Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

I’m sorry. It was Mother’s Day in Guatemala yesterday (it’s celebrated a few days earlier than in the States), and it appears we’ve been going about this whole Mother’s Day business all wrong.

If Shon and I were to visit you in New Jersey on Sunday, we’d come bearing flowers and a gift (don’t look, but this year you’ll be getting these : ) and enjoy a simple lunch followed by a yummy dessert (this, perhaps). I know you’re not really into dessert, but sorry, I just can’t wrap my head around that. We are bringing cake.

Not these, though.


Unfortunately, according to Panajachel’s standards, our Sunday would seem pretty lame. Yesterday, I learned that Mother’s Day should begin not at noon, but early, very early, with celebratory firecrackers in the street. Our neighbors set theirs off at 3:30 a.m. and then serenaded what must have been one very groggy mama with a Mother’s Day tune. I could hear both the dad and kids singing. It would’ve been sweet had it not been 3:30 a.m.

Soon after that, a pick-up truck outfitted with a sound system to rival that of any New York City night club drove slowly down our street. An announcer played mariachi music and wished all mothers everywhere a happy Mother’s Day. I don’t actually know why I’m telling you this, since you must have heard him, too.

Fireworks and celebratory music (even the church had a band out front) were the pervasive soundtrack of the day, but there were other treats for moms, too. Stores sold cakes, pre-wrapped gifts, and filled their awnings with balloons, though my Spanish teacher, Florinda, told me that the majority of moms here want one thing and one thing only: Pollo Campero.

Mom, you’ve never tried Pollo Campero and because of that, many Guatemalans will consider your life a sad one. Pollo Campero is a fried chicken chain that has a voracious, cult-like following. Fried chicken, as a whole, is hugely popular throughout the country; it’s sold in markets and out on the street, but its biggest fan club can be found in the air-conditioned dining area of a Pollo Campero restaurant, apparently on Mother’s Day. “The lines are out to the street, and you have to wait for hours to get a table,” said Florinda, whose sister was strategically planning to avoid the crush by ordering their fried chicken take-out, so they could Pollo Campero Mom at home.

Of course, every holiday has its extremists (think of our crazy neighbors who use colored holiday lights to decorate outside instead of classic white), and it’s no different here. The day before Mother’s Day, I was sipping an iced coffee in a cafe on Calle Santander, Panajachel’s main drag, when a giant truck unloaded a dozen or so ladies dressed in costumes and masks. There was Zena The Warrior Princess, the queen from Alice in Wonderland, and the evil witch from Snow White, among other characters. They lined up, and as a truck blasted music onto the street, they danced. The owner of the coffee shop explained that it was a group of moms celebrating Mother’s Day. They had practiced their dance steps weeks in advance and kept their costumes secret from everyone. Only at the end of the day would they remove their masks to reveal whose mom they are.


Don’t mess with these mamas.


She wasn’t so sure about all this.


Mom, you’ve never donned a costume on Mother’s Day and gotten down on the streets of Princeton. For that, I thank you. Profusely. That said, I’ve realized that our method for feting you has got to change. Expect some major overhauls next Mother’s Day. See you then. 3:30 a.m.

4 responses

  1. I love the way you write, Melissa! Descriptive and humorous, you bring to life the craziness of living in a different country with such a rich culture.

  2. Melissa, clearly I’ve lived in New York too long. I thought these were drag queens. Stumbled on your blog through Facebook and am now getting caught up on the adventures of your new life in Guatemala. In a word: wow. I guess this would be the answer to that ‘hey, what’s up’ email I’ve been meaning to send. Reading on now…

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