Earthquakes and Piñatas

Another year has passed and it feels like such a long time since I was living in London . I don`t have too much time to worry about it though! I miss family and friends, good music, long summer evenings, worcester sauce flavour crisps etc etc …… 

Recently we have had a series of trembles. Which means that now I keep a torch by my bed and have been drilled in what to do if we get another earthquake. We have a terrace on top of the house and a big park opposite, two good escape routes, I am to get Nico and Rafa will get Paulo. Rafa takes the shakes very calmly like a true Guatemalan. I have been a bit of a girl`s blouse I have to say. It is 31 years since the last big one in 76, the cleaqr up and the aftermath, was one of the things which politicised Rafa and ultimately sent him heading up to the mountains to stop the genocide.

Nico is now one and Paulo celebrated his second birthday in November. Both had the traditional piñata celebration in the back garden. For those who don`t know, a piñata is the huge papa machee parcel in the shape of their favourite thing (in Paulo`s case it was Nemo!) All the children take it in turns to bash it with a big stick until it breaks and sweets and little presents fall out. Then they all rush to collect them in little bags. It is usually a fight that the older children shamelessly win.

Going back a little, Nico`s arrival in January was quite eventful. He was born at the side of the road in an ambulance (not very equipped) in a pretty grotty part of the outskirts of Guatemala city. We arrived at the hospital with him in my arms twenty minutes later and spent less than 24 hours there just to make sure we were both healthy after our adventure. When we got back to the house we were received by my wonderful nanny, Doña Judith (now called Juju by Paulo) and her daughters with special soup, sopa de Gallina and lots of excitement. Paulo handled it all quite well but went through a little biting phase not long after. The first weeks were tough and in the evenings I would have to tie Nico on my back Guatemalan style so I could feed bath and get Paulo to bed. Sometimes after 20 minutes my back would be killing me and Paulo would want me to carry him too. Who needs a gym to get back into shape when you have two big babies to keep you busy. Paulo has an expression for the times when we are alone and he wants to be picked up too ….. 2 babies Mummy!

We moved to a new house in July five minutes from the other one but much nicer with great neighbours and a beautiful garden. It is in an area at the bottom of the volcano called San Pedro el alto, a bit like a leafy green suburb with big houses and gardens mixed with caretakers tiny houses to look after the big houses, very typical here. We are now 5 minutes walk from Juju`s house which is great. Sometimes she takes Paulo and Nico to her house which is in the grounds of a huge house, they have ducks, chickens, rabbits, dogs and cats and her six children…. so the boys love going there.

Rafa`s film, Las Cruces was finally released in November in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango (the second city in the northern highlands of Guatemala) and was generally very well received. He has been doing the rounds of the festivals and so far received two prizes in Madrid, and received a standing ovation in Venezuela. Rafa felt that in Venezuela there was a real spirit of change and not just because of the new Anti-Us president Chavez but from the people themselves. He will carry on going to festivals all year and is at the moment in Panama representing Guatemala at a meeting of Ibo-American cinema. The weekends are tough with my two mad nippers when he is away but you get used to anything after a while. In March he is off to Colombia, Cuba and New York. I am so torn between spending some precious time away with my husband and not being able to leave my nippers, such is life ……

The annual Icaro film festival organized by Rafa`s company ran again in the city in November and it was the first time I wasn`t pregnant so I managed to have a drink and a dance at the closing party. It was tough for Rafa as his father was really ill in the last stages of pancreatic cancer. He was sent home to be nursed and Rafa was with him in the last few days. Rafa`s father had been a very important figure in the political history of Guatemala and he received fitting tributes from around the world. Here the funeral is like a two day marathon, and not of the Irish kind. There was no music or alchohol or eulogies, just a lot of people sitting around for hours in a rather dreary funeral home eating limp sandwiches and endless cups of coffee. I really felt for the family, who were exhausted from the weeks before to then have to immediately endure such an event. Funerals happen the next day here and often the bodies are not embalmed, just washed and dressed. Thankfully there was no open coffin as personally I prefer to remember people how they were alive. My good friend Fatima helped me with all the protocol of what was expected of me, as Rafa was obviously very upset and rather unavailable to me for such important trivialities in a culture which is much more traditional and ceremonial than my own. I did learn that the funerals in the countryside here (Maya funerals) seem to have more of the Irish wake style of music and dancing, and card playing is very popular at such events. I will miss Rafa`s father, who although in many ways was quite a serious man of principals (in a country where not many people have them) he always had a kind word and a smile for me, especially in the early days when my Spanish was limited and the formality of Guatemalan family life could be quite terrifying for me.

Life goes on much the same in Antigua with the regular weekly play groups and mother`s meetings. Two gay guys from Houston opened a new wine bar called Sangre (literally Blood!) with exotic tapas and an extensive wine list. This has become our refuge when we do manage to get out of the house for a while. And also a good meeting place for the girls when we all manage to get out. I feel as though I have some really good friends here now, who like in every ex-pat situation, have become my family and support network. We went to a wedding last week in a beautiful garden just outside Antigua, a Tennessee girl marrying a Peruvian guy, they have a son the same age as Nico. It was a lovely day. My two boys love to party, so we all had a great time.

Halloween here is celebrated with the day of the dead. When all families go to the cemeteries and put flowers on the graves of their relatives and at the same time, rather incongruously, but makes a nice juxtaposition, they also fly traditional kites, trampling all over the graves of their ancestors. This year Rafa was working preparing for the film festival, so Paulo, Nico and I went with Juju and her children to the local cemetery, we then all came home and took the kites to the park across the road. It was great fun for Paulo who was old enough to enjoy it this year. Nico fell asleep and missed it all!

I have discovered a new DVD rental place in Antigua and have been slowly working my way through the Oscars of the last couple of years. Paulo has been able to sample the delights of Nemo, Shrek and is particularly found of Chitty Chitty Bang bang, which he calls Shitty Shitty bam bam. We even got the Sound of Music out at Christmas!

This Christmas I decided to pitch for an English Christmas. Here in Guatemala Christmas is celebrated on the evening of the 24th and people eat around 10pm , open presents and then go out to see the fireworks, or should I say hear, because most of them are just bangers. This is great if you an adult who wants to get drunk and sleep off your hangover all day Christmas day but for two young children it seemed rather pointless. For me Christmas was always the excitement of waking on Christmas morning after Santa had been in the night and seeing my Santa sack bulging with presents. We even got a Santa Piñata for Paulo to hit with Juju`s children on Christmas day morning. Paulo had a good time and we left a whiskey for Santa on the fireplace which he seemed to find really fascinating.
I suppose, and am told, that my Spanish has really improved, so I have stopped feeling like a silent school exchange teenager in formal social situations. I can even make people laugh sometimes. Paulo`s linguistic ablity has amazed us all – I now think all children should be brought up bi-lingual. He is speaking more of two languages than children who only speak with one. I have two names depending upon which language he is speaking. Mummy in English and Mama in Spanish. He also has a highly developed two year olds slapstick humour. Gafaws manically if I drop anything and repeats the same gag when I am puttimg him in his sleeping bag every night with the same amount of hilarity as if it was the first time. Nico however is the dark house of the family. As strong as an ox with a radiant smile and a rather serious downturned mouth, firm jaw expression the rest of the time. I was told by a wise woman the other day that he is an old spirit, and to be honest I can believe it, the knowing way he looks at me sometimes.

This new year I sent Rafa out and managed to stay up until around 12.20, reminiscing about all the other crazy new year celebrations I have had in ….Macau. London, Paris, Barcelona, Austria …….and then tucked myself up in bed with a hot chocolate …. bliss

SO life goes on here, I am getting used to the idiosyncracies of life in Central America for a domesticated mother of two. At times England and Europe seem very far away but we are planning to make it over in September this year ….so hope to catch up with some old friends soon.

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