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Life in Cobán

Posted: May 21, 2014

Cobán is a busy city. When you drive down the dusty roads, you notice people selling items from small shops, corner stands, and the back of trucks or bikes! Brightly colored clothes are hung on lines stretching across doorways. Shoes and boots of every style are neatly lined up on display on the narrow sidewalks. Every size and shape of melons, bright red tomatoes, bananas, plantains and peppers are sold out of baskets lining the streets. Wrangler jeans, American t-shirts with “Hello Kitty,” and soccer jerseys are sold throughout the city! You can find hot tamales and tortillas prepared by vendors on the streets! Exotic pig rinds fill up small glass boxes! 
I was amazed by the variety of small enterprises. Even driving through the mountainous areas, there are roadside stands with soft drinks for thirsty travelers! There are lots of bakers! Delicious thick buns dripping with icing are freshly baked throughout the city!

What struck me was the contrast between women dressed in a western jeans and t-shirts in Cobán and women wearing traditional, hand woven floor length skirts which are called Corte. This term refers to way the fabric is cut. Women wear traditional blouses over their skirts which looks like intricately embellished, light weight ponchos. These are called a Huipil.

Mothers can be seen balancing large, striped water jugs on their head, hauling large bundles of sticks on their backs or carrying a baby slung over their shoulders wrapped in beautiful fabric. These women had the snugglies figured out hundreds of years before shoppers in the US and Europe! And, there is no, monochromatic color scheme of black or grey! There is color everywhere! It matches the lush foliage that you see throughout the countryside!

Jaclyn and I had the good fortune to meet one of the premier weavers in Cobán! As luck would have it, she happens to be Fr. Pedro’s sister. We stopped by her home in Cobán for a visit. She offered us some freshly made coco. It is unlike any coco I had ever tasted! It is reddish in color and has a thick consistency. I was curious how she made it, so I asked her if she could tell us. She was delighted to show us.  Taking fresh coco beans, she ground them up on a stone mortar and then made the delicious brew.

She was wearing the traditional attire, but changed into a more formal outfit, because we were company. She showed us her loom with a project that she was working on. It was beautiful. Photographs of Fr. Pedro with Pope John Paul II were proudly displayed on her wall. The Pope visited Guatemala on one of his Central American tours!

Next we visited Fr. Pedro’s other sister and her husband. Jaclyn and Fr. Pedro spoke Spanish and Q’eqchi. I tried to follow the threads of conversation. I never studied Spanish, so I was quickly trying to immerse myself before my trip. I had many opportunities to practice new words and phrases. Again, I noticed a picture of Fr. Pedro and Pope John Paul II hanging prominently on the wall! They also had a shrine to the Virgin Mary covered with flowers in their home. Clearly, Fr. Pedro is one of their favorite relatives. His family was very gracious and extended a warm welcome and hospitality to us!

--Maura