For the first time in quite a while, I have a chunk of time where I am able to curl up in bed and write a blog post. This is partially due to hours upon hours of dancing yesterday, getting to bed at two in the morning, food poisoning, and an almost unbearably hot morning turning into a surprisingly cold and very rainy afternoon. To begin at the beginning (of yesterday), the 24th of June is the feria in my site. It’s pretty much like a county fair except that there are lots of religious activities as well. I’m not Guatemalan, and I’m not Catholic, I think it is centered around their patron saint, but don’t take my word for it. What it meant for me was a great opportunity to get to know more about my site and the people in it.
The morning started with a stroll through a market that was even bigger than the market that we usually have (which is impressive), and a look at all the things there were to see. I still haven’t tried the traditional sweets here (which are infamous), but a good friend promised me we are going to sample some this weekend. I am normally not a sweets person, but I can’t wait! After looking around all I could without becoming the odd gringa just wandering the market, I ran into a coworker from the muni who told me that there would be soccer games starting at the soccer field at 9. After a quick stop home to get my sunhat, I walked over to the field only to find that five minutes after the game was supposed to start, there was still almost no one there. People slowly trickled in and the athletics director pointed me in the direction of the tent that was set up for the municipal workers. The women’s team played first, and started at 10. The team has been practicing together for just a few months now and played the national women’s champions from Chimaltenango. They held their own, and they seemed like a great group of women, which is great, because I start practice with them this Sunday. I won’t be able to compete with them because I don’t have cleats and shin guards (you can’t find them in my size in Guatemala), but the practices will give me a great chance to meet other women my age! After the men’s game, I was beat from the heat and it was time for lunch so I headed back into the center of town to find something to eat.
Despite Peace Corps recommendations, I indulged in some Guatemalan fair food. It was yummy, but is probably contributing to my being at home in bed at the moment. After that it was back home to freshen up and rest up for the dance! I don’t think I would have gone, except that I got in free because I work in the muni. Working with the government anywhere can be difficult and daunting at times, but it certainly does have its perks. Like the early bird I am, I was one of the first people there at 8. They had two stages with two bands alternating, so the bands got a break but the people dancing didn’t. Despite my showing up to the dance alone, I think I sat out five songs all evening. Two of them I just about had to beg for. When I finally left with a group of friends at one, I was exhausted. My head hit the pillow at two, but due to aforementioned food poisoning, I didn’t end up sleeping much. One of the bands that played was a large multi-tasking marimba band (they played a little bit of everything). I already felt obvious and a little awkward being the towering, slightly oddly dressed individual that I was. I really enjoyed watching the bands while dancing, and then a couple of the guys from this band started making faces and waving at me. This may give you an idea of just how conspicuous I was, because this dance was held in an auditorium about the size of a gymnasium with a balcony over the back third. Both levels were packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder, and you could spot me at a glance from almost anywhere thanks to both hair color and height (which high heels didn’t help). I would dance one or two dances with one guy and then excuse myself and walk to a different part of the room.
On one of my trips I ran into (almost literally) one of the men from the band on their break. He asked me, in English, what my name was and where I was from. We chatted for a minute since it’s a nice break for me to speak in English, and most of the time people appreciate being able to practice. During their next set the dedicated a song to “Morgan from Minnesota in the United States (but in Spanish).” Since I was the only gringa there, it was pretty obvious who they were talking about, and it felt like everyone turned to look at me (although that probably wasn’t the case). I felt my face turn bright red and had quite a struggle trying not to laugh out loud (out of surprise and nervousness). I was so caught off guard that I missed a couple of steps and caused the man I was dancing with to step on my foot. Oh my.
Needless to say, I slept in very late this morning. I finally took a couple of Pepto and headed out to face the day sometime just before noon because I had a meeting with a student from one of the Universities in the capital. He is majoring in business administration and he is using my site for the subject of his thesis. I have to say I was a little bemused as to why he was looking for information with the one person in my site who probably knows the least about it. Oh well, I was able to give him a little bit of information on the projects that I am working on personally. On my way to meeting with him, I ran into the alcalde who invited me to a lunch to celebrate teachers’ day. I couldn’t turn that down. I felt a little odd taking advantage of the free lunch since I am not a teacher, and I didn’t want to crash their party. However, with being sick, I really didn’t have the energy to make my own lunch today, and I can’t seem to stop losing weight (not that I am complaining or deprived by any means).
I have never been so deeply grateful for a well-balanced meal. In the course of my life I have been thankful for food, or felt guilty about it, when I saw the Christian Children’s ads on TV or when we were having something I was particularly fond of for dinner. However, it was a more of a “Good bread, good meat, good God let’s eat” type of thankfulness, and life and dinner continued without much more thought. Today, it didn’t matter so much what the food was in front of me. It was simple, it was clean, and it was balanced and healthy for my body that is not feeling so healthy today. It was humbling. My relationship with food is all together different here. There is no stocked pantry to go to when I feel like a snack, and snack foods are mostly imported and expensive. Foods are bought raw in the market when and as they are needed, and I am much closer to the life and death of my food. Meat doesn’t come in Styrofoam and plastic. The cows are walked down the street in front of my house when they are moved from grazing area to grazing area, and the meat I buy is hanging on hooks and cut in front of me. I know what raw meat smells like now, and the vegetarian in me doesn’t like it. But, it also occurs to me that we, as humans, are omnivorous and this how the cycle of life functions. The cows here are grass fed and raised in small herds by farmers who sell them to local butchers. This is the kind of contact and relationship that some of our grandparents had with their food, and these generations are missing that opportunity. We are the only carnivores on the planet that do not see our food die, and the only herbivores on the planet that do not smell the dirt in which our food grows. I am sure that between Barbra Kingsolver and In Defense of Food someone has already written volumes about what I am thinking, but I firmly believe that it is something we should take a closer look at. I know that a few of my vegetarian and urban friends will have an “ew gross” reaction to part of it (as do I occasionally). I also think that contact with, knowledge of, and participation in where our food comes from is a good dose of humanity and humility, and we could all use a little of that.
As some of you have seen in my album, I found a new house. I thoroughly enjoy where I am living now, but with all of the differences and challenges that I encounter as a part of my work, I find myself wanting sufficient space to dig in and reflect at the end of the day. I was very fortunate to find the place that I did; it is a space with amazing light and peace. I can also have a dog there, which is a big bonus since Lexi (a rescue dog I found at Animal Aware) has already snuggled her way into my heart.
I have been moving a few things in here and there since it is available and I hate moving everything all at once. I was there last night waiting for a delivery and I had to call Jeanette because it took my breath away. There is a large garden in the back with avocado trees, peach trees, rose bushes and day lilies. I had never been there at night and I was enchanted to find that the whole garden was twinkling with lightning bugs!
Along the lines of healing, I have been able to download podcasts to an SD card on my computer, and Speaking of Faith has been a great companion in the evenings cooking dinner and watching the sun go down. I was listening to an episode recently that was entitled "The Novelist as God." The woman being interviewed said, at one point, that maybe we should all own up to being agnostics since none of us can claim to know the infinite nature of god. How true I am finding this to be.
At the moment, I am sitting in a coffee shop called Rainbow Café in Antigua and enjoying the free cup of coffee that came with my purchase of a copy of the Popol Vuh. The Popol Vuh could be described as the Mayan Bible, if you could squeeze the Mayan religion into Western terms. Despite the fact that a vast majority of people in my site are Catholic, over ninety percent of them are indigenous and carry the influence of the Mayan language and traditions. Nearly everyone I have met there (with the exception of the non-indigenous individuals or Ladinos) are bilingual and speak both Spanish and Kaqchiquel, the regional Mayan language. Kaqchiquel is proving to be very difficult for me, but I am fascinated by the Popol Vuh, and I hope to find some insight there into myself and the culture I am living in. Very near the beginning of the Popol Vuh the Grandmother and Grandfather, as they are called, say as they set out the days:
Just let it be found, just let it be discovered,
say it, our ear is listening,
may you talk, may you speak,
just find the wood for the carving and sculpting
by the builder, sculptor.
Is this to be the provider, the nurturer
when it comes to the planting, the dawning?
You corn kernels, you coral seeds,
you days, you lots:
may you succeed, may you be accurate.