For your heartfelt, very meaningful content today:
I have tried to share some of the importance of school here and what it means not to have students in school. In the Spring 2021 newsletter from Global Shore, the director, Julianna Konrad de Pelaez, does a much better job than I ever could. (That only makes sense – although we are from very similar farming family backgrounds in southwestern Ontario – even to the point of going to the same church, although not at overlapping times, Guatemala is now her home permanently. She lives and breathes this work that God is doing here. I get a glimpse into things; she sees things much more fully.) So to give you a much better glimpse, I offer you this link to the spring newsletter and encourage you to read Julianna’s words for yourself.
And on the much more lighthearted side:
Look. Sometimes you feel on top of your teaching game, and sometimes you wonder just how many mistakes you can make. It’s especially bad when you have to rewatch yourself make all of those mistakes and edit them out of your teaching videos. I’ve compiled several of them into a short video for your viewing enjoyment, should you so desire… I promise that I’m a better teacher than this in real life. (I hope!)
Look, some of my blog topics are going to be very serious, and some are going to be a lot more light-hearted. We will run the whole gamut of the human experience here. Today’s topic is definitely going to be on the more light-hearted side…
So as my family can attest, I have a history of reacting to bug bites. I remember that as a kid I would get huge lumps of mosquito bites. We’re talking reactions that were swollen, hot, hard, several inches in diameter. If I was unfortunate enough to be bitten right on the back of my knee, I wouldn’t be able to fully bend my knee for a couple of days.
Thankfully that reaction has died down to a more tolerable “still react badly but no longer look diseased” kind.
Well, naturally there are delightful things to react to here. There are teeny tiny little ants under our clothesline, and inevitably, every single weekend, when I do laundry, I get bitten. I immediately get a big swollen reaction about the size of a quarter, that after a couple of days fades away into a blister, that after about a week in total disappears just in time for me to do my laundry and get bitten again.
Then last week Wednesday afternoon, I discovered what I thought was a mosquito bite on my arm, up near my shoulder. It was itchy. I tried my best to ignore it and not to scratch it.
Hours later, when I was lying in bed, I suddenly thought, wow, my arm hurts. I looked at the bite. It was a big red swollen reaction, much bigger than the usual quarter-sized ant reaction, but also way more than my typical mosquito bite. I revised my premise from mosquito bite to ant bite – after all, I had first noticed the bite when I was working out, and there are always ants crawling around on the floor in my workout location. (This kind of comes with the territory when most things are outside and inside spaces don’t really have doors that bugs can’t easily get through or screens on windows.) So, an ant bite… but definitely bigger than my typical “clothesline ant” reaction. I grabbed the tube of hydrocortisone cream that I just leave out on my night table here (no point in putting it away!), slathered it on the bite, and went to sleep.
On Thursday morning, my bite hadn’t decreased in size at all. I showed it to several people because it was quite impressive in size. But over the day, the swelling spread… and spread… and spread. By Thursday afternoon, my arm was swollen from armpit to elbow – literally. It was hot, obviously red, and noticeably swollen. I went home to get some Benadryl, and on the way stopped to show people how much it had grown over the day. They (very reasonably) suggested that maybe it was time to see a doctor. And yeah… that’s probably good advice. Except I am used to reacting to bug bites. And what is a doctor going to do? Give me antihistamines? I have some here, and I took some. Administer an epipen? If you catch up on my medical history, you will immediately understand why unless I actually think I’m dying, I don’t want to experience additional epinephrine running through my body. I took the Benadryl, took a regular antihistamine, slathered on some more hydrocortisone cream, went back to school, and tried desperately to stay awake for the last hour of work. (Thanks, Benadryl! You always make life so fun!) After school, I took a shower and finally drew a line around my reaction so that I could track the swelling and growth.
The swelling did seem to stop then. I think gravity was actually exerting its influence, since the only place that the reaction was outgrowing its line was around the bottom, by my elbow. Around 7:30, I deemed it late enough to take some more Benadryl. I took two and pretty much immediately fell asleep. When I woke up, the swelling still hadn’t grown any more.
Thankfully by Friday afternoon, my arm was looking impressively better. The swelling had really gone down, and while it was still red, it wasn’t so hot any more. It took until Saturday afternoon for all the swelling and redness to actually go away. It also took another week (!) for the itchiness to go down.
Once the swelling had disappeared, you could finally see the location of the bite again. It wasn’t just one bite – it was actually three. I’m not sure if that’s what caused the extremeness of the reaction, or if it was also the type of bite. When I showed her my arm and described things, my very wise sister hypothesized that it had been a spider bite.
“Don’t you think you should have an epipen just in case?” my mom asked when I talked to my parents that weekend. Again… I’m going to do anything I can to avoid the feeling of extra epinephrine. I also really don’t think I’m in danger unless I get bitten near on my face or neck. But also, in an abundance of caution, I do think I’ll go to a doctor much earlier in the reaction timeline next time! (And praying there ISN’T a next time!)
Picture this: you’re in a school bus that’s painted garish colours, crammed in on all sides by other people and their purchases. There’s music blasting on a radio, and the driver seems to be driving like he’s making up for lost time, speeding around curves and over speed bumps and potholes alike. The driver is honking his horn as if it’s the only thing keeping the bus running, and his coworker is leaning out the door bellowing the name of a city at anyone, whether they look like they care or not.
Where is this chaotic scene taking place? Guatemala, of course! You’re riding a chicken bus to get from one place to another, just like any other Guatemalan who doesn’t have a car or a moto.
Once a school bus has lived out its life in North America, it’s driven down to Central America where it gets to live a second life. It typically has some work done – I’ve heard that most buses get a manual transmission put into them, although I haven’t paid enough attention to know whether or not that’s true. Buses also get racks put overhead – key, because a lot of people riding the bus have a lot of stuff with them. They generally get a metal railing installed on the ceiling the length of the aisle. This is important because the bus will often start driving as soon as everyone is on, not once everyone is in their seat, and it’s helpful to be able to hang on while you head to your seat or while you get up to move to the front in advance of where you want to disembark. Additionally, some buses seem to have new seats installed – the seats are wider, meaning you can squeeze a third person in (and I do mean squeeze – have you been on a bus in a while?), although this means really squeezing your way down the aisle. And the seats are then also installed closer together, a key factor in being able to fit more people in your bus and maximize your income if you’re running the bus (although it makes it difficult for a taller-than-the-average-Guatemalan Canadian woman to fit her legs into the space comfortably. Especially given the bumps over potholes and speed bumps – sometimes the kneecaps take quite a beating!)
And, if you’ve ever seen any photos of a chicken bus in Guatemala, you know that the other drastic change to the bus is decorating the outside. Red, white, yellow, green, blue – buses are painted vibrant colour combinations. They can also then have fancy chrome added or sometimes decals added to the windshield (enough that sometimes one wonders how well the driver can really see the road!) The colours matter when you have an adult population with a relatively low literacy rate – even though the bus will say what route it is taking, that doesn’t matter much if people can’t read the sign. So the colours also indicate where the bus will go, and this way people know which bus to take.
These chicken buses are the equivalent of public transit in North America, with a few key differences. Have you ridden a city bus lately? Even if you haven’t, I’m sure you know that they have route maps and schedules. And if you wanted or needed to ride one, you would check ahead of time to see where the stops are that you need in order to get on and in order to get off. And then you would check to see what time the bus would come by, and you would be at the stop a couple of minutes before the bus’s scheduled time, expecting it to arrive at that time.
Meanwhile here in Guatemala, if buses have schedules, I sure don’t know what they are. And you can’t look up a bus time on Google Maps like you can in Canada. You just head to some location on the bus route, and you wait for your bus to come by. We’re actually fortunate that from home, a couple of buses come by and all head through Jocotenango (church location) and into Antigua (nearest city, where we generally do our grocery shopping). Once in a while we’ll come down the hill and just miss a bus and have to wait a while (like 20 minutes has been our longest wait time so far), but other times, it’s a short five minute wait. Today I crossed the highway just as a bus rounded the corner, so I hopped on and was in town in record time.
Buses have some sort of standard stops, but you can also wait anywhere along the bus’s route and hop on, and you can also get off anywhere along the route – just go up and ask the driver to stop and let you off.
Why are they called chicken buses? There are a couple of different stories to explain this name. Some say it’s because passengers are crammed in like chickens. My preferred story is actually that people take whatever they have to sell in the market with them, including live chickens.
Besides the bus driver, there’s another staff person on the bus who stands in the doorway and yells the destination at people. Once in a while, he comes down the aisle and collects bus fare from people. These people have the most excellent memory for who has paid and who has not yet. I think I would be awful at that job, but every person I’ve seen has been so good at their job.
I also have to say, given the picture that I painted early of people all crammed in, that perhaps the pandemic has been good for creating space on the bus, especially for a Canadian who likes her personal space. Capacity limits are technically in place (I say technically because I really don’t know how seriously drivers take them. I’ve never seen anyone turned away!) and temperature checks are done at the door of the bus (again – I’ve never actually seen someone read the thermometer, but it technically gets pointed at everyone!), but ridership also just seems to be down. I don’t mind having the additional breathing space and being able to get a seat. It also makes it feel much safer – much less worry over pickpocketing or theft when you can see everyone and not have people packed in close to you for long periods of time.
Despite all my description here, I kind of think that you need to ride a chicken bus to really know what it’s like. I know that some of my friends and readers have done just that. From your experiences, what did I miss in my depiction here?
Additionally, I don’t have too many pictures of buses, and I don’t have any really excellent ones. I also don’t have enough to capture the wide variety of bus colour. If you’d like to get some better visuals, do a Google image search for Guatemala chicken bus and enjoy!