From Cunen Guatemala
Fri, 18 Jan 2008
Hi to all...Well this is the first opportunity we have had to send any mail.
It is quite warm here as expected. About 25C during the day and 15C at night. Just about perfect I would say. But then there is that tropical sun! It has been quite a ride here so far (in more ways than one!) We arrived in Guatemala City yesterday am. At about 5:30am Fr. Gerry Lestrat was there to meet us. It was good to be relieved of out 4 clarinets, 300 pens and 200 rosaries (long story).After we were all assembled we were 9 people....and at times it is a bit like herding cats! We packed (and I mean packed) into a minivan and after a couple of stops, headed out of town. We were scheduled to be in Cunen by 5pm.....no sleep or downtime for us! We did find time to stop at some very interesting Mayan ruins along the way This is a very mountainous country so we had to cross entire mountain ranges at lord knows how many thousands of feet to get there. It seemed like it could be quite treacherous at times. I have no idea how motors last in these vehicles (many of them trucks) after wheezing up and down these mountain roads. There was a lot of road construction which got rather interesting because no one has any patience here or idea of 'taking turns'.
The country is much like other tropical countries with people living in basic square cinderblock buildings that are plastered and then whitewashed different colors. Corrugated tin iron roofs cover them. There seems to be a lot of security here.eg. at gas stations and banks you will probably find a guard with a machine gun. The people here are quite short...even we are feeling tall! Vegetables are grown on little plats on the hillsides...some of them rather steep. Corn(Maize) is grown for the tortillas that most eat instead of bread.
We arrived in Cunen at 5pm as scheduled. A delegation was there to meet us as we arrived in town. These were people in some way related to the building of the new Mayan teacher's college.
We are staying in a very basic hotel which is still unfortunately under construction. It features bathrooms with no doors, no hot water, and if you dare to have a shower in the ice-cold water and the drain doesn't work, you stand in and catch the water in a garbage pail.....but the people are very nice! It makes for a more rustic experience. That night we were invited to the first stage if the inauguration of the school. It was conducted by a Mayan priest....much like a native medicine man. It involved the burning of incense and a lot of praying as well as symbolic things connected to nature, not all of which we understood. There were dozens of school kids there dressed in their finest who gathered around the burning fire. We Canadians were profusely thanked and acknowledged for coming and supporting the building of the school. After the ceremony, we were taken to a local restaurant where we dined with teachers form the school, officials and of course listened to more speeches! By this time we were really bagged and thankfully the water and power had been turned on in the 'hotel' by then. This morning, it was back to the restaurant. We are learning that things happen here when they happen, so if you have to wait an hour or two for things to happen it is no big deal. So after breakfast (lots of refritos ,huevos rancheros and fried bananas) we headed back to the school for the rest of the celebrations. The day was bright and sunny and full of promise. This time the whole town came out....again dressed in their finest as well as all the school kids in either native dress or school uniforms. People of this region commonly wear their native dress all the time. It can be quite colorful with long patterned skirts and a lace blouse overtop. There is also a lot of orange and red embroidered clothing which is quite colorful. This is a rather small place and everyone knew who we were and why we were there....the celebrities o the hour. ...'the Canadians'. There must have been hundreds there and we were all on the make-shift stage along with the other dignitaries. There was a lot of ceremony, presentations, speeches....everyone being properly thanked and acknowledged....many times! There was a calypso band that played loudly and lots of firecrackers that went off throughout the ceremony. One even landed on a house and that sent the firefighters running to check it out. This went on for hours but the whole crowd listened attentively. There were lots of groups of schoolgirls and boys giggling and trying to practice a word or two of English on us. The people here are really quite shy until they warm up to you....then they can be very friendly. After all the unveilings, ribbon cuttings, and school blessings (done by Fr. G.L.) we were done, we dined again in one of the classrooms with all the dignitaries. By this time, I needed to find a bathroom. Where others went I have no idea because the bathrooms are not yet functional. I was pointed to a crudely dug latrine sheltered in black plastic. That was the most interesting part of the whole day....trying not to fall down the hole! All in all it was a pretty amazing celebration. Everyone now knows us in town and are quite friendly to us. The school is quite a work of art since I last saw it in pictures as some crude cinderblock walls. There is a lot of Mayan symbolism and design to the structure. They obviously recognize the value of education for future progress.
Well, I think I will wrap this up for now. This is a great little town, quite peaceful and relaxing in many ways. There is very little traffic. Most people walk everywhere (=no fat people), or ride in little 3 wheeler taxis (tuck tucks). Well, I will leave this now and go and see what the rest of the day holds. We will be moving on tomorrow I am sure they won't let us leave without further celebration. Will write when I can, hope you are all well and not too cold!
V & C