Deep into night on the Wednesday before Easter a few new friends and I were wandering the streets at the late hour of two o’clock in the morning in a search for water (you can’t drink tap water in Guatemala). Let’s not get into precisely why we were searching for water at that hour, but suffice to say that we were.
Except that all of the tiendas (shops) were closed and the locals still wandering only gave vague directions to a 24-hour tienda that just never seemed to materialize.
Just as we were ready to give up our water search a family prepping the street for their Semana Santa carpet took us into their care and ushered us in to the house without much prompting at all. Roberto, the owner of the house, led us through a maze of brightly painted hallways the color of sunshine offered up a huge pitcher of water once we arrived at the kitchen– in his own pitcher, and he entreated us to take the pitcher with us and bring it back later.
Roberto owns an enormous house – I reckon it’s much more of a palace than a traditional house – located in one of the most prime spots in Anitgua, right off of the Parque Central with an amazing view of the center fountain. Once we had water in hand Roberto led us around his home, proudly showing us the lovely chapel with vaulted ceilings that has been attached to the back of his home for hundreds of years, and room after room with filled with his family members prepping for the making the family’s enormous Semana Santa carpet that morning.
Roberto generously extended a warm invitation to the three of us to watch and help build the Semana Santa carpet the next morning, as well as join the family for a huge afternoon lunch once the procession passed through and destroyed their morning’s work.
The three of us left overwhelmed. What had started as a mere search for water had led to 30 minutes of chatter and warm conversation – the man was just incredibly friendly and open!
We went back the next day several times to watch the construction of the carpet, and then returned in the afternoon for the late lunch.
The entire family was just as warm as the previous evening and we were immediately given placemats and chairs pulled up close to the family, our chairs interwoven throughout the others seated at the long wooden table, thus ensuring we interact with others, not just default back to English with each other.
Lunch was amazing – the experience was one of those rare opportunities that you only get when you are actively engaging with your environment and those around you. My hostel was full of gringos the week of Semana Santa, and I loved sharing the experience with them as we all jointly discovered the magic of a Guatemalan Easter, but the real joy was in that Guatemalan lunch looking out over the Parque Central and the speculative glances and gentle questions of the Guatemalan family as I pulled together my Spanish and managed to communicate pretty well while also learning a bit more about what this Holy Week meant to the family – the holiday alone had brought together cousins, daughters, brothers and family from all over the country to share in the making of the carpet as well as the rest of the Semana Santa activities.