Monday, January 19, 2009

Up in the Morning and Off to School

At 7700 feet above sea level it gets chilly nights and mornings. My first day is no exception but a hearty traditional breakfast, aka El Ranchero, consisting of two poached eggs, a small steak, 2 pieces of fried plantain, frijoles, tortillas, bread, and delicious coffee(grown just up the road) warms me up in a hurry. The Maya Cafe is a block from central park and it's clean and bright with tablecloths on the tables and a friendly staff, while I wait for my food to arrive the owner brings me the morning's paper. The tab is Q20 (the most expensive breakfast) or $2.60. I feel like I've fallen through the looking glass.

A somewhat cirquitous walk through the maze of narrow cobblestone streets brings me to my school. A gracious welcome awaits and soon the school director's husband drives me back downtown to get my luggage. There's no room available to live at the school and so I'll be staying with a host family about a block up the street.

Before long I'm at a desk in the garden of the director's home/school looking at a crazy backdrop of volcanic mountains and being quizzed on my spanish by the director. Feeling pretty good about myself I assure her that I´ve never been to another school or lived in a spanish speaking country and no my wife´s not spanish either. I've only studied with CD´s on my basement floor and treadmill but she asks me twice more on Wednesday and once more for good measure on Thursday. I don't get a big head(well at least it doesn't get any bigger) because I still can't understand a tenth of the rapid-fire spanish spoken by natives. To the envy of the other students she takes me as her pupil. All of the teaching here is one on one, one teacher to one pupil and your luck finding a compatible professor determines a large part of your success or lack thereof.

Gladis and I hit it off pretty well. She´s studied and traveled in the US and Germany and is very quick witted. Her english is good and thats a big help when I want to know what the meaning of something is or the shades of difference between two similar words. She´s also funny and bright and a good portion of our time is spent conversing in spanish as she tells me about her life and asks me questions about mine. There's also a fair amount of structure as she writes in a notebook she provides and asks me to do the same. She has infinite patience and schools with praise and encouragement and it doesn't get much better than that.

School starts at 8:30 five days a week and I finish at 12:30(there are five hour programs as well but I was afraid that would overload my brain). Coffee and tea await early arrivals and we take a morning break for snacks and drinks as well. Snacks are traditional fare and usually consist of fresh tortillas with a topping of the day and fresh spicy salsa to top it off. I have homework every night and a little extra to get me through the weekend. Every school day there is an optional activity which is usually included in your tuition. I´ve been to a salsa lesson, seen a mayan textile museum, watched a spanish language film(with english subtitles) about the Guatemalan civil war called ¨The Daughter of the Puma¨, and there´s more in store this week. I´m not bored.

My classmates are primarily college students with a couple hippies bumming around central america thrown in. There's a group of twelve pre-med students from the US including one Dinosaur BBQ fan(a great biker/rib joint in Syracuse). They´re here for six months but people come and go every week. Friday night I said goodbye to a cute couple from the UK who quit their jobs and are out on the road until the money runs out. Sunday an old buck, my peer group,
arrived from Scotland for his second visit to the school. He leads walking tours in europe and is hoping to branch out to spain amd latin america.

El Mundo en Espanol is the name of the school and this is the address for their website.

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