Monday, November 9, 2009


My dictionary translates this all too often used word in Guatemala as "Just Imagine!" I think it is one of those words that defies translation. Typically when the conversation or even the sentence starts with "fijase" (or the familar "fijate") you know that whatever you were hoping to have happen has not and you are about to be told why. Did you go to the bank? Fijase, but the bank was closed. Did you do your homework? Fijase, but I couldn't find my books. Did you feed the starving people in your country? Fijase, but we can't find the money. "Just imagine" may not quite be strong enough but lacking another word with more than four letters it will have to do.

So, fijase, but Charlie quit going to school. As much as he seemed to want to go he apparently couldn't cope with being the oldest and the poorest in his third grade class. He stole a small bit of money from the classroom and the teacher contacted Estela (as neither of his parents care whether he goes to school or not). Estela paid the teacher the missing amount of money and her children have banished Charlie from their house until such time as he repays the money. Sadly, Charlie has lost his one shot at rising above his very humble beginnings and will probably either end up in the United States picking fruit or in a gang. Fijase, but his government doesn't care if he goes to school either.

Estela and Alex's kids, on the other hand, are thriving and take their studies very seriously. In October Denis who is 12 was the second in the family to receive his 6th grade "certificado." When the school year resumes in January he will go on to "basico" (middle school) like his older sister, Jackie, who will enter her last year of basico. Astrid remains determined to be a doctor, Denis wants to be an engineer and also a computer "tecnico" while Jackie is thinking about becoming a bilingual secretary. Next October Jackie will be the first in either family to graduate from basico. It will be quite an occasion.

Just back from my first return trip to India since Pan Am was the way to travel there, I found myself marveling at the progress made in that country while little or none has been made in Guatemala. The main difference is a great emphasis on education in India. There are schools, universities and "coaching" centers for the challenged everywhere and lots of children in neat, clean uniforms practicing their English every chance they get. On the Kerala coast we were asked "please, I would like one ball point pen," so many times that we decided that it was representative of their first full sentence in English.

Back in Guatemala I took Alex, Estela and their children to Guatemala City to see a movie in a real theater. The children had never been to the capital before and none, except Alex, had ever been on an escalator before. I proceeded up the escalator only to find them all standing at the bottom wondering what was happening. Popcorn and pop for all and we saw "Illuvia de Hamburgesas," (rain of hamburgers) or, in English, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." It actually had a good message for Alex, the distant padre.

As in the US the holiday season seems to start earlier every year in Guatemala. With a friend I went to a nearby village that must grow most of the planet's poinsettias as we visited nurseries that had literally thousands, as far as one could see. Most were marked "vendido" or "sold." Soon they will be in Home Depot in the states and on the streets of Antigua for far more than we paid for a dozen or so. The Christmas season in Guatemala is a mix of religious and thanks to those of us in the developed world, consumerism. There is a Christmas market selling creche provisions and also a fireworks market which blew up a couple of years ago thus it is now in a different location. The law dictates that all workers receive an extra month of pay mid- December and a lot of that seems to go for cerveza and stronger along with fireworks. The trees in central park are all lighted and the "posadas" which are processions of children seeking lodging for Mary and Joseph start mid-month. Feliz Navidad to you and yours!

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