Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mi Ultimo Dia....

Juego de Futbol
The spanish school arranged a futbol game yesterday because of much pressure from my friend Lisa and myself. Playing in Guatemala was on my list of things to do while here. There were only 10 of us including 2 people we kinda picked up at Joco Fut, the sports complex. I was hoping for lush green grass but the ¨field¨we played on was asphalt and kiddie size (which was best because we are all getting old and have gotten fat in Guatemala.) The weather was perfect and we had so much fun.

Hotel Santa Domingo
After the game I went to the most amazing place- Hotel Santa Domingo. It was the most gorgeous building. The hotel is built on the site of monastery ruins and there is a new monastery there as well. I didn´t have time to go through the museum, but I could see a great part of it from a patio near the pool. There were parrots everywhere and monk music (don´t know the real term, sorry) playing throughout. It was so relaxing just walking through. If you ever make it to Antigua, be sure to visit the hotel.

Final Fiesta
I bought my favorite cake from my favorite sweet shop, La Cenicienta, to share with the family after dinner. A delicious cake with white fluffy frosting and strawberries and a layer of fruit filling. (None of the sweets here are too sweet!) After packing I ate my final dinner with the Rodriguez family and Carolina, my housemate who has been such great support while I have been here.

After dinner, my peeps and I met up for my final fiesta. It was so great to see everyone one last time and exchange e-mail addresses and such. I am working on planning a trip to Holland at the end of August/ beginning of September and my friend Jesse came up with a great idea for t-shirt that I´m in charge of getting printed for everyone.... I´m hoping a particular family member will be able to help me out with that.... I got to bed really late and now I´m exhausted but it was soooo worth it. I still think the rum here has no preservatives. No goma (hangover)!!

Last night and this morning were so hard for me. I was tearful many times as I am right now. Violeta made my favorite breakfast of her amazing pancakes and we hugged and waved goodbye up until the last possible moment. I went to say final goodbyes at the spanish school too. I am at the airport now, waiting to leave but wishing I was staying.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My Last Day in Guatemala

I can't believe how quickly my time here has passed. I feel like I have lived to the fullest this past month and I have really grown to love this country. There is so much life and beauty here. I am so grateful for all of the people that I met and the experiences I have had here. I am really sad to leave but I can hear the real world calling. I have also missed Portland and everyone at home but I have truly felt like this is my home too. I would not trade this experience for anything.

See you soon. Adios!

Monday, May 29, 2006

5 Days Worth

Guatemalan Architect
Wow! It´s been a long time.... I have been really busy socializing, traveling and architecting. Yes, architecting! My host family bought a property outside of Antigua and asked me to advise them. We visited the site on Wednesday evening and came straight home and drew up three different options. There were many challenges involved but some things were much easier.

First, they use meters instead of feet and inches here, so I had to convert the dimensions back and forth because I can´t design in metric! It was fun though! I also didn´t have any tools- not even a straightedge or a scale so everything was drawn freehand and had no scale. The great part about the whole thing is that Parramos, where the property is, has NO RESTRICTIONS. This might sound like no big deal to most of you, but this is a dream for architects.

The site is really small, 13x6.5 meters (that´s 21´-4¨x 42´-8¨) and the Rodriguez family wanted 3 levels and 4 bedrooms. The property is surrounded on three sides by other buildings and I have to assume that they may all be at least 3 levels at some time in the future if not before construction begins. Key to the design is a small jardin (garden) in the center of the building to get light into all the rooms.

It was so fun to draw everything freehand and have complete freedom with the design. I love that I got to label the rooms in Spanish and to present my designs to the family speaking Spanish. This is truly one of the best things that has happened to me since I´ve been here. I was searching for something to connect my real life at home to my ¨vacation¨ in Guatemala and I think I have found it. I am working on coming back to help with the construction.... we´ll see how that goes.

The architecture/building process is so different here. My plans didn´t have a scale but it didn´t matter- Rafael said that he could have given the plans (that I drew in less than an hour) to the mason and he would build from them. Unbelieveable! Three sheets of plans- no elevations, no sections, no details, no site plan, nada. I love being an architect here! I don´t want to bore the non-architects too much so I can tell you more when I return if you wish.

Thursday Night & Friday Morning
Thursday night, group of us from the school met at the gringo bar, Monoloco so a few of them could watch basketball. When the game was over we all went around the corner to a bar called La Sala (translates as ¨the living room¨) which is salsa bar that is popular for its ladies night on Thursdays. After way too many cuba libras with the Monterrico group, my Dutch friend Norberto and I jumped on a Range Rover for an after party. And I literally mean ¨jumped on.¨ There were probably 13 people inside that car (no room for us) and we had no idea where this place was, so we grabbed on to the cargo rack on top of the car and found a place for one foot along with other people doing the same.

I was busy chatting with 2 guys that I was sharing the running board with when I looked to my right to find Norberto playing James Bond running along side the car trying to catch up. He had broken the wheel well and fallen off. I think you have to know this guy for it to be as funny as we think it is, but you can imagine my reaction nonetheless.

The house we went to belonged to a guy who rents out rooms to foreigners, so I met a lot of people from countries like Belgium, Korea, Holland, Germany, England and Guatemala. I truly enjoy meeting the locals in situations like that- people that are near in age to me and have a different view of the world and how I see Guatemala. One local that I met had been driving his sister´s car earlier that evening and was pulled over by the police. They took everything from him- his watch, all his cash and his sister´s car. He was worried to leave the party because he thought that the police would ¨find¨ him again.

You know you have a great night of partying when you get home at 5:15am. You also know you may not have been smart about your responsibilties when you wake up still drunk at 7am and have to teach 2 classes of 40 rowdy girls English for 2 hours. On top of it all, it was my last day of teaching and my last day of español. Luckily, I was not hungover (I´m pretty sure there are no preservatives in the liquors here) I was just really tired.

Saying Goodbye to Las Niñas
The girls were so disappointed that it was my last day. When I got to my 2nd class, a group of girls called me over to their desks and put little star stickers on my temples. They are so sweet. I will miss them. I will miss their ¨Good morning Mees¨and the sweet little kisses on the cheek when I arrive and when I leave class.

The teachers in the girls' school rarely cooperated with or supported us English teachers and I believe that they resent us because 1.) we may be effective 2.) they are envious of our lifestyles, skills and even possesions such as clothing or 3.) the kids like us and actually have fun. I have so many frustrations with the school system but I came here and did what I wanted to do and I think (I tested them as a class) I was successful. That is the best I could hope for.

This weekend a group of us went to Tikal, a village in a jungle near Mayan ruins in northern Guatemala. We were picked up at 4am on Saturday morning and shuttled to a small airport in Guatemala City. We flew into Flores and were taken to Tikal by our tour guide. He spoke very good English and gave a us a very in-depth history of the Mayan culture on our way to The Tikal Inn. We began our tour by 9am and were finished with the condensed tour by 1:30pm. We saw toucans, lots of monkeys, woodpeckers, lizards, butterflies and tons of ants carrying bright green leaves in a perfect lines across the hiking trails.

We ate lunch at the hotel and then I went back into the park to do a sketch. The jungle is crazy! On my way back from doing my sketch, I stood under a ¨herd¨of 8 monkeys passing over the trail in the trees above me. One had a baby monkey on its back. It was so amazing to watch these creatures use all 5 extremeties to swing to and from such flimsy tree branches. They were so graceful.

There was all kinds of wildlife but limited electricity in Tikal. Since the park is protected, there are no power lines and the electricity was produced soley by generators. To conserve energy, our hotel only had power between 7 and 10 am, 12:30 and 3pm and 6pm to 10pm. By about 7:30pm our group was ready to eat dinner and we decided to go next door to the Jaguar Inn for dinner. We knew that the electrcity there went off at 9pm. We were also used to really slow service, so I think we were all interested to know what would happen if the electricity went out before we were done eating. The wait staff didn´t seem too concerned or give any disclaimers or warnings, so we sat down in a group of 12 and ordered dinner and drinks.

The humidity and temperature in addition to the scarcity of lights made for an interesting dinner. There were flying ants everywhere- on our clothes, in our hair, on our drinks, everywhere. As the dinner progressed it just kept getting worse. Worse in that the flying ants got thicker and more aggressive and we started noticing that the beetles (frigging huge- at least and inch and a quarter in length and very crunchy) were also invading our personal space. Everyone was constantly swatting away ants until we could not even carry on a conversation because we were too busy protecting our food, skin and sanity.

It got worse when the lights went out. The ants were swarming the table and the beetles were all over underneath the tables and all over the floor of the restaurant. It was just like a horror movie. We were not even done eating when we couldn´t stand it any longer. We scurried to pay and left quickly with the 3 flashlights and headlamps that we had, stepping on the crunchy beetles the whole way.

Back at our hotel, we still had about 40 minutes of electricty left, so we had to decide quickly what we were to do about the party we were going to have in the dark. There was no "hotel bar" per se, so we bought a bottle of rum (that took 20 minutes- the servers had to calculate how many shots were in the bottle), a couple of bottles of Coca-Cola and bunch of beers from the restaurant. We had a party in the dark until the alcohol was gone and the candle was low, which was just a few hours. What a night.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Finca los Nietos

Finca los Nietos
This morning, some students from the spanish school went on a tour of a coffee plantation called Finca los Nietos. The place is run by an American couple who have lived here since the early 1990s. They purchased a gorgeous plot of land in San Lorenzo El Cubo, just outside of Antigua and turned it into a huge garden and modest coffee plantation. I think they make more money giving tours than selling coffee- 3 to 4,000 trees on an acre and a half of land. One coffee tree which is about the size of a 10-year old child produces about one processed pound (I`m guessing) of coffee.

The coffee trees were blooming which is rare since they only bloom for about a day or two. Al Thompson, the owner, said that the next day the tiny white flowers would be gone. In place of the lost blooms is where the coffee beans form. The season for picking the beans is from December through March- all the beans are ready at different times.

Al showed us all the plants and flowers (including 4 kinds of orchids) in his garden and a quick tour and explanation of the process. The process he uses is completely organic and nothing is wasted- all `waste` is recycled for fertilizer including the urine from the worms that are used for composting. We got to go inside his house and we got a small bag of coffee beans and a cup of brewed coffee included in our admission.

If anyone wants a bag of this coffee, let me know and I can get it before I leave. There is place in Antigua that sells the beans. It was really good! Al has also written a book about coffee, see more at, The title is Detours: From Classrooms to a Guatemalan Coffee Farm. No, he did´t pay me for the plug....

My Last Week in Guatemala
One thing I will not miss about being here is being gawked at just walking down the street. I think we are pure entertainment for the locals. All of my instructors have asked me if my hair color is natural. They are so amused by our lives in the states as it is so different from theirs and they will probably never travel outside of Guatemala, many of them will never travel outside their villages. The men on the chicken buses do their best to say hello in my language.... it was kinda cute at first but it grew old quite quickly. It proves what a melting pot the United States really is.

I return to Portland in one week! I feel like my time here has gone by so quickly. I will be so sad to leave. I will be taking full advantage of my remaining days, but I have made so many great connections and have had such a great time here in this amazing country.

I know it is late in my blog, but here is the link to the spanish school.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Speech Speed and Techos

Speed of the Language
I have come the realization that Spanish is spoken so quickly because the language naturally has more syllables. If you think about it in terms of time, English is spoken slower because there are fewer syllables. For instance: ¨next weekend¨ in español is proxima fin de semana (PROX-ee-mah fin deh se-MAHN-ah.) That´s 3 syllables in english compared to 8 syllables in español. That is an extreme example, but here´s another more ironic one: ¨very fast¨ = muy rapido (moo-ee rap-EE-doh.) Three versus five.... and assume we try to say the exact same thing in the same amount of time....

Techo = Ceiling = Roof
On Friday I began teaching the girls ¨In a House¨- things like couch, chair, roof, ceiling, floor, window, bedroom, kitchen, shower, etc. I made a worksheet for Monday that was labeling the parts of a house and ´translating´ the English words for the spanish ones. I had a simple drawing of a house with arrows and then a list of vocabulary for them to fill in blanks from English to Spanish and back.

I pushed pretty hard to teach this subject before I leave because I thought it would be close to my area of expertise. But even after all of my observing the local architecture, it never occured to me that here in Guatemala, roof is the same thing as ceiling- just a piece of corrugated metal. There are no ceiling joists and no gypsum or plaster like there are in other countries- only the economical corrugated metal separates us from the weather.

I guess I need to be more conscious of a culture before I teach them something.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Minus the sardine can we rode in to and from Monterrico, this past weekend was one of the best I have ever had. The beach in Monterrico was so gorgeous and the group I went with could not have been more fun. Our group of 6 arrived Saturday at about 10:30 am and checked in at Johnny's which is a hotel right on the beach. Johnny's also has a bar/restaurant and lots of beach chairs and 2 beach volleyball nets.

Our bungalow on the beach was 2 levels and had a water cooler (very important), thatched roof, kitchenette, a little balcony and a small pool that we shared with two other bungalows. It was just 50 yards from the beach. The cost for the hotel was Q125 per person, or about US$16.

After we settled in, we ate a small lunch at the restaurant and relaxed for a while on the black sand beaches. After a couple hours of sunning, the other girls (both are dutch, Sanne and Janneke) in the group and I decided to walk down the road (I do mean road as in dirt and barely wide enough for 2 cars to pass) town of Monterrico. Monterrico itself is not much, a few tiendas, a spanish school, some farm animals (chickens and pigs) and lots of kids without shoes. We were searching for a bottle of rum, a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola and some limes. When we did find a tienda with rum we realized that we had no ice and that would be gross, so we decided just to pay Q10 (US$1.50) per cuba libra all night.

Although there wasn´t much in the ¨downtown¨ of Monterrico, it was fun to walk around and see what a smaller village is like. There were a couple of houses under construction and I am always interested in the different ways buildings are made in other places. We also stopped to watch the end of a football (soccer) game. That was fun, though the team and the locals watching the match were a bit distracted by the gringo girls. Sanne and Janneke both had their digital cameras and were taking pictures of everything. They would both pull them out at the exact same time. As if we didn´t already look like tourists....

Upon our return to the bar on the beach, two of the guys had already started drinking. It was about 3:00 p.m. and from then on, we took turns buying rounds for everyone. We ate a small dinner at Johnny´s restaurant and found out about a happy hour down the beach where they gave 2 for 1 cuba libras from 10-12. After midnight, we walked down the beach to the club near our hotel for some dancing and even more drinking. It was fun to shake it to Spanish hip hop mixed in with a few Madonna songs and old school American dance music. We shut down the place and went back to our hotel and went for a swim in our pool. After some swimming there, we went back to the beach and Sana and I went swimming in the water for a long time- when we got out our skin was wrinkled like raisins. Luckily by this time I was not so drunk as I was earlier and I could get in the ocean. The current in Monterrico is really strong. The water was so warm. Being at the beach at night in that perfect water was so amazing. From there, we went back to the pool and talked for a long time. We didn´t make it to bed until 5:30 am. At one point, one of the other guests at the hotel was yelling for us to shut up. Oops. Godamn gringos.

We had to check out of our hotel by 11 am. We ate breakfast at Johnny´s, slathered ourselves in sunscreen and went back to the beach. It was so hot on Sunday that we couldn´t walk on the sand without shoes because the black sand was so hot. I had to get in the water twice to cool off. Oh damn.

The weekend was the perfect mix of relaxing, sun, swimming, drinking, food, dancing, talking, joking and money. Many inside jokes were established and even now, we all laugh uncontrollably when certain words are spoken or stories are told. Those are the memories that I will always associate with the fabulous weekend at the beach in Guatemala.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Buena Vista de Corrazon

Buenos dias! Last night was a surprise birthday party for Marcia, the girlfriend of Gustavo who is the director of the Spanish school. Food and drinks were included for Q10, US$1.25. One of my housemates, Carolina, and I left early and went to Meson Panza Verde to watch the remaining members of the Buena Vista Social Club play. (Some of the original members have passed away.)

BVSC was a Cuban band that started in the 1940s and was popularized by the documentary movie "Buena Vista Social Club" in 1999. I have not seen the movie, I have only heard and now seen the band play! They were so amazing. There were 4 band members- three really old guys (one bongo/conga/bata timbales/lead vocals, one flutist, one pianist) and one young guy playing bass and singing backup vocals. You would never know by their energy that they were old. The flutist would dance a little salsa when he wasn't playing and the pianist was so good that he could order another glass of wine while he was playing and not even miss a beat, no pun intended. The lead singer and drummer was the most adorable old man I have ever seen. His voice was so real and fit the setting of Guatemala so well. I am still in shock that I got to see them play. If you are ever in Guatemala, you must make it a point to get to wherever they are playing and experience this band.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Teaching, Day 3

Teaching today went really well again. The girls are really comfortable with me speaking English now. What a relief! Emily and I have also divided the English classes differently instead of team teaching. I also realized that I really wanted experience teaching alone, which is what I would probably do if I decide to teach in Spain. That is also a relief. Each of us will now be teaching two 1-hour classes instead of one 30-minute class and two 1-hour classes, each at a different level. This makes planning a lot easier as well as now each of us only has to plan for `one` class.

The girls have physical education on Wednesdays so I had yesterday morning off and it was so nice. I really haven´t had a lot of free time since my first few days here. I ran some errands and set up a massage for 12:00 at Centro Naturista. C.N. is a place just outside of Antigua where the massages are US$8.50 for 45 minutes. It was great. The spa also had a sauna and all kinds of loose teas and health food, which has been really hard to find here. Tuesdays and Wednesdays they have reduced prices for the massages. All other days the massage price includes unlimited sauna time. Sweet.

I haven´t talked at all about my new Spanish instructor. Her name is Maritza and she is also a really good instructor. She is really strict about my grammar (which is good because I have been kinda careless) and she does really helpful excercies and a lot of review, both of which I really need! She has a really great sense of humor as well. Some of the other students have asked me what we are always laughing about....

Today I will be booking a weekend trip to the beach with some other students from the Spanish school. I am rallying for San Salvador, El Salvador (US$50 includes hotel) but I will settle for Monterrico, Guatemala. $20 more in El Salvador gets you a surfboard and a 2-hour lesson. And our hotel would be right on the beach. If anybody has been to El Salvador, please let me know what you thought. I haven´t heard much about it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Teaching is really going great! I have been preparing and waiting for this for so long and I was so worried that I wasn´t going to be good at it or that I wouldn´t like it but I´m here and I love it. These girls are really smart. It took only one class for them to get used to the class being taught in English. I think their potential hasn´t been tapped into before and that previous teachers have just underestimated them.

I thought that team teaching was going to be good, but I think I´d rather teach by myself. Emily (the new girl from Oklahoma) is really book smart and she can recite all kinds of research and facts about teaching, but she is visibly nervous and does not appear to be having fun when she´s leading the class. She doesn´t seem to get a feel for where the girls are in their learning or when they´re bored or anything. She is just too rigid in general. In addition, planning lessons with her is twice as much work as it should be. Yesterday we met for 45 minutes and got just half of a one-hour lesson done.

There is another new guy who will be teaching as well. He is from Texas.... I´m not sure what they did to market this program in that area of the US, but it worked whatever they did. I am hoping we can each maybe concetrate on one class by ourselves or soemthing. We shall see- I only have a week and a half left of teaching! So, just about the time I am getting used to it all, I will have to leave....

Monday, May 15, 2006

First Day of Teaching

Whew! My first day of teaching is over. Because (and possibly only because) I prepared for the worst, my first day turned out really well. The girls were fairly well-behaved and attentive. I really like seeing their smiling faces when I walk in the room or when they are commended for getting the right answer. That part is so rewarding.

But although it went well and I want to write only about the good things about my first day of teaching, you wouldn't be here for long and I wouldn't feel right.... there are so many problems. First, only the first class' teacher was in the room while I was teaching. When I left my third class, there was no teacher in sight, nor was there a teacher in the room until I was leaving my second class. Suzie says she just leaves anyway- it happens to her all the time.

Second, I need to retrain these girls to do some things differently than they have been taught. 1.) These classes need to be taught in English, not Spanish. 2.) The classes need to be more active so that attention is kept and learning is encouraged. 3.) Small things like every single girl handing their paper to me individually when they are done is completely ridiculous. "Pass it forward" was employed today. I hope it won't be too difficult to retrain....

Samantha and Suzie have made some bad habits that make it harder for us to teach and for the girls to learn. I tested the "mostly English" (as opposed to teaching in their native language) today and they did really well. These girls are not stupid and they gather a lot from pictures (I have artistic talent working to my advantage) and motions. Teaching in English also relieves a lot of stress from me in that now I don't have to put so much pressure on myself to speak Spanish well and fit into their routine. This way, they fit into my routine and my rules.

Another positive thing about today is that another girl just arrived from Oklahoma. She is getting her degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. She is on my side about teaching in English (not Spanish) and she will also help me stop the Australian and British spellings and phrases. If these girls are going to use English they will be using it in the USA. No more "colours" or "Good day!"

No more time today, I will definitely write about the progress in the next 2 weeks that I am here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Cooperativa de Mujeres de San Antonio
I dislike my afternoon instructor so much that in an attempt to ditch her for a day, I decided to go on one of the tours that the school organizes for students. We went to Cooperativa de Mujeres de San Antonio. San Antonio is close to Antigua, maybe a 15 minute drive. The cooperativa is a group of women (mujeres) who make amazing crafts by hand.

We all sat around for a private tour and explanation of their ways of life: language, weaving & handicrafts, coffee griding and making mole and even a (mock) matrimonial ceremony. They taught us basic greetings in the Iximchel language (they mostly speak Spanish and they did a really good job of speaking slowly and enunciating, although most of us still didn't get most of what they were saying.)

I guess my favorite part was the grinding of the coffee beans. They use this rather large stone (that has been passed down through their family for more than a hundred years) with legs and a rolling pin to grind the beans. From what I could deduct, they use different coffee beans for mole and different coffee beans for the mole. They grind the beans and sweep them into one of their handmade bowls. They passed around the two different types of ground beans and the mole bowl didn't even smell like coffee!

Building Construction & Class
On the way back from San Antonio we passed through Ciudad Viejo, a small town outside of Antigua which is much poorer than Antigua. It is really striking how you can tell what class a family is in by the finishes of their house. Some of the houses were just CMU without a finish on the walls. A lot of the roofs were corrugated metal, mostly rusted, although some roofs were other found materials- tarps or thatched roofing. I didn't realize before how "rich" Antigua is. Clay tile roofs are obviously more expensive (and less noisy may I add) and therefore signify more affluence.

I am realizing that the family that is hosting me is probably considered upper-middle class. They have a son who goes to college, they run a small restaurant, they have a "servant," they host students (up to 4 at a time and they feed them very well!!), their house is 2 floors, they own a car and Rafael just informed me that they bought another property outside Antigua to build a new building on. He has asked me to visit the site with him and give my architectural input. I am so excited! I am very glad he speaks a bit of English because I have not been taught the vocabulario for architecture.

Afternoon Thunderstorm
Unfortunately we got back to the school in time for an hour or so of class. Within a few minutes, it got very dark and it began pouring rain on our little metal roof classroom. Luckily, I couldn't really hear Naty. The lights flickered a couple of times and Naty reminded me to have my candle handy at home in case of an electicity failure. It was really great to be in an open classroom in the storm- there was all kinds of lightning and thunder, something I miss so much about living in the midwest.

After class I met Suzie, the other English volunteer so she could update me on the classes. I start teaching English on Monday morning and I am so nervous!! I think I am mostly nervous because of my level of Spanish but I also put a lot of pressure on myself to do a good job. Suzie gave me some good tips and brought me up to speed on what the girls have learned so far. I will definitely be blogging on Monday to update you all on how it goes!

I apologize for not writing yesterday! I know how some of you have been reading everyday and I feel the responsiblity to blog everyday now as well! My day was busy. It was my last class with Lorena, my morning instructor, so I was very sad to say goodbye to her. She has been so great these past two weeks. We didn't have a very intense class, we learned a few new verbs and their conjugations but we mostly just gossiped about some of the others at the school.... practicing in espanol of course!

I skipped my afternoon class. I haven't felt like I have learned anything from Naty and I didn't want to waste any more time with her. It worked out well to have a free afternoon to do some errands and kind of relax. I went back to Pasteles de Cenicenta for a late afternoon snack. I am testing for the best cake as a gift for the Rodriguez family before I leave. Mmmmm! The frases con crema (cake) was just as delicious as Papa Haydn's cakes and at only Q10, about 1/7th the price. Muy delicioso!

Happy Hour and Later

The school has a happy hour every Friday from 4:30-5:30, so I made it back in time for a couple of free rum & cokes. It was really hot yesterday, so sitting in the shade with all the other foreigners was really fun. There are a lot of Dutch, a couple of Germans and some new Americans who start next week. I find it so great how everyone who is studying Spanish here came alone and is so willing to meet new people and inexplicably trust these strangers. It seems like each of us would (and do) travel on the weekends together, not really knowing this other person but somehow knowing that they are in a similar situation or that they may be here for a similar reason or that they probably speak the same level of English. We all have something in common.

After we all ate dinner at each or our houses, we met up again to go out on the town. We went to the best known gringo bar in Antigua, Monoloco (not my choice, but I went anyway.) Nobody was speaking Spanish there and I felt like I could have been in Portland or some other american city. They even had the Boston Red Sox coverage on their bigscreen TVs.

It was so much like America that I after a while I had to leave. There was a group of obnoxious guys acting like they were at a college frat party, yelling and screaming and making asses of themselves. Joanna and I were leaving at 5:45am the next day for our volcano hike anyway, so I said my goodbyes to the group and hailed a tuk-tuk home. There were 3 of these funny mini-taxis waiting outside the bar and they pretty much fought over taking the gringo home.... Q15 or US$2.

Joanna, Janneke (a new Dutch student) and I woke up bright and early to catch our tourist bus to Volcan de Pacaya. In Guatemala, apparently "private" bus doesn't mean "luxury." Our bus was (no joke) a yellow school bus, just like the chicken buses, just not painted all crazy. It was a bit nostalgic riding in the school bus, though the last time I rode in a school bus things were much, much bigger.

We were accompanied by 3 security guards from Antigua and we picked up our guide once we got to a small village closer to Pacaya. For many tourist trips, you must request a guard because in the past tourists have been easy targets for robberies. Our bus driver picked up a couple of random people on the way, he just opened up the bi-fold door and slowed down enough for them to hop on. He only came to a complete stop for the cute old lady at the bottom of the volcano.

The drive to the trailhead was about an hour and a half from Antigua. I was not really prepared for the difficulty of this hike. It was very steep and the volcanic rock pebbles made it even more challenging. But it was so worth it. I have never been to Hawaii, so I have never seen lava flowing. IT WAS RIGHT THERE! It was truly amazing. There are three active volcanoes in Guatemala and I was there, at one in action.

At the top of caldera it was a bit windy but the heat from the flows was enough to keep our outer layers off most of the time. We went down into the caldera and we were climbing on the hardened lava for a good while. It was sooo hot down there and my shoes felt like they may have been melting at one point. Our guide found a part of the flows that had broken and that we could get to. I was within 3 feet of flowing lava! Insane.

It was truly exhilarating being so close, but at one point I realized how dangerous it was for us to be climbing all around and it scared the crap out of me. There were constantly huge chunks of hardened lava cracking and falling in an avalanche-like reaction. Sometimes the lava hardens and a hollow cavity forms below, so there were a lot of potential weak spots. There weren't any warnings from the guide about what to do to test the strength of the lava you were about to step onto. A quick "if it sounds hollow, it probably is" would have been nice.

Again, I am safely back in Antigua...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Conversations with Lorena

Thursday Class
I didn't sleep well last night. It rained and the sound the rain makes on the metal roof is very loud. I skipped the gym this morning in hopes of falling back asleep as the rain had stopped very very early this morning. I was very tired when I got to class this morning and I just really wasn't in the mood to sit there again, kinda do the same things. Lorena could tell and so she just started talking....eventually I asked her if we could go talk at a cafe or in the park. "Of course," she said.

We went first to a crap cafe called Rainbow Cafe (no translation into Español= tourist establishment) where we had overpriced cappucinos and much conversation about unplanned pregnancies for youths and various other differences between Guatemala and USA. I got some good español practice in, though Lorena can really talk endlessly if you don't remind her that you are the one trying to practice.

Sex and Youth
Here, there is no sex education. They don't pass out condoms or tell girls when their fertile time of month is. They don't promote self respect or personal responsibilty or birth control or even abstinence. I mean, really- when there's only 3 or four hours of class per day, when is there time to educate your youth about sex?

In Guatemala, there is no help like there is in the USA- no matter if you are homeless, poor, need welfare or foodstamps, help with child support. Nada. Abortion is completely illegal and it is illegal in all surrounding countries as well. Her brother "had one night" with a random girl (he was drunk, she was completely sober) and she became pregnant. Two months later, her family knocked at his door and basically said marriage or jail (she was a "minor"- only 15 years old.) After much refusal and threatening, he finally gave in and married this girl. Lorena said, "Solamente porque el bebe, no amor! No es bueno!!" She is so adorable. What a miserable life he must be living.

We eventually moved on to another cafe because some ignorant tourist was blowing his cigarette smoke in our direction. We went to an amazing dessert shop and cafe, Pasteles la Cenicienta. We each got a chocolate cookie and a coffee. We talked about salaries in each of our countries and illegal immigration (mind you, this is all in Sapnish as we are not allowed to speak english, at least she isn´t.) She asked me how much I make in one hour. I was hesitant to tell her (not sure why really) but I did... she said that was her salary for one half week of half time work. One hour of my time in the US is worth two days or work here! I knew this was poor country, but I am still trying to get my head around that. No wonder I got 3 shirts for US$10 at the market.

That conversation lead to illegal immigration- the two are very closely connected as you may imagine. There are a lot of Guatemalans in the US. I told her how I was a bit worried about coming here because of possible backlash from the recent uprising of illegal immigrants in the US. She talked about how dangerous it is to get to the US because people have to go illegally.

Passports are so hard to get in this country. One in 100 people who apply for a passport get one. These people spend their very hard-saved money for only a 1 in 100 chance of getting to the US. Can you imagine? We should all feel so lucky and grateful for everything we have.

Lorena talked about how a man that she and her family hosted & taught Spanish to last year offered to pay for her daughter to come visit him and his family in Louisiana. (Their daughters are the same age.) What an opportunity for a young Guatemalan girl! But she won´t be going because of how impossible it is to get a passport. Lorena´s brother and uncle also live in the US and they have also offered to pay for her to visit. Now I feel like an ass because I just told her about all the countries I have visited. I wondered why all the instructors here were so interested in my life in Portland....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Coffee, Laundry & Cookies

Coffee & Speed
Lush farmland is not the only reason why Guatemalans drink so much coffee. I am convinced they drink it so much so try to keep 'regular.' Although I have not had any stomach problems relative to food, I am definitely not as healthy as I was! So much of the food here is fried and they use a friggin' ton of oil. The salads are all iceberg lettuce (which, if you don't know already has no nutritional value.)

There are no to go cups for coffee here. It's not like the streets of Portland where it seems like every other person has a Starbucks cup in their hand while walking down the street. I have seen a couple of to go cups, but they were obviously touristas.

Overall, people here are more laid back in general. Everyone on the street walks so slowly. At first I was very frustrated because I always seem to have somewhere to be- I always try to do too much. But I realized that I just need to slow down and go with the flow. It's ok to walk behind the elderly mother arm & arm with her daughter.

You'd think they would walk a bit faster from all that coffee they drink....

I did my first laundry run today. It weighed 6 pounds and it cost Q30 or about US $4.25. Since I started working out every morning, I have been taking my tank top into the shower with me and washing it along with myself. I only brought with me my college backpack and a small carry-on and that includes my teaching materials and toiletries. I am so proud that I can pack light!

I have already promised my carry-on bag to Armando, the guy who picked me up from the airport. He is such a sweet old man. He was asking me how much it cost and where I got it, etc. and he said that he was looking for one for his "football" equipment. I planned on leaving most of what I brought anyway and so far the things I have bought here are very small.

Cookies, Etc.
I found a great little cookie place near the park called Cookies, Etc. I got 3 cookies, a soda and a special pack of 2 cookies for Violeta (for Dia de Madre which is today) for Q17 or US$2.25. Amazing. This place is so cheap. What makes it even more amazing is that to Guatemalans, that is expensive. The economy here is so different.

The snickerdoodle was actually really good! Until my fabulous snickerdoodle, I have been pretty disappointed with the desserts here. They haven't seemed to quench my craving for sweets (I think) because they aren't as sweet as they are elsewhere. The chocolate is crap! Boooo!

Cafe Sky
I met some students from the school at a place called Cafe Sky after class. It is a rooftop bar and it is breathtaking. The views of Antigua and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes are so amazing from there. And it is only about a block and a half from my house. If all my photos turn out and my disposable camera doesn't get stolen, I will show you the photo of us. Muy bonito!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Martes 09 de Mayo

Sense of Direction
My sense of direction is so messed up here. Antigua is just north of the equator at 14.34N 90.41W. I noticed it first at Iglesia de Santa Clara on Saturday. I was checking out the shadows for a high tech photo with my disposible camera when I noticed the angle of the shadow on a wall. I stood there for a minute in shock. It must have been 160 degrees!

For the first few days I was here, I thought that north was south I was so mixed up. I guess I just assumed that they make maps with south being up here. (???) Now I have my bearings and I know what time of day it is relative to the sun. I have never been this close to the equator before and I value very highly my sense of direction so I was stunned to realize how wrong I was.

Because we are in the mountains, it gets light outside a lot earlier than the sun actually comes up. This makes it kinda confusing when I'm trying to figure out what to wear in the morning- it appears as if it is cloudy, but really the sun is just behind the volcano.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Week 2

Back at athe Gym
This morning I got up with the chickens and went to the gym. I worked out pretty hard on the elliptical machine for not getting much cardio in almost 2 weeks. The equipment isn't state of the art, but I've seen more ancient machines in Portland at athe YMCA. Perhaps tomorrow I'll do some weights to remedy my flabby arms.

PS- Now that I own a watch, I know what time the chickens get up....5:42am- that's 3:42 Portland time.

Why I Didn't Take My Debit Card to Panajachel
Would it be riskier to take my debit card knowing that if I get robbed, that was my only form of getting $$? (My other cards are American Express and I was sure they wouldn't take them here and I also need to keep the balances at $o for final underwriting on my mortgage which is occuring as we speak.) Or- Would it be riskier not to take it and if I get robbed (assuming they would take my return ticket to Antigua) I would not have a way to get money and get back to Antigua? I decided not to take it and it turned out fine. It also helped to curb my spending as I only had a limited amount of cash to spend on novelties.

On the bus to Pana yesterday there was a couple from Spain sitting behind me. They spoke Spanish (obviously) and also very good English. This made me realize that English is the most common language in the world partly (or even mostly?) because we have been ignorant toward learning other languages. This has pretty much forced other countries to become somewhat accquainted with English. For most this is ok- it makes it much easier for us Americans to travel internationally. But to me, this doesn't seem quite right. I suppose it is easier for the world to have one more common language. Is it right for me to be here trying to teach my language to people who don't really need it? I always feel so disrespectful when I go to another country and I don't know a lick of their language.

Another cause for this is that Americans have much less vacation time than Europe or Australia. And when Europeans or Aussies travel, they travel internationally. Joanna hasn't even started her job in Holland and she gets 6 weeks of vacation right off the bat. I have been at my job for more than 5 years and I get 2 weeks paid vacay and I can use my sick days as vacation if I want to. (Please feel free to challenge me or give me your thoughts on this one- I have only minimally overanalyzed it...)

Car Washes
There are car washes here. They are men sitting on the sidewalk with a bucket and a brush. They are usually around the square or the blocks around the square. When the car washes aren't busy, the washers and their buddies sit around the bucket and bs and drink and eat. It is very necessary here to have these guys- tons of dust that is thrown about when a chicken bus or a motorcycle drives by. It's a good thing there are the guys in fluorescent orange vests with extra long salad tongs picking up garbage or else we'd all be picking coke bottles and chip bags out of our hair.

It's also a good thing that I am not a beer snob. I guess I prefer Blue Heron or Chimay, but I can drink the PBR and Coors Light like the rest of you. Here in Guatemala there aren't many beer choices and the choices we do have all taste pretty much like PBR (or are similar- very light.) The happy hour at the school is every Friday. They give away free rum and cokes with lime (aka cuba libras)! Too bad I'm a liquor snob.... I much prefer cervesas.

The Restaurant Scene
Obviously the restaurant system here is much different from America's. I think they still require some sort of permit(s) as there are 3 plaques hanging in our dining room, which doubles as a restaurant during the day. They sell Gallo (the local beer) and a limited menu that seems to change daily. At lunchtime, I think that we students are served whatever is on the menu but the same combination hasn't been served more than once. The thing is, even without the strict permitting for food (street and home) vendors it's all ok. They are very popular and seem to always be busy at lunchtime. Wouldn't it be great if we could just open up our front doors and charge for a meal in our homes regardless of zoning or OSHA regulations? I know so many amazing cooks!

Today at lunch we had mashed potatoes (among other things.) My favorite!! And horchata!!! My other favorite!!! Ahhh, life is good.

The School System in Guatemala
I have written a bit before about the school that I will be teaching English at, but I have found out some more about it and I feel the need to share. These girls go to school at 7:30am, they are dismissed for the day at 12:30. They have an hour break at 10am for eating. That's four hours of schooling. We teach them english for one hour and that leaves three hours per day of school. We don't teach English on Wednesdays- I'm not sure if that means that the girls don't go to school on Wednesdays of if we just don't teach them, for practical purposes I'll assume the best and say that they go to school on Wednesdays. That puts them at 16 hours per week.

If you compare that to how much you went to school, that's about half the amount of schooling we received. On top of that, the classes are 40 girls and the teacher couldn't care less what or if these girls are learning. When I was in the classes observing Samantha, the teachers were not paying attention at all and they weren't disciplining as they were supposed to be doing either. The teacher in the last class was even primping in her little mirror from her purse. Susie, the other English volunteer, said that these teachers make so little that they often have 2nd and/or 3rd jobs. She also said that these girls are at the level we were at in 1st or 2nd grade.... and they are in 5th and 6th.

There is a little girl in traditional Guatemalan dress who is in our kitchen cleaning and doing dishes everyday. I didn't really think anything of it until I realized that she isn't in school when other girls are. I asked Mekiko about her and she said that she doesn't go to school. I realized how many girls in native dress I had seen on the street carrying bundles on their heads, following their mother or grandmother, toting along their baby sister or brother. She probably makes a fair amount of money for her family from the business that Rafael and Violeta have, but it is so heartbreaking- the potential that these girls have and it is wasted. I know I should just appreciate the culture and accept it for what it is, but I can't quite seem to.... school is not part of their tradition and their tradition is very close to them- they are not about to give it up. Or, they just don´t know what opportunities they have.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Lago de Atitlan & Panajachel

Bus to Pana
This morning I caught the tourist bus to Panajachel. Pana is a small mountain town on the northwest coast of Lago de Atitlan. The bus ride was about 2 1/2 hours from Antigua but scaled on my map it looks like the distance is about 60 miles. It wasn´t just going up the hills that slowed our bus, it was the Toyota pickups with 23 men in the back going up those hills. Luckily, there are not many regulations and even less enforcement when it comes to driving. Surprisingly though, the highways were very smooth and appeared nearly new between Antigua and Panajachel.

At the beginning of our drive, the fog was so beautiful. It hovered over the mountains, volcanoes and fields and I could see the true distance of all the layers of scenery beyond by the hue of the silhouette. All along the road, there were Guatemalans of all ages towing vegetables and other goods. The most amazing thing about this is that there were men and women who must be 80 years old or more who are carrying huge bundles up those steep, steep hills to their family or to sell them at some roadside shack. Some women were even barefoot. The countryside before the mountains was mostly farmland- a patchwork of veggies with a random tree or shade hut or native Guatemalan spraying pesticides or fertilizer.

Until today I hadn´t seen any men in traditional dress. In the ¨highlands¨ these adorable old men wear bright patchwork pants and cowbot boots or rain boots with a bright top and a cowboy hat. I saw many old, old men riding their bikes uphill.

Public Pissers
Most public restrooms in Guatemala charge for their use. Sometimes they even give you a receipt... for Q2 (about 30 cents, that includes a small wad of neatly folded toilet paper.... they assume you aren't having stomach problems.) After paying and peeing at the sanitarios in Pana, I could not find the handle to flush. Hmm.... So I just left, no big deal- only #1. When I exited, the guy who sold me my tp greeted me with "Buenos tardes!" and flushed my toilet from the opposite side of the wall.

Lago de Atitlan
The lake itself is enormous and absolutely gorgeous. The mountains surrounding the lake are so steep that it looks like nobody could possibly build a sensible structure there. The mountains and volcanoes were pretty clouded over, but you could still see the volcanoes and perimeter around the lake. It is hard to believe there weren´t more broken down buses than we saw.

I met a guy at breakfast in Pana who is from Arizona and we talked for a good while about BioDiesel and vegetarianism. He is here for his job- he buys, sells and converts cars to BioDiesel. He is here to purchase a car for client in the US. He and his grumpy girlfriend will drive it all the way back to Oregon to get it licensed. He claims to have a few clients in Portland and says he visits there often. What a small world this is.

I was very indecisive about taking a boatride across the lake mostly because I brought a limited amount of cash with me (no debit card which I will explain more later). After sitting down for a rest under a thatched roof for a Coca-Cola Dieta, I finally decided it was something I should do because I may never be back. I walked around to find the cheapest ride. Although I don´t believe I found the cheapest one, I made the trip- arriving back in Pana at 3:30- two and a half hours round trip.

My captain, Carlos, took me and 13 others on a bumpy ride to Santiago Atitlan in his small fiberglass boat. The ride there was very enchanting. One way took 30 minutes or so and once in Santiago Atitlan, I wondered why anyone would want to spend an hour and a half here. I walked around looking at the same crafts that I have seen a million times here in Guatemala. So I found a little tienda and bought an ice cream bar and soaked up some sun, constantly being harassed by little Guatemalan girls to buy some bracelets and keychains from China.

I am now safely back in Antigua and I must prepare for another week of español....

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Updates, etc. v.1

At Home
When I walked outside my door yesterday morning, there was a herd of goats! RIGHT THERE!! Not down the street or across the street, AT MY DOOR. That was so surreal. I love this place.

I am struggling a bit with balancing social activities and studying. I turned down going out with the girls the other night so I could study. I feel a lot of pressure to learn spanish, so I feel like I need to really focus these first couple of weeks. I am wishing now that I could be here for longer. I take 7 hours per day of spanish classes and do homework and that leaves weekends to be social and travel outside of Antigua. When I begin teaching I will have to be planning lessons in the evening.

I am grateful that Violeta and Rafael speak slowly in Spanish. They are used to hosting students by now, so I'm sure that is something they are used to doing. They are very patient with my stumbling around in their language.

Building Construction
I asked Lorena about the building construction here. Her husband is a metal fabricator. Everything looks like it is concrete but she said that its CMU (Concrete Masonry Unit for those non-architects) with concrete or stucco-type finish. (She didn´t know the word in english.) The roofs (as far as I can tell from my bedroom ceiling) are wooden beams about 48" O.C. (+/-) with rafters ripped to a very shallow slope with corrugated (usually rusty) metal on top. If you are lucky like me, you get a translucent ¨skylight¨for a portion of your roof. I was assured many many times when I arrived that the house I am staying in is very ¨safe¨- with all the earthquakes, that is.

Today, Sabado
This morning I went to the market to buy some more shirts. I brought with me about six and I realized that that wasn't enough. I also needed to get some workout clothes....I got three poorly made, K-mart quality tees for Q75 or about US$10. I actually had a hard time finding things that were "Hecho en Guatemala" especially at the boutiques, which is ok because the clothes there are muy caro! I did get some pretty cute workout pants at one of the boutiques though... for about US$25, ¨hecho en¨ U.S.A.

This morning, I walked by a barber shop with the lights off. Daytime electricity is very expensive in Guatemala, but of all the places to save some money....

This afternoon I joined the local gimnasio. My pants are tight and my arms are flabby and this is not ok with me. It was about half the price of my gym in Portland and it is about 3 blocks from my house. It seems just like an American gym- same equipment and everything, only nobody speaks english and they blare spanish music. I can´t wait to get back on the elliptical!!!

My friend Joanna and I found out last night that Buena Vista Social Club plays here every week. Apparently they live here in Antigua. I love them!! If you haven't heard of this band, go to iTunes right now and download some of their stuff. Next Friday!!

I have booked a trip to Lago de Atitlan (Atitlan Lake) for tomorrow. It's only a day trip, but it will be good to get away. If you can, you shoudl look up this lake. It is gorgeous. Adios!

Friday, May 05, 2006

End of Week 1

I have finished my first week of espanol. Whew!! I am absolutely exhausted. 7 hours a day of classes in the sun is pretty tough. That means I have been here for almost a week!

It's funny- they teach basic greetings and responses in the first day, but I feel like none of the answers they taught apply to me.... "Why are you here in Guatemala?".... Why am I here? Is it because of my dad? Is it because I need a break from my job? Is it because I am trying to find something? Or find myself? None of the phrases I know apply to my response. I have resorted to responding as "It's a vacation." I want to tell the truth, but it's not possible en español (partly because its in the past tense and I am currently learning how to speak in the present tense.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Poolside school

Have I mentioned how great his place is? In my afternoon espanol class, my professor and I sat poolside for our lesson. I had my shoes off and I was working on my tan while I was learning spanish! When Marta and I were reviewing colors and things in a house, we walked around the school and garden. WITHOUT SHOES!!! (sigh....) Don't you wish you were here?

Nothing much has happened since yesterday. I can feel a very strict schedule taking shape: wake up, shower, eat breakfast, run to espanol school, come home for lunch, run any errands (I have 2 hours in between my am class and my afternoon class- that leaves about 45 minutes after I am done eating lunch), afternoon espanol, one free hour (I should be studying, but I come to the internet cafe), dinner with mi familia and then study!!

I have found it helpful to make flashcards for my vocabulary words and espanol phrases. It has been more than 5 years since I went to school so this is a bit bizarre, having to study and do homework. I stayed up pretty late last night studying, which I am used to doing from architecture school. Hasta manana!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

3 de Mayo

This morning I started my español class after a delicious breakfast of fried plantains, scrambled eggs, frijoles, soya and tea. The pants I wore on the plane are already much tighter on me. I don´t have much will power for the fabulous food here- I will have to ask Violeta to give me smaller portions from now on....

Anyway, my morning teacher is Lorena and she is a keeper. Marta does a lot of vocabulario, she and has me read and do excercises from one of her textbooks which I find soooo boring. Lorena is also very patient like Marta but she does the right ratio of conversational español and vocabulario. We even went to the corner office supply store and bought pens during class. I know it probably doesn´t sound riveting, but how many times have you told your instructor that you needed different pens and she offered to go with you on a little educational excursion? Lorena speaks just the right amount of English too- only enough to explain concepts or words that I don´t understand the explanation in español. I feel like I learned more from her in one morning than my entire 6-week Berlitz class. We had a (broken, but understandable) in Spanish! She was very interested in my life in the US and I got a lot of info about her life- her family, her history, etc. Unfortunately, Lorena only teaches in the morning.

During my lunch break, I walked to the market to buy a watch (for some reason, there are a limited number of clocks here and I have left all technology in Portland.) I got this hideous Casio (knock off? probably) with an alarm for Q$35 (about US$5.50) which is great considering the first place I went offered the same one for Q$75. I also went to the post office and bought some stamps and put a few postcards in the mail. We´ll see how long it takes for all you to receive them. Let me know....

I´m afraid I will be blogging less now as I have places to be from 8am-5:30pm and I have homework (!!) which leaves waaay less time to write here. I will still try to write everyday, it just may not be so detailed. This has been such a great way to track my thoughts and activities. I hope you are all enjoying this. I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

First Day of School

La Escuela
In the morning at the Spanish school, I got orientation and then Gustavo, the director, and I went to the school where I will be teaching. I met my 2 classes of 5th and 6th grade girls who are currently being taught by Samantha. She is leaving this weekend and I will be taking over where she left off. This is a bit frustrating for me because Norina and I did a lot of work to begin planning lessons for classes with no prior English. Basically, I can review everything she has already taught them or I can start all over again with my lesson planning. Grrrr!

But OH! these girls are absolutely adorable. They are so happy to welcome someone new into their class and were so sad when Samantha reminded them that it was her last week of teaching English there. Their big brown eyes and their smiles are captivating. After an hour of class the girls have an hour-long break and then we move to the next class. Samantha says that the reason why they have an hour break is because they are so poor and that they probably leave home with out eating breakfast. It's hard to imagine- these beautiful young niñas in their navy blue uniforms. The first class, 6th grade, is well-behaved and mostly attentive. Most stay in their seats and few talked when Samantha was teaching.

The 2nd class of 5th graders was a lot more affectionate. They all came over and said, "Good morning!" (in English!!) and kissed us on our cheeks when we entered the classroom. They didn't even care who I was. This class reminds me of when I taught architecture to that class of 3rd graders in St. Johns a couple years ago- it seemed like they all had so much love to give and nobody to give it to. All their families had issues- their mom was in jail or their dad was a meth addict. They immediately attached themselves to anyone who was willing to give them attention. It is sweet, but it breaks my heart.

This second class was also less attentive and more unruly. About half of the students were never in their seats and by the end of the class a bunch of the girls were ignoring Samantha. They were huddled around me asking me questions and having me draw pictures of animals. I didn't know what to do- I hated to distract them from the lesson, but they were so fascinated by the new person that I decided to make the best of it and try to teach them something.

It was also my first day of Español! Thank goodness. Finally I can start to feel like I may be able to communicate with people. My afternoon instructor's name is Marta. I am so grateful that she is so patient. I had so many questions and I feel like we treaded a lot of water today....but I'm sure it will get better.

The Spanish school is so fabulous. The school entrance is a bar (!!) and the hallways are covered tile patios with offices off of the patio. There is free internet, coffee, tea and water. There is also a "living room" with furniture, TV and VCR. Some afternoons they offer movies in español.

The best part though is the classrooms. They are situated around a pool (also free to students!) They are little hut-type things that have bamboo full height between the "classrooms" and a half-wall facing the pool/courtyard. They are covered with corrugated metal roofing. The courtyard is full of all kinds of trees and vegetation including an orange tree that has a few fruits almost ready to be picked. There are birds of paradise!! IN THE GROUND!!! It was sunny and warm and the courtyard was gleaming. Around 4pm it got cloudy and it started to pour. It was so great to be getting spanish lessons so close to this paradise. Rain or shine, I don't care. This is the best classroom I have ever been in!

Iglesia de San Franciso

Yesterday after blogging, I tooled around some more and ended up at Iglesia de San Francisco about an hour before they closed, just before I had to be at dinner (at home across the street.) I went to the tomb of Hermano Pedro. It is a very powerful place. I say that not just because it is a place of worship or a tomb of someone who is respected. I say that because I consider myelf to be the farthest thing from spiritual. Remember, this is the place that people come to pray for the sick.

Men, women and children were praying at the tomb. Some left in tears. I saw a father do the "father, son holy spirit" thing to his daughter. Another woman had her arm through the grate and was resting her head in her elbow as if she was exhausted and begging for something. She had been there for at least 5 minutes. People seemed to approach and knock three times before praying as if to wake Hermano Pedro or let him know that they are there. The emotion of those people was so powerful. I imagined who they were praying for and it made me cry. Another young girl did the "father, son holy spirit" to her little sister. There must be a lot of sick people here in Antigua- there has been a steady stream of people here at the tomb. Some hang small wax or plastic angels on the grate at the tomb.

Should I "pray" for someone? Who should I "pray" for? Can I "pray" for everyone who is sick? In my own way I prayed for Teresa's grandmother, for my grandparents, one of my friends who is always in pain. I wish I could have prayed for dad. I wish I knew he was not well. I would do anything to bring him back. I know he is always with me now, but I miss him. I wish I would have done some things differently....

These people seem so much closer to their religion. I wonder why that is. Were they raised that way? They had to be. They obviously live it everyday. It is so much a part of their lives, not just going to church on Sundays and maybe bible study on Wednesday nights- this is like eating to them and they really believe in it.

I met the most beautiful young girl while I was sketching in the courtyard of the church. She, her grandmother and her brother were leaving as I was arriving to begin. I was still teary and I said "hola" to her and she replied but kept walking. A few minutes later, they came back. She asked me in English where I was from. Her english was very good- at first I thought she may be Guatemalan-American or something, but she said she was from Chichicastenengo. (People ride the bus for an hour to come here!) She asked me what I was doing here (I guess I wasn't sure if she meant Guatemala or the church) and I don't know if I answered her question, but I told her tearily that my dad had died and then I really started to cry. She was so sweet, she said she was sorry about my dad. Her grandma asked why I was crying, the girl had to translate for me. And I repeated myself, this time in broken spanish for the grandmother. She said she was so sorry and she put her hand on my shoulder. It sounds hokey, but just then the sun came out and shined seemingly only where we were in this gorgeous courtyard. I wish they would not have left. That was the most comfort I have had since I got here. That little girl was an angel.

A few minutes later, one of the church workers came over and and said something in spanish to me and when I looked up in response, she saw I was crying and she then did the motion and expression that she was sorry to interrupt. She then offered me some toilet paper from the wad in her pocket. I was so grateful- before I started sketching I went to the bathroom to get some tissue but they charge Q$2. I don't know if I started crying more after that because I was so happy to get some nose blow or because she was exclaiming and motioning to "Let it all out, let it go, cry away!" (In spanish, of course...)

I wonder now if my angel sent the church lady over to me or if that's her job- to pass out tp to all the criers. I guess it doesn't matter. It occured to me while I was there that I may live across the street for a reason. I will definitely be back.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Day 3

I am surprised by the appearances of the natives. Some look like visitors- they are wearing american clothing or fancy shoes and jewelry, but then they speak and they are defintitely Guatemalan. The teenagers here dress much like American teenagers- tight jeans, baby doll t-shirts, etc. There are few women in traditional dress. The teenage boys dress much like the ¨gangsta¨ types in America- baggy clothes and Nikes with a lot of product in their hair. I saw many teenage couples making out on empty streets. A couple of boys confronted me to sign some sort of petition, but it was clear that they just wanted some sort of contact with the blonde tourist. Their smiles were hugely suspicious and they were speaking slowly and clearly in Spanish.

At Las Palmas yesterday I ordered nachos con guacamole and a Gallo light. Gallo is the local beer. It was a lot like Bud Light to me. It occured to me after I ordered that I probably should have ordered the quesadilla instead as it would have been heated, but it turned out to be ok. I did take some Pepto Bismol tablets just in case. The chips were obviously homemade. They were very thick and had uneven dark spots from cooking them. I have had better guacamole.

Inglesia de San Francisco
Across the street from where I am staying is Inglesia de San Francisco. The original church was built in 16th century but little remains of it today, though extensive reconstruction and restoration make the church a lovely place to visit. The tomb of Santo Hermano Pedro de San Jose de Betancurt (1626-1667) is there. He is a Franciscan monk who opened a hospital for the poor here in Antigua. This guy is so well-respected that he was sainted but not until 2002 by Pope John Paul II. I can see part of the church from the window in the common area outside my room. Oh, how I wish I had digital photos to share..... I will visit inside later today.

On the north side of the Inglesia de San Francisco is one of the main bus routes going to Guatemala City. These buses are amazing- they are painted all kinds of bright colors each with an original design. At the ¨stops¨ they open up the back door to the bus and people just keep piling in and piling in until no more people can fit and people are standing and holding on to the sides of the bus.

Every other country I have visited has smaller cars than America, except for maybe Canada. Gas here is around Q$25 or US $4.25 per gallon so its understandable. There are also a lot of scooters and golf cart-looking taxis that have three wheels and sound like go-carts. The equivalent of the Toyota Tacoma here is called the HiLux. Sounds like a household cleaner to me....

I walked past many cars being hand washed by young men using a bucket and a brush. When they are done, they put the windshield wipers out for drying. I haven´t seen many bicycles which surprises me. Most walk I guess. The streets are very tidy- no garbage blowing about. It seems there is a lot of pride here.

Parque Centro
It´s funny how looks are exchanged between the very obvious tourists. It´s the look like, ¨I want to say hi but I´m not sure what language I should say it in.¨ While I am not the only blonde here, I think I am one of only three in the entire country with curly hair. One of the other three is my housemate Samantha.

At Parque Centro, Guatemalan families were strolling leisurely eating ice cream and entertaining each other. It was partly sunny and warm until about 3pm. The sky started to get dark and within 30 minutes or so, it was downpouring. Luckily, I was fairly close to home.

I wonder if I could be writing in spanish in my journal by the time I leave..... I hope so.