Central America Journal
April 11, 2004
Happy Easter. I am writing from the inevitable internet cafe here in Antigua, at the end of a long and very busy Semana Santa. I doubt that I can tell you all we did in these days, but processions and alfombras (the flower or sawdust carpets) mixed with meals out (no
Each church seems to have its particular procession, and the big churches, several. We saw one in Guatemala City on Thursday morning that wound its way through an old and very much working class neighborhood, with the largest of the andas (platforms/floats) that we saw all week. They can’t have them so large in Antigua because the streets are too narrow to accommodate the huge ones. That one was being carried by 114 men, and our host said that each man actually carried about 200 lbs. The women always carry Mary, and not so much weight, but they always looked as if they were working even harder. Even little children carry small andas here, and I took a picture of a four-month-old already registered and dressed for the pilgrimage.
These processions are a very interesting and effective way to do visual catechesis. Each year the head of the Hermandad (brotherhood, confraterinity) picks a theme, usually biblical, and the float is prepared around that theme. For example we saw one on the first four councils of the Church, and the doctrines that were declared then, and another on the wedding feast at Cana, and a third on the sacrifice of Isaac. All the symbolism is thought out carefully, and then there are hours of work to prepare. Persons of all ages register to carry, and we heard a figure of 10,000 people involved in Guatemala City, for example. We also heard that the participation has increased in the recent past as a quiet counterpart to the rising evangelical presence in Guatemala, which would not encourage or would positively condemn the processions.
The other thing that is very interesting is that the actual moment when the procession passes is very solemn, but the rest of the time is a huge and very lively fiesta. Very different sense that the tone of Holy Week in Anglo cultures.
I have a very sticky keyboard on this computer, and I am afraid I may lose this letter, so I am going to send it off at this point with my prayers I hope you all had a nice Easter.
April 13, 2004
Just a quick note. Two things to report. Antigua is much calmer now that the crowds have dispersed. Finally it is possible for the town itself to emerge, and the real people in it --thought there are still muchos turisticos aqui.
My teacher is much better for me and I am a much happier camper than I was last week. Finally, you can see the sights I was writing about last time by checking out this webpage:
April 16, 2004
This will be another short letter, because, apart from a day of Montezuma's revenge, this week has been very ordinary. The crowds of foreigners are gone, except for the hordes of gringos in the language schools, of which we are two. I have a good teacher for me, and among other things we have talked about pedagogy. I spend about half of my day just talking, but then some grammar gets sprinkled. We will study the subjunctive in earnest on Monday. I have the same teacher next week, and I think that will work well.
It turned a bit cooler this week, and it has been much better for sleeping in my little cubby, where I don't open the window for noise and dust during the night. Next week I will be the only student, so my conversation will also get a workout at the meals. In this family they are very good about always talking to the students.
I am starting to think about the last two parts of my journey, next Friday to Nicaragua and am also trying to set up something for the two days in El Salvador, though I am not very hopeful about that part. I will just have to go and see what I can do when I get there.
More later, when I will be able to describe the activities of the weekend.
April 19, 2004
It is hard to believe that it is the end of the first day of my last week of formal study. I have learned a lot, but there is still so much more to learn. Six weeks is a good start, but I could use another three or four or five weeks to really advance. But I am better than I was when I came, and that is all that I can ask, especially given how hard I find language study.
Today, I and my teacher, Eleazar talked straight for the entire morning, and our topics ranged from the election in Spain, to the causes of terrorism, to the policies of the US government to the seven capital sins, to the practice of non-violence as a political philosophy and spiritual response to the world situation, plus we read together the Mass readings of the day. That is the easy part of the day. It’s the grammar reviews that get me! Oh well.
We had a nice weekend. The original plan was go to Guatemala City to visit a couple of museums. But it sounded tooooo hectic to both of us, so we settled for a quiet morning on Sat, met at 10:00 to walk to the mercado (Sat is one of the big days), walked home for dinner in our respective houses (the big meal of the day is always at noon), then set out about 2:00 and did a museum here and toured the reconstruction of the old Jesuit College, from which they were kicked out in the lat 1700´s at the time of the supression. It is being restored by the Spanish government in cooperation with the Guatemalan Government and functions as a cultural center. Very nice. Then Mass for Sunday on Saturday evening, and by then I was exhausted. Home for supper with our families and I think I collapsed. I don’t remember. Oh yes, we also walked to another part of town to reserve two places in a tour of the small towns surrounding Antigua for Sunday morning.
There is no food provided in the families on the weekends at this school, and so we set out around 7:00 to get some desayuno before our tour. We went to a place that the tour company recommended and it was a very good value and lovely ambiance, in one of the classic old casas in town. The tour was just the two of us plus the driver, a woman, and the guide, who was the man who ran the agency. So each of us had someone to talk to one to one (mostly in Spanish) as we toured all the surrounding towns. Here are, for the most part, all the oldest structures from the early Spanish colonial period, in various states of repair and disrepair. Some have the original furnishings, some have been removed to the museum that we had visited the day before. The churches that are not in disrepair function as active parishes, and we arrived during Mass at the reputedly (and disputed) oldest cathedral in Guatemala (but not the oldest church), Ciudad Vieja. I have pictures, but we saw so many in a row that I might not get the right name with the right picture later. They were all unique, though.
My family continues to be a source of much interest. It is rather like a soap opera. For example yesterday, I arrived home from the tour to find that the two girls had moved out of their room, and one was next to me through the half wall. This one has her boyfriend visit frequently, and the nine year old boy is in and out of her room frequently. So there went my possibility of having the student end of the house to myself. The other girl is nine months pregnant, baby is due next week. She went into another room, just vacated by a French Canadian student. I thought all this was happening to give her a room, but no. The reason was that another Canadian couple arrived for this week to practice their Spanish, and that is the only room that could be rearranged for a couple. During the night, Rita actually slept with her brother, because she had such a bad cough that her mother knew she would keep me awake, so I did have one night of privacy. During the night Gabby had to go to the hospital with what turned out to be false labor. And we had a small earthquake that they call a temblor here. This is a city regularly destroyed by earthquakes and I knew what it was immediately. This was just one day in my family...
Turns out that the baby that Gabby is expecting is a girl. One day she and her mother went into to Guatemala City to buy things for the baby. They returned with only a few things because “it’s so expensive.” Gabby has just finished the course for teaching Spanish as a second language at my school, and hopes to begin teaching there in June, after the baby is born. After, too, it turns out, she is married. The ceremony will take place in this rather humble house “in a few weeks,” I am told. There are two different marriage ceremonies here, a civil on or a religious one, or both. Apparently it is not stigma for Gabby to be pregnant without being married, and she is happily introduced, as is the father (“This is the father of the baby…”)
Before I leave the family, I should describe it a bit more. The Senora’s name is Gladys, and she is herself a Spanish teacher. She has divorced her husband, and the father of Fernando, because he had another woman. He lives in Montreal, and Fernando has been there a couple of times to visit. Gladys makes a living, nothing extra, by taking in Spanish students, teaching her own students, and one other room is taken up by five indigenous young women from the surrounding towns who room there during the week while they attend diversificado—the trade/profession oriented last three years of what we would call high school. These young women will be rural primary school teachers when they finish their course of studies.
I already mentioned Gabby’s preparation as a wage-earner. Rita is in diversificado herself, in the course for bi-lingual secretaries, the other language being English. I helped her one time with some of her English homework. As I did, I noted the stress in drilling grammar, just like I received my first week in Antigua. I think it is just the “way they do it” and teachers frequently lack imagination about other ways to teach language. Fortunately my teacher these last two weeks, Eleazar, has a much more flexible and interesting approach to pedagogy.
I may not write again from Guatemala, as it depends on how things come together these last few days. But I do expect to write more from somewhere, at some point.