Short Stories (G1)

Country/Day: Guatemala/26

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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.

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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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