Spanish School in Guatemala

Spanish School in Guatemala
By sv Prairie SeaShell on 1 Oct, 2010 3:16 PM

After a day and a half of traveling, we are finally settled in and ready to start Spanish school tomorrow.


Spanish School in Guatemala

Our room
Our room at Gilda's house in Guatemala City
After a day and a half of traveling, we are finally settled in and ready to start Spanish school tomorrow. All of our flights from Calgary to Chicago to Miami were all on time, and all very full flights.

Our ride was waiting for us in Guatemala at the airport. Gilda took us to her house, in a gated community. We stayed the night there, she fed us breakfast in the morning, then took us to the bus depot for our trip to Xela. She also stopped us by an ATM machine so we could get some quetzales to pay for the bus trip.

It was a 4 1/2 hour trip through the mountains, on very windy roads, but beautiful scenery. Lots of agriculture happening here, fields of corn, cabbage etc all planted on the side of the mountains.  Well manicured fields, all being tended by hand, quite different from anything we have seen in Mexico.

Upon arriving in Xela (or Quetzaltenango - the city's official name) I called the phone number I was given. Enrique, the director of the school, sent his wife and daughter - who both work at the school, to pick us up and take us to the home stay home that they had arranged for us.

Sonia's house
Narrow alley between houses
Had my doubts for a moment when their car pulled up here, (The narrow little ally between the buildings.) wondered what kind of accommodations we would have, but it turned out to be great.
 
We are staying at the home of Sonia Castro, we have our own private room complete with it's own bathroom. Her family consists of her Dad, her daughter Raquel (18) and sons Rudolpho & Saul. As well, there are three young girls from Spain living here while they complete some kind of volunteer work for a local health authority.

After two days of school, 5 hours a days, Don says his brain is fried ... (“cerebro frito”). It is a little exhausting, although my second days was lots of fun.

Mi maestro (my teacher) took me on a walk-about around town. Went to Parque Central, the Mayors office at the Municipal Building, stopped at a coffee shop, and of course went through two of the local markets. It made the day go much faster.

We have been busy after school as well, on our second day, there was a party in the evening, an International Pot Luck Dinner, where everyone made a typical dish from their country. We had China, Holland, Canada, the US and, of course, Guatemala represented.

Saturday, we were out of the house by 5:30 am, and riding in the back of a pick-up truck to El Volcan Santa Maria. Good thing it was only about a 30 minute ride, the cobble stone roads here are anything but smooth, and my backside couldn’t take much more.

cabbage patch
Don at the cabbage patch
Our guide, aka my teacher Miguel, took us on a hike past corn, onion & cabbage fields growing on the side of the mountain, up a very narrow and rocky path, and very steep.

We realized about an hour into the 4 hour hike that we were not going to be able to make it to the top.

Miguel said there was a nice grassy meadow about half way up, so while Don & I enjoyed a picnic in the sun, the rest of the group continued to the top.

While we waited we watched many men with their horses heading back down the mountain, their horses over loaded with firewood. Even one fellow without a horse, had a load of wood strapped to his back.  He was struggling on the flat grassy area, don’t know how he was going to make it down to the bottom.

Our maestro/guide, Miquel, says that most folks do have gas for cooking, but most prefer the flavour of a wood cooked meal. What a lot of work! It would take several days to collect a cord of wood.
 
chicken bus
Chicken bus
Bright and early the next morning, we were back at the school, this time for a trip to Momostenango, where we would go to the home of a family who does embroidery and weaving for a living.
 
We were met at the school by a pleasant young girl, Lesbian, who we discovered later, was one of the daughters in the family. She took us on a small school bus to the edge of town, walked us thru the mercado, then onto the Momostenango bus.
 
It was about an hour ride to her house, and it is customary here to squeeze three or maybe four people into a seat for two. Then the porter has to make his way thru the crowd to collect the fares.
 
carding wool
Thelma carding wool

When we arrived at the house, Thelma showed us how she combs the wool, then Don tried his hand at spinning and I tried to weave a carpet.

The family make the carpet weaving look easy, they could do it without looking, completely by feel, whereas I needed prompting from Luis to get the threads in the right place.

This has been their family business for many generations and the equipment shows it's age. The Guatemalans are really into Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The bearing on the spinning wheel are made from old leather shoe soles.

Luis showed us the different natural products they use to dye the wool . A green plant for the greens, the whiskers of a local tree for the orange, a berry like a saskatoon or currant to make the purple shades, a seed from Mexico and tree bark for the reds and browns, and they also use some insects for the blue colors, but fortunately had no bugs available today to show us.

Next they wind the wool into skeins and boil them in the dye for 8-10 hours. Then they sit in the water for 2 more days, then are rinsed out in a mixture of calcium and volcanic ash in order to set the colors.

This has been their family business for many generations and the equipment shows it's age.

Next they wind the wool into skeins and boil them in the dye for 8-10 hours. Then they sit in the water for 2 more days, then are rinsed out in a mixture of calcium and volcanic ash in order to set the colors.

Dyeing wool
Dyeing wool naturally
After the demos, they showed us the finished product, which of course we were all eager to buy. Beautiful soft blankets and jackets, carpets of all sizes, scarfs in a mix of wool & silk, bags, wall hangings etc.

While we shopped, Thelma made us lunch of home made tortillas with freshly made cheese & salsa and a traditional tea made from barley.

After lunch, Lesbian, took us into the town of Momostenango. She walked us thru the market, where you could buy everything imaginable, if you could wade thru the crowds.

Then we went to the church, and up a very "big" hill to a Mayan New Years Celebration.

Today was the last day of the year according to the Mayan calender and there were huge fires burning and people were throwing wax candles into the fire. Not sure if this represents disposing of the sins of the past year in preparation for the new year, but the smell of smoke and burning wax was a bit over-whelming.

Counting in Mam, English and Spanish
Counting in Mam, English and Spanish
Our school, I.C.A Escuela de Espanol, supports a grade school in a puebela about 1 1/2 outside of the city. Many of the students enter school speaking only their native language, so it is important that the teachers also speak the native language.

The director of our school has been instrumental in petitioning the government for the right teachers for the school, i.e., the ones who speak Spanish as well as Quiche or Mam.

The students will learn Spanish first, then some of the long term students from our school will assist in teaching them English as well.

The day we went to the school in Cabrican was a special day ... graduation celebrations for the grade one and grade six classes. Our school was invited to attend as special guests.

The parents association prepared a wonderful lunch for us, then while we waited on the school grounds for the graduation to begin, I took out a sticker book that I had brought along. I had expected to be in class with the students, so thought stickers on their work would be a nice touch, but since we had no work to sticker, I asked two little girls to come and see me and give me their hands.

I stuck a sticker on the back of each of their hands. They seemed a little shy at first, but within a few minutes, they had brought a few more girls to see me, then a few more showed up, and very quickly I was swamped by kids, both boys and girls.

Just before the ceremonies began, our director gave each of the ICA students a diploma to present to the children on stage. We had to use the microphone from their very elaborate sound system (it was so big it took a 2 ton cube van to transport it to the school).

We called the name of each child and presented them with their diplomas. Most of them just took the certificate and ran right back to their place, but Don was able to get this little fellow to say a word or two.

Several of the girls sat with us through the whole presentation, hoping I would bring out more stickers.

This one even went and got her baby sister... she is carrying her on her back

When we were finished at the school, Enrique took us to the home of one of the local residents who had worked in the US, so his house was referred to as a casa americana and was complete with an outdoor sauna.

His wife was the local midwife, and he, along with farming etc, distilled a very potent rum and fruit drink, and Don became the bartender for the afternoon.

When it was time to leave, my teacher Carlos thought we might take an alternate mode of transport back Xela. I think NOT ... and just as a side note to the highway situation around here, on our way to the school, we encountered the Guatemalan version of a toll road ... a board with very large nails in it laid across the road, pay the $10Q and you can pass safely.

Farming community
Manicured fields of corn, onion, cabbage
Our next excursion took us to Laguna Chicobal, a "provincial park" on the edge of a sacred Laguna. We hiked about half way up where there was a small soda pop stand and a soccer field.

Don decided he would quit at the halfway mark again, he was not feeling too well ... we believe he had eaten a tamale yesterday that was made with some wheat flour and his tummy was not too happy!

While he rested in the sunshine (yes, it was warm and sunny today) he watched a soccer game, played by girls, many of them wearing their long, heavy skirts and sandals, but surprisingly they could keep up with the others wearing jeans and runners !

I continued the hike with our teacher Miguel and some of the others students, again, the scenery was spectacular, and the hike was not quite as difficult as the volcano climb...maybe I had become accustomed to the altitude.

Our hike took us past a very impressive farming community, manicured fields of corn, onion, cabbage and so on.

After reaching the crest of the mountain and looking down at the Laguna, I decided not to take the trip down to the water's edge. Going down the 330 rickety stairs may not have been a problem, but I didn't think I'd like the climb back up again. Besides, since the laguna has been deemed a sacred place by the Mayan culture, no swimming was permitted in the lake, and there was a ceremony going on at the beach that us "gringos" would not be invited to attend, I didn't see a lot of reason to go down. I enjoyed a picnic lunch with another couple from Vancouver, and while we lunched, we saw a small volcanic eruption across the valley.

When we returned to the Park, we did a little people watching ... a family collecting wood together, notice the little girl wearing sandals, and she would have had quite a hike to collect the wood !!

and, when the soccer game was over, it was back to town for all ..... how many people can you fit into the back of a pick up ???

For our return trip to town, Miguel found us a ride, and although I had to ride in the back of the SUV with the back packs, and the drivers friend, it was not as crowded as the pick up, and a whole lot quicker than walking, and it cost all of about fifty cents a piece.



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