And other fabulous characters……
This is a photo of Joel, not the sketchy weed guy! Scroll on down for the story of Joel
JOSH the SKETCHY WEED GUY
For the time being I have left Antigua, Guatemala, and have taken the shuttle on up to Panajachel and Lago Atitlan where I am staying for the night in Mario’s Rooms. Tomorrow morning I am taking a boat across the lake to San Pedro la Laguna to spend a month in Spanish language immersion and living with a family. Not as much English spoken there so that should be a benefit. Antigua is a great place and it is a destination for Spanish language study but English is spoken everywhere so it’s difficult to spend your time hearing, speaking and learning Spanish.
The lake here is beautiful and there are various villages or Pueblos around the lake which represent the mayan indigenous people. In any case, while I am in a Panajachel I am sitting outside on the street in the evening watching the people, eating an elotes, a roasted ear of corn which some ladies prepare on the street over a bed of charcoal. They will then give you a slice of lemon and some salt, put the ear of corn in the corn husks and you take it away. They will also put mayonnaise, ketchup, and cheese on it if you wish. Some call this “elotes loco”, or crazy corn! Actually, I rather like it prepared either way.
So while I am sitting here a rather sketchy looking guy slides up on a 125 cc motorcycle and says “I talked to you before, didn’t I?” Red flag! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this guy before but I said “probably.“ Whenever somebody approaches me like that and has an appearance which I would call a bit sketchy, I am waiting for the real reason he stopped to talk with me. So he quickly goes on to say “It was about weed wasn’t it?“ Now I suppose I look a bit sketchy to him and some other people with my long hair and earrings because I often get approached by guys who want to know if I would like to make a purchase of a variety of elixirs. Well, I responded to this guy by saying “Yes, it probably was about weed. But look, brother, I don’t smoke weed.” He laughed and I went on to say that he won’t make any money off me.
He is a pleasant enough guy and the conversation continues. He says he’s lived here for 18 years, is from East Texas, married to a Guatemalteca, has grandkids, and a son who is a boxing champion and is now in Miami. This guy in front of me is 45 years old.
Then the conversation really picks up when he gets off on this tangent about this big red planet and a blue moon that’s coming our way. This, according to him, was first spotted 50 years ago by astronomers, now is much closer and is headed our direction which will cause at least 300 mph winds. And this is what happens, according to him, before the Savior returns.
So I decided I would play with this guy and his good sense of humor and I told him Jesus ain’t coming back again. Jesus already said in the Bible he was going to return before a certain generation ended, and he didn’t. Maybe you ought to actually read the Bible! Anyway, how’s that for convincing prophecy and brilliance? So I said that spirit is inside him to wake him up, get him out of prison and give him life. Then he got off on Lucifer who comes as a light to deceive people. So I told him the only place Lucifer exists is in the mind and you can discount anything with such empty arguments. Then I said with laughter, “Brother you certainly need more weed. I’ve got some good quality stuff for a real good price!” (Which I don’t!). And he says, “Man, I am on weed all the time.“ I decided not to comment on that but it was quite obvious he was on weed but I told him he needs more weed and, “Look, Brother, hang on to what you believe if it is important to you. Don’t let it go, and watch out for that red ball and the 300 mph winds. Spread your wings!“ He laughs. I told him I always wanted to fly so this might be a good time to do so when the winds blow in!
Then he asked what I do, what my work is, and I said I’m a psychotherapist. He says, “Oh shit, I do need more weed!” Insert laughter here! So my dear friend cranks up his 125, we shake hands and say “Go well, Bro. Hasta luego!
So I’m still sitting here in the street outside Mario’s Rooms, and I’m watching the people go by and see what all is going on. So this guy comes strolling down the street strumming his guitar. He’s probably 30 years old. I say to him “Hey, I like the music.” He sits down and says yeah I make my living here by playing music. I just go around to restaurants and try to get folks interested in a song or two for a tip. When it doesn’t work I just play on the street sometimes and put out my hat. The problem with people and families in restaurants is that while they’re sitting around waiting for their food or eating they’re all playing games or texting on their cell phones. They don’t talk anymore and they can’t be bothered with music. It’s so sad, this lack of connection.
His father is from the United States and his mother is Guatemalan. Carlos has lived here now for the past 10 years and likes it a lot, better than the US, he says. He tells me where all the good music is in Panajachel, the cute chicks and even the older beautiful women that you tip your hand to. Now my interest picks up! Fantasy!! The other night I heard some gypsy jazz in the Circus Bar and restaurant. There were a couple of really good guitarists, a guy playing the bongos and another guy playing the violin. Those guys really made music. They were professional. This guy I am talking with now on the street says he’s good friends with the violinist. When I was at that bar, the mother of the violinist was sitting right next to me and she was as proud as a peacock of her son, for good reason. She was from the states. So Carlos gives me some other clues about places to get into the good music, or karaoke, or the open mic nights. A source of good information and a pleasant soul. So I said play me a song. He played a piece, I gave him a tip for which he was grateful. We chatted a bit more and he was on his way to drum up some more business.
Lago Atitlan, Panajachel
Often got my morning shot of OJ from this dear lady….
Just to say, weird stuff happens down here in Central America and in other countries as well when you take off from work and begin to travel. So I’m sitting there in this café having a coffee in San Pedro and a man comes in who is about 65 then sits down at the table next to me. I soon discover he’s a talker, probably rather lonely as well. We begin to talk. Go figure! His name is Mike and he’s from Quebec. Says he’s a truck driver and in the winter time he takes off a couple months every year. Well, eight months ago when he was traveling he texted his boss and said “I’m retiring. I’m done with work. So He sold his house, sold his Harley, and everything else. Sounds like someone else I know. Now he is just traveling indefinitely. He says “I love my life.” Mike laughs a lot now and doesn’t intend to ever stop, he says. I just can’t understand some people!
MAX the MEXICAN AMERICAN
So I’m walking down the street here in San Pedro La Laguna and across the street is a guy walking in the same direction with a cute woman I assume is his wife but I come to find out she is actually his girlfriend. Max is 65 years old, a very pleasant and friendly guy and says he’s from Texas. Mexican American. That’s the second guy from Texas!! Wonder why ‘everyone’ is running away from Texas! But I said with tongue-in-cheek “I’m sorry!” We laughed. Both of these folks are from Mexico originally but Max went with his parents to the states when he was eight years old. I didn’t ask if he knew how to swim. First when he saw me on the street he hollered at me and said he liked my hat. He was quite a talker. Then he said that I must be an attorney. I said to him I pray that God protect me from such a curse! We laughed again. I ask him where he gets the idea that I am an attorney and he said I looked and handled myself professionally! So there I was with pant legs rolled up, outer shirt hanging out, long hair and earrings,. Actually, I said, I’d love one time to see an attorney with this appearance walk into a court room!
Oh well, I told him, I am hardly an attorney and he asked me then: Well, what are you and my response was professionally I have been a psychotherapist. “Oh shit,” was his response. That’s the second such response. A lot of shit down here.
I think that opened the door somehow and he said he wasn’t married now and that his wife divorced him which he was very grateful for eventually because it freed him up. Apparently she was a kleptomaniac and several times the cops came to their house, handcuffed her and took her away. So then came the divorce which she initiated. He’s relieved and much happier now. It has opened other doors for him and a great sense of freedom.
He made it clear he does like women, especially a certain body part which began to sound like “the Donald”. He insists quickly that he is not a sex addict! And I said, “Uh Huh!” So I just flipped into my therapist mode, which I hope is not my therapist mode but my human mode, and tried to encourage him and said, “Look, it’s about balance. If you are alive as a man or a woman and never have sexual desires or attractions, you’re already dead, Brother. You might as well go for a long swim in Lago Atitalan until you can’t swim anymore! Balance, Bro, balance! Love your life and live it with balance and wakefulness.
He insists he really loves his life now and I should enjoy mine completely as well as he goes on and on about how I need to do that. I assured him I would struggle to do my very best! I looked at him and ask, “Do you think I enjoy my life?” “Oh, yes, I can see you do. Definitely”. My thought was…….. and so…
Suddenly, another guy walks up to me, interrupts the conversation, and says “I know you”. I thought here comes another offer for weed! Actually, I knew him and his girlfriend from Antigua and his parents from Harrisonburg, of all places. Running doesn’t seem to help!
All this time Max’s girlfriend walks on ahead and doesn’t seem real interested in our conversation or in waiting on Max very much. She sits for a while on the curb while Max and I speak but after doing that for some minutes and wanting for the conversation to end, she disappears somewhere. Max didn’t seem to notice. I suspect Max has some issues with women and offers that he always chooses the wrong women. When he found out I was single he gave me some very dire warnings to be very careful and choose wisely. Again, my thought was “Uh huh”. But I listen to Max because he may have some wisdom that I have missed entirely. Quite likely. So we wish each other well and he goes ton looking for his girlfriend. I like Max, an interesting guy who provided interest and variety in my life. I trust his journey will go well.
JOEL, POLIO and a CRUTCH
I first met Joel a couple years ago in Antigua, Guatemala. Joel is a young man in his 30s who contracted polio as a young boy. It has severely limited his ability to move his body physically. I met him in Central Park as I watched him struggle on one crutch. He leaned on it with both hands and labored to move his feet one at a time. One foot he had to continue to drag across the cement. This presented a great problem because I noticed the toes on that shoe had worn through which meant he was dragging his socks or bare toes on the cement. This meant blood and pain. Later I learned he hoped to collect some money to help him in his life, to be able to buy food, to somehow continue to live. I met his wife, who would slice up different kinds of fruit, put the fruit in little baggies and sell them on the street to people such as myself. She is a delightful woman as Joel is a man who presents a positive image and personality. I wondered how difficult that must be under such adverse circumstances. How did they hold on to hope? Why did they not just give up and, perhaps, drink themselves into a oblivion?
I began to talk with Joel from time to time to get a bit of his story. He never asked for money and had a smile on his face. I ask him about his shoes and he told me how expensive they are and how quickly they wear out. I could see the pair of shoes he had was not very high-quality. Through continued conversation with him, I learned what the cost would be for a well-made pair of shoes by a cobbler that he knew personally. So I gave Joel the money to have a pair of shoes made. A few days later, he proudly showed me his new well made shoes he was wearing which certainly saved the wear and tear on his toes and foot. We’ve continued our friendship and would often sit and talk and laugh. I was so impressed, and continue to be, with his circumstances and his maintaining a positive attitude.time I have kept him supplied in well-made shoes. Three pairs at this point. And I am delighted to do so.
On one occasion we were sitting in the park together and it began to rain. There are a lot of tourists in this park as well as indigenous women selling their crafts. The park is surrounded by restaurants and shops all of which have a roof over them with a walkway underneath. As it began to rain, everyone naturally headed for cover to get out of the rain. I too got up and started to walk that direction myself and then it hit me as I turned around and saw Joel struggling to get up from the bench and drag himself to cover where he would be able to be dry. I realized by the time he would get there he would be soaking wet. I knew in that moment I could not continue to get out of the rain so I turned around and went back to Joel and helped him get up from the bench. Little by little, with my one arm around him and the other helping with his other arm, and him doing what he could with his crutch, we tried to make it to cover. It was a very slow process and I knew we both would be rather wet by the time we got there.
What struck me as I looked up where we were headed to cover, people, tourists were standing there under the cover of the roof watching us struggle that direction getting soaking wet. No one came to help. No one! No one seem to care. We eventually got to the cobblestone street to cross to reach the covered area. Just as we begin to cross that area, two young Guatemaltecos, laborers, came running through the rain. One got on each side of him put his arms around their necks, I took the crutch, and these two generous men carried him the rest of the way to cover. Bless them. The compassionate tourists, gringos just continued to watch!
Now, actually, I don’t consider myself any kind of a hero in this event. Why? Because my first impulse as well was to take care of myself, get out of the rain, and not even consider someone who might need some help such as Joel. If I had not known him, I wonder if I might have been one of the gringo tourists standing under that roof out of the rain watching Joel struggle and getting soaking wet. It makes me stop and think. I am quite aware that I certainly have that capacity. I am grateful for this experience and how it has made me look at myself and how I tend to go in this world. Me first. You second.
JOSALIN, A WHEELCHAIR, A SPINE AND GRANDDAUGHTERS
What a fabulous young woman of 23 years. I also met Josalin a couple years ago in Central Park, Antigua, Guatemala. I was immediately attracted to her bright smile and beautiful presence as she wheeled her way around Central Park and people contributed to her to help her with securing food and possibly medical care.
By this time, I have come to consider her my Guatemalan granddaughter, mi nieta, and she calls me Abuelo, or grandfather. So in the photographs above I have two granddaughters now. Brooke is my granddaughter of my own precious daughter Lori. I was so happy for both of them to meet recently in Antigua. It was a great time together. Lots of laughter and love and smiles and encouragement. Brooke speaks Spanish quite well and has volunteered at an orphanage in San Lucas outside of Chimaltenango. I suspect she is likely to come back and live here. So it was a real pleasure for me and for both of them to meet each other.
Josalin does not speak English. I am always delighted to see her and thrilled to help her out financially a bit. Again, I can only begin to imagine what her life must be like. She has a spinal condition which is being followed by medical doctors in Guatemala City. She has been waiting for surgery for a couple years now. For various reasons, the surgery keeps being rescheduled for the following year, the reason being that at this point it is too risky to do the surgery because it’s possible that she could end up paralyzed in bed the rest of her life.
I’ve told her that when she is able to walk again, we are going to spend the day dancing through Central Park hilariously! Party time! We are both waiting for that day. It will come.
When I ask her how this injury happened or whether or not she was born with this condition, she said that about eight years ago a female cousin in a moment of anger pushed her off a balcony to a cement floor below. This is how she sustained the injury and the present condition. On top of that she and her four siblings lost their parents within just a few months of each other in the recent past. Now they live by themselves. It has been difficult to make ends meet financially. Apparently one brother works in Guatemala City to help this situation. There are times when the landlord threatens to move them out if they cannot pay precisely on time. It’s a struggle. She is interested in studying cosmetology and can do so in Antigua, and can as well work in her present condition. I am looking into the possibility of what all that might entail financially and timewise. It’s a one year program. My sense is she is worth any investment.
About a year ago her Pueblo was pretty much wiped out by Volcan Fuego which erupted and red hot lava flowed down the mountainside killing a couple thousand people, totally covering many of the houses. They are still digging out and all the missing people have yet to be found. I’m sure some will never be found but will remain in that particular kind of cemetery! She and her siblings were spared. I drove through that village recently and was able to see the devastation. It must’ve been horrifying to the villagers when that was happening and it happened so quickly because of the specific nature of the lava flow. The lava flowed so quickly and disbursed in an unusual way that at times people were surrounded by the lava and there was no way of escape. They simply were roasted on the spot! Not a very nice way of putting it but it is truth.
She is in a wheelchair which seems to be almost falling apart and I’m not sure how she manages on these cobblestone streets and sidewalks. Nevertheless there’s always a smile on your face. On a recent day we decided to go and have lunch together. I wanted to treat her to whatever kind of food she wanted. She would make a good American because she wanted pizza! Let me tell you, Josalin got pizza! With pleasure!
On the way back to Central Park, I pushed her down the incomparable sidewalk and then we had to cross the cobblestone street to actually get to the park. This was extremely difficult with the condition her wheelchair was in. But we were managing and we were almost halfway across the street when two guys came up, Guatemaltecos, and respectfully said ‘we’ll take it from here.’ I stepped aside, they got on each side of the wheelchair, lifted it up and carried her across the street. How beautiful is that. It was a heartwarming thing to experience! My heart was blessed.