Thursday, March 31, 2011

Antigua, Day 5, March 31st

This is my 4th day of Spanish lessons and I love learning another language. There are over 100 Spanish schools in Antigua alone, so you can imagine the cultural, well-educated vibe in this small city. I have one-on-one instruction in a one-room roofed, semi-glassed in structure. There are around 50 such structures lining either side of the school's courtyard. Avocado, lemon, lime, orange, and banana trees, flower gardens, and bushes stand among the structures, providing shade for the students and perches for many kinds of birds. A crumbling stone church ruin walls in one side of the courtyard. The school is gated. We have two half hour breaks per day and two hours off for lunch with our families. Usually, I take walks to El Parque Central (central Park/plaza area) or along random streets during recess.

My professor, Daniel, speaks some English, but not much. He has not traveled outside central America, he explains 1) because it is too expensive; a Guatemalan's annual salary is $300/MONTH 2) It is extremely difficult for Guatemalans to obtain travel visas. Daniel is around my age. His girlfriend is from the states, California, and was born in Denver and her parents are from Albuquerque. From what I could gather, she is working on some kind of biology research project in Antigua.

My family is wealthy and well-educate, especially by Guatemalan standards. The father, Rene, speaks 6 languages: Spanish of course, English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese and he knows some Russian and Japanese too! He plays multiple instruments. I think he is some kind of salesman. The mother, Zincrid, seems to be the cook and stay-at-home mom, though there is also a maid and grandmother who do a lot of the house stuff and cooking. There are several young children. So the house is noisy and lively all the time except in the middle of the night. For instance, right now, the father and son are drumming downstairs. The family goes to bed around 11:00 and wakes up at 6. In addition to the family, grand-mother, uncle, and maid, 5-7 students come and go in the house.

Yesterday at noon, I had an sudden attack of a stomach bug: nausea, fever, headache, dizziness and diarrhea. My school gave me medicine for all the symptoms and my teacher walked me home to make sure I didn't pass out on the streets. I went straight to bed in and out of sleep and did not get up for lunch or dinner. I had a high fever around 8pm and then most of my symptoms went away. So this morning, I was able to eat some yogurt at least and I had a full day of classes again. I don't want to miss lessons! And I don't want to lay around in bed if I don't absolutely half to. I still have a stomach ache from time to time after I eat. Hopefully it will go away soon.

This afternoon, in class, we sat in the garden to study. I'm surprised by the lack of biting insects and at the perfectly pleasant weather - not too hot or too cold. Daniel says the first two weeks of learning Spanish are the hardest because they simply require a lot of memorization, especially of irregular verb conjugation and new vocabulary.

Its funny, yesterday when I was ill, I didn't really mind it. I just had to accept that that was the way my body was and to realize that the state of discomfort would pass - and accepting that gave me comfort. In a way, it was humbling and nice not to be able to do anything and to have a complete break from being around people or taking any food or stimulation into my body. Now that my health is mostly back, I really appreciate it and my body's ability to take care of me. And I am grateful for the kind people at my school and household.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Antigua, Day 1, March 27th

Antigua is magical. Can't wait to explore more of it. Cobble stone streets. Skinny pony's carting visitors around. An abundance of classy looking restaurants. I'll especially have to check out the Epicure Restaurant, because, according to the enneagram, the Epicure/Adventurer is the type I most relate to. Plus, my favorite restaurant in Taiwan was indeed The Epicurean, on Lanyu/Orchard Island.

Harold was kind enough to drive me out to coincide with visiting his grandmother in a nearby town - latin and american music on the car speakers, windows down and his little dashboard Jamaican figurine, "Skanky", leading the way.

I had lunch with my couchsurfing hosts and their grandmother and grandmother's maids at an excellent traditional Guatemalan buffet-style restaurant, La Cuebita de Los Urquizu. I ordered piles of vegetables and no meat and a drink that starts with an H - its made from a red flower and tastes like cranberry juice. People eat a lot of meat here, and I'm not used to eating so much.

We passed by the handicraft market after lunch. Unlike in Guatemala City, most of the indigenous women have learned at least sales English because there are so many foreigners in Antigua. I definitely feel qualities of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cool, fresh air, albeit with more wiffs of car exhaust. The altitude is at 5,000 feet. The mountains rising up are taller and dormant volcanic though. It never snows this close to the equator. Antigua has a population of about 35,000 people - half the size of Santa Fe, yet the streets bustle with activity like Santa Fe's plaza on the 4th of July. Lent and catholic processions are happening daily from now until Easter, so maybe its busier than usual. When the procession passes through, traffic clogs the streets and I wonder why they allow cars in at all. I can only hear noise and I can't see anything unless I push my way closer so I return home, sure I'll see a lot of this in the next few weeks.

I'm staying with a Guatemalan family a few blocks from my school. I expected a small house, but this is huge and actually has 6 guest rooms with other students staying here, so it feels more like a bed and breakfast. Meals are provided mon-sat, 3 times a day. I'll have 7 hours of Spanish one-on-one lessons for the next 2 weeks. Living is expensive in Antigua because its such a tourist destination, so then I'll move on to Xela which is close to half the price. This house is built right into the land/cliff behind it and does not appear that it would contain so many rooms and a center courthouse garden from the outside. There's a picturesque rooftop patio from which I have a clear view of the mountain. My room doesn't have any windows, but its nice none-the-less, with high ceilings, bed, dresser, desk and shelf. I like the ceiling; its curved with white painted panels trimmed in Silver. A Virgin Mary prayer hangs above the bed. Simple and sweet.

Breakfast is at 7am tomorrow and classes start at 8, so I think I'll go to bed early.