Thursday, June 9, 2005

Guatemala Day Two

The roosters here are very ambitious. 4:00 a.m. is a bit early fro my taste, especially when there is not a hint of sunlight anywhere, but who am I to argue with the Guatemalan roosters?

Did you know that when someone is celebrating a birthday here, they not only do it on the anniversary of that person's birth, but at the same hour and minute that that person was born. Even if it is at 4:30 a.m. And they like doing it with firecrackers. Even if it is 4:30. In the morning. Before sunrise. But not before the roosters. At least the roosters had helped prepare me in the waking up process so I didn't die of shock when those firecrackers went off. Crazy roosters. Crazy Guatemalans.

At 5:30, Bossy David came by to tell us he needed out of the gate and it was locked, and why weren't we up yet since breakfast was at 6:00??? Judy's alarm went off while he was chatting at us through the window. I went to go take a shower, but there was no water yet. So I wet my hair and washed my face and off we went to breakfast. Only to find out that it wasn't going to be served until 6:30. Ay ay ay.

All night I dreamt that the water would come on so that I could go to the bathroom in peace, without worrying that I was only adding to the already full toilet bowl. Every time someone got up in the night to use the toilet, I waited for the flushing noise to follow the very loud, echo-y sound of urine in a non-water filled toilet bowl. Every time i was disappointed. I hadn't gone to the bathroom since yesterday afternoon when we arrived. This no-water thing kind of freaks me out.

What's even worse than not being able to flush, though, is having to throw the used toilet paper in the wastebasket to the side of the toilet. The only thing that makes that tolerable is that I'm not the one who has to clean that up. Because, ew.

They caution us from using words or phrases like, "primitive," or "underdeveloped," or whatever else might cast a negative light on this society when describing someplace that's not the United States. On the Amazing Race, one of the racers said when entering Jamaica or some such country, "Ah, there's that 3rd world country smell," and while some thought that was a not very PC thing to say, it is true that there is a certain odor that I have found in common between here and Chile, the only other 3rd world country I have visited. It's the smell of wood cook stoves, sometimes coal ones, of diesel engines polluting the air, of stray dogs urinating wherever they want, of mud, of rain, of litter. It is sad, but it's true. And I guess it's only sad to those of us who have experienced, who take for granted how very rich our lives are in the States.

Everyone, the workers that I spoke to today, when they found out I was from California, would all immediately say, "Los Angeles?" Needless to say, they all want to go to the States. Especially Los Angeles. They brag of an uncle or older brother or cousin who is already there. Their eyes light up as they dream of the work that they could have there. They ask me if there is work there, if there's a lot of work, and I answer the most middle of the road answer I can, “There's work where ever you want there to be work. I know people who don't want to work, so they don't, but if you want to work, you will.” They nod agreement. These people want work. They crave work. They work hard -- never even stopping for a sit-down break or to drink water, while I am wondering if I can take one more step because of the altitude, the humidity, and the fact that I'm quickly becoming dehydrated. I admire their work ethics.
This is a cooperative village and farm. The villagers own property, but they share the farmland, or something like that. They earn maybe $1000 USD a year. A Pepsi at a local kiosk/tienda costs maybe 3 quetzals, or about 50 cents. When you're trying to feed a family on $1000 a year, 50 cents for a soft drink is an extravagant luxury.

I worked hard today too, but I am not accustomed to this climate yet. Even more, I am not mentally prepared for the dirt that quickly turns muddy when mixed with my own sweat on my new yellow t-shirt, my arms, my new cargo pants from The Gap. There is not one inch of my body that is dry. And it's all my sweat. I knew it would be hot. I knew there would be dirt. I knew I would be in the dirt. But the reality when it happens is more than the imagination can fathom that first day.

Tomorrow may be better. I started getting tired I think more from thinking about how I was going to wash clothes, how I was going to have enough clean clothes for the trip, and what I was going to leave behind because everything was sure to be caked in mud and dirt by the end of this two weeks.
At noon we broke for a half hour lunch. For us who are fed by the project, it's really a water and bread break. For the workers from the village, this is really lunch.

Forty-five minutes later we resume work. I am working one of the sifting trays. Javier brings two buckets of dirt at a time from our designated excavation hole. He pours the buckets onto the tray and I move the tray back and forth to get rid of the dirt. It's very rich soil. They get 5 meters of rain here a year, which is all soaked into the soil very easily, as it is volcanic by nature. Then I have to bend over the tray to try and determine which dirt-covered clumps are shards, which are rocks, and which are still clumps of dirt and need to be broken up. Obsidian is the hardest to spot because it is small. It helps when the sun glints off it, provided it's not too earth-encrusted.

Another forty-five minutes into this activity, the sun is beating down on me so hard that I am losing what feels like gallons of sweat. Between buckets, I retreat to the shade trees. I take off my long-sleeved shirt, despite the dire warnings of the biting caterpillars. It is then I notice how very wet I am. I wish it would hurry up and rain so we wouldn't have to work anymore.

Rene, the assistant PI (principle investigator), sees my dilemma and tells some men to construct a black plastic tarp over my sifter to provide some shade. Despite my pessimism that a large black plastic sheet will cool me down, it works surprisingly well.

It makes it harder to see any obsidian bits, however. Javier dutifully helps me sort through the clumps after I shake the sifter. He has a very good eye and sees obsidian I wouldn't be able to. He also finds what looks like may have been a spigot to a jar. It is exciting to be the first people to see these artifacts as they come out of the earth, some 1500 years after their makers created them.

At 2:00, like clockwork, the thunder begins rumbling in the distance. The mounds of dirt at my station are no longer flat and I begin to feel hot spots on my toes from having to stand at weird angles to manage the tray. I pray the rain will come soon so that we can knock off work for the day.

At 2:40, they begin packing up, saying the rain is coming. At 2:45, I hear it hitting the leaves above me, but the canopy is sufficient for the time being to allow time to don a poncho. By 2:50 we are walking back to town. By 2:55, I am wondering why I bothered wearing shoes as I am soaked completely through, with an inch of water in my boots. I know now that these are staying behind. There are rivers where there had been no water earlier in the day. It is still very warm, but very wet. There is no difference now between my sweat and the rain.

Our big meal is at 3:00. I was hoping for time to shower and get clean, but it is not to be. Jonathon Kaplan, the PI, has finally arrived and wants to meet with us volunteers. He asks who's the most tired and I immediately raise my hand. Dave comments that for someone who’s as tired as I claim to be, I still have surprisingly fast reflexes. I chuckle, but very tiredly, as it was a miracle I was even able to raise my hand. “Tired” doesn’t really begin to describe how I feel. “Exhausted” is a bit better, but I don’t know that there’s one word that describes how I really feel: muscle-sore, dirt and mud-encrusted, soaking wet, foot-sore, discouraged, doubting, and wondering what the heck I’ve gotten myself into.

I go upstairs to the balcony to meet with Jonathon. He reviews the application and paperwork I sent in, and we have a nice chat about why I'm there, what I hope to gain, etc. He's a nice, personable man. He's generous to put up with amateur volunteers, especially one like me who is there for more selfish reasons that volunteering for a non-profit organization, although I try to not make that last part very evident. I see after these two days of work, though, that there’s more to it than just his generous nature; he gets manual labor for free and a little bit of extra money to help fund things. Probably not much, but we certainly don’t cost him anything. He assures me that we are an important part of what he’s doing and trying to accomplish. I tell him that I hope to be able to do more than just sift dirt, and he nicely sidesteps that request by telling me it’s a privilege to be among the first person to see and handle artifacts that are 1500 years old. While I know that, I do hope that this experience is more than this hard physical labor. I marvel at his ability to neatly avoid issues like that while making me feel like I’ve been listened to and understood.

Fede, or Federico, then has lab work for us to do -- that of washing the shards from the pits found earlier. It sounds easy, but like all of archeology, it is tedious, back-breaking work. At least my clothes are drying out. On my body. I hope I don't get mildew. At least, they WERE drying out until I splashed water on my thighs while refilling our wash bucket.

I have a nice conversation with Chris and why he's there. In the course of the conversation, he wants to know how I learned Spanish, so I tell him about my mission. He says he has a Book of Mormon that he wants to read this summer. He says, though, that he has a hard time accepting Jesus Christ as a divine being, so we talk a little bit about faith vs. intellectualism and the how the two work together, but how one will only take you so far before needing to rely on the other. I like him a lot. Cim would have a huge crush on him if she were here.

I finally get my shower at 7:15. It's freezing cold, but at least I'm clean. I also wash out my socks from today, and other various underclothing. There is a woman here who cleans our rooms who will also do some laundry for us. For a fee, but still. I plan on leaving today's shirt and pants for her.

Then a light dinner of "espageti," black beans (of course), tortillas (of course,) and fried bananas. It's delicious. It's now 9:15, the parties are just beginning out on the street, but I think that tonight I'll be able to sleep through them.

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