A Little Respect Goes A Long Way

Tzutujil, the local Mayan dialect, is a difficult language to learn.  It is full of glottal clicks and percussive vowels.  At some point I will have the time to sit myself down with a teacher for four hours a day and train my brain to accept it.  For now, I content myself with the few phrases I need to respectfully greet and thank the people I am meeting and documenting daily.  I sit while Juan asks them questions in Tzutujil and they answer at length in the same language.  Occasionally words stand out, lifted from Spanish.  “Respeto,” “Dios,” “Iglesia.”  The three predominant themes.  I sit quietly and listen.  These people obviously have so much to say.  I wonder how often someone just sits and listens to them, as we do, for a half hour, or an hour.  I wonder if there is any other repository of their words akin to the videos I am collecting.  Rene tells me there is someone here who could take all the videos and extract the salient bits from each and put them together in to a cohesive documentary.  This would be amazing.  I don’t think I can afford his services, though.  So the daily ritual continues.  Two interviews a day, translations at night, soon building pages for the book.

Don Francisco Chavajay is 98 years old and sharp as a tack.  He had memorized all the questions and dove right in to his responses with a clarity and energy I haven’t always seen from people in their 70s and 80s.  He spoke for almost 20 minutes without stopping.  Juan tells me he is a sacerdote Maya, or Mayan priest.  I am not completely clear what that means at this point.  His altar was very Catholic, unlike the shaman I interviewed on my last visit here, but he does lead ceremonies of some sort.  I’m still waiting for the translation of his interview, and I will explore this more later.

Now I need to practice saying “good afternoon” in Tzutujil.


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