“Dog I don’t speak English very well!” Apparently the word for “but” only has one r, which I found out after writing my first composition on Thursday. Spanish is hard.
A week ago today we arrived safely in Xela, Guatemala. So far the bulk of my energy, and in some ways my time, has been spent learning and practicing Spanish. It´s amazing how quickly you can learn in twenty-five hours a week of one-on-one classes, with a patient teacher giving you his full attention. I can now ask my host mother if she would like me to turn off the light, talk to the kids in my art class about their favorite colors, and negotiate transactions at Xela’s endless tiendas (tiny window-shops) with reasonable efficiency (if not aplomb). My teacher, a 21-year old university student with an endless stock of bromas (jokes), is willing to converse about anything from American comedies (I´ve already loaned him my “Best of Will Ferrell / Saturday Night Live” and “Wedding Crashers” DVDs) to religion and politics in Guatemala, this despite the limitations of the present tense and my limited, though rapidly expanding, vocabulary.
I am also forced to learn Spanish at home with our family, where the 7- and 9- year-olds who act as our hosts (click here for more details in Lacey’s first blog post) have taken to telling me the wrong meanings of words, an apparently hilarious joke usually joined in on by Lacey. In general, however, the kids are incredibly fun and well-behaved, and have made our stay as an unmarried couple in an evangelical home many times better than it might have been otherwise.
I practice more Spanish at the school where Lacey and I have begun volunteering as art and English teachers. There I´ve learned the words for paper, scissors, glue, markers, and crayons, scored a few goodbye hugs and kisses at the end of the day (but not as many as Lacey), received my first signed painting, and am working on becoming a legend on the recess football (soccer) field. I’ll write more about our teaching soon, but for now suffice it to say that the greatest motivation for learning Spanish is to try to gain a semblance of control in a class of 20 wonderful but rowdy Guatemalan 5-11 year-olds.
And Xela, finally, is a wonderful place to be. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, with skies that change personality by the minute and hour, its natural beauty defies the exhaust and grit of its streets, although these are softened considerably by the city’s winding character, its many parks and churches, and the regular smiles and greetings of its residents. Lacey and I took a gorgeous hike today up “La Muela” (the tooth), a promontory of hardened lava and ash that juts from the side of an old overgrown volcano. We saw only one other person on the unsigned dirt path, which left a small road about a mile out of town. We passed behind lovely swaying acres of corn and beans (and a few tied-up horses) before heading up to the rocks, the sky alternating characteristically between cool towering thunderheads and hot equatorial sun. We sweated, ate cookies, and spoke Spanish only when we felt like it. It’s been a good week!