May 23rd, 2004

circular fold


Friday was my graduation day, and a generally very full day, at that. In the morning, after checking email, I went to the market here to get a new battery for my watch, and while I was there, I wandered through the food area to find the vendor from whom I'd bought the chili cobán the other week. She was out of the powdered stuff, so I bought several ounces of the whole chilis, and then she told me she had another kind that's spicier, so I got some of that, too.

Then I took a microbus up to Zona 3 to make some cheap phone calls (.75 centavos/minute! woohoo!) home and to ilean, who wasn't there, the rat. Since that gave me some extra time, I wandered around the market up that way, which is bigger than the one down here (several blocks vs. one block), broke down and bought some of my favorite mangoes (which didn't have worms, yay!) and found a stall selling chili cobán in powder. (That, itself, was kinda an adventure. I asked a woman in a shop if she had any and she said no, check the people with stalls selling chilis. The first stall I went to didn't have it, but pointed me to another down the way. They didn't have it but pointed me down two more stalls. He said he didn't have it but then the woman next door told him he did (it was a kid, I assume standing in for a parent who knows the stuff better) and so he did! He asked me how much I wanted, and I htought about it for a moment, and the woman next door said I wanted 1 quetzal worth (1/2 ounce). I said I wanted more, checked my wallet to see that I could afford it, and got half a pound, thereby astounding all the vendors around me. I tried to explain about my family's propensity for picante, but they all thought I was a little weird. :)

With all the running around, I didn't do my homework, but I had a nice afternoon with my teacher, Bety, on my last day. There was a conference at 5 that got postponed until almost 6, and since Gabe, the guy whose job it is to translate the conferences, had to leave at 6:30 (he said), he asked me to do it. I'm always happy to translate, and I was planning to attend the conference, anyway, so I said sure.

It was a fascinating conference on a new Mayan city that's being excavated in the Peten (tropical rainforest region in northern Guatemala). It looks to be the biggest Mayan city yet found (massively larger than Tikal) with some really well preserved artifacts. I'm now dying to go there, despite warnings of man-eating mosquitoes and impressive swamps.

It was also the most challenging conference I've yet translated. The speaker spoke fast, and very excitedly, and with lots of archeological terms which, oddly enough, I have't learned yet! But I did well, and in the end, I had even more of the exhausted/electrified feeling I always have after translating. It was a nice way to end the trip translating-wise, as it felt like a real test, and one I passed.

Then we had the graduation ceremony, during which I sang with the teachers, and, since I hadn't prepared an act or anything to say goodbye, I just stood up and talked for a couple of minutes about my time at the school and thanked my teachers and such. It went over well, and I figure it counts for something since I didn't write it out beforehand.

I feel like such a part of the school community that even though I feel like I'm done with the school context of learning Spanish and on to the "I need to speak Spanish only for a couple of months to really make my next stride", I feel sure that I'll be back here in the future, in some context or another. That made saying goodbye much easier.


I got up way too damn early on Saturday morning to go on the school trip to the mountain school, a branch of the proyecto out in the country. I hadn't been there before, but it was a weekend of celebrating the mountain school's 7th anniversary. There was a football competition which I obviously didn't participate in, since I'm afraid of the ball, which isn't so good for trying to make a goal, but it was great to be out in the country, and what a beautiful setting.

Favorite moments include some impressive goals, one flip, and a cow getting in the way of the ball at one point. Apparently, though, cows, too, are scared of the ball.

We sang songs, danced, and in general, celebrated the day in a nice way. We got back to Xela around 4, and I immediately ran home to shower (ahh, so nice after being in the muggy heat of the low mountains), and then met up with my friend Sarah (from the US) for an hour before venturing out to have dinner with my friend Claudia's sister (Claudia being the friend/teacher who's now in SF). Unfortunately, Lorena was running about an hour late, so instead of going to the reading event I had hoped to catch by one of my favorite editorial cartoonists here, we were having dinner at that time. It was a nice dinner, but I was sorry to miss the event.

At dinner, I made one of my best Spanish oopses in a long time: To carry food away from a restaurant, you ask for it "para llevar". I asked for my food to go as "para llover", which is to say, "to rain". The waitress looked at me for a second and asked, "¿Para llevar?" and I nodded, not realizing what I'd said until she walked away. Very funny. Probably had to do with the fact that I had rain on my mind since it was pouring out, but, still.

Got home around 10 and went right to bed in preparation for Sunday.

Sunday - Chichi

The unfortunate thing for me is that when I need to get up early in the morning, my body/mind doesn't really sleep as well as it does otherwise. Because it does that "I must check the time every hour to make sure that I'm not missing my deadline to be awake" thing. I was planning to get up at 5 for our meeting at 5:30 but at 3, my mind said, "Well, only two more hours. It's hardly worth it to go back to sleep." So I just laid in bed waiting for the roosters to start crowing and finally got up at 4:30. I do so hate waking up early, but it's a delight to be up and about when everything is peaceful and calm.

We met at 5:30 and caught a taxi to the terminal where there was no direct bus to Chichicastenango, which has a big market day Sundays and Thursdays. We had been told that being there earlier was better, thus the early morning activity. We caught a bus to Los Encuentros, about 2 hours away, on the way to Guatemala City, and from there changed to a bus to Chichi. in total, it took about 2 1/2 hours, and we were shopping by 8:30.

What can I say about this market? Holy shmeroly. It was huge. Huge. Enormous. Wowsa. I thought San Francisco had a big market, but I had no idea. Really.

There were hundreds of stalls of people selling clothes, decorations, bedspreads, pillowcovers, jewelry, masks, lime, instruments, corn, beans, vegetables, fruit, and just about anything else you can imagine (although it didn't have the animal area that San Francisco does, or if it does, I missed it.) I could EASILY have dropped several hundred dollars on a variety of incredibly beautiful stuff, if only I had 10 strong men to carry my purchases. As it was, there was only me and my friends, and they were buying, too, so I had to hold back. Which is just as well, I'm sure.

The prices were definitely better before 10, which is when the big tourist busses arrive, and suddenly we were no longer such a minority among the stalls. My relative fluency in Spanish obviously gave me a leg up in bargaining (in comparison to some of the transactions I overheard in other stalls), and the fact that I made some purchases earlier in the day meant that I could use those early (better) prices as landmarks. (I got a bedspread around 9 for 200Q, and later, asked at a different stall and was quoted 600Q. I explained I'd bought one earlier for 200, and the guy claimed his bedspread was bigger, and that's why so much more. He wouldn't go below 350 until I started to walk away, which inspired him to agree to my price of 250. But the fact is that even 600Q for the bedspread (around $75) would be a price that most any tourist would think was a steal, and had I not had the earlier transaction, I probably would have ended up paying around 400. I don't mind paying for my purchases, or even paying a bit of a tourist tax on them, but I like it when I can avoid it, and I know that they won't sell to me at a price that they're unwilling to take.)

Like in Panajachel last year, there were a lot of people wandering around with their wares trying to get you to buy them. I wish there were a way to signal to them that they're wasting their time following me around when I've decided that I'm really not going to buy from them, because it's a shame that they glom onto someone who's going to decline, no matter how hard they try. We're in a time of low tourism, so some folks, especially at the end of the day, were relatively desperate to make sales.

We lunched in a nice comedor where we were the only gringos and had the tastiest piece of chicken I've had in ages.

We also wandered around the cemetary a bit, taking time out from our orgy of materialism to do so. I love the cemetaries here. More on that another time. Chichi is a smallish town set in the mountains, steep hills both in and around the town. It's really incredibly beautiful. I'd like to go back another time on a non-market day to get a more laid-back view of things.

We finally got on a bus to return around 2pm, maybe a little later. We all had a couple of bags of stuff each, and each of us forgot at least one bag at least once during the course of the day, but, fortunately, all were recovered without incident. On the return, we had to change busses twice, to my annoyance, and finally got back to Xela around 6, tired, hungry, and materialistic.

My plan had been to go to Panajachel to spend a day or two on the lake starting today before going to Guate to spend Wednesday night. I now have no desire whatsoever to get on a bus for more than a few minutes for at least two days, so I've decided to stay here in Xela, instead, which has its own benefits. And, wow, Wednesday I head to Guate and Thursday to Boston. It's amazing how short a three week trip can seem following on the heels of a four month one!