party ’til you xa’wak

When I arrived in Sanimtac√° last week they informed me that the fiesta for San Francisco was approaching (October 11, which I knew) and that our work would be on hold so we could celebrate (in preparation. This was news).
So we made our way to the house where the first party would be. Under the mild influence of a boj I sipped politely, I helped weave pacaya fronds into broad mats we hung from the rafters. While I dozed in a chair, they lit candles and covered the floor with pine needles.
As the sun started to disappear, the guests began arriving. The party kicked off with prayers to San Francisco and an incense blessing. There was a candle shrine at one end of the long room with offerings for a small saint behind glass. The only other light came from a single incandescent bulb connected to a gas-powered generator. The music equipment was hooked up to the same generator and the amps belched marimba, keyboard, saxophone, and bass into the room.

After dinner, a few men stood in front of the shrine to give thanks. They shuffled through a dance with their hands behind their backs. After the men danced a few songs, a group of women approached the front. The women repeated the dance but with arms flat against their sides and eyes on the floor. Between songs, each woman covered her face with a hand (probably in devotional reflection, but it appeared to say, “Oh dear, what am I doing?”)
After the ceremonial dances, the floor was open. But Mayans can be timid, so it took some time for the swinging to start. I had already been to a dance in Samac (I even spun a few Q’eqchi’ women across the pine straw once or twice in Samac), so I was not surprised to see the women dancing with each other. But something I had dismissed as an exception in Samac turned out to be a socially-acceptable convention. As the partners rotated around the room, I saw more than a few boy couples. Some of the male pairs were young men in their late teens and twenties.

By the time men were slumping on the benches, it felt late and I was ready to go. A quick check of the watch showed 10:30. Since a handful of us were leaving, I assumed the party was winding down. No, they assured me, the party wouldn’t stop until three or four in the morning. And I was high in the valley when I brushed my teeth to the sound of an invisible but thriving fiesta in the cloudy darkness.

One Response to “party ’til you xa’wak”

  1. juliette Says:

    i loved reading this. it took me out of philly and law school and daily responsibilities for just a few moments, and left me looking down on a dark valley with music drifting up to the sky. now if only we could get some pictures of you dancing with a chica/o.