Xela is the second biggest city in Guatemala, which isn’t saying much as the population’s only around 150,000. Still, after Antigua–a city not boasting much above 50,000–the possibilities seem endlessly enticing. A major difference between the two cities is while Antigua is the sweetheart of recurring rounds of tourists—the kind that come to Guatemala just for it (don’t ask me why…)—Xela’s a place that feels more ‘authentic.’ While there are plenty of Spanish schools and gringo-style cafes, most have a grittier look than those in Antigua and are concentrated in one area (Zone 1). Wandering beyond, the amount of tourists dissipate and a more realistic view of the city begins to emerge.
It’s the kind of place I have a feeling takes a while to truly understand, but might be well worth the effort. I’m spending the next week traveling elsewhere in Guate with a friend, but then I’ll return to Xela for another couple weeks.
view from the roof of my school.
My Spanish teacher said this graveyard was transplanted from another part of the city–apparently someone wanted the other land for construction. He said they still come across bones at the old site.
Gallo is one of the national beers of Guate and available all over for a $2 or so dollars.
Profamilia is a community organization that provides children with free lunch and a place to hang out to do homework after school. Sometimes they have organized English, computer or other class for the children–though I haven’t seen this in my brief time here. Many of the children go to school irregularly and work on the streets shining shoes or selling candy. Profamilia also has classes and events for adults–such as sewing and computer classes. Currently they have little funding and few paid employees/long-term volunteers. I’ll continue volunteering here when I return to Xela, so more to come….
My view from Terrace Hostel
I spend the afternoon wandering. Though I leave without writing down the address of the hostel or grabbing a map, the town is small and I wander freely and safely for a couple hours before easily finding my way back.
A central street which seems to separate the market and bus terminal from the rest of town.
I stopped in a little restaurant on a side street. There were a couple tuk-tuk drivers, but no other gringos. This meal of chicken and rice cost 13Q–less than two dollars and much less than food near the hostel.
Back at Terrace Hostel the volcano smokes as travelers conglomerate for talk and drinks.
I sit in the wrong seat on the plane. I’m looking at my phone as I follow the slow progress of my fellow passengers down the aisle, and I sit in E12 instead of E13. When Mr. E12 comes he smiles and tells me to stay put. That’s how my journey to Guatemala begins.
On my left is a Hispanic woman, who I think is five years older than me, but turns out to have kids practically my age. She is slim and wears heels, a dark dress and an intricate sweater with purples and reds—I noticed her on the line to board and wondered who she dressed to meet in Guatemala City. The guy on my right wears an oversized baseball hat and light jeans. He smiles at me and I’m correct when I guess he’s a college kid. He studies business at a school in Los Angeles, where he’s always lived.
She’s going to Guatemala because her grandmother has died. She’ll spend three days with her family in Guatemala City. He’s going—in fact he’s taken a semester off school just to go—because he wants to spend six weeks partying with his similarly aged cousins. He tells me he works for an organic coffee company, and before that he worked at a paint company with his dad, but now his dad’s gone—dead.
Me? To learn and see.
So on the plane, with chatter and a nap, I transition from my uncertainty about leaving the States to excitement for what’s to come.
When I walk out of the terminal, a warm breeze literally washes over me. I’d pictured a chaotic airport scene, something like Cairo with endless men haggling, offering taxi rides, etc. Instead, there’s a small semicircle of people gathered behind the gate, in the sun. A friendly man offers a shuttle to Antigua for $10—I say ‘si’ and wait around a few minutes for him to find other passengers.
A guy in his early thirties whose girlfriend’s working with a hospital mission in Antigua (Don), and an expatriate who builds solar stoves are my companions in the shuttle(Gwen). I ask Gwen a lot of questions:
He’s lived in the same community in Northern Guatemala for 8 years, but only began the solar stoves within the last. It started with his home in California, where he still has a house but only lives a couple months a year. Last year a man in his community approached him, saying he’d heard Gwen knew about solar energy. He asked Gwen to teach him what he knew. Gwen hit his computer, only knowing the basics as a consumer, but soon he was attempting a solar stove as they’re created in Africa with cardboard boxes and foil. ‘But people wanted something more durable here,’ he explained. So working with the curious man, he created a model using a large stainless steel pot. Though the costs are higher, the model is durable. He’s only created a few and given them as gifts—‘No one funds me,’ he responded to my question. He hopes to create a business out of it, but it’s difficult because the people in the community don’t have the money for stainless-steal pots. The other guy, Don, said he had some friends who worked with non-profits who might be interested in working with him.
I ask him more questions about his life. About living in a community with no other gringos. There was another a few years ago, he says. He tells a horror story of a female teacher who was brutally raped and beaten in his community a number of years ago. “It wasn’t by locals and it wasn’t gang violence.’ When I ask more he talks about the normalization of violence and oppression in Guatemalan society, not to justify the violence but to understand. It reminds me how I think about kids who act out on the South Side of Chicago.
Thus when we arrive in Antigua, I am both inspired and wary. Eager to learn more on both accounts.
There was no denying my foot was not the right size or color. I propped it up on my desk to get a better look. Yup…not looking too hot. Apparently a good night’s sleep doesn’t cure everything. As a pretty active child and a ice skater I had my fair share of sprained ankles and other relatively minor injuries; this no doubt seemed slightly concerning.
“A hospital! Really? Can’t we just stop by a pharmacy or something, get some bandages?”
My coworkers suggestion alarmed me. I pictured the U.S. emergency rooms that seem so familiar in my mind, though…have I ever even been? Lots of sick people, and hassle and….it’s only my foot! I just need a compression bandage!
Nevertheless, a few minutes later found me in Spencer’s, a manager and do-it-all-guy within FEU’s international office. (My helpful coworker had to teach class). There was no talking him out of it–to the hospital he drove.
About 10 minutes later we pulled up at a small, clean hospital. While almost all the chairs were already taken by waiting patients, the atmosphere was calm and it took only a couple minutes to provide the necessary information(date of birth, alien registration card, medical concern) and join the queue.
The next hour passed rather quickly as Spencer and I discussed topics ranging from fashion (his particular area of passion and expertise) to the pending elections in our respective countries. (He is fully Korean but studied in the States and has impeccable English). Finally an assistant called my name and I hobbled into a doctor’s office, Spencer following.
“Sit down,” said the doctor in English, after I awkwardly stood for a moment too long. He was seated at a desk behind large computer screens. I sat down on the stool and pointed to my foot. He looked at it and addressed Spencer with a cascade of Korean. He poked different points–feels fine there, yes that hurts. His next cascade of Korean was an order for an x-ray.
I left his office and waited about 15 minutes for an x-ray. After the x-ray, taken by a young competent guy who knew quite a few English phrases (‘foot like this’, ‘sit that way’) and a few more minutes of waiting, the doc welcomed Spencer and me back into his office.
He stared at the x-ray. Felt my foot some more, and indecipherable Korean once again poured forth. Spencer managed to summarize:”you broke your foot. you’ll need a cast.”
“what!? no?! ME? Impossible…but I walked home last night. And I’ve managed OK this morning…it’s just swollen.
The doctor, showed me the images and wrote “avulsion fracture” on a piece of paper. He instructed me to look it up on my phone. Ahh. Google reveals an avulsion fracture does not mean my bone snapped in two, just a piece separated. I can live with that. The doctor says a soft cast. Only three weeks. Ok. Possible. Doc says to come back for check-up in a week.
Spencer and I leave the office. Another younger man wraps my foot and gives me crutches.
Using my new crutches I awkwardly make my way to the front desk, where I pay. Around $40, once my insurance is applied. I’m not sure what this would cost in the States, but I tend to think that’s pretty great, considering I had X-rays and all.
When I go back for a check-up the next week it only costs around $3.00USD. The doctor remembers me and scolds me for walking around on the foot. (‘But it doesn’t even hurt!’ I protest. )
Conclusion: Though injuring one’s foot is a frustrating inconvenience (all I want to do is hike and play and go be in Seoul)-it was an interesting experience to see this small part of the Korean health care system and I feel lucky to have access to such competent, affordable care.
First, sorry for those of you who subscribe to my blog and have as of late been bombarded with assignments for students. I have a number of blogs for my classes and I seem to continually post here by mistake–something about this being my “default” blog. Anyway, I apologize. Don’t give up on me–I’m alert now
So…South Korea…I intended to blog more, but clearly I haven’t.
A reoccurring “theme,” maybe a purpose, in and for my time here so far is “freedom.” Trying to accept and embrace my own, “freedom.” To “see” possibilities. In the States, here too, there is immense pressure to “choose” a path, a career, a place, a mate. There is this mentality of working in order to have money and material possessions. Stability. But the more of those things we gain, the more we become locked and therefore dependent on the system. And then things like travel and open-mindedness and NEW become more difficult. It’s like our sense of purpose has to involve caring for and ever improving those “things,” rather than our own minds, experiences and the world around us.
I struggle with this. I must recognize my own privilege; not everyone, maybe most, are as easily in positions to think existentially about work and purpose–or if think, maybe not act without consequences.
Yes I want to learn about the education system in Korea, to travel, to learn to teach ELL. But I also want time to think, reflect, to breakaway so I can consider how I want to ‘rejoin.’ By the above I don’t mean avoiding responsibility. I’m not criticizing marriage, and families and careers. I want that too. I’m just questioning how we go about it.
So that’s a piece of what I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve had this sense that I have too much to think about to actually put anything to words on a blog page…
The University; home for now
The town of Gamgok-endless restaurants, uneven streets, people always out (except in the morning-the first morning I woke up here, I walked into town around 7a.m., the streets were practically deserted.)
Peppers are a big crop around here, and people aren’t shy about showing it. There are peppers on the street signs & often in the middle of street. This is a rather large batch, but it’s not uncommon to see a blanket with about 1/8 as much just chilling in the middle of the sidewalk-pedestrians be ware!
A crop of rice, during the typhoon, which occurred the same time as Hurricane Isaac in the States.
The reason why I’m here-the students. Ironically, mostly boys, just like my last venture.
A trip to a river outside Seoul, to kayak with my new coworkers.
I’m on a plane to South Korea. The TV in front of me, the one in front of the Korean girl next to me, the two that project to my left and right (and every other not occupied with a movie or other program a passenger selected) show a cartoonish image of the world we’re flying over. Right now we’re over the Arctic Ocean What does that image, our passage above have to do with what’s below? (Ok maybe not the arctic, but the land passed and coming up…)
Up here, in our compact, protected bubble of momentum, it is easy to not even consider all the rushing earth beneath (at the speed of 505mpr).
People going to work…Dressing ..Victimized…Committing violence..Loving..Getting married…Breaking up…Dying…Being born…Rape. (Making ridiculous & offensive statements about rape)….Cooking. Eating…Making choices they’ll regret or cherish….Studying…Quitting… Succeeding…failing…Sacrificing…Talking. In so many languages.About anything. Everything….Getting diagnosed with cancer…Recovering…Celebrating birthdays (happy birthday darling Cady). And on and on……….
And all concealed by this accelerating bubble and the darkening sky where we have our sterile meals, laws indicated by signs and announcements in Korea and English, ambassadors keeping order and providing for basic needs-“More water, miss?”
Flying above might give one a sense of smallness below, but then because the plane will land, we will get out, I zoom in. The reality of the unimaginable complexity of each of those entities below, of the systems of laws and nations, or cultures and maybe just a few universal desires or dreams.. The intertwining, the overlapping, the lack of single reality….? And then just knowing one thing. Having one thing that is concrete seems enough, in a way. Maybe just for a minute. Or a year.
Since my last entry, I graduated from Northeastern University and spent two years teaching on the South side of Chicago as a Teach for America corp member. I made the choice not to display those experiences, not due to lack of stories, but out of respect for the privacy of my students. Though I move on, those boys (I taught at an all male school) remain strong in my heart and mind. In part, I am on this plane to seek answers to questions the last two years raised for me. I want to see other education systems. I want perspective and experience.
So South Korea calls. I will live outside Seoul and teach at a university. Two writing classes and a listening class. I don’t know much about my students yet, let alone the area (supposedly a somewhat rural college town) my colleagues, the culture or really anything else particularly useful.
But I will learn. And once again share some of my experiences via writing. So tune in, if you will. Tell me what you think. Give me ideas and feedback. Make the negative comments constructive and the positive honest. And of course, let me know if you’d like to come visit.
I walk out the door, into the street.
Five or six young men are leaning against cars and a tall metal house-gate they all face toward a tree, around which candles, posters and flowers rest. Most candles, including the three my friends and I left last nice are long burned-out. I wonder if the young mens’ eyes are red from lack of sleep or crying.
In an attempt not to interrupt, I walk on the grass as I pass.
“Is this your car,” one boy asks me, thinking the car he leans on is my off-center destination.
“No, you’re fine.”
“Why you walk around like that?” a young man questions, from across the sidewalk.
“I didn’t want to interrupt….I’m really sorry about your friend.”
I stare at the picture of their murdered friend. Probably a couple of years younger than me, black, dreadlocks, smiling….I don’t know more to the story. Just that he died because of gang violence and a couple of his friends were also shot.
“Where you going,” the young man snaps me into the present.
“Starbucks?” He prompts
“No, I’m going to class.”
He mumbles something I can’t distinguish.
“Down the street?”
“No, downtown, National Louis.”
“So you’re taking the train, what stop you getting off at?”
“I’m going South…It’s in the loop.”
“I guess that’s where all the tall buildings are,” he says, shrugging. “What’s your name?”
“Lily. What’s yours?”
“You can call me T.”
“Nice to meet you T, who are your friends?”
A couple tell me what they go by, another couple have earphones in their ears and do not answer.
I wonder how long they’ll stand there. How long they’ve been in their gang. If they’re afraid. If they’re angry.
I wonder why I didn’t simply say “good morning,” as I walked by.
Artificial barriers–the unknown, fear, lack of education on all sides.
As I walk toward the L, T calls after me. “I like your purple shirt.”
Walking from the L (Chicago metro) toward home— a friend’s apartment where I’m staying this week— I immediately notice two police officers quietly conversing on our street corner.
Crossing the street, I see the road leading to Dylan apartment is blocked off with cones and yellow plastic. I remember the curious text she sent me before, asking me to come in through the back porch, i.e. walk through the long alley instead of the front door.
I’d imagined it was because of some new furniture or other house-related issue.
Dylan had witnessed a shooting a couple of hours prior. She had jumped up when she heard gunshots and seen a couple young men in our street ducking behind cars. One clutched above his chest. He was shot.Police came and questioned her in the moments that followed. The violence was gang-related. There had been violence the last few weeks.
Though we never expected to see this violence on our street, though it scares me, this is ultimately why we’re here. This is what we have heard stories about throughout the summer training to be teachers in urban, title 1 schools.
Sitting in the living room alone (Dylan needed to get out of the house after that but I have too much work) I wonder about those young men in the street. We’ve seen them every day since we moved here last Saturday. “I have a feeling I’ll get to know those boys pretty well,” Dylan had stated as we walked from the house a day ago.
Later we learn the young man died and another is hurt. Senseless loss. There are noises outside. They’re probably just lightning, but I wonder about gunshots.
Senseless loss. A reality for so many of the students I have already taught this summer and will teach in the Fall.
Senseless loss. Earlier today I witnessed an inspiring English class at a charter school. The students, who had all failed classes during the year, engaged in debate about the U.S. tax policy, evolution and creationism. They read and analyzed Arthur Schnitzler’s “Lieutenant Gustl,” and considered themes of morality, honor and religion.
There is no issue with their intellect. They are brilliant, inspiring, sharp and witty. They’ve simply been neglected by our system. Failed by low expectations, lack of individual attention and and an alien curriculum. Caught in a chasm– the violence, poverty, friends and family with low levels of education on one side and the massive, sometimes impersonal, system of state standards and overworked teachers on the other.
“Where are you? What is the context for this?” You might ask. Last time you blogged we were debating shot-up Macbooks and Israel/Palestine. In a nutshell, I returned to Boston and graduated from Northeastern University. I moved to Chicago where I’m training through Teach for America to teach special education in Chicago public schools.
I’ve resisted blogging for a while. I’ve been busy. Plus, I’m still unsure that I want any additional information about my life on this blog.
This blog that I wished as a vehicle to share experience but that became solely focused on one event, or more accurately, one continuous saga filled with hatred and anger. While there are many parts worth discussing, debating and of course resolving, it was not occurring productively here.
Yet my life goes on. I have other stories to share. This is a way to communicate with family and friends across the country and world. This is for anyone else curious for a single perspective. For myself because I enjoy writing, and posting pictures. I enjoy expressing.
I will continue posting. Most content will likely revolve around my experiences teaching in Chicago public schools.
When a professor recently asked me to write an article about my infamous experience at the Taba-Eliat border crossing, I could not bear to reiterate the same story I’ve told many times. So I’ve begun a new quest: To learn what rights, if any, travelers have at border crossings. Because borders are often governed by bilateral treaties or domestic laws, rights, regulations and procedures are different everywhere. For the time-being, for obvious reasons, I’m focused on travelers entering Israel.
Currently I’m following a winding trail of repetitive non-answers, referrals and ambiguity. What I’ve learned, more than anything so far is people all over the spectrum–from journalists, travelers, human rights activists in Israel/Palestine, lawyers (at least in the States–waiting to hear from Israelis) and embassy employees, is there is a lack of knowledge. Though border-crossing tips are out there, when it comes to rights, many draw blanks.
For example, while Israel has the right to deny an individual entry, do they have the right to demand information about the contacts in a person’s phone–is an individual obligated to give up a friend’s telephone number? Can they read journals, look through photos? At one point they asked me if I had a password for my computer. They never asked what the password was. Did they have other means of accessing information on it? Do security concerns equate a blank check?
Or are there limits. For example, can a traveler choose to end a search and return back to where they came (something potentially difficult considering you’re trying to get back in a country without evidence of being in another….) ? If Israelis suspect a person of being a terrorist it seems counter-intuitive they would let them simply go back the way they came. Can a person ask to speak to a representative from their embassy during a search?
These are some of the questions I’m hoping to answer. If anyone has any knowledge or ideas, I would appreciate the help! I’m currently waiting to hear-back from some Israeli lawyers and someone at the American embassy. (The exchange with the embassy has persisted for a number of days without helpful results thus-far…)
P.S. My goals is only to educate! Not knowing your rights is being helpless.
Also consider, tourism is positive for Israel/Palestine (and most other nations). Letting travelers know what to expect at the border and how procedures work and what their rights are might encourage hesitant individuals.