This year, 2013, I traveled to Belize and Nicaragua but spent most of my time in Guatemala. Although there are wonderful aspects to both of these countries, I missed Guatemala when I was away and was happy to return. It has been a year of deepening and expanding my connections with friends and feeling daily gratitude for the beauty of Lake Atitlan and for the Maya culture that surrounds me. Every day I am so happy that I am here, in San Pedro, and that here I feel at home. And so it was right that this year I stayed closer to home and celebrated the holidays of December with the families and communities who most deeply touch my life here in Guatemala.
December began with the 4th birthday of my friend, Jacqueline, who is the daughter of my dear friend, kitemaker Julio Asturias. Over the years I have had many meals at Julio's house in Sumpango and been honored to know the other members of his extended family who live together with Julio's family in a traditional Guatemalan family compound. Still I hadn't met many of Wilma's family as they do not live in Sumpango. "We would like you to come," Julio had written. "Our whole family will be there." "How many people is that?" inquired. "Oh about 50," he said. I tried to imagine that many people in their courtyard as they also have 5 duchsands, 2 large dogs and a variable number of rabbits.
When I got to Julio's house after a scenic and comfortably seated 3 hours on the chicken bus, several family members were steadily blowing up balloons. Eventually there were over a hundred balloons surrounding us and which afterwards would provide the main toy for the kids. Periodically a balloon would pop, but in this land of intermittent firecrackers and bombas, the sudden explosions startled no one. Personally I was delighted this birthday was being celebrated with popping balloons and not with the traditional exploding gun powder.
Meeting Wilma's mother and her family it was easy to see the roots of Wilma's competence and easy authority. The food was delicious, we were each given a packet of five warm tortillas to soak up our pepion, there was herbed rice, fruit salad and then cake. And a styrofoam cup of Coke.
Jacqueline and also her mom Wilma,oohed over each item. I could only remember how I hated getting clothes as a child and wanted only books, office supplies and toys. Jacqueline unwrapped Tshirts of the Lion King, Barbie and Angry Birds. Two good warm winter coats and socks, some new and others from PACA. PACA is the pickup trucks of good quality used and even new clothes brought to Guatemala by the container, selling for as little as 65 cents and the patience to sift through the dizzying mound of clothes in the back of a pickup truck. But whether dressed in traditional clothing, traje, or in western wear, the Maya women value cleanliness and beauty and are never unadorned.
I had been invited to stay overnight at Julio's. It was the first time I had stayed there rather than at Sara's western style house. It was a wonderful experience to be there after the party and have time just to be with the family. Of course there were a lot of balloons to play with! When the sun went down it was cold but I was toasty sitting next to the cooking fire, drinking coffee and eating tortillas as we all gathered in the semi-enclosed kitchen for the evening. And so fun to wake up and play with the last surviving balloons. Getting back to San Pedro was another matter as for some reason it's easy to get a bus from San Pedro all the way there, but getting back to San Pedro inevitably involves 2 buses and 1 minivan and the back of a pickup. Go figure.
It wasn't hard to say goodbye to Julio and his family because Julio, Wilma, Jacqueline and Sebastian were going to come to my house in San Pedro and stay the next weekend. So stay tuned and in my next blog I'll share some photos and talk about what we did!