Sunday, January 12, 2014

My poor neglected blog, a brief update

It's amazing that this blog is still here, patiently awaiting me. If it were a house plant or an animal, it would be long dead through neglect. Starting a while before this most recent, current, trip to Guatemala, people asked me if I had a blog and I kind of mumbled, "Yes, but I haven't really been keeping it up." And so, nearly a week into my stay in Guatemala, I am taking it up again. Or rather, a week from the date of my originally scheduled departure which was to have been last Saturday, January 4....

Last summer I was lucky to be able to spend nearly five weeks here, and as you can see, the blog dropped off rapidly even before I had left Guatemala. Things got in the way, I got distracted, maybe I made a list somewhere of entries that I had planned to write but poof! August 7 and then nothing. And yet Guatemala is never far away from my thinking, surrounded as I am by Guatemalans much of the time I am in the U.S.  

So, here I am back in Guatemala, and the first week, nearly, has passed without my writing so much as a word. The trip was more eventful than I would have liked: a winter storm meant that my original flight was canceled at about 9 p.m. the night before my scheduled departure. I spent a couple of hours trying to call the airline (including waking up in the middle of the night) and then gave up; in the morning I had an email message with a rebooked flight for Monday, January 6. I decided it wasn't worth driving out to Newark to try and argue with the airline so I left it at that and spent the weekend planning a syllabus and doing some research and more or less following my normal routines.

All well and good. The flight was at 5:15 a.m. on Monday and I decided, in a fit of insanity, to go to the rumba on Sunday night -- I was taking care of a few last details like recycling, cleaning the litter box, repacking, and then walked outside, walked to my car, walked back to the building, and then walked back to my car again and decided to take off. So,I didn't get to stay at the rumba as long as I might have liked (since I wanted to get at least a few hours of sleep before setting out at around 2:15 for the parking lot). It was fun, but I forced myself to leave and go home and get some rest, and then prepare to leave. All smooth, except the line at the ticket counter was incredibly long and slow. I couldn't get a boarding pass from the machine, even though I had my passport and confirmation number.  The attendants kept telling me to try the machine, the machine kept telling me to see an attendant. Frustration mounted. Finally I got a boarding pass but with no seat assignment and the instruction to get a seat assignment at the gate.  Long lines at the security checkpoint (I don't usually fly at 5:15 a.m. out of Newark, so maybe this is typical, or maybe just the result of several days of canceled and delayed flights from the storm).  They tell me that I fit into some special category and don't have to take off my shoes - whoopee! However, my boots (nothing special, no studs, no zipper, just regular little pull on ankle boots) apparently set off the metal detector so I have to go back and take them off. Would have been easier if I'd just taken them off in the first place, which I was starting to do when a TSA employee told me that I didn't have to.

Finally I get to the gate, and there is a long line of people waiting for seat assignments or on standby. I'm not very successful at getting the attention of an attendant but eventually do, and she begrudgingly looks at my boarding pass. They have already started to board the flight, and they are asking for volunteers to be bumped because it is oversold. It doesn't look very good. I keep my position right in front of the attendant, holding my passport and boarding pass, and do not volunteer to give up my place, even for $300.  However, they announce that the flight is closed and the attendant punches some information into her computer and tells me that the next flight they can put me on is January 8. I stay calm but explain that I don't live in New Jersey, I drove here from Brooklyn and have already put my car in long term parking and do not plan to spend two days in the airport, nor do I want to have to take my car out and drive back to Brooklyn and then come back again in two days. I explain that this is a professional work trip, not a vacation, and that I have meetings and interviews that I had already rescheduled once. I pull out my phone and send Facebook messages to Jose Luis, who is meeting me at the airport in Guatemala with my pick-up, and Carlos, whom we are supposed to pick up along the way back to Xela and who is going to go to San Miguel Ixtahuacán with me, and let them know there might be problems (luckily, as it turns out, neither sees the message until much later). I am about to suggest that United should get me a ticket on another airline if they don't have any seats available, when the attendants start to talk, and then say that there is someone coming off the flight, maybe two people, and so there are now either one or two seats available. There is someone behind me and the two of us start to walk down the jetway after two people - a young woman and her father (I recognized them from waiting in line earlier) walk out. However, it turns out that there is only one seat and I just keep walking. I am very sorry for the guy, but I am not about to give up the seat. At the door of the plane they stop me and say I have to gate-check my carry on suitcase as all the bins are full and there is no room, so I reluctantly hand it over.

The flights themselves are fairly uneventful. I have packed gourmet cheese sandwiches on whole-grain baguette with some home-made pesto, carrot sticks, almonds, and an orange, so I don't need to purchase overpriced food from the airline. However, after landing in Guatemala and sailing through immigration, I am stopped short because my bag did not arrive. I wait until the very last suitcases have been loaded onto the carousel. Mine isn't there. I find the United attendant and hand her my bag check ticket; she enters the number and sees that my bag was scanned in Newark and doesn't seem to have gone anywhere. I stay calm, even though the one other time a bag went astray, it never turned up again. This was in 1998 -- and wouldn't you know, the same airport (Newark) and the same airline (Continental, which last year merged with United). I ended up spending a summer in Havana with the clothing on my back and what I could borrow from friends and a few things I purchased.  However, I have learned that melting down usually doesn't solve anything. The young woman asked if I was going to come to the airport when the bag arrived and I said no, I was going to San Miguel Ixtahuacán in San Marcos and they could send the bag to the Catholic Church, the parish house. She looked at me quizzically and I said that it was a very small town, there was only one Catholic Church in town and that everyone knew where the parish house was. She asked for a phone number but I didn't know if my cell phone would be working since it has been months since I used it (although I did turn it on several times and charge it and try to make calls although I knew they wouldn't go through, just to keep the SIM card "active"), so I left José Luis' and Carlos' numbers. And was waved through Customs (as I had no bag other than my backpack with the computer) and went out to find José Luis. Luckily, I had taken my toiletries out of the suitcase and put them in my backpack, and of course I had my camera and cell phones. José Luis has three daughters, and I figured that between them, we would come up with some clothing I could use until my bag arrived. Both José Luis and his wife Chony had come to fetch me, and we embraced and I told them what had happened... I climbed behind the wheel of my trusty (although eternally ailing) 1999 Mazda pick up, coaxed the engine to start, refreshed my muscle memory of the gear positions and then we took off.

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