Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Going to the Fair Guatemala Style

We got home from Guatemala on Sunday afternoon but I still have left over wit and wisdom to share. For instance, here's what happened the day after the last post:
Monday morning: September 14, 2009

When I went to check on mi pollos amigos this morning they were all gone, the huevos chickens as well as the comida chickens. The floor and cages were swept clean. Vamanos los pollos. :( When I asked about them, Christina said they had been for the family lunch on Sunday which made sense. They have a big family and active sociial life. Sunday is the only day our host family doesn’t cook for the students. The students always eat out on Sunday. But then at lunch Monday she told me we had just eaten my chicken friends. I’m glad she waited until after lunch to tell me and I’m afraid I have to say they were delicious. Maybe the moral of the story is to “eat only the ones you love.”

I have homework today but we are also going to the fair at la Plaza de Democracia in a couple of hours so I’m in a rush. Guatemala celebrates their independence from Spain on September 15 and they have already had about a week’s worth of parades and concerts. The biggest event of this event-packed week is the fair. Tomorrow is the Actual Independence Day and all of my fellow students had wondered if we got a day off from school but, no; instead we have classes as usual in the mornings then a “conference” on Guatemalan history in the afternoon. Then tomorrow night there is something happening in just about every corner of the town. We live closest to the Parque Central where I hear there will be bands playing. We picked a great time to come!

Monday evening report on the fair: Just getting to the fair was an experience in itself. We caught one of the microbuses that roam around town with a guy yelling out the destination. He talks so fast and I can never understand what he’s saying except for the one destination every woman would remember, the mall. For that one you listen for a rapid “ipper, ipper, ipper!” which is for the Hipper Pais mall. The best translation I have come up with is “Hyper Country”. Interestingly enough the anchor store was just bought out by Walmart and they even sport the familiar blue vests but with the “Hipper” logo. A small touch of home in a foreign country while proving once again how small our planet has become.

We climbed on a bus that a teacher from the school picked out for us. This took a little time because she had to find one that had enough empty space for all nine of us. The microbus is really just a van as opposed the the huge ones we think of as school busses. Both styles are referred to as "chicken bus." I have never seen an actual chicken on one of these but I have no doubt at all that people board them with an assortment of things including chickens. Just the day before I had held a woman's huge basket of tortillas for her because she had a second basket as well that she was carrying on her head as she walked. Beaven said our microbus was more narrow than the kind we rent for mission trips and designed to seat 12, tops. As we travelled toward the fair they kept stuffing people into the van until I started counting and one of the other students must have noticed because he told me: “25.” Just then another guy got on and my friend said, “26.” Except technically the guy wasn’t “on” the bus, he was standing and hanging to it with only his feet inside and the rest of his body out of the door. If this was what everyone calls a “chicken bus” there wasn’t room for even one more feather.

Once the bus got to the fairgrounds we walked about a mile or two past souvenir shows and fast foods stalls. It was starting to look just like the Texas State Fair.

On our walk we passed one drunk whose buddies each had an arm over their shoulder helping him walk home. It was so crowded that when they staggered towards me I realized that he was so wasted he might throw up on me and it was so crowded that I had nowhere to go to get out of the way. We kind of ricocheted off each other and they veered off to the side.

Once inside, it was even more like the Texas State Fair. There were lots of regional foods, especially the fried kind. One of the teachers at the school brought her niƱitos, her grandchildren. They are about nine or ten years old. Miriam let them pick one ride to ride and the group very methodically checked every ride before the kids made a final choice. I took a great picture of Pancho just as the ride started. His face was priceless and I decided I wanted to figure out how to get a copy of the picture printed and framed before I left.

We visited an “Exposition" that was about 75 thousand buildings linked together with exhibit after exhibit after exhibit. It was incredibly crowded and after an hour or so the gringos all agreed that we had seen enough. But when I started looking for a door I couldn’t find one. That’s when I noticed that we were packed into the place like sardines and apparently Guatemala has no laws saying that you have to have fire exits in an insanely crowded place. I could see how folks could burn to a crisp if anything caught fire. After that realization, I was ready to vamanos. As much as we silently led the group straight ahead the building didn’t seem to have an end. We passed a few interesting exhibits of commercial kitchen wares. One difference between this fair and the Texas State Fair is how many commercial exhibits there were. There were a lot of computers, copiers, tools, building supplies and roofing materials. I took a couple of pictures of the kitchen equipment and even one of a blender exhibit that looked suspiciously like a Vita-Mix demo that I see every year at the Texas State Fair. When we finally reached the end of the building we had to walk a mile or so to the bus. Exhausted, we called the trip a grand success.

After we got back home, Beaven and I decided that since he was WAY, WAY outside his comfort zone all day I should buy him a beer. Once we got seated at our table in the restaurant and took stock, I realized my camera was missing. My pocket had been picked.

I had kept my wallet in an inside pocket of my jacket just like the seasoned traveler but my outside pockets are huge and accommodating. The only trouble is that they’re accommodating to anyone who wants to put their own hand in there, too. We figure when I took that last picture of the kitchen equipment the flash alerted every pickpocket in the building. I certainly looked ripe for the plucking; I had a bright blue Columbia rain jacket on and a pink ball cap. Very stylish I thought, but I also looked about as white as I’ve ever looked in my life. The only thing lacking was a little neon sign on my forehead blinking: “stupid gringo here with camera in right coat pocket.” I gotta hand it to the guy, I never felt a thing. We were jostling and bouncing into everyone in Guatemala in that exhibit hall.

There was nothing to do but order Beaven a second beer and chalk it up to experience. The city erupted into a blaze of fireworks celebrating Independence from Spain over 125 years ago but I had a tiny suspicion there was also somebody out there celebrating their new camera.

Next Wednesday : a report on our trip to Guatemala’s Pacific coast. Did you know the country has two beaches? —one on the Pacific and one on the Gulf of Mexico. Very different, too. I will leave you with my last photo; downloaded just before we left for the fair. Not a bad adios to photos from Guatemala.

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