Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week Two in Guatemala-

*** I have far more to write about that usual so I’ve decided to stop at around 600 words, which is the length of most or my postings. I will end up with more postings than weeks I’m out of town so I’ll still be posting about Guatemala long after I’m home in two weeks. But that should also give me a couple of weeks off to rest and come up with new adventures……….

If anyone had ever told me when I was young that someday I would sit around in the evening with Beaven and conjugate verbs in another language I would have told them they were crazy. Or that we would get a bang out of reading “501 Spanish Verbs” together. Or that we would actually pay money to go to a poor country do this. I found myself telling Beaven tonight that all Jesus had to do was hang there on a cross; nobody made him conjugate a bunch of verbs. That would certainly have made the story more remarkable to me.

The Espanol is going slow. Maybe I’m too old for this. Mi maestra, Ana Hernandez, is patient and competent. She listens to me attentively, absorbing the many things I have to say while gently correcting an accent or gender error. It’s hard to wrap my thick tongue around the melodic rhythm of this musical language. My favorite word, just for the way it sounds, is “alguenes veces.” It only means “sometimes” but I love to hear it. “Etonces” (“then”) is another one that sparkles in my ears. Ana used to teach Kindergarten which makes her a perfect teacher for somebody like me. Now that she’s moved to teaching Spanish she wants to learn one of the Mayan languages, K’iche, and is taking classes at the same school in the afternoons. She says her job opportunities will grow if she can speak K’iche. After about the fourth day of getting to know each other she mentioned how hard it is to learn K’iche and I just had to laugh in glee that now she knew how I feel.

Life back in Dona Berta’s casa, revolves around the food. Like our rooms, the kitchen is tiny. When we sit at the table there is no room for anyone to walk anywhere. Berta gets her students seated (there is also 30 year old kid here named Michael) then takes her place while Christine gracefully tends to the food.

Christina appears to be an employee but she is here at la casa from the time we wake up until we retire to our rooms after dinner. She keeps a few tamales and some tortillas warm on the flat top of the stove. The stove top is a flat clay ceramic surface that covers the entire range like a gigantic griddle. There is a tiny door under the right side of the griddle where she puts the firewood.

Strangely enough, the wood fire doesn’t make the kitchen hot. There is also two other stoves in this tiny room. One is gas and where Christina scrambles our eggs in the morning. The other is used for storage: inside on the oven racks and atop the range. I don’t know if it works or not.

Berta presides as the hostess but all the cooking is done by Christina. Both ladies are so short I keep trying to measure them against my own five feet and as near as I can figure neither of them are more than four feet ten. Christina may be 4'6”. Berta and Christina are both Maya K’iche and will sometimes lapse into that language. It sounds totally different from either Spanish or English and I can understand why it is hard to learn. It has a lot of guttural sounds and clicking. I laughingly call it chicken noises but actually it’s beautiful to hear.

I love walking around this 500 year-old town and noticing how well-swept the ancient cobblestone streets are. I love that Beaven can navigate his way as though he had grown up here. I love finding new treasures like the Mennonite bakery that’s only open on Tuesdays and Fridays. I love the idea of being able to speak another language; of having options in communications, that if the mood suited me I could rattle off in Espanol. I love the idea of speaking Spanish but I’m afraid that is not the reality quite yet and my resolve is being tested.

What I’m having trouble with right now are two things: It’s blinking hard to learn stuff when you’re 60 years old. And I have never made much of a secret that I really don’t like the food in Guatemala. I try to be thankful and certainly offer thanks at every meal although I now offer a silent PS: “Please help me enjoy this food.” Apparently this is one of God’s little jokes: to call me to this place then test me in my weakest spot. And, so far, I’m failing the test.

I think I have discovered something about poor countries. When it comes to how much things cost, it seems like “people” are fairly cheap and “things” are costly. Labor is very inexpensive here. There is a spot near our route to school where there’s always a guy outside washing a car for someone. The streets are kept swept by old men with their heads down trying to get through the day. The camionettas (microbus),rather than post a huge sign announcing their destination, have a young man in every bus leaning out the window hollering the final destination, “iipper!, ipper!, ipper!” (for the shopping mall named Hipper Pais). These young men move fast and appear to enjoy moving fast. Ana tells me it is free to see a doctor for a diagnosis but horribly expensive to have tests. (Aha! Because tests involve “things.” ) An X-Ray, blood test, prescription drugs or surgery require the patient to pay themselves. And those things are not much cheaper in Guatemala than in the US.

Is this the Kingdom of God? Where things are valued more than humans? It's something to think about.

Next Week: Living the K'iche Life and the following week: Celebrating Independence Day in Guatemala

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