Zombie Tag and the Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Guatemala

What will I miss about Guatemala?  Not much-A whole lot.  How ready am I to live in the states again?  Very-Not at all.  You may have guessed it, I’m a mixed bag of emotions about my departure from Guatemala.  I will miss the slower lifestyle.  I love how in Xela I can walk from my gym at one end of town to my house at the other end in twenty minutes.  I hate how on a rainy day the streets fill like rivers and cars swerve to splash through the puddles just so they can make sure I absolutely do not make it home dry.  Even though the cars splash me, I still enjoy Guatemala and it has become my home.

Here is my top 10 things I will miss about Guatemala:

  1.  My students constantly trying to make me repeat after them in Spanish. “Mister, burros dice que . . . ?”  If you repeat something quickly enough I guess I’ll say what.
  2. The ayudantes (the driver’s assistants who take all of the payments on the chicken-bus or microbus) constantly trying to help me on and off the minibus, as if after three years I still didn’t know my way around Xela.
  3. The risk of buying cheap movies on the street that the vendor promises are in English.  Will it be in English?  I hope it wasn’t filmed in the theater.  What?  It’s in Russian?  At least they’ll exchange the movie for another one if it doesn’t work.*
  4. The constant attention from the shoe shine boys in parque central.  No, I don’t want my shoes shined, can’t you see I am a gringo and I wear sandals all of the time?
  5. Taking my pre-kinder students out to the basketball court to play with the hula hoops and the boys fighting over the more manly colored hoops.  “Yo quiero azul!!”  Or how one very little boy always wanted the small “ula ula” because, as he said, “Yo soy muy chicito!” It’s hard to take these boys seriously when they’re trying to claim to be manly and really little all at the same time.
  6. The lack of safety rules in Guatemala.  “Oh you want to go and roast a marsh-mellow on that lava flow?  Absolutely, and I’ll take your picture!”
  7. Playing Wii ping-pong with my friends and co-workers until late in the night.  (Only on nights we had power.)
  8. Playing Zombie tag with my Kindergarten class out on the basketball court at the Inter-American School.  They love trying to eat each other’s brains.  And their pronunciation of “Must Eat Brain” always made me smile.  Just say, “mustefrain” and chase your friends around like a zombie and you can play Zombie tag too.
  9. Listening to it rain.  The cars may swerve to hit the puddles so they can splash me and other walkers, but the sound of rain drops hitting the rooftops is mesmerizing.
  10. My students.  Hiking with them up La Muela.  Challenging them to become better writers, students, and people.  Having them challenge me to be the best I can be.  They made my time in Guatemala truly an adventure.

Not mentioned in this list.  The many dance parties.  And how my students love my crazy dance moves.  All I want is for them to learn to let go a little and have fun no matter what.

A few things I will not miss.

  1. Being over charged on a microbus, not to mention over stuffed, (I’ve been packed in one of those 15 passenger vans along with 35 other people).  Yes, I am a white North-American, but that doesn’t mean I have to pay more than everyone else.  It’s 1.25 Q for a microbus ride anywhere in town, just incase you’re interested.  I learned to always pay with exact change.
  2. Trash, trash, trash everywhere.  The mentalities of “oh we have someone to clean that up for us,” or “this plastic is biodegradable, right?” are really hurting Guatemala’s natural beauty.  I might start a relief cause “Dumpsters for Guatemala.”
  3. The slow and often inconsistent internet.  Man, I would love to check out that video of Justin Bieber, but unfortunately my internet isn’t fast enough.  I guess I’ll just have to miss it. (read with a hint of sarcasm.)
  4. Never knowing when the lights will come back on.  It’s been out all night for the past two days.  I’m glad I hadn’t really wanted to Skype with my family back home.
  5. How difficult it is to fly out of Guatemala.  Weather is always a problem here.  I’ve been delayed because of snow storms (yes, these storms were in the US), volcano eruptions, tropical storms (Agatha!!!!), and random thunderstorms.  Not to mention the fact that when you live in Xela you always have to drive to  Guate the day before your flight, which makes everything a little more drawn out.
It would have been very easy to come up with more than five things that I wont miss, but it also would have been even easier to name more than 10 reasons why I will miss Guatemala.  I have come to love this country, even with all of it’s quirks.  I am going to miss the country and even more so the people dearly.  Thank you for the past three years.
*I know it’s illegal, but when living in another country it’s hard to see movies any other way.  Plus it helps out the local economy.  And if the dvd doesn’t work you can go back and exchange it for another one.  No questions asked.

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.

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.

I Throw My Hands Up In The Air Sometimes

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Have you ever listened to Tiao Cruz’s song Dynomite and thought, “I need to live that way?”

I throw my hands up in the air sometimes
Saying ay-oh, gotta let go.
I wanna celebrate and live my life
Saying ay-oh, baby let’s go.
Cause we gon rock this club
We gon’ go all night
We gon’ light it up
Like it’s dynamite.
Cause I told you once
Now I told you twice
We gon light it up
Like it’s dynamite

Over the last few weeks, I’ve learned a few lessons from my students and the songs that they’ve given to me.  Songs with words like party, caraba, fiesta forever.  Dance like it’s your last night.   When I blast those songs, I have to fight the urge to throw my hands up in the air and let go, to have fun, and not worry about what others think of me.  You might think that a guy who’s known for fist pump dancing wouldn’t ever have reservations but, I feel like I need to let go of expectations others have for me.  Their love is my drug.  Life’s too short to hold onto the worriers about what others think. It’s only going to break, break, break your heart.

Os Guinness, one of my favorite Christian authors, believes we are all living in front of an audience.  He Says, “Only madmen, geniuses, and supreme egotists do things purley for themselves.  It is easy to buck a crowd, not too difficult to march to a different drummer.  But it is truly difficult-perhaps impossible-to march only to your own drumbeat.  Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other.  The question is not whether we have an audience, but which audience do we have?”  He wants to know if we are living for others or for Christ.

Guinness made this statement clear when he said, “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others-the Audience of One.”

I think, if I am living for Christ, then I take the song Dynomite and learn to let a few things go.  What if  I just threw my hands up in the air and lived my life?  What would I not have time for?  Seriously, I gotta feelin that life is a lot like my student’s dance parties.  Life’s just one big performance, but who is in my audience?  Am I making sure that God’s opinion of me is the only one that really matters?

My students could dance until they died.  They love to throw dance parties. The weekend of October 10th they got their fill.  Ashley and Alisa, in seventh grade, celebrated with a huge combined 13th birthday bash at Club Tennis, a local hot spot for birthday parties.  The dance floor was decked out with lights and fog machines.  There were kids from all over the city, rockin from side to side, side, side to side, just dancing, having fun.  The next day Sharom, Ale, and Luispe celebrated their 16th birthdays, and of course they rocked it with a dance party too.  At the sweet 16 party, just like all other parties, the kids formed a circle.  Everyone on the outside of the circle kind of rocked back and forth in a semicircular line dance.  Typically, someone does something unique, but for the most part it’s a mosh of silly dances and then randomly someone is shoved into the middle, to shake it like a Polaroid picture.  And no matter what those moves are, everyone on the outside cheers.  It’s interesting to be in the audience and then suddenly be on stage.

Two years ago I saw Sharom steal the show while she was dancing on stage for her Spanish Flamenco dance recital.  She really knows how to dance.  And then once last year at lunch she taught a few of the girls how to use the Castanuelas, hand clappers, and so if anyone wanted to know how to dance, she’d be the person to consult.  But she is also very good at just having fun at these parties.  Therefore, I was shocked when she was forced into the middle of the dance floor and she threw down my fist pump move like a pro.  And then she asked me to join her.  Of course I obliged.

The problem with posting a dance video on Youtube is that it could go viral.  Now all of my students have seen it, and I’ve become a mild dancing celebrity.  Just the other day Emlio, a kindergartner, came up to me and started doing my moves.  Never thought that would happen.  I can’t go to a party without being asked to show off my moves.  I guess the club can’t handle me right now.  And so I stepped out into the middle, pumped my fists into the air, grabbed my leg and gyrated around and around.  I must’ve looked a fool.  But on the dance floor, in the middle of everyone, with the music blasting, I didn’t have time to worry about that.

I’m willing to act foolish on the dance floor because I know only God’s opinion of me matters, but I feel like he is asking me to transfer this to my every day life.  Life’s a serious matter and with God as my only audience member he is requiring that I live a certain way.  In Xela I live surrounded by wealth and poverty.  As a member of the middle class, I feel like I need to be doing more for the poor.  The other day I was at Wendy’s and a little kid came in asking for my small change, so that he could eat.  I didn’t have any, and before I realized that I should have just gone up and bought him food, he’d vanished.

If I’m living for Christ, then I’m taking the serious things in this world and placing them ahead of the frivolous things.  I must let go of my self doubt, whether my students like me or not.  Or if I am in good enough shape to consider myself fit.  Or what my co-workers think of me when I do go make a fool of myself on the dance floor.  If I’m living for Christ I am throwing my hands up in the air and worshiping him with all I do.

Following Christ looks foolish sometimes.  It might even look a little like my dance moves, very silly, but I believe once I start moving to the beat, I’m really caught up in the rhythm that God wants me to be in.  I know he is challenging me to let go of what other people think.  To perform my life as if he is the only one watching.  He will cheer even louder than my students do when I try to dance, if I step out and serve him without any reservations.  He wants me to throw my hands up in the air and move, move, move.