Saturday, April 16, 2011

Revisited: Three Days in the Life of a Guatemalan Adoption

I had to scrounge around my computer really hard to find it, but here it is. Back by popular demand!...and yes, it is all true and not exagerated in any way... sad, but true.
3 Days in the Life of a Guatemalan Adoption
Written Friday October 17th, 2003

Now that I think everything is done that can be done for our adoption case I
wanted to take a few minutes to memorialize the last 3 days of my
life. This is not reading for the faint of heart... indeed, I warn
you now that it may be fatal.

Prologue to the Hustle:
Saturday night the Hesses(Michael and Naila), friends who were also adopting and sharing a house with me, and I receive a letter from Javier, our Guatemalan attorney, indicating that our cases have been booted out of PGN (the adoption approval agency in Guatemala) with previos (read this as we forgot to litterally dot an "i" or cross a "t").
As Michael and Naila struggle to interpret Spanish nay... GUATEMALAN legalese I sit biting my nails wondering if it's good news that they reviewed my case by the promised date.. or that it's bad news because the previos are so numerous and demanding. After biting my finger nails to stubbs I decide to start on the toes... as I take a taxi to the airport to pick up my visiting friend from the states.

Sunday we fill the day with shopping and speculating about what will happen with our cases. We discuss the 200 page amparro (attempt to shut down adoptions in Guatemala) filed by what must be an escapee of the local insane asylum sure that UNICEF has no one left to fight their cause.

Monday we call Javier/Sue (our adoption coordinator in the states)/Bob/Parents/the Pizza Delivery man... and arrange to go to PGN/Call Sue back/Call Bob back/Blow parents off/ and order "The Dominator" with extra cheese.

The Main Event - Do the Hustle with Javier:
Tuesday began the strangest of my days in Guatemala. It started out with Javier arriving at our house to pick up Naila and myself and take us to PGN. Upon opening the door and seeing Javier standing there in his weekend love clothes which consists of what an online chat list must be refering to when they say "hooker jeans". Javier entered with his usual flair and proclaimed he must eat! We had Sabina (our
cook) whip him up some eggs while we discussed strategies for our attack on PGN. This is where I made my first fatal mistake of the day... I neglected to eat breakfast. Ordinarily this would not have been a huge ordeal - but as you will soon see - not a mistake to make when Javier and a car are involved. After strategizing and watching Javier eat... and make about 30-40 phone calls - he suddenly jumped up from the table and procaimed "LETS GO!!" Out the door we followed and into the street we followed... until it was certain... he was leading us to a rusty, broken down 1970 Toyota Celica. When entering the car and adjusting to the smell that all cars in Guatemala have (something akin to sticking your head up the tailpipe of tractor trailer and breathing deeply) and boldly deciding that I would refrain from wearing my seat belt because if this was the way I was going to leave the world, let me crash and burn! While Naila slipped into the backseat and I into the front, certain that her selection of the back
was to assure that she not be hit by any projectile vomit that might pop out of my mouth, Javier adjusted the packing tape that was holding his side mirror onto the car and then slid in beside me and
winked and said... "This is my sportscar". It was then that I realized that I would never recover from this trip. As I remember, we left Antigua on at least two wheels of the car. Naila sat in the backseat giggling and reading things that were lying on the seat that she should have known not to read (!) I closed my eyes and tried to hold back the first wave of car sickness. Javier is laughing and telling jokes and taking phone calls and shifting gears and steering and digging in his glove box for american music CD's... while naturally swerving between cars and taking hairpin turns at "only 40 mph", as he would proclaim. As we began to enter surely the biggest hole in the ozone on this planet, otherwise known as Guatemala City I ponder whether or not I should roll up my window to save my lungs from the thick black smoke pouring out of every car in this city. It is my firm belief that not a single car in Guatemala is equipped with a catelytic converter... much less an exhaust system of any type known to civilized man. It was here that the second wave of car sickness washes over me. Javier is chatting away on his cell phone using as many arm gestures as are humanly possible when all of the sudden he elbows me and shouts something in Spanish to me. I risk yet a third wave of sickness and turn my head back to Naila to
say "what's he saying?". She is so engrossed in reading that she looks up blankly and says "He's on the phone". I turn back and look at Javier who is elbowing me again and speaking gibberish when all of
the sudden the car lurches to the right as he takes his one remaining hand off the wheel to shift gears. It's then that I realize he wanted me to drive the car from the passenger seat while he kept his
foot firmly on the gas pedal and continued his phone call and wild gesturing. I decide that not putting my seatbelt on was the right decision. It is here that I consider the reality of dying while in Guatemala, not by one of the thousands of "armed guards" at every corner, not by a revolution of political unrest... not even by a theif, murderer or rogue... no, it will be my attorney who finally does me in with a 1970 Celica "sportscar" which is now making very strange noises. The noises distract me from my daydream of death long enough to look over and see Javier driving with his head out the window like some crazed dog and frowning and swerving in between cars. He pops his head back in long enough to proclaim he hears a noise and I look at Naila who is by this time rolling in tears in the back seat with laughter... A NOISE???? It sounds as if the whole car is getting ready to self destruct! Does Javier pull over to
investigate??? No, in fact he seems a bit iritated by the noise and cranks the radio up louder to cover it up. By this time I have lost track of how many times I have considered puking on Javier's floorboard and he announces that he has to go by his apartment to change clothes. Naila says "Your apartment?" at which point Javier tells us that his wife threw him out for his indescretions and he laughs like a proud macho latino man should. He cuts through the side streets of Guatemala City much in the manner that he took the hairpin turns and finally comes to a screeching halt outside of a little shack of an apartment which Naila politely called a "Studio". We waited in the car for Jaiver to go change into something not reeking of weekend love in utter silence and disbelief. It was then that the cd player began... it was just a few notes... harmless in their origin... but slowly, they began to take form... it was... yes, hard
to believe....The Hustle. Naila and I sat as if some sureal objects in a Salvador Dali painting. Here we sat... in Guatemala... in a 1970 rundown Toyota Celica... waiting for the biggest meeting of our adoptive journey... listening to and finally singing The Hustle. A record 5 minutes and Javier was dashing from his "Studio" back to the car, this time in a suit. I had taken the few moments that the car
had been parked to try and regain part of my stomach lining and was not having the best of luck. Javier, again on the phone, slips back into the car. It was then that I knew I would abandon all attempts
to "settle my stomach" when for one brief second I actually saw the air before me distort slightly as the fumes rush across the front seat. At once my eyes began to water... and my diesel ridden body shuttered with a new onset of attacks... the "don't take a shower and douse my whole body in cologne" attack sent me reeling toward the other side of the car in tears. I briefly wondered if it was indeed cologne or just a can of tear gas that had been set off. But there is no time to ponder these questions as we are off again, wheels squealing and someone who sounds like Perry Como on the radio. At this point things became a bit fuzzy.. and I am not wholly sure I believed that I really saw a herd of goats in
downtown Guatemala by the courthouse... surely it was just a mirage brought on by my swimming head and stomach and eyes. We make our way to his office where I am determined to try and collect some sense of composure so I step into the ladies room. I briefly eye the bathroom checking for the necessities... 1) a toilet with a seat, 2) toilet paper, 3) soap. Finding only one of the three required items I decide to snoop a bit in the drawers and under the dirty dishes for some secreted toilet paper. Finding more than I had bargained for, and none of it toilet paper I reside myself to the fact that I will
have to drip dry. I bravely plant my butt on the toilet seat (ignoring Naila's triangle and square formation instructions for toilet paper) and pee away, meanwhile wondering if the dirty dishes in front of me were
from an extended "lunch time visit" to the bathroom. For a brief and fleeting moment I consider checking the napkin to see if it might be usable as toilet paper and finally deciding drip drying would be the
safer choice. I finish up with the bathroom trip I had hoped would help me feel better and stagger to Javier's office. Naila jumps up to take her turn in the bathroom when I smile sweetly and say in a
language only the two of us can speak "no tp and don't look in the shower stall or you'll be sorry". She looks at me with the same face as a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I smile even
more sweetly and take a seat hoping that the drip has sufficiently dried so as not to leave a wet spot on my pants. After a quick stop at Javier's office of one or two hours we are ready to go to PGN. After exiting the office I start walking down the street in search of a full strength Coke and something to eat... I need strength for the meeting ahead and a little soda and crackers was needed to calm my
empty car sick stomach so as not to hurl a gutful of bile on the nice PGN lawyer. After walking half a block, buying food and walking back I see Javier and Naila still in front of the office where they
remained for the next several minutes - but I'm used to this now... it's "Guatemalan time"... which is equal to "sometime today or tomorrow". Finally and abruptly Javier leaps toward the car and announces it is time to go and we jump into the car and make our way to the infamous PGN offices. As I have relayed much of our visit to the offices of the esteemed PGN I will not recount it, save for a small side mention of our visit to the ladies bathroom. We were sure to find it more to our liking than that in Javier's office. We walk in and each select a stall. I, pulling open the door notice a mound of papers about the size of the ticker-tapes swept up off the streets of New York after a parade. I again ponder the triangle or square formation and again throw caution to the wind and plant my fanny firmly on the bare toilet seat. While busily doing my business Naila announces in an off hand way that the sign says not to throw your toilet paper in the toilet. It is then that I turn my head to look at the mound of paper on the floor beside me... now realizing the treasure trove of Guatemalan pee samples that I have stumbled into. I quickly wipe, and without thinking deposit my toilet paper in the toilet, flush and
meet Naila at the sink. "I put my paper in the toilet without thinking" I sheepishly announce only to receive her reply of giggling and a "Me too". We wash our hands and leave.
It is now late afternoon and we invite Javier and another attorney we have picked up somewhere along the way to dinner. Following a repeat performance of the morning's drive, I unlock the front door of our
house, walk in and pronounce that I'll be right back... I have to go vomit. It was a day that was more than my physical and mental abilities could take and I excused myself from dinner, not sure that my stomach could suffer much more. Plans were set for our trip back into the city to visit the British Consulate on Thursday to clear up a wee problem with our Scottish marriage license. I drifted off to sleep thankful for a days rest before having to weather "The Hustle" again.

A day of rest and relaxation. My friend Maureen and I went with my weaver friends to their house in San Antonio Agua Caliente. The house was typical of rural Guatemala and it was a nice touch that
they had strung a big blue tarp around a concrete pipe in the back yard just for our "business". Neither Maureen nor I luckily had to decide triangle or square formation during our visit. Then, most certainly, I must have faltered from the extreem stress of the previous day, when I accepted some strange small green fruit (with peal and frozen) to eat. Not wanting to offend our hosts I quickly ate one and prayed not to regret it. The rest of the visit went wonderfully, I learned new weaving techniques, made tortillas, and bargained for beautiful woven skirt. It was time then to go home. And then it hit... sometime around 7pm, luckily in the comfort of my own bathroom without blue tarp. It started with a tiny gas pain... and within 30 minutes turned into full fledged, toss the toilet paper formation out the window and just make it to the bathroom in time event!!! The next wave was only 10 minutes later, followed by chills and then more visits to the bathroom. I decided to take quick and swift action and
took half a bottle of Immodium Advanced. I'll let you know if my
intestine ever start working again. (Note added after this writing: This was the beginning of a month long battle that was finally cured by some backstreet pink pills that a pharmacists shoved through a slot in the door to me). I wearily climed into bed holding my cramping stomach wondering how I would survive another day with Javier on Thursday. Just before drifting off to sleep I dreamed of taking my diarheah ridden body back to PGN and obey their no toilet paper in the bowl rule. And yes, I did ponder the similarity of the toilet rules and my previos.

This day we wisely hired a taxi to safely deposit us at Javier's office at 9am. Somewhere between Antigua and Guatemala City we received a call indicating we should meet Javier at the British Consulates office instead. So we alter our course and make our way to the Banco International building. Naila and I quickly navigate our way to the 11th floor and deposit our cell phones and my camera at the security gate and enter the office to wait for the arrival of our attorney. It is 9am... 9:15...9:30... and then the
phone rings. It's Javier asking "Where are you??" He apparently is in the lobby downstairs. It takes him another 10 minutes to find his way to the BC office at which point he must stand outside the security gate until he finishes his phone call (of course!). We make our way to the window and explain why we have come. The nice lady takes my dossier and passport and promises to return. We wait anxiously. She returns and explains they can not do what we have asked and to make a long story short - I burst into tears, throw myself on the sofa and sob wildly. The poor woman behind the glass looks aghast and asks if I am going to be alright. Javier wastes no time taking advantage of the situation and pleads
with the woman to write the letter so I will stop crying. After much fanagling the consulate finally agrees and I throw myself against the bullet proof glass and offer her my undying affection. Before exiting the building and heading back to Javier's office we decide our bathroom survival chances are better now in the bank building than back at the Javier bathroom and grill. We enter what appears to be a new bathroom, but alas there is a major lack of toilet paper. We laugh in disbelief and begin searchin all the stalls. I find one last remaining roll with about 20 sheets remaining and dash for the stall. As we exit the building Javier decides we need to eat and it's off for bean soup at 10am. After soup, the plan was for Javier to stop by his office and then take us back to our house and do the witness statements, an activity that momentarily drifts into oblivion until approximately 4pm in the afternoon when he jumps up from his desk and proclaims it is time to go. In pure Javier fashion we manage to return to our house narrowly missing death trap after death trap along the way. Javier comes in with his computer and printer and hooks them up... it appears we are getting moving again... when all of the sudden Michael is sent to the living room for a DVD of Benji for Javier to play on his computer. I decide I need to puke
and excuse myself. For the next 3 hours we make no progress when suddenly Javier begins to type madly on his computer. We excuse ourselves to the living room to allow him to work. A few moments
later we hear a crash and Javier has jumped from the table and is frantically whiping his cell phone. He has tipped a drink over and in his maddened rush to save his cell phone he leaves Michael's and Maureens passports in a puddle of Pepsi. I dart to save them, swooping them up and running for the kitchen. Micheal and I work quickly to dry them and agree that we could both thank our lucky stars that the cell phone was saved! The rest of the night went pretty much the same until at 10pm we abandoned him to his pizza while we checked the scores on the Red Sox and Yankee's game... meanwhile a little tune keeps running through my head.... "do the hustle" to which I glibbly add..."do the Guatemalan hustle".

1 comment:

  1. Oh my Goodness. What an experience and how wonderfully written. I'm so glad you survived.