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.

Field School: Day 10

I need to learn how to cook. If I’m going to come live in Guatemala for any extended length of time, I cannot rely on restaurants. Restaurants offer food of uncertain quality cooked in uncertain conditions, which leads to certain gastrointestinal distress. I’ve learned this the hard way. On the bright side, there is a reliable 24/7 pharmacy near school that is willing to dole out antibiotics to gringas. This, too, I learned the hard way. My performance in Kaqchikel class suffered a bit on Thursday and Friday before I figured that out though. 

Kaqchikel class is amazing. We’ve learned so much in such a short time. I feel like I understand spoken Kaqchikel much better than I can produce it, however. Particularly when I’m called upon in class, all the Kaqchikel just disappears from my reach and I’m stuck floundering around like a goof with strange syllables and complicated verb prefixes. In this, I appreciate (and rue) being surrounded by linguists. Getting a handle on grammatical differences is somewhat simpler when you can ask the linguistics professor sitting next to you… You just can’t expect a LING101 level answer from them, which is admittedly what I probably need. 

I’m getting more comfortable in Patzún as well. I can find my way home from school, from the café where we meet after school, and from the director’s house where we go for lunch. I know how to find the central square, the market, and the grocery store from my house. I know where the most reliable ATM is. I can even find the skateshop and the mill where my host tía goes to grind the corn for tortilla dough. 

My host family is without a doubt amazing. They’re exactly the kind of people I want in my life. My tía went to the grocery store in the other side of town specifically to get rice for me when my stomach was upset. They invite me to come with them whenever they go out, even if it’s just to the little tiendita one street over for firewood. They’ve made me feel extraordinarily welcome in their home. I’m trying to come up with a good gift to get for my tía’s birthday tomorrow, but the only hints my hermanas will give me is that she wants a cake. I guess I’m getting a cake!

Field School: Day 4

My brain is fried. I think I may have mentioned that in a prior blog post, but it’s extra true today. Super fried. Two full days of classes has me feeling like my brain is about to pour out my ears if I tilt it too far to one side. I didn’t write anything except vocabulary and sample sentences in my bullet journal today, which is extraordinarily strange. Normally I have some kind of notes about how my day was, where I went, interesting things that happened… None of that today. Just notes upon notes about Kaqchikel vocabulary.

We did go over numbers today, which made me so extraordinarily happy as to actually dance around and clap. I was so thrilled to actually know something in advance and be able to help people out a little bit that weren’t catching on. There will be a whole post about Mayan numerals and what’s going on there, so stay tuned.


The family dynamic is getting a little easier as well. I have a tía (aunt) and two hermanas (sisters) as well as a sobrino (nephew) now.

Field School: Day 3


We got our Mayan names today! I’m absolutely thrilled with mine, even though I’ve known it for a whole year already. It’s a combination of my Mayan birthday (9 N’oj) with the classifier for “woman”. So, now my name is Ixnoj and I’m extraordinarily happy about it.

We’ve been learning how to do introductions and how to say here we’re from.


A full day of classes is, without a doubt, exhausting. In addition to introductions and where we’re from, we also learned school supply vocabulary and a few verbs like “run”, “jump”, and “swim”. We’ve left school and left for a little cafe near the school where we’re all just kind of collapsing. We’re going over our logistics and the details of the experience. I’m one of three non-linguists here, and the only one that’s going to stay on for the research portion, so I’m feeling a considerable bit of Impostor Syndrome. We just went around and described our research plans and mine was… well. It was different.

I’m starting to fit in a little more, I think. My personality is coming out more frequently and in more strength; I think everyone knows to point out ice cream vendors to me because I will more than likely immediately contribute to the local economy.


Today I successfully found the way home from the café. I only had to use the map twice, but once was to try to track down the skateshop that I saw yesterday so I could stop in and see what they had. Nothing exciting or even quality, and a walmart-level board would cost me bespoke-level money, so looks like I’m walking everywhere. In any case, I got home by myself and it’s a source of pride. On my way home, I also popped into the candle shop and said “ütz, matyöx” to the shop girl when she handed me the right candle I wanted. I was promptly interrogated by some very curious elderly Kaqchikel men as to why I was learning Kaqchikel and how long I’d be in town and where I was from… I got to bust out some vocabulary that I learned today and I think I used it properly! Progress!

Today’s Vocabulary

Rïn – yo, I
rat – tú/usted, you
rija’ – él/ella, she/he
röj – nosotros, we
rïx – ustedes, you all (formal)
rije’ – ellos/ellas, they

ja’ – sí, yes
manäq – no
achike – cómo/qué, cuál, quién; how/what, which, who
akuchi’ – donde, dónde; where
aj akuchi’ –  a donde, from where

tijoxel – estudiante, student
tijonel – maestro, teacher
tinamït – pueblo, town

nub’i’ – mi nombre, my name
ab’i’ – tu nombre, your name
rub’i’ – su nombre, their name (singular)
qab’i’ – nuestro nombre, our name
ib’i’ – nombres de ustedes, their name (plural, formal)
kib’i’ – nombres de ellos/ellas, their name (plural, informal)

nutinamit – mi pueblo, my town
atinamit –
tu/su pueblo, your town
rutinamit – 
su pueblo (de él/ella), his/her pueblo
quatinamit – nuestro pueblo, our town
itinamit – su pueblo (de ustedes), their town (formal, plural)
kitiniamit – su pueblo (de ellas/ellos), their down (informal, plural)


Field School: Day 2 First Day of School


Oh god its early. The town starts making noise at 5am sharp and the church across the street has some really loud bells at 6. Waking up might have been a welcome relief from the bed though; I normally sleep with a very thick pillow and mine here is maybe a half inch thick. I slept with my airplane neck pillow. I’m sure I’ll become accustomed but it’s a sharp change from Hotel Barceló.

I just had my first “hot shower”, which involved Doña Maria Louisa waking up early to heat up water on the stove and put it into a large bucket in the bathroom. Then I used a small bucket to dump the hot water into myself. Invigorating! I need shower shoes, and it seems that my brand new travel towel has found a new owner.

Time for breakfast and the walk to school! My host sister Glenda and host nephew Daniel will be walking me to school the first time so I don’t get lost… Daniel goes to school there too so we might be walking there together a lot!


My brain hurts. The q and the k noises are really difficult to differentiate and make noises unlike anything in English. We’ve learned how to do greetings for the morning, afternoon, and the night, and when we return from lunch and buying cellphones we’ll do “My name is…”.

There were demonstrations of the salutations and then were plucked to greet each other, which was a little anxiety provoking when you can’t wrap your head around the noises quite yet.


Xseqër k’a – Good morning
Xqaq’ij k’a – Good afternoon
Xokoq’a – Good evening
ütz – good
matyöx – thank you

Person 1: Xseqer k’a. (Good morning to you.)
Person 2: Xseqer matyöx. (Good morning, thanks.)
Person 1: La ütz awäch? (How are you?)
Person 2: Ütz, matyöx. La ütz awäch rat? (Good, thanks? And how are you?)
Person 1: Ütz, matyöx. (Good, thanks.)
Person 2: Matyöx k’a ri’. (Thanks for asking.)

There’s lot of thanking and such involved in greeting people, apparently. Very formulaic.


After 3 hours of congregating at the phone store, we all have Guatemalan phones or SIM cards! We’ve exchanged numbers and have started texting each other and our homestay families. I also picked up a little modem so I can use the internet on my laptop, which will be super helpful when I find the time to actually grade assignments for the class I’m TAing (it’s Intro to Psychology so there’s tons of assignments and graded discussions and quizzes). I wasn’t looking forward to grading exams from my phone, to be sure. Anyways, now if we get lost in town we can call each other for help. It took so long we didn’t get to return to school for more class. It’s the first day and we’re behind already!


There’s been a lot of walking today. My homestay family lives about a 15 minute walk from the school and a 20 minute walk from Don Pedro’s place, and I went back and forth a few times (including going once with Doña Maria Luisa to the mill to get the corn ground for tortilla dough.

Daniel is reminding me more and more of Bana and Catie simultaneously. He played the Endless Spanish game on my phone for a while then got distracted and tried to start playing other games and messing with my bank app; I think I need to download some kind of child lock on my phone!