Monday, 12-24-01

'Twas the Night before...
Greetings from PHOENIX on this Christmas Eve.  We are at the in-laws of our daughter Anna (flew in Saturday evening), and are having a good time so far.  Deb's parents are in Yuma, two sisters and Andy (yes! even him!) are coming down after Christmas, so we will do Christmas twice.  At some point we will also pay a visit to our granddaughter and her adoptive parents.

National Palace
My Spanish class at IGA, along with all the other Spanish classes, made a trip to the National Palace in November, and we had a guide that spoke very slow, clear Spanish, so everybody had a chance to understand at least some of what he was saying.  The palace was built in the late 1930s-early 1940s, and was converted into a museum in 1996.  In the grand ballroom there is a star inlaid in the floor, and that is the "0" point from which all road milages in Guatemala are measured. 
The Statue
Marching In
Saluting the Rose
Marching Out
In a courtyard there is a sculpture of two hands which symbolizes the Peace Accords ending the civil strife in 1996, and each day in an elaborate ceremony with color guards a white rose is laid on one palm and the old one removed.  We got to see the ceremony. 

After the tour we all trouped a few blocks to an ice cream parlor for cones.  They have many flavors, not only of fruits, but also vegetables and even fish!  I had rum with raisins.  Incidentally, my name, Ron, is "rum" in Spanish, causing one lady to "crack up" seeing my name on a name badge.

Erik, Ron,
Maestra Silvia, Maria, Raissa
And speaking of Spanish, I successfully finished the Basics class, and Level 1 starts in January when we get back.  Making progress.

The weekend of Thanksgiving, a church group from Alabama came down to Guatemala and put on a Singing Christmas Tree and drama in the National Theater, doing a condensed version of the life of Christ, including the crucifixion and resurrection.  Some of the "Alabama Spanish" was pretty bad, but it was at least understandable.  Saturday afternoon was supposed to be free for street kids, and the government officials commandeered it for themselves (also for free).  I think they got more than they bargained for, but I don't know if it had any effect on the corruption.

Burn, You Devil!
Prensa Libre Photo
Get Your Devil Here!
December 7th was "Quema del Diablo", or burning of the devil.  This officially initiates the Christmas season,and involves gathering up all your trash and piling it out in the street and burning it (along with a devil effigy if you can afford it).  This drives off the devil for the coming of the Christ Child.  What it actually does is pollute the air with toxic smoke from burning plastic or rubber, and make a mess where the fire was.  We missed most of it, as there was a play at the school that night, but you could look out over the valley and see lots of smoke, and the next day see where fires had been, even in Zone 10 where we live.

And Christmas eve is really noisy, as midnight is when they set off tons of firecrackers.  Actually they have been setting them off all month, as they have been selling them all month.  We walked by one street going to buy groceries, and for a block and a half the center meridian of a divided street was solid back-to-back fireworks shops.  Can you imagine what one of the "machine gun" coils sounds like?  Imagine unrolling a 12" to 15" tight coil of firecrackers.  Now imagine lighting one end.  I'm told that around midnight you can't hear yourself think!  There are also huge rockets and roman candles.  I think Christmas has more fireworks than New Year's Eve, but I'm not sure.

Prensa Libre Photos
On the 14th of December we had a partial eclipse of the sun in the late afternoon.  Dark enough that animals were confused, and the temperature dropped slightly, but not as dramatic as a total eclipse.  Last one for a few years, they say.

Dining, Kitchen, Living Rooms
Embroidered Blanket/Wall Hanging
Queen-size, Floor to Ceiling
Weather in Guatemala has still been beautiful; in fact, it is colder in Phoenix than there.  I have still been wearing short-sleeved shirts, and only some days adding a tee-shirt or maybe a light jacket in the evening.

Our water at the apartment is from a well, and tested drinkable, but we put on a sink filter in the sink, just in case.  It was supposed to last two to three months, but it has been five months and we haven't seen the red indicator yet.  I think it is pretty clean water.  Sure tastes better than Phoenix!

And Deb got her last "concert fix" Friday night, as there was a chamber orchestra and choir performing on the steps of the Radisson Hotel with the street blocked off and chairs set up there.  Free is a very good price.

Well, our "big adventure" for this Episode was riding a "chicken bus" to Antigua (twice) instead of the shuttle.  I hope the following description gives you some idea of what it was like.

"Antigua, 'tigua, 'tigua!" he calls out, as we walk up to the waiting bus.  He motions for us to climb aboard, and we do.  We are in Zone 1, the heart of the city, and have just walked five blocks from where we got off the city bus, past crowded sidewalk stalls selling everything from fruit to sunglasses to C. D.s to clothes to fireworks for Christmas eve, walking in the garbage-strewn street when the sidewalk was too full, dodging cars at intersections where there are no signals and pedestrians do NOT have the right-of-way.  This is where the buses to Antigua queue up, awaiting their turn to load.  One has just pulled out, and ours is empty as we climb on.  I notice that the seats look in good shape, the bus pretty clean.  Good, should be a reasonably comfortable trip, I hope, if we aren't too crowded.  Over the next few minutes more people climb aboard, and finally it is our turn to depart.  We travel on different streets than I know; this isn't the "Zona Viva" where the foreigners live, shop for imported high-fashion clothes, and eat in fine restaurants, this is where the "real" Guatemalans live, the ones who can't afford cars.  At various intersections the driver pulls over and again the doorman is yelling, "Antigua!  Antigua, 'tigua, 'tigua," and more people climb on.  We don't seem to be as full as last time, and by the time we get out of the city there are still a few spaces available in back.  On our first trip we were three-to-a-seat by this point, and by our arrival in Antigua the aisle was pretty full too.  This trip might not be so bad.

But as we pass through the villages on the way we are adding more, and soon a young mother with a one-year-old boy is seated next to us, Deb scrunched as tight as she can to the window, I in the middle.  Soon the boy is asleep in his mother's arms, and as more people squeeze down what is left of the aisle, she attempts to stay on the seat that isn't quite wide enough.  I point to the child and say in the only Spanish I can think of, "He has no problems!"  I hope she understands my meaning.

Then the doorman starts collecting fares.  As he squeezes through the non-existent aisle he is collecting Q4.50 (about 56 cents) from each of us, making change as he goes from a fistfull of bills and a pocket full of coins.  He is also making sure that everybody is three to a seat, as it is illegal to stand in the extra-urban buses.  Then it happens.  We come upon a broken-down bus, with a crowd of passengers milling around.  Oh, no!  Yep, here they come, squeezing down the aisle, filling what few inches were left.  One woman calls out the window to her friend, asking if she is coming too, but she declines, preferring to take her chances with the next bus.  Now we are packed, and still there are a few stops to make, a few people to squeeze back up the aisle and out, others getting on to replace them.

But remember that it is illegal to stand in the aisle?  As we approach Antigua and a police checkpoint, the command is given, and everybody standing manages somehow to crouch down level with the seated passengers, standing again when it is "safe."

Now we are on the cobblestone streets of Antigua Guatemala, the colonial capital, but we skirt the town, slowing down for numerous speed bumps, driving all the way around the edge, eventually getting to the ending point of our trip on the far side of town.

Finally we can pile off, stretch our cramped muscles, and prepare for a day of shopping and seeing the sights.  From start to finish the ride took just under two hours, it got crowded and uncomfortable, but we arrived safely, having paid only $1.38 instead of the $16 that a shuttle bus would have cost.  And we have been a part of the local culture, lived for a few minutes as the natives do, experienced some more of "Ron's Guatemala Adventures."

May your Christmas be joyful, and if it isn't, the One whose birth we celebrate wants to give you that joy if you will talk to Him.  May the Author of hope make your New Year prosperous and full of hope, even in these trying times.  We have been enjoying ourselves, and look forward to what the New Year holds in store for us.  May the same be true for you.

Feliz Navidad.


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