Before arriving to Guatemala, due to stints in various Spanish-speaking countries during the past five years, my Spanish was a mildly proficient jumble of Gringo, Sevillan lisp, Argentine “J’s”, and Dominican slang. To even wish to be respected here, I’ve had to quit the impossible charade of being from all these countries at once, and embark on a mission to speak some pure Español Guatemalteco. The Spanish here is really pleasant – clearly expressed, reasonably paced, limited accent and all words intact – and I haven’t been able to get away with slurring my words like some punk out of a Reggaeton video. My host father insists that I’m becoming more Guatemalan, or “Chapín” (pronounced chap-een) – a descriptive term that reflects both identity as a Guatemalan National and the inherent pride in the country that exudes from almost anyone you meet here – by day as I learn the local lingo and break my bad lingual habits.

 

The fruition of this process is a long time coming, but I’ve already begun to pin down some aspects of the country that are central to this transformation beyond learning the vernacular. Here’s the first entry in a long list of things distinctly Guatemalan that one must experience before ever hoping to become a full-fledged “Chapin” that I plan on adding to throughout the summer:

 

1. Chicken Buses
Simply put, you haven’t come close to experiencing Guatemala if you haven’t been crammed between two villagers on a seat meant for one and a half normal sized people, holding on for dear life in a ridiculously painted American school bus careening through rollercoaster mountain passes at 60 mph. These unbelievable machines are often the single link for the poorer population between the larger cities and surrounding rural areas. Every ride promises a new outrageous experience. With little to no regard for human life, the engine fires up before you’re fully on board. Shrewd money collectors pull absurd, real-life Spider Man moves to climb from the front side door, over the roof of the bus, and down back in through the back door at full speed. With a soundtrack of legendary music blaring – remixes of MJ’s Billy Jean included – and “Dios es Amor” signs in abundance next to scantily clad pinups, this ride is fully pimped and primed to change the life of any gringo.
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