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: Guatemala Travel

Love and kindness in San Antonio Aguas Caliente
Luminita B Cuna

One lazy Guatemalan afternoon, me and my friend Liana decided to take off for a small excursion in the surroundings of Antigua, namely San Antonio Aguas Calientes.

San Antonio Aguas Calientes is a small pueblo some 20 minutes away from Antigua. It is an indigenous maya pueblo known for its beautiful traditional weaving. The textiles produced in this village are considered to be the finest in all Guatemala. The San Antonio huipils (women blouses) are one of the most famous in the country.

Liana and I arranged a visit to a textile cooperative lead by Dona Gloria. Her cooperative is called Ixcel. Ixchel (pronounced I-shell) is the Mayan goddess of the moon, childbirth and weaving. These women call on Ixchel when they wish to express and inspire their creativity. Ixcel was also known as the "Lady Rainbow", therefore you see the rainbow colors very often in the Maya textiles.

In a pretty big room filled from top to bottom with textiles, there were 4 women weaving at hip-strap weaving devices. The bunch of colorful threads that make the "skeleton" of the cloth being woven was tied to a central pole. The opposite end was tied to a piece of wood with a leather strap. This leather strap was passed around the waist of the woman that was weaving. A very simple device, which, however, helped those women create really beautiful things: blankets, table covers, bed covers, traditional blouses and wrap-skirts, head bands, belts and countless other things. All was so colorful that me and Liana almost got dizzy looking around from one colorful spot to another, and we had major ADD (attention deficit disorder) while in the store. My eyes could just not stop running around attracted by all the vivid colors filling out the space we were in. Dona Gloria introduced herself and her cooperative, then we listened to how these women weave the cloths, we learned the occasions they are made for, how do they use diffeent parts of the costume. One part, the "sute" - a square cloth, very important part of the costume that takes one year to complete – is used to cover the head, to carry the baby in, to put it decoratively on the shoulder, or to make a buffer on your head in case you cary something heavy, like a pot or a basket. We learned about maya wedding traditions, and that maya men still preffer to marry women under 20 (so we had absolutely no chance!).

Dona Gloria had a very feminist and progressive view on life, and I was amazed by her modern discourse. She was trying to help all village girls go to school, to become educated, so that they have other useful skills besides the traditional weaving (which they had to learn anyway). She was supporting the emancipation of maya women who had it very hard in a really macho-patriarchal society. There are 25 women in the cooperative right now, but in the beginning, the husbands of the "founder members" were against them working in the cooperative. The men thought the women just wasted their time blabbering and gossiping and avoiding housework. Later on, they realized their wives were doing something really amazing and profitable, and they eased up on them.

After the "lecture", Dona Gloria asked us if we want to try on a traditional costume… what? Are you kidding? Don’t ask us twice! Let’s play maya women! So the other ladies brought clothes, and dressed all of us gringas in maya costumes…then they brought a bride veil and some flowers and made Liana a bride…In the store there was another American lady and her local Spanish teacher. Because we neded a groom, the Spanish teacher was selected immediately (well, he was the only man around so we did not have too many things to select from). This way, my dear friend got married in San Antonio Aguas Caliente, to this funny young lad, of which to this day we do not know the name… We did the whole ceremony. The american lady was the mother-in-law, and I was the godmother therefore I had to do the blessings of the couple, throwing flower petals on their heads and enumerating benedictions of healthy kids and a strong household. We had so much fun! And the ladies in the cooperative had even more fun watching us. At the end, the monther-in-law took the groom and off they went, deserting the bride in the textile shop, all by herself (well, with her godmother). And so the fulminating love story ended…Indeed, love is so blind, it does not even care of the name of the beloved one… Miguel, Jose, Fernando… whatever his name was, he will always be the nameless groom from Antigua.

After the wedding and after my roommate was deserted in the tienda Ixcel by her newly acquired husband, we decided it was time for us to go. We strolled towards the central square where we would take the bus back to Antigua, but of course there is no bus schedule, you just wait until the next one arrives. As we were walking along the little park, two boys – small, in grungy clothes of hard to identify colors, with dirty cute faces – started yelling something after us: "Acha, acha, gringa toma pacha!". I stopped and went to them to see what they were saying. Of course they got all shy and intimidated. I told them I just want to know what they were yelling after us, because I thought it sounded funny. SO I repeated what I heard them saying. They started laughing and they told me the little poem means that the "gringa is drinking from a baby bottle". And "gringa" can be replaced with anything, for example "acha acha Jose toma pacha". This way, me and Liana just made two new friends. The boys, seeing that we were not mad at them for yelling stupidities after us (after all, we used to do it too when we were kids), became extremely talkative, showing us around, being really good guides. They were really cute and quite sharp. They were brothers and they just started going to school. They explained us that now the people are preparing the church for a procession, in light of the coming Easter. The older one started singing a song that is heard chanted during the Easter procession. He had a very soft, angelic almost voice. It was quite something seeing that little ragged dusty nino, so playful and cunning a few seconds before, becoming really serious and concentrated, singing beautifully a religious hymn.

The younger one began showing off his climbing skills, jumping over the 2 meter fence surrounding the church and almost giving us a heart attack. We talked about their family, school, and about cooking. Hesitant to believe that boys at 7 years of age can cook, I requested a list of what they can make. Tortillas… Ok, I had tortillas almost every day with meals – round, flat breads made of corn flour. So I invited one of them to teach me how to make tortillas. And they left me speechless when they described in detail the process of making tortillas, with timing and fire intensity and techniques of kneading the dough. When I asked them whether there are a lot of tourists pestering their quiet village, they said that there are a few. These tourists take pictures of them, afterwards giving them a dollar and a caramel. Do we have a dollar to give them? Hmmm…. I did not like where the discussion was going – these kids should not be begging. What can they do with the dollar? The answer came in a breath: go to Dona Isidora that owns the shop in the corner and she can exchange it in quetzals… These little ones had it all figured out! Instead of giving them a dollar (which I did not have on me anyway), I propose to go, all four of us, at a little pastry boutique that I noticed on one side of the park and get something to eat. The boys’ faces light up instantly, and they started elbowing each other, with large grins on their tiny faces. Aha, sweets always are better than a dollar, huh?

So we all went into the boutique. Sam and Oswaldo (because these are the names of the boys), went straight to the display window where there were slices of white cake with cream and a strawberry on top. They shyly pointed to the cakes, so I got one for each, of course. We all went afterwards in the park and sat on a bench. They were savoring that piece of cake, I am telling you! They had whipped cream all over, from their face and hands, to their shirts and pants! (not that it mattered, they were in a deplorable cleanliness state anyway). They kept saying "mmm, delicioso!" and I was so happy watching them eat. They said this was their favorite cake, but they do not eat it often, maybe once a year for their birthday, if their tia (aunt) buys it for them. Oswaldo, the young one, was about half through his portion, when he stretched his hand with the plate towards us "Would you like some?". Perplexed, I refused nicely, because I did not want to take away his cake. This little boy, that lived in very poor conditions, not even affording a cookie when he wanted one, he offered me a piece of his favorite cake. His generosity really moved me, and to be honest, that crappy, half eaten piece of cake that this kid offered me was one of the most valuable things that I was given. Which one of us, if we were in his situation, receiving a delicacy that him or his family does not afford to buy, would share it with 2 strangers they just met? Would I be able to do that? Oswaldo finished his cake and then, I saw him reaching for a piece of his brother’s cake. His brother let him take it and continued eating. I told Oswaldo that he already had his share, why does he eat from his brother’s? But Sam told me that it’s ok, that they are always sharing everything, and if one has something and the other one does not, they always make it half-half. These two boys really showed me the pure kindness and selflessness that lies in an innocent heart. They have all these values that we (young and old), in this fast paced modern world tend to forget about.

Our two guides showed us to the narrow, hidden street where the bus was stopping (without them probably we would have waited for hours for the next bus). On the way, I asked them to explain why their village is called San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Well, it is because when it rains, the Agua volcano that is nearby fills with water and sometimes it cracks and warm waters (heated by the volcano) come down. These kids knew a lot!

And thus our little excursion came to an end, we got on the chicken bus and made our way back to charming Antigua.
© Cuna, Luminita B [IT]

See also Maximon the Saint who likes to Drink

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