Sunday, February 26, 2012

T'saan : Mayan for beginners

I had been waiting for a long time for a chance to attend one of the "Conversations with friends" nights at the Mérida English Language Library. They run for a couple of hours every Monday night. Conversaciones is for people who want to practice their Spanish or their English skills. I wondered how that would work, and which language would predominate.

We arrived late-ish (myself and friends Gail and Alfredo, also first-timers) and it was surprising to see about a dozen tables full of people, already in full gabfest mode. We were hived off to a couple of tables with people we hadn't met before.

There were no rules, the conversation just went back and forth from English to Spanish. More English than I would have preferred, though no doubt it varies from table to table, and week to week. One of our table-mates, Pablo, was pretty quiet, especially when the conversation was in English. But we got to talking about common Mayan words and Pablo was like a walking dictionary of the language.

I've been hoping to someday learn at least a bit of Mayan - it's spoken by half a million people here; in fact many Mayan people don't speak a lot of Spanish, so it is very useful to know some. Here are some of my first Mayan words, thanks to Pablo:

maquech - the beetles sold near the Plaza Grande, with tiny artificial jewels glued on their backs.
chan shipa - muchacho, boy
macachi-pek - shut up
purux - a fat person
dzao yan - skinny
mis - cat
ba oosh - how much?
hach ko - too much!
dios bo teek - thanks
chu huk - candy or sweet
choko kin - too hot

Of course these are missing the accents and apostrophes. I haven't noted the emphasis on syllables, and pronunciation - it is such a musical, percussive language. No doubt some of them are mis-spelled or just plain wrong. Corrections and clarifications are welcome.

When I scribbled these words on  my note cards I felt like I had been let in on some big secret. Many people I speak to here in Canada are surprised to learn there are still Mayan people around, or that the language is widely spoken. 

So a couple of months later on another trip back from Mérida I was surprised to find a Spanish/ Maya dictionary in an airport convenience store. Not such a secret after all, I guess. I'm hoping to give the little dictionary a lot of use in the years to come.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Entertaining the ants

The street sign should have warned us
We had a taste-testing event at our house on my latest visit. Our expert panel of testers - thousands of them, actually, were invited to sample three different products. So far the peanut-buttery tasting one is a bigger hit than the sugary one.

Yes, even though there was nothing to eat in the empty house for the past few years, ants have moved in. They are fascinating creatures. It is amazing to see how, in minutes, they find and attack even the tiniest crumb on a counter. Their bizarre fascination with electrical outlets and gadgets. The little highways they follow to go to and from their nests - I could watch them all day long.

I learned quite a bit about ants in Merida from other bloggers  such as Blah...blah... blah...Ginger! and Yucatango. People have different attitudes to them. Some say live and let live, others say bomb the house with insecticides, and there are gradations in between.

My preference is to stay away from heavy-duty pesticides and try to use organic or natural methods to get rid of them. In Canada I buy ant bait made from a combination of sugar and borax (the same stuff you can use to make your laundry whiter without bleach). Ants take it back to the nest and poison the whole colony. It seems to work.

I could not find the borax product in Mérida, so I bought some in Canada and brought it down this time to try it out - three different kinds. I figured the ants in different rooms could try out the options for a week while I'm here and give their reviews. Or preferably, just die.

But this is the tropics, and the bugs and creepy crawlies are in a whole different league.

Over the week-long test, the ants dined enthusiastically on the ant bait, especially the savory kind, and seemed to disappear for a couple of days. But now they are back.

I didn't worry too much about the ants until we discovered the kitchen ceiling fan wasn't working and the reason was, it was clogged with the detritus of ant activity; polvo and bits of... I don't know, ant shit? The fan motor was completely burned out and the whole thing had to be replaced.

They work fast! These new fans were installed just a few months ago. The ant paths include pit stops at several other electrical outlets, so I fear more problems ahead. I had heard about ants chewing the wiring but never quite believed it until now.

So my fence-sitting on the ant question is over. It's time for heavy, or at least heavier artillery before they destroy more of our electrical work. Recommendations, anyone?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The first trip to Mérida

Sorting through papers, I found an old journal from my first trip to Mexico, overland by bus and train with a friend in 1982-83. It's funny reading the first impressions of 23-year-old me.

 Merida, January 24th:Maria Teresa Hotel... it seems so odd. We keep finding coffin shops and funeral parlors next to the hotels we take. There's always the sweet smell of curry when we round the corner next to this one... Progreso tomorrow. This city is very pretty. The man who sold hammocks was very charming... If it rains all the time in Progreso we'll feel at home...

 Rereading this for the first time in decades, I'm surprised  at how few notes I wrote in this journal about Mérida and Progreso. My memories of that first visit have remained so vivid over the years. But this was near the end of a long backpacking journey around the country. I remember being tired of travelling by then, a bit  homesick and missing Tom, who stayed behind in Vancouver. Hard to imagine I was even missing the West Coast rain.

I guess that's why I didn't recognize at the time that some day I would want to bring Tom back to Mérida to stay.

I have such strong memories of the place - the calesas clopping down quiet streets, the abandoned feeling of Progreso in January. I remember our hotel interior had an air of faded grandeur, with a colonnaded second floor balcony, and an old man who every morning slowly pushed a squeegee along the pasta tile floors. I remember the springs poking through the worn-out beds. And nearby, good food, cooked in banana leaves.

I have often tried to remember where the hotel we stayed at was located, and wondered what it's like now. So after unearthing my journal notes I did a quick Google search - found a news story. Yikes!

 Feb, 11, 2011, The Yucatan Times

Of course I see now I've walked past it a hundred times in the past couple of years but didn't recognize it or remember the name. I didn't realize it was such a dive - perhaps the years have not been kind, and it has clearly not become part of the restoration of the historic centre. I will take a peek inside next time I pass.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Postcard from the past

Tom found another old  postcard from Mérida on ebay. I wonder if anyone can identify the location and the buildings in the background?

Could it be around the main market?

I always wish I could somehow walk into these old photos and see and experience the city as it was long ago.