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Trevor Stone's Journal
Those who can, do. The rest hyperlink.
The Third Stage of Coping is Blogging About It 
29th-May-2009 01:50 pm
xkcd don quixote
While journaling last night, Molly noticed that the last time we got robbed was also the last Thursday of the month. I never could get the hang of Thursdays...
Fortunately, we'll be back in Boulder on the last Thursday of June. It's not that Boulder is crime-free, it's that theft is less of an affront. If I leave my backpack on a bus and someone takes my wallet out, I feel stupid. If someone steals my wallet while I'm getting off the bus, I feel violated. The first I would expect in Boulder, but not the second. I feel worse about this incident than the break-in; here they stole from a person, not from a place.

After we got off the bus yesterday, we took note of the nice images that didn't need to be photographed. Sitting in a panadería/internet café I remarked with a smile on the modern scene of a woman in traditional Maya garb hunting and pecking out an email on Yahoo. After she left, we found out she was an American, living at Atitlan for 25 years and doing social work. A gringa pretending to be Mayan hunting and pecking an email on Yahoo is also a nice image to remember.

Lying in bed last night, Molly ran through all the images on the stolen camera. She remembered exactly where she was standing, what she was smelling, what was around but not in the frame. She expressed special regret for a few photos: a fantastic family who run a new licuado shop in Copán Ruinas; a bunch of kids staring at the two white people visiting the campo, right before we were invited in for a beer, some tamales, and birthday cake for a four-year-old girl; Trevor in scuba gear jumping off a boat for the first time; a drip sand castle on the beach at night at Tela's beach; Mormon missionaries on Utila with the nameplate for Elder Beach clearly visible. We both had waking dreams of catching thieves on a bus, calling out as they snatch an object, twisting their arm and sitting on their back, demanding that no one leave the bus until the police come and arrest the thieves. A small number of Guatemalans are thieves, but a large number are complicit and silent when they see a white traveler taken advantage of.

I was wondering the other day why so many stereotypically libertarian folks stay in the U.S. and complain about all the government regulations when they could move to Central America. Cars don't have to pass emission tests; glass bottle recycling is enforced by a monetary incentive to the vendor; McDonalds has shotgun-wielding guards; you can sell food in the street without a license; people burn trash and excrement; goods are sold without price stickers, letting merchants charge more if they think someone's willing to pay more; building codes are lax if they exist at all; municipalities don't treat the water supply for you: if you want to drink, you have to buy bottled water; the number of passengers on a bus is not limited by the number of manufacturer-intended seats; drug use and drug organizations are quietly tolerated. Yet despite the claims of libertarian idealists, Central America is not as safe as the North.

Plenty of people have guns, but crime is still a problem. Thieves target foreigners and people who look like they have money. Most buildings in a city have bars on the windows. Crime in Antigua dropped significantly when tourist police were deployed. Conflicts are still handled by assassinations. A well-armed public is not as good of a crime deterrent as a vigilant police force with a good track record of apprehending criminals post factum.

The air and environment is less enjoyable. I hold my breath on the street as a bus drives by (thank goodness most cars on the street are manufactured according to California standards). I wince as I try to breathe between trash fires and jungle slash. I've had some sort of a cough, excess phlegm, or digestive problem for most of my visit. Bus riders throw bottles out the window and the sides of the streets are lined with trash.

People with lots of guns, drugs, and money and minimal government interference are not good neighbors. An expat living in Río Dulce told us that a drug gang had opened a new hospital in Morales (as a money laundering scheme, presumably). They told his gynecologist to come work for the hospital or they'd kill him, so he fled to Atitlan. ("He's visiting his gynecologist for thumb surgery? Huhuh.")

It's precisely government, with well designed laws and fair enforcement of strong regulation, that can help establish security, public health, and equal opportunity. It is, of course, not a task for government alone, nor is extreme regulation the answer. Security always involves tradeoffs, but when libertarians propose trading public health and security for theoretical liberty, it turns out that there are many things you still can't do... like breathe clearly. I believe in metaliberty, and I don't want to choose the idealist libertarian offering.

Fortunately, the people are interesting people, regardless of the social system or how public institutions behave. Yesterday we
played basketball with a babbling toddler,
relearned how to greet someone in Kaqchiquel ("Utsa watch," response: "Utsa madiosh"),
tried to estimate the number of actual gallons (three, at least) that would fit in the novelty hat inspired by a Mayan folk story,
paid Q40 ($5) for a hand-woven (two months work?) long belt (maybe a drum strap?) so the woman would stop embarasing herself by rapidly lowering the price ("It's worth 250, but I'll give it to you for 150" deteriorated into "90... 80... 70..."),
had nearly a dozen locals ask where we bought our pico de oro mangoes,
compared Molly's "I'm waiting for Trevor to finish something" macrame leg bracelet with the Mayan style,
teased a mobile vendor carrying a baby ("How much per pound?" "Only per unit? Do you have a special, two for one?" "It's hand-made, nine months work!"),
pronounced strange words and asked what language they were in while two women tried to explain that you can buy a bracelet with your first initial on it,
lectured a vendor on not having a gringo price which Molly noticed because he said "Uh" before quoting Q25,
winced at the gringo accent (yet full vocabulary) on cell phone calls,
called out the drinks on offer to pedestrians ("¡Arroz con leche y leche con arroz!" "¡Rosas con lechuga!"),
and invented meaningful symbols for tacks and string, stick figures, and mushrooms on kitschy handcrafts.
This is why I want to speak Spanish well: not just buying stuff in the market, but joking around with locals, even though only some of them realize it's funny. I also want to speak Spanish well enough to find out how people feel about international trade, local politics, environmental issues, and other deep thoughts. Unfortunately, I often find it challenging to start those conversations even in English.

Instead, I'm blogging therapeutically. Time to get to know the town and take some more pictures of the volcano-ringed lake.
30th-May-2009 12:33 am (UTC)
Two young fish swim by an old fish. He calls out, "How's the water?"
After a pause, one of the young fish turns to the other and says, "What's water?"

Which is to say: If you were fluent, could you ask people about their cultural mores?

My father lives in the Philippines (most of the time). He tells me it's a given that people will try to rip you off in various ways. If you catch them at it, they look embarrassed for you - ostensibly because you've noticed that you're an idiot.

Stealing is...something less than a sin, certainly. There are those who wouldn't survive without it, and there are those who have far more than they need. Redistribution, while it may be punished, is generally not punished so much as sticking to the fruits of one's own honest labor.
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