Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Postcards from Guatemala -- 16 July 2008

mi bonita familia, i have a list of things to tell you. this is serious business.

first of all, christian spanish academy this week! it is GORGEOUS. edificio-wise, i mean. i have encountered exactly one more beautiful bathroom in this country, and it is in la cooperación española. language-wise, it is great, but not spectacular. i think i will be fine with taking only one week (i´d been worried that i would love it too much). my teacher is ana, or anita if you like diminutives, and she is shocked at how much spanish i know, which is gratifying. i nearly aced the placement test, which embarrasingly puts me on a whole different, higher level from another student i talked to, david, who´s taken three years of high school spanish. my teacher and i have a lot of conversations, and i´ve been reading roald dahl´s matilda. which, incidentally, i believe translates better into dutch than spanish, requiring lots of textured, fricative, potentially ugly-sounding, familiar words. you guys know roald dahl´s style... he´s not one for lyrical elegance, which spanish is good for. still... fun reading.

(dad: i don´t work in the kitchen at all anymore. you´ll only see me in the library, and then, remember, i only work from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm my time. i prepare lessons at the white, square tables towards the back of the library between classes.)

[Ed. explanation: It is theoretically possible to see Ruth on one of El Proyecto's webcams -- username: amigo, password: 1111 -- her time zone is the same as Utah's]

second of all: specific students i wanted to write to you about! maria josé is in parvulos, and she likes to give hugs. but once she has you in her grip, she will literally not let go. she´s strong enough that even if you stand up and walk away, she will remain clinging to your neck like a parasite in a pink sweatshirt. she´s also adorable (that is, noticeably lacking in leaking facial orifices), so every single visiting gringo falls into her trap. cristiano is this awesome kid in tercero. basically, he´s awesome because we´re best friends. i don´t have a reason for this. recently, i´ve gained enough status to merit the regular polite greeting from students that i pass (when they´re not at a run), which is a hand on one shoulder and a kiss on the opposite cheek. but cristiano always tries to sneak up behind me and make me guess who it is. josé alfredo is also in parvulos, with maría josé, but he is just plain funny. fellow volunteer irene always says, in a voice high-pitched with cute overload, ¨I just want to put him in my pocket!!!¨

Patricio was trading grossness stories with me and some other volunteers... he won. He knows someone who vomited and then found a tapeworm caught in his braces.

We have birthday celebrations in the morning meeting at el proyecto... the ritual is to have the birthday person stand or sit in some highly visible place, and different people wish him or her well. there´s often a ¨que dios te bendiga¨ in there somewhere, and a recognition of what it is that we appreciate about that person´s work. we applaud after every well-wishing. then we all eat little pastries or something. the other day it was héctor barrundia´s birthday, and he´s deaf, so the well-wishing was done either in guatemalan sign language (which lots of people at el proyecto know), or with héctor having a good view of the lips. applause was just holding up our hands and shaking them. awesome.

fellow volunteer irene just left on monday morning... her last day at work was accompanying me to classes. we had segundo last, which is our unparalleled favorite, and they actually abandoned their work to do the same birthday-type well-wishing ritual for irene when they found out she was leaving. it was so so so cute. profe adelso asked when my last day is, so they might do it for me, too.

i just found, a few weeks ago, el proyecto´s ecumenical chapel. it´s really pretty: the altar is also a fountain, and the place is semi-subterranean, so the entryway is dim, and the ceiling is all vines. there are some stained-glass windows high along the walls, and they let in the only, muted light. it´s really peaceful. i love it.

switching gears... the other day, walking home in the ubiquitous rain, i pressed the button on my umbrella (it was already open) and it collapsed on me! i was so afraid i had broken it, and walked for a few blocks holding it open with my hand, but it was so tiring. i had to stop, and eventually i got it working again. this was a relief, because susie, another volunteer, has had cheap umbrella after cheap umbrella break or get lost on her. the most recent version is fine, except that it leaks on her shoulders.

there are amjads here, did i tell you that? except they´re called tuc-tucs.

there are also lots of things to wake me up in the mornings: birthday firecrackers (which are INCREDIBLY loud) in the street, and a rooster that lives on the neighbor´s roof. and as you guys know, from hawai´i and from sarajevo both, roosters don´t stop with sunrise. hah.

when i was at estudio 35 (a restaurant/bar in town) listening to the buena vista social club guy perform, i was wearing my stanford sweatshirt. this is the same stanford sweatshirt that is in almost every single one of my past facebook profile photographs. not by plan, just because i wear it ALL THE TIME. anyway, so this guy walks up to me and says, ¨do you go to stanford?¨ and it turns out he´s a stanford law student. cool, huh sam?

i also took a free tour this week of another charity, very much like asociación nuestros ahijados. it´s called Common Hope, or Familias in Esperanza. one of the other people on the tour was an american spanish student. a common breed. except that this one was a girl around my age, who is also a Pennsylvanian nun-in-training. not common. she was super interesting to talk to. especially about teaching little kids. we both like it a lot.

i found the city´s public library. it´s hidden right in the middle of the most overpriced tourist services in town. it has a nearly complete collection of Sweet Valley High novels, so guatemalan kids learning english can find out what america is really like.

every day in morning meeting, two different people are each responsible to tell us all a joke. the people change daily, but the general idea is to make el proyecto a place of happiness, and to give us a repertoire of ways to set people at ease, to sweeten difficult situations, stuff like that. the jokes (chistes) are always in spanish. and last week, I UNDERSTOOD ONE! my spanish isn´t that bad, and i´ve understood parts of lots of chistes. just usually the punchline, or some other crucial detail, evades me. i was so excited, you should have seen me.

in relief society on sunday, we had a lesson about joseph smith. i was kind of lost, but i guess it was some story about the smith family relocating, or possibly church members trekking someplace. conditions were awful. and someone in the class raised her hand to point out that it was also winter. the teacher was like, ¨yes, it was winter. sisters, it was RAINING!¨ (because of course, that´s what winter is here. ana, my host sister, who´s a little savvier about such things, looked over at me skeptically and said, ¨it was snowing, right?¨)

here is a little recipe. if you spend three hours one morning continually holding either fresh, whole pineapples (which do not smell as sweet on the outside as they do on the inside) or leaking bags of warm, UHT milk, your hands will take on an odor that is both potent and exceptionally long-lasting. it´s unbelievable how long-lasting. but that is what you get from UHT products, i suppose.

much, much, much love, con besos y abrazos,


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