In addition to Spanish classes, we have experienced a little bit of the culture here in Guatemala. Besides filling me in on the family tree, my teacher has told me about the health care, insurance, and public transpiration systems here. Topics like the dangers of Guatemalan life (and there are many) as well as how the government once tried to feed the plethora of stray dogs rat poison (but didn't clean up the bodies from the street) were also covered. We've discussed what we would call in the US childhood pregnancies (many girls get pregnant here at a young age) and the effect its had on society. In fact, at our homestay we have a 19 year old who is the mother of a newborn... and a 18-month old. Her mother is a grandmother two times over at 38.
Josecito, the 18-month old living with us:
However, my favorite thing that my teacher told me is along a lighter topic: what you say when someone sneezes. After each sneeze you say a key word, basically something you are wishing for the person.
Here it goes:
- 1st time someone sneezes, you say "Salut!" (Heath)
- 2nd time someone sneezes, you say "Dinero!" (Money)
- 3rd time someone sneezes, you say "Amor!" (Love)
- 4th time someone sneezes, you say "Sexo!" (Sex)
Tom kept waiting for me to sneeze four times in a row just so he could shout "Sexo" but unfortunately so far I've only sneezed a max of three times. Maybe I'll have more allergies in the jungles near Tikal, for Tom's sake.
Another fun thing I've learned is how to sing "Happy Birthday". They traditionally either sing the English version of "Happy Birthday" or the words directly translated into Spanish. However, they typically follow up with the following verses:
Ya queremos pastel, Ya queremos pastel
Anque sea un pedacito
Pero queremos pastel
Chocolate tambien, chocolate tambien
Anque sea un poquitito
Pero queremos tambien
Roughly translated this means "We already want cake, we already want cake. Even a small piece, but we already want cake. Chocolate too, chocolate too. Just a teeny piece, but we already want it as well."
Here are some pictures from the birthday party we had for one of the students, who was being a good sport for just attending as he was quite sick at the time (stomach issues get every one of us):
Lighting the firecrackers (firecrackers can be heard day and night no matter what the day throughout Guatemala, Tom and I still jump sometimes when one is particularly loud or close):
To further experience Mayan culture, we traveled with one of the school's teachers to a Mayan town called San Antonio, which is known for their embroidery where they embroider both sides of the fabric.
On the way to San Antonio on the chicken bus:
Once we arrived, the Mayan lady walked us through the traditional outfits and explained the significance behind some of the traditional outfits that many Mayan women still wear today. What really struck me was how much time went into some of these pieces. One of the pieces associated with matrimony can take a year to make. The skirts are several meters long and can also take over a year to make. In a woman's lifetime, she can wear up to 3 of these skirts traditionally. Now many of these items are machine made, but still the handmade methods are being taught to the children as a way of passing on cultural traditions.
They showed us how a traditional wedding was performed via audience participation. Tom and I were the groom's parents. We make a dashing couple in our outfits right?
Women all over Guatemala walk around balancing things on their head, boxes, fruit, laundry baskets, you name it. It seems hard to do!:
We also got to eat a traditional Guatemalan dish called "pepian" as well as try our hand at making tortillas. Mine did not turn out to be round and Tom's had a hole in it.
Finally we tried grinding coffee the old fashioned way - it's hard work!
Being with a family in Antigua was a neat way to learn about the culture, but we looked forward to getting out and exploring the country a bit on our own. But first, we had one more adventure near Antigua - climbing an active volcano!