Through our Spanish language school, we’re staying in Xela with a great family. They really make an effort to show us their day-to-day life and help us understand Guatemalan culture. Tuesday night they drove us to the centro commercial (mall) so their kids, Oscar and Alfonso, could say hello to Santa Claus. Except for the people speaking Spanish and the security guards armed with shotguns, we could have been in any mall in the United States. After the exciting visit with Santa, the kids raced around the Guatemalan equivalent of a Walmart, pulling toys and dulces (desserts or sweets) off the shelves. Inspired by a package of marshmallows, I figured it was time to introduce the to an American specialty and bought some Rice Krispies and marshmallows. On the way home we drove by the giant arbol de navidad (Christmas tree). We assumed the 3 story artificial Christmas tree was paid for by Gallo, the Guatemalan beer, because of the huge illuminated Gallo sign rotating on the top of the tree instead of a star. Beer and Christmas is such a great combination. We were close to running away when we saw a man emerge from the tree through a hidden door sporting full black combat gear and a shotgun, but Sergio pointed out that he was just a security guard protecting the tree from vandalism.
(Gallo tree and the Castillo family)
Wednesday afternoon Shirly took us to the market where each day she buys all of her groceries. This was a world apart from the centro commercial we visited earlier. Most people in Xela buy the majority of their food in this open air market where the foods are fresh and less expensive. We made our way past stalls where men hawked pirated CDs and DVDs, knock-off Columbia and Nike jackets, and piles of shoes, socks, underwear, and clothes. Past the clothes vendors we shuffled through the crowds in the meat market where slightly bloody stands were covered in headless plucked chickens, and decorated with strings of fresh sausages and huge pieces of cow. We even saw some hooves (we’re not sure from what animal). Stepping back outside, huge cloth containers brimmed with beans, dried chilies, herbs, rice, and pastas. Women in indigenous dress sold small quantities of beautiful fresh vegetables, handmade cheeses wrapped in banana leaves, bread, and many fruits we didn’t recognize. This market put any farmers’ market (or Whole Foods) in the US to shame, both in variety and price. I think I counted over 10 different varieties of peppers alone. On our walk home we had a great view of Volcan Santiaguito as it spewed a huge plume of smoke into the sky. Later that evening Shirly and Sergio treated us to home made Micheladas, a popular drink in Mexico and Central America. An unusual combination of clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce, beer (Gallo of course), lime, and salt, this drink is typically consumed with bocaditos, or finger foods. The Castillos served us a can of tuna marinated in a spicy tomato sauce spread on saltines. Sergio especially enjoys Micheladas, and we talked about our lives while we listened to a CD of 1960s Guatemalan protest music. During some of Guatemala’s dark times in the 60s and 70s, people would be killed for singing or listening to this music:
‘No basta rezar hace falta muchas cosas para conseguire la paz,
Porque tambien reza el pilote para ir a bombardear a los ninos de Vietnam.’
It is not enough to pray for many things, we need to work for peace,
Because the pilot who bombs the children in Vietnam also prays.
Spending so much time with the Castillos has helped our Spanish just as much as the intensive Spanish classes we have been taking for the last two weeks.