THE TRAVELING SITTERS

THE TRAVELING SITTERS

Adventures While House Sitting

AN AFTERNOON WITH A MAYAN TZ'UTUJIL FAMILY

Visiting the T'zutijil Mayan Mecia family we work with. Papa Mecia is taking the pic. Sorry...

 

I am positive that we are the first foreigners to ever visit the home of Nicolas (Aklax ), our gardener, and his family. We ran into Nicolas and his wife Josefa (Rixqayil) while shopping in Santiago and they invited us for an impromptu visit.  We thought …why not.  The four of us chatted a bit while sitting in the town square then headed for their home.  We wound through a maze of narrow cement block paved ‘streets’ (not big enough for vehicles) lined with adobe walls punctuated by wood or iron doors & wooden shuttered windows.  We passed several small Tiendas or stores located at the front of homes which provide the immediate neighborhood with basic foods and snacks (sort of like mini 7-11’s), a church, a school and rows of homes. 

Along the way Nicolas and Josefa’s three youngest children ran up and greeted us.  The two youngest girls we already knew and they gave us the customary kisses on the cheek. Pedro, the only boy in the family, had self-importantly greeted us in broken English and even shook our hands.  He then took David’s hand and walked proudly.  The girls demurely trotted along whispering to their mama and papa looking at us with obvious curiosity.  I saw mama slip one of the little girls a bill and off she dashed. By now we had stopped at the school and met the local teacher along with twenty or so other children.  A small parade formed as we raveled along.  I began to sense that this was a very unusual event as I noted the many neighbors watching curiously through their glassless windows. I wondered if any whites ever made it this deep into Santiago’s back streets.

Eventually we turned into an even narrower passageway, passed several doors and arrived at the families cement block home.  Their home is one of six that form a half block compound built by Nicolas and his brothers.  Nicolas, his mother and his brothers each has a home around a central courtyard and there is also one large room for the women to weave, embroider and bead in.

We were ushered through the small doorway and were greeted by the rest of the children along with an adult neighbor woman and two neighbor girls who peered at us through the doorway.  It became obvious that our eminent arrival mysteriously preceded us.  We stood in a single room about twelve feet square and barren of furniture.  I noticed a shower head over the top of a shower curtain straight across from the entrance and was surprised to learn that Santiago has city water.  Behind the entrance door was a dark room that looked as though it served as a kitchen, although my view was too brief to see the set up.  I know they don’t have refrigeration or an oven. Two additional rooms were in the back. One appeared to serve as the family’s clothes closet, bedroll storage and parents’ bedroom. The rooms had no doors and the windows had no glass or shutters.  The cinder block walls were capped with shiny metal corrugated tin.  Whew, I thought, that’s got to be noisy when it rains.

We stood for a moment and I noticed a private discussion was taking place between papa, mama and the two oldest girls.  The three youngest were keeping us entertained.  A minute or so later a complete wardrobe was offered to me and it was made known that the garments were the best in the house.  I realized they wanted me to dress in the traditional Tz’utujil fashion and before I had a chance to think on it I was ushered into the backroom by Concepcion (Yasuan) and Josephina (Yachepa’) the two oldest. The neighbor women and children poked their heads around the cinder block wall and peered at me as I began to undress.  I heard someone shooing them away.

I had no idea how to put the clothes on but Concepcion was prepared to teach me.  A fully embroidered blouse went over my head and since the sleeves are not hemmed they have to be tucked.  Then the double thick fabric tube that serves as a skirt went on, was folded over on both sides of my waist and a beautifully beaded belt was wrapped tightly to hold the skirt in place.  I was already sweating!  The building was stuffy in spite of the glassless windows and the thick fabric was hot, but otherwise surprisingly soft and comfortable. I stepped out of the room to smiles and a very proud Mayan family. 

We were then ushered into the back room which was about ten feet square and offered two tiny child size chairs at a child size table of heavy handcrafted wood.  I had a feeling the chairs had been borrowed from the neighbors.  Everyone else, including the neighbors piled in and either sat on the floor or stood watching.  Two cans of warm juice were presented to us and I knew these were uncommon treats. David and I felt honored.  I suddenly realized why mama had slipped a bill to one of the children when still en-route to the house. No one else was offered a beverage.

We spent the afternoon trying to talk alternating between Tz’utujil, Spanish and English.  Pedro (Atru’), Isabela (Yaxpier), Josephina and Nicolas know a few English and Spanish words.  The afternoon turned into language lessons as they taught us Tz’utujil and we taught them English, with fragments of Spanish thrown in to fill the gaps. Mama and I simply smiled at each other all afternoon since we could not converse at all and she was a bit shy.   

Eventually I hit on a subject dear to my heart and began asking about their handicrafts.  Mama weaves and embroiders and Concepcion embroiders and does beadwork.  David and I managed to convey to Concepcion the value of signing her work.  She grasped the concept and was delighted.  She offered several variations on how she might sign her embroidered Mayan calendars.

Finally we were all worn out from the continuous laughter at our bungled attempts to pronounce the difficult Tz’utujil words.  I noticed mama and papa leaning against the wall dozing.  It felt like time to go. We spent a half hour taking pictures then I regretfully parted with the lovely traditional clothing. Lots of hugs, kisses, handshakes and goodbyes went around and around.  Then we were off.

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