Monday, August 15, 2011

Last Week in Antigua

This part of my Guatemalan journey came to an end this week. My teacher, Silvia, introduced the future tense and had me use it in different kinds of formats, but mostly we simply had conversations - which I find the most helpful. As I'm struggling to speak, she will correct me quietly while also encouraging me to proceed, and then she will speak about something a little more quickly, in order to improve my comprehension - slipping in the new words we had been studying. It's a very effective method that may even be called enjoyable.

On Tuesday, I was invited to Chata's house (see previous blog) for almuerzo (lunch). Her son, Joshua, picked me up with his two girls, and I spent the next 90 minutes or so with Chata's family. There was another American who had been invited, a student of Joshua's wife, who also teaches English. Because it was her birthday, it was a very festive meal with other relatives and friends in attendance. As it turned out, there were three birthday cakes, two of them brought by a couple of the guests.

This was a nice way to round out my experience in Guatemala, since clearly Chata and her family were more like the "typical" family of the town. It was a simple home with extended relatives living there and everyone working at some sort of job. Even Chata had opened a small store out of her front room facing the street. Lots of kids around, and a comfortable family atmosphere. The lunch was carefully prepared and appreciated by everyone. Between my limited Spanish and those who spoke English, everyone communicated just fine.

At the end of the meal, I took a picture of the whole family in their backyard, which abuts a coffee plantation. They have access to the larger property, since there is no fence, and therefore the kids have a huge "backyard" in which to play. Joshua hopes to build an addition to the house in the near future so that they can have Spanish students staying with them (64 language schools in Antigua), which would provide another source of income for the family.

The rest of the week went by quickly, and soon it was Friday evening. The Brothers had a small "fiesta" or social before dinner in my honor. I'd figured that something like that might happen and had prepared some remarks in Spanish. The tradition seems to be that prior to starting the party, the Director makes some remarks and then invites the person being honored to do the same. I just hope that what I said made sense, since I hadn't had a chance to check it with any native speakers. I either thanked them for their hospitality or told them that I would be going to the hospital. In any case, they seemed to smile and nod enough to indicate that they understood my intent.

We had a couple of guests from Chicago that evening as well. They were part of a foundation that supports the education of poor kids in the Americas and had been involved with Br. Francisco and schools in the District for some years, especially the school in Nestor (way in the boonies). Most of the people involved were retired professionals who wanted to do charitable work that required some sort of sacrifice and personal effort. Clearly, they were getting at least as much out of their efforts as their beneficiaries.

Later on, after dinner, Steve brought out his guitar and began singing and playing all sorts of songs and musical styles. He's very talented in both his guitar playing and in the variety of songs that he's learned by heart, and soon we were singing songs from the 40's and 60's and beyond. His passion is playing and singing, and it's clearly a "vocation" for him. His father always listened to John Denver - so he had that repertoire down cold - and he had a singing voice very much like John Denver's, clear and pure. We were all taken by his performance, joining in when we recalled the words - or rather singing in semi-fragments of phrases with sung mumbles in between. After he finished, Br. Francisco brought out his guitar and we finished the evening with a bunch of fine Spanish songs, throwing in a couple of popular Mexican tunes that have world-wide appeal.

Subsequently, I spent several hours packing up my stuff. Amazing how my suitcase seems to have shrunk! Everything was able to be packed into my two bags, but it was a tight squeeze. Even so, I left a couple of things for the Brothers there to use as they saw fit. Early the next morning, at 4:00 AM, I was standing outside of the house on the street waiting for the minibus that would take me to the airport in Guatemala City. Sounds from one of the bars around the corner could still be heard, but generally the place was quiet and abandoned. A good, quiet, semi-reflective way to end my very happy stay in Antigua.

Now it was on to Miami and NYC, where Br. Peter Killeen met me outside of JFK for the ride to Manhattan College. But that's another story.

This Antigua experience has been one of the highlights of the summer. I was able to learn a bit of Spanish and learn much about the Brothers and the people of Guatemala. If possible, I'd like to come back in another summer to study some more. The key now is to practice, practice, practice. So if you see me at some point, feel free to speak Spanish to me. I'll probably greet that with wide eyes, a wane smile, and a halting attempt to reply in Spanish. But know that this is a good thing, a helpful thing, and finally the needed thing. You can stop speaking Spanish when I'm completely spluttering in some sort of Spanglish mix and you can no longer understand my attempts at either language. It means that I've stretched just a bit further, and education is in process.

Welcome to the world of learning. Thanks for being part of my school.

For more pictures, see below. Click on the show to go through the individual photographs with their captions.