17 – 27 January 2006
Sadly, I will be giving up two things that I had hoped to do during my time here in Guatemala. The first is taking salsa lessons. For those of you who didn’t know, I was taking intensive lessons for three hours each month in Antigua. My goal was to reach a competitive level, but without a steady partner with whom to practice, I was forgetting a lot of what I was learning. Finding a dance partner has been, for me, as difficult as finding a life partner: some like to dance to a different rhythm; others don’t like my style or are scared off by my sense of commitment; and still, with others, there isn’t that natural ease in communication. I shall be content with being able to twirl a girl without spraining her wrist. The time will come when the dancing machine in me will be on again.
The second thing that I will give up is washing my clothes by hand. I know this may come as a disappointment to my parents, who enjoy the irony of their son doing what they worked so hard to escape in rural Vietnam. But, I want to use those extra two hours each day to learn other things – like mastering some recipes from all those cookbooks I brought from the States. My little cousin is studying to be a chef. I have nightmares where he and I are squaring off in “Iron Chef: San Gabriel,” and he has this Chinese-fusion-thing going and I can’t compete. So, he wins and instead of shaking my hand, he says “BAAM!” and throws a dash of ground pepper into my face.
I will be learning other things as well. From the money that I would be using for my dance lessons, I’m going to start taking art classes! Yes, I will be able to draw more than just stick figures. It would be quite a treat to paint some of the beautiful things I see in life. Photography is one thing, but transferring the image in one’s mind to a canvas is a whole different experience altogether. I don’t expect I will become the next Picasso or Waterhouse. If I can just paint a portrait of someone without it looking like some carnival horror show, I’ll be happy.
HERE’S TO YOU SRA. ROBINSON?
Just because a woman is in her golden years and has aching bones all over doesn’t mean she won’t try to cop a feel if she can get away with it. I live with a bunch of ol’ ladies. They are very sweet and very kind to me. I like the back of my neck caressed or my back stroked as much as the next hamster. But, what do I say when they slip their hand under my sweater, or run their hand across my stomach?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m not just asking for it. Do the male chauvinist rules of Guatemala benefit women as well? If I walk around the house in tight blue jeans, a white t-shirt and flip-flops in the presence of women whose husbands are either long-dead or are working in the capital, am I not being a tease? The “large” t-shirts in Guatemala are actually small by U.S. standards. So, my embarrassing man-boobies are doing their headlight thing. Am I not, then, just asking to be groped? It’s my fault, really.
For example, last night, I cooked a nice plate of kung-pao beef and shared it with my landlady. She got up to leave and thanked me, but stopped to talk to her older brother. While talking she caressed the back of my neck like an adoring grandmother. Unfortunately, I was wearing my t-shirt with the stretched-out collar. So, the opening was just begging for her hand to feel my youthful shoulder. My landlady rubbed my nude skin as she continued to talk to her brother (he’s blind from cataracts so he couldn’t witness a thing.) Then her nail started picking my skin. Apparently, she found an annoying whitehead. She stretched out my collar even more, and with a nail from her other hand, began to pinch it like she was popping a zit.
All this time, I was chewing on a mouthful of kung-pao beef, wondering what the hell I can say. She finished soon enough, rearranged my shirt and patted my head. Still confused, I could only muster, “Gracias,” and another scene from Señora Robinson came to pass.
I should stop sharing my food and start wearing more clothes.
I spent three days at work the other week organizing the new music that I got from Dan, the new volunteer at Té Chirrepec. My productivity was zero. What can I say? Laziness happens. Without any real checks and balances, the burden of the initiative is on the volunteer. And my initiative occasionally leads me to do things like organize my music files.
During those several days, I made a pleasant discovery: I’m enamored with Eva Cassidy. Like any good vocalist, it was how the sound of her voice caressed my mind that attracted me. Her songs ranged from folk and jazz, to covers on The Beatles and Etta James, to religious traditional and good ol’ country tunes. I was especially smitten by her rendition of “Tennessee Waltz” and another song entitled “You Take My Breath Away.” When I went on the BMG Music database to look up her profile, I found that she has a tragic story to boot. Producers found it so difficult to pigeonhole her into a specific genre of music that they never gave her a contract. Then she was diagnosed with cancer and died at the age of forty-something. As fate would have it, her music became popular post-mortem when a disc-jockey in the UK started playing her stuff. I’m glad that she was discovered. She left behind some kind of beautiful.
PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS ARE SPIES FOR THE U.S.!
Those of you who know Becca, the volunteer that she replaced in Panama came through Cobán the other week. During the five days that Christel was in Alta Verapaz, she was able to see some of our natural wonders (i.e., Semuc Champey, the swimming hole at Sataña, the caves of Kam Ba, to name a few). She has since left for the ruins of Tikal. It’s amazing to consider that she’s been traveling all over Central America since October.
During one of the dinners that she had with us volunteers here, she told us an interesting story:
Christel was somewhere in Nicaragua. Central American hospitality prohibits people from drinking alone, especially when the person who’s drinking is a white female from the U.S. So, this caballero walks over, buys her a drink, and invites her to join his table of men and women who were just relaxing after a long day’s work. Everyone was very congenial, employed as one sort of professional or another. As the night continued, this one woman, a lawyer, was getting a little too red in the face. She exclaimed how she’s known many Peace Corps volunteers. She thinks that the help they offered over the years is a benefit to her country. Then, like the sudden stop of a car sans screech of rubber tires on asphalt, the friendly conversation came to a halt. The smile dropped from the woman’s face. With a pointed-finger and beer-blurred eyes, she said, “Admit it! You’re a spy, aren’t you?”
“Excuse me?” Christel said. She wondered how the conversation took this crazy turn.
“I know you’re a spy. Just admit it!” Christel looked around the table and everyone was silently embarrassed, eyes averted. Her accuser was intent on ferreting out the truth: “I know you Peace Corps people are really spies, because I was once a spy myself!”
This woman kept on badgering Christel about being a spy, saying how she was once an operative under the Nicaraguan president and hated what the U.S. and the CIA did to her country. No help was coming from the caballero who invited Christel to the table in the first place. One thing led to another, and the ex-spy started threatening her: “You know… you should watch your back here. It’s usually safe, but you should be more careful. I could come up behind you with a gun and – blah, blah, blah.” Christel excused herself and got out of there.
The next day, Christel ran into the caballero. She asked about the ex-spy-lawyer-woman from last night. He said that after Christel left, the woman put her head down on the table. She cried a bit. The group had to carry her home.
As if volunteers don’t already have a tough time fighting off this “Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan” image, our beloved President decided it would be prudent to allow military reservists to finish their last year as a Peace Corps volunteer.
TO ALL MY LITTLE COUSINS BACK HOME
We haven’t had a Halloween slumber party in quite some time. Remember the blue worms? Ah, you guys believe in anything. I suppose you’re old enough to know, now, that the lump in my throat isn’t because of a mouse I ate when I was fifteen, (but don’t tell Ying-Ying!)
So, I was possessed one night to write this poem for you guys. Hope it scares the bejeezus out of you:
“Little Girl by the Dock,” by Your Older Cuz
Oh, little girl by the dock
Why are you out when it’s so dark?
Oh, little girl by the dock
Why am I afraid to bring in my raft?
From this distance, you seem so innocent
Fool moon’s fog, the water exhaling its chilly breath
I’m cold on my craft, jacket and mittens
You stand there, bare feet in mud, silent
A stubborn apparition refusing Death
Oh, little girl by the dock
Aren’t you cold in that flimsy sleeping gown?
Oh, little girl by the dock
Must your head turn its face to me?