06 October, 2009

Beauty Pageants and Parades

I’m not all that convinced that there will be anyone who reads this due to the long hiatus between entries, but for those of you who do stumble upon this entry, I’d like to muse a little on the topic of Beauty Pageants and Parades here in Guatemala. I think I originally promised this entry about a year ago, but as September comes around every twelve months it occurred to me to try again this year.

September 15th is Guatemala’s (and Mexico’s, and most of Central America’s down to Costa Rica if I’m not mistaken) Independence day. If you add in a town “feria” or fair in Quetzaltenango (the department I live in and also the Department’s capital city) on the same day, as well as one in my training community on the 29th, and then spice it up with celebrating Children’s Day on October 1st, you have some serious partying going on.

My life has basically been all party all the time since the 4th of July for me, seeing as we celebrated that sacred American holiday with Peace Corps Volunteers, then I came back to site for two weeks to prepare for and then celebrate my Municipality’s “feria” on the 25th of July. I went back to the USA for the better part of August to celebrate my sister Sharon’s wedding to my new bro-in-law Kent, and then I came back just in time for the national party month of September!

Now some of you American readers might wonder how I could be such a slacker. “I thought you were supposed to be there to work Kyle!” you might say to me. I tell you, the preparations that go into these parties and the headaches they bring to those who would rather not partake in the festivities make one nostalgic for the days when all you had to do was get up in the morning and go to work. Squeezing productivity out of so much fun is no small job.

Any celebration that has a civic connotation to it in Guatemala brings with it certain expectations. First, there must be multiple days of celebration leading up to the actual day which you are celebrating. Second, someone must be crowned something. Third, large quantities of people will spend large amounts of time standing around and watching things (including coronations, parades, lip sinking, people dancing poorly and/or drunkenly, bands playing… the list goes on). Fourth, many people will talk at great lengths about the same thing, usually with matching introductory and closing statements where every single sentient being that has ever heard of this kind of activity will be welcomed and thanked for their existence, from Almighty God to Pedro’s Great Aunt Miriam who died 15 years ago (but remember how good her sweet bread was?).

On each of the days leading up to the actual celebration different events are planned, usually getting grander with time. At my school, this means first electing a girl to represent the school for the next year as the Queen of the Student Body. To do this there must be several candidates that must participate in a beauty pageant. As an example of how intense these competitions can get, this year for our municipal fair, my neighbor’s daughter won the “Reina Infantil” or Infant Queen pageant. She is 4 years old. To practice her talents and make all her costumes, the entire school pitched in. Classes were let out at half days for the week prior to the competition so all 16 teachers could help practice the routines and speeches that my 4 year old neighbor had to reproduce. Our village has now won this competition for 5 years running, so we have something of a reputation to uphold. The whole country is enthralled by these types of events, and anything worth celebrating has a beauty pageant associated with it.

Another day preceding the celebration will usually involve one or more parades- the more important the festivity, the more parades. If you ever happen to be in Quetzaltenango around the 15th of September, do NOT plan on doing anything fast. Traffic stops for about a week while parades of students from every academic institution march around. The good ones are reminiscent of a high school marching band, the less sophisticated (like my school) walk in front of a pickup truck wired for sound. I posted a video of this on my facebook account. Click here to check it out.

Guatemalans also love competitions of other kinds, not just those involving passing judgment on beauty. Some places have horse racing, others sponsor sports tournaments. My school had a bike race one day, a scavenger hunt another, and even (my personal favorite) a scholastic bowl! When I went to my training community to visit the family I lived with while I was learning to live in Guatemala, they convinced me to run in the 5th Annual Footrace. Apparently the route the race was to follow was the one I had taken for my runs while I was staying with them. I was a little weary having not really run much in the past year, but feeling like I was in pretty good shape, I took the challenge and signed up. Upon arriving at the starting line I surveyed my competition, and I was happy to see a few middle aged men who although appearing to be in good shape, were by no means intimidating. I was feeling up for some good exercise if nothing else until about 20 minutes before the race.

While I was stretching out, four complete runners’ clubs from the capital city arrived in the small village of 2400 people. I was not pleased. The hat dropped to signal the start of the race and I fell instantly behind. Twelve kilometers (around 7 miles) later, I was the last man in the open men’s category (boy was I pissed to find out there were categories) to finish out of about 30, and the 4th to last to finish over all (edging out two 15 year old girls and a 70 year old man). My host brother made sure to follow me on his motorcycle almost the whole way encouraging me to take deeper breaths and longer strides. Had I been in slightly better shape, he probably would not have survived the run.

The rest of the family was very complimentary and I took the humiliation in stride. Everyone who I talked to after the race told me that what mattered was that I participated and finished, and hey, I got a T-shirt for finishing. Speaking of clothing, my host mother bought me some new cloths for mass and the dance that they had that night. I got a sweat shirt, t-shirt, jeans, and… bikini brief underwear. I think I need to explain that this is the preferred undergarment of the Guatemalan male, and every man and boy that I have seen swimming has worn this cut of brief, so I think by her purchasing me this article of clothing she was telling in her own way that she saw me as a local. However, this woman also washed my underwear for 3 months and knows that I am at very least a boxer-brief kind of guy (sorry if this is over sharing), and what possessed her to buy me underwear at all, let alone this type of underwear is still beyond me.

This might have been a bit too much sharing, but in any case, that’s where life has been for me lately. I’ll try to get in an entry by the end of the month about the work I’ve managed to accomplish despite all this merriment, complete with pictures. In the mean time, chime in; let me know what’s happening back in the Land of the Free and what’s going on in your lives. I miss you all. Peace.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Kyle!! After reading Jake's blog about visiting you, I figured I'd check our your blog, too. :-) Sounds like an amazing time! Nothing much going on back here; I finished school (finally!) and am now sitting on my master's and continuing to work at the zoo. Yay? :-P Anyway, glad life's treating you well. Take care!


PS Good luck with the mouse! Too bad there aren't no-kill mousetraps in Guatemala, I'm assuming :-/