EPISODE #9 (Part 1)

Wednesday, 04-10-02

Greetings again from Guatemala.

[While interviewing for teaching jobs at the job fair in Miami, my wife was offered a job in Maturin, Venezuela.  She turned it down in favor of the one here in Guatemala.  Another teacher she met at the fair took the job, and has sent out a couple of very interesting e-mails.  But what was intended as a light-hearted look at Venezuela got ugly the week of April 8-14, and subsequent to my e-mail a very disturbing first-hand account of events (not by the teacher) was printed in The Guatemala Post.  CLICK HERE to see the light-hearted view of what we (and you the reader) have been missing, and if you want to find out what you didn't see on TV or in the papers, CLICK HERE.  Will keep you informed as I get more news.]

On March 21st I was startled to realize that it was "the first day of spring".  Huh?  It has been summer here in sunny Guatemala.  The weather has been quite warm during the days, only cooling off a bit at night.  When clouds move in they do help cool things down, but no rain for quite a while. 
The trees have been blooming, and the bougainvillea lines the walls and climbs the trees in all its colors, but mainly a gorgeous purple.  I am being serenaded by a bird even as I write, and my wife has been awakened the last few mornings by the sheer volume of bird calls, each trying to outdo the others, I guess.  Another three weeks should see the start of the rainy season, and I'll have to get used to carrying my umbrella again.
February 22nd was our Spanish-classes field trip for that term, this time by carpool to Antigua and just north to Jocotenango ("ho-co-ten-AHN-go") and the coffee/music/costumes museum.  It is on a small "finca" (farm) and you can see all the steps of coffee making from the red berries on the bushes (edible) to the beans drying in the sun to fresh coffee and chocolate- covered beans served in the gift shop.  The music section features ancient and contemporary Guatemalan musical instruments, and the costumes section has "tipico" costumes from different regions of Guatemala. 

The day we were there they also had a troupe of dancers from several Central-American countries, so we had an extra treat.  My only problem was the Korean lady I rode with that wouldn't drive faster than 35 mph. all the way there and back, and sometimes only 30.  Oh, well, we got back safely.

Curso Uno ended on the 6th of March, I had two days "vacation", then Curso Dos started on the 11th.  Basico taught a lot of vocabulary: colors, parts of the body, furniture and rooms of the house, general stuff.  Curso Uno gave us a lot of verbs in the present tense, so we could actually start saying stuff, making sentences.  We also got the simple future, "I'm GOING TO" do whatever.  Won't actually learn the future conjugation until a later class.  Curso Dos is giving us the "pasada", the past, in both preterite ("I DID this") and imperfect ("I WAS DOING that").  We just had our midterm test, and I managed to miss five, mostly just plain STUPID mistakes.  But one I definitely won't make again, so guess that is one way to learn.  For the oral part, we had to tell a story, or give a biography, or an event in our lives, TALK for five minutes or so, using the two past tenses.  At Deb's suggestion I chose to tell an OREGON JOKE, and spent the whole previous evening writing and learning it in Spanish.  Then I spent the morning practicing presenting it out loud, which is quite different from saying it to myself.  Well, they actually got it, and laughed.  I wasn't as smooth as I wanted to be, but I didn't "blow it".

Oh, our class makeup is quite different.  Our teacher is Julio ("Hoo-lee-o") after two terms with Silvia.  We brought over the "CORE GROUP" from Curso Uno (two Russians, two Syrians, the Philippina, and myself, then added Paul from England and Mario from Lebanon.  A week and a half ago we added Ronald from Holland (I'm "Ron"), and today we got Sam from Taiwan, so we are a very diverse and cosmopolitan group.  And I am no longer the "thorn among the roses" as in Curso Uno.  Unfortunately, we just lost Raissa, the older Russian lady who was with us from the beginning; it was just too much for her.  I was surprised that she even attempted Curso Dos.

February 22nd and 23rd, the Middle School at Maya presented Guys and Dolls Jr., the reduced version for young actors.  Deb was in charge of the music part of it, and was afraid it would be terrible, since she hadn't had most of the kids in her class yet to teach them how to sing.  It actually went pretty well, better than she expected.  And then on the second night a principal character got sick (almost on stage!), and had to be replaced after a short delay by another member of the cast, who amazingly pulled it off pretty well.  In fact, several in the back of the audience never realized that anything had happened.  He had wanted the part, but Deb didn't choose him because of an attitude problem; he redeemed himself that night!

Prensa Libre Photos
Then a Chinese circus came to town for several weeks, and while they weren't as spectacular as the previous circus we had, they were pretty amazing, with a lot of tumbling, juggling and balancing acts. 
Ron with "two" performers
What one girl could do to both a parasol and a table (not at the same time), using only her feet, was incredible.  A plate-spinning act reminded me of a skit I did at church (having to keep all the "plates" spinning), only they took it to a far higher level than I thought possible.

The director who brought us West Side Story last fall came back and did Grease and Once on This Island in the IGA theater, using a mix of Guatemalan talent and some imports, as well as a mix of English and Spanish.  One of the Colegio Maya teachers was Rizzo in Grease, and loved it so much she's leaving her teaching job at the end of the year to pursue acting professionally (something she had wanted to do before she started teaching).  The principal was played by another teacher, and Frenchie and the geek were two students.  It was a great production, very high energy.  Watching them, we wondered how they could still function in their "day jobs".  I just wish I liked the story better.  Have never liked that in the end the good girl gives up her morals and standards to join the "in crowd" and everybody applauds. 
And running almost simultaneously, by the same director, was Once on This Island, a Caribbean love story reminiscent of Little Mermaid in its theme of self-sacrificing love.  One of the Maya students was also cast in this all-in-Spanish production, and represented Maya well.

The Big Event this time was Semana Santa, Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.  Almost the entire country shuts down and goes on vacation, all that can.  And all week there are processions from various cathedrals, principally in Guate and Antigua, but in other towns as well, as people pay to help carry massive religious shrines (requiring 80-100 people at a time) through the streets in hours-long parades of religious ardour, trading off at regular intervals with a fresh crew.  Clouds of incense smoke fill the air. 
There are also smaller women's shrines, and sometimes children's as well.  Haven't heard if the band marching behind gets to trade off or not.
But the spectacular thing about the processions from a tourist perspective is the gorgeous "alfombras" or carpets that are made in front of the processioners.  They are usually a bed of colored sawdust or pine needles, with sometimes very intricately designed patterns in other sawdust and/or flowers, leaves, and fruit.  After taking hours to make, they are destroyed by the feet of the marchers, and a sweeping crew comes along behind to clean up the mess.  People come from all over the world to view and take PICTURES.  Debby's sister Kristy came down from Oregon for two weeks, and we saw processions in both Antigua and Guatemala City.

[For rest of Episode #9 with pictures, click on "SECOND HALF" below.]


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