Monday, March 24, 2008

Feria San Matias

The San Matias Fair

So here in Honduras, most towns have a yearly fair celebrating the saint that guards the area. The belief is that there are specific saints in charge of certain regions. During Field-based training in Morocelí, the saint that was celebrated was “El Señor De Las Aguas de Morocelí”. The story goes that years ago, “El Señor” appeared to the people of Morocelí at the river where they bathe and blessed the water. When the people then took the water home and drank it, they realized it had healing powers and cured the sick. So, the people continue to keep their faith in their Saint and celebrate him at the same time every year during the fair. Here in La Campa, our fair is in February and we celebrate San Matias, or Saint Mathias.

In the last half of February, the first signs that the fair is coming is when fussball (“futbolito”) tables and other games start to appear. (Vendors trying to make some early fair money). The big weekend though is February 22-24 which I am going to write about now.

The booths at the fair from up top

It’s a weekend of utter chaos! There were thousands (and I mean THOUSANDS!) of people here selling, buying, exploring, gambling, praying, dancing, and experiencing an event that was a lot crazier than I could have ever imagined. There may not have been ferris wheels or even as many people at the county fairs in the states, but the number of people per square meter of this little town was definitely about five times more.

When moving on the narrow paths between the booths, there is no sense of personal space and on the last day, you seriously couldn’t move it was so packed. At one point, I was trying to get out of the mob headed down a narrow row of booths and almost started panicking because I was having trouble breathing from the hot air and bad body odors floating around. But we were packed so tight that I had absolutely no control of where I was going. I just had to endure and go with the flow.

Some tourists I met buying alfareria

The fair in La Campa is one of the most famous and biggest in the west of Honduras. People come from all over the department of Lempira to make offerings to San Matias because they either owe him for a prayer that was answered or to ask him for a miracle. I asked the mayor about this and he told me that if, for example, your son is sick, you can pray to San Matias and tell him that if he cures your child, you will give an offering to him during the fair. Or, you can come during the fair and ask him for anything that you need. So, everyday of the fair, there was a line wrapping around the courtyard of the church of people waiting to get inside to see the statue of San Matias. There were two lines: one line for the women and one line for the men. The separate lines were to keep order and also to protect the women because sometimes the men will push the women out of the way to cut in line.

Inside the church

Inside the church, San Matias on the left

Thousands of people had come to give their offerings. . . obviously San Matias is doing a good job taking care of his people! There were other religious events such as processions of the virgin Mary and various masses in which I didn’t participate.

Agapito with large guitar to play for a procession

Praying to the virgin

The virgin arrives

However, I did partake in some of the other cultural events that come during the fair such as the “Carrera de Cinta” (tape races) and a “Pelenque” (cock fight). (As far as the cock fight, the one I saw will be my first and last that I ever want to see again. It’s very brutal, and I hope it stays illegal in the states forever. That’s all I have to say on that.)

The “Carrera de Cinta”, however, is an enjoyable tradition. Men on their horses sprint under a line of rings (smaller than a keychain ring) taped to a rope and try to poke a stick through the tiny hole (smaller than a keychain ring). When they get their stick through the hole, it rips the ring off and each ring is attached to a flag that has a number. This number corresponds to a certain girl who then goes and pins a handkerchief to the shirt of the man who ripped the flag down. (I was number 17.) Whoever has the most hankerchiefs at the end wins.

Ellen´s boyfriend ended u winning with 12 handkerchiefs

At first, I thought that the fair would be something fun for my family to experience when they come visit me. And since we haven’t planned a date when they’re gonna come down here, I figured February, in time for the fair, would be perfect. That is, until I realized what thousands of people in one place can do to a small community. First, I couldn’t sleep more than 2 hours every night because of the neverending noise of fireworks, firecrackers, a band (that was playing until 5 in the morning! I seriously was about to run outside in my pajamas and throw rocks at the horn players), and large crowds. Also, because people come from such remote places, they can’t just pack up at the end of the day and go home. So they all just sleep out in the grass! Imagine a town of about 300 in the “urban center” just multiplied its population about 100 times and all of those people are sleeping on the road, in the grass, under their booths, by the river . . . everywhere!

Bed under a booth

Buses came full of people from all over

Woman making tortillas for her food booth

Well, the sight might be something worth seeing, but my other sensory organs like my nose (the smell of thousands of people that don’t have access to a proper latrine) and ears (thousands of people shouting, fireworks, firecrackers, and bands all night) told me that there are definitely other activites that I would enjoy more while my parents are here.

Conserva de coco (a really good treat made from coconut and sugar)

1 comment:

Shari Shepard said...

Courtney, it has been forever! I'm glad to read about your successes and challenges in Honduras. I wanted to let you know that I've decided to apply to the Peace Corps and am hoping to volunteer in Central America or in the Carribean. Any advice about the application process and other things I should take into consideration would be great. my email is Hope to hear from you soon.
Love Shari