Friday, 30 January 2015
Our Spanish language school here in Pana is called Jabel Tinamit, which means "beautiful town" in one of the Mayan languages. The owners and all of the staff are Mayan. It's a very professional, well-organized business, located in a lovely new building around an interior garden. Definitely a step up from the school that we attended three years ago. It's owned by a young couple (a year or so younger than our oldest son!), Candelaria and Gregorio, who began their business modestly 17 years ago. Candelaria told us her life story last week during a cooking class. It's pretty amazing and very inspirational.
The Jabel Tinamit School front entrance
When Candelaria was a child, it was not common for girls in the Mayan community to be educated beyond the 3rd grade, just enough for them to learn to read and write. Even that was a hardship for many families due to the cost for uniforms and school supplies. However, she was allowed to continue her eduation, eventually graduating from high school.
Being the eldest child, Candelaria felt enormous responsibility to do well in school. And she obviously did! She has completed university and is hoping to begin a Master's in Social Work program.
In the meantime, Candelaria and Gregorio have built this extremely well-run school with curriculum that they have created so that the lessons are consistent among the various "maestros and maestras". My teacher, Carmelina, is a young woman whom C & G helped in school with a scholarship. C & G are "paying it forward" in many ways.
Candelaria teaching a cooking class.
As for our daily routine, we arrive at school at 7:45am, have a quick coffee, perhaps do a quick check of email, since there is internet access, and then ascend the stairs with our tutor to a beautiful, airy, plant-filled private space where we will spend the next 4 hours chatting and listening in Spanish, learning verbs and expressions and much about life in Guatemala for indigenous people. We are loving it!
Carmelina, my teacher, is unmarried and helps out at home a great deal. In every spare moment, waiting for the bus, riding on the bus, Carmelina is studying English, using her "device" (Ipad?) to listen and practice. Soon she will begin university classes on Saturdays, in addition to her teaching job.
Mi maestra, Carmelina
Carmelina, I must say, is not only very hard-working but also extremely patient! We chat and chat - in Spanish - which is laborious for me and must be painful for her to listen to. But she never waivers in her good humor. This is an example of a story that she told me:
Yesterday was harvest day on the small plot of land that her family owns outside of the pueblo. Her mother and an aunt and two cousins went to harvest the corn. Her younger sister stayed at home to cook a special meal of thanksgiving for the harvest.
Enough corn is collected during this one-day harvest to last the family for a whole year. They hire someone to scrape the kernels from the cobs. The cobs are then dried and used as fuel for their fire. The kernels are dried and used, little by little, every day for tortillas. A neighbor woman has a special grinding machine to grind up the kernels for masa, the dough used for tortillas. Carmelina's mother and other neighbors take their corn kernels to her each morning, as the tortillas must be freshly made each day. Tortillas are a very basic part of the Mayan diet, not only for their nutritional value but also for their historical and spiritual value. They are served at every meal, and people don't feel satisfied if they have not had their tortillas. Similar, I guess, to the idea that bread is the staff of life.
Calla lilies on the table in the patio at school
Back at school, we have a brief "pausa" (break) in the middle of the morning when we all congregate around the patio area for a small snack and a relaxing chat with friends in English. Right now the other students are mostly American, many of them in our age range, although the school offers online Spanish lessons to students of all ages all over the world. The schedules are very flexible, since the sessions are individual and the school is open 7 days a week. We have signed up for 2 weeks full-time (5 days a week) and will continue after that for 2 days a week.
View from the terrace of the school
After our pausa, we are back at it for another two hours. It's intense, and we're definitely dragging by noon, when we emerge onto the bright street, busy with foot traffic and tuk-tuks, to return to our casa for the mid-day meal.
Before we began our Spanish school experience, we were asked if we wanted homework, and we said "Si". So each afternoon and/or evening, we do our homework. It's actually helpful to review what we've learned and practiced during our tutoring session. And the amount of homework is not strenuous, leaving us time to participate in activities that the school organizes for its students, such as the weekly cooking class or a class trip to market.
Candelaria and Gregorio are an upbeat, intelligent, friendly force for good in this community, offering a great product to Spanish learners. It's a pleasure to be among their students at Jabel Tinamit, and we are giving our aging brains quite a work-out!
Bruce and his teacher, Florinda, studying in the garden!