This weekend, something really special happened: two families separated by two countries and a small language barrier but joined through a mutual love for their children met one another. If you remember, at the end of March, Juana's family got a new roof. One week ago, Daniel and Madeline (the husband and one of the daughters of Christina) came to Guatemala. They spent the week with me, and on Friday we went out to Solola to visit Juana's family. We brought a birthday party including the cake, a piñata, and presents for everyone.
In rural, impoverished families such as this one, it is unusual to know one's birth date. Juana, on her information sheet for the program, gave us some dates, but I doubt most (if any) of them are correct. However, that wasn't about to stop us from celebrating life and years of life. I'm fairly certain that this was the first birthday party the family has ever had.
Sitting around later with Ismael, I learned more about Juana's financial state. They were speaking "Kaqchiñol" (Spanish--español--and Kaqchikel mixed), but there was enough Spanish in it that I followed the situation. (And I verified that I heard what I thought I heard with Ismael a little later.) Juana's husband mortgaged the house before he abandoned the family. And as it is Juana and the boys who live there, she's the one who needs to pay it off before the only home they have known gets taken away. Juana makes payments of Q300 every 2 weeks and has 9 payments left to make. Until recently, this wasn't too taxing. The two oldest children were making Q700/month and Q400/month respectively. So, the family brought in a regular salary of Q1100/month and paid Q600/month on their mortgage leaving Q500 for regular living expenses. However, recently the eldest got laid off from work, "downsized." You can see that this math does not add up, nor does the family have any handicrafts ready to sell at the moment. So, we told them to see what they can make in the next few weeks. I look at the cost of the party--including our bus fare out and back--and feel heavy-hearted because that was an entire mortgage payment, but you can't buy the kind of happiness that those boys had destroying that piñata or eating that cake or unwrapping those presents. And the family will get past this because they always do.
After that, we went to visit the twins. I'm pleased to report that Ingrid is MUCH better, and both girls actually ran down to the car when we arrived. Laura's stomach doesn't even look as bloated. I forgot to bring another bag of incaparina for the family, but they say they enjoyed the first bag a lot. Madeline and Daniel had brought sweaters, stuffed animals, and hair bows with them; so we took advantage of the situation and gave a few out. The girls each got sweaters (although they were a little big on them, but that's better than too small!), and all three of the children got stuffed animals. We had also planned on giving a hair bow to each girl, but we managed to lose one somewhere; so we just gave them one and said we'd bring another one the next time.
On the way to visit a new family, we saw a woman weaving, and because Madeline has such an interest in handicrafts, we stopped to watch her weave for a bit. The woman even let Madeline pose for a picture with the weaving, but Madeline didn't want to mess up the woman's work; so she didn't take up the offer of doing a few rows. I'm going to see if I have a friend close by who will teach her during the upcoming weeks.
Then we visited the new family. It happened to be the family of Ismael's sister-in-law (his wife's sister). Her situation is that she has 5 children and with her husband's work as a "round up worker," she can't afford the education of all 5 anymore. The oldest girls are in their teens (7th and 8th grades), and are old enough to work in this culture if the family needs money. However, they're both smart--neither has failed a grade which is much easier to do here than in the States--and want to work with numbers. ("Perito Contador" is the career they want to study. I haven't yet figured out what that translates to.) So, she's hoping that I'll be able to help with the educational needs of the oldest girls, nothing more.
For me, this is a difficult situation. I obviously want to help the poorest families, and based on my criteria, this isn't one of them. However, it's the family of someone who I consider to be part of my family, like if one of my biological (or legal) cousins said that they could no longer care for their child and would have to put him or her up for adoption if they couldn't find help. If nothing else, I'd say, "Let him or her come and live with me. I don't have the money to help you there, but here where things cost less, I can feed an extra mouth. He or she will learn Spanish and maybe even Kaqchikel; he or she will be bilingual or maybe even trilingual. That will help in the future." But we already are here. With your help, I can send hundreds of kids to school.
On our way back to the car after visiting Ismael's sister-in-law's family, Camilo and Ismael mentioned to me that Camilo and Cristina wouldn't be going to Antigua on Saturday as they often do. They had a wedding over the weekend, and asked if the three of us (Madeline, Daniel, and myself) would like to attend. On Saturday morning would be the final asking of the groom for the bride's hand, and on Sunday would be the wedding. I felt a little uncomfortable with that as I only had jeans with me, but Camilo assured us that as his--the pastor's--guests, we didn't have to be dressed up, that "observers" don't have to participate, just observe. This was a pretty exciting opportunity, and after a lot of reassurance that it would be fine, we agreed to it. They got us checked into our hotel--the same one where I stayed about a month ago when I was visiting families--and the three of us went out to dinner.
Saturday morning we had to wake up early to meet Camilo and Cristina in Los Encuentros for the trip to the bride's home. In the U.S., asking the bride to marry you is somewhat a private affair typically involving just the groom and the bride and, occasionally, the bride's father. In Guatemala, a traditional marriage proposal involves both families, three askings, and lots of gifts. Marriages often involve two ceremonies--civil and religious--or just one really long ceremony which will include both as ministers here can't legally marry people. So, Saturday was the final "asking." And, besides being really long, it went quite smoothly...until the end.
Most of the asking was in Kaqchikel, but there were some parts that were Kaqchiñol. And, as often happens with multilingual people, when the pressure rises to communicate clearly and effectively between people who speak the same multiple languages, whatever language works for any given word. There is a word in Kaqchikel for "bus," but "camioneta" is much clearer for the people. In Kaqchiñol, many of the Spanish words lose their gendered ending because there are no genders for objects in Kaqchikel. "Camioneta" became "camionet," but I'm so used to this (and do it a lot myself when genders in Spanish frustrate me) that I understand just fine.
The two families don't live incredibly close to each other. It would not be practical to walk to the wedding, and, in Guatemala, very few families have their own vehicle. Apparently, Luis (the groom) was supposed to arrange for buses to take the bride's family to the wedding...and he hadn't done that. So, the father of the groom said that it was obvious that Luis didn't respect Ana's (the bride's) family and didn't want them to be a part of his life. So, the bride's father was all about not allowing her to go to the religious wedding the next day (and possibly even annulling the civil wedding which had happened the week before, unknown to me at the time). A lot of yelling and haggling later, they settled on two buses to take the family and other church members to the wedding. We and the groom's family went back to the groom's family's house to celebrate.
That afternoon, Madeline and I went to the market while Daniel took a nap. I had something in mind that I wanted to look for, but Madeline found a corte (a traditional skirt) and faja (the belt to hold up the skirt) she wanted to buy. The asking price for both was more than we had; so, I pulled all the money out of my pocket and said that was how much we could pay. I was a little surprised she said yes, but Madeline got her skirt and belt. Broke, we walked back down the big hill to the hotel, got Daniel, and went to visit Panajachel.
Panajachel has always been one of those places that I have avoided because it's a tourist hot-spot, but because it is Daniel and Madeline's first visit to Guatemala, it was one of those things we just needed to get out of the way. In the 5 years since my first visit to Panajachel (and even in the 1 year since my last visit there!), it has just exploded as far as tourism goes. I hardly recognized the boat docks where I once collected real pumice stones floating in the water. We were able to do a lot of cheap tourism shopping there, but besides seeing the lake and buying stuff, there wasn't much to do. Within about 2 hours, we were on our way back up to Solola where we ate dinner and spent another night.
Sunday morning came early. We opted out of going to kidnap the bride with Camilo and Cristina. However, I had a very unwelcome surprise in the morning: Madeline's corte was a style I was only familiar with in name. The people here call it "tipo bolsa" ("bag style"). That's not what they use in San Antonio. So, I made it work as best as possible. We ate breakfast at the hotel, took the bus to Los Encuentros, and then we walked to the church. Madeline felt a little awkward, and after she admitted she'd feel better if someone checked her skirt to make sure I did it okay, we went to a nearby tienda (small store) to see if the woman working there would fix it for us. She did, and now I know how to put on a corte tipo bolsa as well.
Besides starting about a half hour late (hora chapina: everything starts late), the wedding went smoothly. The bride and groom got married, and then we ate carne guisado for lunch. (This is apparently the second most common wedding food for the area. The most common is pulique.) And after that, we headed for home...tired, wearing dirty clothes, but considerably more educated than we started out.
Oh, and I now have somewhere to live in Solola starting in September.