What this is all about

Being a December graduate, I have decided to keep an open schedule and mind.  I have no definite plans for at least 5 months, and even then, nothing is certain.  This is all very new for me--I've always had a set plan of what I'm doing next.  Now, although I know the general direction I am heading, I am allowing opportunities to come to me that might have otherwise been lost if I had already made plans.
Join me for the ride as I begin to Learn By Living!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

...Into the night...

I tried to sleep in. but at 9:30 I heard someone yell out breakfast. I later found out that the whole house had already eaten and the cook wanted to put the food away…After breakfast I mastered the shower. I tell you this intimate detail (yet another one…) because it could be key to any of you traveling to places where hot water is a luxury. If you are lucky enough to have a water heater where you are staying, you will most likely have a large shower head with hot and cold switch on it. The key I found was to keep the water on really low for it to get hot, which is counterintuitive to those who turn the water on high for it to be hotter. Having it on low allows the water heater to work more efficiently and giving you a warm 5 minute shower. I’m glad Ubuntu trained me well for these environmentally healthy showers.
After lunch I went to a local coffee shop recommended to me by the other language student. Baviera is near my school. There were business people on computers, language and university students. I sat in the patio, which has a running fountain filled with calililies, until the sun set. I was compiling a K’iche’ dictionary from my vocabulary words from the previous week.
Do you remember talking on the phone for hours on end with your friends in high school? Or staying up all night talking to your floor mates or friends in college? And weren’t those some of the best conversations you have ever had? Well, tonight I added one to that list. After dinner we stayed at the dinning room table talking about the differences between school in the U.S. and here, cultural expectations, politics, Guatemalan sayings and slang, and anything you can imagine. What seemed like no time at all, someone that was facing the window said “ Um, you guys…turn around” and we did. It was light outside. It was 7AM! :)

E’k t’u’y=chicken in pot

I asked my teacher if I could start break a little early so that I could begin prepping for the cooking later that day. I had to figure out how to say it in K’iche’ before I could do this…I ended up only starting 5 minutes before break. The dilemma of the day was how to make the chicken soup. I have always made it with left over chicken. Put it in with the bones and all the veggies and let it boil on low for a long time. Both the other student and my host mom insisted that the way to do it was to boil the chicken. I have never boiled any kind of meat in my life! But they are both mothers and their children have survived. I had never thought so much the night before about cooking. I ended up deciding to do it both ways. I baked the chicken. I then boiled it so that the meat would fall off the bone easily and then let it cool so that the fat would rise to the top and then scoop it out. Then placed all of the vegetables and let it boil for an hour and a half. The salad of cucumber, tomato, lemon, salt and pepper, is eaten a lot here. Many foreigners are afraid of any type of salad (especially with lettuce) because it’s a good way of catching a bug. A trick we were taught if you don’t have the special store-bought disinfectant is to put the salad makings in a bowl with warm water and salt for 5 minutes. I cooked platanos (banana looking but bigger) for dessert. Cut into pieces and boiled in water with sugar for 5-7 minutes. Our meal of course was accompanied by bread from Xelapan (my favorite bakery!), cookies, pan dulce (bread but has yumminess of sugar), and tortillas to die for made by one of the teachers. Oh…and I’m forgetting the CABRO. The Cabro is the most popular beer here, and probably in all of Guatemala.
Although Cerveza Gallo is the best known one as the Guatemalan beer (aka Famosa in U.S.) Cabro seems to be the favorite among locals--not to mentioned it’s brewed in Xela. The meal was a success and there was plenty for the 16 of us! (reminded me of cooking for/with the intentional living community I lived with in college).
After the meal we pushed the chairs aside and began to dance! I had a fabulous time with the teachers, their spouses, the students in the university program, and the children! It’s the teachers’ turn to cook next week, already looking forward to it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

day 4: Field trip to San Andres Xecul

K’iche’ is continuing on nicely, besides the everlasting sore throat which I am just going to have to accept! Today’s after-school activity was a trip to the nearby town of San Andres Xecul. We started a block away from school and got on what is referred to as a camioneta (for outsiders it’s known as a chicken bus…imagine a U.S. school bus painted with vibrant colors, a man collecting tickets hanging out the front door yelling the various destinations, and lots of merchandize on the roof). On the camioneta, there were several merchants selling their goods--everything from candy and sodas to natural remedies (which the selling point was that dogs ate grass to heal their stomachs, so this mixture would help humans too). We then transferred to a pick-up truck that originally was going to charge us 30 Quetzales (Guatemalan currency) for the three of us, but then our guide (one of the women from the school) said thank you but we would wait…we ended up getting it for Q 2.00 each! We got into the back of the pick-up truck and it took off just as I grabbed on to the raised rail on the side of the truck. We stood for the entire 15 minutes at 120 miles/hr ride to the center of San Andres Xecul (see video below). This town is known for its market (which starts at 5AM, like just about everything else in the town), and its colorful church and matching calvario (start at church and process and stop at stations of the cross along the way and end up at the top of a mountain at the calvario which represents where Jesus was crucified). Right next to this, there are Mayan ceremony grounds set up. I asked what the relation ship was between both religious beliefs and I was told that for many Mayans, both traditions merge and are thought of as one. We went inside the church where there were several women in traditional dress (traje tipico) kneeling on the alter praying the rosary. Other women were sweeping, flipping the heavy pews, and making sure everything was ready for the next mass. These were the women of the church, I did not see a single male inside which surprised me because even until only decades ago women were not even allowed to step foot on the alter even as helpers. I was happy to see that in this town the women seemed somewhat in charge. On our way back we sat in the back of a pick up truck carrying freshly died cotton thread used for weavings and a K’iche’ speaking older gentleman. I asked him how he was doing, was able to answer his questions, and then I asked him what his name was…or so I thought. He looked at me a bit strange and then gave me a hesitant answer. I repeated his answer in my head, trying to figure out what that name translated to. To my horror, I realized that the name was in fact a number. I then realized I had asked this older gentleman how old he was!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 3 of language, with sugar on the side.

My professor knew that I liked and was interested in Maya culture, customs, and spirituality so she brought me a copy and explanation of one of the Mayan calendars-- “El Tzolkin” so that I could practice my K’iche’ as well as learn about the culture. My favorite one, a.k.a. the one that I remember without looking is B’atz’ which means thread or monkey.
During coffee break again today I heard some of the other teachers talking about how sugar had risen in price, I asked what was going on and it was explained to me that after the earthquake in Haiti, Mexico sent out a substantial amount of their sugar. So then Mexico didn’t have enough so they bought sugar from Guatemala, who apparently preferred to sell it at a high price to Mexico than to provide sugar to it’s own people. Not sure how true or false this is. Later on in the news tonight I saw that the government denied everything, that there was enough sugar. How come then is sugar being rationed and has doubled in price in two weeks? (photo: sign saying that a max of 5 lbs of sugar can be purchased, in smaller towns it’s 1lb).
I met the other student, who studies in the afternoons because she volunteers at a nearby school in the mornings. She is a retired social worker from Whidbey Island (shout out to Alicia A.!)--near Seattle--and has been here for 3 weeks already, she was also in Xela at the same school studying Spanish 15 years ago. We decided what we would make for that Friday night school dinner (every week students and teachers switch off making the dinner). I went to the market (Mercado) to buy the veggies that would go into our chicken soup and salad. Even when I asked for price per pound, they sometimes gave me the price per item assuming I would know it wasn’t per pound. So when I was asking around for the onions, I thought it was a bit expensive per onion, but every one of the women selling them told me the same price. Finally, I summoned the courage to ask whether it was per pound or each, and the reaction I was dreading came true: they laughed out loud and said it was obviously by pound. I was embarrassed, and tried to brush it off by saying “you never know with sugar the price it is today.” The women selling me the onions liked it so much that I felt I had redeemed myself. They even started to ask me what I was cooking and giving me tips…always good to know what is going on with the local economic goods.

Discapacitados en Guatemala

My language school is a cooperative. Many language schools in countries like Guatemala are owned by foreigners, this one is not. Part of the tuition from language classes goes towards scholarships offered by the school for indigenous women to attend one of the universities in Xela. Today’s “after-school” activity was a lecture regarding the handicapped in Guatemala by one of the women that is part of the scholarship program and is in her last year of physical therapy. She explained how in her studies and practicing of her profession it was important to take into account the cultural factors regarding healing as well as causes. She explained how a handicap (mental and/or physical) of someone was considered to be a repercussion of a sin committed by the family or that individual. She said that the majority of handicapped people are in rural areas and are indigenous. There is no will towards any type of preventative care. She is Maya indigenous so she believes half in traditional healing but is also a scientist so believes in “modern” medicinal practices. The techniques she has learned at school are and would be (to those who wont accept it)very helpful to the families and communities she serves. For example, where as she believes that having a cast for a broken arm and physical therapy afterwards is important in the healing process and future functioning of the arm, she also acknowledges the work of traditional healers such as curanderos(natural healers) or hueseros (specifically bone healers-that go straight into moving the bone and arm without any type of brace). Her reasoning for this she says is because there must be something to these ways of healing that for centuries have worked, if not, the practice nor the patients would have survived all of these years. Other things she mentioned were gender roles when it comes to the handicapped as well as the environment that they are forced to live in. although not all, most people who have a handicap are taken care of by a female in the family. She told stories of how a boy wouldn’t change his little brother’s diaper because his mom wasn’t home and he couldn’t get a hold of his grandmother, so he let his brother lay in a dirty diaper for hours. There is little to no handicap accessibility in Guatemala. To cross some streets one has to go up about 50-80 steps and go over a skyway; there are no elevators; the buses have no way of transporting someone in a wheel chair; the sidewalks are barely large enough for two people to walk side by side let alone a wheel chair or access ramps from street to street, so they end up riding in the street out of the view of the cars that are driving along side them. There is a group fighting for the rights of those who are handicapped in Guatemala--COPDIGUA.

“Rule #1: Do not put toilet paper in a Guatemalan toilet, the drainage system cannot handle it!”

Humans are creatures of habit, and since living in the US I’ve developed the habit of throwing it in the toilet. TMI? Perhaps. But I find the situation humorous. In the packet given to me by the language school, this was the first rule. I looked to see what the 2nd and 3rd rules were and…there weren’t any. I guess there is only one rule. Toilet paper and drainage are a big deal. I find myself remembering this rule as soon as the scented paper (yes, scented, and sometimes even pink) leaves my fingertips, and I feel dread at the prospect that this will be the time that the drainage gets backed up and I end up flooding the bathroom. So far so good, will let you know if it finally happens to me or if I am conditioned by my fear of flooding to no longer throw it in the bowl.

Thursday, March 4, 2010