My Third Peruvian Birthday

At the beginning of June, I celebrated my 3rd birthday since I’ve been to Perú and I am now a quarter of a century old. I’ve never been one to make a huge deal for my birthday, and so my previous two birthdays here in Perú were rather tranquilo. This past birthday was no different, just a little more strange.

I find it awkward to tell people when my birthday is, and so as I woke up on the anniversary of my birth, I just treated it as any other day. I got up, got dressed, and went in to have breakfast with my host-family. As I was leaving the kitchen and letting them know what I was doing for the day, something clicked for them and they remembered it was my birthday. I promptly received several “Peruvian hugs” which as my fellow Volunteers know consists of a half “hug”/half pat on the back, and was told to be sure to return for lunch.

And so, I continued the day as normal and went to the Municipality to prepare for my event with the UGEL. In honor of International Day of the Environment, we were hosting a training for student councils from several schools about environmental management and creating/implementing environmental plans. I gave the first presentation, talking to the attendees about the human impact on the environment, on the consequences of poor trash management, and what student councils could do in their schools to be more environmentally-friendly. We also did a practical activity where each group was presented an environmental problem that they needed to solve with a creative solution.

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Students presenting about their ideas
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More students presenting from another town

In between my presentation and the next, we had some time to kill so we decided to do a stretching IceBreaker. When we still had more time to kill, I jokingly suggested to my socia that everyone could sing me happy birthday since it was, after all, my birthday. Well, what I intended as a joke turned into a full blown chorus of the Peruvian Happy Birthday song which starts in English, switches to a verse in Spanish, and then finishes in Spanish with a verse about cutting the cake and giving hugs. It was nice, but also kind of awkward, and then only became more awkward when one of the students asked his professor to ask me if they could give me hugs. I acquiesced, and for about 5 minutes I was trapped in a never ending hug train from all of the students in attendance, all of whom were far smaller than me. Let it be known, that of the 40+ students that ended up hugging me & wishing me a happy birthday, I only actually knew one. I really wish someone had documented the experience. The event ended with all of the participants writing their compromiso con el medio ambiente (environmental promise) on a cut-out leaf and taping it to a tree banner.

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After the conclusion of the event, which ended up going really well,  I arrived late to my house where I enjoyed a special meal of Lomo Saltado, one of my favorite Peruvian dishes, that my host-mom had kindly prepared for me.

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Lomo Saltado

After lunch, I received a phone call from one of my socios asking if I was coming into the municipality in the afternoon. I told him I wasn’t planning to, but could, and would be in as soon as possible.

After catching a moto and taking my 1 sole trip to Caraz, I walked down to my office and was greeted by the secretary of my office saying that she was angry with me. I was confused, and asked why, and she said I knew why. Eventually, I got her to admit she was upset that I hadn’t told them it was my birthday. And thus began the “apology” and subsequent explanation that I find it awkward to tell people about my birthday.

Regardless, feelings were quickly mended and they organized a dinner at a Pollería (chicken place) for later in the evening to celebrate. Around 6pm, I show up to the pollería and poco a poco my socios started to arrive. We ended up spending about 1.5 hours eating pollo a la brasa and just talking, and it ended up being a nice night; words were spoken, a gift was given, and then we all went our separate ways for the evening.

When I got home I opened up my gift, which turned out to be a ceramic statue of a bearded Captain standing on a boat with a cigar in his mouth, along with a can of Cusqueña beer. So far, I’m 3 for 3 in receiving strange ceramic statues for my birthday. I guess gringos are hard to shop for jaja. I’ll have to take a photo of my growing statue collection and put it in a future post.

At the end of the evening, I remembered that my parents had brought me a card from my sister, with a note saying, Do not open until your birthday. The card was well worth the wait.

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My very own T.A.R.D.I.S.

The best part of the card were three quotes from various incarnations of The Doctor that, at least for me, ring quite true for me and my Peace Corps service.

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I think fellow PCVs can relate.

So all in all, my birthday was unusual, and nothing like any birthday I have had in the U.S. And, since I am extending one more year, I still have one more Peruvian birthday to go before I finish up my Peace Corps service.

Until next time,

MGB

 

 

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Martes de Música: Marisol

On today’s Martes de Música, we visit a powerhouse cumbia voice belonging to the one, the only, Marisol. It is quite simple to recognize a Marisol song, one because she screams her name, but also because she has a very distinctive, powerful voice, that you can’t help but take notice of.

Marisol is quite popular, and regularly travels across the country belting out cumbia, and the occasional Huayno classic. In fact, at the beginning of June she was hired by Caraz’s largest school, Micelino Sandoval Torres, to perform during their anniversary celebration.

On a side note, anniversaries are very important here in Perú. While in the States, we usually only seem to celebrate the “important” anniversary years such as the ones ending in 0s and 5s (25th, 30th, 50th, etc.), in Perú, anniversaries are celebrated EVERY year. And anniversary celebrations are not a 1 day affair, oh no. Anniversary celebrations, especially for schools, tend to consist of a week long schedule of activities including sports tournaments, food fairs, several parades, masses and religious ceremonies, nice lunches, and of course, a final, big, all-out party (if they can afford it). While anniversaries are extremely fun, they do tend to disrupt classes, which isn’t so fun. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to witness and participate in several anniversary events here in Perú, and I can imagine I will be witness to several more before my service comes to an end a year from now.

Given the fact that I am a big cumbia fan and also work on environmental issues in the school, I of course attended the concert, which happened to be the day before my birthday. She blew the roof off the place, and even wished me a happy birthday thanks to the sneaky intervention of my friends. Well, I guess she didn’t exactly wish me a happy birthday since she said, “Felíz Cumpleaños al gringo que tiene un corazón caracino” (Happy Birthday to the gringo with a Caraz heart). Either way, it goes without saying that Marisol and her orquesta gave me a good start to my birthday.

Today’s song is essentially a break-up song. In it, Marisol sings about how she misses her love, how even seeing a photo of them together makes her cry, how listening to their songs pushes her to drinking; she wants to move on, but her heart won’t let her forget. If you can’t tell, it is a tad melodramatic, but such is the story of many Cumbia songs here in Perú.

So without further ado, here is Marisol singing Gitana, for your listening pleasure.

Hope you enjoyed the music and be sure to look out for 2 more posts this week since I missed out on my Foto Friday from the last.

Until next time,

MGB

Foto Friday

So this is the second of the weekly themes that I am now incorporating into my blog, the other having been Martes de Música.

On Foto Fridays, I will post a photo I’ve taken here in Perú, along with a brief explanation of the story behind the photo, or its significance.

For the first installment, we have a photo of my host-brother during his 5th birthday this past February.

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So right off the bat, I’m sure you notice that his face is covered with icing, and in my opinion giving him the appearance of a cat or a raccoon. Now maybe you are thinking the explanation for his icing-face is that he is a little kid and just couldn’t wait to try some of that sweet, sweet cake. However, you would be mistaken with that line of thinking.

In Perú, there is the widespread tradition of the birthday boy or girl taking a bite out of their cake. However, what usually happens is they go in for the bite, and someone else either pushes the cake into their face, or their face into the cake. I’ve personally witnessed this happen at least 5 different times, and have no doubt that when my birthday rolls around next month, I will meet the same fate as my host-brother.

Again, this is another tradition that I think we should adopt back in the US. What could be better to liven up a birthday party than a face full of cake?

Let me know if you try it out at your next relative’s cumpleaños.

MGB