Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Antigua - I am here!

I have never lived with a family that I did not know before. I’ve never thought twice about the exchange students in high school that bravely came from cities and towns in Europe and South America to experience one year in America and ended up living with a family in small-town, rural Iowa. How could they have known what to expect. They had to have been scared out of their minds.
I arrived at the school (Tecun Uman) and met with Mario the head of the school. He asked when I would like to start my classes and since it was only 11am and I was in Central America to learn Spanish, I said, “today would be great!” So I was set. I was to start 4 hours of instruction at 2 PM. He then told me that he would put me with a very special family. If I did not like them, I was welcome to switch. My stomach churned. This is the one thing that had been scaring me from the get go…living with people you don’t know. What American really wants that? Isn’t the purpose of our whole lives to own big cars with dark windows and big houses with big yards and even bigger, taller fences so we won’t have to see other people let alone live with them? How many of my neighbors have ever even set foot in my homes over the years?
Moments later though I was walking through the doors of the school to the Hyundai SUV of Annette Perez the mother of my host family. I put my bag in the back seat and said, “Hola” to Annette and got in. “Como te llama?” Annette asked? I didn’t understand a word she said. I think it was the fear of the experience, because although I didn’t know any Spanish, what person doesn’t know the phrase, “Como te llama?” So I stared at her blankly, I’m sure that I was simply reassuring all of her suspicions about Americans – they’re socially backward.” Though the house was only around the corner (literally around the corner) the ride seemed to take forever. Lots of questions I didn’t understand, but somehow knew I should understand. Wow, this is going to be a long learning experience, I thought.
We pulled into a carwash one block from the school and we were there. It turns out that Annette and her husband run a carwash/mechanic shop and the entrance to their house is in the back of the garage. Though the door to the house was a little courtyard with a palm tree in the middle, ferns hanging from the roof to the ground around the terrace and around the courtyard the various rooms of the house.
Annette showed me to a space near a table, introduced me to Ulong a student from Korea and Dany, who was from Montreal. I used my little French to ask how long he had been here and how he liked it, but immediately Annette, who had said she was, “mama,” interrupted, “Solo Espanol!” That ended that. I stood there as Annette walked off and Dany and Ulong went about their doings. I didn’t know where to put my things, or what was going on. Was I to whip out some cash and pay her before she showed me to a room? Finally Mama came back after what seemed like hours (truly it was probably more like a minute) and said, “su casa,” pointing to the room next to me. She then walked me to the bano, and the dining area. The more she talked the quieter I got, simply nodding my head when told to. It was almost 12:30 and somehow I figured out that she was telling me lunch would be soon.
At lunch Ulong, who had been studying for 3 months did most of the talking with Papa (Carlos) and Mama, while Dany pitched in here and there with one or two sentences. I later understood that Dany had just arrived yesterday and though he spoke English & French, did not speak Spanish. Lunch was amazing – Gallo beers (a Guatemalan brand), steak, mashed potatoes (from the box – too bad) and vegetables with fresh melon/mango juice. I think I was expecting that we would have shredded chicken and tortillas for every meal.

At 2 PM, after unpacking my things in my room, I headed for the school where I was introduced to a woman that was to be my “profesora,” Patricia. She took me up to a table on the roof where we passed a quick 4 hours discussing the time, when I had arrived, how long I would be here, etc. Suddenly 4 hours had passed and I had learned the conjugations of “Estar” and numerous adverbs to go with it. I knew that I had dos hermanas and un hermano. My padres vive in Nueva Mexico. I would be staying in Central America for dos meses. I had a whole new world of knowledge (the kind that most high school students possess by the end of the first week of Spanish).
I headed back to the Perez house very happy that evening with new knowledge and the belief that I could truly get a good grasp of Spanish in the coming weeks. I was thrilled. Now about the living part, I had to see…

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