February is known as el mes del cariño (the month of love / affection), and so what could be more appropriate than dedicating this month´s edition of XelaWho to our greatest cariño: our beautiful city of Xela.
Sure Xela´s not without its problems – there can be mountains of rubbish piled up in the cobbled, pot-holed filled streets, piles which are promptly torn to pieces by hoards of mangy street dogs; the traffic can be so bad that it´s often quicker to walk to your destination than to be crammed into a mini bus holding about 10 more people than its maximum capacity; there’s the occasional mugging or robbery (but, then again, what place in Guatemala, or indeed Central America, is safe from that?); and during several months of the year you are very likely to encounter a river flowing through what used to be a road. Xela may not be as immediately pretty as Antigua; it may not have as many shops, malls, bars or amusement centres as Guate; it doesn’t have a coast with some idyllic beaches; and there’s no huge Mayan temples in the middle of jungle to be found here.
But any extranjero that has been sucked into the black hole that is Xelan life, will be the first to tell you that there is just something about this place. The story’s a common one, and one that won’t take you long to encounter if you’re a newcomer to this city: they came here only planning upon staying for a couple of weeks or months, perhaps only to take a few Spanish classes before moving on, with grand ambitions to travel the rest of Latin America or to return to their jobs in their home country. But one thing led to another and several years later Xela is now their home and they have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Perhaps they fell in love with a charming Quetzalteco/a, or they found a rewarding job with one of the many NGOs or Spanish schools here, or perhaps they’re not doing much at all and just spend their time soaking up that distinctive and unique Xela vibe. But whatever their story – one thing binds them together, and that is they arrived here and very quickly realised that they didn’t want to leave.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be long before I would no longer have a need for this job with XelaWho if I was given $1 for every fiesta de despedida (leaving party) that I’ve attended, only to see the person that I was supposedly seeing off in the street a few days later and to be told that they’ve postponed their leaving date yet again. And then we all get invited to another one of their fiestas de despedida, with the promise that this time they’re actually leaving. And if they do leave, it’s not long before many realise they miss Xela too much and start planning their return (with of course the expectation of a huge fiesta de bienvenida when they arrive in Xela once again). But hey, it’s not like we’re complaining – drinking copious amounts of Cabro and Quetzalteca in someone’s honour (whether it’s for their leaving/coming home party, their birthday or to celebrate one of their achievements) is a time-honoured tradition in Xela and one that gives this city the wonderful sense of community that makes it so special.
So this edition of XelaWho is dedicated to all those that have made Xela their home, whether unintentionally or on purpose, and to all those amazing Quetzaltecans who have made this city into a home for us.
And so here’s to going to another 5 fiestas de despedida for the same person who simply can’t bring themselves to leave, and to having the time of your life at every single one of them. We love you Xela!