Week One in Xela

It’s still surreal.  I don’t feel as if I’m living in Guatemala.  Yes, I speak Spanish everyday, pay with Guatemalan Quetzales, and don’t have the many luxuries that I do back home, but I’m enjoying this simple life.  I am living with a single mother, her mother, her 12 year old daughter, and one other young woman who lives in the home as well.  Although my home stay is much more like a coexistence (which apparently is common here in Guatemala with this language school) they are still kind to me, and I am receiving everything I need.  The food has been good—a lot of tortillas and beans—but there has also been veggies, meat, pasta, and soup thrown in between.  The food we receive while we’re with our group at hotels and restaurants has been great as well; burritos that certainly triumph Chipotle, and vibrant fruit juices and smoothies that taste as if the fruit was just picked from the tree.

The night life in Xela certainly has something for everyone.  Whether you’re into dance clubs, bars, or cafés with live music, one can find something they’re into.  Needless to say, we were able to successfully celebrate the birthdays of two of the chicas in our group on the evening before September 1.

Spanish class at Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco has been superb.  The teaching staff at the school are top-notch, and the one-on-one instruction allows you to concentrate on your own strengths, weaknesses, and needs.  I am currently taking Conversación Avanzada y contexto cultural; which is a conversational course based around social issues in Central America.  My professor and I have talked about politics, the armed conflict that plagued Guatemala in recent decades, the environment, and the traditional dress of indigenous Guatemalans.  I am not only able to improve my Spanish, grammatically and conversationally, but learn about social issues that are evident in Guatemala today.  Which brings me to the few meetings we have fortunately been able to attend…

… last Tuesday our group met with colonel in the Guatemalan army to hear his perspective and thoughts on the history of Guatemala, especially the armed conflict.  While he was able to go through a few hundred years of history in about 2.5 hours, he still failed to acknowledge the atrocities that the Guatemala army had caused during the armed conflict.  If you are unfamiliar with the Guatemala armed conflict (which I was until we got to Guatemala), I would point you to  This American Life’s episode, here.  The following day we were fortunate to hear an ex-guerrilla speak about their experience during the armed conflict.  They too, spoke about the history of Guatemala, which can be characterized by a state of oppression, as well as the social mission of the guerrilla forces.  Each place the guerrilla forces would meet with, they would be sure to build a school in the community.  Hearing about the same conflict from two very different perspectives was quite enlightening, not only for the historical significance for Guatemala, but for the United States as well.  The United States, specifically the CIA, played a very large role in the toppling of a democratic government that had existed in Guatemala for ten years, until 1954.

This past weekend our group met with a pastor from a Methodist church and a group of widows who still weave the traditional Guatemalan textiles in Chontala, and then continued onto Chichicastenango for the night.  The pastor told us of his story and his role as helping the community of Chontala after the Guatemalan army killed many of the men of the community during the conflict.  Furthermore, the group of widows had lost their husbands in the same event, and as a way to rebound both economically and psychologically, they began to weave the traditional Guatemalan weavings and sell them at the market in Chichicastenango.  We were honored to be hosted by these women, dressed in their traditional garb, and still speaking in the indigenous language of Xiche.  Not to mention, their lunch of deep fried chicken was quite good—moist but not drenched in oil—with a nice side of vegetables and rice.  If you’ve ever had Hattie’s Chicken Fry in Saratoga, this chicken may rival Hattie’s, but a taste test will be needed in order to confirm upon my return to the United States.  In Chichicastenango we ate dinner by candle light (there was a city-wide brownout), in a restaurant that made beef and ham kabobs that sounds like it would be too rich but was not, a fettuccini that was not too creamy, and a vegetable medley that had tender but not mushy vegetables.  Also, we topped off our candlelight dining experience with a cake for the two birthday girls in our group, Molly and Moira.  The next day we shopped the market in Chichicastenango, which my host mother told me is one of the biggest in Central America (which I will save for its own blog post).

Please forgive the length of this post, but I have not made a proper update in the past week.  We are loving the experience so far, and one another as well, as well as the two facilitators of the program, Ruth and Joe.  We have a couple meetings this week, and then a free weekend to do whatever we choose.  Some will be heading to Lake Atítlan, while a few others will be heading to a coffee and macadamia nut cooperative.

Until next time; hope all is well on your end of the web!

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One response to “Week One in Xela

  1. What a cool program! It sounds like participants get an indepth view into the culture of Guatemala.
    Also, I’m curious, has your relationship with the host family changed since early September?

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