Cat-a-log December, 21st. 2011
(See Our Photos at End of the Post)
Dear Friends and Family,
Hola de Guatemala! After three days of class, we feel like we are learning some Spanish but will probably not break any records for the amount learned in 4 hours a day for 10 days. We have decided that we are paying for this and if we don’t want to stress ourselves, we won’t and that is OK with the school. It would be different if we were doing this for our job or school credit but it is for fun and to help us along the way. We hope to continue to learn but enjoy ourselves at the same time.
We have one on one instruction so we can work at our own pace and the skills can be tailored to our preferences though there is a basic structure to follow. The tables and dry boards are set around a court yard and some of the students are under umbrellas in the court yard. It is a beautiful setting and coffee, tea and water are available all the time. We can come there and study, even if we are not in class and also use the internet. Luckily, we have very good access right here in our host family home as well and we have been able to do some skype calls which is really wonderful, especially around this time of year. If you want to know more about the school, you can go to www.learncsa.com. There are pictures there as well.
It is a lot like with children, listening and understanding first and speaking later. I was very pleased that today, my teacher, Olga, shared her family Christmas traditions with me. She started out telling me in English and I asked her to tell me en Espanol. Of course she spoke very deliberately and probably chose words that were more simple, but I think I understood about 70%. Of course I knew the context but I was pretty pleased. Now translate that to being on the street and the story will be different. What we find here is that, especially the women, are eager to help you along with your English and are very patient. Even when you say you don’t want to buy from a vender, they are still interested in talking with you to give you practice and being friendly.
We are loving our school, our teachers, Olga for me and Carola for Rob, and we are situated in a good part of the city with a very comfortable and accommodating family. We are enjoying the food and don’t go hungry although it is different than what we would have at home. That is OK though as it is part of the experience and the food is not that unusual just different choices than we usually have.
We are sharing the house with two other young women who are also students at the same school. They are wonderful and one speaks quite well and has been great to keep the conversations going at meal time. Our family knows some English though so that is helpful when we need it but after these girls leave tomorrow, I think meal time will be quieter. It will be harder to share things in depth.
I found out at dinner tonight that two more girls will arrive on 30 December and a couple will take our room on the day we leave which at the moment is scheduled to be on January 2nd.
Our host family consists of a widow and her 38 year old divorced son and his two daughters who live with her. The girls are about 5 and 7. They will be gone with their mother on Christmas weekend. We expect to see the other son and his wife and four children. They have three boys, about 15,16 and 8 and a girl about 4 or 5. The 15 year old is very willing to speak what English he knows and his parents also speak some so that is helpful. We are not sure of the plans but we know that the main Christmas meal will be about midnight! Not sure we are up for that. We are always happy to toast in the new year at about 10 and then go to bed! We may be doing a lot of sleeping that afternoon so that we can stay awake for the evening activities.
Today in class, we each went with our teachers to go shopping. They took us places to find things we were looking for and it was helpful. We only bought gifts for the two older boys so will go back to other places, probably tomorrow after class. We also want to have something for our teachers on Friday as well as the two maids who work here full time, so it means a lot of shopping for people we don’t know well. That is always difficult to know what to buy.
I will write about what we end up doing after Christmas when I know what that is!
Antigua, itself is a real treat. Our friends, Nancy and Steve Johnson, who cruised with us last year and spent about a week here while we were working on our boat, had given us a heads up. They were so right when they said that the first impression was not so good because the city is just streets surrounded by walls. It is when you come inside the walls that you see the beauty of the city. The insides all have court yards and there are blooming plants and trees and lovely plants. Each place makes you feel like you live in a garden. I will probably write more about our particular house in a later log when I have more pictures but all the rooms are on one side overlooking where the cars are parked. To get to our rooms upstairs, you have to walk outside. The outside areas are used to move from room to room. Our hotel the first night we were here was like that.
The weather is much like northern California. It gets to about 55 at night and about 70 to 75 in the day. It can get chilly when in the wind and hot when in the sun. I am constantly putting my sweater on and off depending on the time of day and where I am. The houses don’t need cooling and don’t have heating. That is the hardest to take, first thing in the morning and after the sun goes down because you don’t have a place to actually get warm until you get under the covers and warm up the bed.
I think this would be a hard city for any one on crutches or in a wheel chair or who was wearing high heals. The sidewalks are narrow and have a wall on one side and often a steep drop to the road on the other and they are often broken up in places. The streets are cobblestone so walking can be hard on the feet and you really need flat shoes not to sprain your ankle,
Still, this a a little like visiting Colonial Williamsburg, VA which still has the architecture and feel of a colonial city. They are very strict about any changes here as well and you do feel like you have stepped back in to a different time when you are here. We have already met some ex-pats who have made this home and I can see why.
Between our studies and homework, we don’t have as much time to explore as we would like but we hope to see as much as we can. This is such a departure for us as we are usually on our boat and not inland or staying with others. After years of being host parents to international students when we lived in Omaha, it is interesting to be on the other side of being hosted and being served by a student adviser rather than being the student adviser.
I want to back track a little. Just before we left Rio Dulce, we went to a fund raiser for La Casa Esperanza which means the house of hope. It is a private orphanage managed by a couple and supported in large by a Christian church in Sarasota. Of course they can still use help and the boaters came together to do so. They currently have only about 13 children there. There is another orphanage that the boaters help out with that serves more like 100 to 150 during the school term. It is an underfunded government run facility. Some children are orphaned but some just go there from remote places to go to school and some are abandoned by parents who can’t afford to take care of them. That is not uncommon here where birth rates are high and incomes are extremely low for the average Guatemalan. Yet, even with a poverty of income, there is a richness in spirit that is very bountiful. One sees people in need all around and it can be difficult knowing that any help you can give is so insignificant to the whole. This experience is not uncommon to our trips everywhere in the Caribbean. It makes one realize how fortunate we are and the capacity that we all have to give and share the wealth. Our own country is not immune from need either. What is more difficult than dealing with financial poverty is the poverty of the spirit. Even money is not the answer for that one and you can have this poverty and still have money!
Anyway, if you would like to know more about either orphanage, go to the local English newspaper at www.riodulcehisme.com. There is also an interesting story about fireworks during this season as well as “burning the Devil” which is done earlier in the month.
I have so many pictures I would like to share but for now, here are just a few. I hope you have a very blessed Christmas or holiday season. May the new year bring you the peace of spirit that is the gift we all seek.
Sue and Rob
Here is an example of a courtyard in our hotel the first night. Our host didn’t have a room until Sunday. You can see Rob in our room. This a a moderate prices hotel. There are several 5 star places here as well as back packer type places.
This is a typical street scene. See the narrow sidewalks and cobblestone roads? Nothing very interesting from the outside.
This does add beauty to the outside. It is an arch built as a walk way between two parts of a convent. These nuns did not communicate with the outside world, even to the point of walking across the street in public. The arch was built as a passage for them. It has become the symbol of Antigua. The convent on either side is now a hotel and restaurant and both have beautiful court yards.
Here I am with my wonderful teacher Olga and mi amigo, Flat Stanley.
Rob is with his teacher, Carola.