The Northern Coast

The Northern Coast
The Northern Coast--photo by Zack Thieman

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Very Peruano Christmas

After posting photos of Christmas past, I decided it would be good for everyone to see my Christmas present. Here´s what my site looks like right now, as well as a few photos from a chocolotada I attended. You might need to click on some of the photos to see them closer up (especially the ones of the plaza).

¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año!

Christmas carol competition. Watch yourself--these girls are 14.

Constructing our Christmas tree. First time in my life I´ve had a fake tree for Christmas.
Maricielo is not happy I´m taking a picture because she doesn´t have makeup on.


I was trying to get Luana to put the star on top of the tree--she just wanted to play with the ornaments

She loves her Tia Amandita---sometimes.

I´m the only person who tosses her around like a sack of potatoes. She´s gotten so used to it  that you can see in this picture she´s more concentrated on the ornament in front of her than the fact that she´s upside down hanging over a concrete floor. 

And now she begins taking off all the ornaments we put on

The security guards at the municipalidad.
They were super excited to have their  picture taken for people in the U.S. to see.

The plaza with all the decorated trees (and the massive fake pine tree). 

Christmas wrapped

The central nativity scene

My host family helped put this together--it´s advertising the private school
my host uncle is the director of.

My friend Jimmy decorating the dance group´s tree.

At a chocolotada--this kid is so excited for hot chocolate and presents he looks frightened.

My friend Lorena  put on this particular chocolotada. She likes to call me ¨cuñada¨ which means ¨sister-in-law¨ because after seeing pictures of the fam, she has decided she wants to marry my brother Sean.

Santa, apparently eating the mic

Dancing with the kids

Handing out one present to each child.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

In Peru, the month of December is dedicated to one thing and one thing only—Christmas. Classes in the schools are winding down for summer vacation and getting kids and teachers alike to focus--or even just show up-- is damn near impossible, but all are available for practicing villencicos (Christmas carols). The municipalidad is almost as impossible to organize anything with. They are too busy decking the halls with boughs of fake holly and organizing chocolotadas, which are hot chocolate parties that include paneton (fruit cake that people actually like) and toys for small children.

The entire plaza is decorated for Christmas. The trees (none of which are actual pine trees) are wrapped in colorful paper and have fake presents hanging from the limbs.  Different groups and organizations in town are in charge of decorating a tree to be entered in a town-wide competition. Nativity scenes are set up on every corner with all different materials. The dance group is practicing a new booty-shaking number to a Latino-fied version of Jingle Bells (which actually doesn’t say a thing about jingle bells, or sleigh rides, but baby Jesus). You won’t find much of Santa though, or Papa Noel as they call him. Half of the Peruvians I’ve met don’t even realize he is actually San Nicolas, they just see him as a character on Coke advertisements. They don’t believe in Santa.

Christmas appears to be everywhere, but it doesn’t feel like it. At first I was actually confused and mad when hearing Christmas music, thinking, “What the hell are they playing Christmas music for? It’s the middle of….Oh yeah. December.” We’re nearing the summer solstice in South America, and everyday I look in my closet strategizing how I can wear even less clothes than the day before without being inappropriate. After walking around for the morning attempting to get someone—anyone— to try and work with me on organizing activities for the summer, I retreat to my house where I strip down to shorts and a tank top, lay on my yoga mat on the concrete floor and blast the fan. I am constantly sweating, always greasy and slightly uncomfortable. Strangely, it never gets higher than 85º F, but the suns intensity adds a new level of heat that can only be described by saying, “Quema el sol,” which is basically just saying, “the sun burns.” And that it does.

So it’s hard to believe when I look at the calendar we are about a week away from a holly jolly Christmas, a time when hot chocolate is actually comforting to drink because of the cold, when everyone is bundled up, treats and baked goods are everywhere, and egg nog and rum never run out at my house.

This is going to be my first Christmas away from home, and no one in my community overlooks that. I am constantly asked about Christmas back home, about how hard it must be to miss Christmas with my family, about how cool they think it is that I’ll be here spending Christmas with them.

Also, I’m getting quite the Christmas present--my boyfriend is coming here on Christmas Eve. In our four years together, we’ve never been together on Christmas. This will be both of our first Christmas away from home, and our first time spending it together.

But, to be honest, the Christmas feeling still hasn’t been sinking in. I’ve been more excited to see Justin than for the thought of Christmas.  It just so happens that a visit from my boyfriend lands on Christmas, but the very day of Christmas hasn’t had much excitement or feeling in it. Saying the word Christmas has no more meaning to it than saying “Sunday.” All I hear is people talking about Navidad. Navidad this, Navidad that, and it just doesn’t feel like it. In fact, it’s starting to feel more like something that’s getting in the way of accomplishing anything than a festivity. I guess you can say I’m pretty bah humbug these days. So since I’m having a hard time latching onto the Christmas feeling, it hasn’t hurt to think about the fact that I’m spending it here.

Then I somehow ended up looking through all of my old pictures on my computer and came across last Christmas. Because I knew it would be my last Christmas at home for a few years, I took a lot of pictures around my parent’s house in Idaho where I grew up. I relished in the cold, walked with our dog Brandy, pet our horse Pookie. I took pictures of my cat Clarissa knowing I may not see her when I got back (she died last month). And it wasn’t until I looked at these pictures, pictures I took so that at times like these I could remember my roots and the importance of family and tradition, remember the crunch of snow under my feet and the dry cold air that bites at my nose and cheeks--pictures of what Christmas is supposed to look like-- that it finally hit me; it's almost Christmas, and I’m 1,000’s of miles away from home.

And in an instant I went from indifferent to feeling incredibly homesick.

I was wondering when this was going to happen. When it would finally hit me that for the first time in my 25 years on this earth, I am spending the most nostalgic, emotion-laden holiday away from home.

Part of it feels both silly and completely understandable at the same time. Silly because I know people spend Christmas away from family all the time. Understandable that I would suddenly feel incredibly homesick and wishing I was home because it’s Christmas for goodness sake! It is one of the few things that hasn’t become completely jaded and lost it’s meaning. It doesn’t matter if I don’t believe in Santa anymore or if I’m not losing sleep over the excitement of it all—it’s still about family, togetherness, goodwill towards all men/ women/children. It’s about silly traditions like kissing under the mistletoe, secret Santa parties, hanging a stocking to be filled by Santa, sledding, listening to Christmas music, and watching every Christmas movie ever made. It’s about the Nutcracker ballet, elementary school Christmas concerts, ugly sweaters, hayrides, caroling, and eating the head off gingerbread men.

I know Christmas has taken a bit of an ugly turn with consumerism (one aspect of Peruvian Christmas that is pretty nice—presents are only for children) and part of the holiday spirit is destroyed with harrowing experiences buying the “perfect present” or just any present, but it still holds an important place in my heart. Important enough that in four years of dating, neither my boyfriend nor I were willing to give up our Christmas with our family to spend it together. Important enough that I have this magnetic pull in my body that says, “Go home!” as the calendar counts down the days to the 25th.

And this Christmas is no different. I may be on another continent, in another hemisphere, 1,000’s of miles away, but my heart is still home with my family.

So while all the Christmas music I’m hearing down here in Peru is in Spanish, and Feliz Navidad doesn’t have an English chorus, I’ve been singing a couple of my own little tunes in my head. Lately, the seems to be the only one I can think of;

“I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me.
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

2006-- The last Christmas the whole fam came together. Love how we all look like a bunch of kids opening our presents

My niece when she was a little tyke, getting a pull from nana

Big brother

Snow people

The house I grew up in--winter wonderland

Dad, niece, and sister-in-law after the infamous "red mitten" incident

Making proper stockings

2010--Taking a walk on the road to my parent's house


Backyard/the river

Saint Francis, doing his thing.