Saturday, January 3, 2009

Christmas: Installment #1

Christmas Week and New Year’s Week in a Nutshell (12-22-2008 to 01-02-2008)

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in awhile. I have two excuses: (1) Life was a little crazy what with it being the week of Christmas and all. (2) I hate using my computer in the house, because as soon as one of the kids sees me with it (which is usually right away because currently I’m sharing a bedroom with the 5 girls), they flock around and want to play with it or listen to music. When I tell them “not now,” they still just stand next to me and stare at whatever I’m doing. It kind of drives me nuts. It’s not that it matters whether they see what I’m writing- they can’t understand it anyway- but I just like to write in peace… Sooooo, there are my excuses. I won’t have those excuses for long though, because it is no longer Christmas week/ New Years, and I will be moving into my own house soon! Yes, that’s right, Mike is finishing the installation on my fans and lights as I write, and I will hopefully move in within the next few days. I’m really excited about having a place of my own. Sharing a room with the girls has been fine and if I had to continue doing it that would be alright, but I’m really excited about having some privacy and a place to put my things. More about my new house when I get settled into it…
Because it has been awhile since I’ve written, I’m going point out some highlights from the past few weeks. I’ll warn you right now- This post is not going to flow gently from one paragraph to the next, but who cares. ☺

As Christmas was quickly approaching, I knew that I wanted to get Mike and Karen a present to show my appreciation for all that they’ve done for me so far. They are two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and I’ve quickly fallen in love with them. It is because of them that I am able to be here, and they have gone out of their way to make my transition into Guatemala smooth sailing. They have hearts of gold and show Christ’s love to the children, their family, and me every single day… So, like I said I wanted to get them something, but the only times that I was in town were when I was with them! It was quite the dilemma. Finally I decided that I would ask their grandson, Oscar, to take me into town to find something. He is 18 and at the time, seemed very shy (he hardly ever came near me), so I wasn’t sure how it would go, but he said he would be happy to.

The next day Oscar and I headed out for Morales, a town about 45 minutes away. It is much bigger than Rio Dulce, and Oscar thought they would have more of a selection. He was right, but it was a little overwhelming. Morales is pretty big, and there are TONS of people walking in the streets and in the marketplace. This was the first time I had been out of the ranch without Mike or Karen, and I had to rely on what little Spanish I know to get me by. Thankfully, Oscar was INCREDIBLY patient with me, and with his help, I found a new cowboy hat for Mike and some Christian music cd’s for Karen. It was a little frustrating- in Guatemala, there of tons of street lenders selling cd’s, but they’re all burnt cd’s! I searched for original copies (I hate the idea of basically stealing music from the artists), but they were nowhere to be found. In the end, I bought the burnt cd’s because they were something Mike thought Karen might enjoy (and I had no clue as to what else to get her instead), but it was a sad reminder that some people here will do whatever it takes, whether legal or not, to make a few bucks (or quetzales, to be precise)… Anyway, the Morales trip was a success, and Oscar opened up a lot. He is very kind, and he even knows some English! We had a good time, and it was really nice to make a friend close to my age.

Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas in Guatemala without tamales…
When I think of Christmas food, I think of ham and turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, my Mom’s hot fresh rolls, sweet tea, and pecan pie… However in Guatemala, it’s all about the tamales. Christmas is the one time of year (that I know of) that almost everyone splurges for tamales. I had never even seen a tamale, much less made or tasted one. It was quite the adventure.

In reference to tamales, Wikipedia states, “During Christmas holidays, tamales of corn flour are a special treat for Guatemalans. The preparation time of this type of tamale is long, due to the amount of time required to cook down and thicken the flour base.” Very true that it is quite the ordeal… On Christmas Eve (which for us was the 23rd) all of the females at the ranch went over to Lettie’s house to begin the process. Either Lettie or her husband, Don Oscar, had already “sacrificed” some of their roosters for the meal, and laying across the table were tons of large, dark green leaves, a pot full of corn paste, a pot full of a special sauce (it just looks like the red sauce that comes over enchiladas at the Mexican restaurants at home, but it is actually a very complicated sauce with many unexpected ingredients), a bowl full of red and green pepper slices, and last but not least, a bowl full of raw chicken meat (most of which, to me, were unidentifiable body parts).

For the first few minutes, I just watched as the veteran tamale makers did their thing; first picking out a leave that was just the right size, then wacking some paste down as the first layer, then 2 slices of pepper, then the desired piece of meat, then the sauce, and THEN came the difficult part- folding the leaf just right to where it didn’t leak sauce and ended up in a perfect little tamale pocket. They made it look so easy…

Those of you who know me well know that I AM NOT a cook. I feel very out of place in the kitchen, especially when I’m surrounded by women who are ABSOLUTE COOKING PROS… However, I didn’t let that stop me from jumping in and taking a try at making my first tamale. Thankfully, Don Oscar and Lettie were right by my side, showing me exactly what do to (they were also TELLING me exactly what to do, but they both talk incredibly fast and I can’t understand them… yet). It was a lot of fun, and although my tamale didn’t look exactly like theirs when I had finished, we all had a good laugh and it’s another thing that I can add to my list of “Memorable Things that I’ve Done in Guatemala.”

Christmas Dinner:
For me, tamales were much more fun to make than to eat… They’re not my favorite… Thankfully, Karen had also cooked a turkey. ☺

Gift Giving:
After dinner, everyone (Mike, Karen, the 8 kiddos, Lettie, Don Oscar, and their family of 6 kids, and me) all went into the living room to open gifts. I loved their gift-giving system. Starting with Michael Jose, the youngest, each person got their own special time in the “center of attention chair,” getting their picture taken and opening their gifts. Each child received a special outfit that they had picked out and some other neat things as well (such as movies, legos, smelly bath stuff, razor scooters, etc). It was really special to experience Christmas with the Rancho de Esperanza gang, and everyone really appreciated their gifts. Mike and Karen even got ME a gift- so sweet of them! I got some bath stuff, a cute bathroom bag, some nail polish, a pair of beautiful earrings, hair anti-frizz stuff (which has been awesome, what with the extreme humidity here), and my favorite thing was that my gift was wrapped in a BEAUTIFUL piece of traditional Guatemalan cloth. I love it so much!... It was a great Christmas, and I truly felt like part of the family, thanks to Mike and Karen and their overflowing kindness, generosity, and love.
To my family back home: I was sad to miss out on celebrating Christmas with you all, but I hope that you had a great time together, and know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers.


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