When we planned our trip six months ago, I chose the dates based on Sam’s schedule, my work schedule. I didn’t actually look at a Guatemalan calendar, which I should have done, because September 15th was Guatemalan Independence Day, and we weren’t able to do any work that day. While it was too late to change our flights, we did have time to change our in-country itinerary to include a day in Antigua.
Sunday morning, as we left our hotel in Guatemala City, I saw several groups of high schoolers in uniforms running along the main road. I asked the bus driver why they were running. “Because of the holiday,” he told me. It sounded unfair to me, to make them do PE on Sunday just because Monday was a holiday. These schools were hard core!
Over the day, as we rode the bus to Antigua, we saw group after group of young people, running with torches (the torch of liberty) and whistles.
All day, as we wandered the streets of Antigua, we heard whistles and cleared the road as group after group of running students passed us with their torches.
All day, despite rain, and into the night, despite darkness, bands and whistles and torch-running continued. We did a little shopping, but mostly we just watched. We had stumbled on a national party, and it was great fun.
We had to leave Antigua at five next morning to make it out of town before the streets were blocked off for the parade, and we took the early bus out of Guatemala City for the same reason. When we finally arrived in the towns where we’d be working, more parades stopped our progress, and we sat in the car, watching the parade through the rain.
During the week, there was little for entertainment. After teaching each day, we walked half a mile to the corner store and had an icy soda as we watched people heading home for work.
I think they liked watching us as much as we liked watching them. A few folks were curious enough to come and talk to us, and we had some great conversations about life in the village, and what we were doing there. Pam introduced Maria, who worked in the little store, to her first taste of diet coke. “Is it sweet?” Maria asked. One tiny eighty-two year old grandma watched us every day from next door, peering over the low concrete wall like Kilroy, but we weren’t able to convince her to come sit with us.
Those moments of conversation were one of the best parts of the trip, when the wall of us-them broke down, and we were just neighbors having a conversation after work.