April 30, 2004
End of Prologue
So, guess who I’ve been sleeping with lately...
That’s right, as of Monday night I’ve been flying solo. I’ve moved into my brand-new (well, whatever) apartment in the Edificio el Centro. I have to admit that the place is growing on me. (Not literally, although the shower floor... no, nevermind.)
Let’s just say that – not unlike many aspects of my new Guatemalan life – it’s going to require a fair amount of scrubbing and polishing.
With each day that passes, work becomes increasingly enjoyable and satisfying as I find my rhythm and hit my stride. My first three hours at the office, 6:30am until 9:30am, are always intense. During that time I have to scour a host of websites (Yahoo, Google, CNN, BBC, AP, Reuters, EFE, Prensa Latina, La Jornada, El Mundo, La Nacíon, El Universal, etc, etc, etc.) for the most important Central American and International news.
The difficult part (ok, besides having to think coherent thoughts at 6:30am without the heavily-caffeinated benefit of an iced americano) is deciding which stories to focus on, finding the most up-to-date / comprehensive / well-written version of that news item, and then editing it down to a mere three or four sentences. (And to think that Mom is the one who used to work for Reader's Digest!)
Which would be difficult enough, if it weren’t also for the fact that the news (which is the plural of “new”, right?) keeps changing! I’m here to tell you: a lot can happen in the world during a three-hour span. (yes, you can quote me on that.)
Until I take over the homepage duties from Javier (when the new site is inaugurated) my post-10am duties are less hectic. I’m currently working on redesigns of the Daily Report and our homepage. (Tasks, I might add, that would be a tad bit simpler if I actually had a CD-ROM drive on my computer with which to install Photoshop, GoLive, and other programs.)
Today marks my two-week anniversary in Guatemala. Fourteen days of settling in and settling down. I’ve worked an obscene amount of hours already, moved into my apartment, and reconnected with a stunning number of people...
And yet I feel as if I am just on the cusp of being “truly present” in Guatemala. I know it. I can feel it. I can sense the wave about to break.
Tomorrow is May 1st... known in these parts as “el Primero de Mayo” or Labor Day. I'll be participating in a massive march, complete with banners, placards and shouted slogans (“Un pueblo unido jamás será vencido” is a pretty sure bet.) I’m also likely to see a gazillion (give or take a billion) friendly faces.
It will also be the first time I take the lens cap off my camera since returning to Guatemala.
In other words... I sense that this new story’s prologue is coming to an end, and that Chapter 1 is about to begin!
Posted by elcanche at 06:36 PM
| Comments (0)
April 24, 2004
Amazing, I tell you!
When I first learned that a high-end shopping center, Miraflores, was being built right next to Tikal Futura, another high-end shopping center, I thought “oh, fantastic. Guatemala needs more exclusive and expensive stores like the Middle East needs more conflicts.”
Well, I walked through the doors of Miraflores this afternoon, pre-judging and pre-jaded, ready to hate the place in advance. Yet I was caught totally unprepared for what unfolded before my eyes… a mall so spectacular that it would put most U.S. malls to shame. A place so out-of-place that I had to keep muttering to myself, like a culture-shock mantra, “Guatemala… Guatemala… Guatemala…”
Amazing. (Amazing, I tell you!)
Once I recovered, however, from my momentary blindness brought on by the bright and shiny commercial lights, I began to see the place for what it really is: another playground for the well-to-do. Filled with shops that the great majority of Guatemalans could never afford to shop in. Filled with the class of Guatemalan shoppers that could easily afford to shop in such shops. Filled, I might add, with a superior attitude so thick that it could be carved up and sold wholesale to humbler parts of the world.
Indeed, once the WOW factor faded, I thought to myself “this is one place I never need visit again.”
And then I found Saúl E. Méndez, a very ritzy men’s clothing store.
Now those of you who know me are probably thinking that I’ve blown some kind of mental gasket and warrant an immediate psychological medivac out of Guatemala. While it’s true that on a day-to-day basis I try to get away with wearing as little clothing as possible, and that any remotely nice clothing that I do own was given to me, and that the only way I’d end up in a fancy-shmancy men’s clothing store would likely entail an accidental trip or headfirst fall…
This men’s store had something special… it’s own café. (Ok, all of you… right now, stop rolling your eyes!!!)
Yes, the Caffé Saúl…located in an enclosed courtyard in front of the store. A painfully hip café with overstuffed chairs decorated in colorful Guatemalan fabric, jazz playing in English and Spanish, and amazing (amazing, I tell you!) cappuccinos with a complimentary piece of raspberry fudge for Q9 ($1.10).
Ah, but that’s not all… crêpes made on the premises. I ordered a Belgian dark chocolate crêpe that was simply amazing (amazing, I tell you!) It has quickly vaulted to my second favorite dessert of all time… and the leader, shadow cake from the Yorktown Bakery, should be nervous indeed. The cost of this mouth-watering, powdered-sugar-covered, still-warm-from-the-grill, slowly-melting-dark-chocolate marvel? Twenty-two Q, or $2.75.
This could be one of the least-expensive “escapes” ever!
Ah, but that’s not the half of it! Well, ok, yes… that is actually the half of it… but here’s the other half:
Last week I went to the movie “Timeline” at the Lux Cinema in Zone 1. It was shown in one of the tiny upstairs theatres, where you’re sitting about fifteen feet away form the slightly-stained, wimpy-sized screen. The sound was lousy to begin with, and definitely not improved by the ranchero music blaring forth from the projection booth. The kindergarten-sized wooden seats are the definition of discomfort, and the rows are so close together that I had to drape my legs over the chairs in front just to keep the circulation flowing.
That’s when the cockroach ran up my pants leg. (Yes, la cucaracha, la cucaracha…)
And to top it all off... the movie seriously sucked.
Today, for $2.90 (instead of $1.90 at the Lux), I entered movie heaven. The Miraflores movie theatres are finer than any I have ever visited in the States. The screen was pristine, and a mile high (well, roughly.) The seating was arranged on a deep incline, which meant that the row of seats in front of you was all but invisible. And the seats were amazing (amazing, I tell you!)… padded, plush, reclining, head-high… and many without armrest dividers so that you can snuggle with your honey. (Honey not included.) The sound is digital and sans ranchero.
Heck, even the movie itself “Mi Novia Polly” (Along Comes Polly) was a major improvement!
So, in summary… the perfect coffee place + the perfect movie place = one happy me.
PS: It may seem odd for me to be ranting and raving about malls, coffee, and movies. Shouldn’t I be focusing instead on the A-List stuff: art, activism, advocacy, analysis and accompaniment?
Well, ok, maybe, sure, yeah. But I not only work in Guatemala, I live here. And living here can sometimes be less-than-easy (check Thursday’s list of lamentations.) Work there is, and work there will always be.
It’s just comforting to know that amidst the sweat and madness there exists the possibility of breaks and escapes. (And all for about $7, popcorn not included!)
Posted by elcanche at 07:02 PM
| Comments (1)
April 22, 2004
So tired. Too tired to sleep, even. Might as well settle down with a lemonade and my journal.
I guess that the early mornings, cold showers, long days, late nights, crazy streets, culture shock, honking cars, black exhaust, English withdrawal, microbes in the water, viruses in the computers, sweaty days, cold nights, vultures, lousy coffee, loud ranchero music, slow service, macho attitudes, cigarette smoke in restaurants, bloody bodies on the evening news, crowded buses, silly hippies, rampant racism, public peeing, ’go home gringo’ graffiti, price bargaining, sleazy lawyers, sidewalks clogged with pirated DVD hawkers, spitting as a national pastime, the self-important upper crust, cockroaches in the movie theatres, aggressive transvestites, talkative drunks, unaffordable rents, scarcity of trees, lack of privacy, and in-your-face poverty… even when you’re looking in the mirror… has finally caught up with me.
It’s been quite the week.
That said, however, this is one damn fine lemonade.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite having in my possession a Guate-to-NYC plane ticket (which expires on the 30th), I have no plans, nor any desire, to depart.
Aside from my list of lamentations, life in Guatemalaville has been pretty perfect. And it will only get better as I settle into the rhythm of the job and settle into a place of my own.
Funny I should mention that. If all goes according to plan (hold your laughter, please) I should be moving into my new apartment in the Edificio el Centro sometime soon. The exact date is dependent upon the wackjob lawyer who’s drawing up the contract. This guy is a real piece of work… if he were any more self-absorbed, he’d vanish completely. Yet he is the key-master and no-one gets to the apartment but through him.
Now, about the apartment… sadly, it not quite as nice as the one I rented before. It’s somewhat run-down, and the layout isn’t quite as convenient. It’s going to require some serious work to get it picture perfect.
The good news is that the apartment is almost directly four floors below my previous place, so the view (through rather dirty windows) is the same stunning view I had before... the national palace, the cathedral, and central park laid out before me in all their glory. Not to mention that the place is relatively safe, comparatively cheap, and undeniably close to the office.
Oh… and it has a bidet.
Posted by elcanche at 08:03 PM
| Comments (0)
April 20, 2004
Casa de Canche
Day two at work: not too shabby, actually.
Did a bang-up job with the international news section, and even found an editorial to serve as our attached document of the day. (From a Mexican newspaper stating that Bush’s appointment of John “dirty hands” Negroponte as the new ambassador to Iraq just proves how nervous Bush is about the situation there.)
I fixed Javier’s Outlook program so he can receive email again. I also deleted 282 spyware / adware files from Quique’s computer so maybe, just maybe, the office’s sluggish internet access (which runs through his desktop) will pick up its currently sluggish pace.
I spent most of the afternoon in a fairly fruitless search for housing. All I’m looking for is a plain one-bedroom apartment with running water (for at least a few hours a day) within walking distance of the office. And I’m willing to walk quite far.
The prices I’ve been quoted so far have been outrageous and out-of-my-range-ous. So far, they have run from roughly Q1000 per month ($125) for the truly far-flung funky places to Q2,500 /mo ($300) for the fully-furnished flats down the street.
So I guess my dream of an Q800 “little bit of heaven in downtown Guatemala City” apartment is about to be dashed on the rocks of real estate reality.
Still, there might be an acceptable compromise… and you’ll never guess where!
Oh… good guess.
Yep, the Edificio el Centro! My old stomping grounds… although I never really did stomp, out of respect for my neighbors below. There’s an apartment on the twelfth floor (which would mean a four-floor “demotion” from my previous nest-on-high) that’s going for Q1300/mo ($160).
Which is still a major chunk of change when one’s salary is only $500 per month. Still, I need to find a place before I drive Javier too crazy, and sleeping in Central Park really isn’t an option (something about those cat-sized rats that give me the willies).
So… I’m going to check out the apartment tomorrow at 11 am. If it’s in decent shape, and facing the right way (I couldn’t live in that building without a view of the National Palace… it would be too tough a reminder of what I used to have)… I might just take it!!!
Posted by elcanche at 07:40 PM
| Comments (2)
April 19, 2004
1st Day of Work
I fully expect my head to stop spinning any moment now. First day of work? Now there’s an understatement for you! I arrived at 7 am and didn't leave until 6:30 pm.
I put together my first international news summary this morning. It went well, especially given the fact that it was one of those last-minute, “Hey Canche, why don’t you give it a try?” kind of decisions.
The most incredible part of the day, however, occurred after lunch… the weekly current events analysis meeting. Every Monday (usually in the morning) Erwin and Quique lead the team in a roundtable discussion of the major news stories, trends, and underlying themes relevant to Guatemala.
Incredible stuff, really. The amount of information was staggering. Despite being more-or-less out of the loop (what with this being my first day, and all!) I still feel that I was able to contribute to the discussion.
Anyway, it seems as if I have my work cut out for me. This promises to be an extremely intense, immensely challenging, and profoundly rewarding experience.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Posted by elcanche at 08:45 PM
| Comments (0)
What's the Word?
Ok, I need your help. Last night I was trying to come up with a word to describe those of us who are not native Guatemalans, and yet are infatuated with all things Guatemalan.
I didn’t have much luck on my own, so I’ve decided to seek the answer the most democratic way possible… I’m going to sit here and wait for corporate lobbyists to throw obscene amounts of money at me, and then tell me what to think.
No, no…sorry… that would be the most Republican way possible.
What I propose instead is to listen to the voice of the people (a.k.a. you)! So, feel free to leave your suggestions below by clicking on the comments button. A one-person jury comprised of myself will select the best entry (Democracy has its limits.)
If I can find a way to send a mango via email, there might even be a prize for the winning selection.
Some pre-rejected ideas I came up with on my own:
Yeah, so you can see why I need your help. The best I came up with was “Guatemaniacs”; I’m sure that some clever wordsmith out there can do better than that!
So… stop reading, and start thinking! The world awaits your new word.
Posted by elcanche at 11:48 AM
| Comments (7)
April 18, 2004
Guatemala has many nicknames. It has been called "The Land of the Eternal Spring", "A Country of Contrasts", and "The Heart of the Mayan Civilazation."
While all those descriptions are certainly true, I'd like to add one more "Guatemala: Expect the Unexpected."
Here's one example:
On Friday afternoon I took a loooong stroll to scout out a potential apartment. The directions seemed simple enough... "Go to the end of 10th calle, the apartment building is right there."
Little did I know that 10th street ends in a deep ravine at the very edge of the city; getting there actually involves crossing train tracks. I was walking for so long that I was afraid I might have accidently crossed into a different country.
I found the name of the apartment complex, therfore, to be a perfect example of Guatemalan irony... "Jardines del Centro" (Gardens at the City's Center).
Exhausted, underwhelmed, and quite hungry I started the long trek back.
I had advanced about 30 steps when I recognized a familiar face... Lisette, a friend and co-worker from my time with Jornadas por la Vida y la Paz (Days of Life and Peace), a progressive Christian social movement organization. We hadn't seen in each other in over ten years! As chance/luck/fate/etc would have it, she lived in Jardines del Centro! She invited me in for a quick tour and a delicious lunch with her three children.
She also invited me to an event organized by el Grupo Monseñor Romero (Bishop Romero Group) entitled "Current Events Analysis and Theological Reflection" to be held the very next day.
The event was simply amazing! I was reunited with friends from my Jornadas days, and had the opportunity to meet church workers from Panama, Honduras, and El Salvador. Also present were two of the people I most respect in Guatemala: Sandra Moran and Hermana Argentina.
Sandra is an amazing musician and brilliant activist in the women's movement. Hermana Argentina is a quick-witted, warmhearted, and wonderfully-radical nun from the Dominican Republic who works for peace and justice, while accompanying Guatemala's excluded majority.
I'll let you imagine the kind of analysis and reflection that these two talented women, in the company of these amazing attendees, were capable of producing. Needless to say, I left incredibly inspired and entirely energized.
So, while my search for an apartment might have been in vain, at the very end of 10th street I found the perfect beginning to my new Guatemalan story.
Posted by elcanche at 12:57 PM
| Comments (2)
April 16, 2004
I made it!
Greetings from Guatemala!
Just wanted to let everyone know that I arrived in Guatemala City last night ... safe and sound and slightly exhausted. Due to a three-hour delay in Miami I didn´t arrive here until after 9 pm. Thankfully, my friends were patient (definitely a Guatemalan virtue) and were still waiting for me at the airport.
I spent last night at the home of a coworker, Javier, who is offering me lodging until I can find a place of my own.
I ate breakfast (fried eggs, hash browns, bacon and iced tea) this morning at my long-time favorite hangout, the Europa. Judy, the owner, screamed when she saw me (a scream of happiness, not fear... at least so I think) and then handed me my mail ... some of which was three years old.
Right now I´m at the office, using Quique´s computer to send you all hugs and hellos.
As soon as I´m done, I´m off to check out possible apartments. Wish me luck!
I miss you all already.
Posted by elcanche at 02:31 PM
| Comments (0)
April 15, 2004
Oh... my... God!
Here we go again.
See you in Guatemala!
Posted by elcanche at 05:49 AM
| Comments (0)
April 14, 2004
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now."
W. H. Murray, quoting Goethe
Posted by elcanche at 11:29 AM
| Comments (0)
April 13, 2004
Imagine the stress of starting a new job.
Imagine the stress of starting a new job that involves packing up and moving.
Imagine the stress of starting a new job that involves packing up and moving to a different country.
Imagine the stress of starting a new job that involves packing up and moving to a different country in the developing world.
Imagine the stress of starting a new job that involves packing up and moving to a different country in the developing world where street crime is out of control, human rights are routinely abused, and the majority of people live in poverty.
Imagine the stress of starting a new job that involves packing up and moving to a different country in the developing world where street crime is out of control, human rights are routinely abused, and the majority of people live in poverty, and you yourself will be “lucky” to earn about $450 per month.
(Today is packing day, if you hadn’t already guessed.)
Posted by elcanche at 11:06 AM
| Comments (0)
April 08, 2004
Is that right?!?
Today is a momentous and historic day.
1.) It’s Maundy Thursday.
2.) I’m leaving for Guatemala in exactly one week.
3.) I’m now 38 years old.
Yes, Feliz Cumpleaños to me! Thirty-eight, though? That can’t be right. I mean… I think I would have noticed thirty-eight years passing by.
Now, twenty-eight I could understand. That feels about right. There are certainly days when I feel mature enough … old enough … to claim all twenty-eight of my years.
But thirty-eight?!? That’s just plain wrong.
In the eternal words of fraud victims everywhere: “I demand a recount!”
Posted by elcanche at 11:57 PM
| Comments (1)
April 06, 2004
A Photography Quote
For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war and if it is used well it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to war…
The worst thing is to feel that as a photographer I am benefiting from someone else's tragedy. This idea haunts me. It is something I have to reckon with every day because I know that if I ever allow genuine compassion to be overtaken by personal ambition I will have sold my soul. The stakes are simply too high for me to believe otherwise.
I attempt to become as totally responsible to the subject as I possibly can. The act of being an outsider aiming a camera can be a violation of humanity. The only way I can justify my role is to have respect for the other person's predicament. The extent to which I do that is the extent to which I become accepted by the other, and to that extent I can accept myself.
"Why Photograph War?"
Posted by elcanche at 11:58 AM
| Comments (0)
April 05, 2004
And so it begins
Ups and downs, twists and turns, stunning setbacks and minor miracles... that is to say: life happens.
I went "off script" about six months ago, leaving behind a wonderful job at Tierra Nueva in Washington State for a rather undefined future in Guatemala.
I know that the future is unknowable. I, however, took this concept to the extreme... improvisation as a way of life. (Which, not-so-ironically, is an ability I refined during my previous years in Guatemala.) These past few months have been an impromptu interweaving of family activities, long hours of study, conversations with former coworkers in Guatemala, and lots and lots of coffee.
I am pleased to announce that the time of waiting and preparing is over. The holing up, holding on, and hanging out has ended. The countdown has begun.
Days, that is.
Ten more days until I board American Airlines flight # 933, New York City to Guatemala City (layover in Miami, for those of you keeping track at home.)
Ten more days of my gringo ways, until everyone starts calling me “Canche” again.
Ten more days until I begin my new position with Incidencia Democratica (Democratic Impact), a Guatemalan nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening civil society by providing news and analysis to progressive social and political organizations.
Ten more days to pack.
Holy shnikes, I should probably go now. I’ll write more soon!
Posted by elcanche at 02:01 PM
| Comments (0)