I think I am a pretty terrible student. I think the Christian Spanish Academy here in Antigua would agree. Since I have been there I have not taken one test to level out of a “grade”, I am completely unfocused, and every time the school director walks by our table, Genola and I are working on overcoming our hysterical laughter, not my fear of the numerous Spanish verb tenses…
A bit about the school. At CSA, you work with a teacher one on one. At first this was a massive disappointment. I thought, How am I supposed to meet all my new friends if I am just sitting with one other person, my maestra?! Whatever doubts I had about the system are erased. It rocks. Individual personal attention to go at exactly the rate you need to go at. It’s brilliant. Every week I am given a book to learn from with Genola. I am meant to take tests with another instructor every two to three days to make sure I am comprehending the information in the book. As of today I have been in school seven days and I have yet to take one test. Not even the “My name is Natalie” test, which if you are wondering, I can pass (Me llamo Natalia). I am not taking tests because Genola and I rarely actually look at the book. We are too busy speaking. In Spanish. My amazement at this fact knows no limits. I am speaking, in Spanish, with another person who understands me speaking, in Spanish, to her.
I took Spanish every day in school from the third grade through my senior year of high school and I have learned more in the last seven days than I did in those nine years. I do not care that we barely look at the book. I do not care that she corrects me every time I try to conjugate the infinitive form of a verb to the past tense of a verb. I care that she understands me and we can talk for four hours straight without one break in our conversation. It is worth every penny of the preposterously tiny check I write CSA every week. And what I didn’t even consider when I was dreaming up my Spanish school plan is my new friends could be my teachers.
For the first time in my life I am excited about language. I want to take a giant bubble bath in Spanish words, each bubble containing one, and when they pop, I want the words to melt into my skin, imbedding their meaning into my being.
We talk about her life and my life, about her husband and their three-year-old son and her other child on the way. We talk about her house, her parents, her father who is a butcher, same as my tata. We talk about my life – where I am from, why I am in Antigua, what I cook and where I have traveled. Trying to explain to her, in broken Spanish mind you, about India was hilarious. When I explained to her about the 88-year-old silent, renunciant guru who founded Sri Ram Ashram, her face was a classic Kodak moment worth thousands upon thousands of words, en ingles o espanol. I would have paid anything to capture it. That’s the downside of not having a smart phone on hand.
But we talk a lot about food. Every time we manage to get ourselves back on track I manage to distract us again with a question about local ingredients or the way a certain dish is prepared in Antigua versus the way it is prepared in Coban or Flores or Zacapa. I ask what she made for dinner and tell her what I had for breakfast. We spent quite a long time waxing and waning about the joys of aquacates, or avocados, which we both love dearly. It inspired me to go home and make this little snack. Avocados are a dime a dozen out here – they’re everywhere and they are dirt dirt dirt cheap. Lonely Planet says a local nickname for Guatemaltecos is “Green Bellies” because of how much avocado they eat, pretty much the same amount as tortillas or frijoles. Hope you enjoy!
Active time: 10 minutes; Serves 4
1 clove garlic
4 ripe avocados
1 roma tomato
1/2 small white onion
1 jalapeno, seeds removed
3 tablespoons lime juice
salt to taste
Peel and dice garlic clove very finely. Sprinkle about 1/8 tablespoon coarse salt over garlic. Smash garlic and salt together by laying your knife down parallel with the cutting board, on top of the garlic, and smash down hard with your hands. Scrape garlic to the center and repeat 3-4 times until garlic starts to break down. Add to medium bowl.
Cut avocados in half, twist down the middle and separate halves. Remove pit and score each avocado half into cubes, about four cuts lengthwise and 4 cuts widthwise. Add to bowl. Dice tomatoes, onions and jalapeno; add to bowl. Add lime juice; mix for about 15 seconds, until all ingredients are combined; there should be some avocado pieces still intact but the most pieces should have broken down. Add more salt if desired. Serve with tortilla chips.