Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Big, Fat Guatemalan Procession

A couple of posts ago I mentioned there was going to be a Corpus Cristi procession on our street this past Sunday.  I was only half-right…

Before I tell that story, I need to back up and tell you what’s been happening with Dona Cristi.  She was feeling much better on Friday, and we were really excited to think she was going to be well for the procession. 
Unfortunately, on Saturday she started getting much, much worse.  Her two daughters called their brothers, and the family decided she needed to be brought to the hospital.  It’s a different situation here, where medical care is available but can be quite expensive.  The family knew it would likely be necessary to pay the entire bill out-of-pocket.  They took her to a good private hospital called Hermano Pedro, after the patron saint of Antigua.
Cristina’s granddaughter, Sabrina, stayed with us while her mom and aunt went with her grandmother.  She is a very sweet 13 year-old.  We made sure she ate some dinner and then we played a game of Uno to help take her mind off of how worried everyone was. 
Her mom came home and told us that they were admitting Dona Cristi with severe dehydration and a fever of 40 degrees Celsius (approx. 102F).  We found out later the doctors said if she had waited one more day, she probably would not have lived.  Gracias a Dios for His provision!! 
Dona Cristi did not want to stay in the hospital alone, so Cristina and her older sister, Ana Lucia, slept over with her.  Sabrina decided to stay at the house with us for the night.  We felt honored that the family trusted us with their youngest daughter/granddaughter/niece!
As I had mentioned in Saturday’s post, flowers and decorations for the procession had started appearing.  The traditional colors for Corpus Cristi are yellow and white, so the flowers were gladiolas, carnations, and others in those two colors.  They were arranged into four large pots and placed on stands. 
Myles, Haley and I were out and about on Saturday until lunch.  We walked in and found the little driveway area just inside the big front door filled with the flowers, two angels (three feet tall), large candle holders, and incense burners.  There were curtains of white lace and yellow tassels.  Wow, we thought, this is a lot of work just to have people walk by!  In the dining room an 18-inch Virgin Mary presided over the table.   
Our driveway area before the decorations
Cristina came home from the hospital on Sunday morning and Juanita showed up, even though it was her day off.  Both seemed a bit harried, but we still didn’t get it.  Even when two big bags of pine needles were delivered and Cristina asked Sabrina to start working on the ‘alfombra’ (carpet), none of us really got what was going on. 
It wasn’t until Cristina was on the phone with Ana Lucia trying to figure out how to arrange the needles, that the full picture became clear:  the Corpus Cristi was not just going past us.  Instead, our house was going to be a part of it!  The decorations were not simply so people could see them as they walked by.  They were an altar on which the priest would light candles and offer prayers to God.  It meant that for a time, our home would be set apart as holy to the Lord.
Suddenly we all felt a sense of urgency, too!  The needles started in the middle of the street, but then curved in to lead the procession into our house.  Sabrina and Haley were on ‘alfombra duty’.  Myles and I started melting wax onto the big candle holders to secure the large glass candles which were to be set on top.  Ana Lucia and her husband arrived carrying firecrackers. 
the alfombra leading to our house

At one point I had to walk to the back of the house.  Well, really I had to crawl, as the way was blocked by the curtains, altar, angels & flowers!  Juanita was carrying a frying pan of burnt squares.  Juanita is an excellent cook, and I was worried that in all the frenzy she had accidentally burned tamales.  Nope.  She was preparing the charcoal for the incense burners. 
More of Dona Cristi’s family arrived to help out.  It reminded me of the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when all the bridesmaids are running around getting Tula ready.  Everyone was talking at once, offering advice and pointing out last minute things to be done.  It was fun to be a part of it, although I was only able to catch a few words here and there. 
From way down the road, we could see the procession heading our way.  All along the route, other homes and businesses had put up ribbons and streamers in yellow and white, and made their own alfombras in the street.  Some had flower petals along with the pine.  Ours was the only home into which the priest would enter.
The procession gets closer
(notice alfombra with flower petals)
We opened up the bigger doors and finished spreading the pine needles.  In back, Ana Lucia and Juanita were filling the incense burners.  A young lady in a white robe appeared, carrying some things for the altar.  Now the procession was getting closer.  We could hear the musicians and the priest (who was amplified using a cart with large speakers). 
last minute touches to the alfombra
Suddenly we realized that the big candles were not lit.  I knew the word for matches was fosforos so I ran up to Ana Lucia’s husband.  No, he didn’t have any.  I ran into the sala (living room) and started looking around.  I got a book of matches and ran back out to find the husband lighting candles with the lighter he had in his pocket.  Oh, to have more Spanish!! 
the completed altar
the procession arrives!

The priest and his entourage entered the altar area.  The air was filled with incense and then the earsplitting sound of firecrackers going off at close range.  I squirmed my way outside where the air was clearer and I would be out of the way of this special service.
Ana Lucia on the left with an incense burner
The priest prayed for the children of Antigua and Guatemala, and also for their parents and teachers.  He then prayed for Dona Cristi by name before closing with The Lord’s Prayer.  It was beautiful to be a part of this large group lifting her up!
And then, as quickly as they arrived, they all left.  Ana Lucia started taking things down, so we jumped in again and helped sweep and blow out candles and move the flowers and angels.  Because Myles was so tall, he was a great help in taking down the curtains!
In less than 30 minutes, the altar was gone and our home looked (mostly) like itself again.  The angels and flowers are still in the sala, and the Virgin Mary is still in the dining room.
We found out later that Cristina had Dona Cristi on the telephone during the service, so she was able to hear it all.  We all took pictures, and showed them to Dona Cristi and her family on my laptop yesterday.  We plan to email them to the sisters so they can make copies.  Sabrina took a video of it with her iTouch, so Dona Cristi was also able to see that.
the priest leaves our casa

friends greet the family after the procession
(I'm off to the left, Haley and Myles are on the right)

Once everything was put away, we all breathed a sigh of relief, and looked at each other incredulously.  What an experience!  We felt so honored to participate in this sacred day.  Even though the party afterward was canceled, and our Ama de Casa could not be with us, we knew we had been a part of something we’d never forget.
P.S.  Dona Cristi was discharged on Monday.  She is still weak, but the doctors feel she will continue to improve.  Our difficult housemate moved out Sunday night, and the spirit of tension in the house is lifting.  I was thankful it happened before Dona Cristi came back.  She is enjoying having family around, and being home.  There’s just no place like it!  I’m so thankful that for a time, this is my home, too. 
As scary as this has been, it has also given us an opportunity to pour love into the family, and to see them surround and support each other.  It has been beautiful to see!  I’ve taken on ‘dishes duty’ each night to help out as lots of family keeps descending on us!  Oh, another praise – Dona Cristi had an insurance card which paid the entire amount! 

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