As far as places I’ve lived with weirdo customs, Japan definitely takes first prize (remember the Penis Festival?). But you gotta give it to Guatemala for trying. When it’s your birthday here, people have this interesting annoying tradition that involves lighting fire crackers outside the birthday boy or girl’s bedroom door. At dawn. Or sometimes earlier, like three or four in the morning. I guess it’s because people eventually grow to expect it (I’d imagine that after your 58th birthday the surprise would begin to wear a little thin), so the Guatemalans have to resort to earlier and earlier start times to ensure that the person is properly frightened to the point of verging on a heart-attack.
What this means is that at any give point in the night, somewhere in the city, you can hear fireworks going off. And sometimes they’re so loud and powerful that they sound exactly like rocket launchers. In fact, when I first moved here and heard what sounded like gun-fire going off at four-thirty in the morning, I thought the city was under attack. I laid under my covers listening for the sounds of screams and sure that any moment, my housemates would come barging in telling me to arm myself for battle.
When nothing happened, I was confused. Is the military out for an early target practice? I wondered. Did some punk teenager somehow get his hands on a cannon or what?
The irony is that if (or some say when) the next civil war starts, people will probably hear the gunfire, mutter to themselves “Not another freakin’ birthday” and then just roll over and go back to sleep.