Friday, October 30, 2009

Go Fly a Kite!!!

One of the more interesting aspects of being down here the past week or so is that people love kites. They flat out love them. It has a more spiritual connection and November 1 is the big day for kites. They make huge barilletas(more octagonal kites) and then fly them in order to make a deeper connection with dead relatives. There is a connection between the wind and spirits and the higher you get the closer you are with those spirits.

In our school we got the opportunity to try our hands at kite making. Ill be honest, despite wanting desperately to be good at art I have the artistic talent of a first grader. Making the kite was a complete pain in the ass for me, there was not one step along the way that I did correctly and the teacher kept giving me that look, the one where inside his head he is wondering if I am really just a functional retard and based on my kite he was pretty convinced that I was a full blown retard. Its tough to keep thinking you are cool when someone has to tie knots for you and they realize you dont know how to measure or cut.

My kite was basically the worst one in the group and I was not ok with that. I wanted so badly to make a great kite, to make a beautiful one that other people in class would ooo and ahhh about and subtely comment about how much of a renaissance man I was but it was a terrible terrible kite that should have been shot and put out of its misery.

I had no choice the next day but to take the kite with the rest of the class up to the cross, a giant crucifix on a hill that overlooks the entire town. I was glad that they put my kite in a plastic bag so the locals could not see it. It was made all the worse because all of the teachers at the school made their own barrilletas and they were ridiculous. It took me two hours to make my piece of crap and they whipped up these intricate colorful kites in minutes. They were decked out with fringe and intricate lettering. I felt pathetic.

When we got to the cross my spirits were not raised either. I watched person after person toss their kite in the air and as their kites ascended to the heaven I tried to keep my kite from decapitating any onlookers. I tried again and again to no avail as my kite sputtered back down crashing into the ground as I was engulfed in string.

I got lucky and the right gust of wind pulled my kite mercifully out of my hands and into the stratosphere. I almost got it tangled in the cross and i was consistently crossing streams with other kite flyers but eventually my kite sailed the way a kite is supposed to sail. I got some nice condescending cheers from the other members of the class as my masterpiece flew miles into the sky.

After a while of watching it glide and fiddling with the string in an attempt to look like I knew what I was doing it became relaxing to just sit and watch the kite dance in the wind. It flew farther and farther away until I had no choice but to just let it go.

On sunday we are going to a major kite festival about an hour away to watch some serious kite flyers do their things. It should be interesting. So on sunday if you want to do a little transcontinental solidarity go build a kite or buy one and fly it, itll be a nice little moment for us.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sitting in a cafe, watching the espn gamecast of alabama vs tennesee. 4 Seconds left bama timeout, vols kicking a field goal. Not good, not good at all. Thought i would do a quick blog for those of you who are interested.

This week was pretty status quo in most ways. Class continues to be difficult but i am learning a lot. I think im getting better at espanol and im doing my best to get out there and chat with real people so i can gauge my spanish skills by the quizzical looks on their faces.

Andy and I went to an afterschool progam in Jocotanango(sp?). It was a big day for us not just because we were checking out the program but because we had to take the bus without any help. It was pretty funny how many questions we asked, are you sure all buses go there? Where does it drop us off? how much do we have to pay? who do we pay? What do you mean almost all buses go there?
Turned out it was a 3 minute ride, literally the easiest bus ride in history, im a stress traveler though at all times.

The school we went to was pretty cool. The guy who started, really still just a kid, converted his own house into a place for kids to come for education and health. He wants the kids of his town to have a place that is positive and shows them other options in life. They do tons of art and music projects and every kid there is so positive and upbeat. The second i walked through the door a kid ran up to me and asked me to lift him to the ceiling and than ran away laughing and screaming.

The director of the school is one of the most inspirational guys ive ever talked too. He is cool as hell and super passionate about his project. He told us we can do whatever project we want and design it for an authentic experience. Im thinking of doing something with bball and writing, maybe playing games, keeping stats and writing articles. Let me know what you think.

He also may have convinced me to become an english teacher. He was talking about how some people in Guattuemal think they are wicked cool because they can speak english when "any idiot can speak english, and alot of times it is the real idiots who do'" coincidentally i met that guy earlier in the day. He told me he could kick my ass in basketball at least a dozen times and when someone asked him if he was a teacher(he was hanging out at a language school) he said he only knows how to teach people to roll joints and smoke them. So long story short im contemplating teaching english, or at least teaching people how to be cool, i have a ridiculous amount of knowledge on how to be cool. Tengo Frio!

So im going to spend the weeekend contemplating some volunteer opportunities, ill keep you guys updated.

In other volunteer news, Lindsey set us up with a chance to to habitat for humanity this morning. We met up with this great old lady, Matilda. She was a tiny little peanut, very Hans Moleman, only a Guatemalan female version. She walked us to the bus and man she doesnt take any guff of anybody. When we got to the bus she asked the bus driver which bus to our destination and when he said a completely different one she gave him a no i didnt say that idiot kind of retort. She was pretty bad ass for a tiny lady with a keyser soze limp.

We ended up taking the bus about 4 kilometres out of Antigua and then walked a bit to this new development of houses. It wasnt what you might expect from a Habitat for Humanity house. The development was gated and just so damn close to the volcano. They had some pretty swanky houses by Guatemalan standards and the development had a pool, a pretty nice pool. We wandered all around this place eventually coming upon a tiny little cinderblock house being built by Marcos. Matilda surprised the hell out of Marcos by telling him he had four fresh volunteers to help build the house.

Long story short, we carried cinder blocks, cleaned up broken cinder blocks and watched Marcos work for most of the time. I dont think ill be putting this down on my resume as building a house or working for habitat. I could put it down as chatting and watching and occasionally handing someone a cinderblock but definitely not much more than that. After 3 hours we hit the road fulfilling our requirement and leaving Marcos with more confusion than actual help but in theory we were going to help an ready to do what it takes. I think its the spirit that counts, or so ive heard.

That bama ending sounds amazing, and surreal.

Well the computer im using is crappy so its a little difficult to type and its a bit frustrating. Ill write more later.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Random pics

Volcano Erupting/out with andrea(one pic)

pics from our roof

El fin de semana

Nothing too too crazy happened this weekend but I thought Id post just so everyone has something.

On saturday we went to the big market in town with our homestay mom Monica. She was rocking a sick air jordan hat, she loves basketball and is a huge shaq fan, which i thought was awesome. The market is a little insane and was a bit of a shock for me. The outside part of your market is your standard vegetable and fruit market. The kind you would see anywhere but the inside is a labyrinth of different shops that can sell you anything you need. The meat section is tough to deal with and people push the crap out of you but for the most part its just a beehive of activity and is pretty exciting. I dont think i will ever have the guts to go in alone, and if i do i may never find my way out. That might be fine because ill have all of the things i need to survive within an arms reach. My favorite part of the market is these guys who walk around and sell the craziest crap. You need a dog bowl theres a guy for that. You need a baby bottle theres a guy for that. You need a used tv remote, theres a guy for that(three guys actually, who knew it was a growth industry) and im convinced they are just breaking into homes stealing the remotes and then selling them back to the same people. The best though is a guy who sells tea and pills. He has a huge tray of pills without boxes just the sleeves of pills. One kid totally called me a gringo to my face which I thought was offensive especially with the tone he put on it but ive since learned that its not that bad. Still I thougtht that kid had balls, I wish i didnt stick out as much from time to time but Its pretty much impossible not to.

On sunday we went to the home of our homestay daughters in laws. It was a complete day of dichotomies. We ate a traditional mayan meal and washed it down with pepsi. We helped hand make tortillas and then gobbled down some doritos. There are tons of old world new world dichotomies down here and i think its one of the things that i like best. The mother in law also hand makes shirts that take her six months and are so intricate with detail it is crazy.

We also went to this religous ceremony that was a little surreal. It was for a saint known as San Simon or San Maximon. He had a lot to do with combining mayan culture and catholocism. The rituals for him are a little off center but actually pretty entertaining to watch. Outdoors they burn huge pyres of candles and i think eggs but im not 100% sure. The goal is to burn away your sins and ask for forgiveness. If you ask me the catholic church needs more traditions like this, pyromania sells thats a fact. Inside their is a shrine where people pray and leave gifts for Maximon. The best part though is the soul cleansing. This lady in a bandana and who was spilling out of her BEBE tshirt was apparently the equivalent of a priest or shaman. She would grab this stack of flowers and douse them in vodka and then wack the crap out of people. Once she had left you sufficiently bruised she would put a little vodka in her mouth and than spit it all over you, and wala sould cleansed. It seemed pretty silly in a lot of regards but people there took it very seriously. Its easy to judge and see how silly it is but how much silly crap do we all take very seriously in our own lives.

That was the weekend in a nutshell.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Night the Lights went out in Antigua

After watching the Patriots blow what was surely a win in the second half of Sundays game we left a local bar to meet up with Max. Max is Andys new friend, a 70 year old guy who approached Andy randomly in the park and decided that he and Andy should be best friends. He took Andy on a personal tour of Antigua, many of the stops revolved around the best public bathrooms in the city as well as the best places to sit. When Andy mentioned that he thought the Oktoberfest theme at a restaurant looked cool Max decided that we should all meet their for dinner that night. So off we went to central park where Max is a regular. We strolled around for a few minutes and then suddenly all of the lights went down. In a few minutes certain shops used their generators to pop their lights back on but the entire city was down, later we found out the entire country lost power.

We decided to meet up with Max and when we did he was awesome. He wears a leather hat and that is pretty much an awesome look for an elderly man. If you are wondering on my 70th birthday i will probably start rocking a leather hat, and will definitely have a cardigan sweater, i may start rocking that withing the next year, shorter if you buy me one. We all decided that getting dinner was not in the cards and our fearsome foursome headed home, wishing we brought our headlamps from our pacaya expedition.

While struggling to not faceplant on the cobblestone roads we all of sudden came open Omar, the nephew of our homestay mom, who was out at a pizzeria and just happened to step outside for better cellphone reception. We were headed home but Omar and the owner of the restaurant were pretty sure that we should stop in for pizza and beer. The owner Edgar is a guatemalan who lived in Toronto for about twenty years and then moved back down here to start a pizza joint. Its a pizza joint that makes great pizza and will also deliver a bottle of rum with 4 cokes and lime to your house. How perfect that in the middle of a black out we jumped into a restaurant called Sunshine Grill.

We ate pizza by candlelight and drank pitchers of beer, listening to stories from Edgar and Omar. When the lights kicked back on we did the first logical thing you do when there is the potential for power shortages, we turned on the karaoke machine. Lindsey led the way power vocaling her way through the spice girls and eventually we learned more about Omars obsession with ABBA. Pizza, beer and karaoke sounds about what i expected to find in guatemala.

Link to andy and Lindsey´s blog

So you can get a point counter point. Or the idiots view (obviously me) versus people who have a more rational take on things.

the pictures are also better than mine and more plentiful

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

La escuela- es muy facil

There are times that i think i am actually a smart person. There are times where I am very proud of myself for the inane bits of trivia that have collected in my brain. There are times where I am condescending and patronizing to those who do not know some of the things i do. And there are certainly times where if you asked me to describe myself intelligent would probably be in the list of adjectives i use.

Then i stepped into our spanish school, COINED, on the first day.

Right off the bat we were given a brief oral exam, really just a chat, to see what we knew and what we did not know. Well long story short the gross tonage of what i do not know in spanish could stop a train dead in its tracks. The teacher, Aura, was asking us simple questions like where are you from, what do you do etc. Id like to think that given i took spanish in high school that i could at least fake my way through those questions. Instead i stumbled and bumbled through and was put into the most basic class in the school. Good news for me Andy, Lindsey and Cathy(LIndsey´s mom) would be right along side me.

Over the next few days we would be humbled by struggling through the alphabet and basic phrases like, how old are you, where do you work how many brothers do you have. Our first teacher was Diego a younger guy who really looks more like a teenager than a teacher but he does a really good job with us overall. He has a habit of bursting into laughter when we try to pronounce things or when we take a random stab at what a word might mean. He also tends to love it when we get way way too excited about learning something basic or remembering something from the day before.

Our second teacher for the day, we have two hours with each teacher give or take, was Paulina. Paulina reminds me a little of mrs. levesque for those of you who went to Memorial middle school, you know why this would make me sweat in a pavlovian response. Paulina though loves to chat and she forces us to use and attempt more spanish than we know and therefore pushes us to get better each day, to struggle, and eventually to learn. She also loves to pry into our personal lives, getting a big kick out teasing Andy and Lindsey about their relationship. She also had a blast when i misspoke and inadvertently said something which in her mind meant i was gay. She exploded into laughter throwing around limp wrists and saying all sorts of stuff in spanish which i can only assume would be horribly offensive if i were actually gay or could understand what she was saying.

The school itself and the classes are really a unique experience and id like to think im learning pretty well. Our classroom is on a roofdeck and looks out at a volcano. It really is quite the experience and Im not sure ill ever be able to just accept it for normal.

Three days a week the school sets up activities for us out and about in Antigua. Antonio is the guide on these activities and shows us different attractions. On our first excursion we went to jade museum, which was really one room museum many rooms jade store. It was a nice subtle sales pitch but im not really in the market for jade, not sure its my style. Afterwards though we waited for Lindsey to take the perfect picture of a fontain, she is quite the photographer and very meticulous about what she wants in her shots. I have ruined more than one of her pictures with my inate ability to blink or look ridiculously bad in pictures, its a gift.

We have also traveled to santo domingo, a beautiful hotel and ruins where you can see lots of skeletons and crypts, and get married right above them for a decent price. It really would be a beautiful place to get married and it is a great hotel and restaurant, dont let me steer you in the wrong direction.

On thursday we visited a local hospital. It was a sobering experience for me. most of the patients suffer from either severe physical problems or varying degrees of mental issues. Its one of those places where I wish I was more comfortable and I begin to feel like an awful person because I am legitametely uncomfortable. Its something i will have to get over one day. One of the patients, Wendy, who suffers from a mental issue(not sure what and not really in the mood to offend anyone with an improper diagnosis) tries to search your pockets for cash and its a pretty thorough pat down. She also decided that she hates my name but that i have fantastic legs(obviously).

Ill write more about the other activities in the near future. For now though we are moving on to our next level, having all passed our first test(really more of a check point) and we are struggling our way through an onslaught of new verbs and adjectives.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pacaya; or how i learned to avoid tons of horse poo and love climbing the volcano

On saturday afternoon we decided it would be fun to hike up Pacaya, one of the active volcano's in Guatemala. In theory I am an outdoors person who should be comfortable hiking and camping and all of that stuff but in actuality its more like the lemonheads song Outdoor type "id love to go away with you on a rock climbing weekend but what if somethings on tv and its never shown again... i lied about being the outdoor type." But at this point you throw caution to the wind and ive faked it adequately enough to make at least some people assume that i have spent a good amount of time in the wilderness doing manly things and perhaps my pale skin doesnt come from a lack of sun exposure but rather poor pigmentation.

Around 2 we boarded a shuttle van to head off to the volcano. I thought the lava would be the most dangerous part of the day and the hike the most taxing but i felt like utter and complete crap after bouncing around in the back of the van for the 45 minute ride to the volcano.

when we got to the volcano we were bombarded by a swarming phalanx of little kids trying to sell us walking sticks and marshmallows. They are brazen and crafty business people not to be trifled with, i tried to haggle my way down into a sweet deal for a walking stick on to be shut down by a 7 year old girl who had a limit to how much crap she would take from me and her demands were met. I actually ended up giving her more than she asked after a mix up with how much change i had in my hand.

Once we headed up the mountain or volcano, whatever you feel more comfortable with, we soon realized the hike would be difficult but avoiding all of the horse landmines left along the route would be even more difficult. I was forced to use my cat like reflexes and athletic prowess to circumvent the dangerous road apples that painted the trail. Our guide is one of the bad ass native people, similar to Sherpas in Nepal, who do this type of activity multiple times a day while everyone on the tour is wheezing and their legs are burning he just bounds up and down, sprinting to reclaim the lead, jumping on rocks that are completely unstable without breaking a sweat.

For the most part the hike was challenging but not ridiculous. When you get closer to the top you need to ascend through volcanic ash, i think, that is like deep pools of sand and you are really busting to get through it. At one point during the ascent Andy decided that every time we stopped he would yell out "es muy facil"(its very easy) and as i joined him in these refrains we collected boatloads of contempt from our fellow hikers, who were at times wheezy and tired, and even though we were sweating through our shirts i think they took us seriously.

Once we got to the top I realized it is utter chaos. There are clearly way too many people for a limited amount of safe space. There are also a bunch of bozos who really could care less about you, so shoving you while they try to get to a better spot is par for the course and i guess its your fault if you trip and fall on sharp cooled lava or better yet hot lava. I was following some members of my group onto some of the hotter spots and realized my shoes were melting a little and my legs felt like they were baking in an oven so I tried to be proactive and get to a cooler spot but another bozo was blocking my path because he didnt know what to do with his plastic grocery bag(seriously dude, a plastic bag for a hike is silly a plastic bag for a hike on an active volcano means you are a complete moron).

We stayed up at the top of the volcano for about a half hour and roasted marshmallows, lit sticks on fire and watched as the Guatemalan safety crew pointed and laughed at all of the tourists who were tripping on rocks, stumbling inches from lava, and burning their shoes to pieces. My brother Marcus gets frustrated when he sees kids at shaws slacking off and chatting while they are supposed to be working so i can only imagine how he would have reacted to this complete lack of professionalism.

Our descent was fueled by the sweet glow from our head lamps. I remember not too long ago a camping trip where Andy mocked my head lamp and now how ironic for him to be singing the praises of them this fine saturday. The descent down was actually pretty difficult, i almost ate it about a dozen times only to be saved by the grace of god. At one point we all turned around to see streams of lava sliding down the volcano and lighting up the sky. Its one of those moments where even the coolest of people have to stop and say wow. It was truly amazing.

The rest of the descent was basically filled with horsecrap. Every time we stepped in mud someone would say "its mud, mas o menos(more or less)" which was the enjoying part of the trip down. The other horsecrap part was this ubernerd who would not shut up the entire trip. Literally he did not stop talking and it drove everyone pretty nuts. At one point he asked someone if they had ever heard of machu pichu(sp?). Really dude, never heard of it, we are all only traveling to central America, im not sure if its on anyones radar. Is it a new attraction? But at some point you have to big the bigger person and just accept people for who they are. I mean I was probably just bitter because he was an even more condescending windbag know it all douche than me.

It really was an incredible saturday afternoon, a whole lot different from my previous saturday where i watched college football and then played scattegories with my family.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

mi familia en antigua

Our homestay has been pretty phenomenal to start. The family is ridiculously nice and they go way out of their way to help us out with everything. Monica is the mom and she cooks all of our meals and she tolerates our attempts to speak spanish and tries to teach us little things. She gave Andy and I a great lesson on the spanish words for vegetables by pulling them out of her grocery bag yesterday which was a pretty fun excersize. She has three daughters and a son, and a grandson who could compete well in an adorable baby competition. Overall its a pretty ideal start and a pretty comfortable place to come back to each day.

the trip and la ciudad

Not much to be said for the trip, probably exactly what those of you have actually traveled would expect. On the ride to the airport my mom was hilarious though. It was foggy and she decided she only knew one way to the airport and once we missed the exit there was no way to roll with that. We had to turn around and go her way. On the off ramp we needed to take a left to get back on the highway and she turned a hard right and led us offroading into a construction site for a nice start. Other than that the travel was smooth, oh except for the forty minutes where i thought i lost my passport. It fell out of my pocket and below someone elses seat but i couldnt see it until the end of the flight. It was a forty minute panic attack where i tried to be subtle but rifling through your pockets a thousand times is probably not as subtle as one would hope. Im guessing people who have actually traveled before probably avoid this type of minifiasco but its my first time traveling internationally so lay off. Hell i just got the damn passport in july.

the city of antigua is beautiful. Its a crazy mix of colonial ruins, cobblestone streets and modern stuff. they have little shops, tiendas, on every street where you can appease your junk food needs for low low prices. Oh and they have pepsi so my life is good. Its crazy though because the town is small and overlooking the town are volcanoes and mountains. Its kind of surreal to walk to school every moring staring down a volcano but i guess at some poing you get use to it.