Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Feriado aka Independence Day

September 15th is Guatemalan Independence Day. Although its technically a holiday, Guatemalans celebrate it as a holimonth. Starting September 1st the national flag began to appear everywhere. Schools put on cultural performances and began organizing events and band practices. Eswen is in his school band so I had the pleasure of passing by his band practice in the street outside of his school on a few occasions and embarrassing him with attention.

The few days leading up to independence day La Torcha began. La Torcha is a Guatemalan pastime where people from all over the country run from town to town carrying torches a la the olympics. On numerous occasions I asked people about the origin of or reason for this activity and the best response I got was that it represents liberty. After some more questioning I came to realize a few things about La Torcha 1.) there is no particular path or pilgrimage with the torch. Guatemalans start running wherever they want to start and end wherever they want to end. Esquintla to Alotenango, Solola to HueHue, Ciudad Vieja to Aguas Calientes. Any route is fare game. 2.) There is a trick to La Torcha. The torch carriers have an entourage usually following 50 meters behind in a pick-up (or camioneta/bus if its an entire school of torch runners). The torch runners typically only run through the center of towns they pass and when they get to a stretch of highway they get in the car or bus and drive to the next town. Giving the perception that they are running long distances but actually aren’t. There are some faithfuls that run the whole way or that have a relay of sorts with their reserves in the truck that switch off running with the torch. 3.) Those citizens who don’t particularly like to run or choose not to participate will line the main streets where La Torcha passes and throw water on the runners. Silvia told me its to try to put out the Torch. This seems a little ironic, if the torch symbolizes liberty, why would anyone want to extinguish it? Whatever, I’ll go along with it anyway.

On the 14th we had classes in Santa Lucia but had to get a ride back in a minibus because all the camionetas had been rented out for La Torcha. The traffic was insane and all along the route we saw hundreds of torch runners on the highway, soaking wet, blowing whistles and having the time of their lives. A few times our bus was also the target of water balloons and hoses.

In the evening I went with my family to the Alotenango plaza to watch Eswen perform in the band. The Alcalde was giving a speech and everyone congregated around the high schoolers waiting for the performance. I tried to keep as low of a profile in the crowd as possible. PCs have been warned that sometimes if we are spotted in the audience of a ceremony out of nowhere the person with the mic will say, “Let the Gringo talk” and an impromptu speech by the volunteer is expected. I preferred to avoid the extra attention so I hid behind a tree (although I did recite what i’d say in my mind just in case). The Alcalde’s (governor) speech was a bit long winded, so much so that the band struck up in song before he ended and he was fighting to be heard for about two minutes until he gave up and let the band take the spotlight. After one song the Alcalde got back on the mic and started saying something about not playing with fire and before I knew it there was a highschooler in a metal pyrotechnic cow apparatus in the middle of the street letting of flares that exploded into the crowd and rained sparks all over the place. Not sure if it was all that safe but everyone seemed to be enjoying the show. After the performance I went back to the house in Don Miguel’s pick-up. I actually rode in the front with him cause I was worried people might still be throwing water. On the ride back he asked me if I liked his car. I of course replied yes and he said, “look all the lights on my dashboard work”. Its amazing how much small luxuries can be the foundations of great pride here.

On the 15th all the kids woke up early to get ready for the big town parade. Every child in Alotenango (all 8,000 or so of them) participate in this parade with their respective school. So by the time I got up Silvia, Lidia and Eswen had already left the house. Since the 15th is Independence day PC volunteers get the day off so I was able to participate in some of the festivities. I woke up late, did a load of laundry in the pila, ate bread and homemade strawberry jam and chatted it up with Dona Paula. Quick note, almost all of our conversations turn to marriage. Usually she asks me when I’m going to get married but on this particular occasion she began telling me about marriage here in Guatemala. It struck me how matter-of-fact she told me that married men often take mistresses. But sometimes it can get expensive to have to give monthly payments to a wife and kids and support a mistress so a lot of times the men will go to their wives and ask for forgiveness and if the woman is a good wife (yes, GOOD wife) she will take him back. Sometimes women are “strict” and don’t take their men back and then they have to live on the streets but if a wife is good woman she’ll take him back. What does one say to this? I mentioned how in the States it isn’t uncommon for married people to separate if they fall out of love and then they may remarry and form new families. Her response to that was that divorce isn’t very popular here.

At 10 Dona Paula and I walked up to the gasolinera vieja (old gas station) to watch Eswen and Lidia and Silvia pass with their schools. It was adorable watching all the youngsters walk by - each school with their own theme. One class held global warming signs which was a huge surprise to me, another represented national symbols such as the Quetzal (national bird), Monja Blanca (national flower), Cieba (national tree), Others wore traditional clothing, there were bands and more bands and princesses... Finally Lidia walked by dressed in basketball gear- her school was representing all the sports of Guatemala and Eswen passed by with his band. When Silvia walked by she urged me to join the procession with her students so I jumped in and started walking down with 40 darling kids dressed in central american clothing. At the end of the parade some of the kids parents asked if they could get a picture of their kids with “the gringa” and then the photo ops began. Its interesting how amazed people are with white people. So I posed for a few pictures and then walked home with a very tired Silvia (she had to walk the entire parade in high heels) to rest and eat lunch.

Below are a few more pics of the parade.

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