One of the first things that you notice upon arriving in San Pedro la Laguna is the ubiquitous nature of all things religious. Signs and banners with Psalms, Scripture passages, and religious messages cover the streets. Even the buses and tuk-tuks are labelled with things like “Cristo es El Rey.” There are thirty-seven churches in San Pedro; of these, one is Catholic and the rest are evangelical. As mentioned in a recent post, it was not uncommon for me to wake up in the morning to the sound of preaching. Singing can be heard throughout the day and evening from any of the churches in the town. Most of the music is very pleasant; however, one church in particular across the water from our school (you know who you are, little green church with the star!) employed a cantor who was less than skillful in terms of pitch. Nearly every morning, our lessons were accompanied by the sound of the church band’s bass and guitar and their warbling singer. I tried hard, without much luck, not to be distracted.
I attended Mass with Elizabeth, my teacher, the first Sunday after I had arrived in town. I was happy that I had brought a pashmina to cover my shoulders, because the vast majority of the women in church covered their heads with woven scarves during the service. Not that this helped me blend in at all, mind you, as I was about a foot taller than most of the people in the room. I decided against covering my head: with my hair in a top-knot, any additional height would have turned me into an awkward mountain of many colors in the middle of the pew.
As the Mass continued, I was pleased to realize that I could follow along and understand much of the readings in Spanish. Sweet, I thought, I *have* learned a lot so far. Until the homily, where the flow of Spanish was interrupted mid-sentence like music on a scratched CD. For a minute, I thought I might be going crazy, but then I remembered that Tz’utujil is another language used in San Pedro. I asked Elizabeth why the sermon was bilingual. She answered that since many of the older people in town speak very little Spanish, the homilies are given in Tz’utujil, but since this language lacks the vocabulary to describe certain people, events, and places (especially Biblical), the priest fills in the blanks with Spanish.
My entire time in San Pedro occurred during Lent, and there were countless processions and celebrations in the town during this time. I will write more in a future post about the more elaborate Holy Week processions with their alfombras, or carpets of flowers, in the streets. This procession, however, occurred on a Friday night two weeks before Easter:
Before the procession, men and boys holding large noisemakers called matracas (thanks for the info, Max!) parade the streets, paving the way for the ondas, or “floats” with sacred images.
A reading from one of the Stations of the Cross (in Tz’utujil!)
Processing to the next station
Processions galore in upcoming posts!