Guatemala / Ecuador 2017

Saturday 7/22/2107 - Yoselin's Quinceañera

Today was Yoselin's quinceañera (15th birthday party), a rite of passage for girls in Latin America. We first met Yoselin when she was four years old. She has always been extremely sweet and kind. We are so happy to have been able to attend her special celebration, and to be able to share the experience with Kevin, Jenn, and the girls. Julia would be turning 15 a month later, so it was the perfect time for her to be able to experience the traditions around this special birthday in a different culture.

The tables which had been placed outside for the gathering last night were still in place, so we ate breakfast outdoors. This was great on many levels. With a nine person family and six guests, we don't all fit at the dining room table at once. Also, Humberto had added translucent roofing to the outdoor patio area. This protected us from any sudden rain, but also let light through. It was really nice to eat outside in the fresh air, enjoying Humberto's gardens and the birds that alight in the trees.

After a breakfast of hearty bread with jelly, Paulina took some of the kids out to the market to buy new outfits for tonight's party. We wanted to take the Tolers to the market as well, but we went separately. We didn't want to slow Paulina down as we knew she had a lot to do today in preparation for the fiesta.

Juan Carlos came over and set to work making ponche, a fresh fruit punch. It smelled delicious as he carved up pineapples and prepared them for the blender.

Craig, the Tolers, and I walked to the market via Rancho Grande (which was under construction and no cars were allowed to pass). We stopped at the little park where there are dinosaur statues made of scrap metal, as well as modern-day murals depicting Mayan temples and rituals.

The market has an indoor and outdoor component, with vendors selling colorful fruits, vegetables, and flowers. There are butcher shops where meat is cut with cleavers and band saws, and there are fish sellers with various fish and crabs to offer. The girls bought some local fruits that they had sampled on Calle Santander yesterday.

We browsed in stalls selling traditional and modern clothing, footwear, and other items. As we were wandering around, I heard "Stephanie!" It was Eddy calling to me. We said hello to him along with Paulina, Aracely, and Yasmin, who were busy shopping for clothing.

As I was wandering around taking photographs, Craig excitedly motioned for me to follow him. "Check out this guy's shirt!" There, sitting on a bench, was a local man wearing a blue polo shirt that said "Lunenburg Football Kickoff Classic" in white lettering. Thrift stores abound here, where people buy clothes which originate through international donation. Lunenburg, Massachusetts is my hometown. I don't know if this shirt refers to my tiny Lunenburg (whose high school colors were actually blue and white), or the more well-known Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Nonetheless, here it was, in the most incongruous of places. We explained this coincidence to the man wearing the shirt, and he found it quite amusing and graciously posed for a photo.

Before leaving the market, we stopped at a little shop and had fresh strawberry milkshakes (licuados de fresa). It is much hotter today than it has been, since the sun is out. The milkshakes were so refreshing! We ran into the family again while we sat at the counter sipping our milkshakes.

After leaving the market, we stopped at Iglesia San Francisco de Asis, where we will be attending Mass tonight as part of Yoselin's quinceañera. We went inside and looked at the various statues. People were lighting prayer candles, giving the interior a warm glow.

The Spanish missionaries who came to the area immediately following the conquest were Franciscans. They built this church in 1567. The official name of the town used to be San Francisco de Panajachel, but unlike most of the other lakeside villages, it secularized its name at some point along the way.

St. Francis has been a continuous thread throughout my entire life. He was the namesake of my family's parish in Fitchburg. My grandfather worked as a caretaker of the church. I was baptized there, and Craig and I got married there. It is our compadres' parish in Guatemala, where all of the family baptisms and quinceañera Masses have taken place. It is also one of the churches which our compadres in Ecuador attend, and where our goddaughter Sisa was baptized.

We walked home via Calle Santander, and enjoyed bargaining for souvenirs. Craig and I bought a beaded (resplendant) quetzal ornament. The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, after whom their currency is named. The vendor, Juan, was quite good at sales. He threw in some things for free as a show of good faith, and it prompted us to buy more from him.

We giggled at some of the local businesses trying to piggyback on known brands. The Pana Rock Cafe's sign is written in a font very similar to the Hard Rock Cafe, and their schtick is obviously similar. The Hotel California is even less subtle, with a zoom-in of the Eagles' album cover of the same name adorning its sign.

We came back to the house overheated and tired. We rested up in our room for a while, and were visited by Ian and Eddy. Baby Ian has been intrigued by Craig's walking cane. He often steals it and clomps around using it. Other times, he sees the cane sitting by itself when Craig is eating, and he hands it to Craig. It's so adorable.

We gave Yoselin her birthday present: a necklace with a heart and infinity symbol. For lunch, we had a sauteed vegetables and rice with ice cold fresh lemonade.

I helped Paulina to wash and dry dishes, and everyone spent the remainder of the afternoon preparing for the party. Humberto's niece Sandra, a talented party planner, created a welcoming archway out of a PVC tube, streamers, and small bags of cotton candy. Pine needles were scattered on the floor in the hallway and first floor rooms. This is a tradition which keeps celebrations rooted to mother Earth. Plastic tables and chairs were rented from a convenient party store located right next to Humberto's office. The girls had made centerpieces of candles, ribbons, and silk flowers. Decorations which had fallen from ceiling and walls overnight were re-secured.

Craig and I showered and got dressed. It seemed like the calm before the storm. It was eerily quiet, and most of the core family of nine were not around. They were off getting their hair done and doing last minute preparations at the church.

Paulina's niece Lety, a talented cake baker and decorator, arrived with the cakes. Her husband Rodolfo helped her to carry the cakes and arrange them. There were three round cakes topped with marooon flowers that matched Yoselin's dress. The topper was a Barbie doll wearing a maroon ballgown. This was the first quinceañera cake where she had made the skirt out of cake and frosting. In the past, the doll had worn a fabric dress. The heat of the day caused the skirt to collapse a bit during transit, but Lety, the consummate professional, had brought her tools with her and repaired it on the spot. Lety and Rodolfo placed some 5-gallon buckets onto the table, draped a satin maroon tablecloth on top of them, and placed the cakes in a very professional arrangement.

The disc jockeys arrived and set up their equipment in the designated "discotheque" room. Eddy appeared, looking styling in black slacks, a white long-sleeved shirt, and a black bow tie. He was handsome with his hair gelled into place. Little by little, the family converged on the house.

Soon someone announced that Yoselin was ready, and we all gathered by the staircase to see the reveal. As she appeared and walked down the stairs, we had tears in our eyes. She looked radiant and beautiful in her maroon gown. It had a high lace neckline (similar to my wedding dress) and a full skirt, with detailing on the bodice. We first met Yoselin when she was an adorable and precocious four-year-old. Seeing her all grown up as a poised and mature young lady really struck us and we couldn't help shedding a tear or two.

Yasmin was dressed in a maroon blouse and coordinated skirt, which added to the impression that these two inseparable sisters sometimes resemble twins.

Paulina helped Yoselin to put on her earrings and a tiara. We all took photos with her at the house, before piling into the van to head to the church for 6:30 p.m. Mass. We met Paola's boyfriend Cristian in front of the church, and then we all entered together. The church looked beautiful, festooned in baby blue and white streamers and flower arrangements.

The family had come to the church earlier in the day to decorate the pews with maroon balloons and streamers. Yoselin's cousin Junior was an altar server for the Mass, which was special. Craig and I followed Yoselin, Paulina, and Eddy during the opening processional. Unfortunately, Humberto arrived late to church because he was guiding a group during the day and the tour ran late.

Yoselin was seated in a fancy wooden chair with its own kneeler in the center aisle in front of the altar. She looked gorgeous silhouetted against the candlelight. The Mass was dedicated to her, and the priest gave her a blessing with holy water.

After the Mass, we took many photos of family and friends with Yoselin in front of the altar. As we exited the church, the family lit off firecrackers in celebration. Likewise, when our crowded van arrived back at the house, they lit more to announce Yoselin's arrival at her party.

As we walked through the welcome archway, we were each given a lapel pin made of straw, silk flowers, and a ribbon embossed with Yoselin's name and the date of her quinceañera.

We knew almost all of the extended family members who attended the party, so it was like a reunion: Juan Carlos, Yolanda, Fatima, Junior, Victor, Rosa, Julisse, Neli, Alex, Priscilla, Blanca, Dulce, Lety, Rodolfo, Estela, Michele, Yesmy, Lori, Laisa, Olga, Chilo, Pamela, Alison Margarita, Carlos, Vilma, Lisbeth, Daniel, Ingrid, Brittany, Angel, Josue, Mario, Juana, well as family friends Luis and his wife and sons, and many others whose names we do not know yet are familiar from parties of the past. Many of Yoselin's friends were in attendance as well, dressed to the nines.

The whole downstairs of the guest building was used for the party. Pine needles had been spread on the floor, a tradition which links parties to mother earth. We were seated at the equivalent of the head table, and I ran around photographing everything.

The party proceeds similarly to a typical American wedding, with a receiving line, a toast, a meal, cake cutting, and father/daughter dance. The meal was made by some of the extended family, and it was delicious: chicken in mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and tortillas. Cristian, Alex, and Junior acted as waiters.

The family seems to appreciate the extensive work I do to document these occasions, and I was happy when Yoselin and Yasmin would call me over to photograph them with various friends.

As mentioned before, the amazing cake was made by Paulina's niece Lety, a very talented baker and cake decorator. Not only was it beautiful, but it was delicious and moist (Latin American cakes in general tend to be very dry). A fun Latin American birthday tradition is to smash the person's face into their cake, and they got Yoselin good. She was a very good sport, though, and calmly wiped the frosting from her face after giving folks an opportunity to preserve the moment in photographs.

Music was provided by dj's, and we all had a lot of fun dancing. There were spinning colored lights, fog machines, and strobe lights. The young men in the family made sure that Julia and Meghan participated in the dancing. Yoselin and her friends did some line dances, and the kids' older cousin Mario (quite a ham with great dance moves) danced with all of us girls at various points of the evening.

Craig and I danced a bit, but the strobe lights and swirling colored lights werea bit too much for him with his MS, and started to make him dizzy. Plus it was incredibly hot in the disco room, so I needed some fresh air.

Little Dulce kept following me around, calling "Stephanie!" It really was striking how much this reminded me of her elder brother David, who tragically passed away at the age of four, several months before Dulce's birth. It caught me offguard. My first reaction was grief thinking of David, but soon I thought about it in a different light, that it was allowing his presence to be felt; that perhaps he was guiding his little sister, telling her that we were there for her. Dulce is as sweet as her name implies, and I hugged her tightly, grateful for the chance to connect with her and recall her brother in the process.

Those of us who are tall were quite popular with the young kids, since we could reach the bags of cotton candy attached to the welcome archway!

Yoselin's piñata was a brunette wearing a dress that matched Yoselin's. After a girl turns 15, she is considered an adult and no longer participates in piñatas. So this was Yoselin's last. This piñata was hard took a variety of girls (including Yoselin, Meghan, Julia, and Yoselin's friends) over 6 minutes of violent bashing for it to give up its sweets to the excited children.

We sat in the hallway on plastic chairs, chatting with family members. As the night grew late, three generations of family arrived from Guatemala City. They were promptly fed.

Baby Ian has boundless energy, and rode his little bike up and down the hall for hours. Despite attempts to put him to bed, he remained active until the party broke up at 2:15 a.m. (and Humberto says that he was still running around the house until well after 3 o'clock).

It was an amazing time, and so emotional for us. Since we don't have children of our own, we really treasure the relationships that we have with our compadres and their children. We are so blessed to have them in our lives!

Happy birthday, Yoselin, we love you so much!

Julia and Meghan

Julia and Meghan

Exploring the market

Exploring the market

Eddy, Craig, Yoselin, and Steph

Eddy, Craig, Yoselin, and Steph

Yoselin during Mass

Yoselin during Mass

Yoselin during Mass

Yoselin during Mass

Craig, Paulina, Yoselin, Humberto, and Steph

Craig, Paulina, Yoselin, Humberto, and Steph

Humberto, Yasmin, and Yoselin

Humberto, Yasmin, and Yoselin

A toast to Yoselin

A toast to Yoselin

Father/daughter dance

Father/daughter dance

Yoselin, after her face is smashed into the cake

Yoselin, after her face is smashed into the cake

See all photos from July 22, 2017

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