Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tropical depressions and local legends

Yesterday I felt this neat little connection to my town, where I could exclaim with people about the birds I saw and talk about the accompanying legend, wondering if the season really was about to change. Superstition or not, I really hope the season is about to change here because it’s been raining constantly and it’s downright bothersome – I’ve been stuck in site for a week.

Let me begin – yesterday I stepped outside of the office and looked up into the sky – there were hundreds of birds off in the distance, circling, something I’ve never seen in the past 11 months. (Note: that video’s not mine). Sure there are birds around here – buzzards that lurk around the roadside garbage dump that I pass on my morning run, or the blue-jay types that flit through the trees casting shade in the coffee plantation, but not hundreds circling in the sky. I’d never seen that before but….I shrugged and forgot.

Later on that night I went to visit this zany guy in my neighborhood who invited me over for (instant) coffee and sweet breads, of course we discussed the weather since it’d been pretty miserable lately. We are already in the rainy season, but now everything has gone further downhill because of Tropical Depression 12-E, which hit on October 12th and has affected approx. 500,000 people, causing 34 deaths throughout the country. Everything is upset - when the weather gets fierce in Guatemala, roads and bridges wash out, retaining walls fail, mudslides destroy houses and rivers surge over their banks and displace entire communities. I feel pretty thankful that I’m safe and all I have to worry about is staying dry.

Meanwhile, zany guy (Godolfino) is telling me that there’s this local legend that says when the azacuanes arrive in the spring, when they mass together and fly away from the sea, towards the north, it means that the season is about to end. Translation – the rain is going to stop.

(note: for Guatemalans we are currently approaching spring. It’s the opposite than the States –the rainy season, which runs roughly from April to October, is what Guatemalans think of as winter)

Immediately, I thought back to that afternoon, when I saw a big ol’ group of birds massing above the hill on which my town sits, and since I’d never seen them before I figured maybe I’d gotten lucky. “Did you see the birds earlier today?” I asked, and immediately his daughter exclaimed that she’d seen them too. They must have been the azacuanes, we decided. Cheerily, we hoped it meant that the season was coming to an end.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Explosions in the sky

It’s been practically forever since I last posted – sorry.

I’m still in site, still in Peace Corps and days are still passing one after the other. It’s funny to think that it’s 11 months after I first arrived and I still see my neighbors day to day, the crowded buildings lining cobbled streets, the looming volcano of Tajamulco in the distance, the jagged foothills covered with coffee plants, the bright sunshine of the morning on the slope as I walk to work, a gleaming that turns into clouds and then a steady drizzle and usually a downpour in the afternoons and evenings. I’m still in southwestern Guatemala, perched on a steep hilltop and looking out onto the coastal plain, with Tapachula (Mexico) in the distance, plus a faint straight line I can barely make out which convinces me I can actually see the Pacific Ocean. It is lush and green and humid and there are actually two corn harvests here, a lifestyle reward on top of an already agreeable climate, because the colder locales of the altiplano only count on one. Out this morning I saw corn stalks rising up between rows of young coffee plants in a hillside field, peasants or their overseers coaxing more life into existence.

I originally wanted to write about noise and community this morning, when I first reminded myself of the pressing need to update my blog. Last night, I slept lightly because there was constant noise, a series of booming M-80s that went off periodically, continuing until I was already descending the hillside for my morning run. My neighbors were lighting mortar fireworks that go off with warning, a preliminary explosion that reminds you to cover your ears because the actual firework goes off a few seconds later, a thundering boom that echoes across the mountains for miles around.

People in my area were lighting these firecrackers off all night long, which, while not entirely unheard-of, is a bit out of the ordinary. Usually I can expect to sleep soundly. Sometimes they’ll be butchering pigs in the slaughterhouse on the hillside below my window, or the pigeons that live in my roof will cease to stop skittering around, but more often than not I sleep pretty soundly.

Last night, however, I kept waking up, or more specifically, I would jerk awake lightly and then slide back into sleep, like I had gradually become comfortable with the booming explosions. This morning, as the dawn’s light came into my room as it does because I don’t have any curtains, I imagine that I should have been pissed that I didn’t sleep well, but I actually felt ok. And suddenly, I liked realizing that the fireworks meant that there was a community celebration and that I had been involved even though there hadn’t been an invitation or an explanation.

I think the difference is that I’m actually connected to my community now, instead of 10 months ago when I was still a stranger, in my own head and my own behavior, unaware of the people around me and their lives, and now I enjoy the fact that I became aware and effectively involved, that I was reminded of people having a good time about something important to them. It made me wish someone had told me, especially when I found out that it was the Day of Saint Francis, which, coincidentally happens to be the name of my very neighborhood (i.e. I totally should have been participating) It made me feel bad that I didn’t even bother going outside to see the music and procession, lit by candlelight and punctuated by M-80 blasts, all of which I could see from my apartment but I don’t feel that bad. There will be more things unfolding tomorrow, more tiny mysteries to discover.