For Navidad, my family gave me the task of building the crèche.
As my nephew Nico pointed out, there’s no cuy (guinea pigs). Here’s Nico. He’s 2. He stays at our house a couple of days a week and we’ve become very close friends.
On Christmas Eve, I went to mass at the Catholic church. Each family brought the baby Jesus from its creche to put on the altar during the service. There were dozens of baby Jesuses, all in a row. Afterward, there was dancing in the church. Have I mentioned that dancing is very important here? Several barrios sent dance teams to do a dance representing the shepards visiting baby Jesus at Bethlehem. Each barrio had its own band, which featured little, high-pitched flutes. The music was non-Western in structure, so I’m assuming it was a pre-columbian dance and song that got re-purposed after the conquest. They did it more or less at midnight. I didn’t have my camera, so just imagine the bright costumes, and energetic children dancing to shrill music in a dim, echoing Catholic church.
On Christmas day, Kristi and I went with our friend Chasqui to a nearby village, Las Molinas. They were giving a Chocolatada for the children of the town, and we were part of the entertainment.
Then we went to my house and had a big meal.
Nico got an art set for Christmas.
Here is his drawing of “Nico y Nayna”. Here in Peru, I’m called Elena, but Nico’s version sounds like Nayna. I’m his Tia Elena (Aunt Alane). I’ve never been an aunt before, but I like it.
His mom, Kati, is teaching me the local dances so I can dance in the big town fiesta in February. We’re going to put together a costume for me, but here I am in hers.
Nico helped teach me to dance, too. He’s already danced (in costume) in the fiesta and has very definite ideas about how it’s done.
A few days after Christmas, our friend Chasqui took us along to a friend’s house, and we got to participate in a traditional ceremony for a child’s first haircut.
For New Year’s Eve, we went to Huancayo. (Yes, we had advance permission from Diego to leave our site.) First we went to the mall. Before I came to Peru, I never thought I’d be one of those Peace Corps volunteers who would snatch at any opportunity to eat American food. I was wrong. Here I am, blissfully enjoying Pizza Hut pizza at the mall. Scoff if you like, but next time it’s KFC.
And this is a billboard in the mall. This is just weird. Who would want a car that makes them into a sheep? I guess there are just some things about Peruvian culture that I don’t understand.
Then we met up with my sister Kati and her husband Roberto and took a stroll to look at holiday lights.
Back at the home of Roberto’s parents, we took a precautionary rest, then got up to watch the midnight fireworks. After that, we all sat down to a meal of baked turkey in garlic sauce, potatoes, rice, applesauce and baked pineapple, followed by a nut drink that is my new favorite Peruvian food.
After that, we went to the disco with the younger family members. I was the only person there over 30, but I had lots of fun dancing the night away. We left at 5:30 in the morning.
On New Year's Day, I dragged myself back to Marco and went to bed. Then today (January 2) I did laundry. It was sunny, a miracle! I wrote a report and some blog posts, ready at any moment to run out and take down my laundry when the rain came. But it did not rain on my laundry! If you've live in the Andes during rainy season, you understand how amazing that is. The sun at this altitude (above 11,000 feet) is very strong, so things dry fast when it's sunny. I put my DRY laundry away and headed to the New Year's fiesta in the plaza. Today is day 2 of 3.
Each neighborhood dresses up in its unique costume for the New Year's dance, which seems to have a sheep theme. (Maybe this explains the billboard in the mall.) I'm pretty sure some of these young people will soon be my students in summer school.
There was a parade around the plaza to bring the Virgin Mary from each barrio's chapel to the plaza.
The baby Jesuses arrived, too.
Each virgin is set up in a temporary chapel in the plaza. Then the kids run around 'capturing' people. I was a popular choice and quickly was brought to each of the 7 Virgin Marys. I had to surrender a coin, then was crowned
and given a beverage (depending on the neighborhood, this was wine, beer or chicha, a kind of corn liquor) and some stalks of ichu grass.
People were getting pretty hammered, and after shaking off a few drunks, I decided to head home. I can hear the music from here, half a mile away.
It's inevitable that I've missed home during the holidays. But overall, it's been a good time for me. Poco a poco, I'm finding a place here.