Monday, January 16, 2012

Starting to say goodbye, part 1: Xela

The last few days I have found myself in a strange kind of limbo, still fully engaged in what I am doing here, deeply connected to my friends, still making new friendships, and at the same time pulling up stakes. Although I have not been doing a very good of the latter, at least not on the physical side of things. I am leaving in three days and I have yet to pack a box. The most I have done is to get rid of my glass and most of the plastic bottles, and figure out prices for some household items I am selling (at steeply reduced prices) to my friends Caterino and Sandra (I am giving them some things outright.  About two days ago I realized I hadn't done anything about my books -- Fulbright shipped my boxes here, so I mentioned to the folks at the Embassy that I was trying to find a way to send them back. They offered to send them if I paid for the postage and got USPS labels, so I spent a fruitless half-hour trying to get information from the post office. Actually I spent 15 minutes on hold and then about 15-20 minutes talking to people (with time on hold in between while they tried to get information). At the end of it all, they told me that they could not do what I wanted (arrange for me to pay postage for parcel post); the only service they could offer me was global express mail, which would have cost between 300 and 400 dollars.  One friend suggested DHL, another suggested a package service used by a lot of Guatemalans, Maya Express. I think it will end up being about the same or less to just pay for an extra suitcase.
Friends have been wanting to organize going-away parties, or have me over for dinner, or in some other way mark my departure. And so Friday afternoon, January 13, found me on the highway to Xela again. My circle of close friends there wanted to have a despedida (going away party) and so we agreed upon Friday; three of them live there full time, and one works in Guatemala City; however, he comes back to Xela most (but not all) weekends. More phone calls and emails to arrange food (being guys, they said they would make churrasco -- grilled meat). I arrived around 6:30 and found three of them playing around with the grill and the meat (well, two were actually working on that and the third just observing). I had brought lentil salad and the ingredients to make a radish salad; rummaged around in Humberto and Ana's kitchen (Ana was not around) and found some tortillas and started to reheat them. Bottles went on the table, meat went on the grill, some Flor de Caña (rum from Nicaragua) went in the glasses (very very little in mine; I brought some wine and there was a bottle on the table -- the guys have figured out that I drink mostly wine, and B. also drinks wine). After everything was cooked and we sat down, they started a round of not exactly toasts, but comments and reflections. Not all were actually so much about me: these are men who have long standing friendships and political relationships and so occasionally their commentaries went pretty far afield (B. at one point, when Roberto, whom I know least well of all of them, was talking about the sexual diversity movement in Guatemala, intervened in a somewhat joking tone and said, "And how does this have to do with Lisa?"). But it was wonderful to be in the warm embrace of a circle of friends. Humberto's wife and children were there -- which was one of the reasons we wanted to do it at their home, so that they could participate. His daughter, who has Downs, is very fond of me, and she sat next to me and we made some silly poses for photos.
Ice Cube and
Easy Motherfucking E
There was a lot of eating and drinking and talking ... only some of which I participated in. Humberto's daughter and wife went to bed fairly early, leaving me with the guys. And to a degree, I have become one of the guys. These are political activists and intellectuals, not men in rural highland communities, but they still do gather in male-only settings (their wives are mostly all professionals and Roberto and Javier's wives seem to have fairly independent lives).

On this night, Javier's wife was in Guatemala (she spends several days a week in the capital for work); Roberto's wife was working. We'd invited J-L's daughter Eunice (but she was in Antigua) and also Javier and Roberto's daughters (but they apparently had better things to do than hang out with us; I did run into Roberto's daughter on the street the next morning).

But as a foreigner, I get to skirt local gender codes a little bit. I am sure that I am not outside them entirely.  I know that my going out and having a drink with a male acquaintance in Chinique last year during the fiesta was duly noted; I pulled back from a closer friendship when I learned that he was with the Partido Patriota, and since last year's feast I have just greeted  him politely when we encounter each other. However, a few days ago when I was talking with some female friends about not having someone with whom I could dance at the various events during the feast, they mentioned his name. So obviously, even though none of them was present when we went out for churrascos last January (another all male-gathering, except for me and the women who were serving the food), word gets around.

After a certain point the conversation turned to local politics and some very heated discussions. I found myself on the outside of it, but I didn't really mind. After all, the point wasn't that the entire evening be "about" me, but that we were together. I knew (or think I know) that they were there for me, even if they very readily slipped into familiar and well-trodden territory. They had all had a fair amount to drink  (they were well ahead of me; my challenge is to prevent them from refilling my glass every time one of them refills his; my strategy this time was to take on the role of "chief of protocol" for a while and go about refilling other people's glasses and tipping a drop of wine into my own), and eventually I just lost the track of the conversation entirely and crawled off to bed. I decided not to break up the conversation (a vigorous discussion about politics in Olintepeque, a town near Xela, where two of my friend live), in part because I thought if I started to literally say goodbyes I might lose it. And I had told them I would be back in March and over the summer, so it is not a "good bye" strictly speaking in any case.

In the morning I went off to take a walk, as I usually do, and I followed the route that I have taken ever since I accompanied Humberto and Ana one morning as they took a walk. They don't live in a beautiful neighborhood; the streets are unpaved in their little community wedged between two major roads (the Periférico and the highway that goes to San Marcos). But even though the immediate surroundings are not lovely (Burger King, a bunch of chain drugstores) the city is more or less level and ringed by mountains and the sky was spectacularly luminous this morning, and I went about a block and turned around to get my camera.  I haven't taken any photos of Xela, except inside people's homes and at the sexual diversity event, and although it is not my city, I feel very connected there, and so wanted to have a few images to accompany me after I return back to gringolandia.

No comments:

Post a Comment