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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine July/August 2007
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Family-Friendly Spanish Schools in Latin America

Combine Spanish with Weaving

A Mother and Son Discover Mayan Culture in Guatemala

Christopher with loom in Guatemala
Maria and Antonio help Christopher perfect his technique on the backstrap loom.

Many visitors come to Guatemala to attend Spanish classes at one of the many excellent language schools. Upon arrival, they encounter a proliferation of intricate textiles that abound throughout the highlands; few realize that they can combine an interest in these colorful handicrafts and learn Spanish at the same time. Through weaving lessons, travelers can practice their Spanish while creating a unique memento of their immersion in traditional Mayan culture.

After my 9-year-old son, Christopher, expressed a desire to try his hand at weaving, I immediately jumped at the chance to spend time with him cultivating this craft. A quick Internet and guidebook search led us to the Weaving Center and Museum run by the Cojolya Association. The center is located in the small spiritual village of Santiago on the shore of Lago Atitlán, a well-photographed idyllic lake surrounded by cone-shaped volcanic mountains. By providing indigenous women with a viable income through weaving lessons and sales the Cojolya Association strives to revitalize this important aspect of Mayan culture. The founder and Creative Director, Candis Krummel, explained that we would pay a small fee to purchase the basic kit, including a backstrap loom and yarn, and an hourly wage of approximately $5 for the lessons. We decided to spend about four hours every morning in class for a week (Monday through Friday), leaving our afternoons free to explore the area.

Eager to begin weaving, we met Candis at the appointed time on a Monday morning and agreed on our projects. Using an interpreter to translate her native dialect into Spanish for us, our patient teacher, Maria, took us through the complicated process of preparing the threads.

Like any learning experience, our days were full of triumphs and tribulations. When the inevitable problem arose, Maria quietly reassured us with her “¡No tenga pena!” and corrected the error. Twice Christopher became frustrated with the demands placed on his little fingers, but he quickly pulled himself together and persevered until he produced a beautiful piece of art. In hindsight, we agreed that he probably should have started with a smaller project, like a scarf, which is easier and less physically demanding than our wider wall hangings. However, this was all part of the process of discovery. In contrast, because I am experienced in crocheting, I soon fell into rhythm and found the process quite relaxing. Without noise from electronics or other demands on my time, I quietly meditated as I watched the exquisite cloth grow in my hands.

Besides supporting an important cause and learning a new craft, our time spent in Santiago was quite enjoyable and productive in other ways as well. The Hotel Bambú provided a tropical escape from the bustle of dusty Santiago. Every day we awoke to birdcalls and soaked in the views of hibiscus and bougainvillea, then enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the terrace overlooking the lake. After classes, we often relaxed by the pool and chatted with the friendly hotel staff, who shared our enthusiasm in our newly cultivated talents. They spoke of their own family history and the importance of weaving to their ancestors. In addition to these impromptu Spanish lessons, we were also able to practice the language and learn about the diversity of Guatemala with Maria and two other professional women from the capital who attended a few hours of classes as well. Furthermore, a visit to Maximón provided an interesting insight into local folklore, although perhaps not necessarily a child-friendly experience. Instead, trips to the local markets and a boat tour to neighboring lakeside communities proved fun for kids and adults alike. While we were only there a week, Christopher and I came away with a depth of knowledge about the native culture in addition to practical skills. We now proudly display our handiwork on our wall at home, inviting our guests to share in our newfound delight and appreciation of an ancient Mayan tradition.

Maria with loom.
Maria strengthens the threads with a mixture of ground corn and water.

For More info

Cojolya Assoc. of Maya Woman Weavers:
Weaving Center & Museum & Gift Shop (Open Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., free admission,

Chi Nim Ya:
Santiago Atitlán
Sololá, Guatemala
Tel/fax: 502-721-7268 or 49-95-717
Located just a short walk up from the boat docks, on the left-hand side before you arrive at a main street. U.S. mailing address: 8256 NW 30th Terrace, Miami, FL 33122.

Hotel Bambú:
Km. 16, Carretera San Lucas Toliman
Santiago, Atitlán, Sololá, Guatemala
502-7721-7332 or 502-7721-7333

Bring Your Own Children: South America! A Family Sabbatical Handbook
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