Oct
15
2008

Random observations

"Jesus is the Man!"

"Jesus is the Man!"

That about sums it up, folks…

There have been huge “booms” day and night for a while now. At first I thought them Ruskies were invading. Then I decided they were cars backfiring. Now I’ve learned they’re actually fireworks, being set off to celebrate some Catholic holiday I’ve never heard of. But what’s weird is people set them off in the daytime, when there is no hope of seeing them, and even at 5 in the morning when sensible folks are trying to sleep!
Speaking of churches – one can hear them most every night, belting out their songs, stirring up the congregation. I quite like it.

At any given time, there are a dozen kites flying over the town. At first I thought kids stayed up day and night keeping their kites aloft, but now I realize there is always enough wind to keep them up for days on end. You can see the boys (only boys – girls don’t fly kites, according to my 11-year old sister) in the street running to get theirs back up when they fall.

A new student joined our family this past week. She’s a sweet, earnest middle-aged woman from Calgary. Her Spanish is better than mine, so she’s been a bridge between me and the family. It’s been nice to have another gringo in the house to compare notes with, although she’s a bit of a goody-two-shoes: always playing with the kids, giving presents, saying all the right things. Things I wish I were doing, just don’t quite have the capacity for yet.

I have been quite happy with my new teacher. Third time’s a charm, apparently. I liken it to finding a therapist – you just have to keep trying until you find someone you click with. She’s a great compromise between the strictness of my first teach and the relaxed conversationalist of my second. I’ve even upped my lessons to five hours a day, instead of four. It’s so cheap there’s really no reason not to as long as one’s brain can take it. So far, I haven’t found the last hour to be any more taxing than the previous four, so I think I’ll stick with this level. I’m anxious to get this stuff, and it’s just not coming soon enough. I’m hoping one of these days things will just begin to fall into place, and I’ll be able to stop taking enormous pauses between every word as I consider the conjugation, gender, preposition, and placement of the word that should come next. Clearly, I was overly optimistic thinking that I could get to a comfortable level of Spanish in three to four weeks. All told, my situation here is pretty good, so I’m thinking I should stick it out for another two to three weeks before moving on.

My teacher lent me a beginner’s Spanish book. Taking a look on the back cover, I see it was bought from a bookstore I used to live down the street from in Seattle! I love coincidences like that. I wonder what kind of journey that book took before ending up in San Pedro, Guatemala.

Another one of the new crop of students is also from New York. We got to talking, learned that we’re in the same business, and eventually came to the incredible fact that she was on my crew when Merce played the State Theatre at Lincoln Center Festival in 2002! [She’s a union stagehand electrician, and works full-time at the State.] What a small world!

I’ve noticed that weekends are for bathing in the lake. You see entire families down at the shore washing their hair, clothes, and bodies. The kids are really cute.

My teacher is a great resource for questions I have about the culture. Today she told me all about her home life, and I got confirmation that my family is definitely better off than most. Her living situation seems to be typical here: she lives in a small abode with 12 people (extended family) sharing four rooms. They don’t have any electrical appliances. No washing machine, no refrigerator. Their stove is wood-fired. They don’t have a dining room table, so they eat in a circle on the floor. Yet she didn’t have a note of sadness or pity in her voice telling me all this. On the contrary, she raved about how close they all are, how meals are a fiesta of gabbing, and how much she loves her family. And you’d never know how poor she is by looking at her – she’s always very put together, elegant even.

Illiteracy is a big deal here: 10 years ago, about 50 percent of the population in Guatemala were illiterate. Thanks to a big push by the government, that figure is now down to around 30 percent. That’s better than most of Africa, but still below most of the rest of Latin America. My teacher’s mother cannot read or write, and her grandparents only speak Tz’utujil, not Spanish.

The school organizes nice evenings. Last night there was a presentation by a local expert on Mayan art. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but he drew pretty drawings on the whiteboard, and I had a kitten purring in my lap all evening, so I was happy.

We all tromped down to the pub to watch the last of the presidential debates, but unfortunately we were relegated to the back room, pre-empted by some big soccer game that was being shown in the main room. OK, I understand – Guatemala was playing Cuba. The crowd, game, and dishes drowned out any hope we had of actually hearing the debate – all we could do was watch in frustration.
During a commercial break, an ad came on for the iPhone 3G, newly released here in Guatemala! Sitting here amongst people living well below the poverty line, it’s hard to imagine who the ad is directed at. But apparently there is a whole segment of Guatemalan society who can afford such things.

Several internet cafes here have Skype, headsets, and even webcams. I had really nice videochats with Xtine and Abi, and would love to with anyone else. Just let me know, and we’ll set up a time to talk.

1 Comment »

  • Clair Garman says:

    Josh,

    I have Skype – tag is Clair Garman

    I am at my computer every morning from 9-11am, but can make arrangements to connect any other time you are available.

    When your mother returns from Egypt, she could Skype you from my box.

    I greatly enjoy your blog. Keep up the connection.

    Clair

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