Sep
22
2008

First day at language school

A quick recap of yesterday –

Wandered around Antigua in the morning, checking out the great crumbling architecture of several churches. Tantalizing ruins. Had breakie at a lovely cafe set within a botanical garden. Took some great photos in the market that I’ll try to get up soon. Bought a SIM card! Once again, the folks in the store were so kind, finding the one English-speaking person, insisting that I try his card to make sure my phone would work before I bought one, etc. So I have a Guatemalan phone number now. Ring me if you like – from a U.S. land line, you would dial 011 502 440 084 24. From a U.S. mobile, substitute a + (hold down the zero to get plus) instead of 011. 502 is the country code for Guatemala, and the rest is my mobile number. I have no idea how to check voice mail, and I don’t know how much I´ll have it on, so if you want to chat, perhaps it’s best we arrange a time by e’mail. This español keyboard is driving me crazy. Apparently I can text, but Arnie couldn’t text me because AT&T doesn´t have an agreement with this carrier, so I´ll probably be switching carriers (and therefore phone numbers) when this one runs out. I´ll keep you updated.

Negotiated with a couple of vendors for sunglasses and a hat. Fun to try my hand at bargaining. Then a bus touristica came to pick me up for the 3-hour drive to San Pedro (no boat ride unfortnately, we took the overland route). Got to talking with my seatmate, an interesting woman who talked nonstop but had interesting things to say and it passed the time. Unfortunately I didn´t see much of the scenery, although what I did see was beautiful. Misty jungles opening onto mountain vistas, poor little towns way up in the hills, etc.

Said seat mate spent several of her teenage years growing up in Guatemela, because her parents were Evangelical missionaries. Later they lived in Peru, and they told her her only way out was to marry someone. So she found an Italian tourist 10 years her elder, married him, and escaped. Needless to say, that didn´t work out. Anyway, she is writing her doctorate on linguistic anthropology, if I understood correctly. So she is living in a small village near here, interviewing the old timers. She speaks Spanish fluently of course, but more importantly, speaks 2 of the 26 Mayan languages. These languages sound crazy, I´ve never heard anything like them. I knew embarrassingly little political history of Guatemala or Central America in general, so most of the ride was spent with her giving me the complete 20th-century history (albeit from a leftist perspective, would I have it any other way?)

Upon arrival in San Pedro, I had no idea where I was or where the school was, so luckily I had this phone and rang up the director who came to get me. Apparently the host family I was meant to stay with had a familia emergencia, so I had to crash at a place next door to the school. Here I experienced a bit of culture shock – some would say these are squalid conditions, particularly the bathroom. Squalid is a bit of a stretch, but it was definitely no Four Seasons. Not sure how the locals get on without toilet paper (and frankly, I´m not sure I want to know), but fortunately I was able to find some at the corner shop. I was glad I had my silk sleep sack, so I didn´t have to sleep between those questionable sheets. I had a difficult time there for a few hours, between being newly arrived in what at first appears to be a depressed poor town, being shown these crappy sleeping quarters, and of course, it was dark and raining by this point. So I had a wander around to familiarize myself with the town. Didn´t do very well – it´s a warren of little lanes all built hodgepodge on top of one another. Reminds me of towns in Indonesia that don´t have any local government planning or viewing the big picture. Everyone for themselves – power lines strung haphazardly, all the contruction built half-assed but never finished. None of the concrete is sealed, for example. Doors half-hung, holes in walls and roofs, not much is painted. I guess it has to do with economy.

For reasons I have yet to discover, this town has become a favorite landing (and staying) spot for gringos – specifically hippies and their ilk. It makes me think of what Goa must have been like, or other towns on that international hippie trail. I had dinner in one such den. On the one hand, it was comforting to speak English, but it was such a far cry from an authentic cultural experience. I take that back – it was simply a different kind of cultural experience. Everyone working there was from a different country, none of them America. That´s a nice change. The guy I talked with the most is from Georgia (the country), and he has made his home here now. He pays $140/month for a 2-bedroom house with a deck, kitchen, etc. One can see the appeal, at least on cost! Unfortunately the internet situation is crap, so it´s out for me 🙂 There is only one ISP, it´s dead slow, expensive, and they turn it off at night! Oh, and a 200MB cap per day, so certainly no movie downloading.

Speaking of, several of the cafes and bars show (American) movies in the evenings. I expect I´ll be partaking in that at some point. I also befriended a sweet Korean girl who is staying in the same place I was. She is in the middle of a year-long journey, visiting as much of North, Central, and South America and Europe as she can manage. She´s doing this alone – very unusual for a Korean woman. It was cool to hear all the places she´s been so far, and her plans to come. I´m so impressed at her gumption. This sweet, innocent young Korean girl getting into all these questionable, at times dangerous situations, and getting herself out.

This morning I met my teacher and some of the other staff and students at the school, and began my lessons. I like my teacher, thank god. He´s very good, and fairly patient. I suspect I´m slower than most students, because I literally have never taken a single language class in my life. Also, even though I´m fairly fluent in English, I have no idea about verb tenses, participals, definitive vs indefinite articles, why or when we use am/is/are, etc. I distinctly remember being asleep in that 6th grade class when diagramming sentences was happening. So he can´t very well make comparisons in English, since I don´t even know what he´s talking about there! Nonetheless, we gave it our best shot. We work one on one from 8am-12pm each day. Four hours doesn´t sound like much, but boy, was it painful. I have a lot to review before tomorrow´s class. Although frustrated, I´m also excited – I can already see how studying it this intensively will lead to quick progress. In the afternoons, there is an option to practice with other students. Then there are optional activities – salsa lessons, films, talks by locals, etc. I plan on taking advantage of all of the above.

After my lessons, one of the daughters of my new host family came to get me. This house is a step above the one last night. Still quite rustic, but not as dingy or dirty. Mom and Pop are still out of town until tomorrow, but I met the two daughters (ages 11 and 13) who were wonderfully helpful and patient with me. I suppose they´re used to stupid gringos like me. Still, they were very kind to speak slowly and explain things. I also met a woman who either works there making meals, or is just a family friend covering while mom and dad are out. Not sure which. My room is on the roof, which is nice because it affords some privacy and some outdoor space with a nice view. There is a toilet and sink up there as well as a shower, but cold water only, so not really a shower. The lukewarm shower is two stories below. No problem, I´m happy. All I wanted was some privacy, an electrical outlet, and some daylight. Check.

That about catches me up. It looks like it will be nose to the grindstone these next few weeks, with some activities on the weekend, and exploring more of the hippie venues in the evenings.

1 Comment »

  • Clair Garman says:

    Josh,
    I am sorry that my health and your haste did not allow us to talk when you were coming through DC. In 1988 Michele and I made a trip to Guatemala following my return from traveling about Ecuador and Peru. We stayed in Antigua for a few days and then to San Pedro for a week. We were fortunate to be in San Pedro when the priest for the large church at the top of the hill was changing. In the morning the road up the hill from the ferry was covered with flowers and colored sawdust in wonderful patterns. The new priest walked through the colorful rug up to the ceremony at the church. During the day the rug was rebuilt and the old priest walked through the renewed rug back down to the ferry for the trip across the lake to Panjachel. It was an incredible feast day marked by the fact that the new priest was the first non-gringo priest in years.

    Michele and I fondly remember the restaurant across from the main church called “La Ultima Cena”. While “The Last Supper” might be an appropriate name for a painting, we thought it was an hilarious name for a restaurant.

    In a side alley of the town at the top of the hill, we feasted on oven-fired pizza in a place set up by some Europeans living there for the cheap drugs. Michele got incredible food poisoning, which put a shroud on the situation for a few days. We had been staying in a little hotel down near the ferry landing, but ended up in Panajachel at a place with better toilets and conveniences. We have lots of tales to tell of Lake Atitlan.

    We hope your adventures are as rich as ours were.

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