The Austin Chronicle

Gina Chavez Tour Diary No. 2: Guat’s Up?

By Gina Chavez, April 8, 2016, 12:15pm, Earache!

We left D.C. at 3am last Friday morning and arrived in Guatemala City in time for a big lunch near our fancy Westin hotel in Zona 10, the tourist area. Our plans to visit Antigua turned into a three-hour power nap, and taught me a very important lesson in American Music Abroad (AMA) tour survival: Sleep is my mejor amigo.

These tours, with all logistics taken care of by Embassy staff – including private transport and separate rooms for each of us in four and five-star hotels – are rigorous!

Energized by sleep and a continental breakfast, I walked to Sunday Mass at a nearby church, La Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción. There are few masses in my life where I can say I’ve truly experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit and this was one of them. It feels like goosebumps and a full heart, and the knowledge that you’re exactly who and where you’re supposed to be.

I walked Avenida La Reforma, a large thoroughfare that transforms into a pedestrian lane on Sundays, humming the beloved Guatemalan waltz, “Luna de Xelaju,” to the wild hydrangeas, lavender Jacaranda trees, and bronze statues that watch over passersby. Then I got sucked into the frantic rhythms of an impromptu Zumba class in the street!

The first concert of our tour set a high bar. For the first time ever, the Municipality of Guatemala City and Mayan descendants allowed a concert at Kaminaljuyu, a sacred site of the Maya that’s being excavated. The Guatemalan songs we’d learned came in handy as we shared the stage with a group of 17 talented young guitarists from Zona 21, one of the poorest areas in the city.

The crowd of hundreds, who ate up my bandmate Sammy’s call and answer rhythm exercises, nearly lost it when we invited one of the guitar students, Samuel, to join us onstage in shredding on our “Siete-D” finale. After a flurry of selfies, signatures, and smiles, we grabbed dinner and a trago of Ron Zacapa – Guatemala’s finest rum – with a family friend who lives in the city.

Then I made my first big mistake: Two hours of sleep before our longest day in Guate. D’oh!

Fortunately, my bandmates Sammy and Michael picked up my slack, leading our first workshop with interactive icebreakers and bucket drumming combined with pedagogical tips for the new generation of music teachers at the University of San Carlos. The students gifted us their energy and passion for music, along with a traditional Guatemalan marimba performance. And the Embassy staff videographer surprised us with a music video shoot for my song “Not A Goodbye.” The day ended with a concert at the igloo-shaped theater on campus and lights out before I could eat dinner.

We capped off our final day in Guate with a morning media interview and another first-ever: An intimate discussion on human rights with LGBTQ advocates, who are truly on the front lines in one of the poorest countries in Central America – where only three out of 10 children graduate from the 6th grade. In the evening, we put on a high-energy workshop/concert for the students at the Municipality School of Music in Zona 1. We easily could have spent another hour with those smiling faces.

Yesterday, we arrived in Venezuela. I’m already low on sleep and still need a good joke in order to talk about my apellido (last name). Apparently, I’m in for a lot of questions.

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