Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays, 2016

Another year has sped by and the Guatemalan holiday season was officially launched on the seventh of December with the burning of an effigy of the devil. This year mischief makers erected a rather voluptuous female devil, allegedly modeled after Antigua’s first ever female mayor. Yes, she is blonde. The new devil quickly disappeared after the local authorities put their heads together and reappeared sporting a bra and a baby. The devil, laced with fireworks and doused with gasoline was set afire, oddly between two gas stations. This year she was accompanied by several Donald Trump piñatas with devil horns. This event symbolizes clearing the bad spirits out of one's house in time for Christmas.

The she devil was burned along with piñatas of
Donald Trump on December 7th.

The highlight of this year's Christmas season was a packed to overflowing concert in the ruins of the cathedral. Midway through the concert there was a stunning display of fireworks visible through the never restored ceiling.

Site of the Christmas concert

On the afternoon of December 24th,  Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, Antigua starts to shut down and families visit the churches to see their nacimientos, manger scenes, often very elaborate. At midnight there is a full half hour of fireworks from every corner of the Panchoy Valley. The locals then party until dawn with tamales, fruit punch and gifts while the gringos take to their beds. Then it is fairly quiet until the New Year's festivities start with a procession of the Virgin of the New Year in nearby San Miguel Dueñas. Some sixty convites, dancers in very elaborate costumes representing Mayan gods and conquistadors, dance through the streets until late in the evening. On New Years' Eve the center of Antigua is closed off to traffic and the festivities start at four o'clock with marimba and indigenous dance competitions. Central Park is packed with people from all corners of the world, young and old. Vendors sell everything from noisemakers, candy cotton, inflatable airplanes and large paper lanterns that pepper the sky after being set adrift by a fire lit in the base. At midnight there is yet another half hour of fireworks welcoming in the New Year.

Convite dancer in San Miguel Dueñas

You would really think that the energy that goes into the holiday season was a once in a lifetime event like winning the World Cup. But it comes around annually with the same amount of enthusiasm each time. Partying is very serious business not to be taken lightly in Guatemala.

For those of you who might be wondering how the last blog report played out the three younger children returned to their aunt's home once I realized that the whole business was yet another ruse likely authored by the incarcerated Alex to attempt to get me to pay for housing for their mother, Marielos. From his not so lofty perch Alex apparently doesn't understand that the woman scarcely takes care of her children as it is. If she had her own place they would likely starve to death.

About the time they returned home Diego and Cristofer both participated in a graduation ceremony at school. Diego graduated from primary school and Cristofer from lower elementary (in the Montessori tradition) to upper elementary. Marielos and her sister (the very one who had allegedly thrown her and her children out on the street) made a huge fuss about the graduation taking Diego off to the market where they completely overdressed him for the occasional in a funereal black suit and tie. Then, quite expectedly, not one member of the family showed up in time for the graduation ceremony. Diego had been in tears behind the scene, his teachers reported, and it pained me to see him continue to glance around looking for his mother. She and the rest of the family showed up after the ceremony but on time for the free food.

Diego's primary school graduation. Moving up to middle school.

It has become an annual ritual to trek uphill for about an hour to a remote Christmas tree farm. A four wheel drive is necessary to navigate the seven off road kilometers into the facility which is surprisingly elegant. There is a small, shallow lake with plastic row boats. One year I had to roll up my pants and walk in and rescue the boaters who hadn't yet mastered the oars. A rugged vehicle takes you to the area where the desired size of trees are. Then there is a scattering of children as each one picks a different tree. Finally, there is a consensus and two men with a chainsaw take over. Back down to base camp while waiting for the tree to be delivered and secured to the car there is a feast of tortillas, chorizo, guacamole and hot chocolate (yes, it is cold up there).

Mishell, Liam, Jackie and Cristofer find the perfect tree.

This year Jackie's son, Liam, who is three and a half, went along for the first time along with his 21-year old mother, his thirty-nine year old grandmother, Estela, Cris, Mishell and Diego. Jackie continues working full time at the Antigua Green School while taking care of Liam and attending university classes all day on Saturdays.

Liam enjoying his first trip to the Christmas tree farm.

Astrid, who turned seventeen in November, is astounding everyone at her international school where she is a sophomore. She is on target to receive mostly As, some Bs, while taking excellent care of her six-month old son. She has an A- in an AP economics class given in English by the director of the school who was one of the first to say that she could never return to that school while raising a baby. Go Astrid!

Astrid has a lot on her plate for a seventeen-year old.

Denis has graduated from high school and becomes one of the 25% of Guatemalans with a high school education and graduating from a private program gives him an advantage over many in that group. He has secured a decent job with possibilities so it remains to be seem whether or not he will see the advantages of continuing his education. Perhaps, in time, but right now he is working six days a week and the boss likes him. He plans to ask for Saturdays off to pursue university classes. Attending university all day on Saturday is common for those who need to work during the week. 

Astrid, Baiker, Mishell, Denis, Liam Jackie, Cristofer and Diego

Diego, now fourteen, has jumped into adolescence, but gladly his obsessions right now include chess, Rubik's cubes and long sessions of Dungeons and Dragons with classmates. He has announced his intention to learn Java script by watching YouTube videos.

Cristofer and Mishell are now fairly fluent in English, proficient in the board game Rumikube and are looking forward to returning to school. Mishell loves to read and was very excited about a pile of books that she received for Christmas. Cristofer is a born comedian who loves school, math and being helpful.

Cristofer, ten in January, enjoys playing Santa

We had another good sized eruption from the volcano, Fuego, to close out the year and remind us how unimportant we are in the overall scheme of things.

Fuego celebrating the end of 2016.

2017 brings another trip to Cuba in January with a pre-school classmate in the hope that travel to that island won't soon be restricted by the new administration. Shoulder surgery in February will probably send me back to Spanish school for six weeks since I won't be able to do much else. I also look forward to some more road trips with Mundo Posible ( to very rural parts of Guatemala where we distribute educational resources to schools that have little or none.

Teachers seeing Wikipedia and the Khan Academy for the first time.

All the best to you and yours in 2017.