By Wednesday, Michael and I needed to take a break from Hotel Dos Mundos' predictable morning fare. So we walked down Calle Santander to find another breakfast option. There weren't too many places open before 8am, but we finally found something
On the way back to the hotel, Michael spotted a dog who looked like Chico.
Hold on! It was indeed Chico! How could he be out on the street and not in Patty's truck?
Michael lured him back to Patty's with some bread, and we found out the story. Chico had been crying and barking for a good part of the night, so Patty finally let Chico out of the truck. Thankfully, we were able to find him again!
Michael put a leash on him, and then Chico suddenly got very scared and submissive.
Poor guy! He had no idea what was in store for him. But it was all for the best. There are far too many ownerless dogs on the streets of Panajachel, and the best way to control their population is through catch-neuter-release programs. By getting him neutered that day, the team prevented many possible litters of unwanted puppies from being born.
As we were waiting for our transportation that morning, a whole host of vendors descended upon our group. Again, I got off fairly easy. I only bought the chicken potholder this boy is holding.
Then our van came, and it was time for our group to head to the neighboring village of San Jorge for their women's group's Christmas party.
Michael and I had visited San Jorge in April, and we saw the community center being built. You can see pictures and read our account here.
Now, the community center is finished, and it was the site of our party.
Upon arrival, we saw the area outside completely decked out for the festivities. There were balloons and the traditional pine needles on the ground for a Christmas party.
A sound system was set up, and mothers were starting to gather with their children.
Once we brought in the toys and the baskets, the leader of the women's group spoke and thanked us. Sharon also gave a speech.
More and more families trickled in.
Then it was time for the kids to line up and play some games.
The Payasitos made their return.
While the kids were outside, the volunteers inside the community center organized the toys.
By the time the Payaso and Payasitos took the stage, quite a crowd had assembled. The clown amused us all with some contests, including a dance-off with some of the women paired up with some of the boys. Everyone got a good chuckle...and the winners got prizes, including plastic pitchers for the women and toys for the kids.
Then it was time to begin the distribution of the tamale baskets. These are just some of the baskets we handed out that day! In total, there were over 200.
The distribution process was quite time-consuming. First a family would come in and get on line. The kids would each pick out a toy from the table. We usually tried first to give a child a toy or offer them a choice of two, but often times the kids saw something they liked better on the table. Then the mother would receive the basket, and the whole family would pose with Santa, making sure they had their numbers (many of the kids are sponsored students) visibile.
Some of the kids brought drawings for their sponsors. More pictures were taken, and then the drawings were collected. The kids' hands had to be marked that they had received their toys, and the mothers received the ticket for the meat portion of the basket, which would be distributed a few days before Christmas (since no one has refrigeration).
Before we knew it, it was 2pm, and we still had many, many baskets to distribute. But everyone was famished, so we stopped for lunch.
A cooking group had been hard at work with the preparation of the meal.
Women lined up with small pots to receive the portion for their family.
Each one received some chicken and then a soup was poured over that into the bowl.
Contrast that with our meal: According to Sharon, the women knew that volunteers like us are often hesitant to eat the food that is prepared, since they are afraid of getting sick. So the women all contributed money so they could buy us a meal catered by a restaurant in Panajachel! That must have cost a fortune for them. I was absolutely blown away by the depth of their generosity and gratitude. This was the most humbling meal of my life.
First we had hibiscus punch in tall glasses.
Then we were served this feast: a huge chicken breast, mashed potatoes, a mushroom gravy, rice pilaf, and broccoli. All on nice china. Again, compare this to the little pails and pots in which the women were getting their own food. I gulped back tears in my eyes and chowed down.
Even though it was an enormous portion, I did my very best to finish my entire plate in gratitude for their sacrifice.
After lunch, we had to finish bringing down the rest of the tamale baskets, which were temporarily on the roof of the community center. While up there, I took a look around at the village.
I was reminded of how much we have in the States and how much we take for granted. But I also thought about how a great quantity of personal possesions does not guarantee happiness. These children were absolutely thrilled to receive one stuffed animal as a Christmas gift. How many kids in the US would be?
I looked down and saw the crowd was thinning. Lunch was over, and it was time to finish the distribution.
One of the tamale basket recipients was the grandmother of Julio, the Mayan Families staff member whom we had first met in April. Actually, both of Julio's grandmothers were present, as well as his mother.
As the toy piles started to dwindle, I searched for the stuffed animals that would be more appropriate for the older boys who were still waiting. It was tough, but I did find some.
And these boys were able to find something they liked.
For the girls, the dolls went very fast. In fact, I learned a new word: Muñeca, since so many girls asked for one.
Sarah's sponsored student lives in San Jorge, and she spent most of the day with us. She showed a great interest in photography, so Sarah let her use her camera.
Below is a portrait the little girl snapped with my camera:
Check out Aleeya, Sharon's daughter, in traditional dress, above center! She can rock both Western and Mayan looks with ease!
Finally, the task that had seemed impossible was done: we had distributed all of the tamale baskets and all of the toys. The sun was going down, and it was time to pack up the van and head back to Panajachel.
It was a very long day, and I couldn't have hacked it without all the support of my fellow volunteers and the people we served.
On our way back, Tricia and I spied this woman doing the traditional backstrap weaving in her home! It was intriguing to see this done for real and not in a tourist setting.
I stopped by the lone concession stand on the town square and bought tiny bags of popcorn and crispies. The vendor also had the small bags of cut fruit that had fascinated me in April.
Tricia paused for a minute, and I watched the fog start to roll down the mountain.
When we got back to town, I went to find Michael. Again, cell phones would be a good call next time! We finally found each other, and we went for dinner at Las Chinitas, where we heard Ezzy from the Mayan Families Healthy Pets group sing and play guitar.
Two young vendor girls came in and tried to sell us some knickknacks. I didn't want to buy, but I did have some food left over in my bowl. So I asked the girls if they wanted to eat that. They hungrily took the bowl and devoured the food at a nearby table. They brought the bowl back completely empty. Michael had a bit left on his plate, so we gave that to them, as well. I had taken his discarded shrimp tails off the plate, since I was afraid they would have eaten those, as well!
It was an experience. We went to bed that evening with quite a lot of food for thought.