Monday, July 24, 2006

Feliz Cumpleaños a Antigua
Hola Amigos,
Lo siento for the big gap since my last entry. I hope you are all having a wonderful (hot) summer. I am a bit jealous of the US heat wave, as despite being a bit north of the equator this is actually considered winter to most Guatemalans. The frequent afternoon and evening rainstorms keep the temperature on the cool side most of the time.
I began this blog about a week ago and I am finally getting around to publishing it. I guess i am beginning to live on Guatemalan time.
Buenas Noches Amigos! I am taking cover from yet another rainstorm in one of Antigua's ubiquitous internet cafes. Although i should have known better, i left my place about an hour ago without an umbrella or a jacket. The almost daily torrential afternoon and evening showers are starting to wear on me, but tonight i felt almost obligated to forgo my Spanish studies to attend the festivities in Parque Central. Tomorrow is officially Antigua's birthday as well as the day honoring the patron saint of Antigua: Santiago de los caballeros (cowboys), and unlike Americans who mark their country's independence with one evening of celebration, Antiguans celebrate their city's birthday for a good week or so. This is not surprising as they have bi-weekly Easter processions for at least a month in advance of the holiday. Anyway, tonight we were promised a fantastic display of fuegos artificales in the sky. Unfortunately, living a few blocks from the Seattle Lake Union fireworks has spoiled me and heading toward the park i was more than a bit skeptical of the pyrotechnic display i was about to witness. Soon after arriving the rain began to fall and I thought the fireworks would be nothing more than the few bottle rockets sporadically going off dangerously close to where we were standing. The guys from my place seemed amused that we were allowed to stand within about 20 or 30 feet of the fireworks, but as soon as the first big one went off directly over my head, I ran for the hills, well; really it was the cover of another tree a bit further away from the action. I never did catch up with my housemates, but I enjoyed a colorful and somewhat impressive display of amunition for 20 minutes or so among as many locals as tourists.
The chill from wearing wet clothing as well as the bad 80´s music blasting in my ears drove me out of the internet cafe last night long before my cuento fue terminada (my story was completed). Although today is officially Antiga´s special day, it seemed rather anticlimatic compared to Sunday, when despite the afternoon down pour, masses of Antiguens poured into Parque Central to literally wish Antigua a Happy Birthday (sung in English).
On Sunday morning around 11 I headed to the park for a dependable if not American priced cup of cafe' con leche. I was sitting in the cafe and chatting with another young American woman when our conversation was interrupted by the music of a fairly large marching band passing through the park as part playing an oddly familiar tune which we both recognized as American. in a few seconds i realized that the song was "Stars and Stripes Forever". What made the experience even stranger, was that just ahead of the band 30 or 40 Guatemalans of all ages were carrying a large platform on top of which stood a large statue of Santiago Atitlan, the patron saint of Antigua.
While walking back towards home via the park around 3:00 that Sunday afternoon I encountered a tent housing the biggest sheet cake I have ever seen decorated with a sugary model of Antigua, complete with the city's signature big yellow arch. The lonely dessert was being guarded by a few official women dressed in yellow shirts and hats advertising the cake company responsible for the monstrosity. I asked one of the woman "¿A que hora cortara' el pastel? At what time will you cut the cake?" She replied, "A las cuatro. (4:00)" so i hurried t home to get my camera. Just as soon as i began retracing my steps toward the park with gringa backpack and camera in tow, it started to rain. By the time i hit the park masses of locals and fellow gringos were beginning to fight for space under the shelter of the cement awnings along the edges of the park. Within minutes the cobblestone streets began to fill with puddles deeper than a kiddie swimming pool (well at least the one i had according to my baby pictures). More than a bit frustrated, i decided that no rain storm was going to keep me from getting my keepsake digital pics of the fiesta. As i prepared to venture out into the storm i noticed that a Guatemalan woman standing next to me was breast feeding a rather large infant or toddler who she was carrying in the typical Guatemalan style, bundled in front of her in a colorful shawl. A couple minutes later another woman approached me with a similar bundle hanging from her neck. She took one look at my gringa outfit and instead of a baby, she reached into her bundle and pulled out of some sort of textile and shoved in my face. i took that as my cue to hit the street and opened up my dilapidated paraguas (umbrella) and entered the sea of a street and towards the tent housing the cake. Fortunately, in Guatemala i am not exactly vertically challenged when standing in a crowd of locals, and i was able to sneak a couple of shots of the giant dessert despite the hoard of people attempting to both keep dry and ensure that they would get a chance to eat part of mini Antigua. More interested in the photos i had just snapped than tasting the apparent gooey mess, i puddle jumped my way across plaza and landed under a tent housing the marimba band about to perform. The marimba - a relative of the xylophone is Guatemala´s national instrument.
Since the band, which included 7 boys and men playing two large marimbas, a drummer, timbale player (another type of drum) and an electric base player, didn't seem to mind sharing their leaking tent with myself and several others attempting to stay somewhat dry, i stayed and enjoyed the up-close entertainment. Actually the band was awesome and, mesmorized, i forgot that i was soaked and cold while enjoying watching and listening to them play. After 30 minutes or so, the rain began to let up and i cleverly found away to circumvent the huge puddle surrounding the tent. I was about to leave the park when i noticed the parade of giants (i am still not certain of their significance) nearby. Basically several people were holding up (and hiding under the cloaks) giant figures resembling humans but with a bit of a cartoonish flair. Soon the marimba music started up again and the giants began to spin and dance in the park square. It was a really interesting and entertaining performance accompanied both by the music and by several loud fireworks which created a pretty layer of smoke haze rising up to the low cloud line. i took lots of pictures and short videos.
Excited, exhausted, soaked and starved, and maybe missing Seattle a bit, I headed for Antigua's only Japanese/Thai restaurant. I reviewed my pics while awaiting my very non-Guatemalan Tofu teriyaki, miso soup and Jasmine Tea. Although the soup came at the end of my meal, I must have enjoyed it because the waitress commented on the large quantity of food i had just inhaled. I think i will stick with Guatemalan fare for the rest of my stay here.
Speaking of Guatemalan food, it's about time for my cena (dinner).
Hasta Luego,

Monday, July 17, 2006

¿Un Santo o Un Diablo?
Hola amigos viejos y nuevos! I am way overdue for a posting, but nothing happened that seemed worthy of a blog until el fin de semana (weekend). My ability to communicate in espanol seems to be improving poco a poco, and i hope that despues de 6 more weeks of Spanish school I will be fluent enough to qualify for a position in which I can use my Spanish, either in the US, or possibly somewhere in Latin America. Once the travel bug bites, it leaves quite a mark....
On Friday, enjoying the intensity of the Guatemalan afternoon sun for a change (it frequently clouds over by 1 or 2pm), i ventured just outside of town to check out a non-profit agency called Nuestros Ahijados where I plan to volunteer for a few hours daily starting sometime this week. The agency promotes advancement out of poverty through education. It provides a solid elementary school education to many of the poorest local kids as well as one of the few non-University libraries in the country, school supplies, and I think 2 meals per day from donated food. The organization also provides free medical and dental care to thousands of local adults and children. They have a new nutrition clinic and i hope to contribute to the clinic as well as to school meal planning. Unfortunately the woman running the nutrition program has been ill and i haven´t been able to meet with her yet.
Although I love Antigua, it is nice to get out of the congestion of the busy town and actually climb the Seattle- like hill on the way to the agency. The calles (streets) of Antigua are as flat as Kansas (i imagine), but the uneven cobblestones provide quite a workout despite the lack of significant changes in elevation. Living in Antigua is to be one with dirt. It is not that we don´t have running water which occasionally even gets warm. Actually, since the school director´s son replaced the duct tape meant to secure the plastic shower attachment to the shower head in my telephone booth-sized shower with silicon, i can bathe myself without fearing that the attachment will fly off mid-shower. Besides the annoyance of having the attachment fall off everytime i showered for my first 2 weeks in Antigua, if i failed to quickly realize what was happening quickly enough, streams of water would shoot both over my shower curtain soaking the floor in front of my toilet (the sink is in the shower) and over the other side of the shower and onto my bedroom floor. If i was really lucky the shower spray would even reach the top of my little wardrobe where i keep my drug articles and jewelery. So, what i am trying to say is that i currently have the luxury of showering whenever i want to without too much difficulty. The thing is, that within 30 seconds of walking outside one is covered in a swirl of dirt drawn up from the cobblestone/dirt roads by a combination of the gusty wind and any vehicles driving by. The dirt alone would not be so bad, but you would think that there is a contest to see who can emit the biggest and most offensive cloud of black shit from the back of his or her vehicle. The chicken buses are the worst offenders and probably emit at least 10x the amount of dirt and harmful chemicals allowed in most US states. There is nothing like bending over (i refrain from doing too much of that here) to fix your shoe, only to find yourself eating a sandwich of bus exhaust as a chicken bus goes barreling around the corner. You should see a chicken bus pass 3 vans in a row going uphill on a blind curve with a guy hanging out the door as a lookout... Mom, i am just kidding. REALLY- that never happens.
One of the reasons for my deliquency in writing is because over the weekend i traveled to the beautiful Lake Atitlan (by tourist van, not chicken bus) on a trip organized by my Spanish School. Check out this site with great pics of Lake Atitlan and a couple of lakeside towns. If you read the story about Maximon, keep in mind that the story provided is likely the Catholic and not the Mayan interpretation of the legend...
Speaking of Maximon, seeing the wooden statue of this evil saint/ anti-Christ (Catholic perspective) or brave saint and defender of the Mayan religion against the Spanish invaders (traditional Mayan perspective) was one of the reasons for my weekend trip. Upon arriving in Panajchel, the main hub and tourist trap, we took a motor boat tour of the amazingly gorgeous lake stopping at 3 indigenous villages, including Santiago Atitlan. I was particularly excited to visit Santiago Atitlan because i recently read a great book call Secrets of the Talking Jaguar written by a Native American (US) man who became a Shaman (healer) in that village. In Santiago we visited the church, which like many Mayan churches blends Catholisism with the beliefs and rituals of the traditional Mayan religion. Jose, our guide and a teacher at my school, then led us to a small hut where El Maximon sat guarded by a local fraternity of Mayan men, who move him at least once per year, lots of incense (likely copal) and many burning candles. Apparently candle holders are not considered a necessary safety precaution, and despite several warnings by a friend, I momentarily became caught up in my surroundings and forgot about the flames burning 6 inches from my feet. I managed to escape with only a small singe in one of my flip flops and barely caught myself mid-profane curse. Although I paid a couple of quetzales to see Maximon and a few more to take his picture, i did not bring the cutomary offering of cigarettes, whisky or beer to appease him.
Today instead of working on my grammar, Olga and I ventured by chicken bus to a town called Itzepa where there is another wooden statue of the man known as Maximon in Santiago Atitlan. In Itzapa he is worshiped by local Mayans as St. Simon, the great 16th century protecter of the Mayan faith against the Spanish. It was quite an adventure. For most of the 1 hour trip (including transfer) we sat packed three to a seat on old bluebird school buses. Again it was apparent that Guatemalans do not put safety first, as once while getting ready to depart, Olga and I practically hugged the driver to keep from falling out the door... I loved visiting Itzapa with Olga. It was market day and she patiently tolerated my desire to take a picture of everything from a truckful of bananas to a woman selling raw chicken parts. okay, i am a bit strange. As Olga led me down a street toward the buiding where the statue of St. Simon (Maximon) is housed we encountered some vendadoras selling small figurines and pictures of the saint/ devil, as well as flowers meant to serve as an offering to the statue. Confused about the story behind the statue, Julie the gringa opened her big mouth in front of the women and asked Olga in Spanish why someone would want to buy a figure of someone who is supposed to be the opposite of God. With these words the women scurried to the back of thier store. The culturally ignorant gringa offended them. Idid not realize that many of the local Mayans, including these women, worship St Simon (not called Maximon in Itzapa) as a saint and protector. Unlike the Maximon statue in St Atitlan which appears to now be primarily a tourist attraction, the statue St Simon continues to be a place of worship in Itzepa. This morning several locals were burning offerings of food and other items in front of St Simon´s dwelling to ask for his help and others were praying inside the church-like building where the replica of the Saint sits dressed in a suit and surrounded by bottles of whiskey and beer. Again, i failed to offer St Simon a Gallo (beer), but perhaps i will toast him the next time i go to happy hour.
Tomorrow Olga and I will return to our plastic table for 4 more hours of Spanish grammar and conversation. However, I am looking forward to Friday when we will take another field trip to her town, San Antonio Aguas Calientes.
Well, I appear to be closing this internet cafe down. I hope you all are having a verano (summer) excelente!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No Màs Helado de Mcdonald´s Para mi!

Hola chicos y chicas,

Lo siento, pero i am having trouble coming up with original greetings and it is only my 4th or 5th entry! It has been 2 weeks since i arrived in Guatemala, and I feel quite settled here in Antigua. After much consideration i decided to quedarme (stay with) my Spanish School and with my maestra, Olga, for at least the next couple of weeks. My ability to speak Spanish is improving and i am really enjoying my conversations with Olga. Next week during school time the two of us are going to take the infamous chicken buses to various local towns so I can learn more about Mayan culture. I just attended an informal Spanish lecture and demonstration at my school about the importance of Maize to the Guatemalans. I found it really interesting. Hopefully next week I will start volunteering at a local non-profit in the afternoon for 3-4 hours per day. I plan to tour two organizations at the end of the week and then I will select the one which seems to be the best fit for me.

Over the weekend 4 new students (de los estados unidos) moved into the guest house and although I have been speaking a bit more English thrououghout the day than i had hoped to, I am enjoying the company. Until this weekend the only other students at the house were a few boys in their teens and early 20´s. Although they were very nice and quite mature for their age (i guess traveling to a place like Guatemala takes a bit of the teen out of the teenager), we had little in common and meals lasted all of 10-15 minutes. Now there are six adults all within a few years of my age. Meals are like being part of the big family i never had- especially lunch and dinner when we are joined by the school director´s wife and adult son and sometimes by Mario, the director as well. Yesterday afternoon a few of us stayed too long at happy hour where bottles of Gallo, the Guatemalan equivalent of Corona) are practically given away for11Quetales ($1 = 7.5Q) each. (Actually it was the chatting, not the drinking that kept us- really) (I actually abstained on account of my gut (see below)) When we arrived at the guest house 10 minutes late for dinner, the frijoles negros (my favorite source of protein) were nearly gone. The boys from last week didn´t care for beans too much. In my best and most polite espanol, i told Francisca, our cook and housekeeper and my new amiga, that all of the current students like black beans. She promised to make more today and because of my comment we will probably be enjoying our frijoles negros 3 times per day from now on....

if you think 11Q ($1.50) beers are una buena oferta, tonight at the popular bar, Mono Loco, (crazy monkey) it is ladies night, and women can buy cuba libres (cheap rum and cokes) for 3Q. Of course guys flock there like flies on... I have no problem passing on this deal, but i may end up at Mono Loco tonight (after i complete my tarea (homework) por su puesto), because later in the evening everyone files into the bar next door for salsa dancing. Acutally, going salsa dancing in Antigua is a bit like riding the subway in San Francisco (I don´t have experience in NY or Boston, but i imagine they are similar if not worse) during rush hour. The bar is deserted until about 10-1030 when suddenly it fills up and the claustorphobic run for the hills. A few couples show off their moves throughout the crowded bar, and the rest of the bailadores pack into a small square of a dance floor in the corner of the bar. Last week i was lucky enough to get one dance in before i too succombed to claustrophobia and the cigarette smoke. Luckily there is a small window on the wall separating the dance floor from the sidewalk, where i discovered i could stand outside and check out the scene while enjoying the semi- fresh air. In Antigua the talented dancers are separated from the rest becasue they can execute their moves beautifully on the sometimes sticky brick or stone tile floors. I do miss the beautiful wooden floor at the Century ballroom in Seattle. One thing i really appreciate about the salsa dance bars/clubs in Antigua is that there is a nearly 50-50 mix of Guatemalans and foreigners. Most of the other popular Spanish student hangouts in town seem to attract a nearly strictly gringo crowd- even when there is live latin music (non-salsa).

One of these pro-gringo establishments is called Cafe Rainbow. Cafe Rainbow is a cafe/restaurant with expat waitresses, as well as a bar, bookstore, and travel agency. On Sunday night I ate dinner at Cafe Rainbow with my new friends and, taking a break from Guatemalan cuisine for the evening, I ordered a gringo tofu and vegetable stir-fry, and of course a bit of Gallo. For some reason, after dinner i decided that i needed an ice cream cone and sadly i entered the one McDonald´s in Antigua- A nearly criminal act for someone who frequently condemns the presence of American junk food and fast food in Guatemala. Anyway, i had that craving for ice cream (no, i am definitely not pregnant) and all of the regular ice cream shops close pretty early for some reason. For only 3Q (40 cents) i walked out of the huge red building with my prized treat. Unfortunately, 2 or 3 hours later i was inititated to what i guess i will just call "traveler´s gut". I suppose no more details are necessary. Luckily my enfermidad passed through me by the next morning. Although i have taken a few food safety risks in the past two weeks, I am guessing that this nutritionist´s bout of "traveler´s gut"was most likely caused by a combination of too much afternoon Guatemalan sun, un poquito de cerveza (beer), the stir-fry, y ice cream.... hmm maybe my decision to change careers is a good one!!!

Disclaimer: I suppose this entry makes it sound like i do a bit more drinking than studying in Antigua. Although i could definitely put more time into practicing my conjugations, i assure you that the ETOH consumption by this gringa is not at all what you might infer by reading the above fabrication.

Oh dios mio! i am late for dinner again. Cross your fingers that there will be some frijoles left by the time i get home.

Adios for now,


Saturday, July 08, 2006

La Escuela de Espanol
Buenas tardes amigos. It recently occured to me that I have written very little about my experience at Spanish School. Antigua is home to 30 or more Spanish schools which accomodate as few as 5-10 students up to 60-80 students. All of the schools offer one-on-one instruction with optional group classes. I basically chose my school, Tecun Uman off the web, knowing that once in Antigua I could easily switch my teacher and/or school. Upon arriving in Antigua last week I was dropped off at what I thought was the Spanish school- A beautiful open air building with a few tables and many plants. However, I soon learned that the edifice serves as the school´s office and that the majority of the school`s students study at another location. My "school" is actually nothing more than a couple of cement rooms, barren with the exception of several plastic tables, as well as a small field of artifical turf. Mi maestra, Olga, prefers to sit outside, and each day we attempt to find a bit of sombra (shade). Even though the morning air is cool, the Guatemalan sun is quite strong and I will probably go through a few tubes of sunblock before my two months here are through. Olga is a Mayan woman, probably in her late 30´s who sells natural and herbal medicines on the side. We have had many cool discusions about medicine, nutrition, religion and anthropology. Still, I will probably ask to switch teachers after next week as I don´t think she is the greatest at coming up with alternative explanations when I am stumped. Learning Spanish from someone who doesn´t speak English takes a lot of patience on both parts (mostly the teacher´s in my case.)
Most Spanish school students study for 4 hours per day, which is really 3.5 hours because of the a 30 minute break from 10-1030. The siesta is much needed- after 2 hours of one-on-one grammar lessons my head is spinning. It´s also fun to socialize with the other students and teachers. The classes are organized into several levels and I started in level B (2). Olga teaches me from memory and out of one ancient spiral bound book. The school provides a few handouts with verb conjugations but nothing more as far as materials go. I have found this to be frustrating, and this week I began shopping around for other schools. While the location and a few of the amenities offered by each school may differ, my impression is that the quality of a student´s education really depends on the individual teacher. All of the schools seem to follow a similar lesson plan and provide afternoon cultural activities such as a cooking demonstration, beginning salsa lesson, or a trip to a local macadamia nut farm or to a coffee plantation. They also provide agua pura, coffee (with my beloved coffee mate) and tea. Today I visited a school which seemed luxurious by Guatemalan standards. Just for asking about the school I was given a packet of local postcards and the school provides books and wireless access. However, while talking to the school employee in Spanish, I realized that in just 7 days at Tecun Uman, my ability to speak has greatly improved (I am still far, far from fluent). Maybe the fancy amenities are not necessary after all. If I don´t practice speaking or sit myself down and study my grammar and vocab, I won´t learn Spanish no matter how fancy the school. Plus, at many schools tables are crammed quite close together and although I study on a soccer field, I don´t have to try to talk over 6 or 10 other students and teachers. Because I don´t receive worksheets for homework, after school I attempt to write a story using my new vocab and grammar. My latest masterpiece is about my jeans buying trip at the market. My goal for tomorrow (Sunday) is to master all of the irregular verbs i have learned so far (yeah right). Perhaps I will have to find a cafe to study in, as I am not sure I can take another Sunday of the horrible church music....
Hasta Luego,

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

La Iglesia

Hola amigos! Happy 5th of July! El Dìa de la Indepencia wasn´t quite the same here in Antigua, although i did hear numerous fireworks throughout the day. Fireworks are nothing special, as Guatemalans commonly mark special occasions with an early morning bang. Almost daily i awaken to the sweet sound of shot gun- like fireworks.
Wow, it is raining gatos y perros at the moment. i am sitting in a small internet cafe happy to be under cover. Acutually, since my jeans buying adventure last weekend it has been quite warm and dry here. Maybe i will have an excuse to put on my sexy pantelones this evening...

Speaking of lovely morning sounds, i am quite fortunate to live directly across the street from a small evangelical church. i have been trying to come up with a fitting description of the music?? that began filling my tired ears by 8:00 Sunday morning. Ohh the music. Ohh the piano player. i think i heard someone sing in tune, but i really am not positive. Tossing and turning in bed, i thought, maybe this is punishment for not going to church regularly or for accidentally flushing toilet paper down the toilet. (The septic systems are archaic here so t.p. goes in the trash. it does take some getting used to.) I am the first to admit that i have a hard time carrying a tune, but i know better than to sing at the top of my lungs unless i am trying to torture my roommate (in Seattle), Sasha. Besides the horrible singing and piano playing, the excited Guatemalan churchgoers frequently clapped their hands to the music, oblivious to where the beat should have been. I couldn´t escape the torture (unless i wanted to get my butt out of bed and dressed). It was like the music was being piped directly into my room- and then i opened the window. At first i was frustrated, but then I began to find the situation quite hilarious . There was no reprieve for at least 2 hours. That night when i was attempting to study mi espanol the singing started up again. However, whoever was playing the music could at least find a beat, and compared to that morning i found it almost enjoyable. Maybe they will make a convert out of me. umm i don´t think so.

It is almost time for la cena (dinner), but there is one more little story i wanted to tell be for i go. At least the rain has subsided.
Antiguans cater to many English speaking tourists and many businesses adervertise their services in English. However, often I find the Guatemalan English much more difficult to decipher than any espanol. I am sure my Spanish frequently gives the native speakers reason to laugh, but i think i usually get the basic sentence structure correct. A few days ago i picked up a flier advertising an overnight hiking trip on the nearby impressive volcano Agua. The flier reads as follows:

Trips Volcano Agua
We provide guide- bus
We leave-We return-Be back next day
Sleeping bag - jacket -food- take - pents- water- bring

No, pents is not a typo. That´s what it says. I don´t suppose i can expect the guide to speak much english.

Anyway, necestio regressar a mi casa ahora por la cena.

Hasta luego,

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Una Adventura en el Mercado

Yesterday I ventured to Antigua´s market in search of a pair of jeans tipico de Guatemala. Not only do i need warm pants for the frequently cool evenings, but the rain has brought mosquitos which have been feasting on my ankles. Several of the small tiendas in town sell american jeans (at american prices), but i was determined to shop like a Guatemalteca. Also, since the youngish guatemalans all wear jeans, and at 5´2 I am actually tall compared to Guatemalan women, i figured that at the market i would find jeans that weren´t 6 inches too long. Weaving my way through the maze of clothes venders inside the sweltering market (Yesterday happened to be unseasonably warm- perfect for trying on jeans in stuffy market) I found a booth with women´s blue jeans. Two traditionally dressed guatemalan women sized me up and one of them began pulling jeans out of plastic bags for me to look at. They were all very long. I used my broken Spanish to ask to try a couple of pairs on and the woman promptly enclosed me in the corner with a cloth. i barely had 2 feet of space to maneuver in. I quickly realized that guatemalan jeans were old style rip-off tight- legged bell bottoms from the US. not my style. the first pair i tried was skin tight. "Esos son Bonitos" commented the woman. when i looked a bit dismayed, she asked "Que es el problema"? I tried to explain that my thighs were being strangled. "Es el estilo" she relplied. She was right i guess, and four or 5 pairs later with just as many plastic bags strewn around me, i realized i wasn´t going to do much better than the first pair. I peeled off the jeans i had tried on last, bargained the woman down about 60 quetzales and sought out the tailor a few booths away. He agreed to shorten my jeans for 10 quetzales (1.25). However i had no way to try them on for him to mark. He handed me a marker and i returned to the tiny store to mark my new stylish jeans. Not sure if i will ever have the nerve to wear them, but at least the mission was a success!

Here is a link to a site with good pics of Antigua´s market:

Saturday, July 01, 2006

After 3 days in Antigua, I am adjusting to life here and have regained my bearings (somewhat). I still don´t dare leave mi casa without a map of the town. Antigua is basically a grid with Avenidas going one way and Calles going the other. However, only the Avenidas are labeled and not on every block. So, you basically have to navigate through the town by landmarks. It helps that the magnificant Volcon Agua lies directly south of the town. You can see great pics of the town by clicking on the link to the left of the screen.

I am studying Spanish at Tecun Uman, one of Antigua´s numerous Spanish Schools. Like most students I work with my teacher for 4 hours daily including a 30 minute repasa. Class is one on one and my teacher is a Mayan woman named Olga. Olga speaks very little English which can be frustrating at times, but it forces me to be creative while attempting to communicate with her. Usually students work on grammar for about two hours and practice speaking for the rest of the time. At the moment my Spanish skills include a very limited vocabulary, use of the present tense and just enough of the past and future tenses to get by. Yesterday i was attempting to tell Olga about the day I got lost in Antigua´s huge (flea) market last year. I got so turned around in the maze of venders that i missed lunch and was incredibly hungry. However, instead of telling Olga that I became very hungry (hambre), i accedentally said that i became a man (hombre). We had a good laugh about my sex change operation in the market.

When i arrived on Wednesday I was under the impression that I would be staying with a host family associated with the Spanish school. Apparently, I was not the only gringo to whom this occurred. My house is actually the school director´s guesthouse. Despite the fact that this high maintenance gringa was forced to deal without running water on my first morning in Guatemala (recent heavy rains caused problems with the water pressure), i am beginning to really like my accomodations. I was the only student at breakfast this morning and spent about 30 minutes talking in Spanish to Francesca, the live-in housekeeper about her mother who was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Despite the fact that Francesca and i got off to a rough start because i slept through 7am breakfast the past two days, we are quickly becoming amigas.

The nutritionist in me feels compelled to discuss the Guatemalan diet, or at least what i have experienced of it so far. Unlike their Mexcian neighbors, Guatemalans have a rather bland diet. Staples include black beans, hand made corn tortillas, rice, white bread, chicken, pork, white (farmer´s) cheese and many common and indigenous fruits and vegetables. In the past couple of days I have been served black beans (whole and refried), white rice and bread (lots and lots of white bread), chicken with a bland red sauce and more cooked zucchini and a zucchini-like vege called Guipay? than anyone could hope for. From my experience last year and so far this visit, i can say that Guatemalans do some funky things with food. For lunch (the main meal of the day) on Thursday we had some type of white lasagna with broccoli in it. It may have contained some cheese, but i am not positive. There was also a dish made of chopped beats and some other vegetable. Last night we started la cena (dinner) with a bowl of soup made of pureed carrots and guipay followed by rice mixed with bits of ham, a side of cooked zucchini and of course white bread. Unfortunately, the fresh corn tortillas are typically served only at lunch. This morning Francesca provided me with white toast, and mush as well as some weak coffee. Eggs are commonly served for breakfast as well as fresh fruit. Unless I want to keep putting coffeemate in my coffee, i am going to have to buy my own milk as it is apparently not a Guatemalan staple. That´s okay, navigating the local supermercado is always an adventure. Purified water is provided at the house and at school as the tap water is not safe to drink. A juice of pureed fresh fruit is commonly served at lunch. Yesterday we had jugo de sandia (watermelon). I basically cross my fingers and hope that any raw produce i am served has been properly washed... Antiguans are used to tourists and food borne illness does not seem to be a huge issue here.

I am off to the market to find some jeans typico de Guatemala. The rainy evenings are quite cool, and i packed for summer. Hasta!