This post is long overdue, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share a glimpse of the wonderful time that I had in Guatemala in late January/early February. The people there are truly incredible and so generous. At each school that I visited I was welcomed with big smiles, bigger hugs and lots of kisses on the cheek. (A kiss on the cheek is the standard greeting in Guatemala as opposed to our handshake.) I laughingly teased my husband by saying that I’d never been kissed so much in my life because every welcome and goodbye meant more kisses!
I was privileged to perform at five different schools and two churches and also got to teach two workshops. The schedule kept me very busy, but I also had time to do some sight-seeing, including visiting the famous Antigua. I was also able to pick up a few collections of Latin American folktales which I hope will help me to begin work on a new program of Guatemalan stories! As a gift from one of the churches where I presented, I was given a skirt made from traditional fabric, and at one of the markets I purchased a huipil, a traditional brocaded blouse still worn by many Guatemalan women today. So now that I have the clothes, I just need the time to get practicing some new stories! You can be sure that when I do find the time, one of the stories will be about the legend of the quetzal, a famous bird with deep significance to the Guatemalan people.
Guatemalans today face many difficult challenges. Throughout the country, there is a lot of violence brought upon by gang activity. Many people, especially business owners, are forced to pay extortion by these same gang members. In most of the schools where I presented, parents do not allow their children to walk to and from school alone for fear of danger. In some cases, the parents pick up their children and walk them home from school, and if they have to go back to work, they will lock them inside the house to keep them safe. Many schools, including playground areas, are completely walled in for the safety of the children. At some schools, there was no room for a play area and the only space the children had for recreation was a patio area which probably wasn’t even half the size of a standard gymnasium in the United States. Still the children reflected so much love and joy!
In every location I visited, the children always asked me, “When are you coming back?” I often get asked the same question at performances here in the states, and I love the innocence that children bring. They don’t ask if you are coming back, but rather when. I do hope to have the chance to return to Guatemala, but until then, I carry the people I have met and the stories and memories I have made in my heart.