And now for the rest of you lovely people, I have a story:
This is a story about getting from place to place in Guatemala, mainly about buses. Let’s be real here, those of you who’ve been in Guatemala, how can I not have a bus story?
In the CASAS program, coming to school each day by bus is considered part of the experience, and quite an experience it is. Let me further illustrate this point: I was at a birthday party this past Sunday and met some wonderful younger Guatemalan people (who spoke perfect English. It was such a relief after an entire weekend of attempting to communicate in Spanish). They asked me what I was doing in Guatemala and I explained the whole cross-cultural study situation and told them I was living with a host family and going to classes at SEMILLA.
“How are you getting there?” they asked.
“By bus,” I said matter-of-factly.
The looks of shock and horror I received probably shouldn’t have been unexpected. If you’d like to truly understand the life of a sardine, going on a Guatemalan bus is a great option. They are packed to the brim. Personal space does not exist. And on top of that, I‘ve heard enough stories about peoples‘ backpacks being slashed and whatever other horror stories you‘d like to come up with that, yes, I‘d agree: Guatemalan buses are pretty scary if you think about them too hard. Naturally their response was, “You can’t go by bus! That’s not safe!”
Yes, friends. Even the Guatemalans are scared of the buses. They gave me their phone numbers just in case “things didn’t work out.”
So, that was reassuring to say the least.
Now a word about my host family. I’m living with an older couple. If I understood their Spanish correctly, they’re in their very late seventies, I think my host dad might be eighty. They’re adorable and perfectly capable individuals. I love them. Anyways, it’s standard procedure for host families to accompany their host children on the bus the first couple of times until we’re comfortable with the route. On Monday, my host mother accompanied me and I paid close attention. It was simple - especially after playing Mr. X twenty billion times this past New Year’s eve. It went like this in my head: Two green buses, then two red buses. No problem.
So, when my exhausted, adorable host mother asked me if I was ready to go solo the next day, what was I going to say but yes? I knew, while it would be a smidge risky that I was perfectly capable, confident enough at traveling, and knew the route well enough for having gone on it once each way. And honestly, I didn’t want to make my tired host mother take all that time to do it again when I was so close to comfortable.
This morning, I set out with 5 different phone numbers, 2 quetzales for bus fare, a copy of my passport, and my bag of school things, ready to brave the terrifying buses of Guatemala city completely and totally alone. I wasn’t that worried about the green buses, and in fact, they went fine. It was the red buses that I was most concerned about. The red bus route wasn’t as clear to me and did I mention the rest of the conversation I had with the wonderful, younger English-speaking Guatemalan folks? It went like this:
“Well, which buses are you taking?”
“I’m pretty sure green and then red.”
“Green is passable, but red? You can’t go on the red bus! That’s WAY too dangerous!”
So naturally, when I got to the red bus, I was slightly nervous. There was a strange man trying to talk to me in rapid Spanish before I got on. I tried to ignore him. I couldn’t place whether he was attempting to be kind or lecherous. It occurred to me that perhaps he was being both kind and lecherous, which is confusing in and of itself, hence my confusion. I still don’t have the answer. Needless to say, I got on, and off we went…until…the bus broke down.
Yes, that’s right. The scary red bus with the kindly lecherous man broke down in the middle of the extremely busy road.
And I said to myself. Now what?
We waited for a bit, and I decided to follow the crowd. This was a good choice. It wasn’t long until another red bus came along and we happily boarded.
But here’s the problem: I was completely relying on my intuitive time sense to get myself to know when it was time to get off the scary red bus. I knew there were two stops, yes, but one of them was barely noticeable, and I wasn’t entirely certain if it stopped there every time. Now I was completely thrown off.
So, I stuck with my intuition anyway, and got off the bus. As I began walking, I felt strongly that I had gotten off too early. I was convinced that my blond-haired, blue-eyed, young, American self was lost in the middle of Guatemala City. It was now time to call on all of the common sense my grandfather has attempted to bestow upon me throughout my life, the amazing city-walking lessons given to me by Chelsea Wimmer, and all the cultural advice given to me by SEMILLA to get me through alive. Let the adventure begin! :D (I’m fully aware that the thrilled adventurer part of me could get me into severe trouble someday.)
I knew the address of SEMILLA, and I knew that I was safest talking to women. I started out asking a lady street vendor which direction the street I needed was in. She pointed, I went. And after 5 minutes of walking, I reminded myself that in Guatemala, when you ask for directions, you will always get them, but they won’t always be right. People are too concerned with saving face than being correct. This seemed to be the case for me. Nothing looked familiar and the road was about to end. So, I located another woman, but this time, I ended up talking to a man, a fellow street vendor to the woman I had selected. I got a general “good vibe” sense from him, so I told him the street name. He looked at me knowingly and said, “SEMILLA?” And I breathed a sigh of relief. This time, I would get good directions.
The rest is history, folks. Despite all of these mishaps, I actually arrived at SEMILLA early! I may or may not have scared the receptionist a smidge when I realized this…
Also, I found out on my way home that I HAD gotten off at the right stop - I just thought that I didn’t and therefore walked in the wrong direction. Does this story sound familiar to any of you? Ah well, some things never change…