Tradition & A Sense of Belonging

By Elaina Wagenman

Hola friends and family! Site 1 Guatemala is wrapping up yet another extraordinary week spent in San Juan del Obispo! It’s hard to believe that only two weeks remain of Spanish school and living with our host families. It will be a difficult goodbye. Throughout this week two ideas have stuck out to me while our group was going about the semi-usual but never mundane routine of weeks in San Juan.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

First, I have found myself reflecting back on my initial feelings upon arrival in San Juan del Obispo, this small town we knew little about or even what to expect. On my first night with my host family, I was overwhelmed by their incredible hospitality and relentless kindness as they welcomed me, a shy white girl who barely spoke any Spanish, into their home. Despite their hospitality, I still felt out of place. My homestay, although abundantly charming, didn’t feel like my home. So many things were different from my home in Canada.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Looking back, my perspective has definitely changed. As my Spanish progresses, I am interacting more and more with my family and my host sister especially. I have now built relationships that somehow tie me to this small town in Guatemala that no one back home has even heard of. When I think about my house, there is a sense of familiarity about the big red double doors, my pink cinderblock room with its floral curtains, the sight of the cherry red coffee beans growing outside my kitchen window, and even sharing the shower with a couple green slugs every now and then. I’ve grown to see past the differences enough that I feel a sense of belonging here. Now, to me, San Juan del Obispo looks like home.

This past week we also had the opportunity to be involved in some unique cultural activities. On Wednesday afternoon, our entire group had the pleasure of visiting a women’s cooperative in San Antonio, where we were taught about several Mayan traditions including a typical wedding ceremony. The women first showed us some weaving techniques and we learned about the very complex and intricate process of making traditional blouses, shawls, and other clothing. The artistry of their weaving and the knowledge of the years of experience and hours of work that go into each piece left us all appreciating their work even more. Next we participated in the wedding ceremony. Linnea and Simon, the happy volunteer couple, and the wedding party were dressed in traditional wedding attire. The women facilitated the wedding, explaining the whole ceremony step by step. Afterwards the couple was showered with flower petals and the whole group danced to marimba music. We even prepared a traditional wedding soup and tried our best at making tortillas.

On Sunday, our group had the opportunity to make an “alfombra”, a carpet made from colourfully dyed sawdust, pine needles, and flowers, adorning the street where the Lenten procession occurs. The alfombra took almost 7 hours to complete and turned out beautifully. It was delightful to see the people walking by stop to take photos or congratulate us for our hard work. Freddie from Mundo Spanish School said that many tourists don’t understand the point of these time consuming creations because they are destroyed in less than 2 minutes when the procession walks over and ruins it. I really enjoyed this opportunity to take part in a tradition that is so central to the celebration of Semana Santa (Holy Week), and to learn through this experience more about the culture of Guatemala.

I think that through experiencing and being a part of local traditions we can learn so much more about a place and a people. I was honoured that the women from the cooperative, as well as Mundo Spanish School, took the time to share such important and sacred traditions with us. I came out of this week with a deeper appreciation for the insight and learning that result from observing and experiencing these celebrations. This made me think about how our traditions as an Outtatown community, and even as Canadians, can allow people to better understand us as they reflect our history, values, and goals.

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