The family Castellanos may think I’m crazy, but the event that began close to midnight and continued until almost 4 p.m. the next day made no sense to me. The family is large. Mercedes, their eighty-two year old matriarch, has ten children, thirty-two grandchildren, and twenty-two great grandchildren. During the week of semana santa Mercedes house, which was my homestay, was very busy. Various family members dropped by to visit, or to take Mercedes to church. But, this night and into the next day was busiest of all. At first only the men in the family came to the house. They had to wait until all the parked cars were cleared from the street, then their sixteen hour project began.
Before work started all the family members who were present formed a circle, joined hands, and a prayer was said. The men strung lights across the street. Next they carried the big bags of sawdust that would lay the foundation for the alfombra (carpet). (By this time I had learned that the designs made of sawdust that I had first seen in Santa Anna represent carpets.)
Three family members had spent, lord only knows how much time, creating the design and making the stencils for the carpet the family would build in the street in front of the house. Using the same design every year would never do, and so each year a new design had to be thought out. This year’s design was of the quetzals, the national bird, the name of Guatemalan money and sacred to the Mayans.
There were pine needles to sort and straighten in preparation for the final step, the fringe around the elaborate alfombra. I watched Mercedes as she began the tedious task of sorting and straightening out pine needles, this was a task I could help with, always good to chip in.
Throughout the night people came and went, and food was served. Telma, who is married to one of Mercedes sons, and Anna, the housekeeper, had spend days preparing food for this night. As night turned to day, and the day marched on more and more family members arrived to work on the alfombra. They wore T-shirts to identify themselves and the event.
The procession was to come by at 2:30 in the afternoon, when 2:15 arrived, and the alfombra was not finished, I thought it wouldn’t be completed on time, but family members assured me that it would. The procession was late, it was as if it were waiting for the completion of the elaborate Castellanos alfombra.
When the carpet was complete the family applauded, took many photos and chattered about the magic of family. Minutes later the procession came and the alfombra was destroyed.
Ya know what? I do understand the reason for all this work that disappeared moments after it was completed. They were building an alfombra to strengthen their family ties and their faith.
On April 2 I said goodbye to the Castellanos and Mario, the director of the school, gave me a ride to the Crown Plaza Hotel in Guatemala City, which is near the airport.