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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

La Abuelita Solterosa

Today marks the end of my very first week in Guatemala! ¡El tiempo vuela!

The adventure began with my flight in to Guatemala City. After a long approach, our plane ended up taking a massive lap around the city, before descending. Just as we began to prepare to land, however, the plane detoured into yet another lap of the city. The pilot got on the intercom and announced “Folks, on our attempt to land just now, we discovered that one of the flaps of the airplane wing isn’t working properly. We’re going to circle Guatemala City again while we do some calculations to see whether or not the runway is long enough to land on without the flap.” I could have done without the details.

Eventually, though, we were able to land. After going through immigrations and customs, I met up with Juancho, my instructor, and we drove an hour or so to Earth Lodge, an eco-hostel outside of Antigua, Guatemala for two days of orientation. What an introduction to the area!

Earth Lodge, which doubles as an avocado farm and yoga retreat looks across at the three volcanoes near Antigua. That first night, while beginning orientation, we were able to watch a full sunset in the valley.

After two days of orientation, last Friday, Juancho and I went to explore Antigua. A UNESCO world heritage site in the shadow of a 12,300 ft volcano, Antigua is quite possibly the most beautiful city on earth. We walked under its famous Santa Catalina Arch, visited three local markets, and ate lunch at a tasty comedor.

Later that day, it was time to meet my homestay family: Don Manuel, Doña Rossi, their four kids, Doña Rossi’s parents, and Lucero, their adorable dog! In anticipating the trip, meeting my host family was by far the most nerve-racking part of the experience. Would we get along? Would we have things to talk about? Would my classroom Spanish be sufficient to understand more than “¿Cuando va a estar el examen?”

I spent all of Friday morning with butterflies in my stomach. As the clock ticked closer to 3:30 — the time I was supposed to arrive at the house — my palms started to sweat and my heart raced. 3:15, 3:20, 3:25…

At 3:30, we arrived at my house, a colorful building built around a courtyard with a stellar view of Volcán de Agua from the second floor. I met Doña Rossi, her mother, and her two youngest daughters, Sofia and Diana. After a few minutes of chatting, Juancho, my instructor left, and I was completely alone.

My heart skipped a beat. What should I say? Should I offer to help with dinner? Should I ask a question?

“¿Quieres jugar abuelita solterosa?” Diana squealed, before I could take a breath to come up with my sentence. She held up a deck of cards and I translated in my head. “Do you want to play Old Maid?!?” My shoulders relaxed, and a huge smile spread over my face. “¡Sí!”

Since that moment, I’ve hardly had a fraction of a second to worry about my Spanish. We played at least a thousand games with their blue plastic bouncy ball before Lucero the dog ate it for lunch, we’ve played “al escondite” (hide and seek) all over the house, and we even set up a beauty salon that involved a lot of pink ribbon in my hair and glitter haphazardly painted on my nails.

Also, as of Monday, I’ve been taking 3 hours of Spanish class every morning with Doña Blanca, one of my neighbors. After only the three sessions we’ve had so far, my Spanish has improved noticeably at home with my family. Our class is almost 100% conversation, with some small “paréntesis” of grammar, as Doña Blanca says. For today, I read a Guatemalan paper’s coverage of the impeachment trial, and then we spent the first 45 minutes of class discussing the “distituición” of President Trump because of “su llamada con el presidente de Ucrania.” And by the way, all of our classes are outdoors in a garden on the slope of Volcán de Agua.

Every day this week, I’ve collapsed into my bed at 9 and slept like a log until morning. Between speaking a different language all day long, going to class, helping out around the house, and playing games in every spare second of my day, I’m more tired than I’ve been in a long time. But it’s the best kind of tired. As I say to Doña Rossi every chance I get “yo estoy en el paraíso.”