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Hi from Guatemala!

Sunday, 4th April 2004

My first two weeks here have been pretty busy. I've been hard at work at Colegio Maya repairing and maintaining computers - mostly fixing and setting up a handful of Macs in the main lab and cleaning up the PCs in the library, plus work on other PCs and Macs around the campus, helping out with setting up an LCD projector as needed, etc. Just generally being available. Apparently they've been swamped with computer work all year and have finally gotten caught up, so everybody's thrilled that requests are actually being handled fairly quickly. After Easter we'll be getting a bunch of RAM, so I'll be doing a lot of much-needed upgrades, which will be nice.

The school has been talking with BellSouth about setting up wireless Internet access throughout the campus, and getting a faster connection than what they currently have (256kbps), which would be wonderful. BellSouth has a tower across the street from the school and is interested in using Colegio Maya as sort of a test of the technology, something they can use to show other potential customers how well it works. Unfortunately since BellSouth is in the middle of selling their Latin American operations to Telefónica, it sounds like that process has been delayed somewhat. I've heard this may also affect enrollment, since a lot of employees from Atlanta who currently have kids at Colegio Maya may be replaced by people from Madrid who probably wouldn't be too interested in sending their kids to an English-speaking school. I have no idea; just something I heard.

At home we're currently stuck with a somewhat unreliable dialup Internet account, and we pay by the minute for local phone calls, so I haven't been going online from home. We'd like to get a cable modem and share it with the rest of the apartment complex, but the manager has been on vacation, so nothing has happened with that yet.

Probably the biggest reminders that I'm in a third-world country are the armed guards all over the place, and the somewhat casual attitudes about traffic. There are traffic signals at the major interections, but they feel strangely out of place here, and I've noticed there are no pedestrian crossing signals (not that most people would pay much attention to them anyway, but a blinking orange hand to let you know there's about to be cross-traffic would make me a bit more comfortable). Drivers generally don't slow down to make sure they avoid hitting you; rather, they politely honk to make sure you know they're coming - and yes, it is clearly a polite honk, not an angry honk. People are generally polite here, but the driving is definitely different than I'm used to. I've been looking into getting a car in the US, but I absolutely don't want one here - I probably wouldn't be able to drive safely here. I can't really explain what's so different about it, it's just different.

Of course, there are plenty of familiar things too. Although speaking Spanish defintely helps when you're interacting with native Guatemalans (for example, while ordering at a restaurant or buying something at a store), I work in an English-speaking school, attend an English-speaking church, and mostly talk to Americans. Familiar businesses here include McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's, Domino's, Taco Bell, Wendy's, TGI Friday's, Shell and Texaco gas stations (Exxon stations are called Esso here), Best Western and Mariott hotels, Office Depot, Radio Shack, and the other day I walked past a Gateway store (although with Gateway's recent announcement that they're closing all their retail stores, I suppose that will probably disappear soon). Interestingly, the dominant cola here is Pepsi by a significant margin, rather than Coke - there probably aren't many other countries in the world where that's true. Coke definitely tastes much better made with sugar instead of corn syrup, although Sprite tastes weird (I bet 7-Up tastes a lot better; I haven't tried it yet).

Being a predominantly Catholic country, Holy Week (Semana Santa) is a huge major big deal here, and the entire country is pretty much on vacation until Easter. I've got the week off work, so we'll be doing some travelling. There's a big lake about three hours west of Guatemala City, and we plan to start there. Maybe I'll post some pictures after I get back, if I can find the time. Anyway, don't expect to see much of me online for awhile.


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