Tuesday, May 20, 2014

San Po Po Season

If you google "San PoPo Season", nothing relevant comes up. But everyone in Guatemala City knows about San Po Pos.
Perhaps I am spelling it incorrectly, although it is difficult to imagine a more feasible permutation.

They look like a bizarre hybrid of ants and flies. It's as though the two species had too much to drink one night, and woke up the next morning thinking how the hell did this happen?! 

Which is exactly what I said in response to the sudden arrival of San Po Pos.  While I was away doing an exercise video to stave off laziness and boredom, they snuck into my room, blanketing my quilt with four-legged nuisances. When the rainy season hits--and it has--the neighborhood ladies say that they fall from the sky with the rain.   

Adults and children alike collect the San Po Pos in jars and eat them for lunch. There are contests for who can eat the most. They dare us to comelo, just one.  It's una tradicion.

There are many traditions, like San Po Po season, that seem unsavory to an outsider's eye.  For example, for birthday parties, firecrackers are set off at the crack of dawn. The sound wakes the entire street corner, its pesky bang-BANG-bangbang-BANG louder than any iPhone alarm clock. This might just be an annoyance, if I didn't live in Esperanza, famous for the more-than-occasional sunset shootings.

As it is, one quickly learns the difference between tiny popping firecrackers and gunshots from an automatic rifle. But, that first time, when you don't know the difference--your blood goes thick like lead as you sit in bed and wonder, why are there so many automatic rifles going off at breakfast? The truth, is--very few people with a Brahva hangover are likely to crawl out of bed before noon to pump someone's belly full of lead.

The bugs smell like citronella when you crush them, and since the soap is always half-diluted, I spent most of San Po Po season smelling like a bargain-shop tiki torch. I suppose this odor is better than the ever present smell of burning trash, which I grew accustomed to after the first day.  Although, I cannot help but wonder if this perpetual sore throat and runny nose is not a result of the rainy season, but rather a response to the acrid perfumes of battery smoke and old toilet seats.

One of the women who works here is eight months pregnant, and lives on the precipice overlooking the dump.  Every morning, she climbs a small mountain to get into the neighborhood.  I don't know her well, but I often wonder if it would be strange to offer to rub her feet.  There are so many things I can't do--but I can give a pretty good foot rub.


Our librarian's neighbor was shot. She was dating some of the gang members.  When it happened, a man was wailing about his brother, and so we thought it was a man who was killed.  Oddly, he was screaming about a brother. mi hermano, ay mi hermano, no, mi hermano. 

It's very possible that, as is often the case, I misheard him. That o could easily have been an a.  If his keening hadn't doubled and tripled the length of his vowels--I'd be more willing to admit that, like the time I asked for a "half book of rice"--my intermediate Spanish steered me wrong.

I wonder what his brother had to do with the shooting. Was it his girlfriend? Was he the one who shot the gun? Why wasn't anyone screaming over the dead girlfriend?

In Guatemala, a person is buried many times over.  The first time, they are buried in their coffin; a rather large plot. This lasts for fifteen years, until the body has decomposed enough to be moved to a smaller resting place.  Then, it is exhumed and moved to a smaller plot, to make room for new cemetery visitors.

The family pays for the cemetery plot every year, and then pays an additional premium to have the body exhumed and moved to its second home.  If they cannot pay, remains are thrown into the city dump.  The cemeteries are crowded, so people are buried into the walls of the cemetery in order to make room for new occupants.

This is how Guatemalans visit their ancestors: Ccimb a ladder, pay your respects, climb back down to earth.  The plots are crowded on Mother's day, Father's day,Semana Santa, and particularly popular birthdays.

~~~ ~~~  ~~~

The view at night is incredible, and in the morning, too. Two volcanoes, ready to help the sun rise in as glorious a manner as possible. Always crowned in mysterious cloud cover.  Ready to have poems written in its honor,  to defy your sense of longevity and endurance.  And just to the left of these prehistoric monuments--the city dump.  Always on fire, even during the rainy season.

I wonder if the city dump-creators had a sense of humor, or just lacked appreciation for a good landscape.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reflections on the first week in Esperanza

The sky is purple in the evening; low-hanging clouds of humid pollution make the town below a watercolor painting.  Blurred lines, houses stacked on top of  one another. Ridged sheet metal with crosses and messages and street numbers painted onto the sides slapped up against one another--saving space, sharing materials--whatever the reason might be for having such closely kept neighbors.

No one has enough, but there is ample time to keep score.  The have-less, the have-none, have-some, the gets-by.

In Esperanza, women build the schools, sell the vegetables & paper & food, raise & rear the children. Meanwhile, men go about drinking beer, breaking shit and making nighttime into closed doors and hushed voices, jumping at crack of gun or car.
 The woman who makes tortillas across the street is superstitious and spits into the dough. Four for a Quetzal, they'll burn hands from their thin plastic bag so juggle them with a couple liters of beer. Hop skip jump up the stairs lickety-split to avoid the smattering of evening rain.  Beer is shared piecemeal between mugs but all four liters are finished by ten; the tortillas are clammy when fried with the morning eggs.

 Up the hill, city center is a globular cluster of iridescent green and yellow. The sonorous tin roof rain is made less romantic by a flooding kitchen. Over half of the shared living space is outdoor; so when it rains, stack into the kitchen and mimic the neighborhood architecture. What little space there is to be had is shared between flies and a foundling cat.

In the hours between beer and drowsiness, play at getting along with the techo-mates. With three-to-a-room, countless prayers request a moment to dress in ripped underwear without concern of unwanted voyeurs. Other times, it is nice to hunker down shoulder to shoulder in shared joy and misery to see what unfolds among souring beer and waterlogged streets.