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Journal 7

February 12

For a North American traveler, nothing in Guatemala is easy. There are no smooth conncections or easy tasks--everything is a process. For example: Yesterday, during morning break, I was informed that there was a telegram addressed to me in the office. Immediately, my knees went weak when I saw the envelope stamped "URGENTE." My mind was flooded with various catastrophic possibilities which would warrant a telegram such as this. I opened up the envelope with the help of some CASAS staff and realized that what looked ominous was simply a package notification. My excitement at this new prospect, not to mention my relief that nothing bad had happened, made it difficult to concentrate on spanish class for the rest of the morning.

After going to the wrong post office once and then navigating the way to the right post office which was closed, and then once again returning today to the correct post office in the center of zona una, I seemed to be making progress. With my original passport in hand, I climbed the regal marble staircases of the post office to the second floor. Ironic how grandiose the post office was in the midst of a city that has extreme poverty.

As always, a crucial rule of travel is to always look like you know what you're doing. The "telegram" gave directions to the paquete room. I walked into a waiting room the size of my dorm room, and immediately noticed the inncorrect clock on the wall. I heard Evanescence on a Guatemalan radio station. I got in line. Three persons later, the post office worker took my passport and a photocopy of it, brushed her fingers through her hair with a look that said it was four o'clock in the afternoon and asked me to step aside while she went to retrieve the mysterious package. I assumed I would wait maybe 2-3 minutes...

I looked past the counter and saw what looked like santa's workshop gone drastically awry. Jumbles of boxes with snowman wrapping paper, boxes covered in careless duct tape, some bursting from content overflow. There was no semblance of order to the piles, and I grew more nervous as I watched the couriers search.

After 10 minutes or so, it occured to me that all of these people were waiting for an indefinite amount of time for a package to be brought out. Finally, the man emerged with a shoe box wrapped in a brown grocery bag with my name on it. Eagerly, I grabbed the box and examined it. It was another surreal moment when I realized that I really was in Guatemala--standing in a stuffy post office with a fan blowing in the corner, surrounded by boxes and mail in complete disarray. Evanescence had been replaced with Alejandro Sanz. Never did I stand out more as a North American. I was instructed to give the box to the gentleman at the next window who promptly sliced open the box and sifted through candy hearts, trident gum, a box of cheez-its. Such suspicious items my mom sends me. The man pointed to the return address and asked me where Souderton was. I ignorantly replied, "the United States," He asked,
"which state?" I said Pennsylvania. He asked me if I was a student. I said yes. He asked for how long. I said three months. He said that was too short. He said my spanish wasn't bad. I said that wasn't true. I asked if I had to pay for the package. He said no. Another post office employee crudely retaped the box, I said gracias twice and walked out of the room and down the steps trying to push out feelings of guilt for being only a visitor, conditioned to be hasty and efficient, as the disorganized pace of life is reality in Guatemala.

- Elisabeth Clemmer

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