Lacey at the Mayan museum in Guatemala City, Day 1“Dog I don’t speak English very well!” Apparently the word for “but” only has one r, which I found out after writing my first composition on Thursday. Spanish is hard.

A week ago today we arrived safely in Xela, Guatemala. So far the bulk of my energy, and in some ways my time, has been spent learning and practicing Spanish. It´s amazing how quickly you can learn in twenty-five hours a week of one-on-one classes, with a patient teacher giving you his full attention. I can now ask my host mother if she would like me to turn off the light, talk to the kids in my art class about their favorite colors, and negotiate transactions at Xela’s endless tiendas (tiny window-shops) with reasonable efficiency (if not aplomb). Lacey in front of the modern art museum in Guatemala City, Day 1My teacher, a 21-year old university student with an endless stock of bromas (jokes), is willing to converse about anything from American comedies (I´ve already loaned him my “Best of Will Ferrell / Saturday Night Live” and “Wedding Crashers” DVDs) to religion and politics in Guatemala, this despite the limitations of the present tense and my limited, though rapidly expanding, vocabulary.

I am also forced to learn Spanish at home with our family, where the 7- and 9- year-olds who act as our hosts (click here for more details in Lacey’s first blog post) have taken to telling me the wrong meanings of words, an apparently hilarious joke usually joined in on by Lacey. In general, however, the kids are incredibly fun and well-behaved, and have made our stay as an unmarried couple in an evangelical home many times better than it might have been otherwise.

I practice more Spanish at the school where Lacey and I have begun volunteering as art and English teachers. There I´ve learned the words for paper, scissors, glue, markers, and crayons, scored a few goodbye hugs and kisses at the end of the day (but not as many as Lacey), received my first signed painting, and am working on becoming a legend on the recess football (soccer) field. I’ll write more about our teaching soon, but for now suffice it to say that the greatest motivation for learning Spanish is to try to gain a semblance of control in a class of 20 wonderful but rowdy Guatemalan 5-11 year-olds.

Looking back on our way up to La Muela!And Xela, finally, is a wonderful place to be. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, with skies that change personality by the minute and hour, its natural beauty defies the exhaust and grit of its streets, although these are softened considerably by the city’s winding character, its many parks and churches, and the regular smiles and greetings of its residents. Lacey and I took a gorgeous hike today up “La Muela” (the tooth), a promontory of hardened lava and ash that juts from the side of an old overgrown volcano. We saw only one other person on the unsigned dirt path, which left a small road about a mile out of town. We passed behind lovely swaying acres of corn and beans (and a few tied-up horses) before heading up to the rocks, the sky alternating characteristically between cool towering thunderheads and hot equatorial sun. We sweated, ate cookies, and spoke Spanish only when we felt like it. It’s been a good week!

Blocking the view from atop La Muela!

4 thoughts on “¡Perro Yo No Hablo Español Muy Bien!

  • September 6, 2007 at 8:09 am

    I’m glad you made it to Guatemala, and that Lacey has foun her blog voice. I googled Xela and found, so I now have an image of where you are. They even have a GoogleEarth link that zooms right in on your location. I recommend that trip to your readers.

    Didn’t a hurricane pass close to there last week?

    I note from GoogleEarth that you are not too far from Lake Atitlan. A few years ago we had a visiting author/conservationist at ETSU, Anne LaBastille, who presented beautifully illustrated lectures about her efforts to preserve the natural environment of that lake. I hope you have a chance to visit there while you’re in Xela.

  • September 6, 2007 at 10:04 am

    It makes me so happy to read your blog Eth. I think what you’re doing is just wonderful, both for the kids and families you’re meeting/working with, and for you and Lacey.
    Your proud and loving “Dad.”

  • September 9, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Yay for Xela! It is a wonderful unique little place. Your makin me wish I was there even though I´m in beautiful Bahia! Glad to here you´re diggin into Spanish. I look forward to speaking Portuñol with you. What school are you at? Have you been to that sweet cafe (I forget the name) uptop the big hill aways that over looks the town? Have you been to Cocolocos above Cafe Tenango (the cafe where I met Sarah Ellis) in downtown Xela? Are you doing Quetzaltrekkers? And yes Atitlan beautiful, I´m sure you´ll be there soon enough. Two things you should definitely do that I wish I had done: Visit Tikal (claro que si) and also there is an Ancient Olmec ruin (forgot the name) that is south of Xela on the southern coast. It is small but it is apparently the oldest(?) ruin in Central America, the Olmec civilization preexisting the Mayan. Damn I´m still sad that I missed it. Damn I need to go back and refresh my self of all the Guatemalan wonder! Desfrute-lo mi amigo!

  • September 20, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks, everyone! Yes, Lacey and I are planning a trip to Lago de Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) very soon. Jriftwood, we haven’t been to that cafe but will have to check it out. We live right around the block from Kokolokos and saw some great salsa dancing there the other night. Also, we will take trips with Quetzaltrekkers, but are also hoping to do as much as we can on our own. And we definitely won’t miss Tikal!!


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