03 September, 2009

Of Mice and Men, Pt. 1

My mother has always said that she can tell how busy I am by how messy my living space is. When I have nothing going on, my room/apartment/house is usually kept clean and well organized. The busier life has gotten the messier I have gotten. If I maintain a good level of activity, my living space can stay messy and disgusting for months at a time. Oddly enough, it usually isn’t the level of mess that has gotten me to finally clean house, rather getting so busy and weighed down by work that I freak out and use cleaning as an excuse to avoid the more important chores that I have awaiting me in the outside world.

Peace Corps has not been able to rid me of this habit. My first three months in site, my house was as clean as any alma de la casa’s in my aldea. However, thankfully, things have started picking up for me at site. I have finally “hit my stride” as a volunteer, which has inevitably meant a down turn in my housekeeping attentiveness, and has at times unfortunately sunk as low as my neighbor asking me if it was against my culture to use a broom or mop during certain times of the month. If it were not for those occasional times where I feel overwhelmed by work, I’d be living under tons of bean cans, unburned newspapers, and hiding from record breaking sized dust bunnies.

I’ve gotten this far in life using this system, but here in Guatemala, slovenliness has much more severe (or at least more immediate) consequences. I have paid dearly for my bouts of dirty living. At first I was only invaded by lesser vermin: annoying animalitos such as ants and cockroaches. Evil though these insects may be, they are easily dealt with despite constant onslaughts using such techniques as boiled water and the occasional veneno. The spiders move in if I forget to sweep the ceilings and corners for more than a week at a time, but I actually keep a few spiders in webs placed strategically around my house in higher spaces and use them to control the mosquito population.

About two months ago however, I started a SPA project that has been taking up a lot of my time and energy. Enter my new worthy adversary: Comondante Mousellio del Ratón. Our first exchange began with me groggily walking into my kitchen at 4:30 in the morning to grab my breakfast Tupperware that I take with me to work, and screaming like a girl as I startled the comondante as he was helping himself to the remains of a stir-fry dish I had prepared the night before and stupidly left on my stove. After we each regained our composure, I proceeded to chase him out of my kitchen, into my bedroom, through a pile of dirty clothes, and finally out my front door, all the while yelling and hitting almost everything I own with my frying pan in a futile attempt to kill the rascal.

Our subsequent skirmishes have mostly taken place during these wee hours of the morning, with memorable events belonging mostly to the opposition, including a narrow escape in which he scaled the back of my refrigerator, tightrope walked across the dangling electrical wire that feeds it and jumped through the hole between the block and the lamina, and a miraculous matrix-style jump where he dodged my flying rock hammer (which left quite a dent in my wall and included a slight puff of concrete dust as it hit). I have left poison and some self made traps, and have not had any exchanges in the last week, but I fear he has simply retreated to the countryside to recruit troops. In leaving my post for the All Volunteer Conference and 4th of July Festivities, I fear I am opening a very wide window for the evil forces of the FIR (Frente Invasionista de Ratones) to establish a foothold. More to come in the next issue...


My host agency office is located an hour walk away from my home, and if I want to avoid this trek I have to catch a truck at 5:30 in the morning. I make the journey three times a week, and usually carry my desayuno tipico with me to prepare at the office. As the trip is a rough one where I am stuffed into the back of a semi-trailer with between 50 and 100 finca workers, I am always worried about breaking my eggs during the journey. The solution I have employed to safeguard against this possible morning tragedy is to carry the eggs in my pocket (I figure if my pants are a good enough place to guarder one set of huevos, why not two?). I was proud to report that until the events of this tale transpired, I had a perfect safety record that spanned almost 8 months. Three eggs a day, three times a week, for 24 weeks means that over 200 eggs had been successfully transported in this manner and arrived safely in my belly.

On the morning in question, I arose at my customary hour, grabbed my back pack, put my huevos in order, and set off for work. As I was locking up my front gate, still groggy with sleep, I noticed a rather large spider crawling on my leg. I moved quickly to exterminate the stowaway, which proved to be the beginning of my undoing. I slapped my pant leg, killed the spider, and also crushed one of the eggs in my pocket. I had to reenter my house, change pants and deal with the mess on my leg. By the time I had completed the clean up and made it to the place where I normally catch the truck into the finca where my office is located, I found I had not arrived in time and needed to employ alternate transportation, my feet. This set back compounded my tardiness, and by the time I arrived at the finca offices, I was already an hour and a half late for work.

Being the Christmas season, I was looking to purchase some gifts, and as my office is located inside a coffee finca, fresh coffee seemed to me to be a natural choice for regalitos. I entered the office of the finca administrator and requested the goods. He was able to see that I was pressed for time, and hastened to fill my order. I reached into my pocket to pull out some billetes, and out fell another egg, right onto his office floor. Two down. After apologizing profusely, and being rather begrudgingly forgiven, I began the final assent to my office. Upon entering the building, I passed the kitchen and left my final hope at breakfast, my last egg, sitting on the counter. I went to my desk and set about catching up on the work that I was now two hours late at beginning.

When breakfast time finally rolled around, I went back to the kitchen to find that my counterpart's wife had come to my rescue by bringing tamales to share. Being very relieved that I was not going to have to rely on a single egg for all of my morning nutrients, I began eating. When we had finished and exchanged the usual pleasantries (muchas gracias, buen provecho), I moved to begin cleaning up. I washed the dishes we had used, wiped down the counters and table, and put away the extra food. The only thing left in site was my lonely huevo.

As I was talking with my counterpart and his wife, I absentmindedly grabbed a plastic bag to store my egg in for another day. I picked up the egg and dropped it into the bag. The egg passed right through the hole in the bottom of this bag, and smashed on the floor, bringing my defeat to completion.

How could this happen you ask? After 200 eggs having completed their journeys in complete safety, how could three perish in such an untimely manner on the same fateful day? I will tell you. I have another habit that I include in my morning routine that I neglected to report. The first thing I do after stopping my alarm clock is walk out my front door in the morning darkness and pee into the bushes. The preceding morning I had awoken, and followed my itinerary as usual, but no sooner had I loosed the stream into my favorite bush than I heard a flutter of wings and a very startled clucking. As it turned out, my neighbor's chicken had chosen my bush as its nightly roost, and my peeing on it had scared the piss out of each of us. Pee on a chicken and you've got to expect some broken eggs.