Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Partial Atonements Made

We returned to the village of Santiago for three shameful reasons. One - we had not seen the church there yet, because we spent all of our time looking at the smoking god. Two – we owed this woman Elena ten quetzals for two beers.Three - we owed the little boy who runs the bathroom service 3 quetzals for letting us use it without paying due to our emergency situation.

When the boat pulled into the dock, as soon as I set foot on dry land, the boys were surrounding me wanting to offer me tours or goods to buy. Each time I said “No thank you” in Spanish, English, Hungarian, and three dialects of Mayan, they refused to leave me alone asking me where I intended to go within the village. I said “I am going to stand right here. All day, I am going to stand right here until it is time for the boat to return to Pana. In the meantime, regardless of what you do, I will be standing right here just like a statue.” They kept questions whether or not I would move, but I said, that this was my spot and I would be here all day. They cracked up laughing and teasing me about teasing them. Those smiles and the joking were worth a few million quetzals. As soon as Ron joined me, I had to leave my spot for our first mission on Santiago.

As it turned out, the last time we were here, the day before yesterday, just as we were about to leave, Ron wanted a beer. He asked if I wanted one too, but I responded with save some money for me to use the bathroom. They charge 3 quetzals for public services. He wasn’t paying much attention, but ordered two beers thinking he heard that they cost veinte quetzals when in reality they cost treinta quetzals. Not only was he ten quetzals short of paying for the beers, but he spent my pee money besides.

After the woman opened two beers and wanted treinta quetzals we both burst out with that nervous laughter that is caused by extreme embarrassment. However, to the woman on the other side of the counter, it signified we were two morons trying to pull a fast one. She held her guns wanting the ten quetzals and refused to take one beer back now that it was opened. We swore we had no more money of any currency. Actually, we did have a twenty Euro note, but she looked at it like we wanted to trade stone beads with her for the beer. Swearing we would return with money, this was a reason to return. She was surprised to see us, but instead of “Hola” or any pleasantry, she smiled and said “Diez quetzals por favor”. We gave her her due and a bag of Hungarian paprika for her troubles.

Now that we had atoned for one sin, it was time to make the pilgrimage to the church. To get there, we walked up that damn hill that had not been leveled since we were here last. When we asked for directions at the top of the hill, we were directed through a Mayan open air market where at the end we were to turn right and then the church would be up the stairs on the left. Facil! There was this same-same, but different quality to the market. Most of the goods were produce that would appeal to locals, not the usual tourist items. Toto we were not in Kansas anymore, we were dab smack in the middle of culture. I snapped photo after photo. We both wanted to soak up the atmosphere. No Spanish was heard, but some dialect of Mayan. There are twenty-two Mayan languages. Not understanding a word added to the authenticity of the cultural experience.

At the edge of the market at by the park, which is a big slab of concrete with one tree growing out of the middle, there was a guy giving some spiel. He had a dozen women surrounding him, each of the ladies wearing what appeared to be traditional clothing. As we approached, I told Ron he is probably demonstrating a Veg-o-Matic. He had given each woman a small plastic cup with powder in it, but then took bags of water and filled each cup to make some drink. This charismatic gentleman who wore non-Western clothing, was speaking a mile a minute and had these ladies entranced and in giggles. I would have loved to have known what he was saying.

As we approached the church, on the left side is a grand parochial school. As you get closer to the church, all those with some affliction start approaching for money. There was a woman with no legs using her arms to walk on the ground; there was a child with one eye and another with a cleft lip, and an old man who just stood by the door asking for money. The church was still decorated for Christmas with grand crepe type tissue banners crossing the entry from wall to wall and continuing almost to the altar. What was immediately striking were the statures along either wall. First they were predominantly men, by a ratio of 9-1, but even more eye-catching was that they were dressed in real clothes, mostly outfits that the natives were wearing. Their dresser must have feared for the health of the statues for most of them had 3-5 scarves around their necks in addition to layers of clothes. (There will be photos in the photo blog).

The crèche looked like something from Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Instead of having a crèche and letting well enough alone, the ‘stable’ had tons of silver garland outlining it with electric Christmas lights blinking on and off. The three wise men didn’t need the North Star to find the way; there was plenty of glitter and glitz here to light up the sky. In front of this very public display, there was a man on a rug praying loudly in an informal tone as if he and god were beer buddies shooting the bull.

In a side chapel, there were a couple of dozen people all in native dress, meaning non-Western, on their knees praying and doing some type of ritual that did not look like anything Catholic that I had ever grown up with. There was no priest there either, so they seemed to take matters into their own hands. We had heard that in some areas, the Mayan religion has been interwoven with the Catholic in order to convert the locals. Interestingly on the way to the church, we passed a large Evangelical Church and on the way back, a Baptist one.

Walking back to the boat, we bought some things we had admired previously, like a St. Francis statue for our new apartment. Here is our warped reasoning. The apartment is on Ferenc korut. The Hungarian name Ferenc is Francis in English, so we are calling it Feri’s Place. Feri is a nickname for Ferenc. St. Francis was a good guy that we both admired, so we want him to protect Feri’s Place. Now that I write it out, it sounds lame, but it was fun choosing the right St. Francis statue.

After returning to Pana, I had wanted to replace one of our soft bags with one of the bright and colorful ones sold here. I have reservations about using it as checked luggage for fear the airlines will ruin it, but it would be fine for carry-on. We emptied and took one of the soft bags we have with us to the stall where they sold the ones I liked. We were comparing sizes, colors, while discussing the merits as opposed to the negatives of these bags. I asked the woman the price. They were 150 quetzals; 15 Euros was nothing. I verified their strength, checked the workmanship and Ron and I continued our discussion. As we are talking to each other, the woman is lowering the price to 130 quetzals. I told her in Spanish I like the bags, but I was trying to explain something to my friend. She responded by dropping the price yet again to 110 quetzals. Basically, we were ignoring her because we were caught up in our own conversation. When we finally agreed to buy one, when we handed over the money, it was now priced at 90 quetzals: 9 Euros. They are so afraid that potential customers will go to the next stall to buy the same thing; they continue to lower their price. I don’t know how they can get by. There are dozens and dozens of stalls selling the same exact merchandise.

For dinner, we decided to try street food. There are dozens of women who set up portable food stalls and sell a variety of foods. They also bring plastic stools for their customers to sit and some even have portable tables besides. From one lady, we bought a tostada and two food items we did not recognize. They were like semicircular sandwiches that were deep fried, but filled with meat. Next to her is a woman who sells slices of pie. She has pineapple, strawberry, lemon, peach, apricot, and chocolate all with dozens of little meringue rosettes on top. We sat on their stools and ate our dinner. Total cost was 40 quetzals or 4 Euros. If I become destitute, I am moving to this country.

Yes, partial atonement. We still owe the little baño boy his 3 quetzals only because we forgot. If we had only needed him again, it would have triggered our memories.

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