Mar 012012

During our time in San Pedro, the school arranged for me and Zach to live with a local Guatemalan family.  After nine months of living in the van, our new home felt luxurious.  We had a large, private bedroom, hot showers on demand and three meals each day provided for us.  Our host “parents”, Rosario and Pedro, were a young couple of Mayan descent who spoke both Spanish and Tz’utujil, but very little English.  Not poor by any means, they make a modest but comfortable living and work extremely hard each day for what they have. 

Pedro, in his mid-thirties, works 5-6 days each week as a banker in a nearby city.  As part of his 45 minute commute each way, he must change modes of transportation three times – from a moto, to a boat, to a bus – just to reach his job in Sololá!  On Sunday, his day off, he often drives one of the two family-owned tuks-tuks (think taxi) around town for extra income.  Rosario, in her mid twenties, works equally hard in the home.  She cleans, cooks, shops, and hand washes clothes each and every day from sunrise to sunset.  Cooking a meal for six is work enough but she did it all with only a very small, three- burner propane stove, a blender, and a small outdoor, woodfired grill.  And everything is made from scratch – salsas, juices, stews – even the tortillas.  A few days each week, after soaking maiz in water overnight, Rosario walks down the street to a machine that grinds the maiz into corn flour.  The corn flour is used to make masa (a corn dough used for the preparation of many Latin American dishes) which in turn is used for making tortillas.  Rosario easily handmade 50-75 tortillas each day, as each meal aside from breakfast is accompanied by a heaping pile of steaming hot tortillas.  On her day off, Rosario wakes up before sunrise to attend mass at 6 am.  ¡Increíble!

Pedro and Rosario’s home is part of a larger housing complex owned by Pedro’s parents.  Pedro’s brother and sister, their children and spouses as well as Pedro’s parents all live within the complex.  Private, outdoor walkways connect the backyards of each home, allowing ample space for los ninos to run around and play.  For us, this housing situation was great, as we were able to meet many members of the family and were constantly entertained by the kids.  But, to be honest, I’m not sure how they put up with it in the long term.  There is virtually no privacy whatsoever – any member of the family can, and often does, walk into the home at any given time.

One of the most amazing things about the homestay for Zach and I was the opportunity to get a glimpse of what life is like for ordinary Guatemalans.  Between our host family and our teachers, we were able to learn a lot about the culture of this beautiful country, much of which we wouldn’t have picked up by simply driving through.  We were also afforded some much needed practice through additional hours of conversation each day.  As if four hours of grammar and vocabulary in class weren’t enough to keep our heads spinning, “Ingles es prohibido” in our home, especially around the kitchen table.  Pedro and Rosario were incredibly patient with us and always knew when they should let us struggle through a thought and when to help us out.  Mealtime quickly became our favorite time of day.  During each and every meal, we practiced our new skills while learning more about our wonderful host family and their country.      

As we’ve mentioned before, the one thing we appreciate more than anything else about staying put for more than a few days is the ability to develop a routine.  Though this may surprise some, Zach and I love routine.  Here’s a glimpse of what a typical day was like for us in San Pedro:

6:45 – Wake up, breakfast is promptly at 7!

7:00 – Breakfast.  The food varies, from a heaping bowl of fresh tropical fruits, to pancakes, french toast or eggs.  After breakfast we usually sit around the table for another half hour talking about the day ahead of us (in spanish, of course).

7:45 – 9:00 – Study and/or do homework from previous days class

9:00 – 10:00 – Run along a beautiful lakeside trail into the mountains surround San Pedro.

10:00-12:00 – More studying and homework.  Perhaps some time for a morning errand into town.

12:00 – 1:00 – Lunch.  The biggest meal of the day – from a big bowl of chicken stew with veggies to a heaping montaña de espagueti.  All served with fresh, hand-made tortillas, of course.  (yes, even the spaghetti).  Another half hour or so of conversation after eating.

1:00-5:00 – Class.  Usually about ½ lessons and ½ simple conversation and practicing our new skills.

5:00 – 7:00 – The school provided activities for students on many days of the week, from Latin American documentaries to conferencias on important topics relating to the region, to cooking comida tipica.  On days without activities, we usually spent time writing, skyping or catching up on e-mails.  On our more ambitious days, we did more studying.

7:00 – 8:30 – Dinner.  Unlike in the US, dinner is not the major meal of the day.  It was always smaller than lunch and ranged from beans and cheese, fried plantains, eggs and rice etc.  All served with fresh, hand-made tortillas.  On lucky days, we’d get tamales, tostadas or chuchitos (similar to tamales).  More conversation followed dinner, sometimes more than an hour!  It was great because it reminded me of home but could get really exhausting on especially long days.

8:30 – 10:30 – On ambitious days, we studied and did homework.  Towards the end of our two weeks, when we developed senioritis, we played cards with Pepe y Erik, watched a movie, or went into town.

10:30 – BED!  Busy day tomorrow.

More on our extracurricular activities around San Pedro in our next post!