Today I sat behind two elementary school age boys enjoying popsicles on the bus. First, I noted their cute labcoat attire, and then I watched them both unceremoniously dump stick and wrapper out the window, onto the street and out of mind. No one else on the bus seemed to give it any thought.

 

While I do my best to recycle, especially after section parties left my dorm devastated with crushed cans every Friday morning or so last year, I am no environmentalist. But the ease with which the two boys, at such an innocent age, instinctively threw their trash onto their street took me aback, and made me recall a conversation I’d had with an ex-Peace Corps worker in Guatemala this summer.

 

Guatemala is a beautiful country, but a quick look at almost any mountain pass will tell you that numerous Chapínes treat it otherwise: rivers of trash frequently sprawl down ravines. Streets in pueblos and larger cities are also often full of litter.

 

During a conversation on the matter, the abovementioned Peace Corps vet explained his two-fold theory: first, for hundreds of years before the era of packaged food, Mayans and their descendents ate natural, organic fare that could be thrown over a shoulder without a thought. Today, the same is done with plastic Doritos bags and other extraneous indecomposable packaging, but with many more drastic aesthetic and environmental consequences. While this part of the theory may be no more than an interesting thought, the more concrete part of it is that for whatever reason, many Guatemalans are oblivious to the trash on the streets, or at least conditioned to believe it to be the norm. One problem is lack of proper infrastructure: there are almost no public trashcans to be found; even in larger cities, one must ask a store-owner to use a “basurero” hidden behind the counter.

 

I haven’t seen enough of Ecuador to determine whether the children’s’ actions portray a larger norm here as well, but I’m inclined to believe it. I’d love to know how much environmental-awareness advertising and effort it took for this American to be conscious of his trash, whether such campaigns were privately or publicly sponsored, and how difficult it would be to stage similar drives down here.

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This week my group traveled to Nebaj,¨the southern gateway to the Ixil region¨ and hub of the Ixil triangle. This is the farthest from home I´ve felt since leaving for Guatemala. Aside from literally being a good 6 hours from Antigua on oftentimes harrowing dirt roads, the prevelence of the indiginous Mayan language native to this town, Ixil, makes it a gateway to another world for outsiders. Gringos are much less common in this less traveled tregion, and kids in the street often giggle in response to us. Spanish is the second language of this region, and for many of the older generation, Spanish isn´t spoken at all.
 
So in terms of communicating, I´m back to square one.
 
I´m being a little dramatic – its not as if Spanish is useless here, as the majority of people speak a good amount, if not fluently. But the majority of conversations, even around us Spanish speakers during organization meetings, are in Ixil, a language sprinkled with sounds and halts in speech that would make any beatboxer jealous. Plus,  knowing that I need to worry about getting accross what I want to say in my second language to someone else understanding in their own second language can add a little more intimidation to the mix.
 
To help us out, Soluciones Comunitarias hooked the entire group up with a two hour Ixil class. I fantasized about being able to talk to Mayan Emporers, but we were reminded that Ixil is only one of more than 20 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala – so regardless of how hard we study, there´s still will be some major disconnect.  Only 70,000 people still speak this Mayan variant, and my host mother here mentioned how it was dying out among the younger generation, who goes to school to take classes only in Spanish as mandated by the government.
 
To do my part in preserving this cultural gem, I´ve decided to post some key Ixil words and phrases for extranjero use, all in Ixil spelling. Also included is a pronunciation guide – but be warned, the rubric for pronunciation is nowhere near scientific. You´ll see what I mean below, and I´m sorry in advance.
 
B – b alone has no sound, like a h in spanish
B´- make a soft bop noise bay closing your lips and blowing
Xh – sounds like the english ¨sh¨
Q´- a short, throatal ¨k¨ of sharp ¨ch¨ sound separated from the next syllable
Ch´- A sounjd I can only describe like this: ¨tchi¨ (but with a short i and emphasis on the consonants)
X´- make a chic sound, but cut t off your breath. Think beat boxing.
´ – any time you see this, cut off your breath, and quickly.
All vowels – Spanish pronunciation. All short vowels.
 
Hello – Ka che´
How are you – Kam tolelaxh
I´m well – B´an kuxhin
Please – B´anvanil
Shut up – Chiatz´ii
Thank you – Tantixh
I love you – Nun saaxh
I don´t love you, I hate you – ye nun saaxh ni chian vama se
And the most important: Marcos – Kuxh
 
I always knew I had a spiritual connection to that 90´s fad