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Published: April 25th 2009
What can I say about my time as a bartender/waitress in Lanquin? Well half the time I was sick with an intestinal infection and the other half was like being sick with an intestinal infection at a big party.
El Retiro is a place of excess (think back towards the donkey playground in pinocchio), in which no social stigma is unaccounted. People tend not to sleep well at night and resting in the heat of the afternoon sun proves difficult. The combination of these factors led to a slightly tumultuous, at times physically, mentally and spiritually-trying, although not altogether terrible experience. And there were a lot of big bugs (i.e. put your hands out, palms facing you, fingers closed, palm-sides touching...and you're looking at the average size, yes average, of a local cave spider-in our house they came in black, brown and pure white).
Overall, I enjoyed the company of most of the travelers as well as that of my fellows trabajadoros. The river was beatiful, the landscape breathtaking, and there was an abundant lack of tshirts all-around. If I hadn't been working ten-hour shifts everyday, sometimes from 4 pm to 1:30/2 am without break, and
wasn't a bustling harbor for fast-multiplying, unfriendly, slightly antibiotic-resistant amoebas, I'm sure I would have been a lot more excited about the whole situation.
There were a lot of highlights. I played Hide and Seek with some local girls, Anna and Dominga, and Kris, my coworker, bought really impressive macrome from the most professional 13-year old boy I've ever met (greeted everyone with a "como estas?" and a handshake everyday), learned new Spanish vocabulary, got to play my own music loudly for hours in the restaurant, watched Superbad and King Kong with Spanish subtitles and got a bit tanner. I spent time with a young family, composed of two artisans and their Guatemalteco-German blonde-haired, brown-eyed two-year-old son, traveling around Guatemala selling their impressive handmade jewelry. They had a kind energy that can't be described here, only experienced, and everyone they met was immediately attracted to their warmth. They took care of me when I was ill, took me out for a papaya licuado, the spicy seeds included for probiotics of course, and walked me to the pharmacy at the top of the hill in town in the heat of the day for my medicine. We spent time talking
about life, strength, confidence and love. We exchanged jewelry and food and a cell phone and hugs, and I said goodbye completely content and anamored with the short-time I spent with the beautiful gypsy family.
So there was a lot to be grateful for. However, I still say the kitchen staff poisoned me. If it wasn't partially due to the fabuloso I found on my toast more times than twice, then it had something to do with dipping utensils into stagnant dish water before handing them out (as I saw the head chef do to serve pasta sauce the night that some 15 people fell ill with food poisoning in the early morning hours), or mopping the floors and sending all of the floor water, fabuloso included, flooding out the kitchen door into bags of potatoes, green bean, onions and tomatoes sitting nearby, and neglecting to wash a thing before sending out to the guests to eat.
The sign for me to be scared was when madeye (also: ojo furioso; named so because of her one glazed-over glaucomic eyeball) entered the kitchen with her swagger and attitude amplifying her obvious contempt for guerros. After her, no matter
complete with swings
how great the service and food had been prior to her entrance, everything went to hell. The food was crap and the kitchen was an eruption of giggles and screaming in the local Mayan dialect.
When I heard the combo Mayan-screamy-giggle noises, I knew everything was going to suck for me for the rest of my shift. They are well-practiced in making the servers look like asses. One mistep, one wrong look at Carlos (the other server who has a novia in the kitchen) that could be construed as flirtatious, and I would be serving up toast with nutella to the next five customers regardless of whether or not they ordered falafel and fries (or some other similar fate).
On the bright side, I once again met a number of beautiful people, inspiring and intriguing, and learned more of those important things that will never come out of a book. The night I fell ill with a temperature round about 108 F, I was shaking from fever, thinking slightly delusional thoughts and crying uncontrollably, like some sort of automatic cooling mechanism.
I called on a friend to help me bring down my fever with ice,
water and rags on my legs, face and neck. Once I could walk down to the restaurant to tell my coworkers and manager, each gave a laugh (except Rachel who gave a concerned look) or something similar, like it was a joke when I said "Im really sick, Ive never felt like this, my fever is so high I feel like my eyes are burning, Im really scared, what should I do??" Hil-ar-ious.
When I stumbled out along the lawn in the dark towards the fire, I found a large group of the guests who I had befriended, and they reached out to me with amazing kindness and warmth (including a foot rub while I explained my condition). Two girls who spoke spanish as well, including one advanced medical student, walked me to the town clinic at 11 pm with a flashlight, and if they hadn't been around when the doctors were examining me, I would have been at a loss for words because all of my spanish
skills escaped me. They walked slowly with me up the next hill to my house, waiting while I slowly collected my sleeping bag and acetametaphine, and walked slowly back with
me the one kilometer to the restaurant that seemed more like three or four.
They snuck me into a dorm bed in the attached hostel, where bathrooms (something we didn't have in our staff house) were nearby, and the next day made sure to check on my condition. The only way to understand how incredibly thankful I was for their genuine kindness is to experience it juxtaposed with my manager's reaction to my illness after I returned to the restaurant from the clinic:
"I'm really sick. I just got back from the clinic. I have a stomach and intestinal infection. I can't work in the morning."
"Fuck! Now I have to get here at 6:45 am. SHIT."
*At this point I just walk away*
Something spread around, some rumor, like wildfire, and apparently the whole restaurant thought I was faking sick to get out of work. I brought the doctor's note with three prescriptions on it the next day, but I still don't know what anyone back there really thinks of me. And that sort of puts a damper on things.
But really, in actuality, Lanquin and the nearby National Park of Semuc Champey
are absolutely beautiful places. Some of my favorite in Guatemala.
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