Spanish crash course 101: How to speak Spanish like the Guatemalans do (Part 1)
View of Xela from the school roof.
I woke up to the sound of the eternally barking dog outside my window, wondering for a moment where on earth I was. I checked my cheap plastic travel watch and it read 6:50 am. The sun had yet to light up my bedroom and I was exhausted after a fitful night’s sleep. I tossed and turned, continually stuffed in my ear plugs and cranked my white noise up yet nothing seemed to help drown out the symphony of noise from the Guatemalan city life. Unfortunately I’ve always been a light sleeper which got worse after I became a mother. I swear I sleep with one eye open, listening throughout the darkness of the night for someone to call my name.
My first day at Spanish school was in a little over an hour and I was so tired I had no idea how I’d function, let alone function in another language which I hardly understood. When I turned off my white noise the sounds of a bustling kitchen filled the room. I inhaled the delightful aroma of fresh Guatemalan cooking. Breakfast would not be long.
I slowly cracked opened the door and shyly peered outside. My room for the week was right next to the kitchen and the family-shared bathroom. I was still in my PJs in an unfamiliar house with unfamiliar people. I wasn’t ready to go tramping out the door in plain view of my Guatemalan hosts! That I reserve for only close friends!
When the coast was clear I made a run for the bathroom and brushed my teeth in a glass of purified water. There was no way I was going to risk getting another parasite like I did in Costa Rica! Thus I took every precaution given to me by the travel clinic seriously. I avoided fresh fruits and vegetables. Did not drink the water, and brushed my teeth as well only with the bottled stuff. I flipped on the strange looking shower and got ready to jump in, thinking how good it will feel to wash my hair after a long day of travel. Maybe the hot water would even wake me up and make me feel better! I needed any kind of pick me up to start my day in another tongue.
I got all ready to jump in and tested the water with my flipflop-covered toe, and it was as cold as a bitter Minnesota winter’s day. Hmm. I guess I’d better wait, I assumed. One minute, two minutes, three and four went by and the water never seemed to get above freezing. I tried moving the nob left and then right and still the water did not change to an acceptable level of cold. My heart raced as I remembered years ago when I was living with a French family as a fille au pair and they accused me of wasting too much water. Ah, you Americans take too long showers, they lamented. I knew the family in my Guatemalan house could hear the water running as the kitchen was literally right around the corner. So I took a deep breath and in I went, washing my long, dirty blond hair in ice cold splendor. At least it woke me up.
Frozen, I emerged from the bathroom, with my long hair matted down like a wet dog wondering how on earth I would ever warm up. Guatemalan homes are not heated thus they tend to be a bit chilly in the morning, especially in the Highlands. I opened the shades and the sun burst through the open air terrace into my room, filling it up with warm sunshine. But I couldn’t wait much longer as the wondrous smells of the kitchen lead me to the table where I indulged in my first delicious Guatemalan breakfast. Homemade chocolate pancakes with warm, fresh honey. I was off to a good start.
Sondra and her five-year-old niece Michelle, walked me to school a bit before 8. When we opened the large, green doors of the casa and entered the street, I marveled at my surroundings in awe. It was the first time I’d seen where I was and it was amazing! There is something special about coming into a new place at night in the dark. You can’t really tell what it looks like and it remains a mystery waiting to be uncovered the next day. And, that I did.
The streets of Xela are all cobblestone and the colorful collection of buildings and homes were a delight to my barren, wintery eyes. You see, I had left Minnesota in the midst of winter and the only colors I saw were white and brown. To be walking around in such a wide spectrum of spectacular colors made my heart leap and my sprits rise. So I was exhausted? So what if I hadn’t had my coffee? This was amazing! I couldn’t believe how beautiful it all was to my virgin eyes.
The walk to the school was less than ten minutes. We had a short four or five block walk to the heart of town, el parque centroamerica, and then another three or four blocks to the school, Casa Xelaju. As we approached the pinkish red building, my hair had finally dried in the warm breeze and I felt ready to seize the day. I had no expectations whatsoever of what my classes would be like except for that I knew they would be good. We rang the bell to the school and a moment later the door opened.
Casa Xelaju had a gorgeous terrace with a bird’s eye view of the town. This is where I took the picture above and also enjoyed many warm mid-morning breaks with coffee and cakes.
My son’s elementary school teacher is married to the Guatemalan man who opened this school 25 years ago in Xela. She actually met him on her first visit to the school many years before. They both reside in Minneapolis now however they have family work for the school and trusted administrators.
There she is…Casa Xelaju, the pinkish-red building up the hill. They also offer gorgeous, inexpensive furnished apartments to rent. If only I had more time!
The beautiful entryway to the school.
The lovely open air terrace with gorgeous flowers!!!!
Stay tuned….Part 2 is coming up next. Who would my Spanish teacher be? Would she be a drill sergeant or too lax? You will have to wait and see!