After waiting for 8 hours in the airport in Chicago, I caught my flight without any problems, and was received after claiming my luggage by a woman holding a sign with my name on it. I just love it when that happens. She took me to the van where Alberto was waiting for me. Alberto drove quickly and efficiently to the bus station, used my quetzales to purchase my bus fare, and carried and checked my bags. On the bus, I sat with an American from Washington State. We were good traveling buddies. No energy was spent on formalities, or idle chatter. We left without exchanging names, but he checked out my Rough Guide to Guatemala, and let me sleep and ask intermittent questions about his work, his plans, and his experiences (all in English).
In Quetzaltenango, or Xela, as they call it here, I was helped to find a taxi, and without too much trouble or expense, I found the school. Actually, I recognized it before the taxi driver did, from the pictures I saw on the Internet. The school is in the second floor of a huge building that used to be a station for horses and buggies. Or so I’m told. I’ve taken quite a few pictures with my phone, so if I can, I’ll figure out how to upload these pictures and share them with you. I also have pictures from the bus ride. I’m afraid these pictures won’t be of the best quality, but they will give you an idea of what it looks like here.
Once I arrived at the school, staff members here explained a little about the setup, and who my host family and teacher would be. He called the host family, who sent someone to come get me and my bags. Alejandro, a social and energetic 17-year old came to get me. He asked me questions, and initiated dialogue while we left the school and walked along irregular sidewalks, around corners, through traffic, to his house. I learned that he is in culinary school and in massage school simultaneously. I conjured all the Spanish I could to explain to him my raw food preferences, and other dietary tendencies, since I had a feeling he would help me get my food needs met. He was just great, teaching me where light switches at the house were, quizzing me after showing me how to get into the house, how to use a key to lock and unlock my bedroom door. By now, it was Monday, about noon. In short, it was a lot of information to absorb in a very short time. And I was still feeling like I had not quite slept since Saturday night, in the very comfortable bed at Trina’s house in Columbia.
I think I took a half hour nap, because Claudia, Alejandro’s mother was not yet home. Somebody came to get me when it was time to eat. I ate at the table with places set for the family. Everyone was out, but I was beginning to learn who the family was by the rooms in the house, and their places at the table. There is Clauda and Cesar (Mom and Dad), There is Alejandro (17) and Andrea (16), and finally, there is Irene (8). They have a dog named Wolfie (1). Allegedly, he eats things, and so I should probably make sure and lock my door.
Alejandro had cooked me a vegetarian meal with carrots and tofu and onions, some seared green onions, guacamole, something rather like gazpacho, that he had intended to be a sauce, but I ate it with the guacamole and it was delightful. He also made potatoes with basil, and I ate that with the guacamole too. A very wonderful meal. Then I met Claudia and Andrea, and finally Irene, and it was time for me to go to the school. I wasn’t sure I could remember how to get back to the school, but it seemed that Alejandro was pretty sure I could easily do it. So after a little direction, I set off. After walking pretty hard for about 15 minutes, I realized that I was not going to be able to find the school without help, so I returned the way I had come. Once more, Alejandro took me to the school, where I was about an hour late to my first lesson. I met my teacher, who is Pati. I love her. She is a social work student (or the equivalent of social work), but rather than finish her program, she has decided to take a job, working with a foreign agency here in Xela, working with women. Her disposition is great for me. I don’t feel a bit uncomfortable experimenting with speaking. She offers lots of encouragement, and she is good at what she does. I had been working for about an hour and a half, and was feeling myself pushing hard to stay engaged, and she said, “okay, let’s work for 10 more minutes, and they we can take a break, Okay?” That’s the kind of encouragement I needed. I don’t think she realized at that point that I was operating at somewhat of a disadvantage. I hope to give her a little more energy today. At any rate, I feel like all the hard work I have invested in building vocabulary and learning Spanish in the past is actually paying off. I think she is impressed. My Spanish is definitely better than her English, and that is a perfect thing in this learning situation.
I am having a great time, and am working hard. I hope the same is true for you.