First, a side note about this blog. I will not generally be typing as much as I did for Peru, because I don't have time and need to work on med school applications. I will try to update this at least weekly. Now, onto my first post.
Woa. This place is different than Peru, and this experience will be very distinct. Customs was weird, but easy. I didn’t even have to send my baggage through the scanner. Any of it. That was freaking crazy. They also literally do not have a visa, so I showed them my passport, they stamped it, and I was on my way. There is absolutely no way they will have a legitimate way to charge me when I exit the country, so this should not be a Lima repeat. Phew. Ernesto and his daughter met me right outside, then we passed through Guatemala City on our way to Tecpan.
In the city, I was observing everything very carefully to compare it to everything I knew in Peru. I made a lot of observations. I am going to try to summarize them now, though I don’t want to take so long because I am exhausted from the whole trip.
First, the buses. They are awesome. Brightly colored, the majority hand painted, and looking like absolute chaos. They all once served as school buses in the US, and when they were deemed to be getting old and unwanted, Guatemalans purchased them for use as public transportation. Despite looking pretty carefully, I am not sure I saw anything that looked like consistent bus lines or if they were all just different people who owned them. It was nuts. Apparently these buses are designed to hold 50, but are usually filled to a capacity of about 80. That’s why it’s not recommended that we take them.. they get too crazy. But, I was happy to see that it was the same system as Peru in that the bus driver is accompanied by someone manning the door. But stops didn’t seem so bad, but they didn’t usually have wider roads in those spots so everything got a bit congested. At one point a bus must have died in the middle of the road because the door guy got out and was yelling and waving his arms at everyone to just go on by. I didn’t understand his tactics because at one time he was in the lane people had to go into to get by his bus. Strangest thing.
Continuing in the line of transportation, I did not see taxis. Ok, I saw one. I don’t know if that means that legitimately very few run, or if it just means that those that do run are unmarked. The former would make sense in that Guatemala is a less affluent country so they couldn’t afford taxis as much as in Peru. In addition to not being marked as taxis, the cars also all had heavily tinted windows. All of them. I found this to be a strange trend, but it could be rooted in a desire to keep attention away from one’s self.
Instead of Stop signs having the Spanish formal command for “Stop,” they had the word for “tall” or “high.” No idea why.
Some things were similar to my past experiences. First, the store structure looked similar. When I looked to the side of the road the stores looked almost exactly the same as in Peru. There is also an overabundance of metal roofs, and what isn’t metal is the same type of “Spanish” roofing that I was familiar with in Peru. Idk the name, but here’s an example from Peru:
Last, I learned that the Mayan Ruins near Tecpan are some of the oldest and most authentic in Guatemala. The only thing barring them from tourism is probably an infrastructure and promotion to make that happen.
Well, that was the 45-minute bus ride. Then we picked up Daniel, who is a 43-year-old middle-school teacher from Cali who has been here once before. I guess he has a fascination with learning indigenous languages, but he isn’t actually doing anything specific with it as a teacher. He’s a cool guy though, I have so much respect for him doing something bold like this at a less youthful age. Not many people have that kind of guts. Heck, most people my age don’t have that kind of guts. I think I’m going to enjoy getting to know him throughout the course of this trip.
Once we arrived in Tecpan, we met up with one of the teachers of the class and another student with her who is named Luisa. I will be sharing a host home with her, which will be good to practice the language after class. The room she’s in has 2 beds so it could hold at least 2 volunteers, while mine is just one bed but I have some awesome closet space, a tv, and a private bathroom. I think I'm getting a great deal :)
My host mom, Ixim (pronounced eesheem), is fantastic. She welcomed us with a hug at the door, and Daniel started remembering his lessons from last summer and they started right in on Kaqchikel. It is in one sense intimidating, but in another amazing because he learned all that in basically 3 weeks. I have 8. I could really develop an intermediate level of this ancient Mayan language. I have been practicing random words all day, but the one sound that is very hard is the uvular click. I’m not sure I have ever done that. Ever. So I will be practicing a lot I think. Ixim will be teaching our class as well, so she is extremely good at teaching this language. She is also caring and clearly just loves hosting and caring for guests. She happily made me lunch when I arrived, and proceeded to talk with Luisa and I for probably an hour and a half. This was all Spanish of course, but as time progresses we are going to wean out of that and start speaking Kaqchikel. I really may not work on my Spanish too much this trip if I can start to get the hang of this Mayan language.
Before dinner I walked around with Luisa and tried to find a bank to withdraw money without success. I knew I couldn’t buy a phone or an internet connection for my laptop without that, so we eventually tracked down an internet shop and I used that to tell everyone I was safe here. I hope to get a more permanent option soon to aid me in medical school applications. We also explored some other parts of the city, which was cool to see. It has a very small-town feel because there aren’t many large buildings.. ok any large buildings.. but it is clean and the nearby mountains are fantastic. I think even more than in Peru, I feel like an outsider here. Everyone looks at me, since I am so obviously different than the rest of the city. Kids sometimes congregated behind the 2 of us just to watch what we were doing. Occasionally we would hear one ask for our names or someone would shout “Hello!” from a window or passing car. I bet it is one of the very few English words they know. There are actually some legitimate English speakers here, but somehow I just don’t feel like those people are the same as the ones shouting out car windows at foreigners.
Dinner was stellar, and now I am going to bed.
BATHROOMS… Stay tuned for the next post..
Continued the next morning…
One other thing I forgot to mention is the many different Spanish conventions I have experienced here. Many words are different. For example banana in Peru is banano here. I don’t know so many vegetable words because they weren’t really edible in Peru, but in Guatemala they are prevalent and delicious, so I will become familiar with those. Some things I really like about Spanish here, like they have many words for delicious instead of just using rico all the time. Probably the strangest thing thus far in Spanish is the use of the formal and informal tenses. Formal is used in all cases where you are not intimately close to the other person. Very good friends, family, etc. So I have to use the formal tense all the time, which I really haven’t ever done, so that will be a good way for me to improve that when I am not practicing Kaqchikel.