Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 December 12-20th El Migrante, San Marcos

December 12

Today was my first day of Spanish School, which consisted of 5 hours of schooling with my teacher, Leivi.  I went from really disliking her at the beginning of the day to actually liking her quite a bit by the end of the lesson.  She seemed determined to work on very difficult things, one of which is my (rolled) rrrrs, which felt a little cruel to me considering that it was within the first hour or so of having met her and of course I am not going to perform at my best when I am not comfortable with her!  I am also a little dissatisfied by her level of English, since I was sort-of thinking that my teacher would be pretty competent at English and it makes the lessons not as productive as I think they could be because I have to spend a lot of time looking up words.  However, I do feel like I am learning a lot and Patrick told me that Leivi was impressed by how fast I learned and also by my accent, which is something I have actually heard several times already so that's pretty awesome and good for my self esteem... So.  We will see how tomorrow goes!
The house

My (slightly messy) room.
The central area of the house.
The sink where I wash my clothes.
I didn't really interact much with the family today because I spent most of the rest of my day practicing my Spanish.  There is no running water today which kind-of sucks because I was hoping to shower, but  Mimi says it will be fixed tomorrow.  I really hope the water is actually hot here!  I know I sound spoiled saying that but I think the thing I miss the most about the US is the luxury of a hot shower.  I'm so sick of luke-warm or cold showers that I could just spit!

December 15

I haven't written in my journal for several days because I have been quite busy with classes and studying, but not much has happened so it's not a tragedy!  On the 13th it was Feorella's 11th birthday so we celebrated by making a nice dinner for her- hamburgers and carrot cake.  The hamburgers were about the most delicious thing I have ever had- I'm not sure if it is because they really were that great or because I've had so little red meat in the past month but they were fantastic. 

Counterclockwise from left to right: Valeria, Marisela, Diana, Mimi, Feorella, Pocho (a friend of the family) neighbor boy 1, Leito (little Leo), Leo, Faviola (with baby Adrian), neighbor lady with neighbor girl on her lap, neighbor boy 2.
The birthday girl.
Blurry but still cute pic of me and Feorella.
Diana and Valeria
Feorella and Pocho (hiding behind Feorella´s hood).
From left to right, Marco, Mimi and Pocho (dorking off, as usual!).
From left to right, Marco, Mimi, Pocho (wearing Feorella´s new dress!) and Feorella.
From left to right, Marco, Mimi, me, Diana, Pocho and Feorella, with Valeria in the front.
Fuerella is one of my favorite people here.  She is from Nicaragua and she's super cute and really patient with the fact that I can't understand 90% of what she says.  She tries to talk to me often but can recognize when I am busy and would rather not talk so it's really nice. 

I've gotten to know Diana and Otto more over the past couple days and that's been nice.  Last night we chatted for an hour or so and laughed a lot during that time.  Otto is super young- I thought he was like 24 or 25 but he's only 19!  Diana is 26, which is about what I would have pegged her at but after hearing Otto was so young I thought she might be much younger too.  She made me feel really good when she tried to guess my age last night and said 24!  lol 

This morning Patrick and I went up into the highlands above San Marcos.  We took a collectivo to a little community called Villa Nueva, where one of his friends cooked breakfast for us. She was a Mayan lady and she had a pretty interesting collection of “saints”.  Suzanne had told me about a journey she and a friend had gone on while in Guatemala, to see “Machuman” (sp?), who is something like the Mayan saint of "all things bad", or something like that!?  Suzanne's experience was a little more interesting than mine; apparently a different Mayan family houses "Machuman" each year and it's a big honor.  Machuman is actually a statue that lives in the peoples' house and they guard it/watch over it and people come to make “offerings” to Machuman.  Since Machuman is the saint of all things bad the “offerings” are things like booze and cigarettes!  Well, Patrick's friend had a bunch of little Machuman statues, or something similar, because a lot of the saints had cigarettes in their mouths!  :D  

On that note, I've come to the conclusion that a few cigarettes are less likely to kill me than all the pollution here- the black smoke that comes puffing out of nearly every automobile on the street, especially the buses, and the smoke from whatever fires seem to be burning all the time- I'm not sure if it's trash or fields or what but there seems to always be smoke here.  Also, cigarettes are so cheap here (about $1.50 US) that it's practically impossible not to buy them.  I know, I´m bad.  : D

The breakfast was simple but delicious.  She made the tortillas (even thicker than the ones I have gotten used to here) right in front of us and cooked them, as well as some potatoes and eggs (the eggs were in a pan), right on this wood stove in the kitchen that also doubled as the garbage disposal, meaning she was burning trash underneath our breakfast!  lol 

After breakfast we walked to another community called Tiuchan.  To get there we had to go on this trail that started at a house that had several aggressive dogs at it!  We had to get sticks beforehand and shake them at the dogs!  I was a little scared that we were going to get attacked but they just barked a lot; when we advanced toward them they would back off and if they tried to get closer we just waved the sticks at them and yelled and they backed off.  Still, it was a little scary but good for me to have to do, I think, especially being a survivor of a dog attack and still having that fear even now, 10 or 15 years after.
Fields Patrick and I walked through after passing the mean dogs.
Volcano Tajumulco, which I hope to climb sometime while I am here, is the highest volcano in CA.
It was cool to visit the highlands but my spanish is still so poor that it's really hard to understand much that's being said around me.  The scenery was beautiful and the community was very welcoming so I'm glad we did it but I didn't like having to shift my classes because I was tired of spanish before my lessons even began and I felt pretty irritable during class.

Something interesting that Patrick said about the highland communities is that they get gasoline/diesel from Mexico, bring it home and sell it illegally.  Apparently the police sometimes catch them and confiscate the fuel, and in response the people will get together and “kidnap” some policemen and hold them hostage until the fuel is returned, and the government has so little control that they have to comply!  Pretty crazy!  He also said that lynchings happen with some frequency in these small communities; there will be a thief and the community forms a mob, finds the guilty (or in some cases, not guilty!) party and in some cases even beat the person to death.  It's definitely a different world here.

My classes are going ok but I am still really frustrated by how little English Leivi speaks, though I like her very much as a person.  It's really a drain on my enthusiasm to have to spend so much time looking words up and to be unable to explain questions or get real clarification.  Sometimes I just want to lock myself in the bathroom and have a good cry or go home and curl up in bed and sleep the whole night and not do another second of spanish because I am so frustrated by it.  I am getting better with my conjugations and Mimi, Diana and Otto are all helping a lot with that, as well as Leivi, of course.  I know I'm making progress but it doesn't feel like as much as I'd hoped to and I'm definitely frustrated by that as well.

There is another guy taking classes at the school right now; his name is Steven and he's probably about 30 or 32.  I went out for a beer with him and Patrick one night at a restaurant right next to the central plaza, where there is a giant tree that is decorated with many lights that turn on every night at 6.  When they light the tree they play the theme from 2001 A Space Odessy, followed by the theme from the Olympics.  :D  It's completely incongruous, therefore, totally awesome.  Whoever rigged the lights to the music did an amazing job; they are perfectly coordinated and it's really great to see the lights flick on and off the colors change with the music.  Also, that night I learned the trick to having a hot shower here!  The water here (and in many of the places I stayed in Mexico) is heated by an electric heater that you have to turn on (yes, I HAD actually figured that much out!) but what I hadn't figured out (yes, I'm an idiot!) is that you have to have the water pressure super-low (like, REALLY low) in order to get hot water.  Of course this means that you have a total of about 1 cup of water running over your body every minute, but at least it's hot.  :o)

There were no lights when I woke up yesterday morning, and no electricity for pretty much the entire day (during my lessons- it came back on right before I left school)- which meant no coffee, which meant that lessons were VERY LONG.  I've become an addict again being here in Guat, and also in Mexico.  It's ridiculous too because the coffee is total crap; although some of the best coffee in the world is grown here nearly all of it is exported so the locals all drink Nescafe!  The coffee at school is good; it's actual coffee as opposed to instant and apparently it's grown somewhat locally so that's cool...  The lights went out again last night, which was actually pretty cool- it reminded me a little of being a kid when we'd have a big storm.  Mimi had lots of candles going in the café and it was really homey and actually quite bright in there.  She has hung the windchime I brought from Wyoming as a gift right at the entrance to the café, which makes me feel special!  I was so happy when I saw all the windchimes she has in the café (she collects them); I knew I had made a good choice in gifts when I saw that.

December 16

Today has been a good day so far.  I had 6 hours of lessons today because yesterday Leivi had a reunion she had to go to so we cut our lessons short by an hour.  Today I have felt like I have understood a lot more when people talk, in general, and I know I am doing better with my verb conjugation so that is good.  Now it's just practice, practice, practice! 

Patrick and I went to San Pedro today and walked around a bit, then walked back here- it's a very small distance away and it was a beautiful day for a walk. 

Church by the central market of San Pedro
Cool building that I can´t remember the name of right now!  It had Mayan glyphs enscribed all over it and is very pretty.
Tomorrow Patrick and I are going to another nearby village called Cucho; the guy who owns the building where the school is (whose name is Lee) has family there that we will stay with.  It should be fun.  Patrick has been really sweet and seems genuinely excited to show me around to all the different places so that's been pretty awesome. 

There was a parade tonight which consisted of about 5 or 6 vehicles with people dressed up as Santa Claus or, for the girls, (smutty!) elves.  :o)  Apparently there will be a larger one tomorrow night but we will miss it because we will be in Cucho.

December 24

It's been over a week since I wrote anything but most of my days are the same.  I wake around 7:15, eat a breakfast which usually consists of two eggs, a mush/paste (I hate describing it like that because it makes it sound gross and it's actually very good!) made of black beans and sometimes a bit of queso (cheese), a couple of tortillas and a bowl of cornflakes, sometimes with a banana sliced in it.  My school is about a 15 minute walk from where I live and I usually have to rush because I took my time with breakfast and having a couple cups of coffee. 
The cafe, where I spend most of my time when I am not in classes.
Inside of the cafe.  I am often at the corner table (where you can see my computer!).
My classes are from 8am – 1 pm and Leivi and I usually go for a 30 min to 1 hour-long walk sometime around 10 or 11.  I probably consume about 4 more cups of coffee during class.  After class I usually go straight home and have lunch sometime between 1:30 and about 2:30 pm.  I spend most of the time that I am not in classes in the café studying, and drinking more coffee.  :D  Despite all the time I am devoting to spanish I often feel quite discouraged and like I am not learning as much or as quickly as I had thought I would.

On Saturday (the 17th) before Patrick and I went to Cucho, Otto and I walked to Agua Tibia, which is a public swimming area that is near here.  The pools and the stream that feeds it are beautiful and I got a pedicure from the little fishes while Otto swam.  The water in the pools is from the stream (despite the fact that I'm so far south, San Marcos is at 3000 meters [close to 9000 feet] so the climate here is very similar to Wyoming or Montana in June, hence, the creek water is very cold!) and it was way too cold for me to want to swim!  The walk was very nice, especially on the way back when we cut through this park (which is supposed to be private property but everyone goes there anyway!) and walked through the woods.

Beautiful vista on the way to Agua Tibia, looking southwest from the outskirts of San Marcos.
Pretty stream below Agua Tibia.

Path on the way back home.
Cucho was a lot of fun; Patrick and I ended up riding there in the back of a pickup truck with like 8 other people so it was a pretty unique experience bouncing along the (really terrible) dirt road jammed into the back of a truck like a bunch of sardines!  But, the scenery was beautiful!  Cucho itself was nothing exceptionally amazing but the views of the surrounding countryside and of San Marcos/San Pedro were pretty great, and Lee's family was very sweet.  On Saturday night there was a “Posada” which is a type of religious procession where people in the community go to one house, collect an “anda” (a litter, or bier, if this word can be used for something that isn´t dead!) bearing statues of Mary and Joseph, and escort it to another house- in this case, the home of Lee's mother (where we were staying for the night). 
The anda, with the statues of Mary and Joseph.
Very elaborate nativity scene at the first house.  I´m pretty sure every toy animal in the house was in attendance.  :o)
We had to wait for about an hour at the first house (for all the other people to arrive) and the kids were really cute.  A bunch of them had little whistles they were tooting and then a handful of the younger people who were friends with Lee's family started playing a game of telephone that they made me play!  Of course that was a terrible idea, as the phrase was more often than not completely messed up after going through me, but everyone had a good laugh, including me!  

The procession was really cool; it was completely dark by that time so we made our way by candlelight.  There were nuns who would say prayers and then one guy had a guitar so he would play songs that everyone would sing to while we walked.  The coolest thing for me, though, was that the road was pretty uneven and there were lots of rocks- especially closest to the first house, where the road was just a dirt track along a small stream- and there were tons of old ladies walking with us!  I kept thinking how there was no way you would ever see so many old ladies in the US walking on trail like that at all, let alone in the dark guided only by the light from their candles!  One of Lee's relatives (possibly his father?) had a bag of fireworks and was super-cute in his child-like excitement to light them off. 

Village boys bearing the anda with Mary and Joseph.
Patrick, taking his task very seriously.
Cute firework guy, caught "Con los manos en la masa" (red-handed/with his hands in the jar).
From left to right, cute firework guy (Lee´s father?), Lee and Patrick (still looking very serious for some reason...).

Sunday (the 18th) we went for a little walk through the streets of Cucho with Lee's entire family, stopping briefly at one of their friend's houses.  Then we just hung out with Lee's family for the rest of the day because there was only one bus back to San Marcos that day, which didn't leave until 3:30.  It wasn't super-exciting because I still didn't really understand much spanish but I had brought my homework so I was able to catch up on that.
Cool eucalyptus tree.
View from the roof of Lee´s familys´ friend´s house, of a neighbor´s house where they are drying corn on the roof (this s a very common thing to see here in this area but I keep forgetting to mention it).
View of San Marcos from Cucho.
Here are a few shots from the drive back to San Marcos from Cucho.

The people in this region put fields in basically every place they possibly can.  It´s amazing to see fields on such slopes!

That night Mimi and Otto taught me how to play chinese checkers.  It's my new favorite game.  :o)  I've played it a time or two since then with Otto.  We're pretty evenly matched so it makes the games fun; usually whoever loses only loses by like 5 moves so we have to stay on our toes!

On Tuesday (the 20th) Leivi, Steven, Lindsay (his girlfriend, who is here until sometime in the beginning of January), Luis, several of Luis's friends and I went to the “Parque Regional Municipal San Pedro Sacatepéquez”, which was about a 30 minute bus-ride from San Marcos.  We spent the day walking around in the forest, which was beautiful and exactly my type of thing but not a very productive way for me to learn spanish.  There was a pretty awesome playground at the entrance to the Parque where we spent some time acting like we were about 8 years-old again.  :o)

Leivi and me at a lookout point.

From left to right, Lindsay, Steven and Luis.
Leivi, making the slack line look like a piece of cake!

I am going to end this post here since it's already ridiculously long!  More to come soon...

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