This is my first and if so far has been any indication of what I can expect, my only post from Guatemala.

Life is Good. I’m surrounded by some of the most ridiculous natural beauty I’ve ever encountered. The mountains literally wear the clouds as neckties here, the peaks rise so high you have to lean back to see them in their entirety. There are more flowers and trees and birds and little squirrel things than I’ve ever seen in one place at one time. The towns are my type of town, old and tiny and dirty with cobbled narrow alleyways of streets and houses the colors of candy, with stained glass windows and doors from god knows how long ago with intricate carvings and locks and knobs. Dogs run around with their own take out bags in their mouths, salvaged from some knocked over trash can or curbside, tails awag and heads high with their own self importance. Kids tear screeching through the streets with soccer balls or naked babydolls, mothers and grandmas yell at you from their stalls or shops explaining why their weavings or jewelry or tamales are better than what that lady right there (finger pointing, shaking of head) has to offer. Men and boys ride standing by the dozen in the backs of pickup trucks as small as Ford Rangers to and from the fields every morning and evening, laughing and joking and apparently utterly unconcerned for life and limb as they bump down the broken roads with machetes at every waistline. The busses are their own sort of animal; they’re all painted special colors, with names like Esmeraldita or Jesus the Salvation, and they’re personalized to the bus driver’s taste with foil filigree and logos and stickers, bursting out every window with passengers, stopping for no man, woman, child or vehicle, blaring horns as loud as an ocean liner’s. Tiny little taxicabs zoom around on three wheels, two for most corners, bristling with arms and legs and babies on laps, driver bent over the wheel in the impressive concentration it takes to weave centimeter by centimeter in and out between trucks and pedestrians and the larger potholes, also stopping for nothing on god’s green earth, also named precious things like Edgar and Jehova Jirah. I about peed myself when I saw Jehova Jirah for the first time. Massive loaded semi trucks navigate the tiny streets with a team effort of driver, spotter on the passenger side, and the helpful shouts and flailings of any pedestrians, sidewalk stand operators or other drivers in danger of being run over; on Thursday I watched a great old mercedes cab with a thirty foot trailer park inch by inch in approximately forty feet of space between a parked motorcycle and a vegetable vendor. The entire block was in on that one. Everything seems so much more of a group effort here. Entire villages are dedicated to making straw reindeer decorations or striped pots. Entire families present the family business of sweetbreads or beaded jewelry or striped pantalones with pride and a weathered eye toward haggling prices upward. Everyone from the grandmas to the five year olds know exactly how much this same camisa costs at the shop across the street, and are knowledgeably pleased to offer you their higher quality product for five quetzals less, a very good price, very cheap, you like, you take, I get you plastic bag? I bought an intricate beaded bird from a five year old who puffed up with pride like a fat little chicken when I inquired who made it, and he told me that his mama made it, his mama made all these beautiful things, his mama is the very best in Santiago. I let him talk me up five quetzals, even though I knew he was doing it, just because I was so delighted to hear him speak so confidently about the many virtues of his mother. I didn’t understand all of them, but I didn’t care either. I hope if I ever have a son he can be as proud of whatever shit I wind up doing. Not that I plan on being able to create perfectly formed frogs and peacocks out of tiny glass beads, because OMG the delicacy and the probability that I would wind up with a crooked horny toad and a draggled mop bird, but you know. I intend to do something or other well.

On the other hand, these people are fucking poor. They have a life that looks magical to me, with its odd tangy combination of old world and new sneakers, but it’s abundantly clear that they work harder than any people I’ve ever seen in my life for less than a quarter of what even the poorest North American takes for granted on a daily basis. Like the ability to flush the toilet every time you use it, or to have drinking water that won’t grow dreadful new life forms in your intestines, or to wash your hair in something other than a bucket kneeling over your doorstep to let the soapy water run down the street. Or any other water related privileges, for that matter. The water is precious here, and it is a crappy kind of precious. If you live here you either have to be rich enough to buy it bottled or have a filter, or you have to develop an immunity to the diseases it carries. Good luck ever having a shower, and if you do, as I have learned intensely and rapidly, good luck with it being even remotely warm or presenting with any sort of pressure above a sporadic sort of trickle/spurt/rush/repeat cycle. The homes mostly appear to be the size of my living room, and my living room is not exactly large. Emaciated chickens and cows and goats meander around on the ends of their ropes in the yards, ignoring the screaming exuberance of the soccer games and the vigorous lines of flapping laundry. The crops are suffering under the influence of extreme flooding and landslides this year, and corn stands dead on the stalk in most fields. Many people will starve this year, and many of them will live through it as an accepted way of life.

But they’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever seen. The tiny crumbling houses are covered in sprawling glorious gardens of flowers and flower and flowers and flowers, and everyone I’ve talked to demonstrates an almost laughable amount of real pity for me and my sad ugly city with its trees in dirt islands surrounded by cement, and they’re only marginally comforted when I tell them I have a container garden and I painted trees on the wall outside my windows. Their life is better than mine, they make no bones about it, because they have la vida perfecta con muchas flores y harbors. Some of these people don’t even have electricity, but they have time to be sorry for me and my lack of plant life. And they work harder every day than I probably ever will on any except the most extreme days of my life, but they have more fun doing it than I’ve had so far on most of the easiest office party days of my life. Great bundles of wood make their way home on the backs of three foot tall children, who are gabbling and gamboling and giggling at my hat with apparently the best of humor as they walk unbent under their burdens. Women carry huge baskets of fruit or tamales on their heads with lines of contentment on their faces and unbelievably straight posture and lightness of step. Men make the kind of jokes only men make as they drag huge bags of something between the two of them to hoist onto a twenty foot pile on the back of a truck, and then they climb on top of this pile and ride with straight backs and proud arms and shake with laughter on top of this world. The happiness is unmistakeable. Nobody seems to think that they have it very hard at all. I’m sure that there is great suffering and any quantity of tears are quietly shed behind closed doors, but the community seems to bubble forth constantly with pride in ‘small’ accomplishments and instant hope at the sight of a potential customer. The sharing instinct is overwhelming. I have never felt so consistently rich and grateful and delighted to be alive as I have this last week, and this is coming from a girl who has had two hot showers in that amount of time, and one of them was not on her birthday. I was kind of hoping the universe would see fit to give me a hot shower for my birthday, but no. On my birthday I woke up at five thirty am, took a freezing fucking sixty second shower, (I cannot stress how not even exaggerating I am about the freezing part, see also: sixty second part), went to Burger King for breakfast and had a cup of orange juice and a cup of coffee because I am not a morning eater anyhow and Burger King for breakfast just kind of turns the stomach like only a pile of greasy unfood can, and I did not see my family or any of my old friends, and I did not have a party and I did not fucking care. It was one of the best birthdays ever, and I did have delicious cake, which of course is the main point anyhow. Oh my godz, you guys, I am not looking to be a tiresome bore here and so I will only say it once, but there is fucking nothing like being immersed in a culture where everyone has ‘so much less’ than you have and is so clearly so much happier than you are to turn you into a beautiful, thankful, sparkling spirited person. I was even grateful for that cold shower. Let us not get the idea that I did anything other than curse and shiver and make great weeping gollum sounds while the icy water hit my body, but as soon as it was over and I tingled with cleanness and the most wide awake at six am feeling ever, I had to laugh at how ridiculously wonderful I felt. I have been laughing at how ridiculously wonderful I feel every day since I’ve been here. I work and I don’t worry about whether or not I’m doing good work, I just do good work and I trust that I do enough; I sleep like a damn log and maybe I have nightmares but I wake up and I bask in the strangely comforting sounds of twenty seven or so conversing guard dogs and the occasional comment from a rooster, and I trust that I’m enough to handle any ghostie or ghoulie or bump in the night; I eat less than I have since I was a child, and I’m hungry like the wolf at every meal time, but three towns worth of acquaintances know that I would always rather eat dessert than anything else and all of my new friends have made sure I had birthday cake not once, but twice, and my body, when not overwhelmed by the sugar rush of satisfied pasteles cravings, is tighter and stronger and rippling with more energy than I remember in years and I trust that I have enough…I am and I have and I do enough all the time. I’m adding new crap to my list of what I am and have and do all the time, and yet there is no terror that I’m wasting my time, that I need to do more here, that I’m missing something or that something is passing me by. Guatemala has given me the great gift of enough, and it’s shaping up to be the best I ever had or did or was or ate.

Pictures to follow, of course, but the internet access here is the only thing that does not make me beautiful and thankful. It is almost nonexistent, and it is maddeningly inconsistent, and it makes me want to fling my laptop off of balconies.