El dia del diablo

And here I was thinking that it might actually be quieter when I got back to Guatemala… wrong!

Turns out I’ve arrived here on El Dia Del Diablo – literally ‘The Day of the Devil’, which is an early part of the Christmas-season celebrations. It’s the day when they burn the Devil in effigy, to celebrate his defeat by the soon-to-come Christ. And yes, English folks may well recognise a certain resemblance here to the now-almost-forgotten tradition of the burning of the Guy, because, yes, it’s firework-night. Which means even more bangs and firecrackers than usual. A lot more bangs and firecrackers…

First warning of this was when some kids started letting off seriously big firecrackers just down the street (which in a country already overly awash with over-used guns seemed somewhat irresponsible, to say the least). Then when I went out for a walk at lunchtime (yes, I’m getting a little braver than my last trip here, though all the guys in the office still reminded me “a cuidado!” before I went out of the gate!) I noticed an indigenous woman not with the usual tortillas or junk children’s-toys but a huge table of fireworks. Something going on, methinks. Finally a struggled sort-of-Spanish conversation elicited the information that it’s El Dia Del Diablo. At which point everyone in the office went off to their various celebrations, leaving me literally in the dark.

Didn’t take long to find out what it meant. The guy from across the street hauls out a large cardboard box containing a smiling bright-red effigy, taller than the rather pudgy daughter who was sort-of assisting him. And when his other children finally turn up – the two elder boys from setting off their own bangers just down the road apiece – he sets fire to it. In the middle of the street. With cars wandering past. Various fireworks follow – one almost landing on my head as I watch from the balcony above the street. Casual madness, if all in a very everyday Guatemalan style.

I’m an habitual people-watcher, I fear, so the most interesting part for me was the family dynamics. Father, big and loud, pandering to his three podgy, pouting princess-daughters – aged from about six to ten, I’d guess, each posing with their hands over their ears in play-acted fear, and crying and stomping their feet immediately they didn’t get their own way in even the most trivial of matters. Three boys, one of them perhaps also six, and hanging around vaguely with the daughters, the two elder ones perhaps twelve and fourteen, off doing their own explosive thing. (Some of the fireworks seriously dangerous – they experimented putting a huge thunderflash into a plastic drainpipe as a crude mortar, but it blasted the drainpipe to pieces. Yikes…) Mother standing around, wandering off, being social with the neighbours, barely interacting with the father at all. And a thin quiet girl, perhaps fifteen, much darker skin – hence presumably indigenous rather than one of this family – standing there in the garage doorway with a hosepipe, quietly putting out the blaze at the end, quietly tidying up the amazing amount of mess, all but shut out of the fun, unacknowledged and ignored by all the others. The maid, I suppose, which seems a bit of a surprise in this relatively lower-middle-class suburb – though with six children in the family the mother would certainly need some help. Yet interestingly she was also the only one who noticed me, shared a smile in the dark as I videoed the scene from above. Another person who lives the life of the Outsider. Nice.

Fortunately it seems to be an early-evening thing – most of the flashes and bangs have eased off now, leaving only the ever-present roar of the traffic on the periferico. Who knows, I might even get a good night’s sleep for once!

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