Thursday, June 5, 2014

Guatemalan Birthday

Last night was a rough night of sleep.  A minor cold is coming on, and my congested sinuses and throat pressed me into misery.  As always, I was woken up at 5AM by the urgent messages the roosters always send to each other at that time.  I continued drifting in and out of sleep until 6 when my alarms started going off.  When I finally brought myself to a functional level of consciousness, I noticed that my blankets were all turned 90 degrees from when I had went to sleep.  I’m not sure I was ever so productive in restlessness.  Anyway, Happy Birthday, Michael!  Fortunately, my typical morning routine was accompanied by a card from Meghan, which made my dull-feeling world a little better.  When I finally exited my room I was greeted with “Happy Birthday” in Kaqchikel.  Everyone in the house greeted me with hugs and best wishes, and Ixim even gave me a little talk about blessings for the coming year.  It was very nice, I was grateful for her kindness.

Oxi B’atz’ (Daniel) came to Ixim’s house and we all walked over to the class together.  Ixim again told everyone it was my birthday and wished me the best in the coming year.  Unfortunately, the actual class started off rough.  We started in on the terrific “transitive verbs,” which are used whenever there is a recipient of the verb.  The crazy thing is that everything about these verbs is different than verbs that are not acting on something else.  The words for subjects become objects, many parts of the conjugation are dependent on whether or not the next part begins with a vowel or consonant, and it’s overall 100% different from English and Spanish.  So I was completely lost and couldn’t really answer questions when asked, which is not an experience I often have back home.  With all that in addition to the tiredness and general discomfort from my cold, I was unhappy. 

In the first breakout session with my teachers I started to understand better, but it was still hard.  During the break Samantha showed up to class with a cake in her hands!  I was very thankful that all my new friends cared enough to make this day special for me, even if I am away from everyone I know and love in the US.  I also went and bought a small pack of cookies for 1Q (1/7 of a dollar… awesome), which also improved my mood.  The next session was body parts, which weren’t exactly easy for my overloaded brain to learn, but it was better than the transitive verbs.  Soon we discussed nouns and possession in relation to the body, where most of the words change again.  It is so strange because the whole linguistic structure differs entirely from languages I have previously studied. 

Anyway, I made it until lunch.  As always, it was fantastic.  We had strawberry juice, a broth of some kind, and a main dish of flavorful rice, meat, and beans.  Of course, the meal ended with cake.  Now, the procedure for birthday celebrations here has a slightly different protocol than in the states.  They did sing to me first (in Spanish and English), which is something I was accustomed to.  Next, it is tradition for the birthday boy (or girl) to take the first bite of cake without first cutting it in any way.  So, I leaned in and took a bite of the luscious frosting.  However, I did not complete the second aspect of this ritual, which is to have my face shoved into the cake amidst the biting procedure.  So, I went down for a second bite so that Lajuj B’atz’ (one of the instructors) could have the pleasure of getting frosting in my face.  It wasn’t covering my whole face, but I and everyone else enjoyed the spectacle.  The cake was great after they cut it like normal as well, though my piece was marred by the points of contact with my face.  It was really great to have people care about my birthday, and as different as it all was, I could still certainly feel the warmth of everyone in the class.  I plan to bring the face-tradition back to the United States in a few months ;D

The rest of the day was spent learning animals.  This was one of my favorite lessons, because the teachers (and students) gave very high-quality impersonations.  It was also today that I had my second embarrassing failure of the week.  Yesterday, when I was asked if I was fat, I responded “more or less,” because I really had very little idea about what I was being asked.  The room burst out laughing because I am basically the exact opposite of fat.  Today, I didn’t know an animal I was asked to impersonate, so I asked the instructor next to me.  Ixkamey informed me that it meant wolf.  So, I proceeded to crawl around the room and howl.  Come to find out at the end, I was actually asked to act like a cow.  Oops.  Everyone got a good laugh out of that one too. 

After class I went to an internet café to review some Wuqu’ Kawoq documents with Samantha, which was great.  I continue to be impressed with this organization.  It seems like they have thought of almost every possibility for the study to make sure they get good data.  I know that this isn’t my discipline, but I do think I can still tell when something is well planned versus poorly planned.  It will be a lot of hard work, but I know it will be an incredible experience.  I can tell that Samantha is going to be a great person to work with, for which I am very thankful.


The rest of the night I haven’t done much of anything related to the school.  That will probably come back to haunt me tomorrow as I saunter around scratching my sides and making monkey noises when asked to act like a rooster.  Oh well.  I am tired, stuffy, and really just want to go to bed.  Hopefully I feel better tomorrow.

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