Today was Vanesa's quinceañera (15th birthday). It is a girl's coming of age in Latin American cultures (similar to a sweet 16 party). Vanesa is the oldest of the five girls, and we wanted to start a tradition of going to visit as the girls each reach that milestone. Quinceañeras can run the gamut from small informal family parties to expensive, lavish, wedding-like celebrations. Shy and uncomfortable being the center of attention, Vanesa had not even wanted a party at first. But her family convinced her that they could have a low-key family get-together at the house to celebrate her quinceañera in conjunction with Yoselin's 9th birthday the day prior.
We didn't know ahead of time what the schedule of events would be for the party, so we wanted to get our showers out of the way early in the day. Craig took his shower as soon as we got up. Eddy brought his Duplo blocks out into the hallway, and I brought out the "compu" as the kids call it. Between watching videos on the computer and playing with Eddy's blocks and cars, we managed to keep the kids entertained and out of Craig's way.
After Craig was done showering, we had breakfast.We saw Vanesa for the first time this morning and wished her a very happy birthday. We had huevos rancheros with refried black beans and cream and fried plantains. It was delicious. Eddy kept piling sugar onto his plate. It reminded us of when Aracely was little and used to stick her fingers in the sugar bowl.
We played with the kids and took some videos. Craig entertained the kids in the dining room. They played with blocks and dominoes there while I took my shower back at the room. When I was done I joined them at the dining table to play. Josue was visiting, and he was being much more reasonable in terms of not knocking everything down immediately. It was nice to see them combining the dominoes and the blocks together into intricate structures and knocking them down.
After that we played cards, and we played with the bilingual memory game. Paulina went over to her sister Isabela's to cook for tonight's party. Now that Humberto had explained Craig's MS to the girls, and we knew that they were curious about it, Craig showed Yoselin, Yasmin, and Aracely how he gives himself his daily shot. They were very attentive and interested. They watched the whole process, wincing when the needle punctured his skin. Meanwhile I kept Eddy busy in the hallway, letting him type on my netbook. He was still too young to understand.
We gave the girls some stickers and played with the blocks and the computer in the hallway. Paulina came home and Humberto joined us for a nice salad for lunch. We wanted to take the opportunity to give Vanesa her gifts from us before the party. We gave her Swarovski crystal earrings and a matching necklace. It was a bit more fancy than the kind of things she owns, but we wanted to give her something special and grown up for her special birthday. She tried them on and they looked quite sparkly. Her sisters were impressed.
Humberto took the non-birthday girls to the store to buy party supplies. Humberto's sister Juana and her daughter Rocio showed up. Rocio was all dolled up for her school's reina (queen) pageant. She was wearing mascara and a strapless top. She looked so grown up. We showed her the videos on the computer and then she played velcro ball outside with Craig. She wanted to play out at the street instead of back near the house. When they got out to the street, Craig noticed several boys hanging around. Ah, this was why she wanted to be out here. Ah, to be 13 again. It was so hot in the sun that they couldn't play for long. On his walk back to the house, Rocio stopped him at her house to introduce him to her new puppy (named "Puppy").
It was now midafternoon, and looking at the property, you would have no idea that a large party was about to take place in a couple of hours. Juana helped Paulina in the kitchen, and soon Humberto and the girls reuturned from the store. Neli and Josue were over. We all played together. Neli asked our names and Aracely said, "You don't know the names of MY padrinos?!" and then told her our names. It reminded us again of when we first met Aracely and she was possessive, telling Neli we were "Mio", or hers. I played velcro ball with Josue. Mario made a quick appearance and said that he was going to an internet cafe and would see us at the party later.
Craig played horsie w/ Aracely and Yoselin on his knees (like he did with Yoselin and Yasmin in the Wiggles video they had watched so many times in the past few days). He gave Aracely and Neli piggyback rides.
Paulina's sister Olga came over. When she arrived she had a bloody nose. She stood over the sink and it just kept bleeding. At first nobody really thought much of it. The women, including Humberto's mother were busy cutting up beets. Paola hung up blue streamers and balloons in the hallway and the two ground floor uninhabited guest rooms. Humberto and his nephews brought tables and chairs from the family's neighboring Yulex restaurant. They also rented some chairs and tables from the party store next door to Humberto's office. We felt glad to give the proprietor the family's business, since she had been so patient when the kids visited her store yesterday. Eddy put his little wooden chair onto the top of a pile of resin chairs and climbed atop it, sitting like he was king of the world.
Some guests started to arrive. One woman had a little girl who immediately came over to us and said in Spanish "[Tchhtt] Hi my name is Briseda, what's yours?"and shook our hands. Most kids just stared at us at first, but Briseda was outgoing and direct. Later we would find out she's only 3.
Yoselin took a shower and emerged wearing the new outfit she had bought at the market yesterday (jeans and a stylish blouse with tattoo-art style heart with wing motif on the front, with a little black crocheted shrug around her shoulders). Vanesa also changed into her new outfit (a turquoise plaid belted fitted tunic top and dark washed jeans). The birthday girls looked great!
As we prepared to leave for church, Olga's nose was still bleeding. She was losing a lot of blood and we didn't feel comfortable leaving her behind. Craig suggested that Humberto call Mario and ask him to check out Olga. He called and of course Mario was more than willing to help. He said he'd be right there. Satisfied that Olga was in good hands, we took tuk-tuks to church. Yasmin, Aracely, and Eddy rode with Craig and me.
When we got to Iglesia San Francisco de Asis, parishioners were selling raffle tickets. Humberto bought some numbers and the kids held on to them. Between the kids, Humberto, Paulina, and us, we filled an entire pew. Aracely sat on my lap. The 6:30 p.m. Mass was offered for Vanesa and Yoselin and their names and birthdays were read aloud at the beginning of Mass. Humberto had wanted a private Mass just for the family but because it was Sunday the priests were busy saying Masses in the other villages around the lake.
There is a live band which plays along with the hymns, and Eddy really enjoyed it, stomping and clapping along. We gave Aracely a dollar for the collection basket and Paulina gave a quetzal to Eddy. He put it in his pocket and missed the collection. But a while later I saw Aracely take it from him and put it in her own pocket. Sneaky!
After Mass we took tuk-tuks home. Yasmin rode with us. Both Humberto and Paulina's families had gathered while we had been gone. Mario was just finishing up after having cauterized Olga's nose. He was very glad to be able to help, and continued to monitor her over the course of the night. Some last-minute preparations were taking place. Two piñatas appeared. Humberto got the computer from his office and set it up in front of the stairway for music. More family members started to arrive.
Humberto gave a nice toast to his daughters and then proceeded in English to introduce us to everyone present. It was really enjoyable for us to see all of the kids whom we have met over the years. In 4 years of visits, new kids had been born, other kids had grown up...we recognized so many of them...little Isidro, whom we had met when he was only 15 days old ,is now a stocky toddler; his younger sister Allison Margarita is no longer an infant and walks around; Nidia is dressed as usual in a beautiful traditional outfit; sisters Laisa, Yesmy, and Loren were adorable as ever; and Pamela and Odilia were growing up; neighborhood cousins Julisse, Alex, Luis, and Mario were now teenagers, and they were joined by their younger siblings Neli, Josue, Junior, and Andrik.
As for adults, we saw many familiar faces as well: Humberto's mother (known as "Abuela" to the kids), Humberto's sister Juana and their brothers, Paulina's sisters Estela, Olga, and Isabela, their brother Carlos and his wife Vilma (we had attended their wedding on a previous visit). We were also introduced to Vilma's young adult daughter Erica. The way the entire family has embraced us and continues to make us feel welcome is really remarkable. oming to Guatemala feels like a real homecoming.
On a more somber note, the presence of Paulina's father Isidro was definitely missed. He had passed away earlier this year, and would have loved to have seen his granddaughter's quinceañera. He was always there for the family and he always had a friendly smile for us.
Tables filled the hallway and spilled into the guest rooms. The women then served a delicious dinner of chicken in a mushroom cream sauce, tortillas, rice with peas and carrots, and beets. It was served on white styrofoam rectangular dishes. We had rum and orange juice to drink. They opened the windows to the guest rooms so that they could more easily pass plates of food and drinks to people sitting at tables inside the rooms. It was a festive atmosphere.
After everyone had finished eating, it was time for the piñatas. Yoselin's was shaped like a white kitten wearing a pink dress (vaguely reminiscent of Hello Kitty), and Vanesa's was a more traditional 7-pointed star piñata. The piñata were strung up in the alleyway. All the kids in attendance had their own plastic bags for gathering candy. They didn't blindfold the girls but they spun them one time for each year and then let them loose on the piñatas, first Yoselin's and then Vanesa's. Even Paulina and Humberto took a swing. Children scurried along the ground, picking up hard candies and lollipops. Yasmin, Yoselin, and Aracely gave us each some of their candy, which was very sweet of them. When Vanesa's piñata had broken open, they tore off the points of the stars and wore them as hats.
Next it was time for cake. Each cake had fruit slices on top and the girls' names were written in frosting. They put nine candles on Yoselin's, and put a candle shaped like the number 15 on Vanesa's. Both cakes were lit and the crowd started off by singing Happy Birthday to Yoselin (in English, surprisingly). They followed that up with "Queremos pastel" (we want cake) sung to the same tune. Then they counted to 9 in Spanish and Yoselin blew out her candles. Caught up in the moment, Eddy blew out Vanesa's candles, before any of us had even sung to her. Everyone laughed at his exuberance. They re-lit the candles and sang both Happy Birthday and Queremos Pastel to Vanesa, after which Vanesa got her turn to blow the candles out.
Then the girls had to take a bite out of their intact cakes using no hands. Yoselin dove right in and came up with a moustache of frosting. Vanesa tried to be dainty and just licked a bit of frosting, but the crowd was not satisfied. She bent forward to take a bite and her cousin Alex pushed her face down into the cake. The crowd approved, and she stood up with frosting on the tip of her nose. But they weren't completely satisfied until she bent down a third time and took a full mouthful of cake. The cakes were then sliced up and distributed to the guests.
After everyone had enjoyed the cake, some of the tables and chairs were moved to make a dancefloor. Humberto had set up his computer outside and some of the young men acted as dj's. Mario had been about to head to bed, but couldn't pass up an invitation to dance. Kids and adults, men and women, all danced and had a great time. Craig honed his new-found dancing skills (from our recent trip to Ecuador) and danced with the women and kids. Humberto twirled Paulina around on the dancefloor. People popped balloons and lit firecrackers. It was especially cute to see some of the very little kids dancing together and twirling one another around. The kids definitely felt the rhythm. Even tiny 3-year-old Briseda had the moves. Everyone was having a lot of fun. Vanesa looked to be really enjoying herself, without having to be in the spotlight, which would have made her uncomfortable.
Eddy was whining a bit and was staggering around very tired. I picked him up and danced with him and he fell asleep on my shoulder. I brought him into our room and put him to sleep. At the end of the night Humberto's brother Gabriel taught me a traditional Mayan folkloric dance. I enjoyed the lesson. Humberto told us he has enjoyed that dance since he was a teenager.
The party broke up at around 1 o'clock in the morning. The next day was a school day, after all! Briseda and her parents stayed over in one of the unoccupied guest rooms. We carried Eddy back to Humberto and Paulina's room and then went to bed ourselves.
Juana, Paola, Olga, and Abuela preparing beets
Paulina and birthday girl Vanesa
Humberto and recent birthday girl Yoselin
Craig enjoys dinner
Vanesa and Eddy
Yoselin attacks her piñata
Humberto and the spoils from the piñatas
Lighting the candles
(1 minute video)
(3 minute video)
Gabriel teaches Steph a folkloric dance