Mexico, Guatemala City (2005-09-24 to 2005-09-29)
I went to Guadalajara, Mexico, in response to a request from my friend Richard Couture, who used to run the Coffeenet in San Francisco some years ago. Although people say that Guadalajara's weather is eternal springtime, for me it was too hot to be comfortable; my sleeping room did not cool down enough for me to sleep until around 3am or 4am. An electric fan made it possible for me to sleep, starting the second night.
I don't particularly like most Mexican food. Sure that I had gained weight eating in China, I decided to make Guadalajara an opportunity to lose a little. We mostly ate in, one or two meals a day. There was not much to see in Guadalajara that I was interested in; colonial-era buildings don't fascinate me, nor villages where people go to buy things. So I stayed in essentially the whole time except for my speech at the university, catching up on email, reading some of his collection of fantasy, and trying not to get bitten by mosquitoes.
To go to the bathroom, I had to pass through the rabbits' room. Richard has two angora rabbits. The male is named Duh, because the first thing it did when it arrived was run headfirst into a wall---twice. The female is named "beetch", effectively "bitch" with a Mexican accent. In front of people who might not appreciate the humor in this, they call her "playita", which means "little beach". Every month she has around nine babies, which Richard sells a few weeks later to a pet shop. I had the misfortune to visit during the short period in between two litters.
The current rabbit room was not always just for rabbits. When only the male, Duh, was living here, Richard used to sleep in that room, and Duh would often go to sleep with him. When Beetch arrived, she started a territorial fight with Duh over the bed. The way rabbits claim territory is by urinating on it. This was no fun, so he moved his bed and things into the back room, leaving the front room to the rabbits.
Downstairs in this concrete building is a very large room with a long table on its longest wall, and a balcony on the opposite side. This is where GNU/Linux activities take place: people come and use computers which are put on the long table. Meanwhile, the balcony serves as the office. The stairs have no banisters and are somewhat scary.
The activities are somewhat cramped at the moment, because the only entrance to the space is through a long narrow hallway between shelves filled with mechanical junk on both sides. Richard intends to knock a door through one of the back walls, but before he can do this, he has to solve some legal problems with the person he's buying the building from. It is likely to take years to settle this and turn the place into something like the Coffeenet. However, this has not prevented a GNU/Linux user group and activist group from getting started.
The idea was that I would travel to the conference in Puerto Vallarta by car with the people from Guadalajara that were attending, including Richard. However, he decided not to go there, and it turned out nobody had a car to use. This meant I had to go by bus. That's ok---I don't mind a few hours in a bus. Then someone conceived the idea that it would help me to be accompanied by someone from Guadalajara, rather than go by myself. It's true that accompanying a local person can help cope with some kinds of possible problems. Unfortunately, nobody explained this idea to me, or who had decided on it, or why, or what other the options there were. The person who was going to travel with me had lots of work to do, and proposed taking a bus that left at 11pm. The prospect of not getting to sleep until something like 5am was not appealing in the slightest. I objected vociferously, but I was told that earlier was impossible. What was the difficulty, I asked? Were there no earlier buses? I had to probe hard to discover that the sole obstacle, the sole reason to propose that ridiculous hour, was the idea I should travel with that other person.
I never found out who it was that thought giving me a traveling companion was worth keeping me up all night.
Problems like this happen frequently in cultures with a strong and rigid sense of hospitality. I've concluded that courtesy is an affliction that causes nothing but trouble for everyone that it touches.
For instance, over and over I have to cope with the confusion caused by people who ask, "When do you think we should leave?" when what they mean is, "It's time to leave, let's go now!" That question misrepresents the facts of the situation. The truth is that they know what's needed for successful execution of the joint activity, and they have to tell me what to do. By misrepresenting this as a situation where we could do whatever I prefer, they risk ruining everything.
The best thing that can happen, at that point, is that I will say, "Why ask me? I don't live here. You live here---why don't you tell me when we need to leave?" Then they explain to me what they really meant to say. That's if we're lucky.
The worst that can happen is that I take them at their word, and say, "I'd like to leave an hour from now." They wait an hour, and only afterward inform me that this made me 40 minutes late for my speech. Or they may try to inform me of the problem, but because they can't bear to tell me straight out that the choice they asked me to make was bad, they couch it in hints so indirect that I don't get the point. One may as well say nothing as say words designed not to be understood.
People trying to work together need to give each other information. To do so effectively, they must not misrepresent where the information is coming from and where it is going to. I wish nobody would ever be courteous (and therefore dishonest) to me again.
Since Puerto Vallarta is on the coast, and hot, and has nothing whatsoever that might interest me, I arranged to spend just two nights there---the minimum necessary to give a speech without a horrible rush. To get to Guatemala I passed through the airport of Mexico City, and remembered the two times I had been there with Tania. The first time, when she was sick and we didn't know where we were supposed to go. The second time, when we were parting for two months. I thought about how in two weeks I would see her again.
My first two days in Guatemala City included the speech which brought me there. Unfortunately, it turned out that speech was in a country club hotel about an hour out of town. That meant I would be unable to try to see any of the people who I met there three years ago. However, it turned out that those people mostly no longer live there anyway. It also meant that there would be no chance of going to interesting restaurants. It rained most of the time, and I spent most of the time in my room.
On Saturday the event was over and I went to stay in the home of one of the event's organizers. His home turned out to be a little hotel in Antigua Guatemala, the Yellow House. I stayed in a little room on the roof, much like a cabin, which we fixed up with an extra table and electric fan to make it a convenient place to work. None of the touristic options that fit the available time were appealing enough, so I mostly worked and read. I went to the market to buy gifts for Tania, and my hosts bargained on my behalf while I drifted away. It was a comfortable two days.