As part of our Spanish school at Pop Wuj (pronounced “wu”), we signed up for a home stay with a Guatemalan family about 15-20 minutes away from our school by foot. Pretty obviously, we were a little apprehensive about how this would work out, especially since Pop Wuj made it very clear that the family we would be placed with would not speak much (or any) English. So far, we honestly could not have scripted a better situation.
After we got dropped off at the school by our shuttle from Antigua (ironically, we chickened out and opted against the chicken bus option from Antigua to Chimaltenango to Xela) at Pop Wuj, we were picked up by the grandmother of our family, her granddaughter, and a young man from the neighborhood who gave us a lift to their house. Their house is on a quiet cul-de-sac-esque street about two blocks from one of Xela’s main roads, and is quite nice. We have our own room complete with two beds (they house Spanish students regularly and some travel in pairs and/or are unmarried), and there are two other bedrooms along with a study, one bathroom. living room, dining room, kitchen, garage, and aviary.
The family itself has been incredibly welcoming. There are 7 of us living here currently: the grandmother Julia, the father Nelson, the mother Mery, and their daughters Leslie (age uncertain, but tween-ish) and Esther (8). In addition to the humans, there are also four parrots living here: Lorenzo. Pancha, Pancho, and Cookie. The parrots spend most of their time in the half-outdoor annex behind the kitchen that has been converted to an aviary, but they have been shown off a few times after meals and they announce their presence with authority during the day. Although we have no photos of the family or parrots to share now, I am quite sure those will come shortly. The house is kept quite warm, which is very nice since, at 7,700 feet above sea level, nights in Xela can get pretty nippy.
Our days here have followed a pattern that will likely continue throughout our three weeks here. Every morning at 7, Julia serves us breakfast. We have already had a variety of foods, so our fears of having some combination of black beans, rice and eggs for every meal have been assuaged. After breakfast, at about 7:30, we walk to school where we have 1-on-1 Spanish lessons from 8 until 1 with a 30 minute break at 10:30. Although it has only been two days, we are already noticing progress as well as learning that speaking a language you don’t know very well for nearly 5 straight hours is freaking exhausting. So, tired from class, we stagger back home where we have lunch waiting for us at about 1:30. Today’s menu was a delicious soup, tomales, rice, and baked cauliflower with salsa picante. Not too shabby. The afternoons are typically open, and so far we have used them to play in the park with Esther and today to explore Xela’s sports center that has a running track, soccer fields, basketball courts, and the like. At about 7 or 8 at night, we sit down to dinner with our family and talk about whatever we are capable of talking about. Since we lucked out with a grandma who can really cook this has been a pretty great setup so far.
Pop Wuj also offers activities every day of the week, and usually another on the weekend. Monday is movie night, and last night we saw Voces Inocentes, an uplifting film about the plight of child soldiers dragged into combat during the civil war in El Salvador. It was beautifully produced but incredibly sad. On Tuesdays they offer lectures on various Guatemala-related topics, on Wednesdays we have the opportunity to help build stoves for impoverished Guatemalans during class hours (your teacher goes with and continues the teaching), on Thursdays a student or students cook dinner for the whole school and faculty (20 or so people), and on Fridays…..something else happens. In any event, that is the general program for the week. Because I am a glutton for punishment, I volunteered to cook dinner on Thursday (Anna was not happy with me), so I will be bringing Chicago-style hot dogs to Guatemala, along with guacamole/chips, a vegetarian dish that I have yet to come up with, and a fruit/cake/yogurt blend for dessert. Who wouldn’t like that?
Many more stories and photos to follow. After all, this is only day 2 of 21.