by John F Burke
Happy New Year! For many, the coming of a new year offers new hope. Across Latin American there are several traditions - new and old - that people partake in in hopes of making the New Year the best year.
One that I plan to adopt is Peruvian tradition of wearing colored underwear. This has actually spread across the border to many Latin American countries. While wearing either yellow for luck or red for passion is the original tradition in Peru, other countries have added green for financial success. I think I will wear all three and have the best year ever!
A more popular tradition which started in Spain that many Latin American countries have incorporated into their festivities involves eating twelve grapes for twelve wishes - one a month for the coming year. Beware of sour grapes though; they could be a sign of a bad month. In some countries the grapes are followed by a spoonful of lentil beans. And others just carry lentils in their pockets or purses for luck.
Another interesting tradition involves the burning of a doll. In general this act represents putting the past behind you. Sometimes what is burned isn’t just any doll however, it could be a doll representing a corrupt politician or maybe someone on your fútbol team who missed a crucial goal.
Colombians have a traditional called “pelado” where they put three potatoes under their bed, one peeled, one half-peeled and one unpeeled. They then reach under the bed and take the first potato they touch. An unpeeled potato means you will have a year of financial fortune; a half-peeled leads to a year of normal ups and downs; and the peeled potato will give you money problems. Avoid the peeled potato!
For New Year celebrations in Guatemala there is lively music, colorful costumes, and fireworks. Some Guatemalans still celebrate the Mayan New Year as well. The Mayan year has 360 calendar days and 19 months. The 19th month, called Wayeb is only 5 days long. Mayans called these extra days as "time out of time". It was time to be thankful for the fortunes of the previous year and look forward to the positive energy of the next Mayan year. During this period there are Mayan fire ceremonies, sunrise and sunset ceremonies, and mid-day ceremonies that take place around the Lake Atitlan.
However you chose to celebrate, have fun and enjoy the newness while it lasts. It won’t be long before 2018 sneaks up on us.
I traveled to Guatemala for 6 weeks, the trip of a lifetime with my daughters, ages 10 and 13, the youngest being Guatemalan born, adopted into our family at 9 months old. We've visited Guatemala every few years to keep the connection between this beautiful, friendly country and our family alive. This trip is our longest time in Guatemala.
I chose Spanish classes at Cambio because of their role as an NGO. As a long time supporter of another NGO in Guatemala, I'm aware how much of a positive impact can be made in the lives of women and children by a few dedicated NGOs. I liked that Cambio both employs Guatemalans (as Spanish teachers, host families, assistants and teachers in the NGO's schools) and serves Guatemalan children and families with their schools and outreach programs.
Our family had two teachers, Ana Mercedes for me and Diana for my daughters. Before coming here, we did 4 Skype lessons with Diana so that the Diana and the girls could get a feel for each other's learning/teaching styles. My girls thought Diana was so nice they hoped she'd be out host family as well.
We spent the first 2 weeks living with a host family set up by Cambio. The home was lovely and the home made meals delicious. Our rooms were simple, clean, comfortable and the shower was amazing. Our host mother quickly figured out that I rise before my children for some solitude and she prepared an early morning "café con leche para mí."
In total we took three weeks of Spanish lessons. The classes were interesting. My daughters enjoyed increasing their vocabulary using games and flash cards. Diana did an amazing job of working with both their individual personalities and their learning styles. I enjoyed "conversación y café" with Ana Mercedes. From this I learned about daily life in Guatemala, the importance of family here, religious traditions, etc. I came to class with perhaps an advanced beginner knowledge of Spanish. We focused on the pretérito (past tense) and the details of irregular verbs. Not exactly a fun topic but the conversation and lessons gave me the repeat experiences with the verbs that I needed to learn them.
As our studies occurred near the time of Semana Santa, we did a few combined field trips to see the various pueblos preparing for the holy holidays and processions. We also visited a hospital named for patron saint Hermano Pedro and the beautiful park/hotel/museum of Santa Domingo. My girls enjoyed the outings and it afforded us the opportunity to practice our Spanish with the teachers in a different setting.
We took the Experience Guatemala Tour to meet a family who does both wood working and worry doll making. The tour was well organized and the experience unforgettable. A lot of time and talent goes into those little dolls! The doll maker was friendly, patient and able to teach varying abilities. My daughters enjoyed the peek into her life and home, noting the many similarities and differences between her family and ours. We toured one of the Ñinos de Guatemala schools and were impressed by the facilities and the cooperative model where families and educators work together for the benefit of the children.
I highly recommend Cambio to anyone interested in learning or improving their Spanish WHILE supporting educational opportunities for the children of Guatemala.
- - Jeniffer Temple with daughters Leafie & Haydee, US, (Business Owner/Students)
Working with Niños de Guatemala has truly been the experience of a lifetime. Not only do you actively see the difference you are making in the lives of these amazing children, but your life is simultaneously transformed in the process. The spirits of these kids teaches you endless lessons about life, happiness, and acceptance. From chicken bus adventures to weekend escapes in the mountains, you find everything you’re looking for and more with the family that is Niños de Guatemala.
- - Elizabeth Burling, US, Student