in the US, at Q9 ($1.20) a small bag (about 5 servings), whereas you can get a gallon can in the states (about 20 servings) for $2-3… if my memory serves me. Not bad, but still interesting.

Is it cheating if I cook the things I’d cook anyways? I have Guatemalan food at lunch and sometimes at dinner… and sometimes it’s not all that different from North American food (“North American,” by the way, apparently means everything above Mexico. Yay for political correctness!).

As a bonus, the peach trees are starting to ripen, and there’s a crab apple tree in the yard, too.

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Carlos takes most of them, but I did get a few to munch on. No complaints here – fresh peaches! And no chemicals. Hmm…

Okay, that’s all for now. This weekend I plan on visiting either Antigua or Chimaltenega, so I’ll have stories to tell. I have other travel plans, too – Lake Atitlan, a volcano or two, an adventurous bike ride through the countryside. You know, the usual – but also other weekends, so there’s no rush. Worst case, I’ll take a week off before heading home.

‘Till next time – probably late this weekend.

2 thoughts on “Food (The Second Course)

  1. Jenna says:

    I WANT TO GO TO THERE! Anywhere where you can get 3 slices of pizza for $1.40 and all other meals of delicious rice and beans for $2 sounds like my kinda place. (Can you just pay $4 and eat twice as much?) I also happen to love queso fresco, so I think I’d get by on the cheese front.

    Also, you’ve clearly been out of the country for too long… Here in “North America” a piece of cake costs like 3 or 4 times that much! No fair…

  2. Marilyn says:

    The sun and good food must be getting to you. A pound bag of cheese here is $5 on sale. The chocolate covered fruits sound delicious. Glad you’re cooking French toast – that has always been one of your favorites. The portion sizes look generous to me – your metabolism must still be revving from your 4,400 mile bike ride. Enjoy Antigua or Chimaltenega.

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How I Learned Spanish

2 de Junio

Country/Day: Guatemala/19

Bikes Fixed: 25ish

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5

Bikes/Day Averagish: 1.31

…in ten easy steps!

I haven’t learned Spanish yet, of course, so there won’t be ten steps, but I thought I might at least outline a few of them for you.

(1) Develop a fascination with France and french culture. Because of this, take French – about seven years should do. In your last your develop a temporary fear of foreign travel and turn down the opportunity to actually go to France. Once you reach college, decide you’re not going to major in French and that you know enough to get by if you decide to try that whole “travel abroad” thing again. Test out of the foreign language requirement.

 

(2) Don’t speak French again with any seriousness until you finally go to France – 2018 sounds good (since your future employer allows a 5 week sabbatical  every fifth year, and pays airfare for countries you haven’t been to).

 

(3) During your time in college, imagine that Spanish might, at some point in your life, be important Despite being less interesting than French, it is much more widely spoken, and much more proximal to your home (excluding Canada… sorry bro). Also, have lots of AP credit related to your degree, so you have lots of freedom to take whatever classes you want. Take a year of Spanish.

Due to (1) you find this year to be not terribly difficult. While about 50% of the vocabulary is significantly different in Spanish than in French, most of it is similar (and some is exactly the same). Sentence formation is almost exactly the same. What you really struggle with is pronunciation and vocabulary – your brain has been tricked into thinking all the words are the French ones, so when you don’t know a word you brazenly use the French one. Oops – half the time anyways.

 

(4) Don’t speak Spanish again seriously until just before you go to Guatemala, almost exactly a year after your last Spanish class. You thought maybe your first Spanish-speaking experiences would be in Argentina, given your desire to learn an authentic tango… but it’s just as well.

 

(5) Buy a Spanish dictionary and start looking up useful words and phrases.

 

(6) Go to Guatemala and speak Spanish (alternatively, don’t speak Spanish, and die). Unlike India, very few people here know English (I count two so far – Carlos knows some vocabulary, and there’s a clerk who asks, “How are you today?” if he’s outside when I walk by). Talk to your employer in Spanish. Order food in Spanish. Pay for things in Spanish. Ask where things are in Spanish. Ask how to get drinking water…. in Spanish. If you don’t know the words, play charades, or just smile and nod and hope it doesn’t cost very much (or upset your stomach too much).

Become flabbergasted because for the most part people speak too fast and there’s way too much vocab for you to have learned in the few days you’ve actually been speaking Spanish. For instance, in India there were just rupees, so you assume in Guatemala there are just quetzals, when in fact each quetzal is broken up into 100 centavos.

Be extra confused because of the varied ways in which people pronounce monetary amounts. You didn’t get that far in your year of Spanish but you’re sure it would have been perfect Spanish every time: Costa dos quetzals, senior – This costs two quetzals, sir. In fact, people throw numbers out and around and upside down just like in English: Dos cincuenta – two-fifty, which could be Q250 or Q2.50, but you don’t understand the number cincuenta yet so you’re wondering how much that is.

Ask a kind lady at the market, “Cuanta cincuentas en uno quetzal?” – how many fifties are in one quetzal? Get a strange look in response.

 

(7) Speak Spanish more than is necessary. Meet people. Make friends, even if it’s just a store clerk who wants to learn more about the US (namely, they want you to invite them over because an invitation is the only way they can get a visa. Surprise them by mentioning that things are actually more expensive in the US than in Guatemala). Use your dictionary like crazy, and carry it with you wherever you go – the one time you forget it is the one time you need it most. Like that time you had to buy toilet paper. Have fun miming that one.

Your friends will pronounce numbers slowly, because it’s the one time they remember you’re not fluent. Kindly remind them you’ve got numbers down pat. Then they will take off on another topic at a million miles an hour.

 

(8) Become frustrated that your dictionary doesn’t have every word you want, including some important ones like “spatula.” How are you supposed to buy a spatula if you don’t know how to ask for it? (Note: If you can see the spatula, you’ve already figured out how to ask for “this here” in steps 5 and 6). Oh, and “ketchup –” you hate it, but of course it’s on every burger everywhere. You like tomatoes, though, so you can’t say “no tomatoes.” You try “no condiments,” and think you’re set when the response is a smile and a nod, but to no avail – your burger is just the same as before. Decide to go back to the “ask your employer” part of (6) as you do when you need help a dictionary can’t provide.

 

(9, 10)…I’ll tell you when I’m fluent. I assume they have something to do with “keep trying” (don’t get the idea that (8) has put me off at all, it was just worth mentioning).

 

– – –

 

So, I’m doing alright. I don’t think I’m at a loss for anything – sometimes it feels like I can communicate pretty effectively. For instance, I’ve got almost everything I need now (being the first volunteer since the split with Maya Pedal, and thus the first in new quarters, I’ve had to buy kitchen towels and a mirror, among other thigns). At market today I had a semi-unsuccessful hunt for a frying pan (a word my dictionary actually has) – “semi” unsuccessful because I did understand what was going on, so felt pretty good about my Spanish, and did eventually find a store and get them to order one in for me.

That being said, I don’t want you to imagine that the conversations on my blog at are all fluent. There are some sentences I have down pat, but most are full of “uh”-ing, starting at the sky while I remember a word or a conjugation, staring at the floor while I make sure it’s not French, flipping through my dictionary, and “yes!”-ing when someone guesses at my charade… quickly followed by “no…”-ing when I see, in fact, they’ve guessed wrong.

I am proud to say I catch myself thinking in Spanish from time to time, which I think is a big deal. There would probably be more of it were it not for the complete works of Sherlock Holmes which I find myself nosing into every day (and next will be either Neil DeGrass Tyson or Herbert George Wells). All the same, these thoughts are pretty elementary, as my vocabulary is still pretty small. With help from my trusty Merriam-Webster, dare I say I’ve at least doubled it since my arrival, though that may not be saying much.

Also, some things in Spanish are remarkably easy. For instance, the name of almost any store usually ends in some form of “rie” or “ria,” and the root is usually whatever they sell or make. Bakeries, for instance – the word for “bread” being pan, are panaderias. Barber shops (“hair” is pelo) are peluquerias, though admittedly a bit confusing as the word for “movie” is pelicula. Hardware stores are ferreterias, the word for “iron” being ferreo (no doubt referring to the early hardware stores selling mostly iron tools and wares). I was even able to guess the word for “glass” upon passing a vidrieria – a window shop. And so on. Quite conveniently, almost all the shops are labeled in this way. Even if it has a company name, first it says what kind of shop it is (Pasteleria Lorenita, for instance, is a cake shop called “Lorenita”).

Aside from shop names, something else that makes Spanish easy is what I’m going to call “theme words.” In English, you cook food in a kitchen and eat it in a dining room. Honestly, it’s all very confusing and I can’t blame anyone for taking their time in learning that hubbub of verbosity – the words “cook,” “food,” “kitchen,” “eat,” and “dining” all have absolutely nothing to do with each other. In Spanish, on the other hand, you cocina comida in a concina and le come in a cuarto de cena. Really all you have to do it remember that anything food related starts with the letter “c” and they all come to mind right away. In English, you comb your hair – now how can anyone ever be expected to remember that one? In Spanish, peinas tu pelu. Somebody had their cap on straight for at least one language.

There are, of course, some difficult and nonsensical words around, but I think being from arguably the most pompous country in the world (one of only three still using the US system of measurement, just to get that argument started) and being fluent in one of the most confusing languages in the world I really have no place to comment.

 

Instead, I think some comida is in order. Hasta luego.

4 thoughts on “How I Learned Spanish

  1. Jenna says:

    😀 This one was great! I can’t wait to hear 9 and 10… and to hear you speak at least conversational Spanish when you get back!

    • Kyle says:

      I am glad you liked it. : o) And thanks for the comment! Yes, while I have reservations about my Spanish skills, I sometimes surprise myself. Just today I had a conversation with Antonio (one of Carlos Sr.’s sons) about world travel and future job things.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Are you reading Sherlock Holmes in English or Spanish? I assume English, but I’m curious. Did you intentionally say “pretty elementary”? Oh, my dear Watson! Many meanings there. Great blog post. I imagine that other than the speed at which Spanish is spoken, you will be fairly fluent when you return home. What a great adventure!

    • Kyle says:

      English. Funny thing though, I bought the book in India… and it’s got a US price tag on it. : o)

      Yes, I did say that intentionally. : o) I am glad you appreciated it.

      Glad you like the post. Thanks for the comment!

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