Today, Easter Sunday, marks the end of Holy week, or Semana Santa as it is called here. For me the festivities began last Monday. School is out for the week and I was invited by Jenny, Seño Lili and Seño Maritza, to join them on their “Summer Day.” Seño Maritza is the director of the pre-premaria (pre-school) in town and all her students and their families were invited to celebrate their “Summer Day” at El Sitio (The Site), a park with swimming pools about a 45 minute drive from my town. It was a day full of carne asada, mangos and pool games. I challenged the kids to a swimming competition and went undefeated. In fact, now that I think about it, I may have been the only one to actually finish. I guess knowing freestyle put me at an unfair advantage. There were no complaints though and the kids begged me to race more. I also was the time keeper in the “how long can you hold your breath underwater” competition. The kids insisted that I count only in English. And so the day went on, everyone enjoying the pool party until about 4PM when it was time to leave and we loaded back up into pick-ups and headed home.
Wednesday, after finishing inventory at the Coop store I headed into Antigua to meet Kamille’s mom. Toribio’s (my counterpart) mother-in-law- Vilma was driving into Antigua to visit her sister so I managed to snake a ride in her beat-up blue pick-up. Driving direct to Antigua cut my travel time in half. I miss having a car.
Antigua is probably the best place to spend Semana Santa. There are processions, special events and the streets are decorated with festive flare, none of which I had the pleasure of experiencing. My stay lasted a short 18 hours- just a quick trip to spend the evening with Kamille and her mother. It was all worth it though, we shared a wonderful conversation over a lovely Italian dinner and bottle of wine. Then after a relaxing nights sleep at Meson Panza Verde, I was on the camioneta headed back to my site. The bus ride lasted 4 hours and I managed to start and finish “A Moveable Feast” while on the trip. I feel I can relate my Guatemalan experience a good deal to Hemingway’s years in Paris. I, like the author, am relatively poor, embracing a foreign culture and inspired daily by the people who surround me. The only thing my moveable feast lacks is all the good wine and F. Scott Fitzgerald (minor nuances, if you ask me). And, if you must know, in honor of Hemingway’s chapter “Hunger is good discipline” I am writing this blog on an empty stomach (while thinking of those mangos in my fridge).
Getting back to Holy Week. The reason I had to rush to my site on Thursday was because I had plans on Friday and Saturday. Faviola, my soccer coach, had called me out of the blue last Friday and asked if I like turkey. I said, “yes” and she said, “My mother would like to invite you to lunch next Friday, she is preparing turkey.” Then Brenda, Faviola’s sister that owns the beauty salon across the street from my Coop tienda, invited me to their brother Carlos’s house on Saturday for lunch and a pool party. I couldn’t believe my luck- racking up quite a social schedule.
I was very excited to be invited to lunch on Friday, mostly because I love spending time getting to know the families in town but also because I have been dying to see the Escobar’s house. Faviola’s family is the wealthiest family in town and lays claim to most of the land in the area. They live a life of privilege unfathomable to most of the inhabitants in my town. They have armed guards standing watch out front of their house and the only thing visible from the street is a satellite dish and antennae poking over their huge brick wall. The amount of protection they employ would be fit for a Brangelina estate and thus I’ve imagined that the house inside must be equivalent to a Beverly Hills mansion. The Escobars are kind of a big deal here in Casas Viejas.
When Friday came I walked over to Faviola’s house with my neighbor Oscar Ruben, whose mom, Julieta, is Faviola’s mom’s sister. Oscar Ruben and I have become good friends since I moved into my little casita. He is 24 and runs his own salina, teaches at the high school and goes to the University on Saturdays. I often ask him to help me with things around the house like hanging my hammocks or helping instal a light switch. He’s pretty handy to have around. Oscar and I walked about five minutes to Faviola’s and when we got to the gate the guards let us in. As soon as we stepped inside those tall brick walls I felt transplanted out of Casas Viejas and into a little slice of paradise. The gate opened to an expansive well manicured lawn that stretched 100 meters to the car port where their five shiny cars were kept in a row. I looked to my right and there sat the house, freshly painted and surrounded by tiny palm trees. I was surprised, however, to notice the house was no mansion at all (well, no mansion by Beverly Hills standards). It was, of course, much nicer than any other home in my town, about the size of a standard tract home in the states. Between the house and the carport a large circular rancha (thatched roof gazebo) was being prepped for lunch. There were about 18 guests total. Faviola’s parents, Brenda, Brenda’s daughter Pamela, Brenda’s boyfriend, Brenda’s brother Hilo (I think thats his name), Doña Julieta, Oscar Ruben, Oscar Ruben’s sister Graciela, Doña Julieta’s mother, and then Faviola’s Dad’s Brother and his wife and three sons, one of which is autistic. Faviola wasn’t present as she is spending Semana Santa in New Jersey with a friend.
When lunch was served I was given the first plate of soup. I felt like the guest of honor as Doña Leti, Faviola’s mother, went around the table showing me where everything was, “Here is the salt, and limes, and cheese- the kind of cheese you like. Here are the tortillas. Take some while they are hot...” She was very concerned with making sure I felt comfortable and kept returning to me throughout the meal. “Do you want some fish? Here take a torta and put cheese and creme on it like this.” Then Doña Julieta, Oscar Ruben’s mom, joined in on the questioning, “Have you had any turkey? Would you like more soup?” It lasted until desert, “Have you ever tried such-n-such desert? Or would you prefer such-n-such?” I didn’t really know what either was so I said I wasn’t sure. This was a big mistake because then they served me both, “just to try.”
After the meal all the boys went to dar una vuelta (cruise) the beach, which has been packed all week with vacationing Guatemalans from the capital. When I say packed- I mean sardines packed. Throngs of people as far as the eye can see. The festivities are sponsored by Gallo (the Guatemalan Budweiser) so the mass is full of bolos (drunks) being sloppy all over the place, taking their pants off and starting brawls- its a cornucopia of general debauchery. I have opted to steer clear of the beach this week as my blonde hair is a bolo magnet and an open invitation for inebriated men to speak slurred, incomprehensible “English” to me. So, while the boys “cruised” I stayed under the circular rancha and chatted with the grown-ups. Well, I mostly chatted with Faviola’s uncle who is an economist. He preached about how Casas Viejas is the capital of the world. “Anything you want you can get here.” He said, “And in two years you’ll find a husband and never have to leave, what’s your favorite type of food?” I replied Indian and Thai, “Oh, well, no worries you can hire a chef that can prepare you and your family (he means my future Chapin husband and little Guatemalan children) Thai food. After two years you’re never going to want to leave.” I kept thinking to myself, “I wonder what my dad would think of this conversation?” We talked about Obama, Iran (he did most of the talking on these subjects since we aren’t supposed to engage in much politicking) my work with the cooperative and a slew of other things. What I found most profound were the three things he likes about the United States. He stated quite firmly, “There are only three things I like about the States and nothing more. First, they take good care of their children, I mean really good care of their children.” I think this makes his list because he has an autistic child who lacks adequate care in Guatemala. “Second,” he continued, “everything they do up there is done logically, everything is thought through. And third, the U.S. has learned how to be the economic capital of the world” (he is an economist after all). “So” I replied jokingly, “does that mean you don’t like hamburgers?”
The Saturday pool party came and went and now its Easter Sunday. It doesn’t really feel like Easter without the brunch and my parent’s sponsored easter candy hunt. I guess it just feels like the end of Semana Santa.
But the winding down of Holy Week brings with it the promise of a new adventure. Friday Danica comes to visit. I just hope she can handle the heat. Its so hot here I’m beginning to think those silly hats with their tiny built-in fans are a genius invention.
Danica, you have been forewarned.
p.s. Nate, this is a pic of marañones- the fruit of a cashew tree I was telling you about. So delicious.