My partner and soon to be hitchhiking accomplise Nassima helped to smooth over some human relations problems at Popis, specifically she was able to convince the employees that I was not in fact there to steal from them, that I was not inherently loaded with money simply by way of being a United Stater, and that I was not just withholding the money that their previous employer had failed to pay them. They were going to try and sue me for the debt that Don had incurred.
Now given that I thought I was there to save their jobs and reestablish the business; having used the last of my money to pay them until Popis was able to, I was incredibly frustrated. I was done, ready to leave, and started packing. I felt the skills I was gaining were more valuable than gratitude, but disrespect I wouldn’t stand for.
Suffice to say things were tense at Popis for the first 4 months or so.
In any case, Nassima explained to them with an extreme degree of clarity, that I in fact did not have much money at all, that I was only helping out of love, passion and interest, and that in the best case of scenarios, should I leave, the business would fall apart just as it almost had. As she explained this, I packed.
All of this had been explained before, dozens of times, but Nassima was able to communicate much more effectively and gently than I. She carefully went down every hypothetical path they offered, and in the end, it came down to money; if I left, Popis would close and all property would go to the landlord first to recoup his debt.
It must seem a little crazy; I was an unpaid and unappreciated volunteer. However, I was gaining a tremendously useful skill-set: how to speak Spanish. how to run a business and negotiate in Central America, how to run a restaurant/hotel, and develop community ties in a country new to me. I’ve felt since my last business that should I need to I can make a job for myself almost anywhere I land within the US, I wanted that feeling in all the Americas. I wanted to be my own safety net, to be able to travel without fear of running out of money thus freeing myself from a life deferred even if for some reason I might require bits of paper.
Nassima convinced me to stay.
Things improved after that, albeit slowly. Lorena even became almost motherly, eventually making it her goal to fatten me. Margarita warmed up not long after. Once it was accepted that I was broker than them things eased over.
And once they did that freed up Nassima and I to travel! We would hike to the edge of town on the only road leading out, get on the first truck that would pick us up, and head in whatever direction it happened to be going. It was amazing fun and such a great way to see the country.
Now, many of you may be wondering how wise hitchhiking in Guatemala is; but first consider that bus drivers here consider themselves the kings of the road, they careen down winding mountain trails hurtling into the oncoming lane should theirs be blocked by more reasonable traffic, even on blind turns. Really, at least one of these things crashes a month. Not only that but a bus full of travelers is basically a pinata for thieves. Small trucks on the other hand have little to offer anyone, the drivers do not have a profit incentive or cultural archetype to fulfill and so they generally drive sanely, and finally the segment of society that has trucks in Guatemala on average has more money than we did.
We had some great adventures in that way and even hitched into Mexico, we got a lot more laughs in Mexico(apparently gringos hitchhiking is hilarious).
Nassima and I, hitchhiking from Huehuetenango to Nebaj. We were stranded on this road for a couple hours, just long enough to enjoy an incredible sunset.