I spent most of my Sunday, October 12th, working on being ready for the next day. Irma showed me how to wash clothes in the “sink” where she washes everything. I also finished working on the motorcycle, studied what I learned during the week and read a little. When walking through town earlier that week Irma told me that she loved pizza when passing by a pizzeria. She also told me that the one she liked the most in town was from Dominos. I made a mental note to surprise her one day. During breakfast, I told her she wouldn’t have to cook for dinner as I would take care of it. When night came, I walked to the nearby Dominos and ordered two large pizzas. I walk to the house right on time for dinner and the whole family was very surprised with the pizzas. Even though they were all very happy to eat pizza, Irma seemed to be liking it the most.
As usual, Fernando was punctual on Monday morning and we started going through the second part of my program. He introduced the past tense in “pretérito” and we spent most of the week learning various irregular verbs and practicing various exercises. I had offered Daniella, the 9 years old daughter of the school principal, free English lessons and she immediately got very excited about it. We had started on Thursday of the previous week and had two more lessons on Tuesday and Thursday. The first lesson went really well. She already knew a little and after reviewing what she already knew, we learned numbers up to 100 and various animals. I really enjoyed myself teaching, but explaining in Spanish a translation in English was a little challenging. The next two lessons offered a little more challenge as well, because Daniella invited two of her friends. My dedicated student suddenly became very distracted. The three of them together were a little difficult to teach to as they enjoyed playing together way more than learning new English words. After 30 minutes of trying different methods, we ended up playing games. That worked awfully well.
On Thursday, I received a positive answer from one of the business school I applied to. I couldn’t get it off my mind, so I invited Fernando to take a few drinks out for the remaining class time. It was fun to get out of the school and talk about his life and mine. It proved to be a good Spanish learning experience as well. We came back around noon time to participate in the cooking class once more. We were only four students in the school during that week, so there was less food to prepare. After lunch, I had another English lessons with the three girls (and a fourth one this time). They were a lot more receptive and we practiced various useful questions and answer before reviewing everything we had seen so far. It was the last lesson of my stay as the girls were finishing their school year the following week and needed time to study for final exams. I went out that night with Brandon who had been in the school for over 6 weeks. I had a great time and met all kinds of cool people.
Once again, we had personal presentations on Friday morning. I believe that Brandon went to sleep very early in the morning and was not present for his presentation. As Sarah was away on Fridays, we were only two students to present. Carl from England went first and did a great job at presenting himself. A little confused from my previous night, I started to deliver my father’s favorite joke to the small group. I had practiced it during dinner with my family the night before. Even though my brain was quite slow that morning, it came out alright. I think the teaching staff liked it as it is now on the home page of the school’s website: http://www.elquetzalspanish.com/ I must give some credit to the content rather than the way it was delivered though…
I then wrote my second exam and did as expected. Fernando and I left the school early to go in town to purchase our costumes for Pilar’s birthday. Pilar is a teacher at the school and was organising a costumed party the following night. I am currently reading a really interesting book: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Heavily promoted to me by Brann during my stay in Colorado, this book details the life of Abraham Lincoln and his great accomplishments. I am really enjoying it and when came time to decide what my costume would be, I couldn’t think of anything else than Lincoln’s tall hat. We spent more than two hours walking around town. While Fernando did not find the cape he was looking for to dress as a vampire, I found a very short hat. I had an idea how to make it taller. I invited him to eat some fried chicken and then he invited me for a beer in a local bar. I came back to my room early in the afternoon to have lunch with my family. Irma had cooked probably the best meal I had there so far. Even though I was a bit full from my snack with Fernando, I made sure to honor the beautiful plate she served me. I then spent the rest of the afternoon at a local internet café to work on my trip planning for travelling through Central America. I went to bed early that night.
I spent most of my Saturday working of my trip planning about a week in advance. On my way back home in the afternoon, I stopped in a library to buy some supplies in order to build my tall hat. With two big black cardboard sheets and a few staples, I was able to build a very tall hat. My night at Pilar’s place was very fun as we played games and I spoke a lot of Spanish.
It took me a long time to get up on Sunday morning. After washing my clothes, we all had lunch together. I spent the rest of the day reviewing a little Spanish, reading and sleeping. Before dinner, I headed to Dominos Pizza to buy the family what was now the habitual pizzas. They were not on special anymore and they had a combo for about 1$ extra to get pops, cheese bread and ice cream with the two pizza. It was a no brainer and the family was very excited to see me arrive with all that delicious (not implying healthy here) food. We had a great dinner and I went to sleep early.
On Monday morning, Fernando and I planned a loaded week of Spanish. I wanted to learn the other form of past tense called “imperfecto”, future tense and also conditional tense. We picked up the pace and were able to get through most of that stuff within 3 days. I was planning on leaving the city on Friday morning and Fernando and I decided that I wouldn’t learn anything new on Thursday which would be only to write my final exam. Monday was a holiday in Xela, and I had to wait until the next day to speak with a guy who could fix my broken front auxiliary light bracket. Peter was a cool guy who owned a small metal working shop close from my house. He had been recommended by my family and when speaking with him, I realized he couldn’t fix my bracket as it was aluminum. Instead, he proposed to make a new one out of steel. I left him my broken model and he agreed to have an exact replica ready at the same time the next day.
I went back to the shop after school the next day and the shop was closed. I returned at two other very different times and no sign of Peter. Realizing that I had been a little stupid to expect a 24h service, I laughed and waited for the next day.
Many times during my stay I felt totally out of place and bad about my whole trip. My host family’s financial situation was very difficult. Irma’s husband took off some years ago and do not send money home to support the family. Irma represents the only income source and do not possess a regular job. She wakes up at 5h30am to cook food she then sells on the street before lunch. Mayra helps her almost full time and Vivie needs to stay home with her boy. The house they are staying in is leased and the owners do not offer any help to repair it. When Irma asks to get something fixed, she gets told that if they don’t like the place, they can leave. When asking how much is a house in that city and how much they are paying for rent, it wasn’t hard to establish that they could pay a house in 15 years with their current lease. The problem is that you need a steady form of income to apply for a loan of mortgage…
At a few occasions, my questions unfortunately triggered tears in Irma’s eyes. As she was explaining her tough situation with her landlords and income, it really affected me as well. For two weeks, I kept trying to find a way to help them in order to get them out of that never ending cycle. From continuous supply of water to new cooking gear, I wasn’t satisfied with any of my ideas. One day, I asked Mayra how many years she still had to do to finish her university degree. The answer surprised me: she only had one year to go. She had to stop as her mother couldn’t pay for her tuition anymore. During my stay, I was very impressed with her assiduity to help her mother with every task. I was convinced that if she was given the opportunity, she would do great for her family. Even though I had made up my mind during the weekend about helping her with the tuition for next year, I only met with Irma and her on Wednesday night. I started the conversation by explaining how I felt about living with them and witnessing their situation. I told them that I had been thinking about the best way to help them and that I came to a conclusion. I wanted to pay for Mayra’s tuition for the remaining year starting on next January. At about 20$/month, it was affordable on my side and too important not to do it. I asked them to agree with three simple conditions before going further. 1) The money would only be used for her tuition; 2) She would keep helping her family after graduating; 3) I wanted to get a picture of Mayra’s diploma by e-mail at the end of her degree. As I expected, they both agreed and were very emotional. Irma spoke with a lot of emotion about how she always worked really hard towards sending her to school and how desperate she was about not being able to support her anymore. When we were all done, I asked them to take a picture that I will probably keep for a long time.
I had my final exam on Thursday morning. I wrote it and felt good about the result. I could see the improvement in three weeks. I then asked Fernando to hold on for a half hour while I paid a visit to Peter at the welding shop. When he saw me in the door frame, he stopped what he was doing to greet me and apologize about not being present the day before and not having the bracket yet. He offered to fabricate it on the spot and as I needed it the next morning, I agreed. 20 minutes and 5$ later, I had my steel bracket unpainted. I walked back to school to get Fernando. We walked to a small hardware store where I purchased spray paint before heading to a local pub. We had a few drinks and nachos to celebrate the end of class. I enjoyed talking with him for a little over 2 hours before we walked back to school for the usual cooking class. There was not much to do and I used the time slot to catch up with e-mails. We then all sat together for lunch.
Soon, it was time to highlight the students who were leaving with a diploma. Brandon and Carl were first. I was last and had a chance to say a few words. I tried to keep it interesting:
About 10 of us then went out to a local place to chat for a bit. It was fun and I got the opportunity to chat with most of my new friends before leaving them. I arrived at my house in pouring rain at about 5pm. I still needed to put my bike back together. I decided to roll it inside my room to avoid working in the rain. There was about 1cm on free play on either side when I got it in. I painted the bracket, and put it back together. I prepared my gear for next day and had a final dinner with my family. I went to sleep around 8h30pm.
I was up at 4am the next morning. Not that I wanted to, but I couldn’t go back to sleep. I read for an hour and then got my stuff ready before breakfast. Earlier that week, I was very surprised to find a can of Quebec maple syrup laying on a shelf in the kitchen. They explained that a lady from Quebec stayed with them a few months earlier and gave it to them. They did not know what to do with it and I promised to show them next time I ate pancakes. So I hate lots of pancakes with maple syrup from Quebec for my last breakfast. I signed their guestbook with a page long note and then Mayra signed my map for the family. Before I left, I thanked them for everything and Mayra gave me a little gift package in which she had put a few candy and a very thoughtful note. I left my house in Xela around 8am. I then stopped at the school to see if Fernando was there. He was and I asked him if he wanted to sign the map. He did, and off I was towards Lake Atitlan.
The ride that day was very scenic. Lake Atitlan is really beautiful. Not only is it massive, the two volcanos in the background makes it very unique. The road around it was quite slow and the short 200km ride took most of the day to Monterrico. There, it was over 30C again and I slept next to the ocean.