I seem to have a knack for hitting festivities south of the border. Or maybe not – It could be that it takes a special knack not to spend time down here without experiencing festivities.
In Bolivia they were celebrating the Bicentenario (Bicentennial) of the first Latin American attempt to throw off Spain’s domination. They told us that every day in Sucre hay una protesta o una fiesta – there’s a protest or a party. It was a slight exaggeration, but there were certainly parades of school children practicing their instruments with thrilling marching music.
It is a lot calmer here. Perhaps the warmer temperatures discourage such exertions. But just about every day, as I’ve been organizing the books in Lee’s office, steeped in our microcosm of English, there have been cars going by with the radio blaring Spanish music, or a chattering couple passing the window, or a half-dozen boys carrying drums home from school, determined to rouse the neighbors as they chase one another down the street. My heart jumps, and I stand up, and look out the window, and want to go out and take it all in, and I sit down and go back to dusting books.
Lee and I were discussing whether I would have anything to do if I spent the day in Flores up near Tikal – whether there were enough tourists there that I could shop or whatever. I assured him that I could easily entertain myself in a Latin American city for a good three hours just by walking around. He said, “You could be entertained three hours just standing on the street corner in a Latin American city!”
But since last Thursday, we’ve had a little more specific holiday-making here. El 15 de septiembre – today – is Independence Day for Guatemala, Honduras, and, a Mexican reminded me, Mexico. (I really am not much good at Mexico. Kind of makes me ashamed of myself.) Of course that means a parade, and a marching band, and fireworks, and probably lots of other things I didn’t get in on. Maria is sitting across the room writing a blog, so maybe she will share some pictures and so on with you all … I can’t make mine upload. 😦
Last Thursday, the school held its honors ceremony. All of the youngsters had a 97% or higher average, and one can’t really demand more than that for honors, grade-wise! So everyone of them got a sash, with the colors of the Guatemalan flag, pinned on one shoulder and across their chest. I liked the ceremony. They gave the sashes to the parents beforehand, and then (after a prayer and a little talk) had a “national” (local) teaching assistant call each student up for their parents to come and pin the sash on. Then the mamas and daddys kissed their little boys and girls, someone snapped a picture or several, and there was a round of applause. Juan Diego was so proud of himself! It was very sweet. When the last one got done, the electricity went off. It being a sort of Third World country, everyone was used to it, so the “DJ” who was playing music the school used aimed the laptop screen at James, and the rest of the light came from cell phones and digital camera screens. As usual, the outage only lasted 5 minutes or so.
When I went in, I made sure to not seat myself with only other English speakers, or quite on the back row. Although the family in my row wouldn’t use the vacant next to me. I noticed Juan Diego talking to the ladies behind me, and I gave it my best shot … Sure enough, they were his family, and introduced themselves to me as his grandma and mother. I wasn’t sure at the moment whether they even cared that I was interested. They were friendly, and several other people kissed me goodbye when they left, although I don’t think they knew me. But I discovered afterwards that I most definitely did make friends with Juan Diego’s grandma. She smiled and waved when they passed me in the car, and I saw her in church on Sunday too. (Well, Dr. Smartt will be proud of me …)
Sunday was the first day of parades. It was for the youngest children. James and Rachel had to get special permission to have the school children parade on a different day. We were in church … the Sunday School teacher was giving it his best … and here came the bands. It is the most inspiring marching music. Only the piano player of Friday night could have rivalled it at all, and he wasn’t there. We hadn’t had good attendance to begin with, and I saw about four people get up and leave. I didn’t bother counting the heads looking back at the open door. The teacher struggled on.
Of course, a Latin American parade doesn’t have just one band. The Pied Piper’s march continued for an hour or so, it seemed to me, and each new band had a different charm. Drums … brass … little snatches of melody that could capture anyone … I told Maria at lunch that I thought it would have been more effective to just take a five minute break and everyone go out to look and tap their feet for a few minutes! Everyone but the congregation, though, pretended it wasn’t happening. I guess maybe they do have a reason for turning the music up so loud, because we did drown it out while we were singing …
Oh, one other thing. The pastor announced from the pulpit that the ladies in charge of music should take hermana (Sister) Maria and hermana Amy into account, because they could sing specials, lead songs, and read Scripture just fine. (He must have faith.) Hermana Amy comes already knowing Spanish, because she has studied it in the university, so …… I can plead off on the song leading because I have a really low range and don’t know a lot of their songs. The other parts – that should be interesting.
We weren’t in on anything else Sunday, except hearing the fireworks. I know that the firecrackers they sell here are charged several times stronger than the ones we use.
Monday was our day. Rachel had warned me ahead of time that the schools and parents here dress their little girls atrociously. (I don’t guess it’s worse than cheerleading.) James and Rachel made it clear that their students were to wear their school uniforms. Since they are little children, they let them ride in a wagon, pulled by James in the SUV. James said that he had gone out the night before and their young Rottweiller had yanked off a mouthful of the blue plastic it was decorated with! The SUV overheats, and he had to drive it for an hour or two in weather around 80-90 degrees with the heater running full blast. They got a native speaker to record a little “commercial” explaining their school on a CD along with the children’s songs (one English & one Spanish) for the children to sing. If I’m not mistaken, Maria is uploading a video of it right now. They played this through a couple of amplifiers in place of a band. Probably because of being “misfits,” (with the carriage and younger children, I mean,) they were the last ones in the parade.
I “hung out with” Rachel and Blanca (the “national” principal) following on foot for a while; then we went back to the school to make a banana-pineapple licuado (frozen fruit blended with water and sweetened), and set out cookies. I was getting “antsy” … finally we were done. I left a little ahead of them – I don’t know if they went back to the end of the parade to follow their carroza (cart/float) the rest of the way, or what. I remained stationary on the corner and let the parade go by.
Almost every school had its band, even if they were just drummers. I think they had adult musicians in the Sunday parade, and these weren’t nearly as good, of course. Lots of shimmering costumes, uniforms on the boys, drums and brass instruments and … all that could go into making it fun. Most of the girls weren’t quite as bad as I had been afraid. But they had their sections of girls in short, short skirts, with skimpy tops that didn’t meet, and they had been carefully taught to swing their bodies with a significance that most of them didn’t understand, in front of everyone lining the streets. I would guess that they ranged from six to thirteen or so. One older girl, as she walked by seemed for a little to actually be trying to hold her skimpy skirt down in front and back. Another little one had parents decent enough to put some white tights on her. I got one picture of a group in attractive, more traditional clothing, but I can’t get it to display right. So I’m just uploading one picture, I think, to give a tiny idea of the parade (a decent part, don’t worry!).
James, Rachel, and Blanca felt that they had got a really good response with their little group. Blanca said that people were actually waiting to see “something different.” All the children and their families came back to the school for refreshments, and that was that. Oh, actually there was something else I noticed. The three guys building the room addition had to work that day … and we all had punch and cookies in front of them without the slightest twinge. When it was finally over and the punch had been watered down to give a few refills, I ventured to suggest that they might like some, but we had run out of cups. It seemed so weird. My dad taught me not to eat in front of people who didn’t have anything, and I’m pretty sure that in the States we would offer at least a cup of the cold drink. The parents, students, and staff all had some. Of course, on the other hand, the hired men weren’t expecting anything.
Today was to be the oldest set of students. I think this parade started a couple hours earlier than yesterday’s, and by the time Maria and I were feeling like venturing out and taking a look, the drums were no longer sounding.
Tonight I went out to get a Coke. Something drew me to the plaza, and as I got over there, there were groups of soldiers, and lots of the young people in their holiday clothes again. I passed very close to some of the soldiers, and they seemed horribly young to be carrying rifles …..
I positioned myself by a booth where a lady was making a killing off of grinding up ice and selling snow cones. (I felt so ridiculous with my Coke, but I hadn’t planned to go to the plaza.) The group over in front of the government building was full of handsome uniforms and clothes. The uniforms here are the same blue-green as the color of the national flag – quite a different effect. They were playing canned music through some speakers. Eventually, the important people came out on the platform. They seemed to be awarding scholarships, and maybe teaching awards. What better way to celebrate Independence Day? I found the ceremony, as a whole, quite as impressive as anything we do (or don’t do) to celebrate “Fourth of July.”
In between announcements, a band (of soldiers, I think) played short snatches of songs. Then they did the national anthem. The majority of onlookers just looked on. But a little old man standing by me, with leaves (to stay cool?) falling down out of his baseball cap, who had parked his bike, picked up his machete in a leather sheath from the handlebars, and stationed himself to watch, sang along softly through the entire anthem. Somehow it made it more solemn than even the seven soldiers standing at attention on the roof of the building. They got done and lowered the flag to a 21-gun salute. (Actually 19 – they misfired on the second and third rounds.) The effect would have been heightened if it hadn’t set off a nearby car alarm, as did the fireworks which I don’t think were scheduled. But it wouldn’t have been Latin America if everything had been scheduled and followed through on.
Then the little man put his machete back on the bike and rode away, and the boyfriends and girlfriends started kissing one another again, and everybody went home.
I was pretty isolated there. At the end, a couple of ladies passed me, and one of them must have been from the church, because she greeted me with a “God bless you” and shook my hand going by. And nearby people suddenly rearranged their opinions of me – it was obvious – and tried to decide which category I really did fit into. If they figured it out, they did better than me.