Elizabeth Guatemala Update


[Note: We recently received two updates from Elizabeth Griswold, a former Los Angeles Catholic Worker community member now working with a rural indigenous community in Guatemala. Both updates are included in this post.]
   I wish everyone a Happy Spring and also a belated Happy Ashura, Happy Purim, and Happy Easter!
    Here are some pictures from Semana Santa here–Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. It is a really big deal here. We had no classes at school (a Spring Break), and I got to experience other traditions like eating crocodile meat, bread and honey, sweet garbanzo beans, and beet salad. There were big processions through the streets, Wed-Sun, with people marching and carrying large floats depicting Jesus´ final week.


   Different houses set up the Stations of the Cross, and neighborhoods decorate their street with pine needles and colored saw dust. A lot of people also go the beach or go swimming–like I did twice at a nearby mini water park (to which anyone who visits me can also go). I also heard that in other parts of the country there is a tradition to mock-crucify three petty thieves (tie them to a cross for three hours, then let them out of jail), and that plenty volunteer. The mother of my host family also made special blouses for her girls to wear to all the activities and a traditional skirt for me.
   So the first picture is of Brenda/Tita (many people use their first and middle names interchangably)–9-year-old daughter, Mayra–10-year-old they’ve taken in because her mother is alcoholic), and me with one of the floats.
   Second is a view from our balcony of the street and carried float.
   Third is the family’s girls and me swimming at the park (with our
clothes on–typical).
   And fourth is us having a carne asada picnic after swimming. Later we went home and ate Easter chocolates my mom had sent.
   I hope you are all well and write back to me soon! Much Love and Peace,
Second Update
   I hope you are all doing well. I have had a number of fun adventures lately, and it’s also nice having stuff to look forward to–like my mom and little brother’s visit in a couple weeks. Week after next I will accompany the middle school’s field trip in climbing and sleeping on a nearby volcano. Then I might be going with another BVS volunteer to visit some others in Chiapas to renew our visas in May. Then we have our volunteer retreat in Todos Santos in June. And possibly the summer months may be filled with more visitors…
   So I thought I’d say more about the people I live with, describe them a little. Moises is the father of my host family. He is very polite and gracious. He told me that he can’t imagine living without children and flowers, because they really brighten a home and make it happy. He works in the fields and also spends a lot of unpaid time in his position as treasurer of this committee to bring water to a destitute neighborhood. Last week he told me when they finish the project (which entails coming up with $18,000 more, which the municipal government stiffed them), he is thinking of immigrating to work in the US for a couple years to support his daughters’ education. I hope he doesn’t go, because I’ve seen the other families torn apart by that, and it’s so sad. He also plays saxophone and clarinet in a band.
   Everilda is the mother, and she is the jefe in just about every situation in which she’s involved. She is the president of Mujeres de Maiz and also on the “school board,” and she continually takes in children who are basically orphaned by their alcoholic parents, which is all too common. She runs a tight ship at home, and her daughters help out a lot around the house. She is very industrious, always working on something, tells me she gets bored when she rests. She reminds me a little of the aunt in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” who tells the vegetarian she’ll make lamb and says that her removed cyst contained her twin, because she loves telling stories and is very gregarious like that. She takes good care of me.
   Yovany is the oldest brother (23?—ages seem to fluctuate here). I don’t have much contact with him, since he lives separately downstairs with his wife, Pati (21), who teaches at the school with me. It is unusual that they live in their own little apartment instead of in the midst of the husband’s family, but Pati insisted. She is not as much Everilda’s sidekick as E would like, but it was fun to watch the two of them in their little negotiating act at the big market in Chimaltenago, when they helped bring down the prices for the sandals and traditional skirt material they had me buy to dress more appropriately here. Yovany is a mechanic.
   Gerardo (or Chato, 19) reminds me of Ahmar (for those who know him), and not just because he’s short, brown, and somewhat fashionable. He also gets away with way too much because he’s funny and nobody can stay mad at him long. He sure tested that with me though when he was playing with my camera and accidentally erased 5 weeks of pictures and then barely apologized. He also plays his stereo very loud whenever he feels like it, which often is 5am. I have a hard time accepting the way he takes advantage of the inherent gender inequality here and orders his mother and sisters around to serve him food and wash his clothes, etc. It is also weird the way I am treated as somehow in between genders, since they always serve the men first and me second, as a guest but also because I don’t know how to participate in all the regular chores of women here. At one point Gerardo said he needed to get a girlfriend to clean his room. His mom gasped and scolded him—saying “Not a girlfriend, Chato, a wife!” He works in electronics.
   Wendy Roxana (many people alternate using their first and middle names, 15) is my friend because I can talk to her more than the little girls, due to her age. She told me last week, “It’s nice to talk with you, Liz, because you don’t fight, and you don’t get mad.” There is too much familial squabbling amongst siblings and with their mom. She has a hard time because a lot has always been expected of her housework-wise as oldest daughter. She told me despondently she never really learned how to play. But some of this attitude and her responsibilities seem to be self-imposed and teen angst-inspired. After ninth grade if they continue school, it’s for 3 more years to train for a career. Wendy is studying to be a kindergarten teacher.
   Brenda Patricia (Tita, 9) is one of my fourth grade students. There is a division in the family between the older boys, who do more of their own thing, and the younger girls. With Tita being neither oldest nor youngest of the girls, it is not as easy to connect with her. At times, she is aggressive physically in terms of being grabby and pushy, and sometimes tells lies. I think she is a little more suspicious of me being around, which is understandable. We walk to school together in the mornings. All the children are good students and seem very intelligent. Tita is also the prettiest, with great dimples.
   Darlyn Dalila is five and very adorable and cuddly and hilarious. She is quite outgoing, loves having her picture taken, and leads her kindergarten class in prayers and songs every morning. I taught her “Miss Mary Mack” to add to her repertoire of and-slap sing-songs. Anyone who comes to visit (I have school off from Oct-Jan, by the way) will certainly see pictures of when she won as town Mayan queen for her age group for her ability to speak Kaqchikel so fluently, and when she represented the school to the national Minister of Education.
   I had planned to write a bit more about some of my recent highlights, but it’s getting to be time for dinner, and this message is already quite long. So, goodbye for now. Take care, and hope to hear from you soon.
   Love and Peace, Elizabeth

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