like someone playing Tetris
Monday, March 13 2006
setting: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Today was our first day of Spanish classes at Celas Maya. They would last five long hours. First though, there was the matter of breakfast. Neither Gretchen nor I eat much breakfast, so our host mother prepared us each a stack of toasted white bread. I asked for coffee and was give Nescafé instant coffee, what the third world thinks of as coffee even if they grow much better stuff a hundred feet away.
Luckily Celas Maya has endless coffee on tap. It's not greatest coffee in the world, but at least it's the real thing. You can't expect much when it comes from a huge electrically-heated urn. The best thing about the coffee is that the quality is fairly consistent throughout the entire length of the day.
After a multi-block walk through clouds of diesel fumes, classes began promptly at 8:00am. I was introduced to Luis, my teacher for the week. He was a stocky 21 year legal student with a strange habit of continually plucking his face. He had a good sense of humor and things went fairly well, despite the fact that couldn't even remember what "hoy" meant. It turns out that if he spoke Spanish slowly enough I could get a sense of what he was talking about. This was good, because he knew little English even after teaching hundreds of English speakers (as well as a dozen Japanese). The one thing I didn't like about Luiz was his wandering eye. Every time a woman would walk by his eyes would follow her, something I found very distracting as I tried to assemble Spanish sentences from the cloud of slowly rotating Spanish vocabulary words in my brain. I was like someone playing Tetris for the very first time.
There was a half hour break at 10:30am, followed by a second two and half hour stint with my teacher. By 1:30pm I was beat. At least at this stage of my knowledge, learning a foreign language is hard work. Five hours of trying to speak it was a more massive undertaking than I was prepared for. Mind you, today was only ten percent of what I'd signed on for.
At 2pm it was time for lunch back at the dreary house where we're staying. Gretchen had told our "mother" Lily that she eats eggs but not meat, the inevitable result of which was that today Gretchen received the first of what was to be many egg sandwiches. I'd been sure to make it clear that I do not eat eggs, so my staples would be corn tortillas and glops of flavorless smashed black bean paste. Lily's granddaughter, a thin, attractive 21 year old legal student who for some reason sleeps with Lily in her bed, was the one who had actually prepared today's lunch.
There was a scheduled "siesta" following lunch, though it only came to about an hour of downtime, if that. Then Gretchen and I returned to Celas Maya to see The Mission, a big-budget film of historical fiction set in Paraguay. Unfortunately, though, it was in English and only a quarter of the way in did someone figure out how to turn on the Spanish subtitles. I liked the opening scene of homeslice missionary being tossed in the river, tied like Jesus to a cross by pissed-off Indians. But eventually my interest waned and I retreated to the courtyard to study Spanish vocabulary on flash cards.
Later a bunch of us went to Casa Babylon, a hip and somewhat expensive (by Xela standards) restaurant with lots of unexpectedly delicious tofu options on the menu. It was a good thing we ate there, because the the dinner our madre had prepared for us back at our house was just a rehash of lunch, but with smaller portions. I was already sick of this fare, and this was just the first day of the first week!
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