Sunday, January 15, 2012

Antidote to fear

Xibalbal is a word in K'iche' that means "place of fear". It is associated with the underworld, a place of darkness. Not really the equivalent of hell in the Christian cosmovision, but definitely not a place one would voluntarily want to spend a lot of time. Yesterday night as I was with my beloved friends in Xela, at a going-away party, we were joking about my return to gringolandia, and one of my friends said, "You're going to Xibalbal." Today, after listening to the first speech by newly-inaugurated president Otto Pérez Molina, the same friend posted something on FB about being in Xibalbal.  And it is a very discouraging and scary moment in Guatemala, although I have a few friends, perhaps less political, or not as clearly on the left, who seem to hold out some hope for the new government. I cannot say I share it.

But I discovered a good, if temporary, antidote to listening to the general: going to the cofradia and eating a bowl of steaming hot home-made soup accompanied by tamales and chile. And then going out in the procession with the cofradia, to the sounds of live marimba and nearly constant fireworks. I sat in the kitchen of the cofradia and let Doña Adela and the other women feed me, along with about 50 other people, while they continued to prepare food for tomorrow. Just watching the women roast tomatoes over the fire (to make chirmol, a mildish chile sauce made with roasted tomatoes and some roasted chiles), scoop out coffee from an enormous ceramic urn, dole out dishes of steaming soup, and trundle back and forth to refill baskets with steamed tamales, was comforting and also a sign that life goes on.

I don't mean to suggest that Otto Pérez Molina's discourse can be undone, or the potential impact of policies he might implement, can be undone simply by falling back into the patterns of daily life in the highlands -- the cycle of planting and harvesting, the cycle of festivals.  But slipping into what has become a comfort zone -- a warm kitchen with an open fire, a community of people with whom I am somewhat familiar, the strains of live marimba with saxophone and other brass pumping out what have now become familiar melodies (and yes, I have a very soft spot in my heart for "El Rey Kiche" and "Chinique Querido"), a procession through the town by candlelight -- proved to be a good counterweight to the heaviness of heart I felt after hearing the speech and pondering the implications.

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