I’m nearing the end of my classes in the pleasant city of Coban, the capital of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. I wish I could learn here longer because the instruction is excellent and the school atmosphere is small, local, and friendly. Here is a typical day. I wake up at 6:45, take a quick shower, eat fruit for breakfast – usually bananas and papaya – and then walk the block to school. I get to Muq’bu’lique school, which means hidden path/walk in one of the Mayan dialects, usually 20 min. early with my laptop to use the wireless. Jaime’s dog, Tiny, will bark at the gate until Jaime opens it. Tiny is a funny, cute mix that looks part rottweiler and part welsh-corgi, if such a thing exists. The door opens into a calming courtyard. Sometimes, a pet pigeon perches in a cage out there, sometimes an orange cat paces, so old that at first it seems like a kitten, and then sometimes a half wild grey cat minds its own business in the corner. A house stands to the left of this courtyard and an outdoor hallway of yellow-painted classrooms line up to the right.
Jaime lives in the house with his mother. His father lives in Montana and I know he has a brother in Long Beach, CA and a sister here in Coban. Jaime himself is my age, 28, and he’s been teaching Spanish here eight years, taking over this establishment from his father, who began the project in 1993. Jaime studied business administration, but seems to have found his calling teaching Spanish.
My class-room comes first. Next over, Mariana, from Scotland, studies with Nabila. And further over, Greg, from Canada, studies with Gwyndalyn. Class begins at 8am. We have tea with pan (usually sweet bread, French bread, or cookies) for half an hour at 10am. We sit in Jaime’s lavender-painted living room for this Spanish conversational time. Today, Jaime’s mother excitedly showed Nabila and Gwyndalyn a box of gifts that she had just received from her son in Long Beach.
Classes end for the 4-hour students at noon, but for me at 1pm. Some days involve more reading comprehension and conversation, other days lean more heavily on grammar. Today, Jaime started teaching me the subjunctive tense. Yesterday, I read Guatemalan newspapers. I read about the death of Osama Bin Laden and the celebration at the White House. Jaime asked me my opinion after I read this. As is usually the case, I first said that I don’t have an opinion. But then I felt like saying and said, he’s just one face. Someone else will take his place/already has. Jaime’s opinion was that he wasn’t really dead. Pretty similar views. I read about the crazy politics in Guatemala. Elections happen in September and the candidates are heavily campaigning now, with over 30 parties competing in the early stages. The wife of the last president divorced her husband so she could legally run in this election. Jaime drew appropriate devil horns on her head in the photograph. He explained how people in poorer, less educated Guatemala will vote for her because her kind of government hands out a certain amount of money, like welfare, for each child a poor family has, which only gives incentive for having children early. I read about the usual shootings, fires, and drug problems that make up a newspaper anywhere. The most common cause of death in Guatemala is violence/crime. And I don’t remember the rest.
Then I check email again at 1pm before walking back for lunch. Sometimes, I’m the only one at the table, and other times the dining room is full of 18-22 year olds - as the house boards young medical students. The afternoons are mine to walk, study, rest, or whatever in. I hardly pass any other tourists/non-Guatemalans/gringos on the streets of Coban. I don’t think I’ve heard any English spoken on the calles other than my own the time I bumped into Mariana. It’s a great place to learn.
But time is short, and this Friday morning, I leave for a weekend on the Caribbean Sea to explore the Garifuna culture of Livingston and the Lake Isabel town of Rio Dulce. Monday, I start my last week of Spanish classes in the island town of Flores.