Saturday, February 21, 2015


By Fred Owens


Laurie and I were in Guatemala for ten days. We visited Tikal, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan.

It is a small country, with small people living in small houses. All that was good, in my view. 
And the electric lights at night were softer and lower and that was good too. We saw many young people and lots of toddlers and infants. You could see the laundry drying everywhere -- children's clothing mostly. Laundry drying in the sun is a good thing too.

Bad Things. Two bad things are evident in Guatemala and it takes no professional training to find this out. The litter is disgusting. Trash is trash in any language or culture. Litter is bad for morale. It is dispiriting. When you see it everywhere, you want to just give up.
But some villages, it was observed -- I noticed --  were very clean of litter. That's local pride at work. I would want to know those people.
The other problem is traffic madness. The fatality rate must be incredible. And what is the excuse for driving like a drunken maniac? You can't blame the United Fruit Company for that. Or blame Communist infiltration. Or accuse the rapidly expanding evangelical church. 
We cannot say to the people of Guatemala, Be Like Us. But we can say, Drive Like Us for we do not kill ourselves so very often.
Otherwise, it would be good if we were like Guatemalans in some ways -- were smaller in stature, and lived in smaller houses, and had softer lights in the night-time and dried our laundry in the sun.

As for the rest -- corruption and crime and poverty -- there it is and they say the people of Guatemala are happy just the same. Some of the people I met were very happy. Others would sell their mothers if they could get to America. I have no special insight here.
Personal Accomplishment. I last traveled in Mexico in 1973, living hand-to-mouth, living close to the earth, living off the fat of the land, although, in Mexico, there was no fat. It was too hard, too rough, too dangerous. I vowed never to return unless it was to stay in first-class hotels, which is what we did on this trip in 2015, 42 years later.

We stayed in beautiful hotels and ate well, and every one was so gracious. We were very happy to be there and see the great natural beauty of Guatemala.

Except it was upsetting at one restaurant, on the road from Antigua to the Highlands, to see the entourage arrive in a shaded SUV,  carrying six men in black suits and tie-less dark blue shirts and concealed weapons, They parked and took positions and waited for the ivory-gleaming Range Rover with impenetrable-dark windows, concealing members of one of the ruling families, come for a night out at a good restaurant. That was disturbing.
Mario Soto, our tour guide, was a wonderful man. He was raised and educated on a United Fruit Company farm. His father was in management. He said it was a good place to grow up. It was good for his family anyway. And why should he share his doubts with us, if he had any? Why should he be candid? He gave us the best possible picture of life in Guatemala, as good as it sometimes can be.
I have been on humanitarian missions to the Third World, of some value too. It is possible to help other people and worth doing.  But just being a tourist,  to just go there and spend money -- that's really good or even better.
In Panagabel by Lake Atitlan, we paid a market woman ten quetzals for a trinket. That was money in her pocket, which is good. Then the cop came along and took his bite, leaving eight quetzals, then her husband threatened to  hit her and took the rest of the money to get drunk on. Maybe that's what happened. But maybe she used five quetzals for provisions and managed to save the other five quetzals for school fees. We don't know which fate awaited this market woman, but we did pay her the ten quetzals and the NGOs don't do any better. 
Who is to Blame in the Middle East. If we can't blame Islam, can we blame the Buddhists? Buddhist terrorists, Hindu terrorists, pagan terrorists, Jewish terrorists, Christian terrorists, left handed terrorists, Rotarian terrorists, stamp collecting terrorists, horticultural terrorists..... None of those names sound right. How about Bad Guys? That's generic but apt. Almost everybody agrees they are Bad Guys.

If a lot of these Bad Guys came from Santa Barbara, might we call them Santa Barbara terrorists?

If we cannot blame Islam, can we blame Pope Francis?
As long as nobody blames me.
Israel. When Netanyahu says to the Jews to come home to Israel he does not mean that literally. What he means is that, wherever you live, fight back. Do not expect to "be protected." Israel is a state of mind as well as a place. Israel is an "in your face" attitude. Don't wait for the knock on the door. Actually I have re-interpreted Netanyahu's message to make it better.
I am not Jewish myself, but I am always willing to advise people, whether asked or unasked.

Worries. I do worries and regrets every morning for 90 minutes, sort of like calisthenics. Then I get happy and go to work......Work is a blessing. Work is what you can actually do about all this great big mess.

My Retirement Plan. I intend to work as long as I am able, then I will become a burden on society. When I become too old to drive, I will hitchhike.
Too Many Mornings. Too Many Mornings is the title of my memoir. I am shopping it around to various publishers, great and small. No luck so far.  You can't get discouraged by this kind of thing, you just flog it and flog it -- keeping in mind that our great national tragedy is titled Death of a Salesman -- meaning that we are a nation that lives on the sale of its dreams.
My memoir, the tale itself, is no dream. But the sale of it, the publishing of it, that is a dream and may it come true and may that be soon.
Frog Hospital Subscription Drive. The annual subscription drive is under way. I have been writing and publishing this newsletter for 16 years -- good grief!  I have tried to kill it several times, but it won't die, so I may as well keep writing it. 
It is work. I work very hard on making it look like it's not work. Kind of like those Olympic ice skaters. "Oh, they look so effortless!" -- sure they look effortless, after a thousand hours of practice.
And your contribution keeps me from being cranky. The writer who does not get paid is tempted to preachiness and self-righteousness. But I serve no cause, I just try to write something worthwhile, something that might seem interesting or amusing. So if you can lend a hand here, I will be most grateful.

Go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25, or

Send a check for $25 to
Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Thank you very much,
Fred Owens

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