Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Our first fiesta

We’ve been here less than 48 hours, and attended our first fiesta.
Esmeralda, our home stay host, told us there was a party tonight. I think there were two birthdays, but I’m not really sure. My Spanish skills mean I am generally only half-certain about anything that’s going on, often much less. And I’m probably regularly wrong about the things that I think I understand. (Which might have been true even when I understood the language people were speaking.)
Breakfast yesterday was tamales purchased the night before from a neighbour cooking them in her backyard in a big tub over a wood fire. I’ve never been fond of tamales in Mexico - too mushy, like a pudding with chunks of boney chicken. But these were good - chicken, potato and rice in a thinner corn mush casing.
We wandered through the town, scoping it out, had a coffee near the square and I did homework on the roof of the house, while Jody played accordion, then another four hours of Spanish class. The extent of the task ahead grows increasingly claro. I can understand many things, thanks to a good ability to grasp parts of conversation and fill in the blanks. But I have the vocabulary of a two-year-old raised by neglectful parents and can only speak, haltingly, in the present tense. We switch teachers each week; I suspect that’s a good thing for the sanity of la maestra working with me.
We bought a cake for the fiesta - a pastel - and came home. Preparations were under way. We went with Esmeralda to a house around the corner, to get tortillas. Through a house to a backyard, where an older, dark-brown-skinned woman was taking clumps of dough from a large metal bowl, patting them into circles and cooking them on a big pan over a blazing wood fire. We joined several women waiting and left with an aluminum roasting pan full of hot tortilla.
Eventually we made our way to the adjoining house, occupied by a daughter of Esmeralda (another two daughters live in the house on the other side). It gradually filled with cousins and aunts and brothers and sisters and more cousins, sitting mostly in plastic chairs around the edge of the room, with a passel of children in and out of the house and music playing through very bad speakers in way that took me back to the days of Candle transistor radios. We were seated in the place of honour, a satiny sofa. I was introduced to many people, introducing myself as Pablo, offering my mucho gustos and nodded agreeably while smiling wildly as conversations swirled around me.
We ate - delicious chicken stewed in a mild red sauce, rice and vegetables and the tortilla - as people kept arriving. Jody played the accordion for an appreciative audience, we ate the cake and I identified at least one of the birthday people, Rosita, a beautiful young woman turning 21 in a sparkly brown shirt who did all the serving (and looked 15). The serving might be a convention. I don’t know. People kept showing up throughout the evening, and plates of food kept appearing for them.
One guest spoke English, a young Copan guy who spent six years in California studying archeology and then came back to do research at the ruins. He’s working on a site about two kilometres from the main archeological site; there are unexcavated sites all around this region.
We left about 9:45, when some others had gone and it seemed reasonable, but I can hear the party continuing as I write this - especially the loud voices of the young kids.
No big sociological conclusions from one fiesta, but it was a pretty big family gathering for a birthday, though it also reminded me of some WIllcocks gatherings in Toronto when I was a kid. (Except there was no alcohol at the fiesta, which was probably for the best - I was addled enough.)
I didn’t know what to expect about moving to Honduras. But I didn’t imagine myself plunged into someone else’s family life, buying tortillas from a neighbour woman, and sharing a fiesta with a bunch of people who didn’t even seem particularly puzzled to find a gringo sitting on the sofa eating birthday cake while Jody perched on a plastic stool and played Latin American songs on her accordion.

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