Guatemala: Xela (Week 3)

So another week (or so has past) and I have good news for all of you:  I´ve figured out how to make apostrophes easily!  You can now enjoy a properly punctuated email (at least as far as contractions go – I make no promises for semicolons).

Lets see, so the highlights of the past week are several.  First, I went to Lake Atitlan with two of my friends from the school (one of whom is also a friend from law school, Kim Spoerri, whom you all met when we went to the law review reception after graduation).  The lake is incredibly beautiful:  a beautiful blue lake surrounded by volcanoes with steep green slopes heading into the lake, with little villages on the edges of the water.  If this were in the US, it would be a major resort spot, with tons of hotels, mansions, condoes, and boats on the water.  Here, though, it´s entirely undeveloped.  The only boats on the lake were little motor boats serving as ferries between the villages.  I took one of them across the lake and it was pretty amazing.  It took us about 30 minutes to cross the lake, and the whole way the water was like glass.  Later on we went kayaking on the lake, which was great fun because the water was so smooth and we didn´t have to worry about boats.  Plus, the water was warm, the air was sunny but cool, and we were able to climb out and sun ourselves on rocks whenever we wanted to.  I sent a postcard of the lake to the parents, so you should be getting it sometime in the unforeseeable future when the Guatemalan mail service decides to operate.

Second, I´ve been learning more spanish.  It´s kind of hard not to when I have five hours of one-on-one instruction every day, plus homework every night.  Every day I have to give a ten minute presentation on a theme of my choice,using the verbs and vocabulary I´ve learned.  So far I´ve covered Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, the story about when that girl proposed to me in the library, my experiences on the archeological sites in Oregon excavating Chinese miners´ camps, the Belgian visa situation in 2000, and the story of the Mormon pioneers (including the Mormon Battalion and Abraham Hunsaker´s encounter with the Indian).  Today, in order to use the perfect tenses, I did a mock employment evaluation of the people who were on the Law Review with me.  This was a fun project because I could fire the people I didn´t like… 

For all the progress, though, I´m still not perfect.  I think my host parents think I´m rather dim.  The other night we were at dinner and I misused a word (at least, they said I misused it; I maintain that I heard my teacher use the verb in the same way I did), but rather than just telling me the proper usage and believing me when I said I understood, they insisted on giving me a half-hour lecture. 

Then, later, they turned on the television and started watching the news.  Apparently by then they had decided that not only did I have the vocabulary of a five year old, I must also be retarded and slightly deaf.  So, for every story that came up (say for example, about a truck accident on the highway), the woman would turn to me with that ever-so-patient look of “here I am, helping the poor dumb kid” and say slowly and loudly one word that related to the story (e.g., “TRUCK”).  As if I couldn´t have picked that up from the picture of a truck that had been on the screen for the past five minutes…  It was hard to keep a straight face.

I have added a new element to my weekly routine.  After two weeks of studying, with only weekend activities, I began wanting more physical activity.  I quickly decided that running was out.  Given the cold and wet weather, and the fact that between narrow streets, lawless drivers, and zero pollution control on auto exhaust, I figured that running was more likely to result in asphyxiation, hypothermia, or being run over, than in anything positive.  So I decided to check out the local yoga studio.  Per usual, it is run by your standard American hippie who fell of the face of the earth long ago in search of spirituality or whatever (honestly, these people are everywhere down here… SOO obnoxious).  But the yoga class was really great, and I could get a weekly membership for only about $3.50.  So I´ve been going every day this week.  I´ll probably keep up that schedule for the rest of my time in Xela just because I like it so much.

Oh, another thing I did when I was at the lake last weekend was go shopping – the kind where you bargain hard for whatever you want.  At first I was a little intimidated because I didn´t want to offend or whatever.  But then I figured out that all I had to do was a) ask what the price was, b) act shocked and look like I was seriously going to walk away, c) respond to the merchant´s protests by throwing out some outrageously low price, and then d) working up from there, drawing on whatever excuses or rationales I could come up with to keep the price low.  SO much fun!  We went to various places in the market, practicing to see just how low we could get the price (such as, “you should give me a lower price because that woman over there just bought something from you too” or “hey, we just got off the last bus of the day so you can either rent us the room for the price I want or let it sit empty”).  Eventually I got a great little bag for less than $7.  We also used our bargaining skills to bring the hotel room price down by about 50%.

Okay, that´s it for now.  I´m off to plan this weekend´s adventures. 

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