21 septiembre 2013 sabado
Time in Guatemala often seems to exist in a different dimension…the months and years have galloped by quickly, but the pace of an average day is a leisurely trot, even a walk. My eye is now on the finish line. Exactly two months from today I will ring the bell in the Peace Corps office to signal the end of my Peace Corps service…an emotional gesture for those of us who adopted Guatemala as our home for a few years, while trying to make a positive difference in our host communities. A short 3 years and 3 months since I left the USA! Where this will all lead me is an unknown but exciting challenge…that chapter will come after some deserved travel time for adventure and reflection.
So you have probably ascertained from my blog that Guatemalans LOVE fiestas!! The louder the better…and the last two have been no exception.
At the end of August we celebrated our patron saint, San Bartolome. He is both namesake and protector of our little town, so we party in his honor. Young girls competed for the desired position of “Reina” (queen) of this or that school in events called “veladas”. These are elaborate productions to highlight the girls’ talents and entertain the admiring crowd.
On a very rainy night, I attended the velada for the Reina Infantil (Child Queen), sitting in the front row with my sitemate, Bill. My intention was to take pictures and try to stay dry as we sat under the tarp strung across the school playground. Uh oh…not so fast. Two women from my library committee approached me with the oft-dreaded phrase, “Fijese que..” which casually translates to, “Guess what…I have got some bad news or a request of you..” I had noticed two well-dressed men sitting on the stage, clearly serving as judges, and I had also observed the empty chair alongside them. Well, I was now being tapped to fill that chair. The invited judge had not shown up. My friends implored me to serve as judge to offer a female perspective. Fine, I was honored, but now I couldn’t take photos…oh well. I felt rather drab in my turquoise windbreaker next to the men, but I did not regret those extra layers as the rainy evening wore on. There were three tiny candidates ages 5-6 years old, all looking like little dolls. First presentation was each showing up in tipica or Mayan outfit with a little skit. Reenacting Mayan spiritual ceremonies each acted out an offering of corn to the four directions of the world. Serious business to celebrate their culture…smiles were tucked away until later.
Next up was “fantasia”….we were treated to a skit with Tinkerbell, another with dancing fruits and vegetables, and the last one I’ve already forgotten. As these presentations unfolded, the night sky let loose a furious rain. The blue tarps were perforated with holes like a colander so the poor audience was getting soaked, trying to move away from the showers and popping open their umbrellas. Seated on stage, I was dry under a metal roof but I felt quite guilty for my privileged position. But the show must go on.
Last presentation was each girl traipsing down the aisle in her traje de gala (evening gown) on the arm of her caballero (escort). These coifed miniature princesses dressed in finery offered a preview of their 15th birthday celebrations ten years in the future. Holding in some chuckles, I watched with bemusement an over-the-top entrance of one candidate. A canopied twin bed was lifted onto the stage so that the little reina could act out Sleeping Beauty. She lay still on the bed until her prince kissed her and once awakened, she stretched and then took her seat on stage with the other reinas who sat regally on the stage, shivering from the cold. Some coats quickly appeared.
Each reina candidate gave a brief speech, obviously written by parents. But they delivered their lines on caring for the environment and more with passion even if the topic was beyond their comprehension. Judging time! Each of us had to rank the aspiring reinas on: creatividad, seguridad (self-assuredness), coordinacion, etc. Thankfully we three judges were unanimous in our choice. Phew! Sadly, most of the crowd had slipped out, tired off being wet and cold, so it only about 30 people were present to applaud the choice of Lluvia, the new Reina Infantil…her name literally means “Rain.” So appropriate.
Other highlights from the San Bartolo feria were attending other veladas, the parade with drum-banging and xylophone-playing bands, snacking on fair food, and of course, the annual tradition of baking with my little Patulup friends to sell our treats to earn them spending money. Last year’s production: 2 carrot cakes. This year: 3 carrot cakes and 1 banana cake. Secret to our success was selling straight out of the oven. Who can resist a warm piece of cake? Each child thus earned Q72 or nearly $10 which is a LOT of money for them. Their eyes hungrily scanned all the options of toys, food, and games…and they sampled it all! Their first purchases brought happy smiles. Customers still asked for more cake, but basta! I had reached my saturation point with baking and just wanted to enjoy feria, too. As my third and final feria in San Bartolo wound down; I felt like I belonged here.
Three weeks later, all of Guatemala celebrated Dia de Independencia on September 15th…although the whole month of September is actually designated for the celebration. This time I headed to Antigua at the invitation of a professor from Seattle Pacific University to offer a presentation to her visiting students. An offer of the friendly company of fellow Seattleites, food and lodging, and spending the fiesta in Antigua…well, it was an easy YES. More parades with banging drums, dancing girls, and of course, fireworks. In San Bartolo band members and dancers perform with endearing enthusiasm, in Antigua it was professional quality with the benefit of professional training of the private school students; each had their own merits.
September 14th is the big day for Antorchas or Torch runs which reenact how news was spread about gaining independence so many years ago. Groups of youth and adults assemble with handmade torches which were lit at the Central Park in Antigua and then they ran off enthusiastically towards their home towns or schools.
Some merchants took delight in throwing buckets of water on the runners who squealed as they tried to escape the deluge. Bands on opposite corners of the park blasted out their music, unconcerned that student bands were also trying to play their tunes. Firecrackers were a constant presence, with the crowd turning away and covering ears and eyes. This is a country willing to celebrate and not worry about lawsuits, with token attention to safety.
Many smiles and photos are what I will hold onto from these last fiestas… Happy Feria San Bartolo and Happy Birthday Guatemala!!