November 5, 2011 by worstdaysdown
I arrived at 7:15, still searching for my first cup of authentic Guatemalan coffee. It confused me at first that Guatemala could be one of the world´s top coffee exporters, yet all I could find were instant cups in the tiendas, grounds stirred into boiled water, or wretched espresso. It made sense once I took a tour of a coffee co-operative and plantation.
Guatemalan coffee beans fetch to dollar on the international market. Consequently, the workers can´t afford to buy their own coffee because of the profits they would lose from not selling it abroad. They can´t afford to enjoy the fruits of their own labours and sip instant cups before tending to the fields. With continued searching I discovered that there were shops and cafes around town that sold local coffee, it was their niche in the Antiguan tourist market. The beans cost owners a lot more, but many customers visited for the excellent cups that were well worth the price.
I sat in the park, sipping my coffee as the time passed 7:30. The sun was brilliant and the morning air still fresh and cool. I sat on a bench, watching the days scene unfold around me. A man unloaded four golden puppies from the back of a rusted pickup truck. They played on the grass, their uncoordinated floppy paws spilling into every passerby while the mother watched nearby. Men rode carriages around the square, drawn by emaciated horses. This tourist trap depressed me. I could see every rib on the animals, sagging and malnourished skin clung to each bone.
I grew frustrated as time wore on. It neared 10 AM and there was no sign of Eric. I left to check my email. The empty inbox quickly reminded me why I was here, and should be out experiencing Guatemala. I walked to the ruins of an old church. A group of men smoked a joint in the courtyard beyond the iron fence. The central saint, mounted on top of the crumbling building, looked to the sky, his arms stretched from his waist, either in praise or question.
I walked past the park. I spotted Eric and he approached me with his hands raised.
¨Where you been? I been waiting.¨
To say ´fuck off´ would have been a waste of breath.
¨My friend have birthday party tonight, you come, then we study tomorrow. Same time, 7:30.¨
I went to the birthday party. Eric threw it at a local club for one of his other students. I admired that he would do that for someone he´d known for a week. As I left the party to make my curfew, (seriously) Eric grabbed me. In a lecturing tone, still pretending he was the one waiting that morning he told me be on time the next day. 7:30.
I nodded, knowing I´d be there. For some reason I believed he would be as well.
8:30, 9:30, two cups of coffee, a litre of water, and one monumental piss later, nothing.
The only benefit to Eric´s absence were two shoeshine boys, Gregorio and Roberto. I knew they were 7 and 9 years old because one of the few questions I could ask confidently was ´how old are you?´ They came from a village two hours away, and for three weeks at a time, would shine shoes in the park to help earn money for the family. After five days of wandering in the park, the boys began to like me. This had less to do with my magnetic personality than the fact that I bought them shit.
The first few days, they´d approach me on whatever bench I sat, and point at my shoes.
¨No necesito gracias,¨ I´d say.
Roberto always replied ¨por que?¨ Why?
I´d laugh and point at the holes in my chucks. There was no amount of spit shining that could save those babies. After he asked me about 900 dozen time, I consulted my dictionary to find the word for holes. Before he could ask me the next time I said ¨tienen muchos ollos.¨ Roberto smiled. I was learning more Spanish with him than Eric.
The younger one, Gregorio was even funnier. When I refused his services, he would never ask why, but instead resort to intimidation. He´d drop his shinebox, cock his head to the side, and start staring me down.
I couldn´t help but laugh because the little bastard was serious. He thought he could muscle some money out of me. I liked him immediately.
Eventually, the boys figured out they couldn´t squeeze any quetzals out of me for shoeshines, and adapted their tactics. They staked out the coffee shop where I bought cups before going to meet my phantom tutor at 7:30. As I ordered, Roberto climbed a stool next to me. He asked to shine my shoes. Before I had time to say no, he suggested that I could instead buy him a coffee.
Buy a nine year old coffee. Knowing I couldn´t explain stunted growth in Spanish I did the right thing and pumped that child full of caffeine. Seeing his brother´s success, Gregorio bounded across the road, demanding one for himself.
¨Sorry, you can have some of his. Tomorrow will be your turn.¨
He gave me a quick staredown and sprinted back to the park to intercept a flock of expat geezers.
When he finally smiled, Gregorios grin was contagious. I waited at the coffee shop, while he hussled across the cobblestone road, his face all teeth knowing I´d promised him something. He was a kid, and I was glad to see him finally look like one for a moment. His cafe con leche waited on the bar for him.
¨Gracias,¨ he said, and bounded back to the park to share his (unknown to him, deccaffinated) coffee with his older brother.
I arrived the next morning with two packs of Canadian gum to give them. I saw neither of the boys making their rounds. Their three weeks was up. The boys had taken their wages, and went home to their family.