¡No eres gringa!

Parque el Calvario, Xela, Guatemala

Assimilation is not that difficult. Proficiency in Spanish helps indescribably, but more than that it’s the people around. I’ve been constantly impressed by their willingness to teach, learn, exchange, and have fun with us foreigners. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the city of Xela for a week or three months – they will treat you like a great friend after a mere introduction and make sure your impressions of Guatemala stay positive as you leave. They sneakily plant in you a craving to come back, too. I’ve barely arrived, but am already falling for Guatemala and Xela itself, and am seriously wondering… “when will I come back here?”
Now, from someone who wants to visit a new country each time she leaves her home – wherever it might be at the time – it’s a huge compliment. A huge mystery, too. The vibe here seems clinging and drawing you in, the community appears so small and so available, but at the same time so diverse and dynamic. No wonder people genuinely want to be a part of it.

I arrived on Wednesday, and within a few hours I was enjoying the stories from other students sharing their much-longer-term impressions of the city with me over a cup of hot chocolate. During a salsa class I met a guy who had a Polish friend, and of course I insisted he introduces us, so my Saturday night was set. On a Friday, a few of my fellow students were sharing home-made pizza, so I joined eagerly only to make a lot of friends from all over Guatemala studying in Xela, who showed me both the local cantinas (small, local sort of “bars’), and hidden art galleries and museums. One of my self-proclaimed guides went as far as to say I’m not even a gringa.
“Your Spanish is good, and you’re not from the States!”
As weird as that statement was, and as much as I disagreed with it, his words still made me feel a little proud of myself. I will never be taken for a local, but if someone who gets to know me can at least see past my tourist self, I’ll take it.

As soon as I’m satisfied with my situation and network development, I have to leave. That experience, however, definitely makes me much less anxious about being in San Pedro for 6 weeks. I know that I will find other ‘vagabonds’, and soon enough my dear Brazilian friend will join me in the effort of gaining job experience and having a successfully relaxing and fun summer.

After seeing the loveliness of the Guatemalan life (especially on a Sunday, where all businesses besides those selling ice-cream and street snacks close, and whole families stay on playgrounds with their overtly energetic, smiley children) I can’t wait for more!
With a single kiss on a cheek for both a hello and a goodbye, I’m leaving Xela.

A no-longer-blonde adventure

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Guatemala City Central Park

Every now and then I have an urge to do something to my hair. Whether it’s going bald (almost for a cause) or an amateur asymmetrical cut, it never seems to surprise my friends. So I went ginger for a change, and with that, I went to Guatemala.

As a lonely, vulnerable woman, I pulled each and every single string I could to connect with friends, and friends of friends, and their friends, so my loneliness wouldn’t last longer than my flight.  And it worked! Upon my arrival to Guatemala City a smile (familiar only from facebook), greeted me from across the little gate. My enthusiasm confused several taxi drivers who almost got a client – or so they thought – and I rushed with two backpacks (one front, one back) to meet my temporary host.

The capital was only a short stop for me, however nice, because I ambitiously decided to do more studying just after finishing the semester at college. Spanish School, here I come! After all, that’s one of the things gringos believe Guatemala is famous for. So after two full days of relaxing, I got escorted to a bus stop at 5.30am and… left alone. Predicted, prepared for, and not so new to me. But it always strikes.

I had a lot of time to observe. And as much as I am used to vendors entering the bus at every stop and pitching their product in extremely fast Spanish, I never realized how invisible I could be. It’s always the foreigners who get the most (oftentimes unwanted) attention, but for these salesmen we’re good only to be overlooked. Soon enough, I realized that without me expressing active interest, they will assume I know no Spanish, have no idea about their ways, and am no potential customer. I might have been slightly hungry by then, but being ignored never felt as comfortable.

So I reached my destination, chit-chatted with a rather bored, customer-less taxi driver, decided I shall use no English from now on, and knocked heavily on the school’s door. Barely a formality.

Now, with my own room in a Guatemalan house, an actual local phone number, improved Spanish, and no-longer-blonde hair, I almost feel like a native. Maybe I can cross “sign up for couchsurfing!” off of my TO-DO list.