Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

La Dolorosita: The Story Behind the Painting




La Dolorosita,gouache on watercolour paper, 55 x 70cm
Sunrise wouldn’t be there for another half hour, but already the sky was streaked with purples and reds. The ringing of church bells carried loud and clear through the crispy early morning air. Despite the ungodly hour, the sound of shuffling feet echoed off the sleepy walls in my street. So it was happening indeed…

I had been living in Guatemala for less then three weeks and was excited to be able to be present for Semana Santa for the first time in my life. Not that Easter was anywhere near yet, it was only April 6th, but processions were already in full swing in Antigua. One of the biggest processions would be the one of San Bartolo, the village I happen to live. It’s not much of a village although it has the cutest mini-central park with its typical white church and public pila (washbasin). I’d read in the newspaper that around 100,000 people were expected to participate in the procession, which I laughed off as misprint. No way 100,000 people would fit in the whole of San Bartolo!

I woke up the friend who was visiting me that weekend and we quickly got dressed. Armed with nothing but our cameras and keys we left home. The first rays of sunshine made it over the mountains in the East of the valley. My street was busier than ever with people streaming out of alleys, front doors and backyards, all huddled up against the morning chill before joining the steady flow of people heading towards the church.
When we turned around the corner we could barely believe it: hundreds of people poured into the narrow street that led to the church, carefully avoiding the colourful sawdust carpets in the middle. Apparently the central park was already filled up, because people stopped half way down the street, politely lining up. Whole families were present and surprisingly, many adolescents too. I saw people carrying stools, iceboxes and toilet paper rolls. Well prepared for an event I myself barely know what to expect of.

Instead of getting stuck in the long line in front of the church, my friend and I decided to go against the stream and try to make it to the main road that leads to Antigua. It took a while, but we made it. More sawdust carpets followed, one after the other, every one even more colourful and stunning than the previous.
Although the road was much wider, it wasn’t easy to continue walking towards Antigua with the hundreds, thousands of people going the opposite way. But it was our first procession and at the time we still insisted on seeing each and every sawdust carpet.

About an hour later we had progressed maybe a mile when we realised that we were totally unprepared. The sun was getting fiercer by the minute and we had no water with us, much less money to buy some coffee or delicious smelling pastries that were offered alongside the road. Luckily enough I had lived long enough in the community to know about a back road, so we decided to walk around the multitude and go back home to pick up what we had earlier forgotten.

An hour and about 4 miles later, we where back on the main road, halfway between Antigua and San Bartolo. We had been afraid we might miss the procession, but there was no need, Crossing the sawdust carpets, swinging sideways and back, praying and singing, the procession proceeded very, very slowly.
By then I was convinced that the number of a 100,000 people might indeed not be exaggerated. Thousands lined the 2 mile road, thousands more followed the procession, not to mention the street vendors and Cuchurucos, the men in purple who were taking turns carrying the anda (altar).

First came the Romans, proclaiming the crucifixion of Jesus, followed by a band of more scarily realistic looking Roman soldiers. Then some altar boys carrying incense burners that filled the street with acrid smoke. Finally, finally, the big anda came into view, moving sluggishly forward and sideways on the sad melody of a funeral march. The cuchurucos seemed to be in trance, suffering even, below the heavy load.

One mesmerizing image immediately caught my eye. One of the Cuchurucos held hands with a little girl, I assume his daughter. She was dressed in a white dress sharply contrasted against the deep purple, with the traditional veil of Las Doloras, the female version of Los Cuchurucos. I aimed my camera and saw her looking right into my lens. Click! I hoped my auto focus had done its work, because this could be a good one…
Later, when going through hundreds of pictures of a few hours of procession, I found out that the girl not only looked straight into the lens, she also had one finger delightfully in her nose. Great serendipitous moment! I knew then that one day I’d do something with that picture.
And I did.

And by the way, it’s for sale… :)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Orange in Guatemala



“You want a bag for that?” the guy at the counter asks routinely without making eye contact.
“Nah, thanks, I’m good.” I answer, not overly polite either.
“You from the US?” he asks while packing my groceries anyway.
“Nope. Holland”
“Ah! Holland!” The guy looks up with a big smile and sparkling eyes.
“They play really well this Cup!”

And there I made yet another best friend solely based on football and my nationality.
Where were they last Sunday when I needed them?

Holland – Mexico. It was the first match I was going to watch in public and I was looking forward to it. None of my orange garments survived my last move, which was okay. It was after all my first game out, all by myself and, -what if we lose??? So I subtly opted for a pair of jeans with a red and white border (the Dutch flag, from my upside-down point of view) and a pair of sneakers you can call sort of orange. I avoided the most popular sports bar (too loud, too big, too Mexican) and went instead to a family run restaurant with great breakfasts. It was, after all, a Sunday and only 10am.

Leaving home to watch the game turned out to be a good decision, because as it happened there was no cable service in the whole of Antigua. But Guatemalans are as creative as Copanecos when it comes to wanting to watch a game (oh, the many times we climbed mountains, crossed municipal and even international borders whenever there was no electricity or cable signal…). In this case the problem was solved with two good old-fashioned antennas quickly bought at the hardware store and attached with tape to both widescreen super-duper HD flat screens. I don’t know why we couldn’t watch the live internet broadcast that was on for a few minutes, although I admit it looked more like a video game than real football and made me feel like pushing a button and blowing Ochoa’s head off. But after some fussing and fondling with the antennas for the first ten minutes of the game, we were ready to go, watching Mexico getting the overhand on a screen as snowy as my own little TV at home.

The problem was…. I turned out to be the only Dutch citizen in the whole place. Worse, I seemed to be the only person rooting for Holland in a restaurant that was quickly filling up with Guatemalan families supporting anything Latin rather than cheese-heads.

At half time I considered going to a place a bit more orangey, but what if other bars were without cable and antennas? So I stayed put and changed coffee for beer. Even when the cable signal finally came back in the 51st minute and the screen suddenly turned a crisply clear green. But with a 0-1 hanging over our heads, I wasn’t going anywhere.

Well, for those of you who watched the game, you know how it ended, and for those who don’t care, you probably know too, so no need to describe the rest of the agony. I was sure we were going to lose… I was already thinking of replacing my crazy supporter profile pic on Facebook for a mourning Mexican llorona.

And all of a sudden the game was over and Holland had won. Not very gracefully in my opinion, but we were through! And how weird to cheer for that among a crowd of disappointed Latinos who saw yet another Latin country make way for those Europeans… Yes, I too felt bad for Mexico. But not that bad…

I didn’t linger much (I’m such a good sport, I don’t glee) and rode my bike back home, feeling oddly detached from Guatemala and the rest of the planet. All of a sudden loud honks sounded from behind and a cheering blur of red, white blue and orange flew by on a scooter. It took me a second to realize it was Alejandro, a Guatemalan from my neighbourhood who’s married to a Dutch woman and hence a fierce supporter of La Naranja Mecánica. His neon orange fluffy clogs brought a big smile to my face.

For tomorrow I’m better prepared. I’m going to watch the game in company of quite a group of Dutch ex-pats and beforehand I’ll go by a Dutch friend to dress up with some of the orange stuff she has accumulated over the years. Hats, crowns, scarves, shirts, wigs and more stuff that’s been multiplying in a far corner of her storage room, surviving spring cleanings and yard sales. After all, you can’t really donate a bunch of orange wigs to the poor, homeless or needy.

Can’t wait… The pre-fun has already started!