Monday, January 3, 2011

A Peruvian Christmas

So Christmas has come and gone, and I thought it would be a very emotional day for me. However, it wasn’t so bad. It was a very fun few days leading up to Christmas. Although there weren’t any major differences in my community with regards to Christmas, very few decorations, no Christmas trees, no Christmas music, you could still feel that a little something was different.
My host Mom and little host sister and little host nephew all went to Lima last Monday to be with a very sick uncle. So that changed the dynamic around the house. The interesting part was that they took with them 2 turkeys, 3 pigeons, and 2 chickens. Watching them prepare these things for the trip was very interesting. The shoved the 2 giant turkeys into a small box and tied it shut, the pigeons went into an even smaller box and the chickens were put into a sack and tied tight and only their heads were popping out. It was really funny to see all these animals in our living room waiting for the taxi. When the taxi did come, it was already full, put they put the turkeys on top of it and tied the box down, and my host mom, sister and nephew climbed into the trunk of the station wagon and waved goodbye. It was kind of a sad day, but I think it will give my host Mom some relief, she’s been very upset and worried about her brother.
But since they’ve been gone, I feel like we have more family in the house then we did before. My oldest host sister Betty comes over a lot to cook, and that means her family follows to eat. As well as my older host brother Gavilan, he and his wife and two children have been hanging out a lot too. Their kids are really really cute, but the little one Nicole, is a handful. She is 3, and the only volume she speaks at is a scream, and she gets into everything. I had a packet of jelly out with my things and she sucked it dry, she also comes into my room and takes things, so when she is here I have to keep my door locked. The worst part is that when I am holding the babies she comes over and gives them Indian rope burn, and bites and hits them. The problem is that she is just so cute it’s hard to stay mad at her!
The day before Christmas Eve my host sister held a chocolada at our house. This is when they start a fire out in the backyard and friends and family bring over milk and chocolate and they use these giant giant pots to make basically hot chocolate. Then the moms fill there jugs with the hot chocolate and take it home and they drink that throughout Christmas. Apparently too, they usually have a little gathering for the kids and they get little toys and stuff too.
So Christmas Eve….here comes the fun part….I had been asked by a few people to take pictures at a wedding being held on Christmas eve. So of course I didn’t mind and I knew my host family was going to the wedding so it wasn’t a big deal. So on Christmas eve we went to the church in the morning for what I thought was a wedding. WRONG!! First it was a mass, and the church was crammed with people, there was no where to sit, no ventilation, and it was so hot. But I stood there and followed along. Once the mass ended some people left, and then all the sudden there was a mad dash to the aisle, because apparently that is where the families were lining up for the 17 kids who were about to be baptized. So that was an experience too. These kids screamed and screamed and screamed like someone was about to kill them, it was horrible. Then directly after all of that, the bride and grooms lined up for the wedding. There were about 10 couples who were getting married and they all lined up behind one another. The ages ranged from very young….to very old! The dresses and suits or lack there of were interesting! The vows and everything that is said at a Catholic wedding were identical, however, instead of repeating after the priest the bride and groom would just read everything out of a book. There was one sad couple that came up and the groom could barely read and he stumbled through the entire thing. What bothered me was that no one helped him, instead people in the audience laughed and talked about him. It kind of pissed me off. I live in a community where many people can’t read, and the fact that they aren’t nice enough to step up to the plate and help one of their own out really really makes me mad.
The other really interesting part of the wedding was the lack of joy and excitement. A bride and groom in the states are so lovey, and can’t keep from looking at each other or their hands off each other. At this wedding, it looked like it was painful for them to hold each others hands. And NEVER once did they look each other in the eyes. And when the kiss came….that was painfully awkward to watch from the outside. Not only did they not look at each other, it looked like it was their first kiss EVER…they went in for it eyes open the entire time and it was quick and then afterwards they didn’t look at each other nothing. And once they were married standing on the sidelines watching the next couple, the wouldn’t touch each other, look at each other or talk to each other. It was so so so weird. And I know for a fact some of these couples were new and others had been together for years and even had kids.
So afterwards, I was invited to one of the wedding receptions. We went to their house, and at first we sat in a circle lining the room. No one spoke, we had lunch and just sat there, this went on for about 2 hours. Then, someone went out and got beer. I think I may have explained before that drinking usually consists of one large beer bottle and one cup. Basically when I am handed the beer bottle and the cup I pour my own glass, pass the beer bottle to the next person in the circle, drink my glass, throw the last sip on the floor, and then pass the glass. Although I was planning on not drinking at my site, I have found it incredibly difficult to avoid these drinking circles at events like this. However, I have found the secret to them as well. For example, I drank pretty consistently from 2pm-10pm that night, but not once did I feel drunk. And this was because when the beer and glass were passed to me, I barely put enough beer in it to cover the bottom of the cup, then I’d take a small sip and throw the rest on the ground!
After this first drinking circle, the party moved outside, and that is where they had the couples first dances, and a toast, and more and more people showed up. They had hired a DJ to run things and they lots of music and more and more beer. I believe that people showed up too who were already drunk so that didn’t help. At one point I was sitting alone watching everything when this drunk man, probably in his early 40’s approached me. He was obviously inebriated, he moved his chair practically on top of me and was almost kissing my neck every time he leaned in to talk to me. He kept asking me to come to his house and how he wanted to show me his house. It was so disgusting. I was leaning so far away from him, and looking so incredibly uncomfortable, and people just looked at me. No one though to send me a rescue. Finally, he left. But things only got worse when the dancing started.
So dancing here is very very different than in the US. I am almost positive that after 2 years here I am going to become and awful awful dancer. The don’t really move, they kind bob around, it’s hard to explain. When I came to South America, I was looking forward to learning all those exotic Latino dances. I do believe they exist here in Peru, just not in my little valley! And the only dancing that is done is by invite only. No one gets up and dances alone or with friends, it is guy/girl only! So immediately the men from the rowdy drinking circle would ask me to dance. At first it was harmless, I would dance without touching them or anything, then there were a few who would ask me to dance and we would dance more formally where like I was holding their arm and their hand. THEN….there was a younger guy who kept asking me to dance, he was actually a decent dancer, but he was trashed and would basically try and talk to me the entire time screaming in my face, and then he started asking me inappropriate questions. I kept trying to put an end to it, and at first I let it all go. But then, he continued to ask me to dance, each time he kept pulling me in when I kept pulling away, and he would try and interlock fingers and put his fingers over my mouth. All the while asking me more and more inappropriate questions. I don’t know if I could have not looked any more uncomfortable, and I was just look at the people I came with, with this horrible look on my face. At one point after I sat down from dancing with him I told the women I didn’t like him and the stuff he was saying to me. And when he came over to ask me to dance again I said no, but the one lady pushed me too it. So this last time when I was dancing with him, he grabbed my head to yank it in close to his, I intercepted that deal really really quick and told him NO, and that he was bad, and I wasn’t going to dance with him again and that for the last time I had a boyfriend in the US who I love very much and don’t want another one. I still don’t think he got the hint, but fortunately many other guys asked me to dance after that one and he never got another opportunity with me.
I had a lot of fun dancing, I actually really did despite all of the garbage from the drunks. But there is one thing I was unsure of. The one really annoying guy I think is a local hottie, and the looks I got from the other girls made me really uncomfortable. Even though I think I looked totally disgusted when I was dancing with him, I still think the girls got jealous. Hopefully with time I can prove to them that I don’t want to steal their men…they can keep them!
So the feast we were supposed to have a midnight the night of Christmas Eve had been delayed due to the wedding festivities. Although I came home around 10-10:30 my host sister was drunk and fell asleep right away and my host Dad went back to the wedding to drink. So when my oldest host sister Betty told me we weren’t going to be having the big dinner I was relived that I could just go to bed.
So Christmas morning came around and at 8 am I ran outside to my special spot with cell phone signal and awaited the call from my REAL family back in the states. It was so great to talk to all of them. But incredibly weird that they were talking about the cold and the snow and I knew that my day was just beginning to warm up into the high 80’s or 90’s. Sometimes it’s really weird to think of myself as so far away. Alex was sure to remind me that there weren’t any presents under the Christmas tree. He is so good to me!
Later that morning we had the feast that we didn’t have the night before. I was happy, I thought it would be lots of crazy foods, but fortunately all I had was rice and turkey. And the turkey was really good actually. The men of my family had rice, potatoes, pasta, and turkey. So I’m kind of glad that I am started to be treated more like one of the daughters and they are laying off on the loads of food, I was perfectly happy. It was really nice though because all of the brothers and sisters and their kids were there around one table and it was really casual, I liked it. Reminded me a little bit of home…just in Spanish.
So….I had made a cake for Christmas. They had asked me to do it. And originally I was going to do it all from scratch, but when I saw how much that was going to cost me I lucked out and actually found a box of betty crockers chocolate cake mix at the super market in Piura. However, instead of icing I did by the Peruvian man jar Blanco (kind of like a thick caramel). So anyway, using this little interesting oven, I made this little cake. Well I pulled it out that morning after breakfast and my family just kind of acted funny. Apparently my host dad asked why the cake was black. One thing I didn’t realize was that they are NOT used to chocolate cakes. So I was a little offended when they were all hesitant about it and I really didn’t think they liked it. But apparently that wasn’t the case at all, they had NEVER seen a chocolate cake and were confused. They ended up loving it and since then have asked when I can make another one! So I was really excited about that!
The rest of Christmas Day was kind of dull, my host family scattered into doing chores and different things and I went to my room and watched Sex and the City 2 on my computer which I had been saving for a special occasion. Later during the day I went over to BJ’s town since we had decided we were going to celebrate Christmas together as well. He had found this really cool spot in his parents field where we could hang out and put out feet in the water. So we went down there, his family followed later and we watched them set the remnants of the corn on fire in their field, getting prepared for the rice growing season. I would think that this valley would be an instant place to start a forest fire with out dry everything is, but surprisingly they light stuff on fire and I don’t get it, but it magically goes out once it’s finished. Later with boredom, we ended up making boats out of whatever we could find and then raced them down the little river….that was actually really entertaining. Afterward, I headed back to my house. It was dark at this point and it was hard to believe that Christmas was almost over.
I have to admit that I really loved the simplicity of the day. As much as I do love Christmas at home and I cannot wait to get back and put up the tons and tons of Christmas decorations that I have accumulated and not had the opportunity to use yet, I still enjoyed how simple things were here. The children didn’t wake up to tons of gifts, they woke up to just another day and were happy for it. I helped my little host niece make bubbles and you would have thought I had given her one of those Barbie cars that you can actually drive. She was so excited and it made me really happy. I also enjoyed how all they expected for Christmas was turkey, and simply to be together, that was it. I liked that. That is the way it should be, and it’s shame that is takes spending Christmas with people who have nothing to understand that you don’t need anything more.

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