August 15, 2009

Settling in to the Zona 9, Guatemala City

While we were still in Jamaica, I found our apartment in Guatemala City online. In terms of what we were looking for, there were not many choices. I was pleased to finally find a furnished three bedroom apartment in a busy residential district not too far from the US embassy. We found the place at

Nando and the kids arrived at the apartment four days before I did. My first day in the apartment, the owner came over to introduce herself. She was very friendly, and gave me a big hug. She told me she had been like a mother to the kids while I was away. She had even brushed the twins’ hair, and lets them “borrow” her little pet dog whenever they want. I thanked her for her help.

Over the course of my first day, the owner came over several times. This makes me a bit uneasy, because, as you can imagine, with three kids and most of our stuff still in suitcases, the house is not exactly in order. Plus, it’s hard not to feel as if she is checking up on us.

When Nando was out at the supermarket, the owner came by and asked me if we could talk about payment. Apparently, what the agent told me and what the owner expects are not exactly the same. We agreed that I would go to the bank and give her more money to cover the deposit. I was pleased she offered to accompany me to the bank, as that takes away my nervousness that I could be robbed on the way back. If I hand the money over to her in the bank, then I don’t have to worry about that.

After asking around, we found out that, inside the very fancy hotel, El Camino Real, there are three ATMs, one of which dispenses dollars. This was nice. The ATM is all of the way inside of the hotel, and is guarded by two security guards. So, I felt completely safe taking out the cash, counting it, and giving it to the owner. This is very different from Lima, for example, where I would take a taxi to the ATM, have the driver wait outside, and then have to worry we might be being followed.

It was also interesting to walk around the El Camino Real hotel. It always amazes me how similar fancy hotels are from one country to the next. Inside the Camino Real, it’s as if you are no longer in Guatemala. You could be anywhere – San Diego, Paris, Barcelona, Kingston, inside any major global city, at least in the West. I haven’t been to fancy hotels in Japan or China, so am not sure if they look any different. Inside the Camino Real, though, I saw people dining in their exquisite dining room, a man getting off the elevator in workout clothes on the way to the gym, executives exchanging information in the hotel lobby, and lots of security guards. Perhaps the abundance of security guards would differentiate the third world fancy hotels from those in other parts of the world.

Chatting with the owner on the way to and from the bank, I was able to glean a little information about the kind of person she is. She has one daughter in Colombia, and another in Taiwan. Her grandson is about to enter the university. And, she thinks that most places in Guatemala City are dangerous. She especially told me not to go to Zona 1, the city center, as it is dangerous. I asked her where the market was. She told me it was in Zona 1, and I shouldn’t go there, as it is dangerous. I asked her about Parque Central, which I saw on the map. She said that is dangerous, even in the daytime. What is safe, in her world, however, is the area where we live.

I also found out that she owns or at least manages the whole building, which includes about six large apartments. That allowed me to relax a bit, as there are at least four other families she has to worry about. She lives in the apartment across from us, but, surely she must also have to tend to the other apartments.

Where we live is quite spacious. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a full dining room and living room. We haven’t figured out how to set things up. We could set one of the bedrooms up as a playroom. But, if we do that, it likely will be after my brother visits. Ian is coming to Guatemala with his two kids in a couple of weeks. I am very excited about seeing them.

In Guatemala City, we live in Zona 9, about a block from the Plazuela Espana. About three blocks from our apartment is a Pollo Campero, a chain chicken restaurant in Guatemala. We went there my first night night for dinner. As soon as we sat down, the servers all lined up at the front of the restaurant and sang a theme song about Guatemalan national pride. I am not sure if they do that every night, or if yesterday was some sort of national holiday.

The highlight of the night, however, was the fact that there is an indoor playground inside Pollo Campero. The kids got into a soccer match with some other kids there, in addition to sliding on the slides and just jumping around in general. In a city with a relative lack of green spaces, especially ones that are accessible at night, Pollo Campero turned out to be quite a find. Even if we don’t eat there all of the time, we can at least take the kids there for ice cream on days they don’t get much of a chance to run around.

Hopefully that will change soon, as I hope to put the kids in school soon. Unfortunately, Guatemalans are just about to finish the school year. So, they will be entering at the end of the school year. Either way, it will be good for the kids to interact with other kids and to improve their Spanish skills.

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