What new thing will you try this month?
When I first read July’s Let’s Reverb prompt (“What new thing will you try this month?), I knew I would wait and write to this prompt after my Guatemala trip. What better than your first international trip to discover many new things to try?
Most of my writing about Guatemala has been pretty “serious” in nature – how I wanted to do it (and why it was so important), how I needed to accumulate financial and moral support to do it, what I hoped to gain. Having completed the trip, I realize there was definitely a place for all of that gravity but come on – you can bet there were humorous moments along the way, especially since I took my fifteen year old!
With that in mind, I have fashioned my “Top 10 List” of things I did differently in Guatemala:
1. Using Different Money
I am not sure Tenley is ever going to let me live down my failure to exchange dollars for quetzales at the airport. I was looking for a specific bank I had read about and, failing to find it, found myself outside the airport with no quetzales. The hotel staff changed a bit of American money for me, and on Monday the CFCA staff took me to the bank to change my dollars. Even then, Tenley had to force me to ask to have a hundred-quetzal note changed into smaller denominations.
2. The Toilet Paper Goes Where?
Except for the hotel we were in on our first and last nights in Guatemala, we were not supposed to flush toilet paper because the plumbing systems throughout Guatemala are not very robust. We grew accustomed to seeing receptacles with thick black plastic bags situated near all of the toilets. Friends and family in the US are requested to use white trash bags in their bathroom receptacles in order not to confuse us.
3. ¿Cómo se dice?
We were fortunate to have translators with us all the time, and somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my brain I have retained more than I thought I had of the Spanish I began learning back at Roosevelt Roads Elementary School in Puerto Rico as a kindergartner. After a week in a Spanish-speaking country, I am more convinced than ever that immersion is the way to go. We were even exposed to some Mayan dialects, including Kiche, which is the language spoken by Estela, Tenley’s new sponsored child.
4. Where the *bleep* is the @ sign on this keyboard?
I was happy that we had four shared computers at the place where we stayed for the week. That way we could communicate with our families. But the keyboards were unusual. You could see the “@” sign (which you needed in order to log into Facebook if you were trying to cheat on your social media hiatus and sign in). The “@” sign was on the “q” key but no one could figure out how to type it (we ended up cutting and pasting). It was weird. There are bigger problems in the world, right?
5. Huggy, huggy.
Some of the information that CFCA sends prior to the trip discusses how to appropriately interact with children in Guatemala. It warns against excessive touching. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that one of the first things we would do was an activity where these adorable little Guatemalan children walked us into the room. So I blew off a cute little guy. It didn’t take long to figure out that hugs are what interacting with cute little Guatemalan children (in a structured setting such as a CFCA event) is all about. Duh. I think he forgave me (hope so!).
6. Don’t Drink the Water
It has been 8 days since I arrived back and I still feel like an outlaw brushing my teeth with tap water. We had been warned so much not to drink the tap water, not to brush our teeth with it, not to open our mouths in the shower, that we learned our lessons well (and did not get sick – YAY!!). But now it just feels so … wrong …to brush with tap water. The bottled water industry must love tourists in Guatemala.
7. ¡Baile por favor! (Please Dance)
It’s not that I don’t like to dance in the US, but Guatemala is one dancing country. I couldn’t stop grinning when we were at one of the first subprojects and one of the Guatemalan women grabbed me to dance.
8. Stop sign, what stop sign?
I can’t think of a single stop sign that was taken all that seriously in Guatemala. Any directional sign for that matter. It all made us Americans seem hypercautious and very regimented.
9. Bye, bye nighttime snacks
How do you go on vacation and lose four pounds? We never went hungry but the food is so simple and so much less processed than our US food. We ate dinner so much earlier than the Kiger family norm and we did not snack before bed (snacking before bed has always been a habit for me). Thank you, Guatemala, for kicking the snacks-before-bed habit. Pass the tortillas.
10. “Solid” can mean so many things
On a trip where many US-bred digestive systems are adjusting to foreign foods, conversations naturally turn to, um, matters that would seem indelicate back home. “Solid” was good and “did you take your diarrhea medicine?” caused nary a batted eyelash. The ties (and substances) that bind.
Am I glad I tried something (ten things) new? You bet. Are there things to chuckle at along with the deeper lessons? Absolutely.
El cambio es bueno. (Change is good.)
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.