Friday, August 2, 2013

A parade for all seasons, or the patron saint of drivers

On Wednesday it took me an extraordinary long time to make my way from my friends' home outside Chinique to Chichicastenango -- normally it would take between 50 minutes to an hour depending upon traffic. First thing, when I went to pull my car out of the steep and often slippery driveway (it's been raining a lot lately, and since the driveway is all dirt and rock, it gets quite mucky, and since it's on a slope downward from the road, it sometimes takes all the driving skill I possess to get the car moving in reverse without the wheels spinning into the mud), I noticed one of the front tires was flat. That meant a trip to a pinchazo (flat fix). The only pinchazos nearby that I know of are on the other side of Chinique -- not the side I was on, but on the road leading out of town in the other direction. Which meant going through town and out the other side. Usually not a big deal as town is all of about 10 blocks long. However unbeknownst to me, there was a parade scheduled today with school children. The parade route ran along the route that one would normally take to get through town. So, I had to figure out how to work my way around it, which involved a few false turns and then backing up all the way down one block so I could turn and go a different way.  Eventually I made it out and got my flat fixed, and then followed the line of traffic on an circuitous detour so I could get back out on the side that I had been on originally and head to Chichicastenango.  The son of friends was in the middle of town as I drove through, waiting for a bus to Santa Cruz, and so I offered him a ride; we got a chance to talk about his plans for finishing up his bachillerato (high school degree) and then going to university.

All was smooth sailing -- there are no longer police stationed along the road between Santa Cruz and Chichi - until I hit the entrance to Chichi where everything ground to a halt.  There was a long line of cars, trucks, and buses stretching about half a mile from the arch at the entrance to the city, and a few drivers were standing on the side, looking to see what was going on, buying refreshments or talking on their phones. I heard explosions in the distance -- this being Chichi, any kind of festivity is marked with fireworks. Obviously something was afoot. I asked one of the drivers and he wasn't sure. I called my friend Ixchel, whom I was going to visit at the radio station in Chichi and she told me that it was a parade for "el día de los choferes" (the day of the drivers), but that she thought it would be over soon. Eventually, some cars started coming from the other direction, heading towards us, and some were decorated with flowers and balloons and streamers. After about half an hour, we were able to start inching slowly up into town, although traffic was detoured, and I could hear the noise of occasional explosions throughout the town. When I finally got out to the other end of town and tried to enter that way, it was blocked. The radio station is located near the entrance on the Guatemala side -- that is, the opposite end of town from where I had entered -- and since it is on a one way street I had thought to go all the way through town, out the other side, and then re-enter so I could park near the station. However, since that street was blocked off, I had to try and re-enter the same way I had just come (traffic was being re-routed). Eventually I inserted myself into traffic heading back the way I had come (Chichi has very narrow cobblestoned streets, and with Guatemala's aggressive drivers, getting into the line of traffic and then navigating two-way traffic on streets that barely accommodate one-way traffic most of the time was not fun).  

Later someone told me that it was the day of San Cristobal, who is the patron saint of drivers. Given how aggressively and recklessly people drive here, I guess they need a patron saint. Later Ixchel and I walked through town to get to the market to have lunch, passing a street that had been blocked off, where members of the drivers' association were serving lunch to people who had gathered to celebrate. A tarp had been stretched across the street to offer some protection from the sun (and rain if it were to rain later), and pine needles strewn over the pavement.  Later, when we passed that way on our return, the food had been cleared and many of the people were gone, but inside one of the storefronts I could see a small altar and I could hear the voice of the priest from the Catholic Church, leading a prayer and preaching regarding the significance of the day.

But it does seem that nearly every day is the day of something or other. The day of the child in October. The day of the radio announcer. The day of the teacher. And so forth.  Some are days recognized by the UN -- the day against violence against women, on November 25. Not all are celebrated with great fanfare, but usually at least by the corresponding professional associations, and in the case of the day of the child or the day against violence against women, by advocacy groups and social movements.

Of course, it was ironic that the day of the driver was the occasional for parades that made it pretty much impossible for anyone to drive anywhere.. and I could make some snarky comments that given the way people drive, especially those who drive for a living (the drivers of buses and vans), they really do need a patron saint to make sure that they and most importantly their passengers arrive at their destinations safely.  Every time I see a car or bus bearing some religious slogan, like "Guide me, Lord", stenciled on the windshield, I think "I bloody well hope so, because you surely need it, buddy".  But that, my dear friends, Is Guate-loca.

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