cow barn we students grinned at the opportunity to finally utilize animal vocabulary. I pointed and yelled “waakax” (which means cow) excitedly. When I looked back for adulation, our Nahualeño teachers were instead looking at the “ja’” (river), which was full of “kiik” (blood) from slaughtering the cows.
Bottled water has been a staple.
Following the “ronojel q’iij” (every day) thirst of water, I get my washcloth and walk downstairs into the courtyard. In the courtyard there are two washing stations with spouts – one for food and dishes, one for bathing and laundry. There is a maid at each one every morning when I wake up, no matter how early. Leaning against the bathing sink is Dorka, washing the family’s clothes. Her real name is Dora, but Naan Talin (Mother Talin) can’t pronounce a Spanish “r,” which sounds more like a “sh” in K’ichee’, so she sticks a “k” in to make it easier.
Dorka is a small girl between 8-12 years old. Some days she seems much older, like when she’s doing her chores. But some days she looks at the other kids playing and she can’t be a day older than 7. She never tells me her real age, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind to me when nobody is watching. I wet my washcloth and rub it over my face. “La utz awach?” (How are you?). She stares at me. She knows I know she won’t respond. She won’t respond because she thinks it’s a stupid question. She won’t respond because I’ve already been around two weeks. I shouldn’t be asking such simple questions anymore. She won’t respond because to her, it’s obvious. Of course she’s not “utz” (good). She’s washing people’s underwear.
“Xinkoosik,” says Dorka. I scrunch my face, close my eyes, and put my left hand on my forehead. I don’t know what she’s saying. “Na weta’m taj” (I don’t know), I say. She draws her soapy hands out of the water and looks at me angrily. “Chaakuyuu numaak” (Pardon me/sorry), I say. She waves her hands in the air “Xinkoosik!” I squint my eyes and stare at her deeply and mumble “Xinkoosik…Xin-koos-ik. Ahhhh! La xatkoosik?” (Are you tired?). She looks, smiles quickly, and picks up the knob of soap again, “Jee, Xinkoosik”.
I smile and give her a thumbs up. It’s not until I get back to my room that I realize that I gave her a thumbs up to her telling me she’s tired. I wonder if 'thumbs up' is a thing here. Nonverbal communication is a HUGE deal in Nahualá. In any conversation it’s normal to point using your lower lip when referring to objects in the room. When speaking about trees, it is custom to lift one’s palm, flattened to the sky. When talking about a dog, or other animals, it’s customary to point to the animal with all five fingers in a flattened, spread fan manner. Then, there are all the derogatory hand signs that are made.
Due to my proclivity for that which is interestingly crude, it has taken a mere week to learn most of the vulgar words and hand signs in K’ichee’. Of course these are rarely used, and only ever among close friends. The Nahualeño teachers help me out with that. Later that day at school during our 15-minute-long break that frequently runs to 30 due to impromptu soccer games, I huddle in a corner with aXuan and aTe’k, and ask them about vulgarities as we sip coffee and eat fresh sweet bread. I convince them it’s because I want to more fully understand K’ichee’ and its intricacies. It works. aTe’k shoots me the five fingers in a flattened, spread fan hand sign. I think about it for a second. aXuan whispers “tz’i’” (dog). Oh.
He’s calling me a female dog.
Most of what is to be learned about cuss-words in K’ichee’ is similar to that in English and can be easily guessed.
Tz’ikin (n) bird
Pruta (n) banana
B’aaq (adj) thin; (n) bone, needle
All these mean essentially the same thing. But the most interesting are the ones that aren’t so obvious.
T’oot’ (n) snail, vagina