sweet waist of earth
Unexpectedly, Guatemalan public transit rules. Granted, the buses are all relics from U.S. elementary schools, with those same windows that you can only raise or lower by pressing those tabs that always get stuck, and they pack three or four to a seat and spew diesel every which way and occasionally go off a cliff; but they're cheap and friendly, will pick you up and drop you off anywhere on the road, blast a) Mexican ranchera songs with cheap MIDI accompaniment, b) "Eye of the Tiger," or c) the theme from "Ghostbusters," and what they lack in punctuality they make up in frequency. Since no one has a car, it seems like every third or fourth vehicle on the highway is a bus. Everyone is genial and happy to direct me to the right connections; the State Department warns that second-class buses are havens for "criminals," but in fact most of the passengers are Mayan moms with their families. (Guatemala City is an exception; the other day a city bus hosted a firefight that killed seven people.) Naturally I stick out in my seat like Where's Waldo?, but the looks I get are friendly and curious more than anything. On the afternoon route from Los Encuentros to Chimaltenango, where the seats were so packed that I had to balance on a stool in the aisle, my neighbors laughed and said, "Not like America, no?" Women get on and sell hot chiles rellenos; I help pass them back to whoever wants them, and pass the money forward. Children especially find my presence hilarious.
Spoken Maya is a soft, shushing language. Not having a letter for the sh sound, the Spaniards transliterated it as x, hence the seeming unpronounceability of Guatemalan place names. You can tell how people feel about the dam I'm researching by how they say it; engineers, businessmen and the like say "Chixoy," with a hard x, while the local Maya Achí and human-rights gringos say "Chee-shoy." And I am no one to mock the linguistic foibles of others, considering how I've been mangling the tongue of Cervantes around here, but someone at the Internet café made the mistake of translating chino from a dictionary. MANY WRITING SYSTEMS, reads the sign: HEBREW, JAPANESE, CHINAMAN.
Guatemala seems to be a hot spot for Israeli tourists. Their governments have been chummy at least since 1979, when Jimmy Carter decided that the Guatemalan army was abusing its copters and rifles and wouldn't get any more. (This had no effect on covert aid from the CIA.) Israel, itself being an international pariah of long standing, was happy to make up the shortfall, and the most common military rifle still seems to be the Galil. Among the elite classes, Jimmy Carter (or "Jimmy Castro") is a dirty word. "We were much better off before all this human rights business," is one common sentiment. Another is, "The mistake the Spaniards made, that the English didn't, is that they didn't kill all the fucking Indians."