Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shaggy Dog

Sometimes when I talk to people on the phone or online they tell me, “Hey, you should blog more.” Aside from my aversion to using the word “blog” as a verb, I have a little bit of a hard time with this because I never really know what it is that I’m supposed to “blog” about. The other day my friend called me to tell me that there were apparently a couple of rabid men running around his town and his paranoid boss told him he couldn’t leave his house. I told him to spread goat’s blood over his door and he (and his unborn, first-born son) will be fine. The next day a description of these events and their lunacy appeared in his blog and I thought, “If something like that happened to me, I would actually have something to write about.” I wasn’t wishing for rabid men to be stalking my town, but something equally crazy and quintessentially Guatemalan.

Usually I just start to write things and never finish them. Not long ago I wrote a post about how as volunteers here we need to find the silver linings of Peace Corps Guatemala. For instance, my former sitemate and beer pong nemesis, Zane, finished his service and moved on to the Promised Land. I was thinking about how even though it was sad that Santa Maria Chiquimula lost its favorite son, the silver linings of this was that I now unequivocally hold the titles for “Tallest Person in All of Santa Maria Chiquimula” and “Best Basketball Player in All of Santa Maria Chiquimula.” I was thinking about making one of those championship belts that wrestlers wear to show off my new status and wear it around town. I never finished writing the post though, because I started writing about what possible silver linings I could find for being out of the country for the best season in the history of the Oregon Ducks football team. I found none and the post just ended up being really depressing so I never did anything with it.

I also wrote one about my Midservice Conference, or a fancy Peace Corps term for “Half Way Done!” I wrote another about all of the weird stuff I do in the many hours that I am alone in my room every evening, like spending entire nights doing a bad Mike Tyson impersonation solely for my own amusement, or seeing how many times I can hit the same spot on my wall with my cheap toy gun, hoping the plastic BBs don’t come back and hit me, or screaming out my favorite lines from “There Will Be Blood” in my best Daniel Plainview voice while cooking dinner. (“I AM THE THIRD REVALATION!!! I AM THE THIRD REVALATION!!! I TOLD YOU I WOULD EAT YOU!!!) I re-read that post after I wrote it and immediately decided it was much too revealing about my current state of insanity to post online for the masses. It became a journal entry instead.

In the last season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” there is a scene where Larry David chastises a couple for telling their “how we met” story. “Let me guess how it ends,” he says, “…you met!” This is sort of how I feel about most of the stuff I start out writing on here. For instance, I could have written about my Thanksgiving here, but unless there was some sort of crazy event (like rabid men running around) everyone would think to themselves, “Let me guess how it ends: you ate, drank, and were merry? Yeah, thought so.” And, well, they’d be right; in a nutshell that’s exactly what happened.

So where does that leave me? I have no rabid men, no consolation prize for missing a historic football season, nothing much to say about the Half Way Done! Conference, nothing that I should say about my copious amounts of alone time, and nothing but “how we met” stories. Now you understand my problem.

However, aside from “how we met” stories there is also something called a “shaggy dog” story. These were perfected by one of the funniest people to ever live, Norm McDonald. A shaggy dog story is when someone tells a really long and funny story full of amusing tangents and descriptive details only to get to the end or to the punch line and it is intentionally a huge let down. Everyone usually ends up being really disappointed with the whole thing because of the ending. The point isn’t the punch line, it’s the story. I’ve thought about writing some really long, made up shaggy dog stories about fantastic things like candy trees and unicorns on here only to end them with, “…anyways, then I found five dollars in my pocket,” but I figured that would just piss everyone off.

Anyways, this blog post is a shaggy dog story.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pictures That Are Better Than Mine Part II

As promised, here are the pictures that are once again better and more plentiful than anything I am capable of. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Adventures With Little Edie

Once again the wonderful and lovely Jessica, aka Little Edie, came down here to visit me and once again she took more and better pictures than I did and once again she is much more likely to put them online than I am and once again I will link it here when that is done. Last time she came she carried with her a duffel bag full of books and to continue with the trend, once again she brought me a boat load of goods. First, she brought the computer that I am writing on right now that I bought and had sent to my parents’ house. Cross that one off my list of excuses for not blogging. However, this computer has a game on it called Plants VS. Zombies that is about as addictive and mindless as heroin. Naturally, I love it. Unfortunately, Jessica had the crazy idea in her head that she did not spend hundreds of dollars and travel thousands of miles to watch me sit around fending off virtual zombies with virtual peashooters, so I will have to do my Plants VS. Zombies playing here in Xebe. What I’m trying to say is, add Plants VS. Zombies to the list of excuses for not blogging.

Other than the computer there were some things I asked for from my parents such as reinforcements on the essentials of coffee and Sriacha Sauce, super glue, and my favorite Pendleton Wool shirt. (Aside from these items that I specifically asked for, my mother decided that out of the goodness of her heart she would send me a metal kazoo and an “OOEY GOOEY Squish ‘Em Squeeze ‘Em Frog!” for my birthday. Prominently written on both labels: “Ages 3+”).

However, this isn’t even the half of it. Instead of a duffel of books, this time it was a duffel of candy and food. I’m attaching a picture so you can grasp the magnitude of how much delicious goodness I now have in my possession. Just to list a few, there are Snickers, Almond Joys, Baby Ruths, Reece’s Pieces, sunflower seeds, homemade(!) beef jerky, an assortment of teas, cookies, PowerBars, trail mix, Sour Patch Kids, a bottle of melatonin sleep aid (which will be essential since I plan on gorging myself with candy every night before I go to bed for the next month)… and that is probably only about half. Needless to say, life here in Xebe just improved exponentially.

As for the actual trip, it was the longest I’ve been away from Xebe since I got here and it was nice to have some time to travel and see another side of Guatemala that I did not know. After finding delicious sushi in Antigua on my birthday, we headed up to a place called Lanquin where went on a tour of a cave that we had to swim into and carry candles above our heads for light. Our guide said that a couple years ago some Americans came down to see how far the cave goes and after three days and 11 kilometers they had to turn around, leaving the actual distance still unknown. There was another option for spelunking in the Lanquin area in a place simply referred to by English speakers and the Lanquin Bat Caves. Even though she made it through the first cave just fine, Little Edie doesn’t exactly like small spaces and seeing as I hate bats more than Kobe Bryant’s fist pump, we decided one cave was enough.

After that our tour van/truck took us to the main attraction in the Lanquin area: a freak natural phenomenon called Semuc Champey. It is pretty hard to describe without pictures or having been there but it is basically a place along a river where the river passes underground for about 300 meters and above it is a limestone bridge that has fresh, beautifully blue spring water cascading down it. (Since this is very difficult to describe, here and here are some pictures to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.) I have no idea how this happened but it is a really great place and because of the difficulty it takes to get there, not overrun by tourists. Because of some tropical storms that caused landslides across the country, Peace Corps told me that I wasn’t allowed to travel for a few days which actually turned out to be good because we were able to go back to Semuc Champey two days later not with a tour and have the whole place to ourselves until the afternoon crowd got there.

Once we got the go-ahead from Peace Corps, we headed north towns the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Even though it was about 90 degrees at 9AM, we lazily walked around the park and saw all of pyramids and monuments and even had enough time for lunch and some quality (and much needed) bench resting time. From there we went to a place on a lake next to the Caribbean called Rio Dulce. Aside from a minor bus incident where we missed our stop that luckily wasn’t a major bus incident, we made it there and went to another freak natural phenomenon called El Paraiso. Here there is a river that has a hot springs waterfall flowing into it. (Once again, hard to explain so here are some pictures). You can stand underneath the waterfall in river temperature water while getting shower-hot water pouring down on you. Since one of my favorite things to do is jump off of high things into bodies of water, I loved it. There was even a little part underneath the waterfall that you had to swim under a rock to get to that was sort of like a natural sauna. Other than a place called the Taco Mansion, this is probably my favorite place in Guatemala so far.

The next stop was a Caribbean beach-town only reachable by an hour and a half boat ride from Rio Dulce called Livingston. It’s a very strange place and is nothing like the Guatemala I live in. I was told ahead of time by a number of people that the beaches are dirty and littered, but I had no idea. Even though the “beach” is only a couple feet before it reaches a jungle tree line, it is so “littered” that you actually have to walk on top of garbage the almost whole time. The Oregonian in me was crying.

From there it was back to Antigua for the Guatemalan Independence Day. As I explained last year at this time, I’m not exactly a fan of the parade but the street food was good so I put up with it. Then, the next day the wonderful and lovely Jessica boarded her plane and left. I went with my backpack and duffel of goodies back to Santa Maria Chiquimula and here I am, writing on my new computer, drinking a new flavor of tea, and excited to finish this up and kick some zombie ass.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Inappropriate Wedding Songs

(NOTE: Read the post below this one first)

So I wrote that bit below about list-making in a notebook in my room last night and then copied it onto the internet a few minutes ago only to log onto the Facebook network and see the my sister Maureen’s status to say: “random survey: please nominate your song choices for "songs not to be played at a wedding"... just curious what you can come up with... i'm pretty disappointed by the lists i'm finding online but i KNOW there are some terrible songs out there :)” Although I question her use of the smiley face thing (both in this case and always) and I’m assuming by “terrible” she means “terribly inappropriate for the occasion,” not just bad songs, I like the idea and it lends itself perfectly to my list-making fascination. Here’s what I came up with:

BOB DYLAN: Positively 4th Street, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, It Ain’t Me Babe, Like A Rolling Stone, Idiot Wind, or anything off of his Christmas album or Self Portrait.

NEIL YOUNG: F##kin’ Up



ROLLING STONES: Satisfaction, Can’t Always Get What You Want

U2: With or Without You, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, One

Anything by Biggie Smalls, Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Elliott Smith, and especially the Wu-Tang Clan


I like to make lists. They are simple, concise and follow a theme. I make lists all the time, in fact, I carry in my back left pocket at all times a small notebook and pen that I fill with random reminders, email addresses, thoughts/ideas, quotes, and perhaps most importantly, lists. I’ve been carrying these things around for years and the lists can vary from “To Do” lists, “People to Call/Email” lists to “Things to Buy” lists. They also tend to include lists of random things I think about that can be put into list format. Just the other day when I was cleaning some stuff out of my room I found a list I made when I first arrived in Xebe titled, “Things I might be able to do in the seemingly copious amount of free time I am about to have.” There were 14 items listed, three of which were, “Write (make lists),” “Wittle,” and “Sharpen knives for wittling.”

Despite my affinity for list-making, I was thinking the other day that there are a number of lists I haven’t made that I would be fascinated to see but it is too late to make them because I lost track of what I wanted to list. Then I started to think of all these other lists that are not too late to make and maybe someday I will elaborate on them and even turn them into blog posts, although that is pretty unlikely. So, without further ado, a list of lists that never were or someday will be:

1. List of how many “Chicken Buses” I’ve been on and for how many hours/days total.
2. List of all of the books I’ve read.
3. List of all of the movies I’ve seen. (On my lap top, of course, because the list of movies I’ve seen in the theaters would be a list of one: Inception. Which was mind blowing, by the way.)
4. List of reasons why it’s a bad idea to eat a chicaron papusa—corn tortilla with bits of pig skin stuffed inside and (probably unwashed) cabbage on top—from a lady selling them out of a dirty food cart on the side of the road.
5. List of what happens to your body when you eat said chicaron papusa.
6. List of medieval tortures I would voluntarily subject myself to instead of having #5 happen to me again.
7. List of pies that I miss and list of socially and morally reprehensible things I would do to obtain one, especially Granny’s Life Altering Strawberry Rhubarb Miracle Pie (yes, it deserves to be capitalized and copy written) which she had been perfecting for about 90 years now.
8. List of reasons why it is a bad idea to volunteer to ref a Guatemalan girls’ basketball game, or as I like to call it, Dr. James Naismith’s worst nightmare.
9. List of reasons why Peace Corps should allow us to own/drive/ride motorcycles and other rule changes that would make my life so much easier.
10. List of the effects of 500 years of oppression, racism, and gender discrimination.
11. List of the effects of 500 years of not having ever produced even a semblance of a counter-culture.
12. List of excuses for not blogging more often.
13. List of ways I’ve rationalized how often I bathe, or rather, don’t bathe.

Friday, August 13, 2010

One Year and Counting

As you probably haven't been noticing, it has been a while since I've written anything here. I have a whole slew of excuses and I even once thought of writing an entire post of excuses for why I haven't written anything for months. Since I still have over a year left here, that is still a likely possibility.

However, I do have one legitimate excuse. Usually I write out what I want to put up here on my computer so I can start it and come back to it and also so I don’t have to pay to write it at the internet café. But, a couple months ago my computer stopped turning on and it doesn’t look like it ever will again. Then when my parents came they brought me an old laptop that they weren’t using but it doesn’t seem to accept my memory drive so all of the stuff I have written on it I can’t get off.

The thing is, I have written all kinds of stuff to put up here on that computer but I have no way of posting it. As I said, my parents came and I wrote up something about their trip that sort of just turned into a list of reasons why I think I was adopted, I wrote a five page diatribe about all of my problems with soccer during the World Cup complete with footnotes and references (honestly, I really did), and my cousin Conor also came to visit me recently and I wrote about that trip as well. Alas, none of it is here. Instead you have to read this, sorry. (SIDENOTE: For all of the problems I have with soccer and soccer fans, the World Cup was awesome. Just thought that needed to be said.)

Anyways, I just wanted to stop in and say that I am still alive and doing well. Actually, I just remembered as I was typing this that yesterday was my one year anniversary in Guatemala which just happened to coincide with me eating my first ever bull testicle. I could elaborate on that but I don’t think I will; let’s just leave it at that. Also, I wanted to post the article that my dad wrote about his trip here for The Oregonian. I posted it on Facebook and all of my friends have been telling me how awesome they thought it was and one girl even wrote, ‘Yo dad is da bomb! Awesome article!’ I’m sure he will be glad to hear that since I’m positive being described as ‘da bomb’ is on my father’s bucket list. So, you can cross that one off, Dad. Next up: bull testicle.

Here's the link:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Guatemala in Paperback

I’ve been thinking about writing my own Guatemalan/Totonicapán/Santa María Chiquimula/Xebe travelers guide book. Something like, A Dummies Guide to Guatemala. However, the only part I have so far are the bullet points that will be on the back cover that are always followed by exclamation points(!) As a lame attempt to inspire people to come visit me, some of these won’t be understood unless you have been here to learn them for yourself. Tempting, huh? Here’s what I’ve got so far:

• Learn what it’s like to be a tall person in a short person’s country! Also, the best remedies for leg cramps and head bumps!
• Learn how to eat using a corn tortilla as your only utensil!
• Pay 1/8 of a dollar for a bus ride that would cost a $100 entrance fee at an amusement park in the U.S.!
• Get “Fijese qued!”
• Learn first hand how depressing life is without basketball!
• See awesome T-shirts worn by tough- guy Guatemalans oblivious to their English message that say things like, “Softball: A Game Invented by Man, Perfected By Woman!”
• Learn how to cover up for your bad cooking by smothering your food in hot sauce!
• Learn how to ride in the back of a pickup truck on a bumpy rode without getting ass bruise!
• Learn how to ask questions you already know the answer to just to keep the conversation going and avoid awkward moments!
• Learn what traje goggles are!
• Learn deep breathing relaxation techniques for when the same song that you passionately hate comes on the fifth time in a one hour bus ride!
• Learn why I giggle every time I hear the plural of the word “chapin” and why Guatemalans don’t get it!
• Learn how to act like nothing is out of the ordinary when a 45 year- old woman is nursing a 6 year- old kid and having a conversation with you at the same time!

Also, I will title this book, The Times They Aren’t A-Changin.’

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feeling Lost In Translation

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve done anything here, I tried to cheat and put up a video (a lot easier than writing something out) but it didn’t work. Things are slowly picking up around here; I started working at a school close to me doing a garden and compost project and I am going to start soon at another school, maybe two. I am also teaching an hour of English at one of the schools which I have mixed feelings about (I’m sure they have other things they could be learning that are more important) but whatever, the teachers kept bothering me about it so I guess they really want it.

My task of making these kids trilingual is accompanied by my own quest to become quad lingual (English, Spanish, K’iche’ and Basketball). I am taking K’iche’ classes twice a week for two hours from a guy in town named Rafael, who is a teacher in one of the communities. Slowly, I am catching on and learning how to make the q’ sound and differentiate it from the q, k, and k' sounds. Sometimes I wish I were filming these classes so in 10 years I could watch them and laugh my ass off seeing myself trying to pronounce q’oxom (pain) or kaqak’ayij (we sell). Sometimes after my tenth failed attempt at trying to pronounce a word, there will be a second of silence, Rafael will give me a look that can only be described as, “nope,” and then we will both start cracking up laughing. This happens often. I am making progress, however. It is not as if I don’t have anyone to practice it with. Sometimes I will try to impress people with a Tarzan-like sentence like, “Stephen see tree” or “Stephen happy.” Mostly the people here love it and eat it up like I’m a two year old saying my first words. (“Did you hear what the white kid just said? He said, ‘He see tree!’ We’re so proud of you! Do you know any other tricks?”) I now greet people in K’iche’ when I pass them, especially the older women who usually don’t speak Spanish, which nine times out of ten gets a stunned reaction best described as, “what the hell did that idiot white guy just say to me?”

The other day I was thinking about when I was in Mexico and occasionally someone—like a waiter or bank teller—would speak English and it was awesome and made my life so much easier. I remember walking in to somewhere and thinking, “Please God, let this person speak English, I have no idea how to do bank transactions in Spanish.” Now, this has changed to “Please God, let this person speak Spanish, I’m not in the mood for trying to sign language, ‘How much does this cost.’” Although my Spanish is doing alright these days, I think it just seems alright because they don’t speak the best or most fluent Spanish here. Sometimes when I go to a bigger city or watch TV or something I have a hard time understanding and it throws me off because I do just fine here in my site. Not only does the simple Spanish benefit me in that I can understand people, but people also think that I speak much better than I actually do. I was talking to an old man for a while and he asked me if I was from Spain. I couldn’t believe it, Spain? Really? I sound like Joe Namath talking to Suzy Kolber on the sideline of a Jets MNF game. Spain? After talking to another guy for a couple minutes he asked me if I was Guatemalan. I thought he was joking and started laughing. I looked back at him and immediately realized he wasn’t joking at all. This led to a very awkward moment. When I went to work at the school for the first time the teacher introduced me by saying, “This is Esteban, he’s not Guatemalan but he is going to be working with us.” Once again thinking this was a joke about how I am clearly not Guatemalan, I chuckled a little bit. He stopped talking and the whole class went silent wondering what I was laughing about. I fake coughed. That only made it worse.

My theory on this has nothing to do with my Spanish improving, because, it is still at times quite suspect. I think because the people here speak basic Spanish they hear me talk and don’t think, “This guy sounds like an idiot, I wonder what he thinks he’s saying” but rather they hear me speak and think, “Huh, this guy talks kinda funny. Judging by that and the fact that he is two feet taller than me, he must not be from these parts.”

The ironic thing about all of this is that there is not a word in Spanish for “awkward.” It’s really unfortunate because that would describe about 78% of the conversations I have here with people when we are both speaking in our second language and have nothing in common. The closest thing they have is incòmodo, which means uncomfortable. If you could see these conversations I am referring to, you would agree, “uncomfortable” isn’t coming close to doing it justice.

One of my favorite things that people do here in terms of our language barrier is when I am talking to someone and then after I respond, two people, usually women or kids, will whisper something to each other in K’iche’ so I can’t hear. Ummm, news flash: I DON”T SPEAK K’ICHE’! You could yell it into a bullhorn two inches from my face and I still would have no idea what the hell you’re saying. It baffles me every time.

About a week ago I was walking home and I ran into a nice older lady whom Don Juan and I once visited and who gave us coffee and bread when we got to her house. Maybe she was confused from that day when I thanked her and said goodbye in K’iche’ because when I saw her she stopped me and started speaking to me in K’iche.’ At first I wasn’t sure if she was just having some fun with me but it soon became clear that she was actually trying to have a conversation with me and as far as I could tell didn’t speak a word of Spanish. The conversation went something like this:

Lady: K’iche’ K’iche’ K’iche’ K’iche’ K’iche’ (Looks at me waiting for my response)
Me: Ummmmmm. (Pause) Ummmmm. (Pause) Qué?
Lady: K’iche’ K’iche’ K’iche’ K’iche’ K’iche’
Me: (with a look on my face like, well, like someone is speaking to me in K’iche’) Ummmmmm. Ooooook.

Then, I understood that she said something about ADESMA, the organization that I am partnered with here. In Spanish I said yes, I do indeed work for ADESMA. She looked at me with what I imagine was the same face I was just making. I then remembered that I kind of maybe might know how to say, “I work for ADESMA” in K’iche.’ I was sure even if I could get it out, this would not further the conversation in the slightest, but what the hell, I decided to go for it. I could picture the page in my notebook that had the verb “to work” and it conjugated in the first person. I said something, not knowing if it was even close to correct. The lady looked at me pleased and I thought, “Wow, that must have been it, she looks like she really understood that.” After wrapping up the strangest “conversation” I’ve ever had, I got home and looked in my notebook to see if I had said it right. Not even close. I have no idea what I said, if it was anything but nonsense I’d be amazed. Looking back on it, the weirdest part was the lady’s reaction. I swear, she looked at me like she knew exactly what I said. The next day I asked Rafael how to say, “I don’t speak K’iche’”: Kinch’awtaj pacha’bal. Great, just great.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pictures That Are Better Than Mine

In December my beautiful and wonderful girlfriend Jessica made the long and arduous trip down here to visit me. Perhaps just to show off and prove how bad I am at putting things up online about my Guatemalan life, she immediately put up all of her pictures on picassa and it puts what I have posted on my picassa in the last five months to shame. Anyways, she asked me to share the link with whoever I thought would like it and I figured posting it here would be easier than making a mailing list and then accidentally leaving a bunch of people out. So if you are interested in looking at some pictures that are better and more plentiful than anything I’ve shown you, go for it.

As for her visit, we both had a great time, despite a couple missteps such as lost luggage and (magically?) stolen wallets. Since I am still in the first three months of my actual service, Peace Corps doesn’t allow me to take vacation days, even though the organization I work for is on vacation and I have nothing to do. I’ll leave it at that. So, we stuck around Xebe and Santa Maria Chiquimula during the week and took off the two weekends she was here. In addition to her company, she also brought me delicious food that I have been missing greatly (BEEF JERKY!!!), some Christmas presents, and a duffel bag of books. I sent my mom and email asking for about five books that I was interested in reading down here and what I got was about half of Powell’s inventory. Maybe I’ll turn this blog into a series of book reviews since I’m clearly not using it for anything else.

Also, congratulations to Maureen and Tony on their engagement... even if he is from Texas. My thoughts on this as they have developed over the last couple weeks:

… Although I disapprove of a Longhorns themed wedding, just don’t make me wear a tux.
…I’m bringing my machete with me to the wedding and perhaps a Guatemalan boy to carry it. No ifs, ands, or buts.
…You’re both probably getting ponchos, fake mustaches, and two bottles of tequila for your wedding gift. Tony, your welcome; Maureen, deal with it.
…I think your first dance should be to all 11 minutes and 20 seconds of “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” Come on, it’d be hilarious.
…I’m excited for Tony to join the family mostly for his vote for watching football over “It’s A Wonderful Life” on Thanksgiving. It’s good having you in the winning corner.
…Is there any way that I can have absolutely no responsibility whatsoever in this wedding and its execution? Thanks, that’d be great.

One last thing, remember back before youtube when people would just send funny chain email jokes instead of funny video links? Once I got this one that ended with this joke and it was funny at the time but it is now much more applicable to my current situation, so I thought I’d share it:

At every family wedding, my aunts and older relatives always used to come up to me and pinch my cheeks and cheerfully tell me, “You’re next!” However, they stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals.

…Moral of the story: please refrain from the whole, “You’re next” or “You’re the last one left” joke. I assure you, it’s not funny.