Analuisa, my host mom, scurried from her chair to the kitchen and back to the table in a tireless quest to fetch refresco or ketchup or another spoon for whoever hinted that they needed something. Meanwhile, my host dad Manuel chatted with Luli and Benny (daughter and son-in-law) about the difficulties of teaching English and French that they were encountering at their school. While they chatted, I quietly slurped my piping-hot broth after squeezing a ridiculous amount of lime juice into it and ladling a delicious overload of picante, or “spicy,” into it. (Limes will always taste like Guatemala to me now.)
At times during our meal, a member of my host family would turn towards Abby and me and make a humorous remark. The usual butt of these jokes is Abby’s disdain for mangos, plantains, and avocados and her preference instead for McDonald’s. (Once, when she was sick, she could not handle the idea of traditional Guatemalan food, and instead snuck out for some good old American McNuggets. The only flaw in this plan was that she deposited the greasy bag in our room’s garbage. One way or another, our whole host family found out, and now her love of Mickey D’s is a staple joke when she doesn’t want to eat something.)
Eventually, we finished up the broth, chomped the beef and and potatoes and güiskil (a Guatemalan squash) that had been simmering in the soup, and we were ready for dessert. Analuisa hurried to the kitchen and came back carrying a huge platter of sliced pineapple. She gave each of us a little plate and we each took a hunk of piña. As we all began carving into our dessert, she took a small container and shook a brown powder onto her slice. Benny asked her, “¿Qué es eso? ¿Es azúcar moreno?” (What is that? Is that brown sugar?) Without hesitating, she replied, “No, mi amor, no lo es.” (No, my love, it’s not.)
The whole family paused. After a moment, everyone except Analuisa gave a hearty carcajada, or belly laugh. Analuisa’s eyes widened and her mouth shrunk to a small “o” of surprise. “Perdón, perdón –” she began, but she was drowned out by raucous laughter. Benny responded with a sardonic nod and a cheeky grin, saying, “¡Pues, mi cielo, también te quiero mucho!” (Well, my darling, I love you too!)
Moments like these are what keep me going. I love understanding subtle cultural clues, like the fact that you absolutely do not call your son-in-law “mi amor.” That particular lunch, actually, was filled with laughter at Analuisa’s expense. Before that particular incident, she had been ladling out meat and vegetables for the family, and was about to sit down and eat. Before she returned to her chair, she asked if anyone would like to eat “más zanahorios,” using the masculine instead of the correct feminine zanahorias. There was another outburst of raucous laughter, prompted this time by her own shrill cackle as she realized that she had just asked her family and host daughters if they would like more “male carrots.” I’ll leave the rest of the translation of innuendo to you.
I feel, awkward zanahorio moments included, like I am slowly beginning to understand and have a place in this culture. And I firmly believe that this is mostly because I’m learning to accept my own linguistic and cultural gaffes. Someone who was possibly important may have said at some point, “He who can learn to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused.” I am learning that lesson over and over, and in the process, I am learning how to communicate effectively and with fewer errors.
That said, this afternoon, I definitely asked the maid Adela where the soup was. When she looked confused, I elaborated by telling her that I needed soup to wash my plate, you know, with this sponge? Ahh, that subtle difference between the deceptive “sopa” and the hamlike “jabón.” It gets me every time. But regardless, I corrected myself and we had a good laugh about that.
But I digress.
I have not blogged in a very long time. Since my last post, WordPress has not allowed me to create a new post or edit any of my previous ones. Hooray for technical difficulties! So when I opened my computer today, sadly navigated to my blog, and hopelessly clicked on “New Post,” I was beyond shocked that it worked. So take heart, dear followers (all two of you… hi, Mom and Dad!); I have not abandoned my documentation of this intrepid journey.
In the last 12 days, a lot has happened. Obviously. Most of it is unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. Even so, I shall update you.
I am mostly adjusted to life without a right thumb, and my southpaw script is improving. When people look at my handwriting now, they don’t pity me for not having my normal hand to write with. They just give me sideways glances, wondering why a 19-year-old writes like an 85-year-old woman. I will have the brace on at least until next Monday or Tuesday, and then the nice trauma specialist will give me another rayo X (that’s X-ray, for those of you not fluent in Spanish medical terminology) and see if my bones have fused yet. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
In my last few blog posts, I wrote about learning to be high-maintenance and patient with myself and all those good warm fuzzy life lessons. Those are still happening, but I think I’m over the brunt of it. So yes; for all intents and purposes, this chapter of self-development is closed. Okay, not quite the right sentiment… writing the draft of this chapter has been completed? Yes.
What has been under my skin lately is poetry. I have always loved poetry, but just like learning to play guitar and bellydancing and daring culinary adventures, my love for poetry goes through phases. Right now I am most certainly in a poetic phase. What that looks like in an average day is this: at some point during the evening, I will work myself into a tizzy about Robert Frost or George Herbert or Gerard Manley Hopkins and read a poem or seven to Abby. She charitably puts up with this one-sided love affair, nodding and smiling at the good parts (or at least the parts where I pause and look at her expectantly). I have compiled a 16-page anthology of my favorite poems and am currently attempting to memorize them one by one.
Sometimes I get into a weird funk, and this is one way it happens to me: I become very dissatisfied with who I am, culturally speaking, and decide to better myself, make myself a more well-refined individual who can have distinguished and intelligent discussion on the merits of Shakespeare’s love sonnets versus those of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Or perhaps by learning to play another instrument. Or maybe by reading “War and Peace.” Or maybe by… you get the point. I am rarely satisfied with my cultural fluency (or lack thereof). Especially in Guatemala. But I’m learning!
Speaking of things I am rarely satisfied with, I have been having some stomach pains for about a week now. They had only come after I ate, and departed entirely shortly thereafter. So I had been dismissing them. But when I woke up this morning, I felt like Wolverine had my guts in a chokehold. I ended up skipping my work with the microfinance team today (sad days indeed), venturing instead to the clinic with Becky. Long story short, the very nice doctor lady told me that I have a bacterial infection, a parasite, and high blood pressure. Bacteria? Unexpected! I have had that problem before, with different symptoms, but I suppose that there are multiple species of bacteria in this country. So I accept her wise judgment. Parasite? Not hoped for, but expected. I realized, later in the day, that yes, my stomach has been making weird noises and pretty much in every way fitting the symptom check. I just thought it was gurgling a lot because it wanted food. Numbskull. And high blood pressure? Totally unexpected. In the past, when I’ve gone to the doctor, that has not been an issue. The doctor was very concerned, and I have to admit that I am too. It’s not dangerously high — 155/100 — but when I almost always come out at or below 120/70, it’s a reason to be worried. In the end, Nice Doctor Lady prescribed me some antibacterial meds and a diuretic to take my blood pressure down, and told me to come back next week to see how my parasite is doing. Oh good. So yes… I am fairly certain that in the last seven weeks, I have had more medical issues than I have ever encountered before. Please be praying for me… I’d really like to get rid of this bacterial infection, my parasite (who I have lovingly dubbed “Hilda”), my high blood pressure, my brace, and just enjoy a calmly gluten-free life.
But enough complaining.
Life is really, really good. I can’t even comprehend it.
I am living in Guatemala.
I have a host family who loves me, who is genuinely concerned about me, and is comfortable enough with me to command me to go wash my hands before I sit down for supper because Manuel knows I forgot again.
I have a roommate who, despite… okay, really, despite nothing: we joke around with each other, we try to creep each other out, we sing Ke$ha songs, we laugh at each others’ illness woes while simultaneously really caring about each other; I couldn’t ask for a better roommate (girl lookit that roommate!).
Even though we have bugs in our room, at least they’re junebugs and not scorpions or something that kills you in your sleep (also, junebugs win the dubious award of “Cutest Spanish Bug Name,” with “ronron”).
While I have some medical stuff going on, there has never been a moment where I have worried about having to be admitted to a hospital or even sent back to the US for treatment. That is a blessing.
I love my team at the microfinance ministry site; it has been so fun to get to know Jeremy and Erik and our leader Aaron while we vaccinate chickens and walk around Antigua and make sales pitches to companies like Dunn Bros (no big deal, but National Geographic just decided to sell our cards online).
And possibly the most important factor: I learned today that mango season lasts until the end of May. Hallelujah!
This is my life. God is so good. My friends, both in Guatemala and back in the good ol’ EEUU, are amazing. And yes, you’re one of them. (You’ll be even higher on my list if you comment on this post.)
Thanks for reading this exhaustive and potentially exhausting blog entry. Grace and peace to you.