Posts Tagged ‘todos santos’

A sort of love letter

A sort of love letter, that takes place inside of a mate, sipped in a misty mountain pass at 11,000 feet.

Mi querida La Ventosa,

With each passing week you grew to become my favorite place in Guatemala.  A lyric from a song I like sings, “I feel home, when I see the faces that remember my own.”  I´ve lived in a few different spots and I can undoubtedly say that I´ve never felt so at home in such a foreign environment.  The love, unity, and plain good energy that one feels upon entering “Jeronimo´s village” is stunning.  For clients, it was a dry haven on a wet walk, where they could warm themselves in the chuj.  For me, it became a place to learn, to play, to teach, to laugh, and above all, to share.

I still remember the first time I lit my stove to heat water for a late-afternoon mate.  As I hooked up the fuel line to the bottle all of the kids crowded around the Whisperlite Magic Show.  They gawked as I filled the fuel cup, lit the match, and sent the liquid into a flash of orange flame as it heated the metal.  As I drank, they eyed my mate suspiciously, giggling whispers in Mam.  Bravely, William accepted my foreign delight.  He slurped it down and handed back the gourd as a smile burst across his face.  The others reeled back with laughter.  One by one, they received the conspicuous beverage with surprising enthusiasm.

When I returned two weeks later, everybody greeted me with the same question, “¿trajiste su té?”  And so it began that each time I walked down the driveway into Don Jerónimo´s family compound another cousin, niece and brother would yell ¡E-Scot, bienvenido!, and come share a mate.

To my delight, our host Don Jerónimo acquired an instant love for my Argentine treat.  At the summit of La Torre (3837m), I always heat up water for everyone to sip coffee and hot chocolate.  Jerónimo habitually appeared the minute the water was ready, “¿tiene su mate?”  I acted as cebador as he regaled me with stories of growing up in La Ventosa.  It is said that alcohol and caffeine are the lubricants of conversation.  With each gourd, Jerónimo imparted more wisdom.

He is a man who loves his land and his people.  But, like many Guatemalans, harbors disdain for his government.  As a child he didn´t have the opportunity to go to school.  Instead, he joined his fellow highland Maya working on the coastal fincas of rich ladinos.  His first two years he worked for nothing.  Then, 40 cents/week, then 80 cents, un quetzal.  The Maya of Guatemala have been oppressed and ignored and for centuries.  He is still oppressed and ignored.  He knows that foreign aid comes to fight poverty in Guatemala, but realizes that it won´t make it all the way to La Ventosa.  Aid money has a way of disappearing in the capital, as workers take their holiday vacations to the beach.  Jerónimo knows no vacations, no Christmas, no travel for pleasure.  He´s aware that my parents’ house is nicer than his.  But he´s glad I´m here, eating his tortilla, bathing in his temascal and sleeping on the concrete floor.  He worked hard for that concrete.  And, he´s just happy that his kids have more opportunities than he had.  They get to go to school.  They’ve learned to read and write.  After school they get to come home and play, and if I´m lucky, share a mate.

It is a humbling experience to feel at home in a strange land, learning life lessons from a man who never had the opportunity to learn to read or write.  I feel privleged to have been welcomed by Don Jerónimo and his family, and will fondly remember the crispy tortillas hot off the griddle, the unforgiving concrete floor, friendly cries of ¡E-Scot!, and each and every mate-induced smile.




Big Hair & Tortillas

I couldn’t help but laugh.  As I stepped over an old corn-cob on the dirt footpath, the caw of a rooster was drowned out by the “Rocky” theme song.  This is why I love Guatemala.

Strolling into Xexocom at dusk, the mayor sees us pass his house.  Before I can set down my pack, he’s at the door and handing me the keys to the school.  I follow behind as he leads me to meet the family who will be our host for dinner and temascal.   His Spanish is questionable at best but we manage a bit of small talk.  He gets a kick as I proudly butcher the few words I know in his native Quiché.  “Utz tuh,” I tell the family as I scope out their adobe steam sauna.  After a nice bath, it´s time to round up the group and head back for dinner.

It´s a misty night in the cloud forest but I can see florescent light glowing from the house.  “Damn,” I mumble to myself, “electricity.”  Among the twenty-one families who call Xexocom home, candlelight dinners are the norm and more than one light is unheard of.  At least that’s what I thought until María welcomed us with the Rocky theme blasting at full volume.  Yet, upon entering it still seemed like a normal house among the highland Maya – one open room with four beds and a table.  The décor ranged from a fighting elk tapestry to a diagram of the nervous system to Evangelical calendars.

It was Guatemala at its finest (or just at its self?).  The beans were salty, the peppers made you sweat, the 80’s mix tape was blaring, and the endless supply of thick tortillas were still warm and wrapped in a hand-woven cloth.