Sanctuary in Xela

My apologies to anyone who may have been checking this site hoping for an update, I have a feeling posts will be shorter, but more frequent in the future.

Xela is a very interesting place to live, at least for me. This marks the first time I have lived in a fairly metropolitan area. My friends here from New York and Chicago assure me that Xela is downright providential, however skewed my view of tight living quarters may be. When compared to my year at camp, people seem VERY close.

All in all, it isn’t bad though. People are polite, and mostly thoughtful, except when behind the wheel of a car, but that goes for anywhere in the world. There is a staggering amount of cafes around, each with its own idiom or gag. The Parque Central is an interesting hybrid of a park and a central promenade, complete with Athenian columns. The streets in Zona 1, the central part of town, are cobbled or brick, while further north in Zona 3 and much of the rest of Xela, modern streets prevail.

What I have yet to find is a truly quiet place. This may be a lot to ask for in a rather compact town of 150,000 souls, but part of me, even a month in is hoping to find such a place. The cafes usual have music and are open to the street, letting the cacophony of traffic, including the ever present and ubiquitous car horn, blast in through the curtains that earlier promised a tranquil cup of tea. I still hold hope for the public library, although it is located on the Parque Central, the third busiest part of town after the Minerva bus terminal and La Democracia Mercado. However, my hopes for quiet may be quite unrealistic after having a good 9 months of solitude at Lutherhill.

The churches of Xela also offer a sonic oasis, but something tells me the denizens of such a place would not take kindly to a gringo taking solace in a book in their nave. All the churches I have had the pleasure to visit so far have been quite beautiful and interesting so far. Many of the more visible examples are in the style of European cathedrals, but the majority are by far small, and converted out of old stores or homes.  The cathedrals possess the familiar high and vaulted ceilings, grand columns, and shrines to various figures. One example, La Iglesia San Nicolas, even features high Gothic-arched windows. I haven´t chanced to glance inside one of the smaller churches to date, but curiosity will win out in the end.

Again, thanks for reading, and hopefully once I figure out how to post galleries, you can see some of the churches and the hike up Tajulmulco, the highest point in Central America!

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Bienvenido de Guatemala

The view to the south from my classroom in Pop-Wuj. The mountain on the right is a volcano, whose name I have learned and forgotten many times.

To prepare for a year in Mexico, and to combat my Spanish deficiency, the YAGM program generously decided to support 6 weeks of Spanish school in Guatemala. I arrived the capital, Guatemala City, on Sunday afternoon and found my way to the Galgos bus terminal. Galgos literally translates to Greyhound, so the buses were pretty good, not the “chicken” buses you can find pictures of. Luckily, there were other students headed for Quetzaltenango, or as the locals say, Xela (pronounced Shay-la).

The ride was 4.5 hours, almost twice the length of the flight. The west of Guatemala is very mountainous, so most of that was spent on winding roads. But otherwise the trip was fairly uneventful. This past week has been amazing so far! I’ve learned a ton of Spanish (which wasn’t that hard starting from zero), and been able to have some interesting conversations with my teachers and with my host family. My host family is really big! My official parents are Philippe and Flory de Catalan. Also in the house are are a son, his wife and child, a son-in-law, and his son. It’s pretty busy! Also, a daughter and her children, and a son and son come by to visit often! The bustle of the house is very different than my home in the States, but not at all in a bad way.

My teacher is Fredy (yes, that is spelled correctly), who also serves as the business side of Pop-Wuj. His teaching style is very laid back and focuses (right now) on what is important and useful. We’ve also had interesting conversations, mostly in Spanish with some English clarifications, about some random topics like old movies, classic books, philosophy, motorcycles, and other things. But that is all stuff I might want to talk about with people, so it has all been extremely useful. Also, I get to hear about so  these topics from a non-American perspective, which is refreshing!

Classes take place in the morning, from about 10 AM to 1 PM, with a half hour break at 10:30 AM. Schedules and plans are very relaxed here, the joke is that things run on “Guatemala time”. Lunch is eaten around 1:30 PM and is the main meal of the day. In the afternoons I have been hanging out with my family, attending lectures about society in Guatemala, and working at La Guarderia. La Guarderia is a day care center, which are very rare, and those that the government does support are swamped with children. It serves the small community of Llano de Pinal outside Xela. Usually, about twenty to thirty kids are present and the volunteers role is to help with homework and when they finish, keep them entertained with games and activities. La Guarderia is run by Pop-Wuj, which has several social programs.

The first, and largest, is the indigenous student scholarship program. This allows children of both sexes from the poor country side to attend the better schools in Xela. Money from tuition goes to directly support this program. The second is La Guarderia, which is mainly supported by donations from former students. The third program, a stove building project that supplies families in the country side with clean burning, ventilated wood stoves. Otherwise, families use open fires in the house with either no ventilation, which leads to many health problems, or a hole in the roof, which again produces many health problems. Again, this project is mainly supported by former Pop-Wuj students.

Hopefully soon I will be uploading pictures, once I figure out how to make a gallery. Thanks for reading and let me know if there is anything specific you want to know about Xela or Guatemala! And I will ask someone who actually knows…

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An end

Well, I have just set up this blog, and tried to make it look nice, but we shall see how that goes. Just one week left of working at Lutherhill, then I will be preparing to go to Guatemala to learn Spanish on June 6th. It’s a little scary how close that is, but what I stand to learn will be invaluable, not only for the coming year in Mexico, but for the rest of my life. It’s always strange to think of how our actions now will influence the rest of our days. Some people say that the smallest action, no matter how microscopic, will have an impact on global, even eternal, events. Some people say that every passing moment is just that, momentary, and that almost all we do is random, with no connection. Each of these sentences you have been reading would be considered on their own, with no continuity. But both of these seem to agree, in the sense that you still must act.

So how does this apply to learning Spanish in Guatemala? Good question…

It will be sad leaving Lutherhill, but it’s time to go out and experience life outside central Texas, outside the States. I will really miss the people I have gotten to know here, who took me out to lunch to say good-bye. They are all pretty amazing and I’m lucky to have spent an approximate 21 months with them over the past 5 years. It makes me very hopeful, because I can’t wait to meet the people I will be spending the next year with and get to know them as well as I know the people here at Lutherhill.

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