Guatemalan Life

Have you ever tried to talk with a child who can speak three languages? Have you been concerned that each time you step outside of your room a witchdoctor might put a curse on you? What about living with a true Native American? Have you ever done that?

This has turned into daily life for me in Guatemala. The house I call home is extremely diverse. In total, there are twelve other people who live in the house along with me, and not a single other person speaks English as their native language. Each person has a unique personality that adds a unique dimension to the atmosphere.

From three young boys who are more than happy to spend all of their free time building, crashing, and rebuilding toy cars made of blocks, to a teenage girl who thinks she has one of the best voices in the world. The only problem is that it is all in her head. She cannot sing at all. Her room is next to mine, and I have the opportunity regardless of if I want it or not to hear sing each night while I attempt to go to sleep. I think my ears have started bleeding on more than one occasion.

On the other side of the house, a Native American man and his grandson wake me up each morning with traditional chants and musical instruments of their tribe. They are without a doubt the most devoted Native Americans I have ever met. The only language they will speak to each other in is the language of their native tribe. I would tell you what it was, but I cannot spell it.

The grandson is around seven and already speaks three different languages. There is a problem though. He cannot communicate in any of them. Typically when I ask him a question, the response I get is a blank stare. The opposite is true as well. When he speaks to me, it is a mixture of Spanish and English. With most people I can piece together the Spanglish, but this specific mixture does not make sense in either language. It can be frustrating at times, but somehow we manage to still communicate by hand gestures and broken phrases.

Now for the curses. I do not have proof that the grandmother living in this house is a witchdoctor, but she shows all the signs that I have in my mind for a witchdoctor. Each morning when I walk to the bathroom, I am "welcomed" by her standing up out of her chair and chanting something in what I believe is a local Mayan dialect. It may be the scariest thing I have ever encountered. Luckily for me, I get to experience it every day.

The rest of the family that I live with is traditional. Each has their own quirks that are to be expected, but I am sure they would have a few things to say about me as well. The elderly man and his wife are tremendous. They are always checking on me to see what I need.

When I decided to come to Guatemala, I knew I would be living with a local family for about two months. What I did not know was who the family would be, what the family dynamic would be like, or who else would be staying in the house with me. Honestly I could not have asked for a more interesting, diverse, and hospitable place to call home while I have been in Antigua.

Bryan Clifton

Oklahoma City, OK