15 September 2006

El Dia de Indepencia (September 15)

El 15 de septiembre is celebrated fairly similarly to the 4th of July in the US. There's a big build up throughout the country up to it, and activities occur throughout the week to prepare. Bands parade through the streets, re-enactments occur in some towns, flags get placed on everything, and local officials wear silly looking sashes.The day before, torches are carried by groups (organized by the schools) from local towns to other towns as well as one from most municipalidades (read townships or countis) to its department (read state) capital and often to the nation's capital. It's a very exciting tradition that seems to effectively connect community pride to nationalism.On the day of in my aldea, it began with a parade of marching bands, young girls in pickups, and little children in homemeade floats throwing candy.The marching bands here are fantastic. There don't appear to be school sanctioned sports, but you're pretty cool to be in the marching band. Bands are mixed sex, but appear to usually have more guys than girls. Most bands practice twice a day for months in advance. The primary day of performing is the 15 of September. Bands are all percussion -- dominated by bass drums, snare drums, and marimbas. Often there are a few tri-tom players who are stars, and often a group of girls heading up the front in outfits particularly demeaning for 15-year-olds. The amazing thing about the bands here is their dancing. No matter how heavy the instrument, the constant movement and constantly changing beats are both impressive and exciting to watch. Though the beats are unmistakably those of centroamerica, the melodies were often of popular American songs.For the afternoon bands performed in the park and food vendors filled the streets. In the late afternoon, they erected a four-story pine pole rubbed with grease in the center of the park. One thousand quetzales were put on top of the pole, and people tried to climb the pole to get the money. One thousand quetzales exchanges to roughly $120, but it's purchasing power here is more like $300 or $400. The pole proved virtually impossible to climb, so people would stand on each others shoulders until they were close. Apparently last year a Peace Corps volunteer won, so there was considerable pressure to find a gringo this year. Another volunteer and myself ended up serving as the bottom row while 9 Guatemalans climbed on top of us and each other. There were some really dirty feet climbing that pole. Somebody got to the top and the money was split between us all. After winning, we were pushed around in a crowd full of people speaking Spanish fast enough to make me dizzy. Afterwards we went to the town hall where a marimba band was playing. Marimba is the official music of Guatemala, and tons of people were dancing. It quickly became clear that it was impossible for me to not stick out anywhere, so I called it the end of my night.

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