Friday, 9-14-01

A rather somber greeting from Guatemala.

Since what is on everybody's minds right now is the events in New York and Washington DC, I will start by discussing our awareness and reaction here in Guatemala.  I walked into the library at school Tuesday morning at 8:00 (U. S. Central time) for my tutoring session, and the librarian asked, "Have you heard the news?"  She then told me about the airliner attacks which she had seen on their TV only by accident.  She also had headlines on the Web (the school has DSL connection), but it was pretty clogged and not responding well.  As you can imagine, the news and rumors flew all over the school.  At 9:25 (class break) the Junior and Senior High teachers were called in for conference with the Director of the school.  Dr. Miller urged all teachers to take a deep breath and not panic, she read a news bulletin stating all that was known at the time, said that if teachers had friends or family in the affected area to use the school phone to (try to) contact, but to remember that this is Guatemala, and life goes on here.  The school is open for business, and will remain so unless circumstances change.  She had already talked to the elementary teachers, and age-divided assemblies for the 4th-grade-and-up students were arranged to discuss the situation with them. 

As a Christian, what
should my response be
to recent events in the news?
See what ONE PASTOR has to say.

Tuesday night we found Voice of America on a Guatemalan station (somebody told us where it was), and we were listening to news.  Then we took a bus over to another teacher's apartment and watched CNN, BBC, and CBS on his TV (taxi for Q20 to come home after dark).  While phone lines were clogged and prevented e-mail connections earlier in the evening, they had freed up by bed-time.  Wednesday morning all the local papers had much space devoted to pictures and stories of the events, and we have been listening to updates from VOA.

Wednesday Deb came home from school and described her Kindergarten and 3rd-grade classes.  They had not been given much if any information or chance to talk, and they were bouncing off the walls.  The Kindergarteners could only relate to what they had been seeing on TV as a "bad movie", one with the bad scenes replayed over and over, the bad guys still out there, and no happy ending.  They didn't understand at all.  Deb gathered them all on the floor with some in her lap, and told a story about a 6-year-old girl who didn't understand when President Kennedy got killed, because nobody explained it to her, thinking she was "too young".  They then spent most of the class talking about their feelings and fears (is a plane going to hit our school?), their questions.  The 3rd-graders were the same way.  After they had spent 30 minutes of a 40-minute class talking and getting answers, somebody finally asked, "Can we do some music now?"  Children are never too young to have questions or fears; don't ignore them!

Well, what HAD been intended as the big news item of this episode has been relegated to page 2, but this is to announce the GRAND OPENING of my web site at long last.  Type in "www.webwizardry.net/~ron", and you will see what I have been working on for the last three weeks.  The "~" is the key in the upper left-hand corner of your keyboard, and is called a "tilde" (til-dee).  Webwizardry is my son's web site, and he is hosting mine.  You will find that my page is not fancy, but I coded it all myself (with the help of my wife), and I hope you like it.  It has been interesting scanning and converting all those pictures to web format, then coding them into the pages.  LOVE the scanner, although I am looking forward to getting a digital camera like my brother-in-law's that can do 10-second video, as some shots are tough to time otherwise, like fire-breathers.  If any of you find the text too scrunched up between pictures, try widening your browser window, and that should relieve it.  I have thought about making some of the pictures so that you can enlarge them, but that calls for more files and coding.  Will let you know if that happens.  Those of you who had "sneak previews", since then I have added more pictures and fixed a broken link I had missed.  There are still a couple of places that take a while to load, especially if you have a slow computer, but be patient.  In the future I will notify you when there are new pictures to look at (like ones for this episode).

The next big excitement was last Saturday; we caught a bus that runs past the central market across from the presidential palace in Zone 1, and got off to check it out.  What a place!  Don't think it is as large as the market area in Chichicastenango, but at least here it was all under a roof (actually mostly underground).  There were two levels of "tipicos", typical Guatemalan stuff, on one side and produce on the other, and a split-level with a food court Guatemalan style and more produce.  In this market you can find all sorts of souvenirs, supplies for making crafts, blankets, clothing, pottery, baskets, bolts of native-design fabric, jewelry, etc, etc.  Each cubicle can be locked up (some were not open), and the place was a gridded maze of aisles.  We skipped the open produce area, but if it grows in Guatemala, it was there for sale.

Candied fruit & other yummies

Many people don't
want their picture taken
After a while, everything started looking like everything we had just looked at, so it was time to eat.  A lot of the food places also look alike, but we passed one that was serving some guys, and what they had looked good.  Came back to that one, and she invited us into the cooking area to check out what she had to offer in the pots.  What I had was a kind of beef stew over rice, and it was delicious.  Deb had chicken soup with rice, and it had a whole drumstick in it.  With drinks included that tasted like Kool-aid, we paid Q17 (about $2.18) for both.  Such a deal!

A comment here about the food.  In the regular restaurants the food  is safe.  From the little stands along the street, if they cook it in front of you it is probably safe. Avoid pre-cooked and fresh fruit and vegetables, unless you can peel it.  A typical thing you see at stands is bags with sliced fruit or fresh juice (drink it through a straw) which look tempting but are risky, best avoided.  Bottled water and soft drinks are available everywhere, and are safe.  In most restaurants, if you ask for water they offer "agua pura", bottled water.

After we left the market we were standing across the street waiting to resume our bus ride of exploration, when Deb suddenly let out a yell and started running.  Somebody had yanked her gold rope bracelet (a Christmas present from me and her favorite) off her wrist, and was running down the street.  Dredging up the memory of a skit I had done in Mexico with our youth group, I started yelling, "Ladrón! Ladrón!" ("Thief! Thief!").  Somebody, hearing my yell, started chasing him, but he had too much lead, and got around a second corner and disappeared in the crowd.  Thankfully, Deb's wrist wasn't seriously injured, just some red scrape marks, but the event sure messed up an otherwise beautiful day.  She commented that she had been warned, but was distracted, thinking about the bus.  My wallet was under an open tee-shirt, so I wasn't too worried about that, but that gold bracelet was just too tempting.  I hope it broke coming off and didn't give him much satisfaction.  At any rate, I'm sure he wasn't expecting the kind of response he got out of a couple of "gringos".  Well, we are told in Scripture not to hold posessions too tightly, so I guess this was an illustration of that principle, forcefully applied.

City Buses

Converted U. S. School Bus
I have mentioned the buses here, and trying to ride them.  They are cheap; the red (usually) city buses all have route numbers in the front window and cost Q.75 or Q1 to ride (except that the one we rode on a Sunday was Q1.25; to make up for fewer riders?).  I discovered, however, that there can be variations in a number.  Bus #1, for example, that I have ridden from the school, seems to have three variations in the route.  I have only mapped one of them.  Then there are the "chicken buses", so-called because they can be seen carrying all sorts of produce and, yes, live chickens on occasion.  They are privately owned, and each company has its own name on the side and destinations in the front window, but I haven't tried mapping any of them. I do know to ride "Rutas Josefinas" from the school, which gets me closer to home than #1, but has at least two variations that I know of.  It also costs Q1.50.  Their buses all have numbers on the side, but seem to be individual bus #s, not route.  I haven't ridden any of the other companies.

Payment is different, also.  On the city buses, you pay the driver when you board, and he usually hands you a receipt.  On the private buses there is a guy standing in or hanging out of the doorway, calling out the destination and trying to attract passengers; you pay him.  When I get on at the school I don't pay.  After we get to a stretch of no stops this guy starts moving through the bus and collecting fares from everybody.  It is interesting watching him move through a crowded bus, making change as he goes.  Subsequent passengers pay as they get on.  I have seen no indication of monthly passes, and there are no transfers; if you get off you pay again when you get back on.  For us, that's not a problem, as Q.75 is about $.10 and Q1.50 is $.20.

How does he see?

Another interesting thing you can see on the buses is guys getting on at a stop, and trying to sell you stuff, or just begging for money.  I have seen at least a couple with I. D. cards, so there must be a licensing system or something, but they just get on, make their pitch, move down the aisle to (hopefully) sell or collect, then get off at the next stop.  Two guys that got on and played music I gave Q1 to because I enjoyed the music, but usually I ignore them.  Cards with religious or humorous sayings seem to be popular, but usually I can't understand what they are saying.  One guy dressed as a clown seemed to be doing political satire, but I'm not sure.

Then there are the street vendors, hawking anything from fresh bananas to newspapers to cell-phone chargers.  They wait for a red light, then move among the cars.

A similar (but sad) sight is the kids who, at a red light, get out in the intersection and turn cartwheels or "breath fire" (squirt a mouthful of fuel, and light it with a torch), then try to collect money from the cars before the light turns green.  Oh, yes, somebody usually gives them something, or they wouldn't keep doing it.  But you know the fuel for the "firebreathers" is poisoning them.  Have also seen what appears to be an American "hippy", juggling for money the same way.

I finally found some maps that work fairly well to show where we live, have added a Map Link on my home page.  The problem has been that the map we use, with Guatemala on one side and Guatemala City on the other, is huge, too large to scan.  It is very useful for finding our way, however.

Street sign with advertising

Speaking of maps, addresses here are interesting.  The city is divided into zones, with Zone 1 being the oldest, the heart of the city, and 2 though 10 in a rough counterclockwise spiral twice around it.  Then Zone 11 starts at the bottom left, and 12 through 19 continue to circle around the city.  Within each zone, the streets are (now) numbered, with Avenidas running basically north and south, Calles running east and west.  There are also major Diagonal streets, and a few areas like Zone 4 where there are Rutas and Vias where the grid is turned 45 degrees.  Individual addresses name the street they are on, then the lower cross-street plus the number of meters from that intersection, then the zone.  Our address, then, is "Once Calle, cinco cero dos, Zona diez", which translates as "11th Calle, 5-02, Zone 10".  5th Avenida does not go through at that point, and that confuses some cabbies.  Oh, and then we are in "Apartemento B-uno", as there are A, B, C, and D, with four apartments each.  When you understand the Zones and the way the numbers work, you can find anything from the address.  Most intersections have street signs on one corner, and many corner buildings (or walls) will have the Calle or Avenida on them. 
A problem we discovered on the buses, however, is that in the older sections like Zones 1, 2, and 3, the Avenidas and Calles used to be all Calles, with names rather than numbers.  To find anything, you had to know every street.  Intersection signs are few or non-existent in some areas, and the corner buildings have the old names.  Many also have the new numbers above the old names, but many do not. 

No numbers!
Made it hard to map the bus route in those areas.  Which street did we just turn on?  "Calle San José" doesn't help much.  However, you can usually figure it out by watching the addresses:  if I am going north in Zone 1 and see 13-57, we are between 14th and 13th Calles, and if I can see an address on the next cross-street, say 8-94, I know I am on 9th Avenida at 13th Calle.  Usually there will be a zone sign somewhere as well, in case I didn't realize I had crossed into a different zone, and this is important, as the numbers sometimes change when you change zones.  Going north, the Calles renumber when you cross from Zone 10 into Zone 1, and again into Zone 2.  I am really glad they went to the Zones and numbered grids, as the city would be absolute chaos without them.  It is huge.

Oh, about the weather.  We are still comfortable in short sleeves, even in the evening (rare exceptions), but we are in the rainy season; it finally caught up with us.  Sometimes it rains in the afternoon, then again in the evening into the night, sometimes only at night, but something most days.  We usually carry our umbrella in the afternoon and evening, just in case.  Thursday night we had been to hear one of the teachers who is also in a local band, and it started raining fat drops just as we were getting back to the gate, and the guard was out making his night rounds of the buildings.  "Let us in, quick!"

Well, I think that's enough for this time.  Need to collect some more pictures to illustrate it.


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