Monday, June 20, 2005

Guatemala Day Twelve

At least, I think this is day 12. I just counted back from the Thursday that I arrived and I came up with 12. Anyway, the important thing is that today was the last full day of work. Tomorrow is a "half day" (not sure exactly what that means) so that we can pack, get a tour of the German factory, then our going away party tomorrow night, and leave right after breakfast on Wednesday.

Today wasn't really even a full work day, at least for me. Well, not for anyone, really, but especially for me, as my stomach is still not behaving the way it should. I felt much better this morning and thought everything would be fine. UP at the field, though, I lasted until about 8:30. I came back down to use the facilities and was here until a little after 9:00. Back up, where the pit work was slow, and back down again by 10:30, this time for the day. I knew I should go to the lab, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I would feel fine, but as soon as I got up, my stomach would cramp up again.

Anyway, I feel fine, for the most part, but am still taking immodium. Lucky, lucky me. I don't anticipate a really heavy work day tomorrow, especially where in having to be careful what I eat, I'm not getting a lot of food, as I have to pick and choose what's placed in front of me.

Yesterday our day at Chichi was interesting. Jonathon used a phrase the other day to describe how he felt -- "Third world fatigue." I can certainly understand, as I believe I have experienced it, even for as short a time as I've been here.

Partly it's due to the amazing amounts of rain, and partly it's due to seeing the huge amounts of poverty and knowing that I'm not even making a drop in the bucket.

Our first stop at Chichi was the cathedral of Santo Tomas, which is a large catholic church that was built on the site of a Mayan altar when the conquistadores came in 1542 or whatever year it was. So now the Mayan people make their own little candle, flower and incense offerings on the steps of the chapel while Mass is being said inside.

We stopped in for Mass -- my first one ever. It was about what I'd expected, kind of long and boring.
We didn't get to see the procession of the 14 Mayan representatives or whatever it's called because I guess they don't do it every Sunday.

Then we had breakfast which took forever both to have the food delivered and to figure out the bill -- he split it for each of us, then had to make change for us, then we had to pay for Felino's after figuring out what his was split six ways. Then Felino and Jose stayed to watch the local futbol game while we went in search of a local tour guide to take us to Pascual Abaj.

I'm glad we hired a guide, because we learned things that we wouldn't have known had someone not been there to explain it to us. The walk up there was difficult -- a lot of switchbacks up a fairly steep hill. At one point we paused for a break, and I was sweating and out of breath. He looked at me and said, "You're chubby, huh? How much do you weigh?" I told him that was none of his business. But it seems that we foreigners are fair game for blunt questions. Today, one of my pit workers asked me how much money I make in the States. I told him I make just enough, not too much, to pay my rent and pay bills. One of the other men the other day asked me how much my digital camera cost me. I told him I couldn't remember. I just don't want to make myself a target of jealousy, or of wondering why I might be better of than these people.

Anyway, to Pascual Abaj. There is one main Mayan altar with a statue or monument that has been there for centuries. There are other little ones circling it, each one used for different things -- to ask for luck in business, luck in love, help for family, help for a good crop, whatever. Any offering that is made must be done by a shaman, brujo, or Mayan sacerdote/priest. If not done by a priest, it is invalid since only the priest has the authority to communicate with the gods on your behalf.

When a couple is to be married, they bring a rooster and a hen. All four, the bride, groom, rooster and hen, are made to drink a little bit of liquor, then after 5 minutes, the rooster and hen are killed and their blood mingled and sprinkled on the altar so that the man and woman's marriage will be successful. That sounded like the most gruesome one. The others all involve using candles, incense, honey, flowers, herbs and I don't remember what else. The candles are all different colors representing differing things: green = money, blue = luck for men? I think; black = protection against enemies, and I don't remember what else the other colors represented, but one for women/fertility, one for crops, etc.

To be chosen as a shaman, the parents bring their child to a shaman to be blessed shortly after it is born. That shaman then decides if that child is to be shaman. If he is, then at 10 he returns to the shaman for another blessing, at 15 he goes to live with a neighboring shaman to get properly trained, at 18 he must get married, and at 20 he can become a full-fledged shaman. People can bring their own shamans from their own village to do what needs to be done.

I asked our guide why they didn't mind that we get so close and are allowed to take pictures of what's going on -- he said it's because they realize that tourism is an important part of the economy, and they don't want people to get the wrong idea about them, so having the guides to explain things helps increase people's understanding. He also said that the people know that it's not the visitors' beliefs that cause the various ceremonies to work or not to work, but the faith of the worshippers that make them work.

The ceremonies are not done on a specific day of the week like Sunday or whatever, but are done according to the Mayan calendar. If it's a good day for the sun (man), moon (woman) and stars, then it's a good day to go to the altar.

It was very interesting, or educational or something. Michael was visibly uncomfortable with everything, and I was just trying to be objective and not let my own personal beliefs interfere with what I was learning.

I also asked if there were Mayan people who would do their thing up at the altar then go to the Catholic church and participate in worship services there. he said there absolutely are, but that 80% of the people in that city are religiously Mayan and 20% are Catholic. I asked him about the Evangelists, because it seems like I've seen more pentecostal churches than anything else around here, and he said that 10% are evangelists. (I didn't question his math). He also said that it varies from village to village -- some places are mostly Catholic, some are mostly Evangelical, etc. That one happens to be mostly Mayan because it was a place of refuge for the Mayan people during the Conquest.

We headed back down the hill, and he showed us some antique, authentic Mayan masks. That was when it started to absolutely pour, at about 12:00 noon. We waited it out for a few minutes, and when it lightened up a bit, made a run up the street, during which point it of course started raining again. We sought shelter under a roof of a store, waited another few minutes, then started up the hill back to town. The marketplace was flooded and what people were there were all fighting for the same dry spot of sidewalk. There was no way to stay dry, either from the rain or the streaming streets. We ran into Felino and decided to start heading back. We did find time to stop in a few stalls to do a bit more shopping, but haggling is just exhausting and only adds to the third world fatigue syndrome.

The trip home was exhausting -- the roads were more curvy and winding than on the way up, with lots of speed bumps, and I don't think anyone was really feeling very well. We did stop at a Texaco gas station that had a store called Parma -- some sort of dairy store. Felino promised they would have good ice cream there, and indeed they did. The three flavors to choose from were rum raisin, strawberry, and something called zapote. I've never heard of it, and I didn't know what it would taste like, but decided to be adventurous since i don't like rum raisin and I can have strawberry any other day. It was unlike anything I've ever tasted before -- perhaps a bit like carrot cake, or the tamarind juice that we've had here. Felino said it's a fruit that's large like a coconut but has a nut like an avocado, and is orange inside.
Today it started pouring at 11:30, which is early even for Chocola. It was accompanied by fog, which was a bit different. And then? It hasn't rained since. We even took a walk down to the football field to see two monuments down there, and it was a bit other-worldly feeling to be walking around Chocola in the afternoon and not have to worry about the rain.

Tonight we're treating the students to happy hour at Don Carlos's, the cantina, from 6:30 - 7:30, hoping that it won't break us too much if we run it up against dinner like that. Being as it's 5:58 now and I haven't showered since yesterday morning, I need to go do that, provided the water comes on at 6:00 as it should. If not, I don't know what I'll do.

One more day, One day more, ONE MORE DAY!!!!!

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