Panorama

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Tonight, we celebrated a birthday by eating outdoors, wrapped in blankets.  I get so used to seeing this valley from the other side that I forget there is another perspective.  There is a sermon in there somewhere, I'm sure, but I'm too tired to dig deep.  It is only Wednesday, but it feels like it has been a full week.  Progress reports go out on Thursday, meaning we are 1.5 quarters in.  I can't believe it. 

Tonight, I will finish my last paper for a class, edit my dissertation, and look over the frame quote for The Darkroom Project.  Details about the project will follow, but know the date for the opening is rapidly approaching.  This is all well and good, but the details, which I am not great at, fall in my lap this time around.  Mix that with a Guatemalan sense of time in getting things accomplished and its quite a cocktail.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in.  After posting a few times last week, I found myself back in a writing rhythm that felt right.  Skipping days due to the weekend and busyness is okay, but I feel better when I get the days down on paper.

How is everyone?  Has your week started well?

El Dia de los Muertos: El Cementerio

You'd think that the cemetery would be the last place you'd want to spend a beautiful morning, but no, it was full of life.  There were vendors selling snacks, and there was music and kite flying.  Family members were stacked on one another to reach to place flowers, laughing when they nearly toppled over.  Tombs were cleaned, and there was laughing and crying.  Some families had clear traditions, it was evident in the way they moved, others took naps in the grass while the young in the family hummed a tune.  I felt like there was just so much identity and belonging displayed in the simple act of visiting loved ones.  To me, it was a celebration of what was lost, but what is also present in what remains.

El Dia de los Muertos: Las Flores

On Friday we had the day off to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).  My morning was spent in the Calvario neighborhood where for blocks around the cemetery, vendors were selling flowers and making wreaths.  We arrived before eight, but the streets were already packed.  Case in point, on my way home, my neck started itching and I felt some strange bumps the spanned down my shoulder.  I couldn't figure out where the rash came from, when my friend reminded me that in the course of the morning, we'd both been hit in the face with bouquets at least ten times.  About four of those times the carrier realized it was happening and we had a good laugh, the other six flower slaps in the face, not so much.  I know I was whacked with one bouquet three times as the man turned around when he heard someone call his name.  But then again, all things considered, I'm sure I bumped into people without realizing- it was a zoo.

These are the times, honestly, when I pinch myself and wonder if life can get any better.  The Day of the Dead sounds morbid, but it is really a celebration of the things that we love and miss about those who aren't with us anymore.   In Guatemala, they are brought bright flowers and greenery that is alive and fresh, and people hang out with family, cleaning tombs, and I imagine, telling stories. 

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earthquake

To begin, I want to say thank you to all that have called and emailed checking in, it means so much to me.  I am safe, I am well.  Quetzaltenango sustained some damage, but pales in comparison to San Marcos, pictured below.

(source)As of today, forty eight people have been reported dead, with exponentially more missing.  Yesterday 2000 soldiers were deployed for disaster relief to aid the 300 police, firefighters, and volunteers who were already at work rescuing those who were buried alive.

There is still risk of aftershocks, and it feels like the entire city of Xela is holding its breath, waiting.  With the weekend will come a sigh of relief as the risk lessens, and our lives will return to normal.  However, those in San Marcos face months, if not years of rebuilding.  If it comes to mind, pray for them, that they have the strength and grace to persevere.  Newspapers report that many who live there have spoken out about being tenacious and resilient, which they are- but life is still going to be hard.  Rebuilding structures can be done with time, but losing family is devastating.  

Everything seems a bit clearer and simpler today as I consider what is important.  I love you guys.

Q & A: Where do you live?

When I was home for two weeks packing up, and working on my residency, people would ask where I was going. I would answer Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and it was almost like you could see the cloud of confusion settle on their head.

"Where?"

"I can't even pronounce that."

So, here's a little geography lesson:

   

Guatemala is located in Central America.  Our close friends are Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

 I live in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in a nice little valley surrounded by mountains and can see three volcanos from the vista where I work. Only one is active, but it still makes life exciting. Quetzaltenango is a really long name, but essentially means "place of the Quetzals," which are beautiful green birds that have all but left Guatemala entirely. Most people in Guatemala call Quetzaltenango by its indigenous name, Xela (Shay-la).

We are the second largest city in Guatemala with around 700,000 people living in the metro. Wikipedia also cites Xela as being "The City with the Soul of Culture," which doesn't exactly appear to be true. And in the same paragraphs they say we're a major tourist destination, which isn't quite right either, but who I am to argue with Wikipedia. Maybe they are referencing the thirty language schools and thus an influx of Spanish Learners in the summer. I don't know. Usually when I'm in Antigua or at Lake Atitlan and meet travelers, they often say, "Yeah, we just didn't make it to Xela," and I'm never surprised, because we're not terribly fancy, just authentic. A clash between the traditional and modern.

Speaking of summer, we really only have two seasons here: rainy and dry. Right now we're finally starting to get over the rainy season, and after this week of ferocious rain, it should be wrapping up within October. Once dry season hits, it will start to get colder, but not unbearable. Quetzaltenango is known as being "the land of the eternal spring," as it starts out chilly but can be guaranteed to hit at least 70 degrees every day of the year.  

We've covered the basics, right? 

Any questions?

 

*Before you begin, download the Phantom of the Opera song at the bottom of the post.  It will set the mood nicely.

It is no secret that the Phantom of the Opera is my favorite musical.  I know every word to every song.  I love the story- romance and intrigue, tragedy and redemption- it has it all.  During our photo weekend, we were granted full access to the theater in Quetzaltenango.  We were free to roam and shoot wherever and whatever we pleased.  

As I took photos, I enjoyed the details and the space, but it wasn't until I was on the third floor that it hit me- I felt like the Phantom of the Opera.  See, friends?  Dreams really do come true.  I could imagine myself playing tricks on the diva below while hiding in the rafters behind my mask.  In some ways, it felt like I was engaged in a lifesized doll house and my imagination really did get the best of me when I ran up the rickety set of stairs that led to the final level which was just sparce planks spaced about a foot apart.  I stood up there holding my breath, observing the stage two stories below, watching the story come to life.  I should have been hoping the boards would hold my weight, but whimsy has a way of silencing the practical.

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Normally, Xela is a quiet town, though it is the second largest city in Guatemala.  I know where my favorite juice lady is, and what time she opens in the morning.  I often run into my colleagues and friends as I cruise through the city and run through the market.  And then, aliens invaded and flipped us upside down.  The influx of visitors from Guatemala City brought with it an almost circus like quality.  We had concerts for days, and mimes and clowns, and guys painted silver that didn't move until you put a coin in their hat.  There were mobile cevicerias and food stands that lined the perimeter of the park.

I only went out once in the madness, but it was certainly enough for me.  I feel a sense of solidarity with the city as it finally heaves a sigh of relief.  The streets can once again be seen with the trash swept away, much like visitors, who have also blown back in the direction in which they came.  I like quiet, almost sleepy quality Quetzaltenango has in the morning as the fog begins to lift from the valley.  I like bumping into my tailor in the market as he buys thread and relays his stories about his daughter, you know, the one that gives him an ulcer with her escapades.  I like meeting my friends at the local bar where I can actually enjoy the music and still have a conversation.  

Am I getting old?  I might be.  Either way, I'll take a dull roar to a pounding beat any time.

 

El Fin de Semana

 

This weekend I felt like I was swept up in a crazy photo-taking tornado.  We began on Saturday at five in the morning and Liz and I finally admitted defeat at ten thirty after light painting in the cemetery.  The rest of our group continued to the fair, but being the old ladies we are, we knew we needed at least a little sleep if we wanted to actually enjoy life on Sunday.  It felt like I had just finally shut my eyes when my alarm went off.  I can’t even explain how disorienting it is to wake up at five on a Sunday.  Immediately I wonder,

 “Where am I?”

“What is my name?”

“Why am I awake?”

And then it slowly returned to me that I have a name, and I live in Guatemala, and oh yeah, I need to haul out for more photos.  The weekend was exhausting and depleting, but also beautiful and inspiring.  Our teacher was helpful and kind and funny, and the group of nerds enjoyable.  We are also indebted to our police friends as they stood by to protect our gear, but clearly not our dignity as is evidenced above.  I can’t wait until we can all play again.    

  

I feel like I am always apologizing for my absence, but I really am sorry.  The past few weeks have been a whirlwind and I am looking forward to a time when things will slow down.  This weekend I took a chicken bus (semi-unintentionally) into Guatemala City, had a much needed caffeine and laughter laced breafast with Jose, then picked up someone very dear to me at the airport.  I think I was on a bus (we took a nice one back) for over eight hours on Saturday, but it was completely worth it.  As we wandered the city on a lazy Sunday, I enjoyed watching Kent experience Xela with new eyes.  After being here for some time, oddities that he noticed are lost on me in the day to day as they have become common.  How quickly we forget things that once caused wonder and amazement.

He leaves tomorrow and some normalcy will resume.  Work during the day, cooking and homework at night.  My goal for the week is get out at least twice with my camera and intentionally immerse myself in the culture of Xela and allow myself to be fresh and amazed.   

Sometimes we learn in the classroom, and other times we run around the city plotting schemes to earn a few Quetzals on the side by commandeering the school bus offering our shuttle services between towns.  Chayito (my teacher) would drive, and I would be the one hanging out the door yelling “Xela, xela, xela!” and rushing people already running into the bus and cramming them in with their babies and animals and packages, because you never know when you’re going to need that extra quetzal and twenty five centivos (15 cents) and there’s always, always room for one more.

 

I took this photo on a field trip to Parque Central with Pablo.  Sitting in a tiny room for five hours studying Spanish gets a bit tedious.  I have decided to begin recording the topics we cover in our conversations because we talk about really strange things.  Yesterday, we spent nearly an hour discussing the existence of aliens and Area 51, and his notion that the U.S. government is covering up our alien contact so that we can gang up on other countries with the aliens.  Keep in mind that this conversation was entirely in Spanish.  Seriously.  I'm a little frightened about the level of abstraction we will reach if this is where we go on day one.

Today Pablo and I went to a bakery and spent some time sitting inside of the Iglesia del Espiritu Santo Cathedral in Parque Central discussing Catholicism and our varying views on God.  As you can imagine, Pablo is of the extreme supernatural persuasion and told me several stories about the phenomena that has taken place in the Cathedral.  One story goes that so many people in Quetzaltenango lit candles to pray to this particular statue of Jesus on the cross, that Jesus turned black from all of the soot.  Pablo said that the priests took down the statue to clean it, but were unable to.  It remains black today, and the little tray was full of lit candles when we were there.  I tried to find a link on google so you could read more about it, but there aren't any.  Sorry.

In other, unrelated, but funny news, Sara just asked me what we had for lunch.  I told her that we had chicken and rice.  Now we are arguing about what the meat actually was.  She is saying it was pork (there is no way!) and I'm certain it was chicken.  She seems content to settle on rabbit.  In any case, the food is delicious and we are confused about the stories people are telling us about losing weight on their trip.  Sara is doing well with her Spanish and is bravely using it often.

Something to look forward to:  Tomorrow we will be reviewing Guatemalan snacks we purchased at the grocery store today.  Get excited!