Friday, June 29, 2012

Sinking feeling

I have been trying to encourage Maria to learn to read and write a little, telling her it isn’t too late for her to learn, but I have a feeling that my efforts are going to waste. I do think she wants to learn but is either embarrassed or too busy or … I don’t know. I’m trying not to be too pushy about it and not make her feel bad about herself. She only learned to tell the time as an adult, and does not know how to use a phone because she cannot read numbers. I had to make a phone call for her today to get the gas replaced because she couldn’t do it. I was gently trying to teach her how to use a phone and gave her a children’s book with numbers in it so that she can try to memorize the numbers at least. But I have a sinking feeling that the book will end up as fuel. Her son doesn’t have the patience to teach her how to use a telephone. All this upsets me a great deal. The unfairness of it all. How instead of learning how to read and write, Maria was picking coffee beans instead. She has probably never had any incentive or encouragement to learn how to read.  And I’m upset because I feel so powerless. My Spanish needs to be light-years better for me to work with illiterate adults but it is something I would really like to do in the future.
I really hope I am PMS-ing so that I can attribute my bloated-ness, sadness and all-around foul mood to it. :( Today was one of those days where I felt if I saw another cobblestone, I was going to puke. Oh bitumen, how I love thee.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mid-week blues

I am constantly meeting people who quietly inspire me. The most recent example is Miriam, my Spanish teacher at APPE (my new school – they had a good deal for Transitions’ volunteers). She is my age, has been married since she was 20, has two kids, aged 10 and 4 years old…she works as a Spanish teacher, she is studying pedagogy, English and the Mayan language spoken mainly around Antigua (understanding a Mayan language is very useful for teachers). Her husband works as a waiter. She is currently deciding whether to terminate her studies after this semester to spend more time with her children, or study for two more years so that she can qualify as a director for a school. We were discussing the pros and cons of her choices (my strategy in Spanish classes has been to stimulate as much conversation as possible to avoid doing boring exercises), and it was clear that she would probably regret not pursuing her studies, whether it be in the university or through a private course. People like Miriam amaze me and put me to shame – she must be exhausted juggling family, work, school; yet she is determined to progress in her profession for personal satisfaction and so that she can eventually buy a home for her family (Miriam and her family currently live with Miriam’s mother).
Went with Fredy to the bank so that I could deposit a check on his behalf (he needed someone with a passport to cash the check) – who would have thought that walking to the bank and waiting in line forever could be so fun! Fredy is great to talk to…he is patient with my Spanish, corrects me, speaks clearly and not too fast…it was also interesting hanging out with a 17 yr old boy. I haven’t had to interact with teenagers for a long time, and would normally silently shudder at the thought, but hanging out with Fredy has been super cool. He’s a good kid.
My relationship with my landlady continues to be strained. She continues to do things that demonstrate that she is just not a nice person. It struck me today that I don’t know many Guatemaltecas, really only Maria and my Spanish teachers. Most of the folk at Transiciones are male. And I don’t know any indigenas. Nosario is the only Mayan I know, but he is male.  It makes me wonder whether my perception of women in Guatemalan society is skewed or not. My impression is that, at least amongst Mestizos and Ladinos, women are regarded roughly equal to men – I see lots of women doing traditionally male jobs, like traffic wardens, drivers. And, the indigena women are BURLY. They carry these heavy loads on top of their heads (tortillas, blankets, handicrafts, food etc) and a lot of them look like they can do a lot more with their hands than shape tortillas. However, like a lot of Latin-American countries, there is a strong machisimo culture here and it seems especially pronounced amongst the indigenous people. A lot of men have never set foot in the kitchen let alone wash plates or launder clothes.  And most of them would never even entertain the thought. Maybe because I see women vending their wares all day, or working in the shops, I think that it is the women that do all the work. But perhaps I am being unfair. Maybe most of the men are working in agriculture and I don’t see that. But still, I lean towards thinking that the women are the true pillars. There is something about the bond between Guatemaltecas/Latinas and their children that I envy; not sure what it is…the closeness, the dependency, even? While I would never want to date/marry a “mummy’s boy”, I find the notion just a tad endearing.
Women are relatively conservative in their dress. I’ve been wearing solely long skirts and tops to avoid drawing attention to myself (and my mosquito bite ridden, pudgy legs really don’t need to be seen). Very few women have short hair. Almost all seem to make the effort to look tidy and nice. I think that Guatemalan women are beautiful naturally. I don’t wear sunglasses here, again because I want to blend in, and I do things like wear earrings and tie my hair, again so that I can pass off as being from Guatemala. A lot of people ask me for directions so maybe I am fooling them. I’ve also found that being pudgier has made me more attractive to some of the men here. I hate how I look at the moment and how much I weigh, but I guess in a society where you can be stricken with dysentery at any moment, having some meat on your bones is regarded as a good thing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Como se dice "fate" in Espanol?

"All science is physics or stamp-collecting" - Ernest Rutherford.

Found the above quotation amusing, as I'm reading a book about how non-Western civilizations have played a much larger role and made a far greater contribution than otherwise thought, to the sciences and mathematics.

Things have been fairly quiet here. A lot of people think that every moment must be exciting because I am in a very different country but in reality one goes about the usual routines (e.g. laundry, meals, studying...) as in the U.S.

My Spanish is improving so I am pleased about that. I can now talk in the past-tense, which I couldn't really do a week ago.

Eferin's story made me wonder what his relationship with his friend (the driver) is like, if it exists. Thoughts of "confronting" / meeting Bob, my partner the day of the accident, have entered my mind frequently, more so in the earlier months. I am not sure what would come out of such a meeting and to go in with expectations would only result in disappointment. So I guess, for the moment, I'll leave things as they are. I'm not sure how people with SCIs caused by another person feel about their situation...a wanton whim of the Gods, a fated event, or simply, shit happens. Some people have told me that they think what happened to me was "meant to be" or "for a reason". No disrespect to them, but that is bullshit. What happened, happened because of a confluence of particular events and circumstances. My accident did open up many new experiences and exposed (and continues to do so) me to a world and people I would never have developed relationships with. The vast majority of the guys here at Transiciones are married with families. In the early days, I thought that the option of having a partner or spouse and family had been cruelly eliminated. With time, and incredible support, I'm not so sure now.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Erm, can we change this line of questioning?

Maria and I talked about the effects of my accident (specifically impaired bowel/bladder function) and whether that was a problem in my relationships. Given that I only have one data-point, I could not give her a thorough answer. Maria talked about her abortion when she was 30 years old, how she had her uterus and ovaries removed, and how her partner (he was already married) left her as a result. Her first child was also born out of a relationship where she was with a married man. I can’t imagine living a life like hers. We are so privileged; it almost makes me feel incredulous at my relative good luck.
Maria told me that I was the only person to do anything for her 50th birthday last Friday – that made me sad and ticked off that she isn’t appreciated more. I gave her some money, a small present and a cake, and even that, I thought, was not enough. Acxa didn’t even acknowledge her birthday – no well wishes, no Happy Birthday, no makes me dislike her even more. Unfortunately she stays in the adjacent room so it is hard to avoid contact with the cow.
I feel incredibly immature in Guatemala – so many people have families by the time they are in their early-mid 20’s. I know it isn’t that uncommon in the US but at least in my peer group, the vast majority of people do not have children or are not yet married. I know I couldn’t have handled taking care of kids in my 20’s, and I don’t think I could right now.
I am currently learning about the preterit and imperfect tense and their respective uses, especially the imperfect. However, in order to convey the uses of the imperfect tense mi maestra kept asking me about details of my accident: what date did it take place, what day, what time etc. I went along with it, but it still elicited some powerful feelings in me as I recalled that day and those memories. At least now, I can speak the facts without breaking down and crying, as I did in those early months. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Eulalia is a 13-yr old girl first came to transitions as a toddler. She has made the 12 hour journey from her home to Antigua annually to get her prosthetic legs adjusted (the stumps change a lot, especially since she is growing). The guys in the wheelchair workshop surprised her with a birthday cake and singing Happy Birthday. She turned bright red and was in tears - really sweet. She is lovely.

Saturday in Antigua

Small market - indigenous women come into town on the weekends.

Main church at Parque Central

Juxtaposition between the old (huipil) and new (yellow backpack)

Maria y mi. I feel like a giant next to her.

Tricked out school bus

We love water squirting out of breasts.

View of Antigua from the top of the hill

Interesting artwork

Love the picture-frame

Some church event involving anatomically correct wooden statues carried by dancing men.

More wheelchair basketball pics

Eye on the ball

Ruins and Rainbows

This is the kind of bullshit wheelchair users have to deal with. The pavement with the lamp post is too narrow for a wheelchair to fit.

So the user needs to remove a wheel from his/her wheelchair to get through