We have been in Xela for two weeks now. It feels very familiar and I have learned more in two weeks than I have in the past 20 years….about life, people, the world, and love. We moved out of our homestay and into a little apartment. The apartment is located above a different school and we are surrounded by people from all over the world. We shop and cook and wake up and go to school and then hang with friends and classmates in the afternoon. We watch Spanish TV, run to the panaderia (bakery) for fresh bread every day($1 for 12 little buns and several beautiful pastry treats), take our laundry to the lavanderia ($1.50 to have it washed, dried, and folded) and basically carry on as we would at home. I am working from afar, and the internet is fine if a little slow, so I am building websites and doing social media marketing from my little apartment. Life is totally and miraculously different, yet very much the same.
This week we changed our schooling to one on one instruction. For five hours a day, I sit, nose to nose, with my maestro, Norma. We are about the same age. She is cute and funny and despite very different backgrounds, we are fast friends and so very similar. After two short weeks of intensive instruction, I can understand most all she says. We talk of parenting, our children, what we cooked for dinner, our childhood, finances, recipes, shopping, and cultural customs. We also talk of war, poverty, social injustice, political corruption, and hope for the future. I could sit here and write of it for days. In the tiniest of nutshells, and in the interest of publishing a post in the next hour or so, Guatemala is a country in recovery. They have just recently come out of a brutal civil war that lasted for 36 years. The war ended in 1996 and there was mass genocide of the indigenous people. Entire towns were destroyed in nazi-esque ways. Norma is amazed that I know so little about it. So am I. I tell her, in my broken Spanish, best as I can, that I knew of it vaguely and from a distance, but without feeling or connection. And that here and now, I am getting it, deeply.
By far our biggest expense on this adventure is our language school. There is no way to quantify the gain. Aside from learning Spanish, we are making connections that I can hardly put into words. When you spend more than 30 hours a week with a group of people you quickly become a unit. We share a common and unique bond….we all want to learn something that is difficult and very much outside ourselves. It’s the polar opposite of my normal life, which seems distant and, unfortunately, self centered.
Our schoolmates are from all over. We have group discussions, solely in Spanish, on every topic you can imagine. My kids join in and contribute and are being pushed to express themselves and interact (in Spanish) at a very high level.
I can’t tell you how much we laugh. Humor is exacerbated by the language barrier. The exchanges are almost always deeply intellectual and hysterically funny. Which is good, because it’s a long hard week of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension and constant study and practice. We are all eager to go each morning. My kids have been in school their entire lives, but they are opening up to what is possible if they dig into deep learning.
The reward surrounds us….the people, both Guatemalans and fellow travelers, a gorgeous window to the world and true connection.