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Anne Dalke's picture
We spent our last evening in Guatamala @ a festival of poetry and music, in honor of two university students, René Leiva Cayax and Danilo Alvarado, who were kidnapped and killed in 1987—and whose deaths inspired the establishment of our school. It was an emotional night, with wonderful music, melodramatic recitations of poetry and very moving speeches by the students’ family members…

I left feeling quite full up, unable to take in all the currents swirling around me in that courtyard, and in the street outside: all the misery of this country’s history, all the poverty and corruption of its present, all the goodwill, searching, loneliness, outsidedness of visitors and travelers like ourselves--and yet all the hope embedded in this music and these words. Where does that hope come from? René and Danilo were very much alive last night, and continue very much alive in the work that the school does.

Here @ PLQ, the teachers change students every week, and this week I met my match. Mi maestro was a painter and illustrator, a surrealist and political activist who was game for all my questions, of all denominations (when he presented my graduation certificate @ the ceremony yesterday afternoon, he said, “Anne, you probably have yet another question….? Your questions never end”).

We got off to a rough start: I started crying in an early lesson, because I couldn’t find the words I needed—not to be able to speak, for me, feels like death (yep, pretty melodramatic), but we soon got into a pattern that was very satisfactory for us both--my asking questions, his answering them, my responding, his responding in turn. I felt as though I was immersed in a river of words…

And I learned a lot, not only about how Spanish sounds, and how to speak It (poco a poco), but about the commercialization of Mayan life (the selling of their culture); about the materialism of the neo-pentecostals; about their focus on individual salvation (working w/ prostitutes and drug users), whereas (@ least a portion of) the Catholic Church—the activist portion—focuses on the larger social dimensions (largely economic and political) that lead to individual difficulties. I learned a lot more about strong figures in this region, like Che Guevarra and William Walker --two very different models for engagement in social problems here. (I was tickled/horrified to learn that “filibusters” were originally individuals, like William Walker, who attacked foreign lands for financial gain, without authority from their own government; only later was the term applied to the delaying tactics used in the U.S. Senate. So now I’m amusing myself thinking of my blogging as a (hopefully harmless/perhaps helpful) contemporary form of filibustering: an account of my (entirely unauthorized!) adventures in a foreign country, for educational purposes--and hopefully for social good…)

OTOH: one of the most disorienting things about Spanish (for an English speaker like me) is that it really doesn’t use pronouns very much. You generally start off your sentences with a verb, and build the person into the verb ending. Blogging is a way of putting me first again…

So, we’re off now to Costa Rica (which people here say is “just like America”). I’m feeling very reluctant to leave Guatemala now; there's a lot here that's gone pretty deeply inside me.