A choral group from Zone 18, one of the poorest and toughest parts of the city, performed and sang Christmas songs without accompaniment but with choreography. It was obvious those girls loved to sing and loved their director.
Next was a children's band made up of boys ranging in age from eight to eighteen. Some of the kids were good musicians and they all played well, but the most entertaining was one little guy who played the big bass drum. He couldn't even see over his drum and could hardly be seen either, so he stood sideways. Then the mayor's wife came on stage and gave an appreciation speech and handed out door prizes. I was really impressed with her as she spoke of service to the children as service to God.
After the program we went outside to the grounds of the museum where a marimba band played and a luncheon was served. It was beautiful music, typico food, and a perfect day. The mayor's wife came and personaly thanked us and posed with us for a picture. The landscaping around the museum was interesting with pathways winding around mounds of grass covering something possibly ruins. They made navigation and table arrangement kind of tricky, but those hills are Mayan ruins that haven't been excavated or restored yet.
Another important part of the month was a trip to Melchor de Mencos, located on the border of Guatemala and Belize. Origanally we were going into Belize because there was a large group of young men and women who needed dental exams and treatment to prepare for their missions. As we made contact with the Belize government to get visas and permission to enter the country and practice dentistry there, we finally decided not to go. They required receipts for all the equipment and supplies that we took into the country, so they could tax it. Then we were told that we would have to pay a fee to leave also. Almost all our compressors, generators, chairs and X-ray equipment and supplies are donated, so we couldn't present the receipts even if we were willing to pay the fees to enter and leave. We decided to stay in Guatemala in Melchor de Menco, on the border. Patients from Belize just had to cross over a bridge to get there. We were joined by three dentists who were member of a volunteer group called "Hershey Smiles." On Sunday we went to church and had fun listening to the talks. Our group was very large with six dentist and wives and another couple for security. Since the chapel was overflowing, the members insisted that we sit while they stood. Afterward, we decided that their chapel wasn't large enough to be the clinic so we headed to another LDS church building a couple of blocks away and set up there. We worked Monday through Wednesday. Monday morning was supposed to be reserved for the Belize group of 16, but they were late and rather than sit around, we decided to treat anyone who came. People in the neighborhood trickled in at first, maybe a bit skeptical, but soon we had a line out the door waiting. The next two days we were greeted by a large group of people when we got there in the morning. On Wednesday afternoon we told those who were still waiting that we could only treat their two worst problems. It is hard for me to see that, because they want to get rid of pain, so we pull a tooth in the back of the mouth and ignore the obvious cavities in the front. But they don't care because it's free and they aren't hurting anymore. That evening when we finished loading all the equipment, we were starving and headed to Pollo Express for chicken, coleslaw and French fries. While we were eating, people came up to us and asked, "Are you the dentists?" "Can you help my son?" We told them we had just finished, but we would be back in six months or so. They were disappointed, but said they would wait.
No one knows what happened that this site was abandoned, but theories include drought, wars, disease and other guesses. Now there are hundreds of the mysterious mounds covering ruins with only a small part restored including five temples and stellas and a central plaza area with altars for sacrifices and ceremonies.
We hired a tour guide to take us around and show us the sites and tell us about what we were seeing. The highlight for me was when we were in the plaza, a Mayan family was there worshipping. They layed their fire makings which took at least half an hour. They had corn, honey, candles of six different colors and other things that we couldn't see well enough to know what they were.
When they finally finished, they lit the fire and a Mayan lady chanted prayers from a large book. I think some or a lot of the liquid she poured on was alcoholic because it went up fast. These are some of the pix I sneaked during the preparation; we were asked not to take any during the prayer.
On one of the temples there are stairs going up to the top, but no one is allowed to go up there anymore sine someone fell and died. But on one of the other temples they have built a scaffolding with stairs and rails to take people up safely. I was impressed that only a small part of theis city has been restored, and our guide explained, that keeping the jungle from overgrowing the city again is a huge task. So restoring and maintaining the Tikal site is expensive. We stayed in a hotel with mosquito netting although we were there when the nets weren't necessary. At night and in the early morning we heard the howling monkeys, but we never saw one. The same with the quetzal birds, we heard them but only in the diatance. I wonder if they have a recorded sound track they play. We also did not see the famous jaguars. In the afternoon a group of us decided to take a bus to another ruin, Yakha, about an hour's drive away on a lake. Half way into the trip through the jungle we were stopped by road construction and we were told that we could pass in about 45 minutes. This road was not the best and definately not safe to travel after dark which it would have been on our trip back if we waited, so we turned around and drove back. They said they couldn't return our entrance fee because it had already been picked up, so they gave us a ticket to the small museum instead.
When we left, we decided to go home by way
of Coban because Anna Lee had heard about an apron tienda there. We got lost on the way and ended up making the trip longer. We had to take a ferry across the river which was another part of the adventure, a long wait, but a short ride. On the other side we were near Coban. As always we see beautiful scenery along the way and drive through little towns along the way where people are selling or shopping on market days. I love to see the children and the fruitstands. In Coban we parked, jumped out of the cars and headed different directions to help Anna Lee on her quest for the mystical apron. No one knows exactly what she's looking for, so not surprisingly, we didn't find one, and sadly, neither did she. We headed back to the city empty handed.
The Primary President asked me if I would teach her to make Christmas cookies. I said I would and asked her where and when would be good. Of course, she doesn't speak very much English and I speak even less Spanish, so after a minute or two I realized she was asking me to teach the Primary children how to make Christmas cookies. I decided to make the sugar cookie dough and different colored frosting at home so the kids could get started right away. I also made peanut butter cookie dough so the kids could also make the chocolate kiss cookies while they were waiting for the rolling pins and the cookie cutters. We met on a Wednesday afternoon at the church and about 20 kids came along with about 8 moms. We washed hands and got started. Some of the kids were more interested in eating the dough than making cookies. One problem that we had was that we only had one oven and so we got behind on the baking part. Eventually everyone made about 6 cookies, and the moms baked the remaining dough and took home the extras.
We were invited to a Christmas Posada at the home of a family named Duran. He is a church employee and his wife and he are from Chile. They have four sons; three are married living in Japan, Chile and Florida, and the 4th is a student at BYU. They live in a highrise in a beautiful apartment. They collect nativity scenes from all over the world and I bet they had 50 in their home. Bro. Duran had built a replica of Jerusalem and then had a huge nativity scene as part of it. When everyone finally arrived, (we made the mistake of arriving on time and waited for over an hour for the rest of the people who follow Guatemalan Standard Time). Sis. Duran brought out four large boxes of scarves, belts, hats and tunics and spread them out on tables. Then Bro. Duran assigned a role from the nativity to each person. Everyone went up and created beautiful costumes for themselves with the stuff gathered on the table. Then as Bro. Duran read the scriptures, everyone acted out his part in the Christmas story. Another way to remember the Savior and the true meaning of Christmas.
During the month of December, we saw firework stands along the streets, and heard fireworks in the evenings and early mornings. But on Christmas Eve we had a fireworks show extraordinaire! We had been told about the fireworks by many people, but we were surprised and amazed. It started at midnight and lasted until 2:00am with steady, constant fireworks. Some were small and on the ground like our family 4th of July fireworks, but most were Disneyland-like. They would rocket to a height above our building and then burst into sparkling, multi-colored stars. They weren't just one after another, but five or ten at a time in every direction and as far as we could see on the distant surrounding hills.
We invited the sister missionaries over for Christmas dinner. Sis, Perez is from Mexico and had
never had dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes or pumpkin pie, so she was really excited and pleased with her first U.S. Christmas dinner. Her family would have been eating tamales. Sis. Bates is from Wyoming so for her it was tradition and I think she was pleased. As we talked about gifts we learned that Sis. Bates had received a package from home, but Sis. Perez had nothing. I went scrounging and found several items which I was happy to donate as gifts to her. Later that night we had another Christmas dinner of the leftovers from all who live in our apartments. We had tons to eat just from food that wouldn't fit into people's refrigerators.