Knock Knock Knocking

November 7, 2007 at 2:22 pm | Posted in dancing, death, family, food, party, religion | 1 Comment

Last week my host Mom asked me if I was interested in going to a mass with her on a Friday morning. I accepted the invitation a) because I rarely turn down invitations here as I’m still getting to know my way around and b) my family rarely (if ever?) goes to church so I figured it was an important and potentially interesting occasion.

It turns out we were celebrating the birthday of my host Dad’s mother who had passed away a few years ago. The mass was about 45 minutes long, and everyone was relatively somber. As we left the church around 10am I started heading home and my HM (host mom) pulled me the other way and said we had to go to the house and pay our respects. I stepped inside the house and the living room was set up the same way as it would be for a party; chairs lined up against the wall circling the room. Uh oh. We take a seat and sure enough five minutes later everyone has a plate of fried yuca and pork in their hands. Did I mention it was 10:15? Fair enough. Next thing I know a bottle of Yonque (I’m not sure on the spelling nor exactly what type of liquor it is – but it tastes like whiskey) is heading my way. Whenever I’m at a party I try to situate myself between two timid, quiet, keep-to-youself kind of people because they are less likely to pour you a heaping glass of name-that-alcohol despite your most determined protests.

I’ve already explained Peruvian boozing style but if you missed it, one bottle and one glass is passed around, men pour for themselves, and usually will pour for the women sitting next to them. Sometimes I am able to get the bottle and pour my own drink instead of having someone pour it for me. My little trick is to pour 2-3 drops of whatever is being passed around and then pretend like I’m taking a big gulp, so it seems like I’m drinking more than I really am. So I usually end up drinking a lot of backwash and little booze – but I actually prefer that to the alternative (getting drunk in the middle of the day). You cannot say no. You just can’t. So my solution is to make-believe.

Anyhoo, I was okay with the Yonque because it apparently dissolves all the fat and grease you just consumed so you don’t gain weight (so they say). But the Yonque was followed by a bottle of wine, and then more Yonque, and then actual whiskey, and then beer after beer after beer. People started dancing which is always awkward for me because no matter if I dance well or poorly, everyone is watching the gringa. At the beginning of the festivities there was a speech in remembrance of the woman who had passed away, but otherwise it was a generally happy occasion. Celebrating the birthday of a dead person in and of itself was weird and new for me; the fact that it was such a jovial day really turned me on my head.

Earlier this week we celebrated the day of the dead here in Peru. I headed out to the cemetery around 8pm with my HB (host brother). My HS was already there. It was PACKED, and to get there you walk through all these tents that were set up outside selling food and booze and playing music and games. Wacky. We get inside and HB starts praying at the grave of his abuela (my late HGM). HS turns to him and says ‘what are you doing’; he was praying at the wrong grave. I thought that was hilarious. So, once again, a day to celebrate the dead was something new for me…and WHAT a celebration it was.

If nothing else, I suppose having music, drinking, and dancing as distractions can ameliorate the sadness one can feel on such occasions. At first, both at the party and at the cemetery, I was really taken aback by this approach; it almost seemed synthetic in a sense. I’ve thought about it a lot though, and I’m not so sure. Maybe it is not a distraction, but instead a much-needed reminder of (hallmark alert) the good things and good feelings there are to live for, and exactly why death is such a momentous occasion. It certainly beats sitting around alone and crying and feeling depressed. Maybe a person needs both to mentally and emotionally take in the events surrounding the death of a loved one.


Yom Kippur: Part Uno

September 24, 2007 at 5:25 pm | Posted in espanol, religion | Leave a comment

Last Thursday I left Tucume for a trip that a big part of me did not want to take. It was nice to be settled into site, to fully unpack, and to be sleeping in the same bed every night. I had been traveling a lot the last few weeks of training and finally had made the big physical (and emotional) move to my permanent site. Nevertheless, I had an invitation to spend yom Kippur in Lima and it was something I did not want to pass up. In all honesty, I was most excited to celebrate a holiday that is so familiar in a place that is so new and different. In other words, I unfortunately cannot credit my deep spirituality for the undertaking of this trip. I was excited, as well, to have the opportunity to observe Yom Kippur because it is such an important day for us chosen people.

I enjoyed both services, and I think the trip was well worth it. The service was really similar, surprisingly similar to the ones back at good ole’ Rodef Shalom, but with a little more Hebrew because this was a conservative temple. The deal with jews in Peru is that there are a few orthodox temples in Lima and one conservative temple. Otherwise, ain’t much doin. The service was long, about half in Spanish and half in Hebrew. The rabbi would go back and forth between Spanish and Hebrew and only a few words into the Spanish portion would my brain register the switch. It was a jumble of foreign-ness but I could understand half the jumble (the Spanish), whereas the other half were words I recognized and had been hearing for the last 25 years, but they continue to be words that I don’t understand (Hebrew). It was truly an odd but enjoyable experience. Perhaps most noteworthy was a song I used to sing in Hebrew school at the conservative temple we went to back in MD in the 3rd grade. We then moved to VA and to a reform temple and 17 years later the song pops up in a conservative temple in Peru and I still remembered the tune and the words! It was like hearing your favorite hit from 1990 that has all but disappeared from the radio waves. It is hard to explain how and why that was so cool for me, but you get the idea.

I had a relatively easy fast and bought Harry Potter movies 3,4,5 for 10 soles ($3) during the day which is perhaps not the kosher thing to be doing on YK, but all in all I think I did good for a jew in Peru on the holiest of days.

Half Birthday

September 10, 2007 at 8:02 pm | Posted in party, Peru, pictures, religion, tourism, travel | 2 Comments

There are two things I remember doing when I was little that seem really silly now (okay there are a lot of things, but I’m going to mention two): one is the way I used to say my age to the quarter of a year; I’m four and three quarters, or five and a quarter. Why do little kids do that? I guess it is because every month counts when you’ve only put a handful behind you. The other is I remember talking with friends about half-birthdays, and mine rolls around in December. I don’t know when these lost their significance, but they definitely were important for a couple of years there.

Do I have a point? Yes (not really). This weekend Tucume celebrated what would be equivalent to its half-birthday. Carlos the fifth from Spain sent a representation of the Virgin Mary to Tucume as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the indigenous tribes for raping the people of their land and livelihoods. In any case, the Virgin arrived in February, so every year there is a HUGE celebration here in February, basically for the entire month, with lots of games and dancing and drinking and dancing and drinking. NOTE: If you are thinking of coming to visit, and want to visit Lambayeque and my site (as opposed to the typical trip to Machu Picchu), February would be a really cool time to be here. Anyways, we recently celebrated the half year anniversary with, you guessed it, drinking and dancing. What was lacking this time were the hordes of people that apparently show up for the big fiesta in February. I put up some pictures of the daytime and nighttime processions for you to check out.

Something I hope to keep with me always is the Peruvian ability, no matter the time of year, to find a reason to fiesta. When I first heard that there was a week long (as opposed to month-long) party to celebrate the *half* year of a particular event, it brought me back to those kindergarten conversations about half-birthdays and I chuckled at the thought. I’m digging it though, and I can’t wait for the next fiesta. My salsa improves with every baile.

How JEW doin?

July 27, 2007 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Peace Corps, religion | 1 Comment

The other day we had a diversity panel at the center where volunteers from different races, religions, and sexual orientations came to speak about troubles they’ve had in Peru. Racism definitely exists here, but most people I’ve met are pretty open minded, this is subject to change as I move further from the urban areas. The catch is that sometimes people will say things or use diminutives that would be found really offensive in the U.S. that are a regular part of life here. As far as tolerance of homosexuality goes, I think this country is about 20-30 years behind the U.S. Maybe more, but I’m coming from the epicenter of the gay community in DC (holla Dupont), so my perspective on what is ‘normal’ in the U.S. might be a little skewed. Nevertheless, it is sad sometimes when people talk about homosexuality and they use some pretty ugly words. I’ve spoken out against this a few times but you have to pick your battles, the last thing I want to do is alienate myself from my friends and colleagues. Adjusting attitudes about race or sexual orientation is a good example of a time when I want to make a big change using a big statement, and I’m quickly learning that this is an unrealistically high expectation. At the end of the two years if I can teach a few children to be more tolerant of others, I’ll have to consider that a success.

Religion: I think almost everyone here is catholic, the number 90% keeps popping into my head, but I could be making that up. Unclear. In any case, I’m not an extremely religious person, but I’m proud of my past and of my family and our traditions and my judaism is not something I wanted to leave behind in the states. On the other hand, I was a bit worried about it coming here because it is something that distinguishes me from nearly the rest of the population in Peru. There are no other jews in my training group, so this is something I hadn’t really thought or talked about since arriving here. One of the girls on the diversity panel was jewish and she spoke a bit about being jewish in Peru and what that has meant for her. She has not run into any serious troubles or issues, and some of her stories were actually amusing. It sounds like people equate any odd activity or behavior with her being jewish. For example, she was walking through town with some kids one day and they all jumped over a puddle in the road, she stepped around it and continued walking and then all the kids deduced that she was not able to jump because she was jewish. She quickly righted this assumption by going back and jumping over the puddle, and that was the end of the story, but I thought it was sort of funny. She also said that she and a couple of other volunteers go into Lima during the high holy days to attend services. This is something I’m hoping will happen again this year as the high holy days are right around the corner, and it would be nice to be able to celebrate. Also, I think it would be really cool to attend services in spanish, and to hear hebrew spoken in Peru.

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