Guatemala: Day 7

IMPT NOTE: If anyone from my trip reads this all the way through, I really hope you got my message that it was AWESOME and I regret NOTHING and I certainly don't blame anyone for my bad moods or behavior. The following blog is explanatory, not accusatory.

Our second work day in Monterrico went very similarly to our first, except for the fact that by this point in the trip, homesickness and an introverted need to be in MY SPACE ALONE for a decent span of time was beginning to notably affect me. I think, really, that these feelings were the basis for any negativity I felt over the next few days, which was considerable. Don't get me wrong—I wouldn't take back a single day of my trip. I merely mention this mental situation at the start to make some of the following events easier to understand.

First of all, I don't take well to people snapping at me on the best of days. I compare it to angry traffic, in my head. If somebody honks at me, my immediate reaction is a deep-seated, gut-clenching wrath, absolutely regardless of what caused the honking in the first place. EVEN IF the honking was entirely justified because I was being a dipwad on the road. Having finally understood this about myself, it's become much easier to take a few deep breaths and let it go. The same goes with people snapping at me—my first knee-jerk desire is to start a fight worthy of the trashiest of trailer parks, but I do my absolute best to hold back the crazy and instead consider why that person snapped at me. Was it my fault? If so, was snapping really necessary? If not, what could have contributed to this person's behavior? Is this a habitual behavior? If not, let's try to be the bigger person and just make the situation better. Someday, someone will do the same for me when I do something less than polite.

If I have time to come to terms with that, and especially if the other person self-reflects enough to apologize, back up, and correct me in a more constructive way, this system works well for me. If not, say for example in a high-stress veterinary situation with very spare hands and very little spare time, it can eat at me a bit. Because, let's not forget, under the anger is the guilt that I messed up. I HATE making mistakes. I know it would be healthier to be positive about it, and maybe I'll get there someday, but for now I've just gotta slog through these situations.

Anyways, there had been a few instances over the past few days when I'd been snapped at (although I doubt it was nearly as harsh as it seemed in my exhausted, overwhelmed state), and I didn't have my own little section of time and space in which to come to terms with it. This put me on edge, and though the last day was relatively easy AND fascinating (since we could take more time for teaching/learning sessions with a less stressful workload), I seemed to notice every little interaction that could be considered even slightly negative. The solution, for me, was easy—I needed a break in private. When you're living in eachother's hip pockets, that is easier said than done. Still, I bided my time with as much patience as I had left, and planned to go on a long walk on the beach by myself when we got back.

Unfortunately, this was delayed when Danielle's expensive phone was missing after we'd packed everything else. We all dove into searching for it extensively, but after a while we had to give up and head back to the hotel. While Danielle called her service provider, we dug through the garbage of the day (much like breakfast, veterinary trash is much less fun the second time around) but came up empty-handed. Thankfully, when you put a lot of smart people together, they get creative, and after calling every client whose information we had, Sep located a man who “might” have seen the phone...for a price. Basically, this guy had wandered into our clinic, snatched the phone, and wandered out again claiming that he needed to charge “his” phone at his house. I feel like it might have been smarter of him to not actually mention the phone to us at all, but he did, and off Danielle and Co. went to buy it back from him (for about 200 quetzales~$25). Knowing I wouldn't be very useful, I decided to go on my beach walk, having ascertained that it was safe to wander alone in this part of the beach and after notifying Danika of where I was going. What I didn't mention was that I planned to walk for 1 hour and 20 minutes on the dot. For those of you who don't know me, exercising compulsively is something I've had a problem with since high school. I've improved a great deal, and had done very well with being a strange country with a new schedule and very little privacy/time to complete my habitual activities, but I was just at the end of my rope that day. Plus, I didn't want anyone judging the specificity of my needs—it's embarrassing, sometimes. Turns out I could have just been upfront, though—Steve's idea of a good walk is, like, and hour and a half, so my behavior wouldn't have been considered abnormal by this group. Still, I didn't figure I was doing anything inappropriate. Who knew how long the other group would be gone for the phone, anyways? I knew when dinner was schedule and would be back before then.

Setting off, I enjoyed myself tremendously, walking in the edge of the water so that the occasional larger wave caught me by surprise. The walk back after 40 minutes was even prettier as I faced the setting sun. However, as I frequently do, I had overestimated how long the sun would stay up. The sun drops FAST at that latitude, and when I was about 20 minutes back to the hotel was nearly below the horizon. At that point, it occurred to me that I probably should have been more specific about how long I would be gone. Still, I was 24, on a “safe” beach, and had not exactly sneaked out of the area. The others might be a little worried, but I'd be back soon and it would be okay. There was still enough light to see far down the beach when I noticed a couple of people walking, then running, towards. Danielle and Dennys appeared out of the darkness, with Dennys smiling in relief and Danielle smiling in worry. My original intention had been to apologize and explain why I was so late, but Danielle's obvious worry/anger when she greeted me struck just the wrong note with me. I was tired and crowded and stressed and TIRED and I was an adult and I'd put up with enough the last few days (note: my brain was definitely exaggerating by that point) and I'd be DAMNED if I'd apologize when I hadn't done anything wrong. The strained silence on the way back to the hotel was extremely uncomfortable, especially when I was doing my best not to be grateful that I didn't actually have to try and find the hotel in the dark by myself. I had not realized how similar everything looked in the dark.

Getting back to my room, I quickly changed into clothes more suited to dinner and joined the group out to the van. No one glared at me, so I may have even underestimated how mad some people were about my behavior. A guilt/anger/guilt parfait is an unpleasant dessert, people. Still, I was rather determined to not be as open and friendly as I had been before—when I do that and something unpleasant happens (even if not as a direct result), my favorite response is to shut it down—I do tend to over-share.

Anyways, we went to dinner at another restaurant that hosted us, and then went and got drinks at Johnny's Place, the local tourist hot-spot hotel. Though I didn't realize it at the time, one of the workers who greeted us there was the exact same man who'd stolen Danielle's phone, and apparently he apologized very vaguely. He had, after all, managed to jack up her phone case with a screwdriver and erase many hundreds of photos in the short time he had it. More happily, we also found that one of the bartenders was William, our wonderful assistant at the clinic. We had a pleasant couple of hours drinking alcoholic smoothies while Dennys tried to get us drunk before we headed back to go to bed—we had early morning plans the next day, and some of us (me especially) were already crabby that we'd stayed out so late in the first place. As I mentioned before, I wasn't exactly feeling reasonable.

And THAT'S when people started to get sick. It hit Danielle first, but Danika got hit the hardest. I don't know what happened to them, because I never got sick while still eating/drinking the same things they did. However, I did manage to be nearly maimed by voracious mosquitoes (Exaggeration? Maybe.) so we all got to suffer some.

Random details:

--It was either this day or the day before during which we truly began to understand how awesome Dennys the Menace, and he earned our private nickname of “Dr. One-Up.” However, that has a negative connotation, and one of the coolest things about Dennys is that he's just super-awesome without even trying. For example, during a downtime at the clinic he randomly pulls some balloons and a balloon pump out of his pocket and starts making balloon animals. Big deal, right? I can make balloon animals—my snakes kick ass. Dennys, however, made a dragonfly. Then, we found out he wasn't sufficiently entertained at his vet clinic, where he treats everything from dogs and cats to local circus tigers and lions (which he tranquilizes with a home-made blowdart gun), so he opened up a biker bar right next door. Oh, and he'll get his pilot's license before the year is out. And he joined the military at the age of 11, due to the 36-year-long civil war in Guatemala that ended in 1996. There came a point where we actually stopped being surprised. Until we were again. I think I met the Guatemalan version of The Most Interesting Man In The World.

--We didn't go into the ocean again during the trip (due to a combination of illnesses and exhaustion), so I feel it is safe to divulge what I learned after arriving back home a few days ago. Danika's great-grandmother is Guatemalan, and expressed a great deal of surprise when she heard that we'd been swimming at that beach. Although we saw no direct evidence of this, she claims that it's not safe there with the water so warm...because the sharks love it. I am damn tired of accidentally swimming with toothy things, people. And frankly, I have no faith in people saying not to worry, because this or that horrid beasty doesn't come to this or that area. Oh, yeah? Did you sit down and have a cordial meeting with the man-eating monsters about their probable itinerary? I imagine it going like this:
--“Tea, Mr. Shark?”
--“Why yes, thank you—I'll take a cube of sugar and just a dash of the blood of infants.”
--“So, as you know, we've called you here today to discuss beach-front development. You've been here for a while, so we're willing to offer a generous amount of money if you'd like to relocate to a new settlement, at which we will supply all the squishy, warm mammal flesh you could desire, as long as you don't eat people.”
“Well that's bloody good of you, sir! I've been meaning to travel more!”

*A short time later, a human named Kaitlin is eaten in the “safe zone”

--“Now listen here, Mr. Shark, this simply isn't done. We can't have you going about and devouring tourists who might buy things! Was our monetary gift not sufficient?”
“Oh, no, good chap, not at all! The problem, you see, is that I am a fierce killing machine who doesn't actually understand English, and have no respect at all for your puny imaginary boundaries. If I'm hungry enough, I'll eat anything I damn well please, and if I, say, have some sort of genetic defect, I could easily turn up somewhere completely unexpected, and behave in terrifying ways! Ever heard of the lions of Tsavo?”

And then the shark eats that guy, too, and all is violent chaos. Don't get me wrong, though—I think sharks are as cool as anything, and I would never go around killing them just because they scare the EVERYTHING out of me. I simply don't wish to swim with one, and apparently that means I'll have to rely on common sense instead of others' advice.

--My immediate reaction to the guy selling Danielle her stolen phone back was to beat the snot out of him instead and take the phone back for free. However, Steve had an interesting viewpoint that is easy to forget: when you're poor, and possibly have mouths to feed other than your own, stealing is a different thing than it is for me. I see it as an extreme affront—that guy probably saw doctors and assumed it would make little difference to us, money-wise. Or, maybe he didn't care. Either way, appealing to the guy's sense of shame would have probably been useless. A sense of shame is something of a luxury, I'm beginning to think.

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