The People of Xela

Rosy is our host mother. But she is really more like a warm grandmother. They call grandmothers abuelitas here. Most of the time she is  wearing an apron and her pepper grey hair protrudes from a knit cap. She’s the third of four generations that live in the house and she’s in charge. She raises the grandkids and cooks amazing vegetarian food.

Ingrid owns a shop near Parque Central, the main square of Quetzaltenango (the nickname is Xela because it’s easier). We pass by after our evening yoga class and she’s sitting behind a well-lit counter, usually reading the newspaper. She has a pretty smile with a silver front tooth. We stop in for our regular agua con gas and peanuts and she asks us where we’ve been.

Cesar was my first barber and Jose my second. I’m sure next week I’ll have a third. Getting a haircut is one of those things I never do back home but do regularly here (kind of like the eight tortillas I eat every day). But I don’t have my hair trimmers with me, which they call a maquina, generic for machine. And I enjoy the process of finding an open barbería with an open chair. We don’t talk much—they’re focused and I don’t know what to say.

Jorge works at the Hot and Cold coffeeshop. It is one of a surprising number of hip coffee shops we’ve found in our few weeks of afternoon studying. He’s quiet and knows his coffee. After inquiring about our preferred method, to my surprise he also asked what kind of taste we liked. Then he pulled out eight bags of coffee and fed us whole coffee beans from each until we found our favorite. The conversation reminded me of home.

And then there are the women in the tortilla shop that I don’t yet know. We pass by them every night on our walk home. They represent so many people here with whom I’ve only shared an anonymous smile. I don’t know exactly all that they sell but they have a basket of ripe avocados out front, a hand-written sign setup in the street, and they’re always pounding maiz into tortillas and laughing together. They wear beautiful traditional dress, as so many here do. One of these days I plan to stop and order whatever it is they make.

One of the great gifts of language study here is the rhythm of life. We do more or less the same thing everyday, walk the same routes, and see the same people. In no other place on our travels this year have we had such an opportunity to sink into a place and share relationships with the people who live there, like we’ve had the opportunity to do with the people of Xela.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *