Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend pictures

Cows on the farm (the one on the left was scratching his neck on some cement)

Sunset from the hotel Casa de Santa Dominga, Antigua

A marimba and its players, Antigua

Friday, October 24, 2008

When in Rome?....

Don't get me wrong, I'm a pretty firm believer in "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," but I'm also a firm believer in, and there's no quote for this, not apologizing for who you are (or the country that raised you) when you are elsewhere. For example, I spend quite a bit of time down here with a man who always attempts to take my hand as I get out of his car. Granted, it's a small two-door, and it would be difficult for anyone to get out of the back gracefully, but I have never actually needed help. Honestly, if I did need to grab something/someone, the open door would be a more stable choice. For a while, I said gracias and took his hand, but after a while that got really annoying (if either of us should be helping the other one get up, it should be me helping him), so I just said thanksbutnothanks and didn't take his hand. Apparently he found this quite rude, and thought I was being unappreciative and uncourtious. When the subject came up last night, we had an hour-long argument about it (I'm not normally so pugnacious...especially in another language...must have been the rum talking...). I (ever-practical), tried to tell him that I just didn't need help, but this argument totally didn't fly. (For better or worse, I am of the school of thought that if you want or need something, accept it, if you don't want or need something, don't accept it. If I'm not thirsty, is it really being rude to the host to turn down a glass of water? Maybe I'm just not very good at picking up on how people expect me to behave in certain situations. Whatever.) Anyway, he insisted that taking his hand was the courtious thing to do, and not taking it was rude. Now, if he offered his hand to everyone squeezing themselves out of the backseat of his two-door, that would be another issue. But it only gets offered to girls. Even girls who clearly don't need help, and, in fact, could probably break him in two with one swift roundhouse kick. Then, as the argument continued, the hand-offering was framed in the setting of "Latin culture," along with door-holding, etc. Hence, I was advised to do as the Romans do (ok, they don't reference the Romans in the expression in Spanish, but the message is the same). However, being the practical, independent, American female that I am, I took offense at the idea that because (and only because) I was female, I was a fragile flower (literally, those words were used). I mean, I'm not trying to be rude, and I appreciate gestures of hospitality and help, but where is the line drawn between adapting to local culture and compromising your beliefs and values to silently accept something you find offensive? Granted, it wouldn't kill me to take his hand, but having this argument with him (and kind of with another man, who piped in from time to time) really irked me. Am I being unreasonable? Should I just defer to the whole women-are-fragile-flowers-and-need-men's-help position? Am I being a rude gringa by sticking to my American guns? (and decidedly un-girly guns, at that.) Argh.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Song of the Week

I've been listening to (and watching on DVD, and learning to play songs by) the Beatles a lot recently,'s a Beatles song. It's a nice one (not that all aren't).

My First Earthquake

Put that way, it sounds like a children's book. But a scary one! No, just kidding, it wasn't scary. It was just weird, having never before experienced the sensation of the earth shaking. What was weirder, though, is that no one around me (I was sitting with 3-4 people) acknowledged what was going on, they all just kept on chatting like everything was normal (I wanted to shout, "PEOPLE, EVERYTHING'S SHAKING!" but I kept my cool, a.u.). Then after a minute (or maybe after one of them saw my face), one person said, "it's an earthquake," and I said, "huh." (Interestingly, in Spanish a small earthquake is called a temblor, and a large one a terremoto. I tried to explain that English has just one word, and it didn't depend on the magnitude of the shaking. They were perplexed by this.) It lasted for what felt like a while, but was maybe only a minute or so. According to reuters (so it must be true) it was a magnitude 6.1 quake off the Pacific coast. The fun never stops down here...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Columbus Day!

Or, as my dad put it, have a "very happy Columbus Day, with all the joys, responsibilities, fun and solemnities thereto appertaining." I'm celebrating by watching 'La ley y el orden: UVE' (not dubbed, thank goodness) and wasting time online. Not that I had the day off (they don't exactly celebrate Columbus down here). I hope everyone had a good day off! (If you were lucky enough to).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pics from the weekend

Lake AtitlanSantiago de Atitlan
Lake Atitlan

Friday, October 10, 2008

updates, pics, and whatnot

Hi friends & family,
Hope everyone is doing well up in the chilly(?) northeast. Just wanted to post to check in. No particularly new or exciting things have been happening here. I have a surprise day off, since we were supposed to go away for three days, but something happened with the car (information relayed over the phone in Spanish...never a recipe for thorough understanding) so we're not leaving till tomorrow. So I find myself lounging around the house, playing the guitar, reading the exactly what I would be doing if I were home. With the exception of going out somewhere, cause I live in a locked, gated community and there's nowhere to go except around the small neighborhood. Which I did (pics included).
Other than that, not too much happening. I've been enjoying the hospital (it's called the Hospital Nacional de Amatitlan), and have been amusing myself by comparing it to American hospitals I've been in. 1, at home you don't have to bring your own toilet paper. 2, our sterile scrubs aren't see-though (literally and seriously). 3, men and women have separate OR changing areas. 4, patients in the ER have some semblance of privacy, and don't have, you know, foleys placed in front of a dozen other people. One similarity: there are drug reps (complete with expensive suits and trinkets to give out).
I've also been keeping up on politics (the debates are shown here in English, and it's in the paper every day) and fighting people about why Obama is better than McCain (somewhat difficult in Spanish). I live in a house of Democrats, but the extended family is Republican (two people actually high-fived about McCain the other night at dinner...and a piece of my soul died), partly because they seem to all be evangelical Christians. Which is a somewhat, uh, interesting situation to find myself in. I was actually in the backseat of the car the other night, and we stopped short, and a Bible came flying off the back shelf and hit me. Maybe God is trying to talk to me.
Take care everyone, and step on some crunchy leaves for me. :)

My street
The world outside the walls

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Pictures of the beautiful Antigua, Guatemala, a city about 30 min from here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Day 1 in la emergencia

Ok this has been quite an interesting day. I was supposed to spend part of the day in surgery, but I never ran into a surgeon (nothing is too pre-planned here), so I just spent the day in the emergency room. By 10 am I had seen an arma blanca wound to the buttocks (side note: it was not explained to me what an arma blanca is. It was just stated to me as the mechanism of injury, as if I was supposed to know what it was. I was foiled in googling it because it´s also the name of a Spanish rap group. I finally had to inquire around the house, and it turns out it´s a long piercing knife-like thing. I guess everyone in the ER knows what this is, and people come in with these wounds all the time, like everyone in the UMass ED knows what a switchblade is.), a cockroach-from-the-ear extraction, and two amputated fingers (on the same person). And I seriously got to put my rusty suturing skills to good use today. And every time I sutured I was surrounded by 3-8 students, who I gather were the Guatemalan equivalent of pre-med (they said they were in high school but were wearing matching uniforms...they were probably 17 years old). At one point the (only) doctor said, "I´m going to a meeting. You can finish suturing this cut then sew up that head wound over there?", and before I could process the fact that she had just annouced she was leaving, I was on my own. (HELLO?!? Imagine leaving a fourth-year in charge of the UMass ED. Disaster couldn´t be far behind.) At the time I felt ok, I could definitely suture these people up in a vaguely competent fashion. But of course in short order there were trauma victims coming in, and paramedics (we´ll call them that...I mean the people that bring patients in on stretchers) were telling me about car and motorcycle accidents, and nurses were coming up to me saying, "Doctora, (something in Spanish I barely understood and even if I understood the question I didn´t know the answer)." One of the nurses located the doctor´s stamp, which she had left behind (with her name; it´s what you need to write orders), so I could write xray orders (hey, it takes hardly any Spanish to elicit C-spine tenderness). And of course, everywhere I went there was a gaggle of white-uniformed students following me, who may or may not have been under the impression that I had any idea what was going on. FUN TIMES. Everyone lived though, and everyone eventually stopped bleeding. (i.e. no harm came to anyone, in case there´s some liability lawyer or med school administrator that´s eventually going to read this.) More later. I took some pretty (I hope, I haven´t seen them yet) pictures yesterday that I want to upload. Besos a todos. :)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Life is good

Alright! I have figured out a way to update this blog. I have to type the entry into word on my computer, then transfer it via USB drive to the house computer and upload it when the internet works. Thus far, the internet has stayed working long enough to let me check one email account. (addendum: this post took more than 24 hours between writing and uploading due to the vagaries of the internet connection. So...I guess they´ll be a little like snail-mail in the sense that 'today' isn´t actually today (or the posted date).)
But life is good. I wish I had very exciting things to report, but I don’t. I don’t actually start working in the hospital until tomorrow. But for now, some observations for you:
1. It’s wet. Very wet. Only after 2 pm though. How is it sunny all morning, then every day at 2 pm for 6 months it pours? Mother nature is a mysterious lady. I belive “winter” (what the rainy season is called) ends at the end of October.
2. Mayan (or whatever you want to call them) women stash cell phones in small pockets sewn into the inside of the neck of their (traditional) shirts.
3. Mayan/indigenous women wear traditional dress consisting of a high-waisted extremely colorful skirt that goes to mid-calf, and a tucked-in blouse. And, often, heels. The men for some reason wear regular old western clothing. Why is this.
4. Guatemala is nowhere near as poor as Nicaragua is. I kind of expected it to be similar (being the only other central American country I’ve been to). Wrong. We went to a shopping mall the other night that was bigger and fancier than most malls I’ve been to in the US. The cars here are all pretty nice and new (whereas the cars in Nicaragua looked like if they went over a big enough pothole they would collapse into a heap of parts). Homes have computers! And cable TV! (Confession: I watched ‘Gossip Girl’ last night. I know, I know, that’s hardly advancing my Spanish or medical knowledge. But lord was it enjoyable.) And washing machines! Obviously there is still exteme poverty here. But there was extreme poverty in Nicaragua, without the obvious displays of wealth right alongside.
I have been lucky enough to land in the middle of an extended family of musicians. The father in my house is trying to teach me how to play American songs on the guitar, which are apparently “classics” but because I was raised on a diet of Mozart and Gilbert & Sullivan (thanks, dad!), I have never heard any of them before (or my strongest recognition is “hmm this part sounds sort of familiar”). I’m amused that he’s teaching me songs from my own culture. And the doctor who’s organizing my entire trip (I’m living with his sister’s family) is a good guitar player and singer, but mostly plays the marimba. Heaven.
Um, so if someone could please locate some information on the Mayans and what exactly happened to them, that would be great. It hurts my eyes to read this computer screen too long, and the bookstores only carry books in Spanish or something. But I’m curious, so if someone could find out a little history there and get back to me, that would be great. Thanks, Nat. :)

Hope everyone’s good! Thanks for reading. :) If you’ve just skipped to the end, well, thanks for visiting anyways.

p.s. Dear Dad,
I have not been trapped beneath a mudslide, fallen into a volcano, had my car hijacked, been kidnapped by rebels, or contracted Dengue fever. I am in fact alive and well, and for the most part feel pretty much like I’m in the US, except for the cold showers and the volcanos.
Your daughter

This is my new best friend, Chispa. I tried to take her picture sitting upright looking at the camera, but every time I tried to get her attention by calling her name or touching her, she flopped over pathetically on her back.
This is a tree. Um, I forget what it’s called, but it’s the national tree of Guatemala. And…they look cool. (I´m pretty sure I´m going to be able to parlay this eloquent blog into a lucrative book deal.)
This is one building of the main public university in Guatemala; it’s in Guatemala City, and it’s called the Universidad de Juan Carlos. I enjoyed the placement of a centuries-old Mayan sculpture in front of a university named after the leader of the people that invaded and decimated the indigenous culture.