30 noviembre 2011 miercoles
Although we have exported much of American culture to far-flung places like Guatemala….Thanksgiving per se has yet to arrive here. Celebration in the company of friends and family over a meal is actually quite customary here, just subtract the extravagant quantity of food and add in some tortillas and beans!! Perhaps we should adopt more of this practice in our everyday lives given how many Americans cite this as their favorite holiday.
Briefly I considered chasing down a turkey (maybe literally!) in my town to serve up a feast to my Guatemalan friends, but my desire to commune with other Americans won out…it’s the one day that I want to reaffirm my American roots and eat the bounty from our tierra. With new American friends, Nancy and Dale, we boarded the camioneta (chicken bus…or turkey bus?) to head north to the beautiful valleys and towns in Quiche, with Nebaj as our destino. Last year’s feast had left a pleasant taste in my memory, so it was worth a return visit.
Nebaj is famous for the striking traje or Mayan outfits of their women…either a deep red or maroon corte (skirt) with a few simple lines, an embroidered huipil (blouse) and festive pompoms as a headdress. A plaque in the parque states: “Cuña del traje más bello en el mundo.” (Cradle of the most beautiful Mayan outfit in the world.) This ice cream vendor very sweetly posed for a photo…and then proudly smiled with her husband at her side. None of the usual reticence!
Memory snapshots include: a volleyball game at dusk in front of the town iglesia, vendors hawking ice cream and atol (hot drink of rice and sweet milk) for 1 quetzal ($.15), and a swirl of red cortes as women and girls walked by. Many scenes shall only be remembered and not captured on film in order to afford some privacy to Nebaj residents…I was unwilling to intrude excessively, for this is their daily life and not a spectacle for tourists. Such is the delicate balancing act. A precious moment was chatting with a little girl of 6yrs old who had her very blond doll baby in a colorful woven sling on her back, already practicing maternal skills…I sure wished the doll more resembled her but the stores seldom carry brown-eyed, darker-skinned dolls. Hmm…not exactly a message of acceptance of Mayan appearance.
Thanksgiving feast was all I hoped for…even seconds on stuffing spiced to perfection. Sniff, only the cranberry sauce was missing, apparently unavailable to even Don, the well-connected host. A children’s choir serenaded us post-feast with American and translated tunes. I particularly enjoyed the Guatemalan version of “This Land Was Made for You and Me”…showcasing and nurturing cultural pride. The TV remained off, so the football games had to wait, however, the fast-paced word game of “Bananagrams” completed the holiday. Friendly arguments erupted whether words could be spelled up or down, and whether such words even existed! Yes, just like home. Our gang of Peace Corps volunteers and visitors headed to a club for some dancing to burn off those turkey calories…what a delight to enjoy some meringue, bachata and salsa on Thanksgiving. I was very thankful!
Side trips to a waterfall and a cheese farm on other days kept us busy…and yes, I am VERY thankful for the quick reaction of the mother of the nauseous infant to direct her stream towards the door of the van, soaking my pants only slightly. The windy mountain roads can take a toll! A different van trip included people hanging two deep out the door. Soon, the sardine act became unbearable and we jumped out to finish the trip on foot, so much more pleasant. Often people bearing heavy loads of leña (firewood) trudged by…I loved a Canadian’s telling of how he relieved a boy of his load and carried it with a forehead sling as most do, walking with the family to their destination. Neighbors stared in amazement and asked with envy, “Where did you get THAT Gringo?” Clearly he was hot property for rental.
In honor of Nebaj, I wanted to add their colorful corte to my wardrobe…and yes, I have already worn it back in my site (minus the headdress of pom poms which were purchased by my friend, Nancy). So I am very thankful for this opportunity of a lifetime to live and work amongst Guatemalans, gaining a deep appreciation of the physical and spiritual beauty of the people and their land. Also muchas gracias to my new friends, Dale and Nancy, and letting me play tour guide. For all my friends and family back in the U.S., thank you for your continued interest and support…please keep me in your thoughts and prayers! Upon my return home to my site last Sunday, I was mobbed in a group hug by Silvia who lives next door and my little friends, Yoselin and Shevlin. Heart-warming!!
Soon I shall enjoy such bear hugs from my two children who shall visit my adopted home to enjoy a Christmas together. Sí, tengo que dar gracias para mucho en mi vida…So much to be thankful for….a very special Día de Gracias!!