Archive for April, 2011

Semana Santa

I had the great pleasure of spending Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, and just got home. I’m now exhausted from my vacation.

Antigua itself is a beautiful city, and has actually become my favorite place in the world. However, Antigua changes a lot for Holy Week. Already a tourist city, Antigua transforms itself into an extravaganza of religious icons and attractions. The streets swarm with tourists from all over Guatemala, and the world. Already popular cathedrals are bombarded with tourists, and everyone has a camera. I think that I am now in hundreds of pictures taken all over Antigua.

Walking the streets of Antigua this week has been quite the experience, about like walking through the streets of New York except nobody is in a hurry and everyone is eating street food, conversing casually with friends, and hanging around in the park with their kids. Everynight, and sometimes in the afternoons, the processions stop everything and everyone from moving around. People are naturally drawn to the procession line. A swarm of men dressed in bright purple robes take over the streets of Antigua, holding the procession float. The main float is about 30 feet long and has the image of Jesus dragging the cross. The floats are decorated with flowers, lights, candles, and other adornments. I learned this week that the churches of Antigua have about a dozen of these floats and each one is designed to replicate the image of one of the stations of the cross . Behind the Jesus float is a band consiting of tubas, clarinets, oboes, picalos, and drums playing a somber song. Following close behind is a procession of women carrying a smaller float of the Virgin Mary.

The most interesting part of this week for me were the alfombras. Alfombras are carpets that are made in the streets for the procession to walk over. They are made of sawdust that has been dyed different colors, flowers, candles, and whatever else the designer puts into them. These creations are sprayed with water to keep the sawdust damp so that the wind doesn’t carry it away. My awesome spanish  teacher, Willy, took me on a small tour of alfombras that were close to the school the other day. The details that go into this project is amazing. Families spend anywhere from 8 to 18 hours building these street carpets, which are dedicated to the path of the processions. Where one alfombra gets walked on, another may be built again if another procession will be on the same route.

Viernes Santa (Holy Friday) is the biggest day of Holy Week. Families come from all over into Antigua to see the processions, which seem to run all day long in various parts of the city. Last night in Central Park, thousands of people gathered to see the largest procession of the entire week, which was televised on several networks.

While the quietness of Antigua, something that I have really come to love, was disrupted by this holiday week… it was quite an amazing experience to be a part of it.


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Death and Taxes

Well… the day has come that I have been regretting for a year. What happens to my taxes??

I just filed everything… I owe a grand total of $1,501 to both the federal government and the state of North Carolina.

Well friends… I’m asking that you pray, send happy thoughts, good juju, great karma, and whatever else you have hidden in drawers, books, or in boxes under your beds. Honestly, this makes me seriously nervous.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support for my amazing life in Guatemala, and the great work that we are doing here in La Limonada. I couldn’t do it without you.

Much love and hugs and all that good stuff.

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Home Coming

Picture a boy about 14 years old, tall for his age, and extremely handsome. This boy is extremely charming and has a gorgeous smile that captivates everyone who meets him. All he knows is the streets of La Limonada, violence, a neglectful parent, his brothers and sisters, and the gangs. This boy, who we will call ‘H’ grew up going to the Limon school in La Limonada. From the time he was a small child, he had always been able to come to the school for a healthy meal every day, he learned to take care of his hygiene, he had a great number of people who loved and cared for him. At the end of the day, though, ‘H’ had to return to his one room home, a neglectful mother, and several siblings all sharing the same bed.

Eventually, the streets caught up with ‘H’… he joined the gang, and shortly after, was caught robbing and put into jail. ‘H’ also had a gun on him at the time of his arrest that was used to commit a murder, not of his own hands. His time in prison was undetermined, some friends and I spoke of this very thing this morning.

This morning on our walk to the Limon school ‘H’ greeted us with a big smile. He was released from jail last night and was accompanying his mother to deliver his nieces and nephew to the school for the morning session. One by one, the teachers of the Limon school came to work this morning to find ‘H’, a free man standing in front of us… no longer the boy that we knew a year ago. His smile was the same, but his demeanor was different. He was hardened, he kept looking over his shoulder, he was kind of shifty. His mother sitting to the side beaming at his presence, a permanent smile on her face. Every move ‘H’ made, was closely monitored by his, suddently-overprotective, mother. I couldn’t stop staring at her, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

As the morning went on, my concerns grew for ‘H’… as did the concerns of the other teachers that I spoke with. Was he planning on staying in La Limonada? Luckily, ‘H’ knows that he’s not entirely safe in these streets that he played in just a year or so ago. His time in jail did not release him from the gang, and we learned that he was planning to stay with his mother for just a day or two before finding a new place to live. One of the teachers asked him what his plans were… if he thought of going back to school (since he has just a 2nd grade education) or to find work. He didn’t have any answers to these questions, at least not yet.

Please keep ‘H’ and his family in your thoughts and prayers, that he will continue to move forward and not find his way back to the streets of La Limonada.

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I have been very lucky this year with my English classes. I have had constant support of the teachers at la Escuelita Limon, I have two friends that I meet with weekly to bounce ideas off of and to learn from, and my classes are twice a week this year… so I’m really seeing how the kids are learning so quickly.

I’m currently spending two weeks in Antigua, attending the La Union language school for the third time since my move to Guatemala last January. Once again, I have Willy as a teacher. Willy is a great teacher, and I feel like I really learn a lot from him. Teaching is definitely his gift. Willy is also learning English, and has been teaching himself for well over a year or so. During the last half-hour or so of our Spanish lessons, I teach English to Willy. This is where I have learned to appreciate how difficult learning English truly is.

For example, yesterday I spent twenty minutes explaining the difference between someone who is ‘creepy’ and someone who is ‘sleazy’. This is very difficult to do, as neither of them translate into Spanish, and therefore are not in the Spanish/English dictionary. Also, as I have learned with the kids in the ghetto, the English language makes no sense in some aspects. In Spanish, the word sounds exactly as it is spelled… in English, not so much. We have the weirdest rules. My problem is that I don’t know how to explain what any of them are. Yes, when there is an ‘e’ at the end of the word, the previous vowel is strong. Double letters almost always sound the same… foot, cook, pool. How do I explain the difference between ‘read’ (present) and ‘read’ (past)? My answer is a standard “porque si“. There is just now way to explain some of this stuff.

The good thing is that Willy now understands how difficult learning Spanish is, with the rules that make no sense… and he feels my pain.

Anyway, I am really grateful for my time in Antigua… it’s a much-needed break from the city, and it’s nice to be able to walk around and hear some English being spoken here and there. It’s great to not have to take the bus for a while… and I love that I can walk around freely at night and not be too worried.

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