Sunday I went into Nebaj to meet up with some fellow Peace Corps Volunteers from around the area, buy food for the week, and more importantly, buy a newspaper. On Sundays the Prensa Libre, one of the more popular papers here, includes a couple magazines and a short selection of New York Times articles translated into Spanish from the previous week. Today is Wednesday and I’ve read about half of the articles in the Times section and I’m ready to move on to the Prensa section. I don’t want to sound like I’m putting down my other host family, but they just weren’t interested in reading the paper; they read the tabloid, photo-full version of the paper, but not much for current events and discussing things. In this family, both the mom and dad are currently attending the University of San Carlos in Nebaj and they are interested in reading, learning, and discussing. So for nearly all of Sunday afternoon we read together, talked about current events and our opinions, and just shared a lot about or beliefs and what we thought about the things going on in the world today. This is what I want every day. Besides the obvious benefits of increased vocabulary, better awareness of grammar, and plain increase in knowledge about current events, I believe that conversations with real people are better than any other benefit I could gain from any activity.
During my first few months in Guatemala I had a number of very stimulating conversations…with my gringo friends. I had some interesting talks with my host mom Dona Esperanza, but those were mostly just me talking and her nodding along. What I had been most worried about when moving to my new site away from English speakers was the ability to make new friends based on something substantial. “Hey, my name’s Katy, I like tortillas”. “Hi, my name’s Ana, I like tortillas too”. That was my imaginary dialogue of how making friends was going to go based on my interactions and conversations with Guatemalans over the past three months. Now I know that it doesn’t have to be like that. I’m sure I’ll come across plenty of people who really don’t care about having an interesting conversation. They’ll be content to ask me how many siblings I have, if I’m married yet, if I miss my family and if my family back at home misses me, and what I think of the Aldea so far. Most people I’ve met so far very rarely stray far from these basic questions. But, I’m going to make it my goal for the next few weeks to seek out those people who have the mental capacity and are comfortable enough with me to actually hold a conversation. The great thing about talking about a newspaper article I’ve read is I have already learned a good portion of the vocabulary I’ll need to talk about it. And I’ll actually remember the new vocab because I’ll be putting it into practice.
Today I talked with my counterpart about how to make moonshine. Now, neither of us really know how to do it, but he said he was interested in learning because it would be a good business, and I said I was interested in learning because it’s all about science. The only part of the process he understood was the boiling off and separating the alcohol from the other liquid at the end of the process, and he compared it to when you are boiling beans over the fire, the liquid that evaporates and condenses on the lid is always clean and clear and never has any beans in it. Then we had a little chemistry lesson. I explained about the three different states of matter, solids liquids and gasses;f that liquids evaporate into gasses and solids melt into liquids. When you boil a pot of beans, the liquids evaporate but the solids need a much higher temperature to liquefy which is why what evaporates is so clear: it’s pure water. I proceeded to explain that alcohol is a different type of liquid that’s more volatile than water, and each liquid has its specific boiling point. To separate alcohol from water, all you have to do is make sure that the temperature you boil the mixture at is between the two specific boiling points. I think he understood.
It was fun. And it was so typically Guatemalan for him to use “boiling a pot of beans” for his analogy. But, you’ve got to use what you know, and now I know exactly how to explain states of matter if I ever have to do so with kids. Use what they know and are familiar with. Use examples they see every day.