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The One with All the Bonfires

Okay, so there were only two, but in the grand scheme of things, having two bonfires in one week is pretty impressive. The first bonfire was a welcome celebration for us after the first week was over. Earlier in the day we had hiked up to the eucalyptus forest and dragged trees back down to the town square, and it was these we burned after the sun went down (burning eucalyptus trees makes for a very good-smelling fire).

Then we got to wholly embarrass ourselves by playing some traditional Peruvian party games. The first was called Cat and Rat, and the object of the game was for the person playing the cat to catch the person being the mouse. Everyone stands in a circle and holds hands to represent the “house”. The rat is inside the house; the cat outside. Everyone in the circle tries to keep the cat away from the rat by ducking down every time the cat comes near, making it impossible for the cat to duck inside the “house”. Davina got to be the rat the first time we played, while I was the cat the second time (I swear my rat let me win. He’d have run circles around me all night). We taught them Duck Duck Goose in return, and ended the night with the interesting game Las Frutas. It’s basically tug-of-war between two fruit-themed teams, but instead of pulling on a rope, you’re pulling on each other. The two teams sit on the ground opposite one another, and the first person in each line grasp hands. The rest of the team on each side acts as anchors, wrapping their arms around the waist of the person in front of them. Then the two front people begin to pull, and the first person to pull the other one over to their side wins, the second person in line moves on, and the team with the most people left sitting at the end wins. We all ended up with sore wrists, sore egos, and more than one of us did a poor somersault into the opposing team (especially the smaller children; boy, did they fly through the air with a good yank).

The night ended with an exchange of riddles and jokes (neither of which translate very well from one language to another). The rest of the week progressed in equal work and entertainment. We weeded a cornfield (still have dirt under my nails from that one), taught English to some of the adults and kids who were interested, weeded a different field, planted beans, broke up dirt with pickaxes (Emma is not allowed to wield pickaxes anymore. She’s a danger to her own limbs), picked roses in a greenhouse, and took more kernels of corn off of the cob (is there a word for this action? Like you shuck corn when you take the outer leaves off. What’s it called when you pop the kernels off the cob?).

Interspersed with this, we got to see a dance competition between schools (I would like to apologize to all the parents who had to sit through our own dance recitals, plays, and chorus performances; we get it now). But in all seriousness, it was very cute and very fun to watch. The last thing we got to experience was Day of the Living and Day of the Dead. Day of the Living happens on November 1, and it’s a celebration of life and another year having passed by. The families spend the day cooking and preparing special food, everyone together in the kitchen working to cook food for the next day. In the evening, they set the food out on the table in preparation for the spirits arriving at midnight, when Day of the Dead begins.

Traditionally, teenagers sneak around after midnight and go from house to house eating the special food, so in the morning it looks like the spirits have come and eaten the food. For Day of the Dead, the families pack picnics and travel to their local cemetery to spend time with those who have died. It’s a way to remember them by eating food they liked, drinking drinks they liked, and telling stories about the deceased. It is one day when the entire country remembers the dead.

We ended up teaching them about burial traditions in the U.S. and the U.K. (the idea of cremation came as a bit of a shock). We also got to make Waa Waa, a special type of bread only made and eaten on November 2. It translates to Baby Bread. You shape the bread into a flat loaf, stick a ceramic baby head into the top, and then decorate the loaf like a baby blanket. I’m not sure any of us got why we were making and eating bread shaped like babies, but it was fun and tasted good!

Our week in Cuyo Chico ended with a farewell bonfire quite similar to the first. There were speeches (theirs in good Spanish, ours in well-rehearsed and memorized Spanish), games, and cake, and then there was the dancing. We didn’t so much volunteer for that one, but, as with everything else in this community, it turned out to be fun (plus India totally got to dance with a cute boy. We were all very proud moms about that). Leaving Cuyo Chico was a choked-up affair for everyone involved. Our host families gave us bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and a different ceramic gift for each of us. They played the flute, drum, and conch shells for us as we got onto the bus, and waved us out of sight down the road.

It was the best ending to volunteering in a community we could have possibly hoped for, and we wish them all the kindness and happiness they showed us during our short time with them.

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