Monday, January 25, 2016

Estoy Aprendiendo

I slipped into life here. I walk between cars without following a local. I meander through the streets and sit in the parks and joke with the vendors. I wake up at 6:30 from the sunshine (instead of 11 from the slight twilight). I watch the lava roll down the side of the volcano. I greet people in Spanish (not without mishap - I tried to ask one person if they spoke English in Norwegian and universally answer "come estás?" with "va bene"). I've found a bit of a rhythm. Spanish classes, homework over coffee, beer with the other students at sunset, reading in the hammock. I asked someone the date today and realized it was a full 4 days later than I thought. My friends teased me about being excited about having homework (it's been a year since graduation, I think I can miss school already). And of course, my own spin on student life - los tejidos.

It's been two weeks and I still haven't stopped noticing the colors. The women wearing cortes and huipiles. The endless stacks of scarves, skirts, bags, hammocks, and wall hangings. The ease with which women maintain a conversation while picking up warp strands to add complicated birds and flowers to their weavings.

Several days ago I was sitting in el parque central working on my homework. "Señorita, quieres una bufanda? Un regalo por tu mama" "no gracias" "por que no?" That's a new reply. I look up, straight at this woman covered in beautiful weavings. "Por que mia vida está en mia mochila" My life is in my backpack. She laughs. Emboldened, I say that I want to learn to weave. She seems surprised and I pull out the belt I've been making. "Es bonita." My Spanish skills are at their limit as she asks me how it's made. "Una de derecha...otra izquierda...arriba...abajo...cruces en medio...", I motion fumbling for words. But for a weaver it's enough. "Es muy bonita. Adios amiga."

A few days later I ventured out of Antigua for the first time. My goal was to visit San Antonio, only about 15 minutes away, to see their style of weaving. I get on the bus, clearly a confused non-local. Luckily, they paint the destination on the front of the bus. I sit next to a woman and she smiles, and I ask if she's from San Antonio. She nods and confirms, and proceeds to ask me, politely, what the hell I'm doing on this bus. I smile brightly and say I want to see the weavings. Oh, you want to buy weavings? No, no, no, I want to see the weavings. And learn to weave. And she offers to teach me. Why not? I get off the bus with her in town and follow her home. She greets her startled family - I'm bringing home a friend! And vanishes into one of the rooms off the slight courtyard (dirt patch with a tree) to find a loom. Her little daughter greets me while the elder one is cooking on the outdoor wood stove. After a few standard questions, including "are you here to buy my mom's weavings?" she decides that I'm not too scary. At that point, "do you want to see my iguana?" I'm confused. I think I've misheard her. But I say yes, and she pulls a string next to her, and an iguana with a leash tied around its middle falls out of the tree. I start laughing, and dutifully pet the iguana, much to their amazement. I get an hour of weaving instruction after that. Just enough to test out the loom and understand how much work goes into picking out designs. Every row with multiple colors takes forever. I can't imagine the time for a piece completely covered in pictures.

Later I return to San Antonio. I can't locate my previous teacher so I wander through the artisans market. I sit with a woman who is working on a heavily decorated piece. I get very confused when her daughter calls it a servilleta. Why would you put so much effort into a napkin? Her daughter proceeds to use me as a jungle gym while I talk to her mother about weaving and buying a loom. I return a few days later and am greeted with a running hug from the daughter. You're back! You're back! I watch as the woman spreads out the weft for the loom between two lengths of wood. Then she picks up every strand individually, separated by a loop of yarn, to create a heddle. Next she spreads the strands to the desired width and inserts pieces to maintain the cross in the warp. Finally it is time to weave a few rows to secure the edge. Once the end is tight, she slowly reverses all the pieces and turns the loom around. The secured edge has become the top. She repeats the process to secure the bottom and it is my turn to try the loom. I do. I am much slower than she is. But I weave a few rows and am invited back to visit before I leave happily with my new loom.

I've had my gringa moments. On the bus when I'm the noticeably tall and pale girl. Those are adjectives I'm not used to hearing in reference to myself, but here they apply. I was a full head taller than my Spanish teacher, I finally understand how my friends feel talking to me. Or when I try to bargain and can't hold my own. When I'm hungry for dinner at 6pm.

But I have my local moments too - when I start complaining that it's cold in the shade despite having spent 5 months in Northern Europe.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Slow Down

I wish the cars would as I try to cross two lanes of traffic to walk home. I wish the cashier at the grocery would as I try to recall Spanish phrases to my memory. But for the first time in months, I'm not repeating this phrase to myself.

I wander through the parque central and sit on the curb to listen to a marimba band. I laze in a hammock and devour yet another book. I meander down the streets and poke my head into shops. I push my way through busy stalls in the market. I drink coffee and chat with people about suggestions for my visit to Guatemala.

For the last several days I have been telling people that I'm not sure if the time change or the climate has been a bigger shock. I had to relocate my sunglasses, somehow not broken after five months in the bottom of my backpack. I walked around barefoot and wondered if I'd only dreamed about the snow a week ago. I wasn't entirely joking when I asked people what the bright thing in the sky, trying so hard to burn my pale skin, was called.

Brief twilight on the solstice

Sunny skies and a new city 

Maybe it's the sunshine, coupled with the jet lag, that justifies my naps in the hammock. Maybe it's the language. I can't rush here - I don't have the words for the questions I want to ask. And I'm not leaving until I've asked. But overwhelmingly I feel that it would be wrong to rush here. That I'd miss the point. There's too much joy in just being here. Watching kids sell candy and the colorful blur of women in woven skirts selling scarves. The amount of color is nearly as disorienting as the sunshine that first day. The shouts of vendors in the market. The smoke rising lazily up from Fuego, one of the three volcanoes visible from town. Wondering what mysteries lie behind each door on the busy streets, and entering one to find a green, shady oasis. The myriad of couples holding hands in the park. The smell of frying tortillas.

Antigua is not a big city. Most of it is contained in about nine walkable blocks of seemingly identical red, yellow, orange, and white single-story houses lining cobbled streets. Yet the charm isn't simply in seeing it. You slip into this place. You watch the sun sink, and the lights on the trees in the plaza brighten. A slip of a girl pass by holding her older sister's hand. You listen to the band and watch a solitary elderly couple dance in the park. Without trying, you slow down.

The inevitable question to a traveler: how long will you be here?

Until it's time to go.