The Art of Walking Down the Street

February 24, 2014

Every day here is a new adventure in learning the rules of the road, because there sort of are none. Well, it’s more like people just make up their own, and maybe sometimes follow the ones other people follow. It’s important to just always remember that everyone has their own agenda & few worries about anyone else, or the “rules” of the road (I honestly have no clue what happens to people if they speed because I have only seen a few speed limit signs, and definitely no one has gotten a ticket.) Okay, so there are rules (I think), but really the rules are ever-changing. Everyone is making them up as they go along. There’s the occasional speed bump that isn’t completely broken in the middle that people have to actually slow down for, and “School Zone” signs, but I have no clue what those even mean here because no way does anyone slow down near a school and definitely not if they see children. So there are rules to follow, you just don’t know what they are, but you do have to figure them out. I have yet to be hit or run over or yelled at, so I’d say I’ve become pretty good at decoding the “rules.”

Here are a few of the things I’ve figured out when it comes to the art of just walkin’ down the street. Some things might be more specific to Nebaj, but some can be for Guatemala in general, and may even apply to other parts of the world!

  1. Keep your head down enough to know where you’re stepping. Who knows what dirty diaper or exposed man-hole may be awaiting your shoe’s or body’s demise. There are any number of road hazards, and while it’s important to see what’s ahead, what’s below could be worse. There’s a much lower chance of a car hitting you than you stepping in a freshly deposited present from a street dog.
  2. Don’t let your head go too far down, or else you can’t quickly look up to see that 13-year old on a motorbike speeding towards you as he practically skids around the insanely parked Bimbo truck.
  3. Also don’t look up too far (*see #1) because if you’re wearing sunglasses, which you should be – more for protection from the dirt and other particles flying through the air than the actual sun itself. But if you look up too far there’s a good chance that the dust or exhaust cloud that Chicken Bus just kicked up or let off in your face is going to find it’s way up through the bottom of the glasses and burn your eyes. And you definitely don’t want to be blindly walking down a street comfortably wide enough for 1 car, but currently holding a car, a tuk-tuk, multiple motor bikes and people who will not care that you have dust particles in your eyes.
  4. So really, just find the perfect balance of where you’re looking.
  5. Depending on the street, it might not be best to walk against the traffic (on the left side) to see where you’re going. Say there’s a gas station ahead that gives car washes on the side and therefore forms a giant puddle on the side of the street you’re walking on. If a car were to drive by and say just be a few inches way too close for comfort, you might end up having to step into the nasty puddle of dirty water containing food, feces, and who knows what else nasty things could be hiding in there that end up, getting far too much of of the gunk on your shoes. Hypothetical of course…… Yeah, gross.
  6. If you are walking with traffic, on the right side, (or either side if it’s a one way street) hug the walls, or sidewalks, or whatever cars you might have to walk by. That driver behind you might not care as much about your life, but he certainly is not going to let the telephone pole or car you’re brushing past dent his mode of transportation. So as long as you’re as close to the side as possible, you’re good. And if some lucky duck coming towards you ends up getting the inside edge, you’re sh** out of luck. Kidding! You’ve got options. You can: A) stick to the edge and avoid the awkward elbow touch as much as possible and have faith in the driver coming from behind you B) quickly glance back and calculate in your head how long you have until that driver is on your tail, just enough to speed up and pass by pedestrian ahead or C) glance quickly and scamper across the road. Option C is only possible if a motorbike or tuk-tuk is coming and is far enough away because they can go to the side of you. A giant truck containing 400 jugs of agua pura cannot move as quickly and will not appreciate your presence in their path. Move!
  7. It’s totally okay to keep switching sides of the street to avoid hazards ahead, but MOVE YOUR BUTT if you’re going to do so. Aforementioned 13-year old on the motorbike does not care that you think you have the right of way as a pedestrian. All he knows is you’re in his little bad-a**-self’s way and he might try to swerve, but if that goes the wrong way with your stutter-step to try and avoid him, disastrous results may occur (This did not actually happen to me, I just learned very quickly to move.)
  8. Like I said, you as a pedestrian do not have the right of way. If you’re at a crossroad, that tuk-tuk might look like they’re slowing down for you, but they are slowing down only because a Chicken Bus is the only thing that has the right-of-way on the road and they do not want to be t-boned by a School Bus doing 50 in a 15mph zone, so they’re going to take a quick peek before slamming on the gas pedal and barreling forward. Be warned.
  9. Seriously though; you literally have no right of way. Even the dogs will hog the sidewalk in lieu of having to step into a busy street. Yes, the dogs even know the road rules here. They look both ways before crossing the street and really only do so if absolutely necessary, like if there’s potential food or another’s dog bum to sniff. They also will hop up on the sidewalk when necessary, blocking your way. Or get in front of you and almost trip you as you’re trying to stay as close as possible to the truck full of piñas (pineapples) parked on the side of the road.
  10. Make decision quickly and firmly. If you’re going to cross the street or be on the left or right of someone coming towards you, be firm in that choice to go left, no stuttering. Stuttering is for the weak. You can’t be weak.
  11. Because of #10: If you are walking on the right side of the street and a group of schoolgirls is coming towards you, always go to the right. Do not go to the left because that requires looking backwards very quickly and deciding whether or not it is in fact safe to go to the left. However, if the schoolgirls are clearly not going to be courteous enough to let you squeeze by on the right, you do have options. You can either A) Stop and let them pass as you then go around whatever obstacle prevented you from moving in the first place or B) Choose to look back and , if safe, cross to the other side of the street with haste and purpose.
  12. Walk with your head up and confidence in your step. It will more than often give you the right of way. Unless of course said schoolgirls or boys happen to be walking towards you, then you don’t matter. Even if you are twice their age.
  13. “Una via” does not always mean “una via.” Like I said, rules are just sort of made up. Sure, there are policemen every so often making sure people follow rules, or if a road has been diverted, but I can’t honestly say I know what the police here are for. Although they often stand in front of banks with very large guns across their chests, and McDonalds. Apparently Mickey D’s is a rob-worthy as a bank. Yeah… Anyways, the point is, look both ways. Juuuuuuust in case that occasional rebel driver chooses to avoid traffic and ignore the signs painted with “una via” on the top of the building around the corner and turned left instead of right, you want to be prepared.

I hope this list has helped a little! It’s certainly been an adventure so far here in Guatemala, especially Nebaj. I’m certainly said to be leaving “mi familia” here and I feel like I really just started to get to know the city, since I’ve been sick for so much of my time here, the first 2 weeks flew by! But I’m very excited to actually start working and helping out with several projects that they have planned for me, social media & marketing projects included! I can never get away from those 😉 I can’t wait for what other adventures await me! J

-M

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