Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Our Life in Xela

Having just finished three weeks of language school in Xela, we thought it might be time to write a bit about our life here, our routines, and our living situation. Some of you have asked for details about our life in Guatemala, so here you go…

Casa Xelaj├║, the school we’re attending, is working out well for us. Debbie and I have our own teachers and we work one-on-one from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM. There’s a 30 min. break in there too. Being one-on-one means we have a lot of flexibility. Besides working in the classroom, we go out and practice in the market place or in stores just to get some experience talking with other people. I really think that between Debbie’s research talking with folks and reading up, as well as God’s providence, we’ve landed in an excellent environment for language study. The school also provides optional afternoon activities that provide both language practice and cultural exposure. The activities range from volunteering with a local program for disadvantaged kids to salsa lessons, cooking classes, and outings to points of interest near Xela. The outings are not only fun and interesting, but good opportunities to get oriented with available public transportation. We’ve ridden in microbuses, chicken busses, taxis, and pickup trucks to get where we needed to go.

Our last outing was a visit to a small, family-run blanket and rug manufacturing business. The family maintains a modest flock of sheep, so they manage the entire supply chain of their operation from shearing the sheep, washing and carding the wool, spinning the raw wool into yarn, dying the yarns with traditional natural mineral and vegetable dyes, and weaving the yarn into beautiful blankets, rugs, tablecloths, and articles of clothing. Debbie took a turn at the spinning wheel and Richard tried his hand at the loom, both under the guiding hand of the family patriarch and general manager (see attached photos).
Debbie at the Spinning Wheel
I think I need more fingers!

The Finished Product
The school also did a great job in setting us up with a family home stay. Our family is a single woman about our age with grown children, one of whom spends some time here but is usually working out of town. The rest live elsewhere in Guatemala and in the US. We pretty much have the upstairs to ourselves except when Jaimie is home. Upstairs is a comfortable bedroom that Debbie and I share, Jamie’s room, a small den-like room with a couple of comfortable couches, and our own bathroom with a plumbing system that tolerates toilet paper being flushed (the only place I’ve ever experienced that in Guatemala) and a shower with a gas-fired point-of-use water heater that provides all the hot water one would need. Judith, our hostess, loves to cook and provides fabulous breakfasts before school and hearty lunches afterwards. She knows we’re in the learning process so speaks slowly and clearly for us. We have fun and interesting conversations around the table. We’re pretty much on our own for dinner. There are always leftovers from lunch, and we prefer eating light in the evenings. On weekends we can prepare what we want to eat in the kitchen (Judith says “Mi cocina es su cocina”) or we go out to experience the variety of restaurants and cafes Xela has to offer. Our daily needs are pretty much taken care of so we can focus on homework and class preparation.

We’ve visited a couple of Presbyterian churches since we’ve been here. Now we’re regulars at Bethel Presbyterian Church. It’s just a few blocks from home. It’s a large and active congregation. The services are more like what we’d experience at home than what we’ve gotten to expect in an indigenous Guatemalan Presbyterian church. There are indigenous congregations in the area, but they’re all a few bus rides away, and we really need to spend Sunday afternoons studying and not riding buses. So we’re learning a little about how Ladino Presbyterian churches operate, which is a good experience too.

While there was little here to remind us of Thanksgiving, folks here are getting pretty fired up about Christmas as we head into the Advent season. Though we can’t help noticing how out of place the artificial snowmen, reindeer, sleighs, and Santa Clause characters (in full artic gear) seem in this Latin American context, we’ve also come to appreciate and participate in some of the more ‘localized’ versions of holiday traditions. Nightly fireworks displays are more the rule than the exception. The local school marching bands seem bent on outdoing one another with yet another creative rendition of “Feliz Navidad”. There always seems to be a parade going on somewhere. And we’ve had the opportunity to learn new lyrics to traditional holiday tunes. Many of the more secular tunes such as “Jingle Bells”, “Deck the Halls”, and “White Christmas” have been given words that reflect both the reality of the climate, as well as a more sacred and reflective meaning. We’re always a little embarrassed when friends say “Oh, sing the English version for us.” The new words seem to fit our current situation and surroundings much better. Nevertheless, hearing the familiar tunes connects us with home in a meaningful way. We invite you to consider, particularly if you (like Richard) get a little “Scrooge-like” when assailed by all the holiday tunes piped into every store, restaurant, and mall, those tunes are being celebrated in many other parts of the world along with us. Especially these days, recognizing the things that unite us is a good way to celebrate the season.

Feliz Navidad (I just couldn’t resist)

Richard and Debbie

1 comment:

  1. Now I'm really curious about the words to those songs -- for example, how did they change "Jingle Bells"?