I Got Fired from my First Work Exchange

I’ve been saving this story until I got back in the states. This is a funny one. Enjoy!

Background Story

My first two months of my trip I was “caretaking” for an 84-year-old English woman, Annette, in Antigua, Guatemala. I found the work exchange on Work Away, a great website for travelers looking to save money and have unique experiences abroad. Unfortunately, I decided to leave a little early… here’s why.

Related article: How to Travel for Free

Hit and Run

“Hit and run. My first one in my life. While driving Annette to her SECOND home [approx. 3 blocks away], I hit a parked vehicle and fled the scene. I went to go park the car in front of her second house and I side swiped a parked car while parallel parking.

Annette immediately started yelling and cursing my name. I’m shaking. I get out of the car and go look at the hit car. The headlight is lying on the ground and there are scratches all over the side of it. I quickly reattach the headlight. How am I going to pay for this? We’re going to have to call the police. Annette’s going to kick me out of her house and make me pay for the damages. I am so screwed. I go out to check the damage. Annette’s car has a few scratches, nothing terrible.

Annette gets out of the car and walks over to the driver’s side with her walking sticks. Eighty-four year old almost deaf/nearly blind/barely can walk Annette gets into the driver’s seat. She does this while screaming how incompetent I am, I will never drive her car again. I beg her to not drive the car. She pretty much tells me to go to hell, I’m not welcome at her house, and to go back to the United States [that’s rational].

Maria, the maid, comes outside and I quickly tell her what happened. She laughs at my panicked state, realizing I don’t understand how Guatemala works. In Guatemala if the police and the driver of the vehicle do not see the accident, it never happened. You drive off, flee the scene. Here I am thinking in US terms, ‘where is Annette’s insurance? (people don’t have car insurance here), I’ll have to leave a note explaining what happened with my contact information or call the police.’ If you hit and run in the states, you go to jail. In Guatemala, it’s just another day. ‘Esta bien!’

My Spanish teacher then shows up for our lesson. By this time Annette is still in the drivers seat. She managed to turn the car on and has the windshield wipers on full blast. [Keep in mind, it has probably been at least 20 years since she’s attempted to drive a car]. Maria tries to tell her to get out of the car, but Annette is in a full on rage. There was no way to calm her down at this point. My Spanish teacher is reminding me to breath and reiterating the fact that hit and run is ‘mas o menos’ legal in Guatemala. Her son has done it before. ‘Esta bien!’

Annette finally figures out how to put the car into drive and parks the car with Maria in the passenger seat. She hits the curb about 10 times in the process. Maria encourages me to go to the other house to have my Spanish lesson. I proceed to have a 2 hour Spanish lesson after that fiasco.

After Spanish class, I get a knock on my bedroom door. It’s Mario, the gardener, telling me I need to go to the other house to drive the car back. What? But you don’t understand Mario. ‘Annette esta MUY enojada conmigo… el carro *crashing noises*’ He insists I go over there.

I get there and Annette is in the driver’s seat [unsure if she’s been sitting there the past 2 hours]. She’s casually reading a magazine. She sees my face and immediately ‘NO! NEVER!’ assuring me I will NEVER drive her car again. She just needs me to show her ‘how to make it go’. [yes, that’s exactly what she said to me].

I decide to take a different approach. I tell her how much we all care about her, we don’t think it is safe for her to drive, god forbid something were to happen, etc, etc. She calms down enough to ask me a few questions. Who would give me a driver’s license? What was I thinking? Says I can’t drive. She’s going to drive the car from now on. I explain it was an accident and how scared I was. I have NEVER gotten into a car accident before. *lies* I explain I didn’t see the car. I am not used to the narrow streets of Antigua. I should have reversed into the parking spot instead. I promised her I will teach her how to drive *lies*, but for her safety, tonight, how about I just drive the car up the street and park it in the garage. She FINALLY agrees! Break-through moment!

I get into the driver’s seat and the steering wheel is locked. The car is idle but shifted into drive. It takes Mario and I five minutes to figure out how to unlock the steering wheel and put the car back into park, then turn it on, and put it into drive. I take the car home and put it safely into the garage. Things seem almost back to normal already.

At dinner…’Would you like some soup?’-me, ‘Why yes, of course. Thank you!’-Annette. I laughed thinking how just 5 hours ago Annette was telling me to go back to the United States.

Bye, Annette

After the accident things were more tense in the house. It was the last straw that made me reconsider living with Annette. Although I love her, after 1.5 months of living with an 84 year old, we came to an agreement to part ways. I wanted to leave on good terms. I told her I would still come for IPad lessons once or twice a week. On my last night, she came to my room for our last nightly talk and we both admitted we would miss each other. It was bitter sweet leaving.

Update: I am home in Chicago! But I still have stories to tell from my 8 month journey and possibly some stories of coming back home. Blogging has bought me so much joy. Thanks to everyone for reading/skimming/looking at a few pictures– I appreciate it all!

(2019 update: I went back to visit Annette in Antigua, she is doing fine. We remain friends!)



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