Sunday, December 26, 2010

Woot woot! It’s Christmas!

Once again, tamales are the go-to delicacy here in Guatemala, although my host mom made some last night that took the flavor to a new level. Raisins, prunes, olives, peppers, free-range chicken (gallina criolla) and cornmeal, slathered in a molé type sauce and wrapped up in a palm frond – so tasty. Oh, and the guy enjoying a tamale next to me? That’s my host brother, and no, he’s not a vicious gangster. (really, he’s a great guy!)

Last night, we ate two tamales each for Christmas Eve dinner, then another before bed; local tradition includes hugs at midnight, wishings of feliz navidad and then a final stuffing of yourself with however many more tamales you can muster. Me, I can always oblige my hosts, foreign or domestic, on eating games that involve me showing how much I appreciate the local cuisine. Bring it (the food) on. Lol.

I shared some food too, a big gingerbread cake that I decided to bake and share with host family, friends, coworkers and neighbors as my own little North American tradition.

The whole experience, from mixing and baking the cake in a giant oven at the local panaderia, to walking through the streets of my town and sharing it with all my acquaintances, was pretty fun. I was glad to have something to share with people.

Back a few weeks ago, I went to Xela and bought some Betty Crocker pre-mixed magic in a box. Xela, By the way, is everyone’s slang for Quetzaltenango, which is the nearest big city with a Hiper Paiz, Walmart’s unfortunate (but convenient!) excursion into Guatemala – it’s the only place where you can find stuff like gingerbread, crunchy peanut butter, boxer shorts and normal pillows. Anyway, so once I had the ingredients I needed for my “cultural contribution”, my host mom suggested that I go see an old coworker of hers who quit working in the Muni budget office about 5 years ago (I wonder why) and took up baking instead.

Entering the tableau was fascinating ... I’ve always liked bread and baking, so it was awesome to witness Guatemalan baking firsthand. Of course, it was funny watching the family watch me, acting polite at first, definitely a bit wary about this seemingly amicable foreigner who waited patiently for room on the mixing table and space in the oven. But soon enough the kids got curious and then excited, after having tasted both the cake batter and icing, knowing that I was going to share.

Gotta let the cake cool, kids….(so cute).

So yeah! That was my little Christmas offering to my community, and I’m pretty happy with the way everything turned out. Everyone thought it was muy sabroso, and those who missed out demanded to know why (I ran out plain and simple; I must have cut that cake in over 50 pieces). I hope everyone else out there is having a good time!

P.S. My Muni FINALLY paid its employees yesterday, at the 11th hour. With checks coming out on Christmas Eve, there was barely enough time for people to cash their checks and buy tamale ingredients. Yet the score isn’t settled; my coworkers are still owed two MORE months of salary, given December and the aguinaldo (holiday bonus) of a month’s wages that is customary here.

People were getting pretty worked up earlier this week – apparently there were demonstrations with bullhorns and declarations of public hunger, but I was at a conference in a nearby town and missed it. I called my security advisor at the Peace Corps and asked him if I should be worried; he said this happens every year. “Mayors here in Guatemala”, he said, “often don’t have the education necessary to follow a budget, so they blow their finances in the first 10 months and everyone gets mad at the end of the year when there’s no money to pay employees. But it hardly ever gets violent.”

Uhh, Merry Christmas!