Friday, April 15, 2011

Xela, 4/14/11, "Tranquile Chica"

Xela (Shaylah), the popular name for Quetzaltenango, sounds like the place somehow. La, la, la. Shy. Shangri-la. Shacks. Ambling. Shabby sometimes. Sometimes chic. Chica/chico. Shhhh. Shapes. Land. I have landed here happily. My maestro joked, "Tranquila chica" when I was overly excited about finding a spot on the map. I keep repeating that phrase to myself, "Tranquila chica." It has a nice ring to it, like Xela.

This place feels inclusive and I feel safe. In yoga class yesterday, I could have been in Santa Fe. An instructor from Michigan taught in English. I spoke with him afterwards. He asked where I was from in Europe, thinking I had a brittish accent. I told him I was actually from Maine, but I've gotten that before, possibly because of the canadian influence? He said he has never met anyone from Maine in Xela. I asked him how he ended up here and how long he's been here. He said he and his partner started this yoga studio 10 years ago, but he can't explain how he ended up here.

Its interesting when I tell people where I'm from now. I usually feel obliged to say Maine and New Mexico. I can't deny I'm originally from Maine - and I wouldn't want to since I love my homestate - but I also feel its not entirely true to say I'm from there anymore since I haven't lived there for more than 3 weeks in a year in more than 4 years. New Mexico is the place I departed from and the place I will return to. As we grow older, it becomes harder and harder to define where we are from. And it becomes more and more apparent that life is about where we are.

Right now, I'm a tranquile chica sitting in my bed at my guatemama's house. (though I'm really typing this up the next day at school since I have no internet at home). Aura, Walter, Daniel, Alexis, and Sandra are chatting in the kitchen. Fatima, thankfully, wore herself out with temper tantrums earlier. The two dogs, Scrappy-Doo and Micky Mouse, have also retired for the evening. I am full from tostadas topped with grated carrots, cabbage, and sauteed onions. Simple, yet satisfying.

I tried a salsa class last night, but I need to stay put tonight. Study, write, sleep, dream, awake, repeat.

Xela, 4/11/11, The Cemetary

I stumbled upon a strange place on my walk this afternoon. I walked through the doors of a majestic church into one of the largest cemeteries I have ever seen - like walking through a wardrobe into another land.

Some people were jogging through the graveyard as if the place were a track or park, others were ambling along talking on cell phones, others walking briskly using the cemetery path as a shortcut to somewhere else, others in black were proceeding a casket, and yet others were praying or laying flowers down as you would expect. And here I was with a strange urge to take pictures and sit down and write in my journal. Take pictures I did, but something told me it just might not be the wisest decision to sit down and write here. Risk mixed with curiosity and acute presence.

Being in a graveyard reminds me that there are always graves under my feet not only when I am in a place designated as such. Pain, suffering, violence on the surface of the mind.

Darkness was creeping in, making silhouettes of angels and demons. I stayed away from strange shadows on the paths ahead. Rows and rows of tombs stretched in every direction, bright colors, flowers, engraved scriptures, barred gates, locked doors.

I kept gazing in awe at it all. Dios mio.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Arrival in Xela, 4/10/11, Sunday

I made it to Xela! Guatemala's 2nd largest city with 300,000 people. At an altitude of 8,000 feet and with a 12,300 foot volcanic mountain nearby, this city is much more mountainous/rugged than antigua. Combined with the cooler climate and the less touristic, more European atmosphere, I already love it!

I only had half an hour of daylight coming in on the bus, so I haven't seen much. (now I'm typing this up the following afternoon, but I still haven't seen much, just my school and the way to the laundrymat).

But first, I almost didn't make it here at all last night. It was thanks to very kind people that I did. Because of a giant, religous procession in Antigua, roads were clogged up and when I got to my bus stop, 5 min. late, the bus wasn't there. A kind man let me borrow his phone, but none of the numbers on my tour bus voucher had a real person on the other line to pick up the phone. I wondered if I was at the wrong bus stop. Originally, the bus was meant to pick up at my house, but I'd gotten a call a few hours back telling me that now everyone had to meet at this central location near Santo Domingo church because of the crazy traffic. So, I was here looking for a blue mini van as I'd been told to. The kind man who'd lent me his cell phone thought perhaps I'd misheard the directions and I should go wait in front of the Santo Domingo hotel a few blocks over. He said lots of shuttles pick up from there. Okay then. By this time it was 3:00 and I had pretty much resigned myself to staying another night in Antigua because I was now 30 minutes late for meeting the bus. Then, the man's phone rang and it was the driver finally calling back. He said he had gotten to the bus stop 15 min. late and that's why I didn't see him before, so I should go back there and look for a blue van. So I went back, but there was no blue van. Just then, I heard someone say my name and it was the bus driver, thank goodness. He said I needed to follow him to the van. So, I said many thanks to the man who had helped me with my calls - in all he'd left his friend and spent 15 minutes of his time trying to help a stranger! Then the driver and I ran through traffic with my back pack and suit case. The van was silver not blue! and it was parked way on the other end of the street. I never would have found it and really don't know how I ended up on it 40 min. late!

Yeah, I don't have a cell phone in Guatemala, and just use skype on my computer. I'm used to traveling without one - didn't have one when traveling in any of the foreign countries I've been to actually: New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Taiwan, Chile. Just calling cards and skype. Actually, not having a cell phone is good because it makes me depend on people and be resourceful. I wouldn't have my computer either except that it was my goal this trip to post blogs and pictures regularly and that's so much easier and faster on my beloved macbook.

But now, in my new house, I don't even have internet or an electrical outlet in my room! So, I'll just be online about an hour a day using the free internet at my school. That's a good thing too. More time for reading, writing, talking to people in Spanish, and exploring.

Anyway the rest of the trip to Xela was great. I met some really nice students on the bus, all med-students doing residency and studying at various schools in Xela. When I got to my school, ICA,
A nice lady and gentleman were waiting to drive me to my family's house, about a 10 min. walk from school. My new family and house are entirely different from the one in Antigua. I feel I will get a more real and imersive experience here. The family is awesome, friendly, far poorer than the other, but loving and more down to earth. I immediately got to sit down to dinner with them and celebrate one of their son's 20th birthdays with cake and nachos and hot chocolate! 7 people in total live in the house. Several children, a grand-child named Fatima who is so cute and looks kind of like a little Tibetan monk, the mother and father, and two little dogs who bark with no bite until they get to know someone. Alexis, one of the sons, is the most talkative, maybe he's between 18-22, not sure. I'm going to get a lot more practicing in here. Alexis is studying medicine and he likes photoshop as a hobby and dancing salsa. Maybe I'll get to learn some salsa while here!

I'm tired though! I didn't even tell you about my morning in Antigua, which seems ages ago now. I woke up at 5am! to help with the making of "alfombras" sawdust carpets with my school. I helped for about 2 hours, then I wandered about photographing all the other beautiful carpets around town that masses of people were making for the religious procession. It was just amazing. I only saw part of the procession, there were just too many people and it lasted all day. So yeah that was my day Sunday.

I'm typing this on Monday afternoon, after finishing my first spanish class here. We reviewed imperfect, prederite, and future and tomorrow will review conditional and practice a lot of conversation and prepositions. Other highlights of today so far included making it the laundry mat and relaying my needs in spanish. Yay! Now for a walk and exploring this new city I'm in...