Don Rodrigo was walking the procession in Antigua. So the family and I spent the day in the big city. We went to Pollo Campero for breakfast. I was feeling great because we have eggs and beans with tortillas for breakfast almost every day (and sometimes for dinner too) and I was ready for a break. So I got to have fried chicken and rice for breakfast! I think the family found this strange. But to me the strange thing was that they all ordered the eggs and beans with tortillas. So while I enjoyed my pollo frito, I watched my family eat the same thing they eat every day, but this time in a restaurant.

Antigua was packed. Among the crowd were men in shining purple robes and white gloves. Don Rodrigo parted ways with us to put on his own robe and join his procession. We went to find a seat.
I followed the family to a set of stone steps and took a seat. There were people all around and vendors selling foam lizards and ice cream cones. Way down the street I could see the procession assembling.
As the procession and floats approached the block where we were sitting, they turned down another street.
“Does the procession pass here?” I asked Doña Eva.
“Oh no, they go that way.” She answered matter-of-factly.

So I sat with my family and a crowd of other Guatemalans as the procession didn’t pass. The procession didn’t pass for more than two hours. When it was done not passing, we finally met up with Don Rodrigo and left.
The purpose of our visit was difficult to discern.

By this time I had to use the bathroom. There was a bathroom nearby with a long line and attendants collecting money. Doña Eva pointed me in that direction, but I explained that I don’t pay to pee.
Instead, I walked five blocks to find a quiet restaurant with indifferent staff. But when I returned, Doña Eva asked why I didn’t just use the pay bathroom. The answer is that public facilities are a necessity, not a business opportunity and that by paying to use the bathroom I’m agreeing, “Yes, you should be profiting from our necessary bodily functions.”
“But that’s how things are here.” Doña Eva explained.

And it reminded me of a conversation I had with my family a few weeks after arriving. Don Rodrigo was complaining about a government policy. I asked if people would protest if they organized.
“No, it wouldn’t make a difference.”
“What about writing letters?” I asked.
Flor chimed in, “They would just throw them away.”
“But Flor, if you worked for the government, would you throw letters away?”
“No.”
“That’s right, and you’re a regular person, but so are they. We’re all regular people and we need to work together and look out for each other.”
At this point I launched into a proletarian polemic against ordinary political apathy and unquestioned bureaucracy. I invoked the brotherhood of man and reminded them that we don’t spare the government letters when we know they will throw them out. No! We make them throw them out. We inflict wrist injuries on all of their secretaries from the repetitive motion of tossing our mountains of correspondence in the wastebasket!
When I was done speaking, there was quiet at the table. Everyone, myself included, quietly realized that Andrew has no idea how things work in Guatemala.

It has taken a long time to get my brain around some of these things. It’s easy to be frustrated or assume that Guatemalans just don’t care if things make sense or not. But it’s more complicated than that. The fact that they are so hard to understand is a good measure of how much sense I make in return. My personal logic is far from its birthplace and appropriate context. The question “Why?” is not a reflex here, more often, “That’s how things are.” And that’s how things are.

Baby Mario woke up at dinner tonight. They tried to feed him but all he wanted to do was cry. Flor and Mario senior took him into the next room. As I was clearing my dishes, Mario senior came in with a small bouquet of herbs. He put them down on the range, ignited the gas, and started to burn the leaves.
When I asked what he was doing, Doña Eva explained that it’s an old trick: you can use these herbs when a baby won’t stop crying. You pass the herbs across the baby, then burn them. As I tried to figure out if my translation was faulty, Flor walked in with a certain smiling baby.
I had to let go of the science and appreciate the quiet.

3 Responses to “antigua procession, other mysteries”

  1. juliette Says:

    What a great post.

  2. Jennifer Says:

    im reading ines of my soul about ines and pedro de valdivia who founded chile. and don rodrigo was her other lover. perhaps your host dad walks in the parade in his honor. great post indeed!

  3. Kathie Says:

    “The Parade That Did Not Pass” What a great idea for a title. Funniest post yet. Thanks