Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Culture in the City

New Year’s Resolution: Blog more.  Once a week.  I got this.  But that means finding time (making time) to actually write.  Even when my time, like this week, was filled with me complaining about how many research papers I had to read and grade.  
But there’s always time to write.

The weekend before last was a treat for me (you see, I’m backtracking; I missed one weekend’s post).  I spent it entirely in the city, but I was busy.  (I mean, busy enough that when a friend invited me to a gorgeous beach house for the weekend, I didn’t even question whether re-ordering my schedule might be a possibility--and I love the beach).  

On Saturday morning, Kelly picked up 5 of us, all ladies, and we visited the textile museum in zone 10 of Guatemala City.  I’d heard great things about Museo Ixchel, but I’d never actually gone.  (Admittedly, museums are not generally my cup of tea).  Kelly had snagged us a great deal on the price for both an English tour of the museum and a weaving workshop afterwards where we learned how to use the backstrap loom.  What a great experience!  The museum is, indeed, completely worthwhile, and having our passionate and knowledgeable guide, Helen, lead us through the history of textiles in Guatemala was a real treat.  And then, we got to learn how to weave.  

Even after our guide broke down for us exactly how the loom worked, and told us that we’d understand better once we tried it for ourselves, I am still not positive that I completely comprehend how it works.  But, after a few guided attempts, I was able to complete the process on my own!  I still made mistakes every few rows, but I can see how once it became second nature, weaving could be a very relaxing way to spend a few hours.  

We also learned how to brocade, which is one of the ways the patterns get woven into the typical fabrics.  I understand the concept, but I was a lost cause at doing it myself.  I gave up after just a short time and moved over to where Helen had brought out a few typical huipiles and cortes (the tops and skirts that Maya women wear) to try them on.  I modeled a ceremonial huipil and cinched corte from the Xela region.  So much fabric--what fun to twirl in!!  

After the museum, the six of us went out to lunch, and then I came home to relax for a bit before I headed over to Kenra’s for a movie, pizza, and an impromptu skype call with Amy.  Catching up with both ladies was tremendous fun!  Good for the soul.  :)   

Saturday morning, Rachel and I took Jestina and Gretel to our running trails for the first time.  We walked the entire 5 mile loop, and I finally had an opportunity to bring a camera along and stop and enjoy the view and capture the beauty of this place.  Our running trails are a short 5 minutes from my house, but once back in them, it’s a complete escape from city life.  No traffic sounds, no buildings on the horizon, just beautiful trees and paths and lush greenery.  

Sometimes this meadow is full of horses

I returned home, made myself lunch, cleaned my house a bit, and at 2pm, a few people came over for our monthly “writing club.”  Each of us shares a piece we’ve written and get feedback on it from the others.  It’s great motivation to write more often, and I really enjoy hearing the pieces others create each month.  There were only three of us on Sunday, so the “meeting” was quick, but still with great pieces shared.  

I finished my Sunday evening with a visit to one of my favorite (or perhaps my very favorite) restaurant in the city--a Korean restaurant called Myeong Dong which is owned by the parents of one of my students.  

Getting there turned out to be a bit of an adventure.  I drove right past the restaurant without seeing it (despite the two men with lit-up traffic controllers trying to wave me into the parking lot), then upon realizing my mistake, took several wrong turns and ended us up in the completely wrong part of the city.  Thanks to one passenger’s good sense of direction, we got ourselves back, but not before I completely disregarded a high curb and ran my car up onto it.  (I was, thankfully, able to back down off of it without damage to the car).  We took only an extra 20 minutes or so to get to the restaurant.  

Once we were there, the fun began.  We laughed our way through dinner, our conversation generating a huge string of memorable one-liners that we relived and laughed at the entire drive home, as well. The whole event made me supremely grateful for my friends, the city that I live in, and everything that I have.  Life is good, my friends.  Really good.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Asian Cooking in Guatemala

For a long time now, Karina and Jin (a teacher/neighbor originally from China) had been talking about getting a group together so Jin could teach us how to make a few Chinese dishes.  The day finally came this weekend.  

On Saturday morning, Karina, Jin, Karen, and I took off at 10:30am to go shopping for ingredients.

Our first stop was the Chinese store.  Watching Jin walk in, it was like watching a kid in a candy shop.  It was like she was home.  She was ecstatic to see all of the ingredients.  “Look how great those mushrooms look!”  “Ooh, with those noodles you could make…”  “This is my favorite brand of soy sauce!”  It was great, and just following her around was a lesson in Chinese cuisine, though I’ll remember none of it in the future.  

From there, we went to zone 7. By this time, we were getting hungry, so we went to Jin’s favorite Korean restaurant.  Pro tip: if you want the best service at a Korean restaurant in Guatemala City, take someone with you who can speak Korean and order in Korean.  It’s not a myth that they serve foreigners differently, according to Jin, who has it from the Korean parents at our school.  

Since we all have gotten Korean BBQ enough times to know what and how to order and eat that, Jin decided perhaps we should try something new, so we ordered a soup, which we cooked over a burner at our table, and that came with all the little side dishes that also come with the meat when you cook that.  Our meal was absolutely delicious, and we left stuffed.  

Last stop: the Korean store.  Jin picked up a couple of sauces, the cracked red pepper we would need for the kimchi, and a few other small things.  Again, it was fascinating to watch her in her element.  I would never go to the store on my own--even if I knew which ingredients I needed, everything is in Asian languages, and I wouldn’t know where to start.  

Back in La Joya, we started on the kimchi around 4pm.  Jin mixed together the marinade for the cabbage: a huge amount of red pepper flakes, rice porridge, green onions, garlic, ginger, and anchovy sauce.  
"That much red pepper?  Really?"

When that was done, we got out the cabbage (which had been salted hours earlier to drain out the water).  Jin showed us how to spread the paste on each layer, then wrap it up.  From there, the cabbages would go into an airtight container.  They’ll stay there for two weeks, fermenting, and when they’re smelling nice and ripe, we’ll be ready to eat them!  

After the kimchi was prepared and put away, we began on Chinese dumplings.  We mixed up the stuffing, which turned out to be the easy part.  Jin kept telling us dumplings would go quickly and easily, because we’d just have to wrap them.  We planned to make around 250 between the six of us.

Fun fact: Chinese dumplings are tricky little buggers.  

A few of us were used to making perogies (gloriously stretchy dough that you fill and pinch the edges together to seal), and some had made ravioli (pasta dough laid over a form, filled, and then pinched with a second layer of dough).  None of us were prepared for the intricate folding and sealing of the delicate dumpling wrappers.  

What the dumpling SHOULD
look like 
Most of our dumplings looked nowhere near as beautiful as Jin’s, and even the ones that we thought we’d done well on busted open when we boiled them.  While I tried to perfect the cute dumpling folding Jin had showed us, others got creative...trying out “tacos” and “empanadas” and cute little twisted packets.  We may have failed at dumpling making (and we called it a night after wrapping only 106 of them), but we certainly had fun and laughed a lot in our attempt.  And, while the dumplings split open and became waterlogged when we tried to boil them, they still tasted pretty darn good.  

For all those reasons--I definitely count our Saturday lesson in Asian cooking a success!   

Friday, January 15, 2016

New Year, New Experiences

I didn't set a New Year's resolution this year, but perhaps I should have resolved to write more consistently in this blog.  Already two weeks have passed, I've experienced two beautiful weekends, and I've written nothing.

So let's recap.  
This year being my last in Guatemala, I felt I should spend more of my winter break vacations in the country than out of it.  Since I had never spent New Years in Guatemala, I decided witnessing the celebration would be worth it.  So I came back on the 30th, and on the 31st, was on my way to Antigua with three girlfriends to celebrate the coming of the new year.  

I have to admit, I was nervous about New Years in Antigua.  I don't love crowds, I don't love rowdy parties, and the last time I tried to enjoy a night out in Antigua, I was sick of the scene by 10pm and in bed by 11.  New Year's Eve, I assumed, would be worse.

Thankfully, I was wrong.  My friends and I had a great time.  The afternoon was beautiful, and we enjoyed great food, beautiful weather, and a clear view of the surrounding volcanoes.  As the sun set, the weather stayed warm.  We wandered along the arch street enjoying the festivities taking place there, ate street food for dinner, and met up with several groups of friends throughout the night.  At midnight, we were standing in the street below the arch, watching it all lit up for the occasion, counting down with the masses.  Then the sky lit up with fireworks, and our celebration continued.  

The next morning, I bid my friends good bye and set off on my own for Panajachel at Lake Atitlan.  I'd been invited to stay a few days with a friend’s family in their cottage there.  At the lake, too, the weather was idylÅ‚ic.  The whole weekend was idyllic.  I spent my time there catching up with my friend, meeting family members and new friends, relaxing, listening to stories of their family history, practicing Spanish, eating great food, reminiscing, and going on new adventures.  Everything about the setting was beautiful and peaceful, and my memories of the weekend are wrapped in a pink and gold hues--the warm colors of the sunset over the water, the bougainvillea hanging over the front walk, the accessories adorning the cozy house.  

I was sad to leave Panajachel on Sunday afternoon, but happy to get back into the routine of teaching and living in my own house.  

The next weekend brought another adventure.  On Sunday morning, I was up before the sun, my backpack packed and my trail shoes on my feet.  I think perhaps people have to be a little crazy to be my friends, because it had been ridiculously easy to convince my friend to sign up for a race up the volcano Agua which towers over Antigua.  “So, I know you haven't been training recently due to your surgery last month, and that you haven't gone running in ages, but how would you feel about signing up for this 21k race that goes up Agua with me?”  And he said, remarkably, “Sure, let's do it.”  

So we did.  We pulled in to the small town of Santa Maria de Jesus just before 7am and drove in circles on the narrow streets, trying to find a parking spot.  Eventually, we did.  After waiting in line to pick up our race packets, and then waiting some more in the chilly air, the race finally began around 8:15am.  Our intention was not to race, obviously.  One does not power up a 3000ft gain in elevation when one has not been training for it.  Still we started at a good pace, jogging until we got to the edge of town, then advancing at a power walk until the trail grew really steep.  We slowed as we climbed higher, stopping for more and more breaks and to enjoy the scenery and snap photos.  Still, we made good time, arriving at the summit after 4 ½ hours of walking.

The weather at the top was ideal.  It was warm and sunny, and we found ourselves well above a heady layer of clouds.  We perched on a few rocks and spent over an hour snacking, taking photos, and simply enjoying the view.  

The descent went quickly, both of us eager to be off the mountain and on our way to dinner, now that we had enjoyed the view and accomplished our goal.  We made it down in about 2 ½ hours, then set off for dinner in Antigua on our way home, before we returned to the city well after dark.  

My first two weekends back in Guatemala in 2016 were exceptionally well lived.  And I have no doubt the year will continue in this way.  I have every intention of filling my weekends, and my weeks for that matter, with culture, sightseeing, adventure, and beauty.  And now, I plan to write all about it, too.