Coban: The Beginning

Published: January 11th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

I should’ve known how this trip would be right when we pulled up to the border. When they asked why I was going to the airport, I told them I was going to Guatemala. No sooner had the word Guatemala come out of my mouth, the customs guy told my sister to turn off the car and hand him the keys. They searched the car, I’m guessing for some random immigrants hidden in the trunk. Now that humorous. The Detroit airport however, not funny at all. Apparently during the holiday season, the U.S. has this ridiculous new law called the Luggage Embargo. Not only am I not a fan of it, but apparently I could’ve ended up in prison for a short period of time because of it.

When I got up to the counter, the guy told me I was only allowed one bag. When I explained to him that one bag was school supplies, one was clothes and that I would be gone for a year, he basically told me too bad. He made it seem like the only obvious solution was to throw out my other suitcase, which was never going to happen. That’s when I asked him what would happen if someone else in line didn’t have any luggage to check, couldn’t I just count for their bag instead. He immediately told me that was illegal, which only clued in to me when he made the siren noise for me and told me that it was a security threat. But, he also said that what he didn’t know was fine with him and that I could go and ask people and I wouldn’t have to wait in line. So, I proceeded to find a group of ladies that had been standing behind me. One of them only had carry on luggage and she agreed to claim my suitcase. So, up we went to the counter where I paid her for my suitcase. I thought everything was fine until after he had put my luggage on the belt and it was gone. Only then did he tell me that my bag was on it’s way to Cancun. Well, that was it. I immediately broke down into tears. The thought that now not only did I have nothing for my class, but those really cute black heels were in there as well, was too much for me. I think the guy actually felt bad for me after a while because he ended up marking me down for two bags arriving in Guatemala, but only leaving Detroit with one. I am thinking that he was trying to somehow let me know that I could claim lost luggage, which I would have done for sure. The ladies and I had agreed that if my bag showed up in Mexico, to just bring it to a school there. Although it crushed me, I didn’t want it all to just go to waste. But, once in the airport they decided that since they live close to my home town, they would just bring it back with them and when someone came to visit me, they could bring it to me. That was really sweet of them and that would have all gone well, but instead they changed the plan without my knowledge.

Just as we are about to land in Ft. Lauderdale, I hear them call over the flight attendant. They are explaining our suitcase situation and the girl clearly doesn’t understand. After at least five minutes of telling her that my luggage was in one of their names and could I please get it off the plane and have it sent with me. That’s when she called my name and asked me what was going on. I could feel everyone staring at me on the plane and my face was getting hotter by the minute. As soon as I told her that yes, my luggage was in the other girl’s name she asked to see my boarding passes, noticed the luggage trick the guy had done, her mouth dropped open and told us all that we were to stay on the plane when we landed and were not get off. I knew that it was not a good thing by as soon as she said it. But, the ladies were looking at me and giving me the thumbs up. The plane landed and everyone but us got off. Airport Police arrived and we were made to explain it over again. They then told us how illegal it is to do something like that and that we had caused a security breach. As he was talking I was hearing prison doors slamming in my head. Luckily though, he let us off and I even got my suitcase transferred to Guatemala with me. Obviously it was only thanks to those awesome girls I met that were willing to do something illegal…even before getting to Mexico.

Once I had arrived in Guatemala, I immediately waited for my precious suitcases and stripped on the spot. I couldn’t fit any more stuff into my luggage so I was stuck wearing four shirts, and three sweaters my whole trip. Not comfortable. Although people were staring at me, I stripped right down to two shirts right there in front of the luggage belt. I am not sure if that’s why, but Customs let me right through. They must have known there couldn’t possibly be anything left under there that they needed to worry about.

The owner of the school was waiting there for me, as well as another new teacher that will be working in the city. On our drive to my bus stop he explained the rules of Guatemala City. Most of them were either common sense, or ones that I have already come to know after my time in Honduras. With that said though, I did learn some interesting facts.

The Guatemalan Government has made it illegal now for more than one person to be on a motorcycle at any time. They must also wear reflective vests with their license plate and license numbers on them. This was all put into place because of a gang that had been extorting the city bus company. The gang had told the company that if they didn’t pay a certain amount of money, they would shoot two drivers a day. And they did. The gang would pull up when the bus was stopped, shoot the driver in the head and then get on the bus and rob everyone. After this happened many times, this law came into affect. From what I hear, it has helped, but I was also told that the city bus is the last place you want to be. You shouldn’t get on with anything that you are not willing to part with right away. Other fact I learned that made me happy that I chose to live in Coban and not Guatemala City: the murder rate. The murder rate is at 1400 and those are the ones that they know about.

During my four hour bus ride from the city to Coban, I couldn’t help but look out the window and smile to myself. Everything just felt right. Perfect, in a way. Looking out onto the mountains, listening to the people talking around me, the Spanish music playing on the radio, the winding roads up through the mountains. All of it made me feel at home. Even though it had been the longest 40 something hours of being awake and way too many hours of constant movement, I couldn’t help but smile. I knew then, I had made the right decision in coming. I’m home. at least for this year, it is.

There isn’t much to say about my arrival in Coban, as it was dark and raining. But, when I arrived at where I’ll be staying for the next two weeks or so, I got to meet the other two new girls. I thought it was just me, because I was exhausted, but they were super hyper and excited to see me and help me bring my bags up the stairs. Apparently it was all the coffee they’d been drinking. I’d been told Coban has the best coffee in the world and they serve it all of the time, non stop. It’s true.

I felt bad that I couldn’t even really talk to anyone for more than five minutes. I just wanted my bed. Any bed. Hell, a floor at that point. As soon as I saw the room I am staying in it made me think of a place I stayed at in Tegus. The room it basically outside, there are flowers everywhere and it’s pretty, but I also know pretty doesn’t mean anything when it comes to a room…outside, Everything looks nice until there are roaches crawling out of every little crack in the wall and underneath your door. Although I didn’t see any bugs, I also know you don’t have to, they’re still there.

This morning I made a serious attempt at showering. I have been travelling forever and feeling pretty gross. I asked Emily how the shower was and she said it was too hot. I don’t know if she just got very lucky because very hot is quite different than the polar dip I experienced this morning. I turned on the shower and got myself all excited for no reason. The steam lasted for possibly 10 seconds and then on came the ice water. Half of my arm was wet and I had just put soap on, that’s as far as I got. I’m gross I know. But, I just couldn’t handle it. It made me think of lying in a snow bank making snow angels nude. It was too cold, so with my half clean right arm…I got dressed and ready for my first and only day of training.

Our walk to the school was filled with stares. The three of us were following the girl we are staying with, another teacher named Nyla. Because pedestrians here have absolutely no right of way, we were all walking in a line behind Nyla. I started noticing that people were staring at us, I even heard one guy say Look! Look! To his friend. Then I heard the dreaded kissy noises the men make here. Can’t say I’ve missed those at all. It felt as though we were part of some Gringa Parade, except there were no beads. Next time.

The school is really cute. It’s way smaller than my last school, but it is a nice size. Everyone here refers to themselves as being family and I can see that they all get along well. I didn’t even feel any under current of tension, which is definitely nice. We had a few hours of training on the Montessori Method and then I was given a tour. I found the computer room the nicest, but I think that was only because I desperately wanted to get online and let everyone know that I had made it here safe.

I finally got to meet the infamous Rhian, who will be taking over as manager now that Felipe is leaving. She is really sweet, very bubbly and never stops smiling. She took us out for a quick walk around a couple of blocks and to grab some lunch. The lunch was incredible…even if it was only potatoes and veggies. Oh and this really cool Plaintain thing. I wish I knew what they were called, but it was all said too fast for me to catch on. Either way, it was a Plaintain ball with beans inside, with a little bit of sugar on top. Awesome.

I think Emily and I may have made Rhian’s day. We had asked her what everyone did here in Coban and sadly she replied that they hang out. That to me sounded as if everyone sits around, has coffee and just chills. Although fun, that could get really boring and fast. It was like nobody wanted to actually say it out, but leave it to me to ask the tough questions. So does anyone here go out? Where are there bars? What is the best beer to get here? How much is rum and coke? All of which I asked within a minute. She was pretty pumped that we like to party and have drinks, not just work and go home. I think this year is going to be fun. Although the three of us newbies are the only single ones around. From what I’ve been told countless times already, if I want to improve my Spanish, I just need to get myself a Guatemalan boyfriend. That is definitely not on the agenda though. I think I’ll just stick with the old school way and take some classes.

Coming here, I had the option to either live alone or with the other new girls. I have decided that not only is it more cost effective, but probably more fun, to live with Jaclyn and Emily. I did check out only one other apartment, if that’s what it was called. I would classify it more as a room with a bed and shared bathroom with a lot of people. Since I’m not into dorm style living for a year at 27 years old, I’m going with the three bedroom apartment. We went to check it out and it’s actually really nice. The manager that’s leaving is moving and so as soon as he moves out, we’re moving in. It costs 1500q a month for rent, 14q for trash, 50q for shared cable with a neighbour, 250q for electricity and 20q for water. Of course that all gets divided into three and basically works out to about 80 bucks a month. Unfortunately though, now we have to find furniture. We were able to buy a stovetop for 400q, a table and chairs for 150q and a small beer fridge for 1000q. The fridge was a stretch for me, until I realized that I needed somewhere to put a couple of beers at least and then…I was sold! Now comes the scary part. Finding a bed. I am not looking forward to buying a bed at all. I’ve asked around and apparently they will usually run about 100 bucks. That’s more than a months rent! I haven’t completely resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be sleeping on top of my suitcases, but the idea has been floating around my head. And yes, I’ve been talking about getting an air mattress, but finding the right word for it in Spanish was not easy.

At dinner tonight, I think the family we are staying with got a little more entertainment than they bargained for. It was more of a Dinner and a Show. We were explaining to them that we had found an apartment and now we were just looking for furniture. It was my bright idea to try and ask them how to say air mattress in Spanish. Since they speak no English, of course they had no idea what I was trying to ask them, so I had only one option left. To act it out. As soon as I put my hands to my mouth and started blowing profusely, that’s when they all starting laughing. I was hoping that they were laughing just because I had to result to acting it out, but no. I realize now how stupid I looked grasping air and blowing. Now, I did lead up to it with other actions and a little bit of Spanish, but once I started blowing, it was all downhill from there. It wasn’t me that set the strange tone at the dinner table though. Emily was a bit chilly and had decided to bulk up on the clothing. One of the sons had complimented her and she started turning red. Of course, one of they then pointed out that she very, very red. Apparently she started getting really hot and had to take off her sweater. Well, that caused quite a stir. It got to the point that we were all laughing hysterically as she was sitting at the dinner table stripping off her clothes. I can see how she could be hot, she was wearing like four sweaters. Either way, very funny dinner with our host family that was filled with lots of many mixed up translations, good music and dancing in the kitchen.

Emily, Jaclyn and I went up to our quarters to get ready for bed. It was raining and that is never good when your room is basically outside and your roof is made of tin. Not only is it noisy, but the bugs love to come out and make friends with you. As Jaclyn was trying to patiently wait for the water to turn something other than icy cold, I noticed a huge spider. It wasn’t in my room, just on the patio type thing outside of our rooms and bathroom. Jacyln was a life saver and killed it with a shoe. I am so glad she has stepped up to take on the manly position of bug killer, because I truly don’t want it. I’ll do it if I have to, but I think she was meant to do this so I am not going to take her destiny form her. Our positions are pretty much set in stone now. Emily will be the gatherer of new friends for our new apartment, Jaclyn will kill any insects so people won’t be afraid to visit and me? I’m the party starter, obviously. I knew I’d get that part with my random, but awesome dance moves.

Anyway, right after she killed the spider, I see a big slug on it’s way into the bathroom. But we let that one live. Of course, we’re all out there talking about bugs and they say that they’re just happy they haven’t seen any in their room. I walk back into my room and right there staring at me from the wall was a cockroach. Jaclyn came in with her shoe but all she managed to do was scare it into a hole. So, I stood in my room staring at the hole for way too long, just waiting to see him poke his head out so I could whip a shoe at it. I‘m not getting too close to that thing just yet, I’m new here and they fly. I thoroughly checked my bed, turned off the light for half a minute and then turned it back on. That’s right, I was trying to play mind games with it. Now, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I did it a few times. So much in fact, that I’m pretty sure it looked as though I was having a strobe light party in my room. But, he outlasted me and didn’t come out. I’m pretty sure he’s just waiting for me to go to sleep so that he can come spoon with me. It is pretty chilly, so maybe it won’t be so bad. My welcoming to Coban has been really great. In the span of nearly two days, I have lost and regained my luggage, met new friends, found an apartment, danced in a kitchen, washed half of my arm, had some random substance fall from the roof and land on my suitcase and possibly cuddled with a cockroach. It looks like it’s the beginning of a whole new adventure. I can’t wait.


11th January 2010

Awesome Janet! Thank you for sharing. It's so nice to hear of your adventures! Keep dancin'!
11th January 2010

Glad you have made your adventure public, we love you , be safe, and never forget your Friday dance.
11th January 2010

Woo Hoo adventures in Janetland!!!
Well I found this blog it did not appear when I first came on just the miserable cold and rain glad to hear you have found a place and made some friends but hey who could not like Foxy Brown=) Love ya!!!
12th January 2010

I ran into the same problem with my bags but luckily found out the day I was heading to Toronto, BEFORE I left. Not only is there only one bag but also NO excess. I had to drop 90 pounds of stuff. Luckily the school reimbursed my mom to ship it down later. Motorcycle rule is cool. I wish Honduras had it too, as the ones that rob you are apparently often two men on a bike. I've also been told when driving in Tegus, don't roll down your windows to look at a supposed flat tire pointed out by a man on a bike, as that's when he'll put his gun to your head and rob you. Murder rate sounds right up there with Honduras! yahoo! Joys of Central America! I know that feeling of coming "home" to a country that isn't yours. Hard to explain huh? SMALLER than EBH?! Didn't realize you were doing Montessori. That should be interesting! $80 is SUPER cheap for rent. The furniture thing does suck though. Mine is a furnished 2 bedroom apt directly across the street from my school but I pay $550! Cockroaches freak me out too. Walt, his friends, and his family make fun of me. They're about as common as house flies to them. lol. Enjoy your new adventure. Sounds like it will be awesome.
12th January 2010

the name of the plantain thing
Hi, welcome to Guate, hope you enjoy your time here, from your description I reckon what you had was a "rellenito" have fun!
13th January 2010

This blog was so was great. Julie kept asking me are you on the second one...and all I kept saying is no still the first. As I am laughing my guts out. Too funny. Some very serious shit going down there though. Do not travel on the bus system. Knowing there is no way that you will be able to keep up this long of a blog all the time. Holy typing diarrhea or what. You had so much to say I don't think I can stay at Julie's to read the second so hopefully my internet is up and running soon.
13th January 2010

Don't worry Mom, I have already showed my host family the Friday dance. I don't know if I told them the name of it...I just know I've done it. In the kitchen. During and after dinner lol.
13th January 2010

OMG. Your rent is 550? That's what the rent is back home. That's crazy. Although, maybe it just seems ridiculous to me because I make less than that haha. And yes, I guess we are in the same boat. It is hard to explain to people, the feeling of being home even when you're technically nowhere near your home. But, at least you know what I mean.
13th January 2010

Ahh, thanks. I asked around after reading this and yes, that is the name ;)
13th January 2010

Yeah, sorry Tina, there's no way the blogs are going to stay that length. I don't think there's enough going on, or I'm even doing enough to keep writing a blog to begin with lol. Just kidding. I'll do my best to drink more, that way, I have something to say...just for you.

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