Why do I travel? Ultimately, it’s to learn about other cultures. Sometimes, when you’re backpacking, going to bars and restaurants filled with turisticas and the local well-to-do, it’s hard to connect with other cultures. In the Lago de Atitlan district, I decided to do a Mayan homestay in the mountain village of San Jorge.
It was a great way to connect with local people – teaching you about yourself and your culture, and you learn so much about their culture. I stayed with a Mayan family – Ana, 26; her husband Jorge, 29; and their sweet baby, Nidia, 1. They speak Kaqchikel to each other, and everyone in the village speaks it to each other, but everyone knows Spanish from school, so I was okay. They taught me a few Kaqchikel words, which I have forgotten since it is a language filled with sounds that are unusual to me.
Ana, Jorge, and Nidia lived in a series of rooms connected by a courtyard – the guest room, which I stayed in, their bedroom, and a bathroom. The kitchen was upstairs. There was electricity, but only running water in the bathroom (and not much, since they ended up running out while I was there). There was no refrigerator – the kitchen consisted of a stove, a set of free burners, one of those stoves specially-created for tortilla-making (called a polo, I think), a table, and some cabinets for storing the food. They lived very simply, with few appliances and accessories, and some toys for Nidia.
They did have a lot of clothes. Jorge did not dress in the traditional Mayan fashion, since the outfits are very expensive for men -- $6,000 quetzales! The women’s clothes are also expensive, but not as expensive, and luckily, Ana’s mother is a tailor and makes all of her clothes, which were truly beautiful.
After I arrived, Ana, Jorge, and Nidia took me to a festival going on in the main plaza in front of the church for the Virgin Mary. There were dancers wearing outlandish costumes and masks, and a really fun band. Everyone stood around watching, and since the program has been going on in this town for three years, people smiled at me welcomingly. I was very glad I spoke Spanish since no one spoke any English.
They took me to Ana’s family’s house, which was directly across from the church (and behind the band). It was a great view. I bounced Nidia and various other children on my knees.
We went back up the mountain (staggeringly steep and my asthma has been showing me its boss on every hill, ugh) to Ana’s house, where Ana and I prepared dinner, with Nidia tossing toys across the floor every thirty seconds to assure we were paying attention. Jorge showed me a sheet of words in Kaqchikel, English, and Spanish, and taught me a few words. Nidia cried.
Ana tried to teach me how to make tortillas. I am so pathetic. I can make good banana bread, excellent chai, but I cannot do tortillas. Finally, I gave up, and she kept telling me, “Despacio,” but that advice didn’t work. I needed new hands.
We ate rice and veggies and tomatoes and tortillas for dinner. Me being a vegetarian was not a problem, since they have little money (and thus, eat little meat).
Ana decided to have some fun, and dressed me up in her dresses. They were quite warm, but absolutely gorgeous. I wore it until I went to sleep, though I needed assistance getting dressed – it was quite complicated to dress in them!
After dinner, we headed back down to the church. There was a crazy pyrotechnic show with the Virgin Mary sign, which we watched. There was music, fireworks, fun. I ended up getting sleepy.
I slept well in the simple bed under the layers of blankets, and got up early to run to Solala. It was a pretty run, but my stomach felt terrible. Everyone waved and smiled.
After breakfast – eggs, more tortillas, black beans, tomatoes – I said my goodbyes. There were hugs, thanks, and a world of knowledge exchanged.
It was an amazing opportunity to learn about Mayan culture, about Guatemala, to practice my Spanish, and learn more about myself.