Un Entierro Guatemalteco

Jarachik, one of the restaurants/hotels in town is owned by a father and son team from Holland. This week Hank, the father, died of heart failure. It was a big shock to such a little community, and he will be missed. His son has a good support network here, so hopefully he will find the strength to get sorted out in his new life alone (his mother is also dead).

I felt a bit of connection to the family because when I arrived in San Pedro the first time, I was late to meet my contact at the Casa Rosario Spanish school. I needed to make a phone call and Mark, Hank’s son, let me make a call from the hotel desk. Later that week I met Hank in the Buddah Bar and was inspired by the story of how he and his son came together to San Pedro to open this hotel together.

This afternoon, the funeral procession passed by the office where I am working, so I joined it. Locals and gringos were carrying Hank’s coffin through the streets from Jarachik, where it had been for the wake, to the cemetary which is at the top of the hill. It was a long way to go with a heavy casket, but the men took turns carrying it, and we got it there safely. I was honored to be asked to take my turn to get Hank safely up the hill, through the winding streets of San Pedro.

At the cemetary, several people made some little speeches in Spanish, then they slid the coffin into an above-ground crypt. A bricklayer was on hand with cement, ready to wall up the front of it.

A couple memories stand out from the experience. First, because gringos are in general much taller than local men, there was some difficulty carrying the coffin. After a few changes resulting in too much weight on the tall people, people got the idea and sorted themselves into altos y pequeños. (Soy un pequeño.) Later when it came time to lift the coffin way up into the air to put it into the crypt, the call came from somewhere in the crowd, ¡Altos, por favor!

Another memory is of the bricklayer, who was standing up on the crypt structure to help get the coffin in. Once it was in as far as los altos could push with their hands, he slid it home by giving it a gentle shove with his foot. It struck me immediately as disrespectful, then immediately again as pure Guatemala: when there’s something heavy to be moved here, people work together, and they work hard. Basically the only tool they use is their bodies, and they get the job done neatly, simply and efficiently. Lest I paint the bricklayer as some brute, I should point out that his next action was to take boquets of flowers from the women in the crowd and neatly arrange them in front of the coffin. Finally, he started measuring up the wall he was about to build at the front of the crypt. I look forward to seeing how Mark’s friends help him decorate the front of the crypt.

It was a great experience. Somber, of course. But I also felt honored to be able to pop out of my doorway and walk along with Hank as he took his last trip through the streets of San Pedro, a city he loved enough to come back to again and again until he lived here.

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