Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Gentleman from Guatemala

It is 9:30 pm. The sky is still dark blue after the sun-set. I wait for the escort with the Giant Eagle poly-bags in my hand in front of the Hamburg Hall. The escort arrives and as I get in, a cheerful voice of a 60 something man greets me. He says "Hallo!" in his heavy accent. His happy disposition leads me to reciprocate his greetings and I ask him out of courtesy, "Hows your day been?" And this kick-starts my conversation with the Gentleman from Guatemala.

He tells me that he came 34 years back to Pittsburgh.And that it took him six years to learn English. When he first came to the US, he went to Washington DC area. He has family there but everyone speaks Spanish. His grand-mother was an Indian and that is why he has black hair even at the age of 60.  He runs his hand through his black thin hair and proudly announces that he doesn't have a single grey hair. He continues
When I was in Guatemala city I was a teacher and spoke Spanish. But I got transferred to a new place and had to learn Indian languages. There are 23 Indian languages and I learned the ones which were easiest to learn. I can speak K'iche (Quiche) and Kaqchikel. These are two of the 23 officially recognized Amerindian languages.
I ask him about Guatemala.  He happily talks about his native place in the central America. He says there is the lake Atitlan surrounded by three volcanoes in his place.

The Pacific is a one and half hours drive and the Atlantic is seven to eight hours drive from his home-town. A lover of the sea and the beautiful beaches, I ask him which ocean does he like better. He beams for a moment and says, as a child his mother used to take him to the Pacific coast. The beach has black sand. It is volcanic in nature and during the day it's very hot. He has always hated the Pacific coast. While the Atlantic coast has white sand and he loves it. He loves it because the white sand is rare.

To me, beaches without coconuts is like a party without desserts. I ask him do you get coconuts there?
He says that his mother had a farm along the Pacific. She used to grow Coconuts and peppers: red, green and black. He continues with excitement that he loves spicy food and his wife cooks delicious meat with lots of pepper in it.

I imagine this short, little-stout Latin man, with black hair and slightly wrinkled face in a tropical setting. I'm lost in my own world intrigued by his tales. He speaks almost animatedly looking at me through his rear-view mirror
Guatemala has all sorts of fruits: mangoes, apples, peaches, coconuts and he names some 5 other fruits. Guatemala has 60 varieties of mangoes ! I tell him that India has around 20 varieties of mangoes and the best mango is called as Mango Alfonso. To this he says that the best variety of Guatemalan Mango is called "Pashte". Its very sweet and has strings in it which get stuck in the teeth.
I guessed the specie of mango must be very fibrous in nature. And he talked away about some Pashte, that is found in the sea and is used to scrub one's body. But, I was swept by the memories of how every summer my parents used to take my brother and me to a fruit-farm and we used to gorge on amazingly sweet desi-mangoes to our hearts content. We had arrived at my stop and it was time to get down the escort. I thanked him for driving me home and bade him good-night.