Thursday, September 16, 2010

Would they ever have imagined 189 years ago...?

This week we celebrated Guatemala's independence from Spain in 1821. This meant that for the past 1-2 weeks nearly every schoolchild in Guatemala devoted him or herself exclusively to drum core and gymnastics practice, pageant preparations, and making quetzal birds and ceiba trees out of tissue paper and cardstock. Here in my region, it also means the Feria de Independencia in the city of Xela, the highlights of which are a big 4-hour parade of high school marching bands and an enormous fair with carnival rides, food, and vendors.

On Tuesday, we the employees of the muni cooked and ate a huge pot of corn-on-the-cob on an open fire on the roof of the muni (remind me to write about that sometime). That was more to celebrate the start of the corn harvest more than independence, but it was awesome. I love corn-on-the-cob! Aside from that nothing really special happened with the muni this week. They did give us the holiday off and also hung some obligatory plastic flag-banners and strings of balloons, which disappointedly deflated within 12 hours. Within the schools there were some interesting events, however. Many Peace Corps Guatemala bloggers note the school pageant festivities one encounters this time of year, and I was no less impressed when we had the fortune to stumble upon one, foolishly having planned to do the tourism diagnostic with a group of school teachers this week.

In summary, you haven't lived until you see a bunch of 4-11 year-olds from a remote aldea where the average adult can barely write and the school doesn't have running water shimmy and sway their hips around in prom hairdos and pristine evening wear, the type of absurd adult-dress one buys their daughter in the US only to be a flower girl or perhaps be Bat Mitzvahed or have their quincenera. It goes to show a lot about priorities. But to each their own. I was also highly amused by the question-answer period, in which they asked the 4-year-old contestant, “Name some of the patriotic symbols of our country.” Brutal! She probably barely even speaks Spanish. But glad we're emphasizing brains and beauty equally (right).

As for my priorities, since nothing much was going on here in town on the “mero dia” I went into Xela to meet up with a friend's family, see the parade and fish for something different to do. We ended up watching a bit of the parade and then going to this amazing Italian restaurant, Cardinelli's, on 14th Avenue near Parque Central, for 4-cheese pizza and white wine! It was great, I hadn't had wine or good cheese in quite some time. My taste buds were going wild. The restaurant is a little expensive but they import all of their ingredients from Italy, excepting vegetables of course.

I felt a little guilty eating so ridiculously well to celebrate the supposed independence day when so many people in Guatemala would never think of dropping so much on a meal ($12 per person), and in reality, Guatemala is far from independent in the sense of everything we like to associate with that word. (That will be a whole other post for another day.) But man, the food was delicious! And we all need a good excuse to celebrate now and again, even though just what exactly we're celebrating might be slightly vague. And I can't really feel too bad about supporting independent, creative cuisine with amazing service.

We finished the evening off with a viewing of Back to the Future. I barely watch TV or movies these days, but at times it is really nice to watch stuff that reminds me of home - “comfort TV” I guess you could call it. I must have watched that movie no less than 50 times as a kid! Overall the day was a pretty great mish-mash of celebration and rest. And Saturday I'm headed off to a friend's community to help out with an environmental education workshop, so it was nice to have a little mini-weekend before the big trip.

So all-in-all it has been an interesting week, a time of that celebration and break from routine that I think every human being secretly craves and cherishes. Or, at least I know I do, even if it is an unfamiliar celebration in an unfamiliar place! And we did actually manage a tiny bit of work, too, but more on that later.

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