Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Giving while still in debt

As I am currently $50,000 in debt, I have little money to actually donate to charity. However, I have found some other options to monetary donations. For the Internet lovers among us, there is http://www.thehungersite.com/, where every click generates food for the hungry (the advertisers pay for the ad space, and the money is then given to charitable organizations). You can click once per day on each computer you have. There is also http://www.freerice.com/, where twenty grains of rice is donated for each correct answer you give. You can be quizzed on vocabulary, multiplication tables, geography, art, French, Spanish, German, or grammar.

Alternatively, you can declutter and donate excess clothes and school supplies to a wide variety of organizations. The local school is always happy for donations of crayons, writing paper, and glue. They are also more than happy to take all of the excess tape and scissors off of our hands. Not only is the house a little cleaner, but someone else gets the benefit of all of the unused clutter.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jeff Foxworthy, Watch Out!

You may be in Guatemala if:
You´ve been proposed to more than once in the past six months
27 people can fit in a van with room to spare, and you're not going to IHOPs
You´re not allowed to shower if you´re sick

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's Good to Be Blond

Sometimes being blond is really entertaining. I was touring the oldest cathedral in Nicaragua today, trying to figure out what the plexiglass on the floor was covering, when a twenty-two year old guy told me it was a tomb. He worked in the church, and lifted the plexiglass so that I could get a look at the indigenous priest´s bones underneath. He told me that I must be an angel come down from Heaven, and offered to let me scale the tower for free to watch him ring the bells at noon (usually it costs 20 cordobas---about a dollar). He asked who he had the honor of meeting (where did he learn these lines?), and told me his name was Enoch. His name was so close to eunuch that I had to choke back a laugh. He was so sweet, though. Of course I didn't scale the tower with him unattended (my friend had left for Managua the day before), but it was a great thing to be offered. I love Nicaragua.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Not An American Road Trip

Today I drank this great drink made of cocoa beans. It was sweet and a little chocolately. This is the advantage of travelling: getting to try all sorts of new foods. It balances out some of the bad parts: bumpy bus rides, food poisoning, and bed bugs. This definitely isn´t an American road trip.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Granada, Nicaragua

I´ve spent my day reading, doing GRE test prep, and exploring Granada. It´s a beautiful city, but there are so many children begging in it! A lady asked me for money on the bus the other day to buy a prescription for her sick baby. She was walking around, showing everyone the prescription. Her baby was most definitely sick. You could tell just by looking at the little girl. There is just so much suffering here. There are so many people just struggling to survive. I always carry a stash of food on me now, to give to street children. I'm not comfortable giving them money, as some buy glue to sniff to take the hunger pangs away, or are forced to give a cut of their proceeds for "protection." Food is harmless.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Things the Guidebooks Won't Tell You

There are certain things that the guidebook doesn´t tell you about Central America. Like how to get rid of fleas caught teaching in a public school, or what to do when you hear gunshots in the street. Do you duck and cover, or become so accustomed to the noise that you can calculate its distance? You´ll never hear how to get rid of an enamored student who wants to be married in Mexico.

Don´t get me wrong, these tidbits have their uses: "In Tegucigalpa, armed gang members outnumber armed police officers," and "Women should never travel alone in Honduras under any circumstances." But a little info on how to identify venomous spiders in the rainforest would be nice, too.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Defective Wedding Ring

I think my wedding ring is defective.

It only scares off the good guys. Instead of waylaying my married, fifty year old Costa Rican suitor, it has only served as a twisted conversation starter. His goodbye kisses on the cheek have not halted, and I am still being offered a place in his palatial dwelling in the rainforest. While I could have used it to frighten off the one guy I found who spoke English at the Guatemalan Folk Festival, instead he chooses to try to neck me. When I protest that I have a husband, he only asks if he is here in Xela. If not, it doesn't matter. I quickly made my way to my old language school, which has a gated entrance that I swiftly closed behind me.

My bosses at the small language school hit on me, and ogle me while I wait for my student. If that is not horrible enough, they keep trying to avoid paying me! I'm through!

So now I'm going to have to have my friend Oscar come pick me up and pretend to be my husband. This could get a little awkward, but if it stops my bosses and students from hitting on me, I'm all for it. I am sick of being ogled and harassed.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


It is the rare person who stays in Guatemala for more than two weeks and does not get bedbugs. I have had the joy of getting bedbugs not once, but twice (fleas are another issue).

For those who are little squeamish, you might want to skip this post. For the curious, read on.

Initially I thought I had fleas again. I was itchy, and had tiny red bumps. I could feel little insects crawling around on me, so I was ready to break out the flea powder again. However, I took a minute to look bedbugs up online, and learned that bedbugs, unlike fleas, leave tiny black and red dots on the sheets. I checked, and sure enough, the spots were there. I, my friends, had bedbugs.

I quickly piled up my sheets to wash (by hand---the house I stayed in didn't have a working washer), and shook out my clothing. I sprayed clothing I hadn't worn yet with some heavy duty bug spray, and hung it out on the roof to air out in the sunlight. I figured if fleas didn't like direct sunlight, maybe bedbugs wouldn't either. I hoped and prayed and looked up the Spanish word for bedbugs to ask my more easygoing friend at work. Apparently, bedbugs and fleas are just part and parcel of daily life in Guatemala.

I've always wanted to have the true Guatemalan experience, and man, isn't it fun!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Armed Guards in the Banks

This is something that you just don´t see in the US: armed guards blocking your entrance into the banks. The doors are literally barred shut by men in red berets, carrying machine guns. The first time I went to change dollars to quetzales, I nearly turned back in terror. What kind of place would need that many guns, and did I really want to go there? Eventually, I bucked up the courage to enter.

I soon found out that ¨Customer Service¨ is a concept that hasn´t quite made it here yet. The bank tellers can be surly, and most deny knowing even a word of English. Their answers were curt and to the point. Three of my twenty dollar bills had small tears, and they wouldn´t exchange them. I asked them who would, and he rattled off a name speedily in Spanish. I had him repeat it, and unable to decipher his accent, asked for directions. So far, all I have to go on is: go to the bottom of Central Park, take a left, a right, and a left. Then go two blocks. So my best bet is to come in another day when he might not be working, and see if they´ll change my bills then.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Games to Play on a Chicken Bus

I'm now in the process of shifting my Guatemala posts over to this blog. Here are but a few of the fun ideas for games to play on a chicken bus, the omnipresent ancient school buses jam-packed with people and assorted livestock.
1) Buy two newspapers. Race to find the most horrifying story. Double points for catastrophic accidents that recently occurred on your route.
2) Try to cram more foreigners in a seat than deemed humanly possible. First one to get a dropped jaw from blase Guatemalans wins.
3) Convince your seatmate you only speak Chinese. Try to hold a conversation.
4) Persuade the ayudante to let you ride on the roof, as a cure for bus sickness.
5) Speak only in a Texan accent.
6) Pretend to be hard of hearing when your married seatmate hits on you. Break out your fake wedding ring and picture of your "son."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Return to Guatemala

After a five thirty a.m. flight, a five hour bus ride on winding, pot-hole filled roads, and an awful taxi ride, I am finally in Xela. Wandering down the hill in search of purified water, I have to pause in wonderment at the sunset over the Santa Maria volcano. The sky has this reddish tint that I have seen nowhere else. Walking down the rough cobblestone streets, I contemplate how lucky I am to be back in Guatemala.

The taxi driver might have tried to rip me off because I am, and I quote, "an American"; I may be facing three months of rain and mudslides preventing travel, and I might be working for $2 an hour, but I´m back. I´m back in the land of chicken buses, traditional Mayan dress, and tamalitos. I´m back to a land I can´t even pretend to understand, and it feels great. Every day is a surprise: just why are the sidewalks two feet off the ground? Will there be an earthquake today? Will the neighborhood children set off fireworks at 3 a.m.? What in the world are they celebrating?

I have my nine month supply of Duncan Hines brownie mix, Skippy peanut butter, and a whole shelf of books to pull me through.

Happy trails!

Monday, June 16, 2008

I'm On My Way

I just bought my airline ticket yesterday, and am still in shock. June 22nd, just past five a.m., I will be on my way back to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. I'll be renting a room in the two story home of a sweet Mayan family. I'll be living with a Mayan priest, his kind wife, their twenty-four year old daughter, and her baby girl.

I now have a working ATM card, a luxury I didn't have on my last trip. Four months and two wire transfers later, I now fully understand the little indulgences that Western society provides us.

I will be volunteering part-time in a daycare for at-risk children. We primarily serve single, working mothers with children between 18 months and five years of age.

To fund my stay, I will be teaching English in a language school, and working in a bookstore. I found this tiny, high-shelved bookstore during my four month study abroad trip, and knew that it was the place for me. I had found my dream job.

I am well stocked with malaria medication, and now just need to leave my travel plans with the US embassy in case of natural disaster or political unrest. Hurricane season lasts through August, so I won't be doing much travelling for a while. The chicken buses are adventure enough on their own; landslides are not needed to throw a little more excitement into the midst.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What I love about Guatemala

1) 25 cent fresh baked bread from Xelapan
2) My adorable little Parvulos (Pre-K) class---even when they're freaking out about spiders and swiping each other's chairs, they´re just so cute!
3) My baby sister in her new miniature huipil (traditional Mayan dress)
4) Cobblestone streets
5) "I love you!" calls from random guys
6) 45 cents a pound raspberries

Showerless in Guatemala

If you have a traditional Mayan family in Guatemala, don´t expect to shower when you´re sick. Or at night. Or very often at all.

I´m actually very okay with this. I never really liked to shower all that much, and I like it even less when the water is splashing all over the bathroom and the water is heated with an electric coil above my head. So now I shower about twice a week, and call it getting used to Guatemalan culture.

I have learned the strangest things in Guatemala. Like how drug dealers are now putting LSD in temporary tattoos, and flea powder can be used not just on your dog, but also on yourself. Also, bug spray helps keep the fleas at bay. Tiny things that the guidebook never tells you.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Vegan Foods I Can´t Live Without

This is a very varied list. I guess I really have to thank my parents for introducing me to a wide range of flavors and cooking styles!

Chocolate Peppermint Soymilk from Vitasoy
Curly Fries
Mezon Escondido´s Guacamole Tofu Sandwich
Taco Bell´s Bean Burritos
Breadsticks with Marinara Sauce
Bean Curd Family Style from Great Wall
Tofu Vegetable Stir-fry

The Grand Guatemala Guacamole Hunt

My grand goal for the next two months of travel is to find the best guacamole in all of Guatemala. I have scoured the country over for the creamiest, the spiciest, and the most lime-filled guacamole that can be found. I have willingly downed guacamole drenched tortillas at nine AM in this noble quest.

So far, the highest ranking guacamole comes creamy cold with limey tomato chunks. Too often, guacamole is treated as just smushed up avocadoes, with maybe a squirt of lemon or lime. This, my friends, is not right. The perfect guacamole is salty and spicy, sitting regally on a enormous tofu sandwich. It is draped with stir-fried onions and garlic, and a few slices of tomato round out the dish. A side of spicy tortilla chips and a tall glass of icy cold lemonade make this the ideal Guatemalan meal.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Eating Good in Guatemala

I'm going on Month Four in Guatemala, and have now become accustomed to beans for breakfast with a spicy salsa. Tamales are a filling and tasty complement, or a few corn tortillas. I was initially quite scared of the blue corn tortillas (my fridge at home has some like that, but they've been there a while), but now I devour them gleefully.

Guatemala is a veritable Vegetarian's Paradise. The beans are warm and plentiful, and the meat substitutes are very realistic. I had to have three of my omnivore friends try my Orale vegetarian tacos in Panajachel before I would taste them, because it looked so beef-like.

Friday, February 29, 2008

$48,000 in Student Loan Debt

It's so easy to forget to tally up the tuition bills when you have loans. Repayment is a thing far off in the future. Three years and $36,000 in scholarships later, I'm still facing a huge debt.

So, I spent the last year selling plasma, taking extra classes through Louisiana State University distance learning, and exceeding my work award at school. As a result, I will graduate a year early, saving myself from another $2,000 tuition hike and $15,000 in fees.

It's hard to think that I could scrimp so much on the little things, but forget the bigger expenses. I managed to keep my grocery budget at $15 per week, but I spent $13,000 in tuition. I think the school I attended was really good for me, but the stress I feel at imminent loan repayments is too much.

Now I'm spending my time researching loan payment options. My best bet right now is seeking a deferment, or at the very least, graduated repayment.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


You may have noticed the curious lack of posts. I, my friends, am in Guatemala.

And I have fleas.

This malady is not so rare as the developed world would have you believe. In fact, twelve out of the sixteen students on this study abroad adventure have had fleas in the past month and a half.

The cure? Common flea powder. Instead of sprinkling it on your trusty canine friend, generously cover all body parts, bedding, and clothes. I'm currently using the ever-popular Fido brand, available at any community store.