Friday, September 18, 2009

Hip Hip Parade

I write the following not to demean an aspect of Guatemalan, American or really any other culture, rather, I write this because I don’t like parades. I’ll explain. September 15th is Independence Day here in Guatemala, which I was excited to be here for. Everyday since we have been here we have been welcomed to the sound of drumming and other marching band type music, usually coming from schools, and it was explained to us that they are practicing for the 15th. Apparently they start practicing about two months ahead of time for this one day for hours on end. (1) So this morning I ventured down from my fortress on the hill and into town to watch the Independence Day parade that snaked around in a loop through San Bartolome’s approximately 12 streets. There were students from different schools in the area, some of them played music, some were in costumes, and some just walked. There were a few people on horses or in carriages, a couple of hoodlums riding bikes, and the mayor and some of her staff. It took about 45 minutes for the parade to repeat itself at which time I decided that once was plenty for me and headed to the plaza for snacks and to meet up with friends. During the time I was watching what seemed like all 7,000 occupants of San Bartolome, I began contemplating the idea of a parade. I get the idea, it’s just the execution I have a problem with. In theory, all of these kids get to walk around town and have their families wave at them as they pass and maybe give them a drink or take a picture if they have a camera. I’m sure they enjoy that. I also get the idea of civic pride, and in this case, national pride; I think such activities are a sign of a healthy culture and citizenry. Don’t get me wrong, these things are great, but I can’t help but think that we can come up with something better than the parade.

Many people may find this blasphemous seeing as I come from Portland and grew up less than a mile from the Rose Festival Parade route. But this is just something I’ve been holding inside for too long: I have never liked the Rose Festival Parade. Another girl in my group named Erin is from Beaverton and today we were talking about the Rose Festival Parade and she said that she remembers going but mostly just drawing with sidewalk chalk and buying worthless trinkets from the venders but she doesn’t really remember the parade. EXACTLY! The parade itself was the least exciting part of it all! I remember these things too. I also remember that everyone talked about it for two months ahead of time, it was always in the newspaper and on the news, the local high schools had their annual popularity contest, and, how did all of this culminate? We had to stand behind four rows of people and try to see old men wearing funny suits and wielding swords that they inexplicably never used, 30 high school bands all playing “Louie Louie,” and psychedelic, oversized cars erroneously called “floats” driving by at 2mph. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, (pun absolutely intended) but I just never got the human fascination with parades. I mean, I didn’t even like them when I was a kid when I was their target audience.

Today as I watched the same banners go around in circles I couldn’t help but think that we can come up with something better than this. I feel like parades are like health care in America, it’s clearly a broken system but we’ve been going with it for so long and it is such a staple in or society that any thought of change is met with a slew of criticism. Can we please have a healthy debate about rethinking the parade? Of course, my solution is to just avoid them, but I would love to have some form of civic pride that I was actually proud of. If instead of the Rose Festival Parade we had the Rose Festival Air Guitar Competition I would absolutely go. How about the Rose Festival Voodoo Doughnuts Eating Competition? (2) I dare you to put your hand on the Bible and say that you wouldn’t go to the Rose Festival Running of the Elk and tell me what wouldn’t work about the Rose Festival Throw Rotten Vegetables At Hipsters. These are just a few of my stellar alternative ideas, I have more but I don’t think we would be able to come up with enough parachutes or chimpanzees.

Maybe I’m alone on this one, maybe I’m completely off base here. Maybe everyone else loves parades and my suggesting otherwise is kicking out their entire livelihood from underneath them. If that is the case, then I apologize. But, if I’m not alone, if there are others out there who have heard the all brass version of “Louie Louie” a few too many times, then join me. Speak out, let the world know: we put a man on the moon, we’ve been to the bottom of the ocean and the top of Everest, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel and Bob Dylan recorded “Bringing it All Back Home,” for god’s sake we should be able come up with something better than the parade.

1. I’m sure this won’t be the last you will question the merits of the Guatemalan school system while reading this blog.
2. Might not work after the first couple people die of heart attacks, but I’m just trying to get the ball rolling here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

List #1

(NOTE: I just posted two posts at the same time so read the one below this one first. Also, I couln´t figure out how to make the footnotes work on the first one so I had to improvise. Enjoy.)

The following is a list of things I am allowed to do and/or complain about when I get back. I have feeling this is going to turn into running segment.

1. In two years when I get back no one can say anything when I spend all day Saturday and all day Sunday watching football. I’m about to miss my second consecutive football season which will be followed by the third and fourth while I’m down here. I’m just warning everyone right now, when I’m back, I’m busy on Saturdays and Sundays from September through January. No exceptions.

2. Nobody can say anything when I get back and can’t speak English. In the little time I have here to speak English with friends, I have noticed what can only be described as a late onset speech impediment from lack of English speaking. This is perfect, because now I can’t speak either language. So if I sound like Emmitt Smith when I get back, cut me a little slack.

3. Basketball. I’m going to watch a lot of basketball when I get back. NBA, NCAA, And-1 mix tapes, YouTube clips; hell, I might even dabble in a little WNBA if it still exists and I feel the overwhelming urge to watch missed layups.

4. I have promised myself that I will not come back with a beard and a pony-tail complaining about the lack of American values and culture while being on a constant soap-box about why Latin America is superior to the Western world, how capitalism is the root of all evil, how much English sucks as a language, claiming soccer is the best sport invented because it is the most “international,” while wearing woven ponchos and pants with sandals. The world has enough of that guy already. So, when I get back I’m allowed to talk about how much that guy sucks.

5. I’m allowed to not trust the police even less than I already do since yesterday the former director of the Guatemalan national police was arrested for stealing US$300 million while the rest of the country lives on a dollar a day and few people seemed to be even slightly surprised or perturbed.

6. All of my nieces and nephews need to pretend they’re two years younger than they are when I get back. At least for a couple weeks while I adjust to them speaking better English than me. One caveat, Elizabeth is allowed to not poop herself every time I hold her, I’ll still be able to get the idea.

7. I’m allowed to carry a machete with me to what would be, by American standards, “a socially unacceptable place to be carrying a machete.” My machete will also have a name and no one is allowed to call it anything but that name. (Ok, I’ll allow “Your Highness” or “El Niño.”)

Stay posted, I´ll think of more.

Hello Again

Hello from Guatemala! For all of you that have been checking this site daily for the past eight months in hopes of new updates or for those of you who have this as your homepage, your persistence has finally paid off. I’ve moved Southward one country from my last soirée in Mexico which is all part of my master plan to one day have complete and total world domination; I’m imagining it being about as fun and challenging as a game of Risk. Once I have the throngs of Latin Americans (soon to be Latin Vespuchians) chanting my name in the streets there is no telling where I could go from there.(1)

After about a week of being down here I wrote something to put up here on the blog but never did for a couple of reasons. One was that a significant portion of it had to do with the lyrics of “Ice, Ice Baby” that I’m not sure would be funny for anyone other than yours truly, and a couple mildly profane jokes about bowel movements that I eventually opted out of.(2) So, I decided to copy and paste a little and come up with something slightly different while still being too lazy to completely re-write the whole thing. I apologize for any stray Vanilla Ice reference that didn’t make it’s way to the cutting room floor.

Now, getting to the stuff you actually want to know… After a couple fun, action packed days with my Mom, my cousin Conor, and my Uncle Liam in Washington D.C., I took off for Guatemala and arrived here on Wednesday. For the first three nights I stayed with two other volunteers at a family’s house in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas. They had two boys, ages 13 and 6, and we had a great time teaching them card games, playing basketball in the park, and eating their mother’s delicious food. They were all especially kind and they invited us back to stay any time we want, which I am likely to take them up on.(3)

After that we were split up into groups of four or five depending on what projects we are working in and our Spanish level and sent off to different towns surrounding Santa Lucia. I ended up in the town of San Bartolome with three other girls also working in agriculture even though I’m pretty sure they all speak better Spanish than I do. So that’s where I am now, in the house of Don Raul and Doña Olivia on a hill above San Bartolome. They live on a plot of land with about four houses all occupied by one or another member of Doña Olivia’s family. It is a really awesome place that the pictures I took will do more justice than how I can describe it here.(4) They have all kinds of animals: chickens, roosters, pigs, bulls, rabbits, ducks; and all kinds of plants: corn, a ton of avocado trees, lime trees, roses, oregano, other spices I can’t remember, and a bunch of other stuff. It is also surrounded by mountains so the view is awesome too. The family has two daughters named Carmen and Carla, ages six and one and a half, respectively. Carla cannot yet talk but has yet to stop starring at me (5) and Carmen invited me to watch “El Libro de la Selva” with her followed by “Edad de Hielo III ” which gladly I did.(6)

One thing I immediately noticed and should mention to clear up any confusion people might have since this is the same space I used to describe my time in Mexico: Guatemala is VERY different from Mexico. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that one of the only things they have in common is their language and the way they look at me when I try to explain something in that language. First, there is the issue of how Mexicans and Guatemalans, umm, how shall I put this… they don’t really like each other.(7) Also, and perhaps more importantly: their tortillas are different. I think this may be the source of their problems and how I plan on uniting Latin America the same way Bagheera and Baloo put aside their pervasive differences and united to lead Mowgli out of the Jungle and into civilization in “El Libro de Selva.” If they can’t agree on tortillas, what chances do they have with anything else? I know this isn’t exactly in my job description but then again, neither is world domination, so, ya know, I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and one final thing. According to page 65 of the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook: “Any website maintained by a volunteer during his or her Peace Corps service must reflect that it is neither an official publication of the Peace Corps nor of the U.S. government. The site must prominently display an appropriate disclaimer such as: ‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.’” I am not entirely sure who among my five readers would mistake inane references to “The Jungle Book” and Vanilla Ice as an official publication of the U.S. government, but you’ve been forewarned: Stephen Oliver speaks for Stephen Oliver and Stephen Oliver only.(8)

(I just re-read what I wrote above. The first draft with bowel movement jokes was much funnier. Sorry.)

1 Most likely the International Criminal Court
2 Those, however, would have been funny for about five people.
3 Did I mention the delicious food?
4 I’m working on putting up a photo sharing website,, but I haven’t had a whole lot of success yet. (You’ll see what I mean if you check it right now) Keep checking back if you’re interested.
5 Tall white men don’t come by these parts very often apparently.
6 For those non-Spanish speakers, that is “The Jungle Book” and “Ice Age III”
7 Some people like to call it “racism”
8 I also speak for America.

8a Seeing as I don’t want to get fired from volunteering, just kidding.