Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lent - Guatemalan style

The Lent season is marked with processionals throughout the streets of Antigua on each Sunday leading up to Easter. The series of processionals begin with a massive dance in the streets surrounding Central Park. Picture hundreds of arms belonging to teenage boys, caballeros, spinning lovely teenage girls, senoritas, all dressed in finery. Now add thousands of eyes staring at them plus the collective clicking sound of cameras capturing the moment. Imagine that at your high school dance and you'll get an idea of the awkwardness. Yet, as part of the guilty, it was amazing to be included in this experience, to see the excitement (and a bit of embarrassment, can't blame them) of these youngsters as they proudly showed off their culture. After their dance, umbrellas in pastel shades opened in the arms of the teenage girls as they shaded themselves and their partner for the walk through town.

Later in the day came the religious floats. Each Sunday, a different church parades their version of the Easter story through the city. Today, the floats were carried and accompanied by many men and women dressed in purple robes. As the floats passed, many of the Guatemalans surrounding us would cross themselves or mumble what sounded like prayers, highlighting the deep religiosity of this country. Incense filled the air, magnifying the juxtaposition between the old and the new, the tradition of Guatemala and the unorthodoxy of the post-procession, which consisted of a carnival of treats - cotton candy, colorful balloons, cheap toys - and the "sweepers" which followed with large brooms.

Regardless of religious affiliation, this experience added to our understanding of the Guatemalans. Although poverty is extreme, illiteracy rates are high, education is low, and access to health care is rare, the Guatemalans still embrace and celebrate life. And today, we were able to embrace it with them, side by side, sharing in the joy of their culture.

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