My first 2 months in Xela has felt like both a 100-meter dash and a marathon, depending on the day, hour or even minute. So let’s do a quick recap of what has happened since my last post: I officially ‘graduated’ from PLQ after 8 weeks of studying Spanish. I use the word graduate loosely because 1) I am continuing to study Spanish and 2) I hope to continue my studies with PLQ in the future. I know, now more than ever, that learning Spanish is going to be a lifelong journey. My first 8 weeks here have culminated to my next big step: beginning my job with Education and Hope. The program is massive but if I had to sum it up I would categorize it as a wrap-around after school program. I spent my first weeks dividing my time between two parts. In the mornings I assisted in the kitchen with the women preparing lunch/snack and in the evenings I assisted teachers in their classrooms. I am shadowing the different components of the project for these first few weeks hoping to cultivate relationships and becoming familiar with the in and outs of the program. This task seems simple enough. But, with my emerging Spanish skills it has felt like quite a big endeavor. To better understand how this process has felt for me, here is a little analogy.
During my last few weeks at PLQ, I was introduced to an improv/theater game called Alien Translator. This is how it works: two people take the stage, one as the ‘alien’ and one as the translator. It’s quite easy. The alien talks in a made up language, being explicit not to have it sound like a language that already exists and therefore deeming the other language as ‘alien’. The translator sets the stage by providing questions or a topic of discussion. They then translate what the alien is saying for their audience. I was so amused by this exercise. Not only did I find it comical, but I also felt weirdly aligned to this figurative alien. In my new job everything that looks/feels like it should make sense all of a sudden feels completely alien.
A perfect example of this was my sad attempt at peeling carrots during my second day at work. I asked what I could do to help with lunch prep. I was given a potato peeler and a communal bucket of carrots. My initial thought was: perfect I can do this. Memories of using this familiar object filled my head. I thought about peeling potatoes for the holidays. I recalled that one Thanksgiving when Nana clogged the sink with the potato skins. I was reminded of how safe it felt to do something familiar. I sat around the table ready to listen and attempt to speak with the señoras who work at the project. I enthusiastically started to peel these carrots and… it was a dud. I hardly scratched the surface of this carrot. My initial thoughts were as follows: seriously Paige. You know how to do this. Are you seriously struggling with this? Come on Paige. Why is this so difficult? Oh God I hope no one notices that I can’t even use a potato peeler. In that moment I was an alien trying to navigate this foreign object that looked/felt so familiar. The women who originally gave me the peeler gently took my hand and adjusted the angle ever so slightly. It was like I was using a different kitchen tool. All of a sudden it worked perfectly. But with every independent passing stroke my performance declined. I was hardly scratching the surface of this carrot after a minute. The women would patiently correct my form and graciously move my hand. The cycle would repeat. By the time I finished my last carrot I needed significantly less help. Nevertheless, the road there was bumpy and the end product was a little shaky. This experience of peeling carrots was one of many where I have felt like even the most simple of tasks was a new/mysterious endeavor.
I have experienced a different variation of this analogy every day since starting at Education and Hope. A child slows down their speech for me to understand. A teacher takes a minute to re-explain their directions. A woman from the kitchen meticulously demonstrates what needs to be done step by step. Someone from the administrative office takes time to explain something new in many different ways.
My time in Guatemala has been a similar process to peeling these carrots. I have had to figure out new ways of navigating old/familiar tools and continue to adjust my metaphorical potato peeler in order to learn new uses for old tools. I have needed to accept and rely on the many hands that have reached out to me with kindness and acceptance. I am reminded that I need apply that same gentleness to myself and embrace the uncertainty that comes from learning to navigate this new world. I am that alien and I am lucky enough to have met many translators during my first few months in Guatemala.