It’s Not That Scary: The Guatemala Stories (Part Three)

baseball cap / bandanas / combat boots

Despite my fall, I was dressed rather appropriately for the amount of hiking and manual labor that was ahead of us. At one point we were met by one of the Good Neighbors Guatemala staff, a tiny Korean girl named Genesis, who was in skinny jeans, a scarf, boots with heels, and other fancy clothes. I admired her ability to dart around the dirt floors, carry cinder blocks, and take down notes in ball point pen on the palm of her hand so that she can help with a future installation of a cookstove.

Later, in the car, I said to Nikki, “She’s wearing what everybody thought I’d wear here.”

“What?” Nikki said. “You wear clothes like this?”

“I would normally be in a skirt, Nikki. I had to buy pants for this trip. I don’t dress like this normally.”

“You? You wear a skirt? The girl who’s wearing all the bandanas?”

Like I’m Punky Brewster. But I did have a bandana on my head (to protect from sunburn) and one around my wrist (treated with bug repellant), and my paint-splattered jeans were thick with mud (…from the fall). She had a point.

“I normally try to dress a bit better than this. I have a skirt packed, just in case.”

She shook her head, impressed. “You, Pam, are a different kind of gringa.”

“How is that?”

“The Americans who come here,” she says. “We talk about them, how they dress. You have so many places to buy clothes. We talk about how we’d wear always nice clothes if we could buy them that easily. I wish we had an Old Navy.”

And it’s true, the only women I saw wearing grubby clothes were foreigners. San Pedro La Laguna, where we stayed, is rather overrun by expat hippies. So many dreadlocks on white ladies. So many. One of the kids we visited asked me if I was from Antigua, which is one of the more touristy areas of Guatemala. I told him I lived in Los Angeles, California. “Canadian?” he asked me, and one of the other little girls told him I was from the United States. He gave me this look like, “Whatever. You’re totally from Germany.”

But I told Nikki, “Those Americans who are traveling in shorts and t-shirts, you know that’s because they’re in travel mode, right? They’re hiking and running around and it’s dusty and maybe they are staying in a hostel or whatever.”

“I guess.”

“And they tell us to come here without any jewelry, and to leave all of our nice things at home.”


“And also, what if my luggage gets lost? Do you know that my bag was unzipped when it came off the plane? I saw luggage that was just like, a Forever 21 bag with a string tied around it.” (THIS IS TRUE.)

“I guess I can understand. But I have a hard time imagining you in a skirt right now.”

iphone / camera /handheld camera/ notebook

I took a bajillion pictures and videos, but the notebook came in handy almost immediately when I learned on the first day I was going to interview the mayor for the video Good Neighbors is putting together for Project Cookstove.

(This reminds me of one thing I did learn about traveling with almost exclusively Koreans. Exaggeration does not work with them. I’d say something like, “I have about a hundred bug bites on my arm,” and someone would gasp and say, “Oh no! One hundred! That is so many, let me see! Do you have medicine for them? Can I help with something?” Then I felt like a jerk, so I’d have to be like, “It’s only four. I’m okay. Sorry to worry you.”)

Anyway, I interviewed the mayor, and the awesome lady who runs the women’s center, and due to my apparently fantastic looking-like-I-understand-Spanish skills, I was soon asked to teach a seminar.


So it’s a good thing I’d packed that skirt.

“Maybe twenty women or so will be there,” they said. “Do not worry. You will just tell them about Good Neighbors and Project Cookstove, and you will explain how this cookstove will improve their lives, and how it works, and then how to sign up to be considered for sponsorship.”

You guys. Hundreds of people were there. Families. Lots and lots of people. Luckily I wasn’t the only one to speak, nor was I the one they were coming to hear. Everybody loves the mayor, and the women who run the women’s center are such amazing public speakers even I was like, “Yes, Ma’am, whatever you say. But you’ll have to tell me what you said in English and then I’ll do it. Right away.”

I, however, looked like I was telling them that I had come to steal every one of their children. Right after I finished singing some song I wrote about Solola. Which is why, even though I had packed with me–

Kindle – Learn Spanish in 12 Days

–It was pretty much useless. I was most helpful, I think, when I was painting a cookstove next to a chicken.

Instant Starbucks Coffee

I take it back. My biggest regret on this trip is that I TOTALLY FORGOT I HAD THIS IN MY SUITCASE. Because I don’t care how much it might make me look like a wuss traveler, Nescafe is not coffee, it’s nothing close to coffee, and it’s not a substitute for coffee. It makes me start every morning with anger.

Luckily my companions were also coffee drinkers, which is how I learned to love the completely foreign concept to Americans that when you go for coffee, you get espresso, you sit down and drink it, and then you move on. I started learning the importance of it in Venice and Paris with my mom back in September, but I didn’t fully appreciate why someone would want to walk around without a paper cup of latte in their hands until this trip. Every sip of Nescafe was sad, and I am kicking myself that I forgot this little emergency present I had packed, from LA Pam to Guatemala Pam.

It was in my suitcase!! The whole time!! Aaaaugh!!!

trail mix / granola bars

Long, long car rides, and only one day did we forget, as second car, to pull provisions from the first car. That’s the day I passed out my emergency supplies. I think it’s also the same day I shot this footage of driving through San Pablo La Laguna.

While I was shooting this, the other people in the car were discussing the name of the town.

Bryan: What is does “La Laguna” mean, Nikki?

Nikki: It’s a body of water, kind of… I’m not sure how you’d call it. Not like a pond, but part of the lake that kind of… Pam, how would you say that word in English? “La Laguna”?

Pam: Well… and I am only guessing here, but I think it’s “lagoon.”

Nikki/Bryan: Oh, right, yeah!

It was pretty much the only time anybody ever needed a word in English, but at least it made them all laugh.

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