Friends, concerned family members, and mildly interested acquaintances,
The CASP group has arrived in the city of Xela (pronounced Shay-la), better known as Quetzaltenango (for those frantically searching it out on a map).
Nestled in the mountainous southwest region of Guatemala, Xela sings of a culturally rich heritage. Walking through the cobblestone streets, one becomes aware of a fascinating history that pervades the modernity and globalization that is equally apparent. Over seventy percent of the population in XelaJu is of Mayan descent, and they proudly maintain the vestiges of their ancestry in dress, language, and richness of culture. In contrast to the Mayan culture and reality of poverty that can be found around the right street corner, Xela is known for its Spanish schools, attracting wealthy foreigners from all over the globe who wish to master the language with big cameras, expensive outdoorsy clothing, and lots of sunscreen. The safety one feels in this town is almost disconcerting (this is especially for you, Ma and Pa), as foreigners are a big part of the economy; they can be seen stumbling through the city asking directions to the nearest Banco or Bar on just about every corner. It makes for good entertainment, but does not always create a great reputation for those with a similar pale complexion, like the one we inherited from birth (Thanks once again, parental figures). This contrast between the poor and the wealthy class (us), which they often must serve out of necessity, is surreal and a little uncomfortable to say the least. However, we are content to be here practicing our language skills and preparing ourselves for experiences that may speak a little more of reality than our current state.
The language school we are attending is called Casa XelaJu, where each of us is receiving one on one instruction for five hours each day in the lengua castellana from our respective Guatemalan instructors from various backgrounds, including professors and other well educated and active members of the community. It is truly a privilege to learn from them. We are also told, by those with quite a bias of course, that Casa XeluJu was the first language school developed in Xela (and also the best). This of course is impressive, considering we pass over five other language schools on our way to class in the morning every single day. Each of us CASPians has been placed with a family with extensive experience giving a home and care to foreign and culturally infantile persons such as ourselves (my host mom has over 25 years in the business). Naturally, these people have gently guided us through our first few days of awkward moments of cultural ignorance in a surprisingly patient manner. CasaXelaJu is also connected to an after-school program for children of low socio-economic backgrounds called La Pedrera in which we will have the opportunity to get out of the classroom, play kickball with children, and give them a small meal for the day. This is really not a bad deal.
We hope you have enjoyed our first entry and that we can post more of our experiences and pictures for you soon! As the people in Xela say, ¡Que le vaya bien! (or that it goes well to you, respectfully). Or in other words, have a good day!
Stephen and Jennifer
CASP Blog Committee 2011