Thursday, December 14, 2006

Soccer with kids

In the alley behind where I’m staying there are always kids playing soccer in the evenings. My housemate Nicki commented on how I don’t hold back against the six year olds.. I told her I play to win.

(The last few posts have been text intensive so here are some pictures.)

the alley

the kids

My housemate Megan taking a picture of the kids

My other housemate Nicki and I with Edwin and Isabella

I bought a motorcycle

I bought a motorcycle and its super-sweet. I’ve only wrecked once so far.

Shoeshine boys diversifying their markets

Written for 4 December

I was in Antigua’s central park with my friend, Nicki, waiting for someone to pick us up to look at a condo for rent. As we were standing there, a shoeshine boy (they’re all over the city) of about 14 or 15 years of age came and asked me if I wanted my boots shined. I respectably declined his offer but he persisted and pointed out how scuffed my boots were. Now this was true because I had just been riding a motorcycle but I didn’t know exactly when were we’re going to be getting picked up so I declined (also, I didn’t want my boots shined anyway). Then the boy asked me, (translated as I heard it)

“Do you want to buy a mota?”

I was surprised. How did this shoeshine boy know I was thinking of buying a motorcycle? And how could a shoeshine boy afford a motorcycle in the first place? So I responded,

“Yes maybe,” acting interested but not too interested (almost coy). And then I continued,

“What kind of mota is it?


This response surprised and baffled me... I don’t believe I’ve heard of that kind of motorbike before. Who would name their cycle line Skunk?. it must be Korean or something. My curiosity was peaked.

“Where was the mota made?” I asked.

“In San Pedro [a small town south of Antigua] at my house,” the young chap responded.

This response confused me further.. what kind of shoeshine boy would be manufacturing motorcycles as his house.. he must of misunderstood my flawless Spanish. As I started to re-ask the question, the boy lifted his hand as if to signal everything was ok but then he placed his thumb and index finger to lips and made a sucking sound. Or toking sound, if you will. And then I realized a critical element of the conversation was lost in translation. This kid has been trying to sell me weed for the past five minutes and I thought I had been asking him about motorcycle. I explained what had just transpired to my friend Nicki and she responded,

“Do you fancy [she’s British] a coffee?”


And we slipped into a nearby café, leaving the industrious youth of the cheeba trade to rethink his strategic campaign.

Language lesson:
Motocicleta or Moto (Espanol) - Motorcycle (English)
Marijuana or Mota (Espanol) – Marijuana (English)

Knowledge is power..

Back in the saddle again

Written for 4 December

After we distanced ourselves from the police, Gerber pulled the motorcycle over so that I could give it a try. We had gone to a low traffic area so that I could get feeling back since I hadn’t ridden in about 9 months. (Antigua is a city of about 40,000 with zero stoplights and improvisational traffic laws. Negotiating traffic on a motorcycle is a bit stressful especially on unpredictable cobblestone streets.) I familiarized myself with all the controls as Gerber got on the back. I didn’t tell Gerber this at the time (because I was too excited to ride) but this was the first time I had ridden with someone on the back. We were situated and ready go.

Slipping the cycle into first gear, I eased out the clutch and rolled back on the throttle.. (now, I should have gotten a better feel the clutch before we started, but I didn’t.) I felt nothing but the unbridled fury of 125cc, the dusty wind hitting my face and the shear terror as we popped a wheelie and continued to accelerate. I could hear Gerber behind me yelling in his broken english, “I don’t want to die!!” as we wobbled back and forth on the road. Once we got up to about 30 I got the bike under reasonable control and we set off through some backroads south-west of Antigua. Riding wasn’t bad at all once I got a feel for it again. And aside from the wheelie, we only about died one other time.

“policia” is spanish for “thief”

written for 4 December

I had my first run in with the Guatemalan police today. I was riding on a motorcycle with my friend Gerber when we got flagged down. The officer asked Gerber for his motorcycle license and registration and talked with him in a very low voice. After a couple minutes of talking, the officer walked back over to his truck and I asked Gerber what was going on and what we had done wrong. Gerber told me that we hadn’t done anything wrong and that the officer just wanted money (and Gerber wasn’t going to pay him). The officer came back over and talked to Gerber some more.. as they chatted his partner flagged down another motorcycle to shake-down. The officer talked about how we should be more responsible and how this didn’t need to happen, leaving gaps in the conversation for my friend to interject with a “solution”. He went back to his truck again and this time returned with a book of traffic laws. Apparently there is a helmet law in Guatemala (but only the pizza delivery guys wear helmets) which is occasionally enforced and we weren’t wearing helmets. Gerber managed to talk our way out of the situation and we didn’t have to pay the officer or the state.

The next day I asked my Spanish teacher about the police and she told me that not all but a lot of the cops do that. Especially during the Christmas shopping season.


Written for 2 December

There was an earthquake affecting a big part of Central America today. Apparently it originated less than 100 kilometers off the Pacific and was felt in El Salvador, southern Mexico and most of Guatemala. It was a 5.8 on the Richter Scale but a 10! on the kick-ass scale (it was my first earthquake). No one was injured and no serious building damage was reported.

When it started I was in a restaurant and I just thought someone was kicking my chair. But when I didn’t see anyone behind me I thought was having a relapse and I as going to pass out again. Then I realized everyone in the building was acting funny and some were heading for door-frames. I just sat there kind of dumb-founded because I didn’t realize it was an earthquake until it was almost over. When it was over there was just an eerie hush as everyone took a deep breath and thanked God the roof didn’t come in. The light fixtures swayed and the hooka tubes jingled together.

Beautiful Day

Written for Friday November 30th

This past Monday at language school there was some rumbling in stomach. Nothing which would be considered too unusual considering my diet. The afternoon was met with sulfurous gas (in stereo) which was quite bothersome. However I dismissed this and blamed it on some old crackers I ate. Night came and I went to bed with no worries about my personal health.

However, the flood gates to the lake of fire were opened about a quarter after one in the morning. Rising from bed, I very intentionally fumbled my way to the bathroom. And it began. If I had eaten something which hadn’t agreed with me, it was doing everything possible to get out of me as quickly as possible. I hadn’t experienced illness like this since my marginally lactose intolerant body took on the gallon milk challenge in college. As I sat, I rocked back and forth in a cold sweat and tried to keep my wits about me. But there was nothing to prevent what happened next. I woke up wondering why my bed was so cold and ceramic. Slowing raising from the bathroom floor, I realized I had fallen and that my face had broken my fall. Quickly I referenced the mirror to make sure all my teeth were in place and to look for other damage. Using toilet paper I wiped the blood from the corner of my mouth and what was on the floor. I think I was only out for maybe 5 or 10 minutes. And dammit that hurt but this pain was dulled by my contorted stomach. I finished cleaning up and went back to bed. I thought of calling my housemate (he’s an EMT) but he would probably just tell me to go to bed.. so I did.

Positioning myself to loosen the knots in my stomach, I imagined how the fish pose (yoga’s “destroyer of all disease”) would end me right now. I laid there ignoring the pain as I was soothed to sleep by a symphony of enchanted whale song resonating from my abdomen.

Three-thirty I was up again. This time I made a very conscious effort to focus on the details of floor tiles to hopefully prevent waking up on them again. Success. I didn’t pass out but it was still obvious that I was quite sick. And I returned to bed assuming the most comfortable position.

At seven I woke up from the sunshine in my window. I grabbed my cell phone and called my housemate, Paul, in the next room to tell him that I wasn’t going to language school today. He asked why and I explained my night. He brought me a bowl of dry cornflakes and I asked him if I needed stitches. He said only if I didn’t want a scar. I thought I’d rather have a scar than get out of bed right now. Paul went to school and I stayed in bed.. but not for long.

Round three came at eight in the morning. I went back with little left to give and gave it up. And then my illness undertook a dramatic change in format. Quickly I spun around, took the wheel of the porcelain school bus and lost what was left on my stomach. I fumbled with the lever to flush the bowl to prevent any splash back. Success. After that episode, I decided if it happened again I ought to go to the hospital.

I ate the cornflakes in bed and stayed there until about noon. Later I decided to take on lunch at one. I was tired but no longer physically ill. The road to recover took alittle time.. Since I was so dehydrated from the experience, I, more or less felt, hungover for about two days. But I’m much better now.

And you may be asking, “Why is today a beautiful day?” Cue the U2 and kick it up a notch Bono.. we have something to sing about. Since being sick Tuesday morning, today I had my first solid bowel movement. Beautiful day.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not cool USA

I learned yesterday from a Guatemalan friend that the only way for a Guatemalan to apply for a tourist visa to the US is through an on-line form. This is a common practice in the US because the majority of people have internet access (at work, home or the library). But here in Guatemala it is different. Most people in Guatemala do not enjoy easy access to the internet, due to the cost, and are thereby are denied the ability to even apply for a visa due to their economic status. I understand that this drastically decreases the number of applications that the US Embassy receives and thereby reduces their volume of work. But something in it rings unjust to me.

Using technology to limit the opportunities of a population.. not cool USA.

The same plane of disgust as plumber’s crack

I have discovered a new calling for my time while I’m in Guatemala. This is a mandate which I ignored while I was still in Cincinnati but now there is no excuse for my laxity in moral character. This horrid, despised, social faux pas must be prevented. Public breast feeding. While living in the Upton area of Clifton I witnessed the awkward imposition of child feeding on the occasional occasion but my response was limited to thinking “What’s she?? No, she not.. Not right here. Oh crap, I hope she doesn’t think I was trying to see her boob. I was just shocked and had to look a second time to be sure I knew what was going on. This is awkward.. Why does this always happen at church?”

Upon leaving the comforts of Ohio and moving to Central America, I had hoped that the culture, which from a superficial position appeared more conservative, would discourage such an act. But how I was wrong.. Babies seem to be nursing everywhere; In the park, in church (again), I witnessed a mobile suckling unit with baby under arm and mom on the go yesterday and, of course, at the dinner table with my new boss. You may be wondering how I hope to bring about such a change.. to change the landscape maternal breast exposure. Well, this past summer I did research on technology and practice acceptance in the developing world. After looking at a number of case studies it was determined that one of the key factors in behavior change was grassroots education of individuals with personal or vocational skills. This is where I will begin.. with a slight Americanization (..or “betterization” if you will) of the culture. First I will convince women that breast exposure is meant to be restricted to pay-per-view and discreetly packaged magazines arriving by mail. And then the women will be demanding our solution (which, of course, will be imported from US manufactures, $$)… the blanket. The blanket will allow women to breast feed in public without the inconvenience of disturbing me. Please allow these figures to demonstrate:

Congratulations Tommy and Stephanie on your engagement!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

boring fulfillment of a self-imposed obligation

I’m trying to do at least one blog entry a week but I feel like I need huge/dramatic events to write about to at least make it interesting (like celibacy or calling someone a whore). But this week I think you’re just going to have to bear through it. It's just a simple update.

Last Sunday (10 days ago) the team left and it was time for me to move in with my host family and begin Spanish school. The family I moved in with is the Gonzales’s. They are very kind, have an awesome house and a dog. Also, they have three daughters, ages 6, 10 and 13. I have my own room with a queen bed and a private bath. I haven’t had a private bath since I was in high school and my brother left for college. Also they have piped hot water (a rarity). Most places I’ve stayed have had electric showerheads which heat the water by running a current through it before it falls on your head.

As for school… my first week I felt like I did nothing but school, six hours in the classroom a day plus homework at the night. This week I decided to drop back to the original plan of four hours a week. So far I’ve used my extra time for naps and buying a cell phone. I think for the rest of my afternoons though I’m going to opt for coffee instead of naps so I can get a little more done.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

count my underwear..

This past week we hosted a team from the US. It was good to work with a team so early in my tenure down here in order to to get an idea of what teams expect of me and also to interact with good humored individuals and receive a glimpse of Bible-belt-tonian beliefs (scary). It was kind of a rude awakening to see the political homogeneity within this group. It reminded me that prevailing Christian culture is polarized to the right but I had forgotten how severe it was after spending about 5 years in a Christian community where diverse political beliefs existed and did not divide. But the off color comments of the one guy in the team made it quite bearable (i.e. "I bet if I come down here again I'll find that woman over there (the young teacher at school for disabled children) answering your door in your bathrobe." Unlikely Tim, I don't own a bathrobe.. and I'm celibate).

During the week our project with the team was to build two energy efficient cookstoves for families in Santa Maria de Jesus. My senior thesis in college related directly with these type of stoves, so I was already aware of the benefits. If you would like to learn how these stoves protect the health of the family, reduce pollution to the environment and decrease economic stain on the family you can check out this totally unrelated blog to this one (

Here are what the stoves and the families look like:

I wish I had written down the names of the people in the pictures but the only names I can remember are the little girl in the first picture, Linda, who treated me like a jungle gym and the boy in the red shirt in the other photo who name was Walfred but everyone called him "Chewie."

A side note: To attest to my character, I pointed out to the team the number of pairs of my underwear that were on the clothes line after I did laundry on Saturday. 7 days, 7 pairs on the line. I am a fine young gentleman.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Yesterday my new supervisor, Margarito, picked me up from the Guatemala City airport. After having lunch together and driving to my temporary home in San Pedro El Alto I was able to establish that my spanish blows. The first indication of this was Margarito's questioning expression anytime I tried to ask a question or make a comment. Also this was reconfirmed today when I think I called someone a dirty whore at a house warming party (it was an accident). But you have got to start somewhere.

Aside from the whole not-really-knowing-spanish thing the transition has not been too terribly traumatic so far. Antigua and Santa Maria de Jesus (where I'm going to be working) are somewhat familiar to me from previous trips down. The position I'm filling in Margarito's organization was a skeletal concept before I came down and it is slow beginning to flesh itself out. Fortunately, Margarito is super cool and patient and knows that I'm here to work with him and not to try to highjack things for my own gain like most foreigners have done here for the past 500 years. Also, Jeff (the president of the umbrella organization which Margarito is under) is very receptive of my desires to learn and try new things, to grow professionally and to help grow the vision of the organization.

Even though this is just beginning I think I can say with confidence, my job is totally sweet.