BootsnAll Travel Network

A Weekend In La Esperanza

So, Sorry there haven´t been tons of entries this past week..
As some of you know, I was sick as a dog with who knows what..but now am miraculously healed.

This past weekend, i was very lucky to have an invitation to my new friends Alma and Anna´s home, located in the tiny pueblo of La Espernaza. It is located about forty five minutes from Xela by bus.

I met them at the school I was attending for Spanish classes (although since then I have changed schools) and it was there that I met them after they got off work. They had asked me if I would make Italian food for their family on Saturday, so our first stop was the Minerva Mercado.

To get to the Minerva Mercado, we had to walk for quite awhile…interestingly enough, I was wearing my extremely practical travel clothes and shoes, while they walked in high heels and dressy clothes! The roads are amess, full of potholes and trash and rocks, yet they seem to glide effortlessly over enormous gaping holes and dog poop, while I have to watch my every step in my enormous practical zapatos, for I am sure I would fall in a hole if I was not careful.

When we got to the Minerva Mercado, we bought tons of vegetables..we were all carrying enormous plastic shopping bags(the brightly colored ones they sell in the Mercado for this purpose) full of everything for the dinner. During the walk, I found out that they had literally invited almost their entire family to the we were buying loads of ingredients, such as tomatoes, parsley, basil,onions, garlic, spices, salt, sugar, vinegar…

When we were done in the Mercado, it was time to hit the Super Mercado. (by the way, most of the Super Mercados here are owned by Walmart!-however, this one wasn´t.) Here we began a somewhat laborious search for the ingedients neccessary for the meal. In Guatemala, it is very expensive to buy foods that are imported-as a matter of fact, the majority of people live on beans, eggs, tortillas, and tamales. Even Guatemalan style cheese is a decadent purchase for most people. So you can imagine when I began to choose the ingredients for a real Italian meal that Alma and Anna´s eyes widened considerably. I began to choose pasta, cream, real butter, several kinds of cheese, and other imported items….everyone was very interested in what we were buying, and many people in the supermercado came up to us and talked about food. For them, it was very expensive…for me, it equalled about thirty two American dollars..this to feed 20+ people! When we finished choosing everything, we went over to the ¨fast food¨counter for papas fritas with hot sauce and cheese. Then we were off to catch the bus to their tiny pueblo.

Unfortunately we had spent so much time shopping that we hit the rush hour time for buses.
All the buses going to their home were the tiny mini bus type, and they were packed to the gills.(Of course, they keep stopping and packing people in !) We realized we had way to much food to even attempt to get on the bus, plus..I am enormous compared to the people here, and we were cracking up trying to imagine how a person as tall as I am would have to contort herself to even get on the bus. Therefore, I decided to pay for a taxi. This was, once again, alot for them..for me about four dollars..will worth it as I am not fond of contorting in mini busses here!

When we arrived at their was really different than Xela. Xela is constant traffic during the day, music, people, dogs barking..just tons of activity. Here, what I saw was the family compound of three plain cinderblock buildings with metal roofs, set down in the middle of a field of maize, mud, and wild flowers. A crazy looking dog ran out and greeted us, as well as a swarming group of children of all ages, all hugging me. Everyone was all smiles.

The first order of business was for me to meet the Doña Mina, their mother. She was all smiles as well, and their was great laughter as I entered the house, because I had to duck to get in as the doorway was tiny! Mina was very small, very brown from the sun, with blue eyes and white hair. Her house is the original house on the compound-literally three rooms with cinderblock unfinished walls. The walls didn´t meet the roof, so it was very cold and drafty, almost like being outside. Chickens ran into the kitchen from the patio, as well as a tiny puppy.
We took all the food out and put it on the kitchen table, and Mina was all smiles. The vegetables were stored on some shelves in Mina´s kitchen, while all the things that needed refrigeration were taken to Anna´s house, as she was the only one with a refrigerator.

The second order of business was to go to my bedroom for the weekend, located across the compound in Alma´s house. The entire inside of Alma´s house was painted a very bright dayglo green, and the hallway was so narrow that only one person could be in at a time. My room for the weekend belonged to her eldest daughter, Dina, and seemed to be a showplace for a very large stuffed animal collection, as well as the pride and joy of the house, an electric piano.(Dina studies music). It did not seem to be an issue that I was going to sleep in Dina´s room, as Dina apparently always slept in the same bed as her grandmother at her grandmothers house across the way.

Alma´s house was a bit nicer, with four painted rooms total. Alma and her other two children all slept in one room together, then there was a room with a television and chairs, and then one last room with a somewhat makeshift kitchen. The bathroom was tiled, but the sink didn´t work..and the toilet took some explaining for me to be able to figure it out!

It was time for the gift for the children I had brought…the children all gathered around, and I presented them with a box of games. Immediately, this was opened and began to play what ended up being a 2 hour series of Pick Up Sticks, which fascinated everyone. Even the adults came over and got involved…it proved to be the most popular thing to do for everyone in the neighborhood for the entire weekend…

We then gathered for supper, which was eggs, black beans, tomales, and hot coffee. After all the kids went to bed, we stayed up late and talked…just Alma, Anna, and myself. I learned that the only man on the property was their brother, who was single and had decided to remain so because he did not want any more children in Guatemala-too much poverty. He had worked at a factory until he became injured, and since then had remained on the compound, helping out his mother and sisters. Alma had been basically single her entire life and had never married, not liking the ¨maschismo¨of the Guatemalan men. Anna was married, but her husband was in the USA working, and did not like it there, so was planning on returning in January. The family was very poor, in spite of Alma working two jobs, one as Spanish teacher at my old Spanish school, and one as Director of Education at a local primary school. Anna worked as a teacher at the same school also-yet all together this income amounted to very little. Their weekly pay combined only equaled a bit more than the average weekly minimum wage for Guatemalans-and yet, they are both very educated women.

The family sustains itself with the help of Alma and Anna´s other sisters, as well as the field of maize surrounding the compound provides tomales for the entire year. They also keep chickens for eggs. I could see that having me there for the weekend was a sacrifice for them, and I was really glad I brought so much food and games for the children.

Walking out into the dirt road after supper, I was really blown away by how absolutely beautiful it was-perfectly clear night, beautiful sky..with a view of the city one direction, and a breathtaking view of the mountains the other.Even the maize field was beautiful. All I could do was take it all in, in spite of how cold it was. I literally thought, I could live here forever. Inspite of the poverty, it is probably one the most beautiful places I´ve ever seen. The quiet, the peacefulness..never have I enjoyed the sound of silence so much.

When I finally went inside to go to bed, I fell asleep in minutes, and woke up perfectly refreshed the next morning. I realized what a difference being in Esperanza (which means hopeful, or waiting for, by the way!) was compared to being in Xela. In Xela, my room is right by the street, so it´s loud, and it´s hard to sleep through the night.

Alma´s eight year old daughter woke me up( I later nicknamed her ¨Alarma¨, which means alarm clock, because she served as my alarm clock the entire weekend! Anyway, she woke me, and off we went to Mina´s house for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of watery coffee and watery porridge, as well as eggs with tomatoes. The latter was special for me as a guest, as tomatoes are very expensive this time of the year. The porridge is typical for breakfast in Guatemala, and is called ¨mosh¨…typically it is mostly water, with some oatmealish gruel in it. I like it quite alot, as it is warming in the morning.

After breakfast, we went on a walk thru the compound-which turned out to be enormous. Originally I had thought it was just Mina and her children, but in actuality, the compound stretched as far as the eye could see, all houses of cinderblock, of her entire family-cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family-all were here. There houses were separated by fields of maize, and everyone seemed to have a few flea bitten dogs(who in general looked well fed and happy).
The backdrop for the entire compound was a ¨forrest¨-I say it in quotes because it is not what we think of when we think of a forrest, but more like a small mountain, covered in vegetation with some trees. We walked up this mountain quite a ways, and Alma told me it´s history. Apparently this forrest, called the ¨bosque¨in Spanish, was at one time public. It had many animals, plants..different types of things. But the people got very hungry, and ate all the animals, used up all the plants, and dumped alot of trash here. Her family somehow got ownership of this small piece of land, and now it is officially owned by her mother and two brothers. It belongs to all with their family name. Things were good for awhile, but then her family got hungry in the difficult times, and ate the animals again. Now there are only rabbits. She told me at one time there were coyotes, but they are extinct here now, because they competed with the people for their chickens. On our walk I noticed piles of trash there, and Alma said it is difficult to educate the people here on how to recycle/dispose of trash. People are more concerned with how to feed all their children.

Alma, myself, and the little girls all sat down on a grassy hill and Alma told stories about her family while we took in the view. The little girls seemed to have fallen in love with me, and were very affectionate, hugging and kissing me the whole time and putting flowers in my hair.
They wanted to learn a song, so I taught them the Hokey Pokey! It was quite a contrast, all of us doing the Hokey Pokey on this grassy hill…

We then went home to begin preparation for dinner, which was supposed to be at two.


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