Published: January 17th 2008January 17th 2008
Finally, after numerous hours of weeping under my bed beside the cockroaches, I managed to pull myself out and over to the computer to recount my first day of teaching. I’m alive, just barely. Actually, that dramatic opening was entirely facetious. Thanks to all your brilliant comments, my first day went well, surprisingly well. I introduced myself sans grammar mistakes. I laid down the law like the most cunning of dictators—(I loved telling those frightened faces that if they come more than 5 minutes late to my class without a valid reason in written form, they won’t be allowed in at all--Muahahaha) And I didn’t fall on my face nor fart once!
I must admit, there is something delicious about standing in front of 30 anxious adolescents, each of which believing (naively of course) that I am more intelligent then they are. Little do they know! In any case, by noon, my first day of teaching was over, hurrah!
Unfortunately, like any prestigious Guatemalan school, the administration of mine has canceled afternoon classes for the entire week so that the staff can work on the “plan”. We worked on this alleged “plan” through a tortilla lunch and on until sunset, yet all I took away from talking about it is that I am discouraged from getting drunk with their students and impregnating them.
After the joy of planning, I had an experience so intoxicating I must spend multiple paragraphs building it up without ever telling you about it. No, after the event (the first of what is to become a twice-weekly indulgence, yes!!!) forced me to unpack my bags and even sign that daunting contract committing me to a year in this land of bony pigs and mangy dogs. This bliss, dear friends, is the Chuj. Not the language, though this heaven and the language do share the same word. No, this Chuj is so fabulous, so refreshing so rejuvenating that no one word in any language could adequately describe its magnificence.
This Chuj is a sort of sauna/steam room/ shower all mixed into a little shack of paradise. Each Mateana family, even the owners of the most disheveled huts have a Chuj attached to their house, into which they go Wednesdays and Saturdays to bathe. Wednesday and Saturday, so that everyone can look their best at the town markets on Thursdays and Sundays. Sadly, we don’t have a Chuj beside our modest Gringa-apartment. However, the family upstairs (which thankfully returned this week from their holiday travels) shares their Chuj with us.
In order to prepare our Chuj, Doña Ana (the matriarch above) stopped her corn grinding, clothes washing and tortilla making early in the afternoon. She then headed to the tienda to buy a bag of hot coals, which she set over a hot fire in the little Chuj hut. Once everyone in her family had finished their Chujs, Doña Ana’s youngest, Eulalia ran downstairs, knocked on our door and squeeked, “ChujChujChuj”.
The two girls who lived here last year squealed. “YES!!! FINALLY!!!” The rest of us, not having been told about the Chuj looked at one another with bewilderment. Who’s first? Who’s first?—the former yelled at one another before rushing into their rooms. Each returned an instant later, clad in a towel, and clutching soap and shampoo. After a small feud, the meeker of the two conceded, and the other sprinted upstairs with a grin so large you’d think she had just inherited the Taj Mahal.
An hour later, I realized that my housemates had not been overreacting. Had I been in their place, I would have been far more dramatic. Sorry for the lengthy overture, but in order to fully understand the power of the Chuj for us this evening, you must understand how cold and dirty we each were before stepping inside. So far, its been about 55 degrees during the day, 35-40 at night and no indoor heating—ever. I’ve taken off my down jacket and thermals once or twice, and I got here the 5th of January. This to the arctic climate already discouraged us from undressing to bathe. However, due to the fact that our gas tank (which a tienda owner promised to install last two weeks ago) was still lost in Huehuetenango, we also had no hot water. We had become grimy to the point of embarrassing. That was, until the Chuj, like a divine spirit, like a divine spirit, descended to purify us all.
When your turn arrives, you crawl through a wooden door into a tiny shack, already cozy with steam. You praise life. Then ladle a bowlful of hot water onto the coals. This lets off a succulent cloud of steam, transporting you to that sort of tropical-island-resort where you sip mixed drinks out of coconut shells and take long siestas on hammocks. Delightful. Then you mix bowlfuls of hot and cold water and pour them on yourself, removing all the guava juice and chicken bus dust that has accumulated over the past days. Each of us, upon returning to the kitchen this evening after our Chuj whispered ethereal jargon like, “… I’m a new woman” or “ mumble mumble no— don’t interrupt my ecstasy.”
I forget what my phrase was; all I can say is that tomorrow’s administrative will be lovely; everything is lovely—just 64 hours and 58 minutes until the next…sorry, I must leave you all and drift off into my reverie…