Panajachel has always been “very familiar” and not just because the T-shirts herald familiar places like Sturgis, Beverly Hills or Ramapo College. When the Californians remarked that it feels like Avalon Bay all my déjà vu made sense. I instantly snapped to feral summers on Catalina Island. Freed from L.A. traffic and smog at last.
(If you don’t know the island “26 miles across the sea,” the closest approximation is that seaside burg in Fellini’s Amacord where ingrown townies mix it up with seasonal tourists.
We kids were free to race up though the bungalows, down to the beach, out swimming and diving for coins tossed from the cruise ship and, then, spent those gains at the trinket stands that lined the way to the Casino. But for the fancy NGO trucks and the ubiquitous tuk-tuks trolling around, the sense of owning the street, here, is about the same
And, it seems that I have been here quite awhile– at least long enough to see one injured daddy, who once had to awkwardly secure his daughter with his good arm and steer his bike along the cobblestones with his casted arm, shed both the sling and the plaster. I have also learned how to avoid the vendor/beggars by taking a longer parallel route. More important, I can pretty much tell the “X” laden Mayan dialects from Spanish and know who’s from where by their colors. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, the clamoring sea of blue (Santa Catarina Palpolo) vendors were permuted by a feint tide of diffident maroon clad vendors from Solola. And, this desperate inundation came just weeks before the big announcement about the main road closing two months for repairs. While this closure will probably be a slight inconvenience for resident gringas, it is about to be devastating for this region to be so isolated during tourist season.
So, overnight the watch (out) word has become “prestar.” Like: Recently, my landlord slithered to my door and requested that I prestar 100Q to him to help him buy some remedy for an (allegedly) ailing member of our compound. About a day later, my friend, the jewelry designer, wanted a prestar 500Q to cover her gas and lodging while she went on a selling trip to another department. And, yesterday, whilst I wended down from Barrio Norte my favorite tamale lady flagged me down and asked if I would prestar her some Q’s These are signs of the (not so good) times to come. I much prefer the word when it is used as in Shakespeare: “Friends, Romans countrymen prestar me your ears.” But, I get that things are dicey around here, when the friendly vendor, who has her space by the pizza stand asserted that the night was peligroso and that I should be on my guard.
Meanwhile, I have discovered among the NGO’s it is always poaching season. I helped put together the finance section of a proposal for a summer school environmental course benefiting two towns along the lake and was urged to take the meeting on it. The young teachers, who were to get work if the deal got funding, were going to present it at an agency. Before they set out, they were warned not to provide the full documentation they carried but rather to offer only the light abstract. We had just sat down when our hosts distained their synopsis and requested a copy of the bigger document. Evidently, if the young people had not been so been forewarned, the project and their jobs would have been snatched from their hands by the “friendly” agency.
I am so happy in my new space that I was a bit nervous about not returning home from the Capital. Still, I made out a shopping list for medicines, paints, food and clothes and rode in with Alison. Her mission was to wrestle with the government on car registration and temporary residence permits for her family. This irritating odyssey dented her visit. But, happily we were able to find “Chinatown” — one big warehouse with tea, incense, woks and dragonsuits. On the way there, we found a railroad museum located in an old train station and adjacent to that, an exhibit that she was searching for called “Porque estamos como estamos.” This was a world class show that was too much to take in in one visit. It covered the prehistory of the Mayans through the Civil War. There were maps showing the southern migration of the Mayans from Mexico and clearly illustrated the rise of and differences among their 22 dialects. There were tapestries showing the arrival of the Spanish and the invaders’ use of northern tribes to subdue the Mayans. It was so rich in multimedia and full of artfully displayed demographics that we did not get through the more recent histories of how the Cold War was played out in Guatemala, i.e. U.S. interests vs the Church (backed by the Russians.) Nonetheless we luxuriated in the city eating mediocre sushi and drinking damn good martinis.
For a nightcap, we popped by the Zona Viva; into the Circus Bar to get a touch of home since they have this branch in Pana. The room was very empty so Alison chatted up a one of the bartenders, who turned out to be supporting his extended family in Jucanya. He had to move to the City to keep the job. This conversation with the young Mayan brought the exhibit into sharp focus. The man told us that his Mom was very proud, that she still wore “traje” (indigenous costume) and that she was even a little disappointed that he was not following tradition. In his crisp shirt and tie he went on to tell us how tourism was ruining the Mayans. “Sure, they will dance in traje and even sing an ancient song for a Quetzal but it Is not the true spirit of the culture.”