1. You wonder what happened when there is no traffic.
The first thing I see in the morning when I get out of the house is a buttload of cars in front of me. No matter where I go, I will get stuck in traffic somewhere! And when I cross the bridge between San Cris and the city, and there is no traffic, the first question that comes out of my mouth is: why is there no traffic? Are the universities closed? Is it a national holiday that I don’t know about? When I just arrived in Guate, I would ask why there were so many cars on the road, but after almost 7 months, it is always the other way around. A road without traffic has become a weird thing to me
2. You forget what the word ‘recycling’ means.
I only have seven weeks left to find a Guatemalan who actually recycles his trash. Seriously, coming from a culture where literally every piece of paper or bottle cap has its own place, to going to a country where even class ends up between all the other things is a pretty big thing to overcome. In the beginning I would always ask where people would put their plastic or paper, but now I just throw everything in the same bin. That makes me feel horrible, because what difference does it make when we all try to recycle everything in the Netherlands, while the people in Guatemala could care less? But the non-recycling culture here in the city also has a sad and understandable reason. Because what happens when all the people in the city start to recycle their trash? Right, then the people on the dump won’t have any source of income. Then they won’t find any usable piece of plastic or something to eat. I actually know people who put their leftovers in plastic zip bags, so the people on the dump have the chance to find a clean, healthy meal… It’s a sad, sad reality and I can only stand here and watch, like a Guatemalan does.
3. You recognize the sound of tortillas from miles away.
When I walk from my house to the supermarket, there is a little shop on the side of the road where three ladies are always making tortillas. I can hear the *clapclap* sound from miles away! Ah, and the smell… Make me a corn tortilla at home and I’ll be right back here in Guate!
4. Waze is your best friend.
There is this amazing app here called Waze, which allows you to see exactly what road is blocked and why, where the traffic is and what road is best to take. You can see if there’s an accident, if there are cops and even what the gas prices are. When you are stuck in traffic you can tell everyone if it’s moderate traffic, heavy traffic or if you are completely standing still. You can even add your own customized car icon and chat with other road users!
5. You think seatbelts are completely unnecessary.
Not a good change, but it happens! A few days ago I read this funny list about how to tell you are a Guatemalan and #1 on the list was ‘when the only safety devices on your car are a horn and a “Dios Me Guia” sticker’… can’t argue with that! How bad it might sound, after seven months I don’t even think about putting my seatbelt on. One, because the traffic is so turtley slow, two, because nobody does.
6. Blocked roads because of car accidents or shootings are becoming normal.
Even yesterday when we made our way to a fancy restaurant in zone 10, there was a pretty bad accident on one of the crossroads. Two ambulances and a person on the ground, angry, honking drivers, a big crowd of people… hardly a week goes by without seeing an accident or hearing about a shooting. Last week I actually saw my first victim of a shooting. Shot in his car on the way to work, hit another driver, caused a major traffic obstruction. Or this Sunday, when a big group of armed cops tracked down a group of extortionists and made them lay face down on the ground. There were so many heavily armed cops that it looked like a major accident had happened. Not a week goes by without an accident, a shooting, an arrest. I have seen more of these things here that I have seen in my entire life back at home.
7. You end every question with v’a?
The funny thing about learning Spanish in a certain country is that you take over certain ways of speaking. Since I feel confident enough to talk in Spanish now (level B1, wooho!) I try to slowly fit in some Guatemalan words. I hear a lot of people end their questions with v’a (right?) and I notice I start to do the same thing too!
8. You are freezing when the temperature drops two degrees.
After seven months we are finally, finally done with the rainy season! But when the rain stops, the temperature rises fast. Right now we are at about 20 to 25 degrees every day and because the temperature is so constant throughout the year, a slight change in temperature makes us freeze to death or sweat like a pig! Back at home I would just know that sweater-weather starts in September/October and ends somewhere in April/May, but here you just don’t know! You can leave the house in a t-shirt at 22 degrees and come home in a sweater at 20 degrees.
9. You never know what time it is, so you just say ‘buenas’.
Something I noticed since I have been here for a longer period of time is that I get a little sloppier with my Spanish. At first I would make sure I would use the perfect greeting for the time of the day, but now I am often too lazy to find out which one I have to use. Is it morning (buenos días)? Afternoon-before-dark (buenas tardes)? Or is it time to say ‘good evening’ (buenas noches)? I never know, so I just say buenas. To sound like a pro, but actually because I have no clue…
10. You know what Miel San Marcos is.
It is a band of course, you dummy! And they are everywhere! On the radio, on the television, at billboards, in the newspaper… Every Guatemalan knows this amazing, Christian band and if you are really a fan (like me), you can even tell which brother is which (there are three). Miel San Marcos was founded in 2000 and has become one of the biggest and most famous Guatemalan bands. Their music is great, catchy and you can’t really avoid their music when you turn on the radio.