Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gaia Theory

We went back to the beach last weekend. (Note: It's been over a week since this was composed - ed.) The beach here is kind of an un-Guatemalan experience. Which can't really be true, because technically, we were in Guatemala. But the beach in Guatemala feels a lot more like Getting Away from It All than the beach in the U.S. often does, as many sunny beaches in the U.S. are overflowing with people Getting Away from It All and the people selling things to the people Getting Away from It All.

Here, the beach at Las Lisas is pleasantly close to the middle of nowhere. Maybe because the sea helps to keep fellow leisure-seekers at bay by killing someone in the undertow a few times a year. Nevertheless, the stars at night were fabulous, and there wasn't much to do except lounge around and take pictures of the wrecked buildings that would never fall into such disrepair on a prime stretch of beachfront property back home.

Of course, it was too good to last, and on the way home, we got to get back into it all with a taste of Guatemalan traffic. In one stretch of a few miles, the two city-bound lanes merged into one three separate times, but rather than just close one lane and leave it closed, they let the traffic un-merge each time, causing yet another bottleneck as impatient drivers refused to yield. To add insult to injury, the last merge was the result of a "police checkpoint" that served no ostensible purpose and was right next to a twenty-foot wide shoulder that would have worked just as well. Somebody needs to get to work on a teleportation device so relaxing beach weekends aren't instantly dissolved by traffic jams on the way home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Boss's Boss's Boss (and the Boss's Boss)

It has been a somewhat busy ten days here in Guatemala.

The media here have been pretty much wall-to-wall on coverage of President Bush's visit to Guatemala. In the U.S., with some other news stories taking precedence, the Guatemala stop on the Latin American tour seemed to be treated almost as a day off. Or maybe that's just me being defensive because I've been working like a dog, living in a rinky-dink cabin with three roommates for a week, all to put together the President's visit to the rural hamlet of Santa Cruz Balanya. And it didn't even make the front page of the New York Times. I guess I'll settle for inside the front section.

It actually was a very interesting lesson in the difference between what happens at a press-worthy event and what actually gets reported, but those comments will have to wait for another time. It's a bit of a challenge to write, in a forum where I'm not supposed to say much about work, about two weeks that were dedicated almost exclusively to work . And even more difficult when the work regards something so politically sensitive as a Presidential visit, where writing anything untoward might seriously land me in some heap of trouble. But I'll venture a few comments none-the-less, even if they won't add up to any kind of coherent thought:

The President (or POTUS, as he is actually no-kidding called for short in any number of meetings and such) does not often go to the sticks in a foreign country, and Santa Cruz BalanyĆ” is seriously the sticks. The town has a population of about 6,000, and is surrounded by lettuce fields as far as the eye can see. The challenges of safely getting the President in and out of such an area were substantial. My most important function was serving as a translator not just between English and Spanish, but between the perspectives of a (very) young White House staffer and the mayor of a small Guatemalan farming town. They're even less similar than you might think.

I also had the pleasure of having a conversation that went something like:
Me: "These pots are very nice."
Guy selling pottery on the town square: "Thanks."
Me: "Did you make them yourself?"
GSPotTS: "Yes."
(uncomfortable silence)
Me: "So, do you want to come to Santa Cruz Balanya on Monday and show your pottery to the President of the United States?"
GSPotTS: (stares for a moment then starts talking to the potential customer next to me).
Next time the voice of experience will surely help me come up with a more natural segue.

The day of the trip, I was within ten feet of Bush and Condi, and found myself with nothing but my camera-phone. So I captured a few shots of vaguely Bush- and Condi-shaped blobs, which the photo department has determined to be sufficiently vague as to be unpublishable. The Staff Photographer did manage to get some more traditional but ultimately boring shots in the controlled environment of the Embassy Meet 'n' Greet, wherein grown Embassy employees, both Guatemalan and American, had a chance to possibly shake the President's hand, and treated the event like teenage girls trying to get Ringo's autograph in 1966.

As cool as it was spending a few fleeting minutes hanging around the Prez, the undisputed highlight of the visit was the twenty minutes we spent coming back from our rural site courtesy of the United States Army. I don't know why it was so cool to ride in a Chinook, other than for those of us lucky enough to not have had to serve in our Armed Forces, riding in a tandem-rotor "helo" (anyone who says "helicopter" around the White House staff is roundly derided) is one of those things you figured you'd only ever see in movies. Also, they leave the ass end hanging open, so you get some crazy views if you're in the way back.

And that's it. Maybe more next time he swings by Santa Cruz Balanya.