Sunday, January 12, 2014

Paola's Quinceañera in Panajachel, Guatemala

The second eldest daughter of our compadres Humberto and Paulina celebrated her fifteenth birthday on January 4. It is an important rite of passage in Latin American culture, and we wouldn't miss it for the world.

We awoke to the beginnings of a large snowstorm in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, January 2. Luckily, we were able to fly out of Logan Airport with only a slight delay for de-icing of the plane's wings before the bulk of the storm hit. We made our connection in Miami and arrived in Guatemala City at 11:30 a.m.

After a three hour van ride, we arrived at the house in Panajachel at 2:45 p.m. It was so nice to see all of the kids again! They all grow so quickly! As usual, Humberto had completed many more improvements to the property since our last visit 6 months ago.  An extra bathroom is now hidden behind a Mayan tapestry under the stairwell. With the family now running bed and breakfast services as well as hosting clients in Humberto's office, an extra bathroom accessible from the outside is quite handy.

The rooms on the second floor of the guest house are nearing completion, and these rooms will be used as the venue for Paola's party. We climbed up to the third floor roof terrace. There were no hand rails, so Craig, unsure of his footing due to his MS, had to be very careful. As the quinceañera party would be on the second floor, Humberto was going to have hand rails installed the next day for safety during the party.

From the terrace, we could see Lake Atitlan several blocks away, and its surrounding volcanoes. Humberto showed us the fire pit where they had a fire to celebrate Christmas. Several guests were staying in the first floor guest rooms. Yoselin and Yasmin have moved their bedroom back to the main house to make additional rooms available for guests.

Eddy, Aracely, and Craig
Brittany, Yasmin, and Yoselin
Paola and Loren making decorations
Paola was continuing to make preparations for her big party on Saturday night. She was gluing gold glitter onto styrofoam letters to spell out "Mis 15 Años", or My 15 Years. Humberto told us that they named his nephew Juan Carlos and his wife Yolanda as the padrinos (godparents) of Paola's quinceañera. In Latin America, godparents are chosen for all of the important rites of passage in life, not just christening. Humberto told us that they have been a tremendous help in planning and preparing for the party.

Vanesa's quinceañera, two and a half years ago, had been a low-key family party.  Vanesa doesn't like to be the center of attention. Paola, on the other hand, has been mentally planning her big day for years. She planned to go all-out, inviting family and friends to celebrate in her rite of passage.
Josue and Brittany
Yoselin and Steph
The next day, Friday, preparations for the party continued. Welders came over and installed iron railings on the staircase. Plastic tubs full of chicken arrived at the house. The girls peeled and cut beets. Dozens of plastic tables and chairs arrived and were brought up to the second floor of the guest building. Paulina's sister Olga arrived with her son Chilo to help prepare the chicken. Juan Carlos and Yolanda came over to help with decorations and cooking. Their children, Junior and Fatima came to help as well. Junior is now 12 years old, but has grown so much lately that he looks much older.  The kids' 8-year-old cousin Josue and his 3-year-old niece Brittany were around as well.

Paulina and the women were cooking in the kitchen while the guys and kids put up decorations on the second floor. Paola and Junior filled the piñata. The piñata was Belle, of Beauty and the Beast. It stood taller than Brittany!  The kids filled it with hard candies and lollipops.
Yolanda, Juan Carlos, Craig, Olga, Paulina, and Humberto
Everyone took a break from their preparations to eat a nice dinner of pasta in meat sauce. Then Humberto broke out a bottle of Venado light rum and Juan Carlos mixed it with some  Squiz citrus punch, and all of the adults toasted to the occasion.

After a couple of drinks and some good laughs, everyone returned to their duties. Humberto gave the kids bags of green pine needles to spread on the floor to infuse the air with a lovely pine scent. The kids blew up gold and silver balloons. Humberto's niece Sandra brought over a beautiful arrangement of yellow roses. The walls were decorated with gold ribbons. At around 11:30, we called it a night. Juan Carlos' brother Victor arrived, and we capped off the night with a little more rum.

The day of the party dawned with beautiful sunshine. Paola's actual birthday wasn't until the next day, but the family had elected to hold the party on a Saturday night. Humberto went out to do some errands and arrived home in a tuk-tuk carrying three "party packs" of XL light rum. He also brought home 12 pineapples, 6 watermelons, and 6 cantaloupes for a home-made rum punch. Humberto, Juan Carlos, and Junior started an assembly line to process the fruit. Sandra and some of Paola's friends started constructing a balloon arch.

Paulina and Paola returned after picking up Paola's dress and jewelry. We went to the market with Paulina, Eddy, and Aracely to buy the two youngest kids some new clothes to wear to the party.As we were running behind Paulina's schedule, we took a tuk-tuk there. This was probably good for Craig. Tonight's party would last until the wee hours and we didn't want him to tire himself out too early.  Craig's MS sapped a lot of his strength lately.

After each child picked out an outfit, we stopped at the barber shop to get Eddy a haircut. Despite his intense and rambunctious nature,  Eddy always sat stone-still in the old-fashioned barber chair, so much so that the barber could use a straight razor to finish off the edges.
Craig and Aracely
We went home and the last-minute preparations had commenced. Paulina's brother Juan was helping to mix the rum with the gallons of fresh fruit juice they had extracted earlier in the day. The balloon arch was completed and installed in the doorway to the guest building.

They served everyone a bowl of corned beef and cabbage for lunch. Then, as we took showers and got dressed for the party, everyone disappeared. Paola and Humberto took Paola to get her hair done, and the neighboring relatives went to their respective houses.

Family friend Letti and her daughter Nidia arrived with the cake they had baked and decorated. The cake had three separate tiers, though they were not stacked. She placed a doll wearing a gold gown on the center tier. All of the rented plastic tables had been transformed with white table linens and centerpieces. Everything was perfect!
Julisse, Paola, and Vanesa
Soon after, Paola appeared, looking radiant in a floor-length gold gown. She was allowing us a rare glimpse into her girly-girl side, with make up, high heels, fresh flowers, and delicate jewelry.  Craig and I each got a tear in our eye at the sight of her. When we had first met Paola, she was only 8 years old. She had grown from a precocious tomboy to a mature young lady.  It felt like we were seeing our own little girl, all grown up.

Juan Carlos and Yolanda met us, and their daughter Fatima was dressed like a little princess in a sparkly purple gown. Humberto set off firecrackers as we walked down the alley toward the road. We took tuk-tuks to the San Francisco de Asis church in time for the 6:30 Mass.
Paola walks in the opening procession at church
Yolanda, Humberto, Paola, Paulina, Juan Carlos
We sat with Aracely, Eddy, Fatima, and Yasmin in the third pew. The first pew was reserved for Paola, Humberto, Paulina, and godparents Juan Carlos and Yolanda. The five of them walked in as part of the opening procession, and Paola's quinceañera was announced from the pulpit. Paola sat in the front pew with her parents and godparents, holding a beautiful bouquet that Sandra had prepared for her.
Yolanda, Humberto, Paola, Paulina, and Juan Carlos
At the end of the Mass, we took pictures of Paola and the family in front of the altar. As we exited the church, Humberto set off more firecrackers just as the same van that brought us from the airport pulled over in front of the church. People piled in and we were driven the short ride back to the house. A bunch of Paola's friends were waiting near Humberto's office. There were more firecrackers as Paola walked down the alley to her party. The balloon arch welcomed guests, and the newly installed handrails on the stairs kept guests safe as they climbed up to the second floor. There was a receiving line where Paola greeted guests.

Paola arrives at her party with Paulina, Humberto, and Aracely
Three rooms contained tables and the fourth was for dancing. Two dj's played traditional Guatemalan music while guests were seated and served the fresh and tasty rum punch. As we entered the room where we were to sit, we noticed Rocio and her mother Juana sitting at a table with Josue, Josue's mother and father, Brittany, and her father Daniel. We were seated at a table with Paola's godparents from her christening and their young daughter.

Aracely, Yoselin, and Yasmin handed out favors: small roses made of gold ribbon, on which was printed Paola's name and the date of her quinceañera. The girls pinned these onto everyone.  Paola was introduced to the crowd and a toast was made in her honor. She was absolutely beaming.
Paola and her piñata
Soon it was announced that it was time for the piñata. Everyone congregated on the stairs (leaning up against the brand new, sturdy iron railings) and in the courtyard to watch Paola try to bash open the princess piñata. She eventually gave up and let Julisse at it. Soon there was candy falling onto the ground. Little kids with plastic bags scurried to pick up as much as they could. Paola threw handfuls into the adoring crowd.

We went back to our table, and Humberto and Paulina sat down with us. Olga's 5-year-old son Chilo came over and asked to use my second camera. He is usually very shy, and I was happy to let him use it. It got him to come out of his shell a little bit as he took photos of the various guests.
Paola, Steph, Humberto, Paola's godparents, Paulina
The family served plates of food: chicken in mushroom gravy, julienne beets, and rice with vegetables. Paola came and sat at our table to eat. After folks were finished eating, the dj's played more modern music, and Paola had the first dance with her dad, Humberto. The empty bedroom had been transformed into a disco, and brightly colored lights played on the ceiling, walls, and floor.

We saw Paulina's sister Estela, and her daughters Laisa, Yesmy, Loren, and Michele.  Laisa looked all grown up, very pretty in a traditional huipil (blouse) and skirt. Blanca introduced us to her baby Dulce Natalie. Olga's youngest, Alison Margarita, was enthralled by Craig as always. Rosa and Victor had come with all of their kids: Julisse, Alex, Andrik, and Neli.

Blanca and Dulce Natalie
Craig, Alison Margarita, and Olga
Paola cut the cake, and good-naturedly let them push her chin into the frosting. The cake was vanilla with jelly in between the layers. The batteries died in my second camera, and Chilo brought it to me. Craig ran down to the room to get more batteries. I replaced the batteries and let Aracely and Loren have a turn to use the camera. Chilo looked crestfallen, and kept asking for the camera in Spanish. It was as if his night had been ruined. When Aracely and Loren were done, I made sure to find Chilo and return the camera to him.

Yoselin asked Craig and I to dance, and we danced with her until we all got tired and needed a rest.
Paola danced the night away with her friends. The younger kids also really enjoyed dancing with one well. Eddy ran around like a wild man. Aracely asked me to dance with her and when we went into the disco room, Rocio joined us.

Everyone had a great time and the party ran until 1:30 a.m. At that point, the music stopped and everyone except the teenagers went to bed.
Rocio and Juana
Michele and Alison Margarita
Neli and Rosa
Estela, Michele, and Laisa
After sleeping in a bit in the morning, we woke up and had breakfast with the kids. Paola opened her gifts from the party. She got a lot of nice gifts befitting a young lady. After that, we all got into clean-up mode. We disassembled tables, cleaned up trash, swept up pine needles, etc. Having been her party, Paola took the lead on clean-up efforts. She worked very hard.

At lunch time, Juan Carlos, Yolanda, Fatima, Junior, Victor, Julisse, Alex, Andrik,  Neli, Josue, and Brittany arrived for lunch. We had leftover chicken in mushroom sauce and rice. Juan Carlos made a cabbage cole slaw and included some hot peppers straight from the garden.

Vanesa, Fatima, Neli, Julisse, Eddy
Aracely and Paulina
After lunch, we made a puzzle of a map of the world with the kids. It was a lot of fun, and as soon as one group of kids finished the puzzle and disassembled it, a second group got to work on it immediately. Craig and I played tic-tac-toe with Yoselin and Fatima, respectively.

Fatima, Aracely, Yoselin, and Josue complete the world map puzzle
It got dark and soon Humberto came home from a day of taking 23 clients on a lake tour. He was done for the day and ready to unwind.  Rosa and Victor, Juan Carlos and Yolanda, and all of their respective kids arrived for dinner. Rosa and Victor set up the charcoal grill and  got some marinated steaks cooking. The adults all drank beer, except for me (I'm allergic). Humberto broke out a bottle of Chilean red wine that he had received from colleagues for the New Year for me.  Victor and Rosa also toasted tortillas on the grill, which we enjoyed with fresh guacamole. The evening air was chilly, and after we enjoyed the delicious steak, we all huddled around the grill like a campfire. Embers popped out of the fire and we brushed them off of ourselves. The radio was on and we joked about keeping the neighbors awake two nights in a row. Luckily most of the neighbors were the family, and they were participants. We disbanded at midnight.

Victor, Rosa, Juan Carlos, Yolanda, Paulina, Humberto, Craig, and Alex

Gathering around the fire: Junior, Juan Carlos, Yolanda, Paulina, Humberto, and Craig
The next morning Aracely and Eddy returned to school after their Christmas break. We hung out with the older girls in the morning (they wouldn't start school for another week). We gave them a rainbow loom for making bracelets out of small colored rubber bands. Yoselin and I tried to follow the pictured steps with the loom, but we were unsuccessful after over an hour. Paola made some bracelets by hand, and we determined that this was the best course of action and did the same. Josue and Loren also joined in. They were soon making brightly colored bracelets, rings, and necklaces.

Yasmin making bracelets
Eddy got home from school at 12:45. We showered, ate lunch, and then walked to the school to pick up Aracely. When she got home, we taught her how to make the bracelets, Soon she was flying through, making bracelets for everyone in her class. She could literally do it with her eyes closed! Paola and Paulina tried using the loom, but were also unsuccessful.

Humberto had to go to a meeting, and he and Paulina announced that the rest of us would be going down the street to her sister Isabela's restaurant for tacos,. Yum! But Eddy crashed and fell asleep at the dining room table before we could go. So instead they decided to get the food as take-out.  Paulina and the kids made a list (many of the kids wanted burgers and fries instead of tacos), but when they tried to order, they realized that the restaurant was closed today.

Paulina didn't want to make food, so we assumed that they would order pizza delivery instead. A few minutes later, she told us that Rosa would save the day by preparing the taco order herself. This surprised us and we wondered how she could prepare so much so quickly, with no notice.

We watched Gravity Falls on TV with the kids (quite funny, even dubbed in Spanish) and soon dinner arrived...plates of tacos, plates of burgers and fries, large bowls of frsh guacamole, salsa, and picante sauce. How could Rosa prepare so much so quickly and professionally? Then it dawned on us. Victor and Rosa own the Yulex restaurant next to Humberto's office. Though they have been working at some nearby villas and haven't had much time for the restaurant lately, Rosa had the food and equipment to make a complete dinner for ten on the spot. We slathered our tacos in salsa and the delightfully hot picante sauce. They were different than Isabela's tacos, but just as good! Chicken, onions, peppers, and cheese. Yoselin and Aracely shared their fries with us. Everything was delicious!
It was Yolanda's birthday today, and she and Juan Carlos stopped by with Junior and Fatima on their way home from dinner. The girls broke out the rainbow loom and taught Fatima and Junior how to make bracelets manually. Juan Carlos attempted to figure out the loom and was actually successful! We were so happy that someone could actually figure out how to use the thing! The party broke up at 11:30 p.m. We went back to our room and started to pack.

It was very windy during the night and we were constantly reminded of the fact as we slept. We were awakened by a crash which turned out to be the empty 750 liter water tank took flight from the third floor terrace of the guest house, smashing down onto the corrugated metal roof attached to the main house. It made quite a dent in the roof, but luckily didn't cause any permanent damage to the tank.

The next morning, we woke up early to continue packing. We met the family for breakfast at 8 o'clock, and then said our goodbyes to godchildren Aracely and Eddy as they headed off to school.  Our van arrived at 9:30, and we said goodbye to the family and headed home. It had been a wonderful visit, as usual. And we had a little surprise waiting for us in our luggage: Yoselin and Yasmin had wrapped up two small stuffed animals for us and hid them in our bags as a surprise.
Saying goodbye to Eddy and Aracely

We are so blessed that we were able to attend Paola's special birthday celebration. She is such a lovely, responsible, intelligent young lady. We are proud of her for her accomplishments in school as well as the way she helps her mother around the house and her father around the office.

We have been a part of the family for six and a half years. We have seen children growing up into young adults as other new babies are born. Every time we visit, there are new family members to meet. Life is a continuum, and this family is ever-changing. We are lucky to be a part of it.

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