Feliz Navidad

Yesterday I ate four tamales, drank a billion cups of black tea…and nothing else. You see, tamales are the traditional Christmas food in Guatemala. And for us, the real Christmas activities really begin on the 24th. For my Christmas Eve day, I woke up leisurely at around 9:30, headed out to play a little basketball an hour later, and ended up meeting a bunch of people on the basketball court shortly thereafter. This happens about 80% of the time I go out to play, so I never really have to worry about finding a buddy to play with; I’m almost certain to find one on the court. We played a little basketball then other people showed up and the decided that soccer would be better. “Sta bueno”, it’s all good, I tell them, and we start playing “pappy-fút” (5 on 5 soccer on a basketball court). I think I like this version better because there’s a lot more ball control, passing, and general being-involved for everyone. When we play soccer on the big field I can go many minutes without handling the ball or really running at all. We all tired ourselves out around noon thirty and headed back to the houses to help finish the tamales.

I headed home, showered, and really did intend to help with tamale-making, but by then it was almost 2 and that’s when the championships of pappy-fút were happening. Every year the town has a Christmas tournament and on the 24th they play the championship. The team with the majority of my friends was playing for 3rd place, which they won, and later two other teams fought for 1st place. There were only four teams in total. I took a couple photos, but it was so cold I didn’t really want to take my hands out of my pockets.

Photo 1: Octavio aka Xino (sheen-o), the goaly

Photo 2: Luis Lopez aka another Güicho, my neighbor

Photos 3 and 4: the court where we play every afternoon

I got back to my house at almost 5pm, accompanied by my friend Güicho Castro (see Photos: Some Friends pt 1) because he had asked to borrow my guitar to play for his church service later on. By the way, his team was the one that won first place. By that time all the tamales had been made and were waiting until 10pm at night to be cooked, and I was a little bored. I had also been starting to get sick the day before so I cooked up some tea and took my mug out to stand by the church. It’s not that I was all that eager to go to church, it’s just that there’s a big, flat area there therefore it’s a popular place to go and play. This is where I taught the children of my town how to play dodge-ball just a few weeks earlier.

I had been standing there about five minutes when my friend Yobani showed up, as he’s one of the very involved people with the church, and he asked me to keep an eye on his bag while he went to go get the key. Okay, I told him, and was soon met by handful of small children who live nearby. They started climbing on the monument, spinning around in circles, and trying to understand what I was talking about when I tried to explain the concept of being dizzy, without actually knowing the Spanish word. “You know, it’s like when you turn yourself around a bunch of times, maybe 20 or 30, but then you stop, but feel in your brain like you’re still moving and usually you fall down like a drunk person.” Yes, I said exactly that but still nobody could tell me the word for “dizzy” in Spanish (estar mareado/a is what I later looked up). I had also previously taught some of these small children how if they held to my hands really tight with their hands, I could make them fly around in little circles around me. They all love to do this, but I can only do it so many times without getting a little mareada myself, so I was pleased to see, after regaining normal sight after spinning my little neighbor Mario around that my friend Oscar had just arrived from Xela, about 6 hours away, so spend Christmas with his family.

I shooed away the little kids and talked with Oscar while waiting for Yobani to come back with the key. Yoba arrived and we walked back to my house, well, our houses really because he is my neighbor, and decided to meet up later after he had done some catching up with his family. At 6:30 or so I left the house to go to the church for a fun-filled evening of sitting down, doing nothing, and listening to awful music and people preaching in k’iche’. When I met up with my friend, we were both of the same mind to sit in church for a few minutes, be seen, and then head out to wander about. It was nice having somebody to really hang out with, not just have a couple minute conversation while passing in the street, or chatting on the sidelines of the basketball court while waiting to get a chance to play, but walking around with somebody for hours, making jokes, and feeling cared for. The only thing is, the town is so small we wandered the whole thing in a matter of a half an hour. So we repeated. And again. He kept saying how there’s so many “new” people in town, as in, people he doesn’t know or recognize because he’s been away studying and/or working for so long. I could relate because, although everyone here knows my name and always say “Katy, Katy, KATY” when I pass them on the streets, most of the time I don’t know there name, and even if I do recognize their face, I still don’t know where from.

At this time my cold had gotten worse so we went back to my house to have some tea and be in a little warmer place for a while, only to leave again to walk around. We did the same thing until midnight, when everybody started setting off firecrackers and fireworks, which is another Christmas tradition. When the danger zone cleared, we hung outside for a bit, deciding which house to visit first. Here, even though everybody makes tamales and almost everybody makes them just about the same, you invite people over to your house to eat tamales and have “poncha”, which is like punch, only it’s fruit cut up into tiny tiny pieces, thrown in a huge pot, and cooked and served hot. I can only guess they add pounds of sugar because, well, they add sugar to everything. I don’t really care much for this holiday drink, but I took it anyway. Oscar was invited to 10 different houses to have tamales and he invited me along. I only made it to one house, another neighbor, before getting too tired and cold to continue. We parted ways at about 1:30 in the morning and I fell right to sleep.

Christmas morning I woke up around 8 to go once again to the soccer field, only this time they were actually going to play on the large field. Nobody had started, so we head back to the house to relax and wait for the game. As I was leaving again for the soccer field I saw a few girl neighbors of mine putting on their PE shirts, so I asked if they were going to play and they invited me. We went back to the field together, watched they boys play, and finally got a game in ourselves. We play 30 minute halves and I got to play the whole time. It wasn’t as much fun as playing with the guys, but, it was fun being one of the better players for once. It’s also nice feeling the my-legs-are-so-sore-but-it-feels-soooooo-good feeling again.

At 2 in the afternoon the raffle started, for which I had bought one ticket so had about a 0.012 chance of winning anything. Oscar and I went down to sit by the church and wait for it to start, which took about 45 minutes instead of the promised “we will be starting the raffle in 20 minutes”. I’m so glad I had somebody who understood me when I laughed the third time Yobani said “only 10 seconds remain for the starting of the raffle, hurry up, buy your tickets now!” Then he started counting down, “vos Yoba, your seconds are so much longer than anybody elses!” Even though it was boring, at least I had somebody to laugh at. I mean with. I guess I mean both. A half hour later I was called up to be the person who draws the numbers out of the hat to chose the winner. I picked it, number 956 I believe, and when the little girl came up to claim her prize (an apron), I was then handed the microphone. “Katy, would you like to say a few words to the winner of this prize?” “Um, no” I replied. Nobody thought it was funny. “What do you want me to say?” I asked and someone it the crowd shouted “Feliz Navidad!” So that’s what I said and ran back to my seat.

That more or less ended the Christmas festivities. We all returned to our houses, ate more tamales, I had a lot more tea, and had a restful end of the evening. I headed outside a few hours later and saw Oscar’s younger brother Luis playing guitar (same as pictured above), so I invited him up and we played a little together, only he doesn’t know very good the songs he has written down in his binder and he’s terrible at keeping time so it was hard to follow along. We decided after a half hour or so that the fingers were much too frozen to play anymore and called it a night. Sleep happened early because of the lack of sleep the previous night, and there ended my Christmas! Oh yeah, gift-giving isn’t really big here, but I did print out a bunch of photos for my family, neighbors, and close friends.

Still working on snapping more photos of my friends here so you all can put names to faces. Will come within the next week or so.

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