I have mentioned before that parties and celebrations are a huge part of the culture here in Peru. People throw parties here for everything from baptisms to birthdays. And its not just a little get together with close family and friends, no these people will put their entire savings into one party. For example, my host family just threw a huge wedding for my sister, and are basically broke from it. Not to worry... They are already planning on the next party, my host brothers 18th birthday in December.
Now, I will say that not every family is as social as mine, but I do know that people are throwing enough parties that I have been to more of them here in Peru in these last 7 months than I have been to in my entire life. The part that always makes me chuckle is that each party, no matter what the occasion, follows the same general format. First is the ceremony (it could be a baptism, wedding, etc...), which nobody attends. Then there is the after party, usually at someones house (if big enough) or at a local of some sort. The partying cannot begin until a series of awkward speeches, dances, and photos are taken. Usually the god parents of the guest of honor will make a toast, and proceed to dance with each other. The entire time all of this is narrated by a peruvian man, we can call him the "M.C." however I'm sure his version of m.c.-ing wouldn't be allowed anywhere in the U.S. He will talk at every moment of the series of speeches and dances. He will be the only person at all animated about the events, and he will play puppet-master with the guests until this charade finally ends. At which point people let down their guard, do away with any good manners they were previously fronting and begin drinking the memories of those awkward moments away.
I generally get through all of this by laughing my ass off at the ridiculousness of it all. Most Peruvians are generally shy and poor public-speakers, so why they put themselves through all of this is a mystery to me. Nonetheless when an invitation is handed my way to attend such an event, I always go. After all, I told myself I would be a "yes" person for my two years in Peru.
This is the point in the night when I really start to have fun because, well as I have said before, everyone in Peru dances. Everyone. So needless to say, I find myself on the dance floor for almost every song that plays. I mean, men here know how to dance! Well, in general... It's just nice to be in a culture where if you DON'T dance you're weird...
OK what's next? People buy large boxes of beer, we call it the "caja" (pronounced Kaha). This caja is filled with 12 40oz. bottles of gross Peruvian beer. A group of selected individuals will stand around this caja in a circle dancing and drinking. Some will even sit around their caja, whatever the case may be everyone is drinking and those who don't want to drink must pretend that they are drinking anyways. You pass around a bottle with a cup and everyone drinks from the same glass. When the bottle gets to you you must pour anywhere from a little drop to half-way into the glass and drink it as fast as you can. CHUG. But wait, before you drink you must pass the bottle onto the next person, BEFORE you drink. This is essential, because by passing the bottle on to the next person before you drink you are saluding them, or toasting to them. If you don't toast to anyone before you drink, you must drink again or the bottle won't move on. This process goes to show how important customs and rituals are in this society. Everyone does everything a certain way, and they never break away from the norm. Here I am with the wedding cow, head and tail!
I was recently asked to be the bridesmaid at my host cousins wedding. ¨Yes¨ I said when my cousin asked me 1 week before the wedding. What would this entail? Well no matter how many times I asked what I would need to do they would always tell me, "nothing, just learn a dance is all... oh and rent an ugly dress... and shoes... also chip in 15 soles for ´la hora loca´... Then come and take pictures at our civil ceremony... and then be at the brides side the entire night... oh and then you can´t leave the party until the party is over... but nothing really." OK, so they didn´t tell me all of this at once, it all came over the course of the week. I should have known better though, Peruvians never give the whole truth. However, after all is said and done, I am happy that I can say I was part of a Peruvian wedding. Here I am in my frilly Barney colored dress...
Then just last weekend I was asked to be a stand in Madrina (God-mother) at a Quinciñera. This is the biggest birthday in a girls life, it marks her 15th birthday and is when she officially becomes a woman. So how else to celebrate a girls transfer to womanhood? Thats right, you guessed it! Awkward series of dances and speeches, for all of which I played a starring role :) yay. So I know nothing about this girl and now I have to stand up and congradulate her and thank her parents, and act like I am so excited for this party she has thrown. One perk however, is that I was the recipient of a fat pigs thigh! We fed on that pigs thigh in my house for days... The whole time I was at this Quinceñera the M.C. was yelling out my name and getting them to shine the light on me, mostly because I was the gringa playing the madrina and actually, I think I ended up stealing the show. woops... Anywho, I kept thinking to myself the whole time how silly it was that all the close family and friends of this girl were here to watch the series of awkward events and I was the one taking part in them. And I probably knew here the least. To me it seemed much more logical and less awkward to just opt out of the Madrina for this celebration. Well by the end it was clear to me why I needed to play stand in Madrina. You see, I was standing in for my host sister who is the real madrina. If my family didn´t have me stand in, they wouldn´t have been able to receive all the goodies that came along with playing Madrina at a celebration such as this. By 1:30am when the party was just getting going my host mom made a quick exit towards the door and on the way told me to come outside. I followed along, not sure what was happening... We were dipping out! I know it doesn´t seem like that big of a deal but all of a sudden it all made sense to me. You don´t leave a party that early here in Peru, and you certainly don´t leave that early when you are the Madrina. Well, my folks were plenty tired and had gotten what they came for; Their fat pigs thigh, a whole cake, and a large baking pan full of Carapulcra (what we ate for dinner). We were off, in the car before anyone noticed.
Was I used? Yes.
Did I feel used? Yes.
Did I care? Honestly, no.
I was plenty ready to leave and felt I deserved the cake, pigs thigh, and pan of carapulcra for all the awkward moments and stares I endured that night.
Well these are just a couple of my party stories, I am sure more will come. For now you can see just what my social life in Peru has become. Or should I say, lack-there-of...
Posing for a picture at my cousins wedding, here I am standing with the groom and the other groomsmen and bridesmaid.