Monday, October 8, 2007

Today I walked past a funeral on the way to breakfast. There was a long procession of people marching down the hill carrying a bright silver coffin. There were trumpets playing very loudly, and as they got closer to me I could see that the men and women formed two parallel lines along the street. There were mostly old people. The women were wearing very elegant huipiles and had colorful ribbons woven into their hair like flowers. I stopped at the corner store to watch them pass by. It made me think of Mark.

It has now been almost a year since his death. Standing on the corner I remembered vividly the procession of people walking from their cars to the grave-site, with Mrs. Treviño leading the bunch, all dressed in black. I remembered the feel of the cold urn with Mark’s ashes inside. I remembered the way that people touched it, as if they were touching him. At lunch I told Doña Eframín that in San Antonio we have processions too, only with cars instead of people. But, I said, I thought it was much more powerful to see the old men carrying the casket down the street. She agreed: “Es como que no quieren tocarlo.” It made me think about what it means to carry someone physically in your hands-- in life and in death.

People carry many things here in Sumpango. In the streets you see many women balancing huge baskets on their heads. Some wear shoes, but most of the old women walk barefoot along the cobblestone streets— their feet like smooth stones. Despite the hills and the pebbles they walk very gracefully and slow, carrying their heavy cargo through the chaotic streets. Everyone walks in the street here. The cars, the people, the dogs and the horses are all jumbled together in the middle of the road. There are little tuc tucs--Japanese sized mini-vans-- that regularly blare their horns to alert unknowing pedestrians of their arrival. There are kids on bikes and truck loads of people being carted away to the fields or to work in the fabricas in Guatemala (city).

People here work very hard. I see many men going off to work in the fields carrying shovels and machetes. Every day I see big trucks go by packed high with cows, men, and corn. On every corner there are stands of little women selling helotes, large ears of roasted corn. In the large central plaza there is a large pool divided in stalls for washing clothes. The women go their and grind their clothes against rough stones, like I imagine most people did long before there were washing machines. From my roof I can spy into people’s yards, and I see many people hanging up laundry or chopping wood.

Today I am resting in my apartment. I can hear the loud sound of chanting and clapping coming from the building next door. There is an evangelical church there, and every night you can hear them yelling in prayer. There are many evangelical churches here, and often when I am walking to the house of Don Efraím I pass by their open doors with blaring guitar music shaking the walls. Many people go to mass after work, to pray and sing loudly.

I wonder if these churches are the result of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the American evangelical group which has worked tirelessly to eradicate Mayan religious beliefs over the last three decades. This is a common theme among many indigenous people. Well funded American evangelicals infiltrate isolated communities by providing schooling, language instruction and health care. In return the youth are indoctrinated into believing that their traditional beliefs are demonic and shameful. It’s the same imperialist story, only with a distinctly American bent.

The evangelicals make me think of Mark too. “All those crazies,” he would mutter as we passed the Black Baptist churches in Brooklyn. But perhaps these people here need that kind of release—the kind you get from singing until your lungs hurt. Maybe they need a break from carrying those heavy baskets on their heads, and the babies wrapped in back-shawls, and from working out in the field all day.

When I was alone in Buenos Aires, after I had found out that Mark was very sick, I sat and meditated for a very long time. I imagined that I could breath in his pain, and that with every breadth I could ease his suffering. Sometimes I would imagine that I was holding him in my arms. Afterward, I would go out onto the balcony and sing. I sang into the wind as loud as I could, and I didn’t care who heard me. It felt good to sing. I knew that if I sang with all my heart that Mark would here me, and somehow I could hold him with my words.


My focus these last few days has been on the kites. At first I thought that I would be loafing about during the day while I waited for the kite-making to begin at night. However, it turns out that there is a lot more work to do than I expected. Every night I have been interviewing different groups. They are all at different stages of development. One group has been working since July. So far, it’s taken them a month to finish four sides and they still have twelve left to go, not including the central design. They have one month to finish.

People have been very eager to give me interviews, and once I started asking a few questions people really opened up. They have all kinds of stories about the making of the kites and about why it’s so important for them. Most of these guys take a fierce pride in their work. I now have a few hours of interviews that I have to transcribe and translate. That has taken up most of my time during the day.

The first group I met with is called Groupación Barrileteros. Frederico took me to meet with them on Wednesday at the Casa de la Cultura. Most of the boys range in age between fourteen and twenty-five. Some have been making kites for over sixteen years and others only one are two. They are apart of Categoria “A” because they are making a kite 13 meters wide. Their design is very intricate and reflects the traditional design of the huiples worn by Mayan women.

Only being down here have I realized what a tedious and time consuming process it takes to build one of these enormous things. The barrileteros are working every night of the week except Sundays, and on Friday and Saturday nights they work until the morning. Every minute shape and line is cut out of tissue paper. Nothing is painted on or outlined in marker.

Most people I’ve interviewed said that the reason they love making kites is because they get to spend time with their friends and because of the feeling of pride they get at seeing the kite lifted up for the first time. The work is tedious—very tedious. I got the chance to help them a couple of nights pasting and gluing. It’s not very difficult, but it requires a lot of patience and organization to reassemble the hundreds of pre-cut pieces that make up just one section. Paste and glue, paste and glue—double—because every piece has to be layered at least twice.

However, it’s not boring, and the guys have a fun time fragando, cutting loose and telling dirty jokes. Every night is about guy bonding. Already, I’ve learned all the Guatemalan swear words. It took the guys a little while to warm up to me, but after the second night they invited me over for beer and chips in my honor. They made me feel like I was a part of the familia. That’s what’s really special about the Barriletero groups: they are open to everyone* . For these guys the group becomes like a second family. They learn from each other, and they learn how to be a team.

*They are open to everyone if you are a boy. If you are a girl it´s a different story. There have been groups of women in the past, but there are none this year. I plan to write more about this in the future.


Laura said...

i miss you so much, sometime i'll find time to write you a lengthy email. for now i wanted to let you know that i'm a regular reader of your blog. it sounds pretty amazing down there, i'm pretty jealous. i hung out with people in your old apartment the other day, it was sad to not have you there.

FOLIO said...

Lovely travel writing indeed. This blog is a real work of art that I am indeed enjoying.
So much love to you,

Gustavo said...

Estimado Chris,
Estimo que hablas español. Deseo agradecerte que compartas la información de este viaje.
Integro un grupo de barrileteros de Buenos Aires en Argentina y tenemos especial predilección por las construcciones de Supango y Santiago Sacatepequez. Nos encantaría intercambiar información contigo, pero bueno, tu dirás.
Un abrazo,

Zephyr Moon said...

Hola Gustavo, Me encantaria hablar con usted sobre los barriletes de Guatemala. ¿Como se llama su grupo? Por favor, que me escriba a: