Saturday, March 15, 2008

Casa Increible!

As you can see from the photo the Jocote tree is starting to bloom as is the little house in San Antonio Aquas Calientes, Sacatapequez, Guatemala. A multitude of volunteers have shown up wanting to be a part of the experience of creating a home for a family who has never had one. Gringo, gringa, child, adult, even a young neighbor who could haul more cinder blocks on his back than any one us. Those not up to hauling 1200 cinderblocks 30 yards from the street turned up at midday with lunch for the whole crew. The children wandered up the street to a “tienda” and bought five pounds of Puppy Chow for the obviously starving puppy belonging to the only neighbors who live in a “casa tipica” of bamboo walls and dirt floors. They thanked us profusely and the little puppy quickly figured that his or hers ship had come in and ate himself or herself into a near coma.

When I arrived in Guatemala in early March Alexander picked me up at the airport and en route to Antigua we talked about the imminent start of the first real home he has ever known. He told me that he didn’t have the words to describe how he felt about it. I suggested that we might call the house “Casa de Milagros” (house of miracles) and he laughed a bit and said “Casa Increible.” Ground breaking was on schedule Monday, March 10th. Three hombres with three shovels. The first load of cinder blocks arrived. Alexander, myself, his 12-year old daughter, Jackie, and one hombre unloaded and stacked 400 cinder blocks. We had a friendly greeting from the “casa tipica” neighbors. The women and female children (of which there are many) were dressed in “traje,” the hand-woven, indigenous dress. Grandma works much of the time at her backstrap loom weaving away in the hope of selling a few pieces for a few quetzals at the town artisans’ market. We needed to gain permission to remove some trees on the property lines that had already been topped off by the neighbor for firewood. In a short time all the neighbors showed up, introduced themselves and readily agreed to all of the requests. I was amazed at how easy it was. Alexander who has lived for years in a somewhat hostile environment of in-laws and petty criminals was equally amazed and he quickly became the man of the (almost) house negotiating with the neighbors on various issues.

This is also the season of Semana Santa (Holy Week). Work on the house will stop for most of the week as will most other work. During Lent there are “velaciones” on Friday evenings in the local churches and processions on Sundays, each grander than the last. Various churches sponsor the processions which frequently last in excess of twelve hours. The men wear purple, the women black. Each church has a “float” (made of mahogany and weighing several thousand pounds) for Jesus and a smaller one for Mary. In most cases the Jesus and Mary figures are several hundred years old with stories of their own. People who live along the route of the processions spend the previous night making carpets of colored sawdust, flowers and fruit. Alexander tells of being hungry as a child and running along behind the processions picking up the fruit. The "alfombra" (carpet) pictured is one created by Alexander and two friends in front of Pollo Campero on the Alameda for the Palm Sunday La Merced procession. It is a wonderful time to be in Antigua to appreciate the passion of the people and enjoy the endless festivities. Even the most jaded non-believer can't help but get caught up in it.