Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra" in Guatemala

On 2/10/18, I flew to Guatemala, which didn't take as long as I was expecting. (Probably because I was comparing it to my last international work flight, to Vietnam.) This was only my second trip to Central America, first time being Costa Rica in 2013 (for a vacation, not to work). 

My book The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra got to Guatemala before me. I went to spend a week speaking to all ages at the American School of Guatemala in Guatemala City, courtesy of the supremely nice librarian Brandon O'Neill, who had several of my books.

Let's zoom in on that partially obscured sign between us.

Before exiting the Guatemala City airport, everyone has to push a button on a small console that looks like a prop from a Cold War doomsday movie. It's attached to a stoplight without the yellow. If the green lights up, you proceed out. If red, you've been arbitrarily selected for inspection. I got green. This guy didn't. 

According to the guide/archeologist professor (no, not Indiana Jones) who took me around the cobblestoned city of Antigua for a few hours, Guatemala is the wealthiest country in Central America. According to strangers on the internet, it's not. No matter—both Antigua and Guatemala City (where I was based) felt clean and safe. However, feels can be deceiving, at least if you're to believe the pickled Texan in my hotel elevator who told me "Don't go out after midnight. Someone will shove a gun in your face and rob you."

Needless to say, I did not go out after midnight. Also because my daily school pickups were between 6:40 and 7 am.

My first talk each day started between 7:45 and 8 am. The school was only 15 minutes by car from my hotel (Biltmore) in the more well-off Zone 10, but because roads are typically one- or two-lane there, one accident can back up hundreds, so the school wanted to get me on the early side. (In the end, none of my five morning commutes took more than 20 minutes.)

The school, as with so many I've had the privilege to visit around the world, was picturesque and meticulously maintained. The jungle gym looked like a beehive.

The school teaches half the day in Spanish, half in English—but I couldn't adhere to that split. I started my talk with "buenos dias," followed by "That's all of my Spanish." The kids laughed, in both languages.

Day 1, presentation 1 was to an auditorium full of preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders. Five minutes in, the room went dark—but it wasn't a full outage. Weirdly, the microphone still worked… The kids managed to not riot and power was restored within a few minutes.

Because my books skew older, at any given school visit, I typically see preschool only once (if I see them at all) and for no more than 20 minutes. But here, in a first, I spent most of the first two days almost exclusively with that age range. Monday in particular required additional stamina—one 30-minute assembly, one hourlong professional development workshop, and in between, nine classes of chicos! 

The city is in the shadow of three volcanoes, one of which is active. I woke up every day to a hotel room view of one.

But the more frequent danger here is earthquakes. The last big one was in 1976 and killed 23,000. In 1773, the country suffered a catastrophic earthquake and several aftershocks whose effects can still be seen today at the Santiago Cathedral in Antigua.

Other views of the grounds:

These kids were happily exploring. 
I assume their parents were nearby.

Two preschool teachers asked me if I know comic book writer Tom King. I said not personally but he's one of the current A-listers, so I know his work. Turns out they are both cousins of his wife! I was less stunned to meet people in Guatemala who are connected to Tom King as I was to meet two American cousins who work at the same school in Guatemala.

More sights around Guatemala City

A statue/art installation that reminded me of "The Awakening" sculpture at the National Harbor in DC:

Another dramatically posed statue:

How the check came at one restaurant:

More sights around Antigua

Hill of the Cross (with volcano in the background):

Le Merced church:

Saint Catalina Arch:

A market (with Hill of the Cross in the distant background):

A side street:

Adios and gracias. (Okay, so "buenos dias" wasn't really all of my Spanish…)

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