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As Easy as A, B, Si

A town square anchored the grid of streets down near the river, with residential streets leading off the corners. Heading uphill, one or two houses on every tightly packed block stood out with fresh paint or a recent addition. These were the families with someone "away," meaning at work in the United States and sending money back through the heavily guarded Western Union office in the town down the road.

Here and there a saddled horse was tied up, still being the preferred conveyance for some of the weathered old men who rode in from the campo for supplies or to tie on a Sunday drunk. One clopped by as the newbies found their school.

A caretaker walks the grounds of Hacienda San Lucas, an old ranch house in Honduras that provides an ideal respite for visitors enrolled in the Spanish-language school in the nearby village of Copan. (Ann Hendrix-Jenkins)

_____Copan, Honduras_____
The Mayans' Second City

A few minutes later, a tall man with a trim black mustache and shy smile pulled up in a white van. "Bienvenido a Copan," said Hector Cueva, the town's unofficial tour guide, the personable son of one the founding families and an all-around entrepreneur. He loaded their few bags and -- with the kids still showing no signs of planting their feet and insisting on being taken to Disney World -- took them to meet their adoptive families.

"We didn't really know how the kids were going to react," said Katie. "Suddenly they were in a completely alien setting where no one spoke their language. But they didn't miss a beat."

The only address Katie would ever know of the house where she and her two children would live for a fortnight was "Ernesto and Sara's house." That was enough for any tuk-tuk driver to find it. A low, neat stucco house about a mile uphill from the school, it had an open hammock-filled courtyard shared by the laundry, the carport and a wing of small bedrooms. The couple takes in Spanish school students to beef up their retirement income. Their daughters Sanya, 22, and Dulce, 5, lived there, along with Yvon, the 3-year-old daughter of a son who was in North Carolina. He sent regular care packages from the Asheville Payless ShoeSource.

"They only had a few toys in the house," said Katie, "but they had lots of clogs, go-go boots, tennis shoes and flip-flops."

They did have cable television. Cole practiced his nascent language skills watching the Disney Channel en español with Yvon, and Katie honed hers translating "Spider-Man 2" to an enraptured Ernesto and Sara.

School's In

Three blocks away, Hector dropped Ann, Isabel and Tyrie at their temporary home, which turned out to be Hector's own house -- a gleaming two-story edifice with a sturdy iron gate and long views of the valley. The interior was cool white tile under high white ceilings, with downstairs rooms for Hector and his wife Elda, their daughter Cecilia, 4, and Tito, 10, and a separate suite of rooms upstairs for the visitors. Isabel, Tyrie and Cecilia quickly vaulted the communications barrier with the common language of thrill-seeking, swinging each other wildly on an upper porch hammock. For hours, Tyrie and Cecilia would run laps around the hallways, shrieking one of the handful of words they had taught each other: "Once! Once!" (Eleven! Eleven!) or "Pequena, pequena! Grande, grande!" (Small, small! Large, large!).

This house had cable, too. And a broadband Internet connection. (Hector, they would learn, was doing well in the tuk-tuk taxi biz.)

"After all the groundwork I'd laid with the kids about some houses not having the same kind of toilets or windows that we do, we ended up in a place nicer than our own," said Ann.

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