Field Work Day 27: Leaving

I’m writing this while procrastinating packing. It’s a necessary procrastination, as much of my wardrobe is still dripping wet on the clothesline from being washed 2 days ago. Unless the sun makes a particularly convincing appearance today, I may be traveling to Florida with a trash bag full of wet clothes in my luggage. 

Laundry issues aside, I’m really going to miss Patzún. The little town has come to feel like home over the last month. Walking everywhere, greeting almost everyone as you pass with a “¡Xseq’ër k’a!” or “¡Xqa q’ij k’a!”, starting to recognize people as the days go by, developing favorite afternoon hangouts in the central park or the little café, learning where the good bread and cakes are sold… Knowing a town in detail makes it grow on you. 

(I can’t embed these photos from my phone so you’ll have to wait until I have wifi for this to look pretty)

I feel like I have family here- two sisters, an aunt, and a nephew. They’ve helped me recover from illness twice, included me in family events, and chatted with me around the dinner table. We’ve talked about divorces, boyfriends, kids, politics, earthquakes and hurricanes, differences between “here” and “there”… I’ve played soccer and “caballeros y princesas” with Daniel, and with matchbox cars, play dough, the games on my phone… I’m going to miss them. 

I’m going to miss the field school folks too, all dozen-plus students and the Kaqchikel teachers and the faculty involved. We’ve all made good friends and come together to help each other as best we can, even when our research interests are different. 

But I’ll be back again next year in June. 

Field Work Recipe: Lava-roasted Marshmallows and Chocolate Chip Cookie Smores

Prep Time: 4~ hours (2 hours driving from Patzún, 2 hours hiking, 5 minutes cook time)


  • 1 accessible heat vent on an active volcano (I used Pacaya)
  • Stick for roasting marshmallows
  • Hiking shoes/boots
  • Spending money for the Lava Store
  • Drinking water (and lots of it!)


  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate chip cookies


  1. Acquire your chocolate chip cookies and marshmallows a day in advance. If you can’t make your own, store-bought is fine (Maxi-Despensa in Patzún carries Jet-Puft and Chips-ahoy).
  2. Rise at 4am and catch the 4:30 chartered bus from Patzún to Pacaya.
  3. Watch the sunrise over the milpas in Patzicia.
  4. Upon arrival at Pacaya, avoid the offers of “taxis” (horses)  at the base of the volcano. That’s cheating. Take the kids up on the offer of a hiking stick though.
  5. Find your guide. He should be wearing a green vest and a Parque Nacional Pacaya badge.
  6. Set off up the volcano for 2.6km at 60°F in June, temperature may vary depending on season.
  7. Take pictures of Volcanes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango if it’s not too cloudy. The view from the western face is to die for.
  8. Collect some sticks for your marshmallow roasting if your guide doesn’t. He should though.
  9. Watch out when the ground gets gravelly and ashy. Your feet can and will slip around a bit.
  10. Arrive at the lava flow and the Lava Store and check out some surprisingly cool lava jewelry.
  11. Your guide should point out the best heat vent- it’s close to the grassy hill on the north side of the lava flow.
  12. Spear your marshmallows and hold the over the heat vent for a few minutes, to your desired level of meltiness. Watch out- its hot!
  13. Take two cookies and squish a melted marshmallow between the two.
  14. Enjoy!
  15. Hike the rest of the way up the volcano (it’s REALLY steep and ashy here so watch your step), take pictures of the smoking cone, then hike back down!

Field Work: Day 23 Part 2, The Good Stuff

While data collection morale is at an all time low, the “vacation” aspect of this trip has been going quite well. Over the weekend we visited Universidad del Valle Guatemala- Altiplano for a conference-type thing and spent the night in Antigua. I gave a presentation at UVG on my research and why I’m interested in it, in Spanish, which was a massively anxiety-provoking event.

Luckily I had some borrowed Xanax, so when my presentation time came I was cool as a cucumber. About the same time I started to feel flustered (about halfway through my presentation) a loud marimba band kicked up right outside the door, which gave me time to recollect my thoughts and get back into a proper groove. I also got to make a joke about doing the rest of my presentation in interpretive dance, which was fun.

From UVG we went to Antigua. The bus ride was long and only semi-torturous towards the end when we got stuck in traffic in Chimaltenango, but reggaeton and Trivial Pursuit helped us keep our sanity.

We went out drinking and dancing on Friday night. I’ve decided that Café No Sé is my very favorite bar on the planet. It was dark as all hell inside, they only serve beer & mezcal, and they had old school 40’s-50’s bluesy rock playing over the speakers, in addition to a live jazz band up front. There’s also an attached bookstore that offers a free beer when you buy a book worth 40Q or more!

Dancing was also very fun; it was the first time I’ve ever been and I bought a “fancy” dress just for the occasion. Towards the end of the night, one fellow did get extremely handsy and wasn’t listening to my “NO” that I was shouting over the salsa music, so I ended up grabbing his hand and biting it. Apparently hard biting gets the message across, in case you ever need to fend off overly-touchy salsa dancers.

On Saturday morning, despite all the mezcal and tequila the night before, I felt excellent and alive enough to hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz.

Antigua is so beautiful from Cerro de La Cruz, even when Volcan de Agua is covered with clouds.

A post shared by Emily Speed (@em42speed) on Jun 17, 2017 at 1:44pm PDT

I spent the rest of the day sort of aimlessly wandering, showing others in the group around the city, and buying souvenirs and gifts for people back home (in Patzún and in the States!).

I did get pickpocketed about 300Q at some point, didn’t buy a set of brass knuckles that I really wanted to get and in retrospect totally should have, and for lunch on Sat I had a side salad that made Saturday night and Sunday completely miserable, but it can’t all be perfect all the time, can it?


The collapsed roof of the cathedral in Antigua #Guatemala #USUsummer #AggieTravel #UMDfieldschool

A post shared by Emily Speed (@em42speed) on Jun 17, 2017 at 4:43pm PDT


Field Work: Day 23 Data Doldrums

So, the school that was arranged for me to do data collection in seems to be a bust in general. There’s Kaqchikel in use in the classrooms, but anecdotally they don’t seem to be in use during lessons. Not having permission to observe lessons themselves, I’m not entirely sure there’s any Kaqchikel content being taught. Any Kaqchikel use is certainly not in math lessons- one of the young girls I spoke to could only count to 5 in Kaqchikel.

Of course, I haven’t been able to collect any data yet at all, now going into my second week of data collection time. I’ve only had 4 consent forms signed and returned, and only 2 of those have answered phone calls regarding setting up appointments. I do (finally) have appointments set up for tomorrow and Wednesday afternoon. Gods willing those kids actually show up.

There does seem to be another problem with the school. It’s a Catholic school, taught by nuns. I didn’t arrange for this school, and it was the only one made available to me besides one that would be an hour’s bus trip away. There’s just something a little culturally OFF about a Catholic school purporting itself to do culturally sensitive bilingual education in a Latin American country that they assisted in the conquest of. The education here is probably slightly closer to the quality to that of the education in the public schools in the states that I’ll be comparing my data to, but without actual observations of the classrooms I just cannot be sure.

In any case, the data from the 2+ that I get here won’t be great and won’t be immediately comparable to data collected in Utah. It’ll be more like a case study… which would be okay if I actually had a more detailed questionnaire or any sort of approved plan for qualitative data collection.

This is great. Everything is fine.

Field Work: Day 17 The Research Begins

Update: The title changed from “Field School: Day X” to “Field Work: Day X” to indicate the change in content of my days here. Instead of taking language classes, I’m conducting my investigations and collecting data!

Kaqchikel classes came to a bittersweet end on Friday. Honestly I could do with another few months of classes but definitely not to the same extent of immersion that these were. After two weeks, we were all quite happy to see the tail end of eight hour days of seemingly nonstop Kaqchikel. To celebrate, we got a pizza, a cake, and a piñata! Jokes were made about filling the piñata with ceviche, but luckily for us all we went for the more traditional candy filling. We also wrote little “matyoxinika” or “thank you speeches” that we read out to our teachers and to the class. Unfortunately I got nervous when I read mine and skipped a line… but that’s okay. We all mess up sometimes, especially when we’re doing public speaking in a language we’ve only been speaking for two weeks!

It’s amazing how much we learned in nine and a half days of classes though. Unfortunately because I’m not a linguist like my fellow group members, I’m not doing a linguistics project that requires my speaking in depth with my host family in Kaqchikel, so I don’t think I learned at the same depth and it’s escaping me a little faster than it is the others. My host family and I are still using Kaqchikel together, even more so than during classes… I think they could tell that I was disappointed that classes were over and wanted to keep helping me learn.

On the bright side, my own research project started bright and early this morning when I went to the bilingual school at 7 am to talk to the principal about using the facilities after the school day. After I drop my informed consent letters off with the kids shortly and get them back tomorrow morning, I will be able to start talking to kids about their numerical knowledge and asking them all sorts of fun math questions! Hopefully I’ll be able to get 10-15 kids run through my procedure before my time here is up and I have to return to Utah.

While I might not be getting the 40 children I’d hoped for, I’m having exactly as much fun as expected, if not more. Coming to Patzún with 14 other graduate students has resulted in a lot of unexpected entertainment, like threats of ceviche-filled piñatas, our laughter when Kawoq says “tachapan” and makes grabby-hands motions, and even at our own horrible grammar and pronunciation mistakes.

We’ve also gone on a few adventures, on our own and in groups. On June 4, we visited the Reserva Natural Atítlan in Panajachel and the weaving co-ops in San Juan La Laguna. I loved the nature reserve; despite having spent more than 4 weeks total in Pana, I’d never visited before. The waterfalls and rope bridges were a total surprise, and seeing spider monkeys and coati roam around in the jungly underbrush was delightful. While walking through the windy hiking paths in the reserves, it was hard not to imagine a hunter quietly walking through the jungle with me, spear at the ready for some unknown prey. It seemed to me that a jaguar could leap out at any moment, even though the nature reserve is closed off and there are no jaguars near Panajachel anymore.

Rope bridge across a waterfall #UMDfieldschool #Guatemala #USUsummer

A post shared by Emily Speed (@em42speed) on Jun 4, 2017 at 9:59am PDT


As always, crossing the lake from Panajachel to San Juan La Laguna was my favorite part of the day. Having grown up near the water, I’ve spent a bit of time on boats and never truly seen the appeal (apart from one sailing lesson after which I would have sailed every day but somehow, never managed to get onto a sailboat again). However, something about the lake just speaks to me on a really spiritual level. Maybe it’s the volcanoes that border the lake.

I’m in love with a lake. #USUsummer #UMDfieldschool #AggieTravel

A post shared by Emily Speed (@em42speed) on Jun 4, 2017 at 10:53am PDT


Last Wednesday (June 7) we visited the aj q’ij, the daykeeper that keeps track of the Mayan calendar, advises people on what to do on certain days, and performs ceremonies. He told us about how the chol q’ij, or sacred Mayan calendar, works and described some of the personality attributes that are associated with people born on each of the 20 days. This is something I happen to know a bit about already, having done some of my own research on the Mayan calendar system and how it relates to the development of the base-20 numerical system (hint: it has to do with Venus!), but it was awesome to hear it firsthand from a knowledgeable source instead of reading it from some website or in a book.

Visiting the Aj Q’ij, the day keeper. #Guatemala #mayancalendar #USUsummer #UMDfieldschool

A post shared by Emily Speed (@em42speed) on Jun 7, 2017 at 9:14am PDT


Last weekend, some of us visited Iximché while others attended a wedding here in Patzún. I visited Iximché last April with Habitat for Humanity, but apparently visiting during the rainy season is where it’s at. The grass was green and lush, and the fog and clouds hung over the temple making everything seem perhaps even more ancient and powerful than it is.

Temple 1, Iximche. #USUsummer #UMDfieldschool #AggieTravel #Guatemala

A post shared by Emily Speed (@em42speed) on Jun 10, 2017 at 10:31am PDT


Between Iximché and the nature reserve and the lake, it’s becoming more and more obvious why the post-Classisal Kaqchikel Mayans would blossom here. I don’t mean to get mystical, but there’s just something profoundly spiritual about this place. So many people here in Patzún still speak Kaqchikel despite the constant linguistic pressure of Spanish, still wear the traditional clothes despite the cultural pressure from the north… Even in the cities and the towns where the Spanish influence is unavoidable, there’s always this feeling for me that something ancient and powerful is going on in the background. But it’s just the volcano Acatenango, quietly sleeping on the southeast horizon.