Weather these days: Either muggy hot or cool and rainy.
Dissertation news from my committee chair: None. Yet.
When we walked out of Tacontento, we realized that the falling rain wasn't water, but gritty, tarry sand. The drive home was slow and hellish. The sand was pelting so hard the wipers were useless, so we had to stop often to get out and wipe off the sand, which--we later realized--scratches the windshield.
Turns out that the Pacaya volcano, many miles away, was erupting what came to us as sand, but came in the shape of rocks and boiling lava to those living around it. It is very fertile around there, so the area is inhabited by many farmers, be them subsistence to large landowners.
In the end, there were several dead and around 70,000 villagers evacuated. Just talked to somebody today, who lives 12 kilometers from the volcano "as the crow flies," and he told me that rocks and pebbles were raining on them, and the volcano kept making a noise that felt "as if 4 jets were landing at the same time on top of them."
Then, the endless days of rain somehow (don't ask me for technical details, I have only the most basic understanding of how these happen) caused a huge sinkhole, whose photograph made it around the world. It's actually quite impressive and a little over a kilometer from where we live. I read that way at the bottom--so deep it can't be seen--is a huge quicksand well.
The next morning, the whole city--the whole region, really--was covered in sand, as if it were the beach. The sand was wet and crunchy under one's feet and made strange, cool-looking patterns. It had taken a lot of scrubbing to get all the sand out of our scalp the night before, when we had gotten covered in it!
All of this is minor, really, compared to the great damages inflicted upon whole communities: to their crops, their roads, their health. As poor as this country is, already...
There were 2 scholars from US universities staying at the hotel while doing their research at the General Archives of Central America. One happens to be the author of a book I love, Women Who Live Evil Lives, Gender, Religion and the Politics of Power in Colonial Guatemala. It's fair to say I was thrilled to meet her.
Anyhow, they were amazed at the pouring sandy rain. Sadly, this meant that the Archivos were closed for a while, stalling their research for a few days. I love talking to historians, they always have a wealth of really fascinating anecdotes. It's also fascinating how all Latin American historians seem to know one another.
Next day everybody, from street vendors to neighbors and business owners, were hard at work cleaning up the streets. Government crews weren't enough, of course, so the government soon had the military engaged in the clean-up. They have been at it for days, doing a great job. I was impressed. It sure was a savvy PR move on their part, but still. It's appreciated.
For a couple of days the skies and sand had a hazy, ash-y feel to it.
Meanwhile, the inn was full of guests who got stranded because of floods, mudslides, collapsing bridges, etc. from the storms. People seemed mostly browbeaten and resigned.
This week I started teaching the grad level course I have been preparing like a maniac for the last couple of weeks. I have never taught the subject before, even though I have actually worked with most of the material in several projects. I was feeling under pressure to make it clear and "teachable." It involves lots of indicators, economic and otherwise. Not the funnest material ever to work with.
Nevertheless, the student group is great--if at 25 in the class, too many for a master level class. Or perhaps that is just the way it is here. They all started the masters program together, so by now are very cohesive. Professionally they all range from journalists, communication managers for big organizations, social justice workers, a writer, lawyers, college instructors and even a university dean! From another university, that is.
The class meets twice weekly, at night, and lasts over 3 hours. They arrive frazzled by traffic and in dire need of coffee. We all leave drained and exhausted, especially because air conditioning is not used anywhere and it has been extremely warm. However, they are very engaged, make smart/interesting commentary, are friendly and nice. Can't complain.
The university is all covered by Wi-Fi, the technology available in classrooms very modern and as faculty we get many perks, including free water and coffee. There is a faculty computer lab which opens out onto a lovely balcony with an awesome view of forest and mountains, and recent periodicals lying around.
I have no office--at FAU in the US I had my own office, even if it was windowless and small, and the computer was quite old. Here, I don't mind the comfy and sunlight-filled faculty computer lab as our office. I don't even need an office, as I am not required to meet with students.
Moreover, there is a free bus for staff and faculty, it drives us all home after work. So even though I have free parking and a car, I decided to save myself the gas and the hassle (traffic is horrible leaving there!), and take the bus. The yellow school bus, mind you.
I get home in about 20 mins. and enjoy listening to the chatter of other instructors on the bus. I also like it that the bus drives through neighborhoods I had never seen before, neighborhoods which happen to be very lively at night, on a city which is usually dead at that time.
The bus drives us through old, blue-collar neighborhoods, the court house area, bail bonds offices, police stations ... very entertaining human scenery. For example, I see street walkers engaged in friendly conversation with uniformed police officers sort of hanging around, as if they were all office colleagues around the water cooler.
Overall, it's been an interesting couple of weeks, one could say. Quite the adventure.
The only strange experience teaching has been one student who asked me to allow her to turn in one of her papers late. This right after another student had told me that due to his upcoming surgery, he'd have to turn in his paper early, which of course I have no problem with. The second student's case was more "serious" than the previous student's: She is going to go watch the World Soccer Championship in South Africa.
I told her that, since she knew in advance of this trip, she could turn in her paper early.
She made a sad face and goes "Oh, come on! Please!" I told her that since it is worth only 10% of the grade, it is not the end of the world to lose that 10% for an opportunity to go to the World Cup. I meant it seriously, actually. If soccer were that important to me, as it seems to be to all here--I don't really care about the World Championship, but it's like a religion here--well, I wouldn't mind losing 10% of the grade to go to South Africa and the game.
Moreover, I wouldn't mind losing 10% of a grade to go to South Africa for a week, period! It's not like anybody even cares today what my grades were back then.
Anyways. The student thought I was joking. I wasn't. I told her "Life is too short and a grade isn't the end-all and be-all of everything. If soccer is that important to you, by all means, go. It'll make for happy memories when you no longer even remember this class."
Truly, I myself was a little surprised to find myself advocating for that, since I am such a nerd when it comes to studying. I did add, however, "But I cannot accept a late paper, sorry. It is simply not fair to the others." I don't know how she felt about it. Seems she took it as "oh well, it was worth a try!" Not that I am losing any sleep over it.
The government-private sector partnership non-profit which has started here at the Historic District has taken off much better than I thought it would. I am the Chair--I was voted/appointed the Chair, without my wanting the position--yet it has been quite a learning experience. I will have to write about it some other day. But it isn't quite like in the US, and the cultural mores are fascinating. I know I will learn a great deal about working with all sorts of people from this.
And God shall grant me patience. I hope.
My mood has also been improved by severely curtailing all the news I read. I hadn't realized how much some things bother me and I just cannot do anything about them. Moreover, when it comes to places such as the Middle East or N. Korea, for example, I read it to stay informed--then it depresses me--when in general, I am not even interested in going to those regions of the world anytime soon! Or ever.
Plus, international coverage on the local papers is not good, so I have to read all the news online. Same for the magazines I subscribe to. But it just isn't the same. It's tiresome. One of the things I do miss about the US, being able to have my print magazines and papers available.
Realistically, I have gotten to a point in my life in which I have accepted that there are many places I shall never go and things I will never do. And it's okay. Visiting places like Australia, the Middle East or Antarctica are some one of them. I know I probably will never make it there. Frankly, I'm quite content concentrating on something more doable (and closer), such as walking around Puebla in Mexico, discovering San Francisco, or spending some quality time with friends and family in Florida, New Orleans and New York.
Nothing much new, then, but same old, same old.
I have been reading, as the mood strikes, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, Harold Bloom's Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human, and Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. The weekend shall involve going to the printmaking class I take, doing more lesson-prepping for class, meeting friends for lunch and evening drinks. And more reading. Life is bumpy. But good. Hope the latter is true for you too.
Hotel - Lofts - Parking
In the Historic Center of Guatemala City
Hotel - Lofts - Parking
In the Historic Center of Guatemala City