Unexpected

After the excitement of my vacation to the United States, I returned to my site in Guatemala in time for our spectacular annual fair in mid-August and a couple of other choice celebrations that followed soon after. As someone who has spent years documenting the Chicano community through video and photography, I was thrilled to now photograph the beautiful cultural expressions of the Mayan community where I lived in Guatemala.

I was nearly finished coordinating a series of trainings for educators and was anticipating my Peace Corps Close of Service (COS) conference in September. While my younger Peace Corps Volunteer cohorts spoke of either extending their service in Guatemala or returning to the states to work or continue graduate or medical school, I looked forward to returning to my healing practice in New York and to being with my grandchildren.

As I mentioned previously in a post, I felt an uneasiness that I could not shake. I mentioned to my site mate that I felt a strong call to pack up so that I could quickly leave. I felt that something was coming soon to shake up my world so I paid attention to my intuition and packed up my belongings in case I needed to evacuate quickly. I also sorted out what would be left for the next Peace Corps Volunteer.

Two days after these uneasy feelings, on August 22nd, I woke up, turned on my phone to check if the Peace Corps’ Safety and Security office had sent out any texts about road blockades. Instead, I found a message from my brother who had written to tell me that my mother was in the hospital and not expected to live much longer. I felt the shock hit my entire being. She had not been ill, so even though she was elderly, I fully expected to go home to see her after my service ended.

Despite the early hour of the morning, I text the Peace Corps Training Manager, Carolyn. She responded immediately and told me to pack my bags and head for the Peace Corps office which was about 5 hours away. She told me to call the off-duty officer with my news, which would set into motion everyone and everything to get me to my mother in California as soon as possible. I packed my essentials and ran to the bank to get cash for the day. By 7:30am I was at the bus stop. As I stood waiting anxiously as a few more people gathered to wait for the same bus.

After waiting for a half hour, I began to hear music. I looked down the long road towards the hospital and in the distance I could see a procession walking towards me. I got nervous, wondering if it would delay or detour the bus. If so, the following bus wouldn’t leave for a couple of hours which would mean that I might miss getting to the office before the close of day.

Looking towards the procession I saw a woman who swayed a tin can filled with burning incense as she walked. The procession got closer and closer until they spread out along the street where I stood and then stopped! Four men carried a  large statue of the Virgin Mary encased in a tall wooden structure decorated with peacock feathers, textiles, and shiny materials. They set the Virgin Mary down to kneel and say their prayers. Afterwards, everyone began to relax and they were served snacks and drinks. They were obviously going to stay a while.

It was unbelievable to me to be faced with this obstruction at such an urgent time. But after two years of living in Guatemala and seeing unexpected processions frequently stop traffic, it was also completely believable. I surrendered. Considering that I had no control in the situation except to manage my nerves, I chose to take photographs to calm myself down. I sent texts to my mom hoping that someone would read them to her in the hospital. I waited for updates. Every few minutes I would think, why this? why now? And then I would remember to let go and allow life to flow. I repeated the mantra, ‘Yes’ and ‘Thank you’ over and over again as I wandered around, taking photographs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally a couple of hours later, the procession disappeared. The bus arrived and I was able to leave town. I arrived at the Peace Corps office just before they closed! The staff was exceedingly compassionate and they had all the paperwork for me to sign, my plane ticket, and travel funds for me to fly out the first thing in the morning. I was finally able to breathe again as I checked into the local hotel. I showered and released the dust and nervous energy accumulated from the day. I received the good news that my mother was doing better. She was awake and seeing visitors.

When I arrived at my mother’s hospital room in San Diego, she seemed a little overwhelmed to see all of us who had traveled to see her. She would go in and out of recognizing me. But she was in good spirits. Our mother was a very kind, gentle, loving woman. We did what we could to stay calm and to support her during her transition over the following days. She was 95 years old and unafraid of death. She looked forward to seeing her parents and siblings in the spirit world. Although I knew that she could not live forever, her death was still a shock. 

Below:  my mother with my daughter and two grandchildren in 2015.

loresmotherarielkids

Once I returned to Guatemala, I felt my body unwinding and releasing those parts of my mother that I had thought were mine. I also felt her close to me in a new way–in spirit. My mother made friends and family and especially her children, feel loved and special. When my dad died, she single-handedly raised my four younger siblings who were still at home. The three things she loved most in life were God, her family, and Mexican music (I like to imagine her attending Juan Gabriel concerts on the other side of the veil)! This song was one of her favorites.

I was able to stay in California for three weeks before returning to Guatemala. I was near the end of my time in the Peace Corps so I focused on my work and saying my goodbyes. 

 

 

Fireworks

After the annual fair ends on August 15, a few days later there is another celebration which is blend of religious and local traditions. It is Catholic and Mayan in its origins but I could never seem to get a good grasp of it’s full significance. But picture this: non-stop music coming from multiple bands in the same plaza, bombas blasting, a circular parade of men wearing wooden structures loaded with fireworks.

Here is a slideshow followed by three video clips of this awesome day. Enjoy!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fireworks in August

Fireworks on Parade

Men on Fire(works)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feria 2018

I’m jumping ahead now, to the annual feria (fair) that took place in August, 2018. Since I documented it in three parts last year, I don’t have to explain it all again. This time, I’m giving you some highlights and including a few video clips such as these strolling feria musicians:  https://youtu.be/kelw9z-svuA In this clip you can see the musicians with their crew; the costumed dancers; people on the streets; and the motorists stuck behind this parade following closely behind.

The merriment of musicians and dancers continue throughout the week. But one of the first things that starts the feria is a two-day parade of schools. The first day features the schools in town and the second day is for schools from rural areas.

loresgirlinparade

loresparade

My favorite thing to watch are the palo voladores in the central plaza. They are mesmerizing. There are so many things going on at once in the plaza that one’s head could spin:  bands playing, minstrels and marimbas, voladores, bombas blasting, shoes being shined, ice cream vendors selling their delights, and Catholic processions.

lorespole

Below:  Two dancers with a winged Palo Volador (with a scarf).

loresmerrymen

flyers2018

There are two types of costumes for the flyers, one is a monkey, and the other is an angel, both of which must be legacies of the conquest of the Americas. And here go, as two young Palo Voladores make their descent. Watch at the end as they complete their flights with gratitude for the pole, each other, and the marimba musician. https://youtu.be/WRT6cNodXWg

Another important event was the national competition to name the Princess of the Palo Voladores. Each region chooses one and they all come together for the national competition. Below is a photo of one of the women giving a short talk as part of the event.

lorescompetition

loreswomanandmother

lorestwogirlscompete

There were several Catholic processions, all of which would end in the Cathedral. Mary and other saints would be carried into the church where petitioners could pray at Mary’s feet.

loresMary_petitioner2018

And oh, yes, the carnival!

Even when I go out with friends I tend to drift off by myself to take photographs. Apologies to friends past and future! These two photos are indicative of the melancholy nature I was feeling in the evening while wandering through the carnival. My mind was on my family in the states. I felt something pulling me home. This was in August and I was thinking ahead about the upcoming Peace Corps’ Close of Service (COS) conference for my group of PC Volunteers. I thought a lot about my grandchildren and my mom and how I needed to get home soon. I carried both joy and gratitude for being in Guatemala and sadness for not being at home.

20180811_212852

loresboyatmerrygoround

In my next two posts I will write about the completion of my Peace Corps services. I hope that you enjoy these short posts and that they give you an appreciation for the beauty of Guatemala and its people.

 

 

Tree Cutting

There is a traditional ceremony in scattered parts of Mexico and Central America, where men hang upside down from a tall pole and swing around in descent to the ground. They are called Los Palo Voladores which literally means ‘the pole flyers.’ If you read my 3-part post last year that began with ‘Feria 2017 Pt 1’, you will have seen photos of them. The feria lasts a full week and then continues with a few days of special events in the weeks after.

Last year, each day of the feria was incredible to me. I fell completely in love with the many cultural events. Somehow they spoke directly to my indigenous DNA.

In my town (which unfortunately, must remain nameless for security reasons), the pole stands in the town’s central plaza. The plaza is bordered by the municipal offices, the main cathedral, and the main street, and on three days a week the plaza is home to a bustling outdoor market.

Every two years, the pole is taken down and a new tree is found to replace it. Cutting down the new tree requires a day long effort of about two hundred men. The palo voladores tradition is very masculine and in fact, women are not allowed to touch the pole. The ceremony to cut down the new tree is for men, not women. But a small group of women who are central to the Mayan ceremonies of the feria, are able to attend. My Peace Corps site mate and I were lucky to be allowed to attend the ceremony with them! I waited for months for the special day in April.

On the appointed day, I arrived at my friend’s home. She made sure that my site mate and I were wearing proper traditional clothing. Once attired, we drove to the woods to find the men who were already gathered for the event.

We found a large gathering of men so we found a place to sit apart from them. All eyes were focused on one gentleman who was about to ascend the chosen tree.  The man was extremely agile as he shimmied up the tree. The tree was very tall but he appeared to climb it easily with only a rope that tied him to the tree. I don’t know what he was doing on the tree but the process took more than an hour.

Finally, he climbed down the tree and another man set to work with an electric saw to fell the tree. Everyone ran back from the tree to watch it fall. I was so excited, I could hardly believe that it was happening! The tree started to sway slowly before it fell and landed with a boom. Everyone ran forwards towards the tree to remove its branches, attach it to ropes, and clear its path so it could be carried out. Watch it here: https://youtu.be/c9FzrnOsqGw

loresmenwcuttree

I met the man who had climbed the tree. He is in fact, in charge of the Palo Voladores. He was older than I had imagined so his strength and agility was all the more impressive.

lorestreecutterwwomen

lorestreecutterwElle

A couple of men did a fire ceremony to thank and bless the remaining tree stump. We, women, gathered to participate in this ceremony, kneeling to kiss the tree and make offerings and prayers.

loresfiretreeceremony

Eventually, the tree was loaded onto a tractor and dragged back to town about thirty miles away.

lorestreeontractorBETTER

The next morning, the tree was readied to be set into the plaza. Men stood ready to help in any way they could while women gathered under the shade or shawls to watch.

loresmeninplazawtree

The tree had to be shaved, blessed with incense and it’s top had to be carved to hold smaller poles that would hold rope and the flyers.

loresshavingtree

loresincensetree

lorescuttingtopoftree

loresMartinawclothonhead

loresliftingtreebest

After a lot of time, the pole began to rise. At luck would have it, I could not wait to see it be set into place but I heard that it took hours. I had to jump on a bus to leave town or I might have missed my Peace Corps shuttle a few hours away. I was utterly grateful to have witnessed such a phenomenal cultural event that would be unfold more completely in four more months (August). I was happy and so were my ancestors, I am sure. Below:  the new tree which yes, is slightly bowed at the top.

lorespolestandingFive hours after I boarded the bus, I found my favorite coffee shop, La Bohemé, in Antigua. After the intensity of the bumpy, winding roads, I needed to unwind and write a few notes. If you have questions about the posts, feel free to post a comment.

loresnotebook

U.S. Vacation

I ended my Peace Corps service two months ago, but there are a few posts that I want to add to this collection of Peace Corps blog posts before I end writing about this chapter of my life. So many things–big, transformational things–happened during my last few months of service that deserve recognition and explanation. I’m not even sure how many people have read my blog posts, but even if this is just for myself and my grandchildren, I want it documented. So let me go back in time beginning with June, 2018, when I took my first vacation to the U.S. to visit my family in New York and California….

People kept saying that I might experience culture shock in NYC but it was actually a very easy return for me. I sensed nothing but exhilarating joy to see my daughter’s family, my son & daughter-in-law, and my brother in New York. We spent a few days in the Catskills, having a picture perfect family gathering. We swam in the pool, walked to see the waterfalls, nearby, and shot off fireworks in the large backyard. It was an idyllic gathering that I will always remember.

lorespooljuly2018

Family fun in the Catskills.

loreswaterfall

loresforrest

After the fun of New York, I left for California to visit more family and friends. Below is Endy, my life-saver friend who showed me around L.A. (we had a blast); and the next photo is of some of my friends in San Diego during a patio party that my comadre and I hosted.

Below is a photo of my precious mother, Eva De Leon. I took some music CDs and DVDs for her of José José and Juan Gabriel. We are crazy about them and Mother would tell me lots of stories about their lives and their performances and songs.

loresEvaJuly2018

Below:  Rosaria; Rosaria & Birla on the day that we went to do a water ceremony in the mountains.

I had nearly a three week vacation in the states but it was still not enough. I saw friends that I had not seen in ten years. I missed my family, I missed New York and California. I missed familiarity itself.

But returning to Guatemala was also lovely. In the next blog post I will give you highlights of our annual fair. I had been waiting a full year for it’s arrival. It was my favorite event and experience of my two years in Guatemala and when I return for a visit, it will be to visit the ferria again! So stay tuned for my next blog post.

Feliz Cumpleaños

Last Friday we had the inaugural session of the Healthy Schools Diplomado 2018. It’s a collaboration between the Health Center, Hospital and Office of Education. I am a Technical Volunteer for the Healthy Schools Program (Escuelas Saludables). The program was created in 1993 through an agreement between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. The Peace Corps has been working with the Healthy Schools Program since 1993. What is a Healthy School?

“A Healthy School is an educational center that contributes to the development of basic life skills, favoring the biological, intellectual, emotional and social well-being of schoolchildren, through integral actions of health promotion with the educational community and its environment, promoting the development human and sustainable.”

Through the Diplomado, we will present monthly in-service training for teachers on topics such as nutrition, physical activity, emotional/mental well-being, anti-bullying, environmental health, etc. We had such a large enrollment that we created two groups and there were still teachers who had to be turned away.

nlresDiplomadoday1

Photo below:  Our first guest speaker gave a great talk on nutrition.

nnlresHelmerGarcia

Photo below:  The coordinators

nlrescoordinadoras

When the weekend arrived, I celebrated a significant birthday. When asked my age I answered, “Bastante,” which can mean either enough or a lot. I’ve always enjoyed saying my age but now I’ve decided to count it backward. 😌 Actually, I don’t usually celebrate my birthday but this year I made it clear to my friends, It’s Happening. I’m learning how to be good to myself. Photo below: I took a photo of my friends and English class students at the birthday party.

nlresBDgroupnoElly

We celebrated at our English class and a few close friends joined us. Our host, Griselda, lit a candle that shot upwards like fireworks. Before cutting the cake, the celebrant is supposed to take a bite directly from the cake. But as soon as I leaned over to gingerly bite into the cake, dear sweet, petite Micaela, shoved my head as hard as she could! Everyone burst into laughter and I laughed too, even though I was shocked by the horror of having my face imprinted on the cake. Yuck!

nlrescakeblaze

nlrescakeinface

One of my friends said, “Let’s go around the circle and say what we like about Eloisa.” I could’ve kicked her, I was so embarrassed. But instead, I decided to stay calm and allow the compliments to flow. What ensued was a very tender sharing that surprised me. How each person expressed themselves helped us all get to know each other on a deeper level. After each testimony I asked the speaker to choose one word they had spoken, to add to our weekly English vocabulary list and we cracked jokes about what word to suggest. Miho, the JICA Volunteer, spoke in Japanese and Evelyn spoke in K’iche. It was quite moving.

The next night we had dinner hosted by our friend, Sonia, at her home. We sang and danced to music videos.

One of my Peace Corps friends came to visit and joined in the birthday fun. Sabrina and I are always saying how lucky we are to live here so it was nice that our friend, also fell in love with this town and its beautiful people. We introduced her to our friend, Petro, who mesmerized us with her stories.

nlresEloisa_Petro_Mari_Sabrina

Petro gave us each crystals that she’d found in a river long ago. I was also able to be fitted for a new huipile which I ordered from her.

Before my friend returned to her site in northern Quiché, we took time for a walk in the hills above town. Photo below:  The winding road in the distance leads to my neighborhood. As I look at the photo, I am reminded of the hills and canyons of San Diego. #ilovemytown

nlresXolabaj

 

 

Family Vacation

It’s the last day of school break for me so I want to post one last time while I still have the chance. Since several friends have asked about my recent vacation with my daughter’s family, I thought I’d share the vacation photos here. It was their first time in Guatemala!

I will admit that for over a year, I would wake up each morning here with sadness to have left my grandchildren in the states. You can imagine how overjoyed I was to see them again! I had worried that they might look different because young children can change a lot in a year and a half. Instead, it was as if we had never been apart. I melted in our hugs, relieved to see them again.

Ariel and Tom graciously took care of the hotel, meal, and transportation costs so I was able to completely relax. At Lake Panajachel, we stayed several days at La Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz la Laguna. The good thing about it was that it offered the children a lot of freedom within it’s gates, a pool table, friendly dogs, hammocks and bunkbeds.

nlresiguanaperdida

nlresbunkbedsnlresAriel

Photos: above is beautiful Ariel; below is the view from CECAP restaurant. The kids loved riding on boats and tuk tuks!

nlresCEPAview

nlrestomluluseonboat.jpgnlresseafoam

We visited San Marcos to visit my friend, Nikolina, and also San Juan, where our first stop was a tiny cafe with Turkish coffee, tacos, and a view of the lake. Boom.

nlrescardskids

We also visited one of the many stores that offer demonstrations on weaving and dyeing yarn. We were all fascinated and had a greater appreciation of the many woven clothes and bags for sale.

nlresyarndyes

nlresweaver

We had a full day of walking and enjoying the beauty of this small town. One of the most unusual sights there is the front of this old church with it’s oddly laid stones. A second church was built next to it, leaving only the façade of the older church in place.

nlreschurch

nlreslake_

We did other things while at the lake, such as to visit the Butterfly reserve outside of Panajachel (wonderful!) and Luisa bought little beaded souvenirs while Seamus searched and searched for a toy—he’s five years old, after all. Soon it was time to head for Antigua where we stayed at Ramelle’s airbnb. I really think that her home could be a vacation destination all it’s own. I hope to return there for a few days, just to enjoy the peace and quiet and the many books in her library.

nlresromelgarden

nlreskids_garden.jpg

nlresromellibrary

Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with extraordinary beauty and a fascinating history. Having only a few days together, our focus was on child-friendly fun so we headed for the Valhalla Experimental Station which is a macadamia nut farm outside of Antigua. The farm offers a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful outdoor tables in the middle of a grove where you can order breakfast or lunch. Their meals are fabulous! While we were waiting for our food, the kids started to look bored. Oh, oh. Suddenly the farm owner appeared with two bags and asked the kids if they would like to pick up fallen macadamia nuts that were everywhere, in exchange for chocolates. Deal!

nlresgatheringnuts

nlrescuties

When we finished our meals, we took a tour of the farm. There’s not much to see but it was so much fun, especially for the kids. There was even an old swing that the kids enjoyed for a long, long time.

nlresdroppingnuts

nlresswing

nlreseden

Ariel and Tom enjoyed the macadamia farm as much as the kids did. We all left a little enchanted by the experience. Over the next few days we visited cafes, ruins and a museum. I was sorry that we could only visit one of the ruins but glad that they were visibly impressed by it’s grandeur and beauty. Actually, one day, my grandson, daughter and I visited the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo on our own. We went down into the burial chambers, visited the museum of silver artifacts, and shopped in the decadently chocolate, chocolate shop.

nlresruins

On the last night of our vacation, Tom and Ariel wanted us to have dinner at Santo Domingo Del Cerro, which had been recommended by Ramelle. I would never have imagined going to such a fancy place on my own or with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. But in fact, the menu is affordable if you choose right, and there’s a free shuttle from town to the restaurant which is high on a hill overlooking the city. We arrived when it was still light and we sat next to large windows that offered a view of the hillside, city, and volcanos. At night, the lights of the city twinkled brightly.

nlresfancyrestaurant.jpg

nlresnightview

Our time together was beautiful. I was not sad this time, when we said goodbye knowing that I will complete my Peace Corps service in a few short months. Now the children are not confused about where I am or why I left or when I will return. I think we are all better off after the vacation. When they left, I headed for my favorite place, La Boheme Cafe in Antigua. I sat and mused over our time together and while sipping my Chai Tea, I gave prayerful thanks for both of my children, Ariel and Adrian, and their families.

nlreslaboheme

Family members and friends have visited many Peace Corps Volunteers in their sites around the world, learning more about our work and about the beauty of the countries that we are lucky enough to call home for two years. I feel especially lucky to be here. I have a friend, Sandy, who is psychic. She recently talked to me about the photos and writings that I am focused on while I’m here:

“These pictures, these places—this is healing your soul. These are things that you have not been able to heal in previous lifetimes that you’re getting the opportunity to do and see and realize why you longed so hard to be there. You may not know specifically, oh I died here in 1580 A.D., you don’t know that, but your soul knows. You needed to be back here to experience the feeling of the mountains, of the water, of the forest. You needed to be here. This is healing you on levels that you didn’t realize.”

I appreciated her words so much because it was exactly what I had felt for so long and knew to be true. If it weren’t for my family scattered around the U.S., I would settle here.

Or maybe I will one day.

 

Learning Spanish, Pt. 2

In 1989 I fell in love with the video camera. Through it, I could speak my voice and be empowered. With it, I explored my community and myself. One day I turned the camera on myself to better understand my difficulty with learning Spanish. Coming from a Mexican family, I figured it was either a cognitive impairment (which would explain a lot of things) or there was some internal block. I sat down for a Re-evaluation Co-Counseling (RC) session to talk about the issue in the dark coolness of the Centro Cultural de la Raza after business hours. Dan Martin filmed the session so that I could share whatever I learned with others.

During the session, the counselor listened deeply and asked me questions about my family history. I remembered my paternal grandparents with great love but I was so young that I never really knew them as people in their own right. They spoke only Spanish and I spoke only English. [Photo below:  Paternal grandfather, Atenojenes De Leon]

nlresantenojenes

I remember vividly how my grandfather would ask me questions in Spanish and since I didn’t understand him, I would guess a yes or a no which would cause the adults to laugh. My parents spoke Spanish every day at home but it was their private language which they did not share with the children. Having been punished for speaking Spanish in school, they chose to save us from that fate by only speaking to us in English. When you are young, you are an extension of your family. It’s only when you get a little older that you begin to forge your own identity. My identity felt broken with missing parts. But once I could cobble something together, I could eventually look at my elders with new, inquisitive eyes and ask, “And who are you?” For it wasn’t until I was an adult with children of my own and a video camera in my hand, that it occurred to me to ask about my family history. There were few answers. My mother’s father had died when she was little so she knew nothing of his family which represented our Navajo heritage. She wished that she had asked her mother and others about her maternal history, but she was always too busy raising seven children on her own after my father died. My siblings and cousins asked each other for any family information we could find. But the past seemed like one giant door that we could not open, the door to our ancestry and none of us had learned Spanish.

A lot of emotions and insights came out of the counseling session. I edited the film and titled the film, Reaching In and soon after, screened it at a women’s film conference in Tijuana, Mexico in 1990. There were about 90 Latin American women filmmakers at the conference. It was an astounding to be part of such a historic gathering. The proceedings were in Spanish so I sat with an interpreter, Miriam Soto, and a handful of other non-Spanish speakers. On one of the conference days, there was a heated discussion spurred by a film that had been screened the night before–my film! Some of the Mexican filmmakers said that Chicanas were overly melancholy, searching for their cultural roots and seeking to identify as Mexicans. “But you are not Mexican!” they told us. The Mexican filmmakers advised us to stop trying to be Mexican and instead, make films about ourselves as North Americans. Their remarks were met with pushback from Chicanas, who rejected being rejected!

Maria Novaro, a well-known, accomplished filmmaker from Mexico City, was in attendance at the film conference. Fascinated by the discussion, she went home and for a few years, continued to think about the phenomenon of identity. A few years later she came to the Centro Cultural de la Raza where I was working as a performance curator. She told me that she had thought a lot about my film and that it had inspired her to write a new screenplay with her sister, Beatriz Novaro. They had developed a character in the film, based on me–the melancholy Chicana who could not speak Spanish! The character, Elizabeth, accepts a job in a Tijuana gallery in an attempt to search for her Mexican roots. Oddly enough, that is exactly what I had done when I accepted the job at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. Maria Novaro had returned to Tijuana/San Diego to direct the film which was eventually released as, El Jardin del Eden. Elizabeth is a minor character in the film but through her, the viewer is able to see some of the remarkable border dynamics of that time.  [Photo below:  Mexico-U.S. border fence. Tijuana is the city.]

nlresborderfence

A friend told me that she saw a screening of the movie in Chicago and during the post discussion, someone criticized the Elizabeth character for not speaking Spanish. She said it was not realistic. I grimmace to think of how many of us Latinx have been hidden, too shamefaced to speak. I understand that Spanish is a colonized language but in fact, it is the language of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents…. More importantly it is the language that is spoken in all Latin American countries. I should know it.

When I found out that I would serve in the Peace Corps and live in Guatemala, I was overjoyed because I could finally learn Spanish. And now, after a year and a half, something finally happened–something big and wonderful. I used the Emotional Freedom Technique to process my feelings about Spanish and I experienced a profound breakthrough with speaking Spanish. I still make tons of mistakes and have to ask people to repeat what they are saying, or say it with other words, or speak more slowly. But I relaxed and stopped feeling afraid of looking stupid. That has led me to release shyness and hiding and instead, to speak up more. More frequent conversations in Spanish is the only way I will improve my Spanish.

I used to frequent Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California, just outside of San Diego. I loved taking mindfulness walks led by Thich Nhat Hanh. We would walk s-l-o-w-l-y step by step up a hill, stopping every once in a while to simply stand in awareness. In mindfulness practice, you can allow for thoughts but you don’t pay attention to them. You are aware of the present moment as you breathe slowly. In Spanish it is called Conciencia Plena (full awareness). Here in Guatemala, I continue my mindfulness practice, and as I walk along mountain roads, or along the streets of my town, I am no longer searching for who I am. I am curious and joyfully interested in my heritage, but it no longer implies loss. The door opened. My ancestors speak to me and guide me. They are part of me and I am always home.

So for any Xicanx and Latinx folks who have struggled to learn Spanish, I suggest two things:  study Spanish but also use the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to process your feelings along the way. EFT is free to learn and use and if you contact me, I will teach you the technique, and 2) volunteer in an environment where Spanish is spoken to help you practice and serve your community at the same time. Relax and don’t wait as long as I did. Claim your heritage.

p.s. Check out the Youtube video:  Pocha Concha Goes To Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mother…Semana Santa

I decided to write this blog post as a letter to make it more personable. It’s a letter to you, Mother, so I hope you don’t mind that friends and strangers will be reading it.

Guatemalans commemorate Semana Santa (Holy Week) during the week that leads up to Easter. These days, as you well know, mark the last days of Jesus Christ on earth in His human form. Although there are Protestant, Evangelical, Mayan, and other religions here, the Catholic church continues to dominate Guatemalan cultural traditions as it has for centuries since the conquest of the Americas.

I have thought about my Catholic upbringing over and over throughout my years. I remember our meatless meal Fridays and the three hours of silence that we were supposed to observe on Good Friday. That seemed so hard to do as a child but now, as an adult, I can easily spend a whole day in silence although it would be hard not to check my phone texts. You left the Catholic church for a better fit for you, but I feel this unrelenting connection to the Catholic church for good or for bad. And it’s definitely been bad—the church, that is. I deplore the criminal actions and patriarchy of the Catholic Church. But I have never faltered in my love for the sacred figures I have come to know through the church.

Today is Good Friday and the streets are full of vibrant alfombras—carpets of colored sawdust, pine needles, flowers, and sometimes fruit. Folks prepared the carpets late last night, right after a heavy rainstorm. I was able to sit with six indigenous women and help them prepare bundles of pine needles. They welcomed me into their circle with big smiles. I am usually quiet with new people but they thought I was a comedian—they laughed every time I tried to speak Spanish or K’iche.

nlrespineneedles

A little later I walked over to the main cathedral in the town plaza to sit for a while during their overnight velación. I was reminded of my friends, Endy Bernal, Marylou Valencia, Eva Sandoval, and Maria Figueroa who would lead overnight ceremonies as Danzantes Aztecas. Their level of discipline helped them dance under the hot sun on grass or cement for hours and hours. [photo below: a special altar scene for Good Friday]

nlesthurssemanasnta2018

This morning I woke up early to photograph the alfombras and procession. Here are a few photographs that need no commentary.

nlres2018semSanta_6.jpg

After photographing a few of the alfombras, I went to the church but the plaza was packed with people waiting for the large pasos to start the procession. The pasos are huge altars, like parade floats. They must weigh over a ton and require rows of costeleros, men and women that carry them on their shoulders. It’s dramatic to see the paso when it first appears and descends the steps of the church.

nlres2018semSanta_7

nlres2018semSanta_8

And because I like black and white so much…

nlres2018semSanta_9

The procession wound it’s way through the streets walking over the alfombras which were quickly swept up into garbage bags after the procession had passed. I stepped out of the procession to walk home and write this blog post for you. I thank you and Michael for this new camera. I’m so happy that I can get these long and close-up shots now. I hope that you enjoy them.

I know that your every day is filled with prayers. You are the holiest person I know, Mother. I too, pray for your well being and send you love, love, love.

Eloisa

Miercoles Santos

Last week when my friend, Brenda, invited me to have bread for Miercoles Santos at her mother’s house outside of town. I figured, bread and coffee—cool. But what we had was so much more.

nlresbarbarapuppy

[Photo:  Brenda’s daughter and puppy.] I arrived at Brenda’s house bright and early. From there we had to take a tuk tuk and a pickup truck to get to her mom’s house. When we arrived there, we were greeted by her grandfather and uncle while we waited for her mother to arrive. [Photo below:  Brenda and her grandfather. Yes, she is stunning and he looks like a movie star.]

hiresbrendaGP

In no time, Brenda’s mom, Chave, arrived with supplies for us carry to her adobe home ten minutes away by foot. I loved Chave’s rustic adobe house with it’s twigs sticking out from between mud bricks. I asked if she thought it would keep her safe from intruders. “Yes,” she answered, “But not from earthquakes.” Coincidentally, there was a 4.5 earthquake in Guatemala today.

nlresChaveshouse

Chave has not yet officially moved into her house. Though It has a refrigerator, stove and table, Chave had to carry in the kitchen supplies and food for the day. As soon as everything was unloaded, she proceeded to cook us breakfast. She used fresh eggs from her chickens and fresh cream and cheese from her cows. She made us the best eggs, beans, corn tortillas with steaming cups of coffee. It might have been the best meal I’ve ever had; I was overwhelmed by how delicious everything was.

nlresfarmfresh

Once we’d eaten, Chave proceeded to prepare a lunch for us of chicken, rice, tortillas, and drinks. But because it was a special day, Chave was going to kill a beautiful orange-feathered chicken that she’d raised for eight months. Preparing the chicken was no small feat but like many rural Guatemalans, she managed every step of the process quickly and efficiently. [Photo below:  Brenda and Chave trying to catch the chicken.]

nlrescatchinggallina

Once the chicken was killed, de-feathered, cleaned and cooked, we sat down for lunch. We were still full from breakfast and now I regret that I couldn’t eat more because it was so good.

nlreslunch

Suddenly it was time to make the special bread for the day. Chave, Brenda and Chave’s daughter-in-law knew exactly how to work together and they insisted that I relax. I took photos which Chave encouraged (thank you, Chave!), wrote, and played with the kids and puppy.

nlresfield

When the batter was prepared it was poured into different sizes of tins and Chave placed them into her outdoor oven.

nlresoven

nlresbreadinoven

She’d made enough for everyone to carry loaves home. When they were ready, she made more cafe con leche for us to drink with the pan (bread). Oh, that was good!

nlrespanontable

Armed with loaves of bread, we made our way back to Brenda’s grandfather’s house and Chave invited me to see her eight cows. A few relatives were relaxing and having a conversation near the cow stalls. I sat with them while Chave proceeded to work, mixing food for the cows and feeding them. She works so hard!

nlreschave_cows

By 4pm, it was time to go and I needed to catch the bus on the road since Brenda was going to ride her motorcycle home. At the appointed time, the large bus came careening around a curve. Two of us ran into the road to flag it down. I sat down in the bus feeling so grateful for the experience of having been with such wonderful people and enjoying delicious food.

♥♥♥  early evening  ♥♥♥

At 5:30pm I walked to my town’s central plaza to see roving bands of boys carrying effigies of Judas Iscariot. The various groups of males run wildly down streets with noisemakers stopping at small stores houses to ask for pan (bread) for Judas. Sometimes they are given a little bread or cupcakes. The effigies look more like devils which is the intended effect because on Sunday, the effigies will be burned in the town plaza in front of the cathedral. The roots of this cultural/religious tradition are Catholic.

nlresJudasmar282018

nlresnightJudas2018

Since I was in the plaza, I entered the church in time to attend 6:00 mass. Ordinarily, I do not attend mass but today I felt so utterly grateful for my friends and their hospitality that I had to give thanks. And importantly, the history of Christ’s crucifixion continues to lay heavily in my heart. It is an annual mourning and so sharing that collective sadness (which would turn into joy in a few days) felt necessary.

Tomorrow night, the streets will be decorated in preparation for the Good Friday procession the next morning. Join me in my next blog post to see the photos. Peace be with you.