City hall, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Hola todos! I am writing to you from the internet cafe at my Spanish school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
I arrived in Guatemala two days ago and so far, so good.
I made my first friend at immigration; the official who checked my passport spent ten minutes chatting with me about my struggles with Spanish verbs and his with English verbs.
I was picked up at the airport by representatives of the school, who drove me to the Alamo bus station (maybe I should put that in quotes: it was basically a single car garage with a counter.) After I bought my ticket I went to the waiting room upstairs to wait. I was hoping that there would be food for sale but there were just a few gumball machines and a water cooler. I quickly filled up my water bottle (I slept through all the drink offerings on my flights) but then I took a closer look at the water and decided that it would be smarter not to drink it.
The bus was comfortable and the ride to Quetzaltenango was four hours.
Because of the hills the roads were very windy, so I felt like I was being constantly flung from one side to the other. But it never felt dangerous (I´ve read that the public “chicken” buses go very fast and can be very scary, but this wasn´t bad at all).
We stopped about halfway there at a roadside restaurant. I gratefully bought some lunch (it was about 4pm EST by this point!) My lunch consisted of a piece of chicken, rice, some sort of casserole involving carrots and mayonnaise, and fresh blue corn tortillas. I enjoyed it very much.
As soon as I got back on the bus I dozed off, and the next thing I knew, we were in Xela. (Xela is short for Xelaju, the Mayan name for Quetzaltenango.) I shared a taxi with two Americans from the bus. One had just realized that she had the wrong suitcase; since she had left her new camera in hers, she was not a happy camper. They were going to a different school, so I wasn´t sure if I would see them again, but as it happened I ran into them yesterday and she was able to locate the owner of the suitcase, an official in the Guatemalan department of agriculture, and do an exchange.
The taxi dropped me off at my school, Celas Maya.
It´s in a quaint old building with a beautiful courtyard.
The courtyard at Celas Maya
I waited in the internet cafe for my host family to pick me up. After a few minutes a little girl appeared in the doorway. She marched up to me and stuck out her hand.
“I´m Manuelita,” she announced in Spanish. Then she led me to a woman standing by the door. “This is my mother, Esmeralda. She has been hosting students from this school for 19 years!” Esmeralda and I said our hellos, then we went outside.
¨We live very far from the school,” Manuelita warned me. “Very far.”
Then she walked me around the corner.
My host family´s house
While Esmeralda put fresh sheets on my bed Manuelita and I chatted in the (lovely) living room. I soon learned her favorite color (purple), her favorite animal (the dog), and her age (8). She has a brother, Roberto, who was about to turn 18, and a sister, Natalie, who is 16.
She was very impressed that I spoke French. She asked me how to say “television.” “Well… it´s ´television…´” “What about your name?” “It´s still ´Carrie.´” I felt bad for having disappointed her. Then I had an idea. “But your name in French is ´Emmanuelle.´” Her mouth formed a perfect o of surprise and delight.
Later, she asked if I was married; I said no. She shrugged. “It´s better not to be. This way you can have a career and travel. Plus, men are so jealous.”
Esmeralda called me upstairs to my room. It´s right at the front of the house, with two beds and lots of sunshine. She gave me a key, and I took it, certain that I would never use it.
That was before I discovered how much Manuelita likes jumping out and scaring people. In two days, she has hidden in my room three times (twice behind the door and once in the closet), and jumped out at me countless times from the kitchen, the living room, her room, and the stairs. So yeah, I lock my room now. My heart can´t take it!
Their house is more or less like an American house, except that you have to turn on a switch to make your shower water hot. They watch Nickolodeon and Disney (dubbed in Spanish) and eat Corn Flakes.
But they also eat lots of tortillas, and yes, even some black beans. Everything has been absolutely delicious so far.
Yesterday morning I had my first day of Spanish class. By “class” I mean five hours of one-on-one lessons with my teacher, Jessica. I think she´s fantastic–both as a person and as a teacher. She is studying to be a lawyer so she can help victims of domestic violence, so she teaches Spanish in the morning and works at a law firm in the afternoons. She is also studying English and French, and taking voice lessons! I wish I had her energy. We sit outside in the courtyard at a little table, which is very pleasant.
Halfway through the day we get a coffee break. On Mondays during the break they announce activities for the week. This week some of the activities are a soccer game, a tour of the city center, a movie, and weekend trips to an archeological site and the famous market at Chichicastenango. (I couldn´t figure out how I knew that name–and then I realized it´s a lyric in a song from “Bye, Bye Birdie!”)
After school I decided to join the tour of the city center. Since my host family lives so close to the school, I hadn´t walked anywhere at all in the city and I wanted to get my bearings. They showed us the buildings around the Parque Central, including the Catholic Church, the city hall, and the theater, where they have a major poetry competition every September.
After the tour I met up with my friend, Blake. (If you´ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you might remember him. He was the first friend I made after Khalid and Isaure left me in Cambodia, and, by an amazing coincidence, he also lived in Wuxi.) After those coincidences, it wasn´t that surprising that we would find ourselves in Guatemala at the same time.
We sat by the Parque Central for a few hours–long enough for the same drunk to approach us several times and ask if we were from the United States (Blake told him a different country every time). I did appreciate the man´s positive attitude. And his enthusiastic fist bumps.
At dinner time Blake gallantly walked me home–which is good because I turned down the wrong street and walked us past my first Guatemalan prostitute! But we found our way eventually.
Today after class I made my first solo excursion downtown. I somehow managed to forget all my make-up at home, and my chapped lips were killing me, so I found a pharmacy. Everything–and I do mean everything–was behind the counter, so I had to explain what I was looking for and the proprietress showed me a few lip gloss options. I blanched when I saw the price–142 quetzales, or almost $18! But then she explained that that number wasn´t the price, and typed those numbers into the computer to tell me the real price–about $2.
Now I´m at school, where I really should be doing my homework. I have a verb worksheet, and then I have to read several pages from a book about the Guatemalan Civil War and then write my thoughts. And it´s Roberto´s birthday, so I´m invited to a special dinner at his grandparents´house. Ok, enough fun. Hasta pronto!