How To Be A Heartbreaker

My little sister is going to prom.  Last year she was nervous about having fun and so I made her a video.  This year I want to make sure her heart is protected as she is on the dance floor.  My own prom was filled with heartbreak and I didn’t want that to happen for Emmy.  So I woke up this morning and made a video, not just any video, a dance video.  Unfortunately, my internet at my house isn’t fast enough to load a video for sharing.  Fortunately, IAS was open today and so I walked up to work on a Saturday.  I passed many places I had never seen before in Xela, something that hardly ever happens to me after living here for three years.  It’s amazing how beautiful a city can be when you just open your eyes and look around a little.  But anyway, I digress.  I made it to school and then I loaded my video.  Here it is, I hope you all enjoy.

A Day in Guatemala

Guatemala, my second home, is a beautiful and diverse country.  It has everything from the beautiful Lago Atitlan, the ancient pyramids of Tikal, the magnificent cascading waterfalls of Semuc Champey, the colonial cobbled streets of Antigua shaded by active Pacaya, and a proud and busy second city in Xela crowned by Volcan Santa Maria in the distance.

When I first came to Guatemala, I expected it’s natural beauty, but I’ve been continually surprised by Guatemala’s economic and educational gaps.  About 69% of Guatemalans older than 15 are literate and according to the CIA world factbook 56% of Guatemalans live in poverty.  In Guatemala the wealthy and educated are very wealthy and, as a teacher I may say this, fairly well educated, but they are in stark contrast to the poor that make up the rest of the country.

On any day in Xela I walk by members of the lower class.  Typically dressed in tipicos (their traditional dress) chewing gum and smiling or laughing with a baby on her back and a basket of corn tortillas balanced perfectly on her head.  She works hard, but is economically just above the handicapped beggars.  Many beggars are missing legs, teeth, arms, or other essential body parts, and are forced to sit on street corners waiting for any change to fall toward them.  Both the girl and the beggar have been forced to scrape the dust of the wealthy for a living, which has not given them the time to be educated.  And without education a person can’t grow.  They are forced to do menial jobs.  One such job might be charging one quetzal (Guatemala’s currency 8 quetzals to 1 dollar) to use their bathroom on the side of the road.

Having lived in Guatemala for three years, I feel like I’ve seem most of her extremes; her natural beauty, her wealth, and her poverty, but often I don’t encounter them in one day.  But that is just what happened during the first weekend of Holy Week.  While on the bus to Guatemala City I saw poverty.  Well, I wasn’t on the bus.  I’d jumped off between Solola and the next town.  My bladder was screaming, so I was thankful when the bus stopped so the driver could grab a snack.  It was 8:30 am and the roadside was teaming with food vendors.  I could tell I had time to empty my body of the Dr. Pepper I’d drunk.  As I stepped off the bus, I saw a little boy in a plain t-shirt, no older than second grade, manning a table in front of what seemed to be a room for bathrooms.  Growing up in the states I still dislike paying for restrooms, but I am sure this kid and his family are doing all that they can for a living, so I payed him the Q and walked past the table.  What I found was not a bathroom, the floor was dirt and it didn’t have a  complete roof (tin topped the stalls so at least if it was raining I could relieve myself and not get wet), but an unfinished section of the building with three old blue wooden doors with three 10 gallon barrels filled with water in front.  Two of the doors were locked from the outside, I’m assuming the toilets behind those doors were broke beyond repair because a dirty toilet hasn’t stopped many Guatemalans from using them, and the third was occupied.

I glanced over my shoulder to see if the bus was still there.  I could see the top of the bus from the natural skylight the boy’s family had designed into their building (it’s fun to look for the positives in these situations).  As I waited in line I realized that the water in the barrels was for flushing (not all of Guatemala has running water).  Each barrel contained a small bucket so the user could tote the water into the toilet and flush down their deposit.  The first stall opened up and I wanted to bolt inside, but the man had to fill the toilet so he could flush.  Ages passed and the line wasn’t getting shorter so I decided to pick a spot in the corner and moistened the dirt bellow my feet.  After making water I turned to see the bus rolling away.  Thank goodness for that skylight.  I zipped up and ran.  I was not the only one running, a few of the other patrons were dashing toward the bus as well.  Fortunately the bus stopped and I climbed aboard and made it to Guatemala City.  In the city I saw extravagance.

After an American breakfast at IHOP, the pancakes tasted refreshingly good, I made it to Oakland Mall.  If my description of the roadside rest stop matched most of your pre-conceived notions of Guatemala, even my little sister asked me when I first moved down here if I was living in a hut, then let Oakland Mall completely destroy those notions.  It is grand; home to an aquarium, a large food court and a beautiful movie theater.  Seeing a movie was the whole reason why I went to Guatemala City.  The VIP movie theater is outfitted with fully reclining leather seats and waiters ready to take your order from a complete menu all for only 68 Q (under 10 dollars), making it the fanciest movie theater I’ve ever watched a movie in.  It felt like luxury meant for kings.

It’s funny how after three years in Guatemala a day like this has come to feel normal.  Most people would experience culture shock.  Maybe I can chalk it up to the dismissive phrase, “Only in Guatemala.”  Yes Guatemala is beautifully diverse, and yes some if it’s extremes need to change, but for now I’m going to enjoy where I live.

Dancing con Aguafiestas!

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Quick, name the best dancer you know.  If Brendan, my name, hasn’t popped up into your head, then you’re crazy.  I know how to cut a rug and then knit it back together again.  I know how to shake a leg and then skimmy.  I’m the real Jimmy.  Oh, you don’t know my name?  What?  You haven’t seen my moves.  You don’t know my skills?  I have around 129 views on my dance video (On Youtube).

Sometimes my life can be a little like my dance moves.  I’ll be having fun, the toast of the party, feeling great, and then suddenly a migraine will twirl in and nock me out.  It seems like at every dance party there is a jealous dancer who tries to outdo me, my migraines always try to do the same.  They are aguafiestas (Spanish for party poopers). The aguafiestas I suffer from are Abdominal Migraines.  They’re rare, but they do exist.

Before I spin my gruesome tale of migraines, let’s grind our way through all of the fun that was had celebrating Stephanie and Fernando’s joint bachelor parties at the lake.  Lake Atitlan is about two hours away from Xela, but that’s as the bird flies.  As the car drives it takes much, much longer.  Especially with all of the tumulos (Guatemalan for speed bump, which in Spanish actually refer to the bumps made by burial mounds).  As we drove through the first town off of the Pan-American Highway, located just off of km 148, Fernando’s car scraped bottom.  The little town of San Marcos or Filepe or Lucas or Mateo (or whatever and I’m not sure how it got sainted) has more speed bumps than miracles.  Anyway, Fernando’s car is a small red Nissan and didn’t have the clearance to climb over these pesky paved speed reducers.  Especially not with five people in the car.  Every 100 feet or so we were forced to evacuate the car in order for Fernando to ease the Nissan over the sizable bump.

A three-toed sloth would’ve moved quicker.  We’d start to pick up speed, a blazing 10 miles an hour, and a tumulo would halt us in our way.  So, we’d exit the car as the town’s people stared.  I guess they’d never seen gringos (In Guatemala) practicing the Chinese fire-drill before.  After the 5th speed bump in no less than 25 yards we decided to tell Fernando to drive ahead, leaving us to dance through the cold town.  We passed a church gathering, whose people seemed to be more interested in our dilemma than praying, and several cows who mooed empathetically, knowing what it’s like to walk over all the speed bumps.  The horses and chickens weren’t quite as friendly.  They taunted us with their neighing and clucking.  I was glad to climb back into the safety of that warm Nissan after we’d danced all the way through that little town.

Fortunately dancing through San Juan de los tumulos didn’t bring on a migraine.  Neither did driving down a steep set of switchbacks with near 1,000 foot cliffs on either side of the road.  Halfway down to the lake we had to stop, not for a speed bump, but to cool the brakes off.  If we’d gone any farther the car might have ended under one of the many burial mounds we’d driven over along the way.   As Fernando dumped a gallon or so of water onto the hot tires we danced around like guerrillas in the mist.  I do a great guerrilla dance.   Trust me.

If only the fun had continued into the next day.  Unfortunately, like those fighting guerrillas, the migraine sprung on me like a leaping ballerina by late afternoon the next day.  (If you don’t think ballerina’s are fierce just go watch Black Swan.  That movie was disturbing.)  Anyway, just like Natalie Portman’s character spun from good to bad so did my  trip.

After a relaxing morning in San Pedro, we decided it was time to make our way back to Xela.  Fernando and Stephanie were going to Antigua, so we didn’t have access to the car.   We figured we’d take a chicken buss, sadly the busses stopped running at 11 a.m. and it was now 3.  Our only option was the pay a guy to drive us all the way up to the highway in the back of his truck.  All 11 of us (some had not been as fortunate to sloth through San Juan in the Nissan) jumped in the back of a beat up pick up and we putted off.  It was already crowded and we had a long assent ahead of us, so we only stopped to pick up a few Guatemalans who only wanted a ride to the next town.

Pueblita after Pueblita we subired.  The old truck climbed smoothly until we stalled out in a little town and were forced to watch a parade of tuc tucs.  It was terrible, those slow tucs took tons of time to trek through town, but it didn’t give me a migraine.  The migraine sprung after the truck stalled on a steep incline.  I had been enjoying a magnificent view of the lake when we passed by our fifth hairpin turn and the truck stopped.  We leapt from the truck like graceful guerrillas (ok the girls were just graceful).  With the lighter load the truck roared to life and sped up the hill.  I can run for miles, but dead sprints really kill me, especially when they are straight up hill.  30 yards in I knew I was done.  Several of my friends gracefully leapt back into the truck bed, but I couldn’t do it.  As I walked up to where the truck was waiting for me my heart danced madly in my chest (A typical indicator that an unwanted dancing partner was about to force its way next to me).  30 minutes later as we bounced through San Juan de los Tumulos I tossed my lunch out the back of the pick up.  The migraine had set in.

I made it home with out throwing up again and I can say my weekend was a lot of fun, even though it ended with a migraine, which spun my weekend a direction I didn’t want it to go.  I would have rather written a story about how great of a dancer I am, but I guess you’ll know now that, even though I am an extremely talented dancer, I suffer from migraines.  I am human!  All kidding aside,  I might not be the first person you think of when it comes to dancing, but I guess that doesn’t matter.  Life’s a dance and I’m going to keep on grooving, even if a migraine leaps in my way and splashes water all over the party.