Saturday, 06-01-02

Welcome to (slightly damp) Guatemala again.  Not a lot of exciting things have been going on this time to relate, but there are (hopefully) a few items of interest.

Well, the rainy season, after that false start, has finally arrived.  It started on the 16th of May with a hard thunderstorm, followed the next day with another one.  Then about three days off, then another rain.  By now we can just about figure on rain every day, or at night.  We are back to carrying our umbrellas everywhere "just in case".

If you remember back in Episode #5, I had a picture of a big hole in the ground where they were building the basement layers for a new tower.  I have been taking periodic update shots, and just in case you were wondering, HERE'S a progress report.

For those of you who haven't had enough pictures of animals at the zoo, click on PICTURES to see more.  For the rest of you, I won't bore you.

One exciting thing (at least to me; Deb is more "Ho, hum" about it) that has happened, is that I discovered that a fruit bat has been visiting our banana flowers outside our patio.  I had noticed a bat overhead one evening, and the next night took a chair out onto the walkway to watch for more.  Soon a motion or sound caught my attention, and there he was, making passes at the flowers.  Sometimes in his passes he would circle around right past my face, only a foot or two away.

Banana flowers are very different:  what looks like a giant bud hanging down is actually a series of bracts that lift one at a time to reveal about 10 long tubular flowers under each.  At least on our bananas, only the first few bunches of flowers produce bananas; the bracts continue to open with flowers, but no fruit forms.  You wind up with a bunch of bananas forming at the top, a long stalk showing where the bracts and flowers had attached (they fall off), and the "bud" at the bottom opening one to two bracts per day (actually in the evening just as the bats are coming).  Is this God's way of providing continued sustenance for the bats?  In the plantations, the commercially-grown bananas have a lot more fruit on each stalk.

The flowers will actually have drops of nectar hanging from them, and the bat I watched would make several passes at the flowers, sometimes landing momentarily, sometimes only hovering before dropping away.  Then in 3 to 5 minutes he would return to make another series of passes.  This went on for about a half hour, and I got the idea of trying to photograph him.  Two nights later I was waiting for him, my 35mm camera with a 70-250 zoom lens at full zoom, flash ready, mounted on a tripod on top of the patio wall, pointed at the flower.  Sure enough, here he came!  I fired off a shot, afraid he might not return, but he did, again and again.  I fired off several shots, some of which were too late, but some managed to capture him!  There is another stalk with a new "bud" starting to open, so will be watching that as well. For those of you who want to see better, here are a couple of ENLARGEMENTS

Speaking of animals, there is a lamp post on the corner just past the church that must have an interesting interior.  An access cover at the base doesn't fit quite tight, and there is a honeybee hive inside.  During the day there is a steady stream of bees exiting and entering the crack along one side of the plate.  Their traffic has discolored the paint along there, and I wonder how much honey is stored inside.  Not going to try to find out.  Hope workmen never have to access it.

I keep intending to tell you about shopping here, but there's always so many other things to talk about.  We do most of our grocery shopping at Paiz (say "pice"), about a mile walk from the apartment.  It is at the other end of 12th Calle in Zone 9.  Owned by the Paiz family (think "money" when you say "Paiz"), it is one of a whole chain of supermarkets all over the city.  They feature a large food section with a lot of fruit and vegetables, with a section of clothing, toys, school supplies, cosmetics, etc.
Then there are a few really big stores called Hiper Paiz (say "EE-per", think "hyper") that are a lot like Fred Meyer back home; they have everything, including a bank, a McDonald's, a music store.  If I can't find something at Paiz, I jump on a #40 bus and go out Calzada Roosevelt to the Hiper Paiz out there.  There is also one a couple of kilometers beyond Colegio Maya, and the new teachers were taken there when we first got here to shop for basic necessities.

But the Paiz is a mile away; if I only need a couple of items, there are two stores closer to home.  Three blocks away is Super Verduras ("vegetables" or "produce") that is a convenience store featuring a lot of fresh fruit and produce, and about a half mile away is La Torre, one of another smaller chain of grocery stores.  Prices are a bit higher, and the selection is less than Paiz, but for one or two items the closeness is worth it.

Then there is Cemaco, kind of like the home-furnishings section of Fred Meyer.  This is also a chain around the city, and each includes an Ace Hardware for all your hardware, tools, plumbing, and electrical needs.  Then it is in a mall, and the one on Próceres also has a Radio Shack, a food court, a Kodak one-hour photo store (she knows me by name), and of course, all the brand-name clothing and shoe stores just like at home.

Two blocks from Cemaco is the Gourmet Center, where we find the Bagel Factory.  This is the only place in the city where we have found decent bagels.  A bagel (preferably blueberry) with cream cheese is Deb's breakfast of choice during the week.

Oh, yeah, one last place:  to make Deb's enchilada pie we need enchilada sauce, and the only place we have found it is Puerta del Sol ("Door to the Sun"), a few more blocks from Cemaco, carrying a lot of imported stuff not available at Paiz.  Also just discovered that they have... (are you ready for this?...) ROOT BEER!  It is "Best Yet" brand, imported from Oklahoma.  Real root beer!  Like the whole rest of the world, Guatemalans don't do root beer.

If accustomed to this...
Would you notice this?
The government here does things in an interesting way; instead of warning you of changes, they just DO IT, and let you figure it out or protest later.  One example was 11th Calle in front of our apartments.  When we moved in it was a two-way street, so marked with "Doble Via" arrows (say "DOE-blay").  City Hall decided that it really should be one-way, as all the others in the area are, and some people got confused.  One day they just came out, changed all the arrows to say "Una Via", and stationed police at the corners to stop cross-traffic drivers from turning the "wrong" way.  Boom.  No warning, no special signs, no arrows painted on the pavement.  The next day there were no police, so people were turning into oncoming traffic.

Another example with more drastic effects was a parking issue on 6th and 7th Avenues, the main south and north avenues through Zones 4 and 9.  In front of many businesses, if cars parked there was no room for pedestrians to get between them and the building, forcing you to walk into the street to pass.  At other places, there was room for pedestrians, but the cars (especially long pickups) stuck out into the street.  City Hall decided to "fix" the two problems.  All one night and into the early morning hours, crews were busy installing rebar-reinforced concrete posts to block parking in the offending places all up and down the two avenues.  When the owners came to open their stores, they discovered that their customers had no place to park at all.  Now there's PLENTY of room for pedestrians and traffic, but not customers.  Shopkeepers being the enterprising souls they are, and keeping the needs of their customers uppermost in their minds, at least one rather large vendor "solved" the parking problem by taking sledgehammers and crowbars to the posts, and hacksaws to the rebar.  That'll show THEM!
Prensa Libre Photos

Note Old Rebar
A couple of days later I was intending to catch a bus to class on 7th Ave. at 12th Calle, except that traffic was backed up.  Figuring an accident, I started walking to get past the problem.  I kept walking, and traffic was still stopped.  Finally got down to Zone 4 (about a mile), and there was the problem. 
Police had the street completely cordoned off on both sides of the offending store, and a crew was busy reinstalling the rebar and concrete.  A group of protesters was trying to stir up enough enthusiasm to challenge the police, but that would have been really stupid, as they were prepared for trouble.  In the days afterwards, extra police were on hand to make sure the posts stayed, and they are there to this day.  Guess customers have figured out something, or gone elsewhere.

Speaking of the government doing things differently here, if you wanted to repaint all the curbs, how would you do it?  Well, here in Guatemala, they send out a crew of five guys with buckets of paint and brushes.  Each takes a section of curbing, and over a number of days I saw all the curbs in Zone 10 turn white, one block at a time.  What a way to make a living!

A project that was really more Debby's Adventure than mine was the Louis Girón May concert.  He is a Guatemalan operatic singer that seems to have pretty good credentials, according to bio sketch in the program.  He has sung in many operas around the world, and currently teaches here in the City.  This concert was at the National Theater, free by invitation, sponsored by the Paiz Family Foundation (remember "money"?), in honor of 25 years of his career.  It had the Guatemalan National Symphony Orchestra guest-conducted by a friend from Costa Rica, a choir of various volunteers (that's where Deb came in), and featured Louis (a baritone) and three other soloists, two women from Mexico (a soprano and a mezzo-soprano), and a tenor from Venezuela, all friends of Louis, and all very good.

Deb got involved through Eber Morales, our music director at Union Church and also the rehearsal conductor for the choir, and Juliana, a woman in the choir at church who has sung under Louis before.  Actually, we both could have sung, but when I found out it was all operatic songs in various languages and was supposed to be memorized, I said, "No, thank you".  Too much work for me, along with my Spanish.  Turns out that they used music after all, so I could have done it, but instead I had a good seat and enjoyed the concert along with Peggy, a single teacher at Maya.

Deb had expected a higher level of musicianship from the other members of the choir, given the nature of the concert, but said that her high school choir was better than some of them, many or most of whom do not read music.  Fortunately the choir wasn't featured, only background for the soloists, so it was O. K.  And the Orchestra only got all of their music two days before the concert, so that was a concern, but they did quite well, actually.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well they did, given so little practice.  That's the difference between professional musicians and amateurs.

Deb had asked for a bunch of tickets, and was able to give out a bunch to teachers and music students at Maya.  The music is mostly well-known music from the opera world (including two songs from Carmen and one from The Barber of Seville), sung by some very good soloists, and was a very enjoyable concert.  And free is a very good price.

And a couple more Web specials: a fairly common flower around here is the hibiscus, known here as rosa de Jamaica, "Jamaican rose".  You can buy the dried flowers, from which you make tea, which is very popular.  You can also buy concentrated pulp, which you mix with sugar for juice, and we each drink a cup of that in the mornings.  Very tasty!  In some restaruants you can also order rosa de Jamaica liquados, a fruit drink made with either milk or water, although Deb's favorite is sandia, watermellon.

And I do like flowers, of which there are a multitude not seen in the States.  One I find interesting is what I call the "bottle-brush tree" because the flowers look like my bottle brush back home.  No idea what it is actually called.

And speaking of fruit, here are some common sights.  The wagon on the left (note the delux wheels) can be pulled by him from place to place, although he may set up in a good spot and stay there.  The other vendor has a fixed location, but both offer fresh fruit and bags of sliced fruit to passers-by. If you watch him peel it and slice it, O. K., but otherwise avoid the bags.  I have also seen rougher carts of fruit with large iron-rimmed wheels being pulled down the street, even through heavy traffic, and yes, the man is his own "pony".  Pineapples, oranges, grapefruit, mangos, papayas, and coconuts are the common fruits for sale here right now.

Oh, a piece of great news is that another (single) teacher just moved into one of our apartments (tired of paying higher rent where he was), and HE HAS A CAR.  Deb can ride to school with him instead of taking the shuttle, which means she can get up almost an hour later than before.  She is thrilled.

But school is drawing to a close for this year; that means that we have been here for 10 months already.  A "Thank You" dinner from the PTA, and an End-of-school/Farewell party for staff and teachers poolside at a teacher's place.  Final concerts, graduations to play for.  Other teachers count days; Deb has been counting concerts.  Losing some teachers, getting some new ones this summer.

But the end of school means Summer Vacation, and it is official:  we are going to Versailles, 15 minutes from Paris!
Deb has arranged a "house swap" with a family there, who are going to our house in Oregon while we stay in theirs.  We will also be visiting Fabian, a former exchange student in Germany; Séverine in Marseille (on the Mediterranean), a job intern when she stayed with us; and Nacho in Spain.  Don't think we will make it to see Wojtek ("VOY-tek") in Poland; just too far away.  Another trip.  For a larger map of France, click HERE.

Then after Europe we come home to Oregon for a couple of weeks, to work on the house, finishing some stuff we didn't get done before we left, filing our taxes, visiting Cornell, the zoo, church, etc.  It will be a short, busy time before we head back here to get ready for school again.  I will then finish Curso Tres at IGA, and after a month in France (and all my French resurfacing from 35 years ago) I am going to NEED the review before I start Curso Cuatro the 22nd of August.

Are you ready for the Eiffel Tower?  Stay tuned for next time, when Ron's Guatemala Adventures takes you to Paris, at no extra charge!


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