Monday, September 8, 2008

July 20th - Dia de Lempira

Since it’s been over a year, it means I’m starting to celebrate the same Honduran holidays twice. But this time around when it comes to community events, I won’t be awkwardly standing around feeling out of place. The first Honduran holiday that passed when I first got to Honduras was Día de Lempira, July 20th. But last year, it did just that . . . passed by without any sort of celebration that I heard about. Since my training wasn’t even close to the department of Lempira, nothing exciting really happened. All I remember from that day last year is being in Spanish class and we had to go around and ask people why the day was so special. But this year was a different story. I guess I should have figured that Día de Lempira would be huge in the department of Lempira, but I never would have guessed how big. The whole month was dedicated to the celebration of the “National Identity” of Honduras.

So of course no one came to my English class . . . there weren’t even regular school classes! Everything was cancelled to prepare for or to celebrate Día de Lempira. And of all the months I have been in good health condition, I got hit with dengue fever right before all the celebrations start. Dengue is a sickness caused from a bite from a certain type of mosquito. You basically get body aches, an awful headache that doesn’t go away, flue-like symptoms and a fever. I had a 102 degree fever for three days straight, the three biggest days of celebration. Did this stop me from going to enjoy the events? Absolutely not. Although Ellen kept saying I looked like I was going to pass out.

In La Campa, there was a dance festival where the professors and students performed traditional dances. (They had to cancel school for a few days so the professors could learn the dance, and then a few more days so the professors could teach the kids). Getting to this festival was pretty stressful. I kind of have a crush on one the teachers so I wanted to be there early to make sure I saw him dance. But there is a lot of mud where I live and when it rains, it’s hard for cars to get to the main road. I was on my way on foot when I passed my neighbor, Angela, who wanted to go in car but managed to get the back tires of her husband’s car half way stuck in sand and mud. Angela has been learning on and off how to drive but she still doesn’t know how to go in reverse or in any gear past second. (To get a driver’s license in this country, you just have to pay for it.) I helped her get the car out and then she asked me to get the car to the road where it was drier, about 50 meters away. Well of course when I got the car stuck, she ranted about how I couldn’t drive and then stopped a truck going by so the man could help us get the car out. When he tried to get the car past and got it stuck as well, she yelled at him for not being able to either, the irony of the situation being that she is the only one of us that can’t drive. We finally got the car out and back to her house but not after her yelling at me that I can’t drive and I yelling at her that if I can’t drive then she should just do it on her own and not ask me for favors. I ended up not talking to her for a few days but she sent me tamales and tortillas to show she was sorry so I went over to hang out and then we never talked about it again. And in the end I did get to see the dances, and Nueva Esperanza won the dance festival!

The teachers dancing a traditional dance

The Nueva Esperanza dancers

One of the biggest traditions for Día de Lempira is the “India Bonita” (or “Beautiful Indian”) pageant. There is a pageant in all the communities that have schools. I only went to the pageant in La Campa and in Nueva Esperanza. For the pageant, one girl is elected to represent each class (4th and 6th are one class as well as 3rd and 5th).

In Nueva Esperanza, there are three schools but two of them are 1st-6th grade in one class and so they only had one girl to represent the whole school. These girls then make dresses that best represent what existed during the time of “Lempira”, the Indian who led 30,000 men to fight for freedom.

Lourdes representing Las olominas school

Some girls made dresses made completely out of corn husks or had beans, corn, and other seeds glued on. One girl made the department of Lempira out of these basic grains. Angela’s daughter, Keimy, was elected to represent the 3rd and 5th grade class. Angela had made her a dress gluing beans, squash seeds, and corn to the top with flowers made out of cobs of corn on the back. On the dress, she had someone paint Lempira and decorated the bottom with dried corn husks and miniature clay pots and comals (round dishes used to make tortillas). Keimy then had a small basket full of fruits and vegetables typical of the department of Lempira and of the time. At this point, we were on speaking terms again and so I got to help get Keimy ready for the night. However, dengue was just starting to hit, so I was in bed all day and didn’t get up until around 5 pm so I could help Keimy get ready and to go watch. By the end of the night, I was losing energy.

My friend Roman, dressed as an indio in La Campa, and me

Keimy modeling her dress

At the event, the girls model their dresses and usually judges decide who wins based on the detail of the dresses. However this year, we were unable to get judges and so it was decided by cheers from the crowd. Of course the little one from the kindergarten won because she was the cutest and her family of 14 was there to make extra noise which caused some controversy because her dress was not very “Lempira-like”. I was a little surprised by how angry some people got, especially since they don’t win anything except a sash that they get to pass on to the next “India Bonita” next year. Angela even said she wouldn’t have joined the pageant if she had known it was going to be judged by the audience.

Dress made entirely of ´´tusa´´ corn husks

Nueva Esperanza´s india bonita candidates

Little ´´indio´´

The next day, I still had an awful fever but I had already decided I wanted to go into Gracias to see the events. There was a rodeo and my neighbors invited me to go with them (given we could get the car past the mud). So I hitched a ride with them. In Gracias, there were food booths, dramatizations of the death of Lempira, pageants of the “India Bonita”, dances, rodeos, cock fights, and lots of booths for selling. It was like the February fair all over again but celebrating culture rather than religion.

India bonita candidate in Gracias

La Sensual Elizabeth singing at the rodeo

Rodeo in Gracias

Mariachi singer

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