It’s fiesta season here in Guatemala and I’m learning more than I ever thought I would about Mayan culture and community.
Starting last weekend, we were graciously invited to a family wedding shower for one of the Cardenas family’s cousins. The theme was “Las Vegas” and the night was filled with dancing, food, and games that lasted until 3am. As you can probably tell, this wedding shower was a far cry from the traditional “fruit punch and gift opening” wedding showers of the South. In fact, it was far more comparable to a wild American bachelorette party.
This fiesta taught me that family is everything here in Guatemala. When you celebrate, there aren’t separate parties for your friends and your family. The people in your family are your friends. Your 90 year old grandpa and 3 year old niece are all going to be out on the dance floor partying with you.
And this past weekend, the parties continued. It was “All Saints Day” in Guatemala, a time to honor those who’ve passed away. Here in the small town of Sumpango, next to Chimaltenango, there is a very special tradition of flying kites attached with hand-written letters to send them to your family in heaven. Over time, this tradition has developed into a kite-making competition and exhibition.
The largest kites we saw went up to a hundred feet in the air, and were covered in brilliant artistry describing the history of Guatemala.
We even bought our own kite and stood on a hillside with a thousand other people trying to get it as high in the sky as it would go.
Upon our return to the family’s house, we had plates of “fiambre” waiting for us. This is a special dish Guatemalans only eat once a year for “All Saints Day,” made up of cold cut deli meats,radishes, and other vegetables.
Then, that night, after a long conversation about faith and family with Papa Mario and Mama Miky, Miky began rapidly hustling around the kitchen gathering fruits, candles, and flowers. After I asked what was happening, she told me “Ah! We were talking for so long, I didn’t realize it was Midnight! We must prepare the altar!”
Mario explained to me that for “Dia de Los Muertos” they set out an altar for the spirits of the dead who come to visit during this special 24 hours. He continued to explain that for their family, this specific tradition is a combination of ancient Mayan religious acts and more modern Catholic ones.
On the school side of things, I’ve been tutoring a student in English twice a week and we’re making a lot of progress. It’s a challenge because she doesn’t really like English, which I understand because I never really enjoyed learning French in school, but I think our one-on-one time together is making a difference. She even made a 9/10 on the last quiz I gave her!
We also had a graduation for Tercero Basico (9th grade) last week! It was incredible to see the pride and joy on the faces of the students and their families. Graduation from colegio is no small feat here in rural Guatemala. Thanks to CEMOC, these 28 students are fully equipped to be successful leaders in their communities. I am so grateful to have been a part of their academic experience for a mere month and can’t wait for the next school year to start!!