I have now experienced my first birthday Peruvian-style, which involves a great number of hugs and dancing…
It began at 12 am on Sept. 20th, as I sat in the candle-lit living room with my host dad and mom listening to Simon and Garfunkel because the power had gone out for the third time in 12 hours. All of a sudden, my mother gets up and and rushes to give me a hug because it is 12 am, the official start to my birthday. My father, too, gives me a hug and wishes me “Feliz Cumple.” He is followed by my aunt.
The First Cake
Not knowing quite what do with myself in the morning, as I awoke to the power being out yet again, I decided to head over to the Special Ed. school to visit with the kids and possibly meet with the directora to plan for some possible work. While she had written down my birthday during a previous meeting, I figured that she had probably forgotten by now and we might be able to actually work…This, at first, seemed to be an accurate estimation; however, she paused mid-sentence during one of her long rambling speeches about the goings-on at the school and stated, “…Clarita! Feliz cumpleaños!” She then hugged me and instructed each of the students to do the same.
I was then led to the second, younger student, classroom where a party had been set up…for one of the students…yep, I became a party crasher at the start of my birthday…
As it turns out, the young student with West Syndrome (a very rare and interesting disorder–if bored, you should research it) share’s my birthday day and her mother (one of the few active parents at the school) had brought a lot of food to have a party with the other students. While I felt awkward at first being a party crasher of sorts and stealing the student’s thunder, their excitement and welcoming attitudes soon assuaged my discomfort. The party was great fun, lasted 2 hours, with a great deal of food passed around, lots of dancing, and of course hugs!
At the end of the festivities, a group of well-dressed, official-looking adults entered the classroom. It turns out that they were officials of Rotary Club in Piura (why Piura, I haven’t a clue as there is a chapter just 30 minutes away in Trujillo). They were very excited to meet me, actually had a clue of what Peace Corps was, and wanted me to join on their tour of the school. Apparently, the Rotary Club is largely responsible for supplying what few physical therapy supplies there are in the therapy room at the school. They were troubled by the news that the Alcalde wants to use the current school building for a hospital, excited for my involvement at the school, and eager to help out, especially if I am there to document their work to bring back to the States and show Rotary Club in there the work that they are doing in Peru. Call me an opportunist, but I think I just might use my Peace Corps/Gringa clout to help the school receive more assistance than normal! Maybe a car to use to carpool students to and from school??
The Second Cake
Setting the stage:
Last week I had my first meeting with the Promotoras de Salud at the health post. This occurred after no one had shown for the meeting the week before, and was even an hour late in starting this time (normal by Peruvian standards). It is a group of women from around Salaverry who meet weekly to learn about different health concerns so that they can then assist in educating their neighbors and friends–a method of knowledge dissemination, if you will. They are sweet ladies, and when they discovered that my birthday was to be the following Monday, they immediately decided that they needed to have an extra “meeting” on Monday at 3 pm.
Flash Forward to Monday, my Birthday:
Well, lunch at my house was late (per usual) and did not even get started until 2:45 pm, so I was in a crunch to make it to the health post on time, but decided to savor the lunch (Soltado with lots of veggies–just for me!–homemade wantons and homemade limeade) with my family and arrive a bit late as I figured the party would not start on time either (though the gringa in me was inwardly cringing at purposefully arriving late to a meeting).
I managed to arrive 20 minutes late–go me! No one was there. No surprise. One hour passes, and still no sight of a single promotora–lots of screaming, sick kids, though…Another hour passes. The nurse in charge of the promotoras takes pity on me and leads me to a room so that I don’t have to watch screaming babies anymore…No I get to sit awkwardly while a woman works on her computer and I wait for my birthday party. Let me tell you, there is not many more uncomfortably awkward feelings than purposefully waiting for your own birthday party to arrive, all the while wondering if it even will…I found myself weighing the decision to leave about every half hour. If it had been a regular meeting, I would have been long gone by the 2 hour mark; but this was for a party that they wanted to give to me–How bad would it look if I was not there when they finally showed?! Not really seeing any other alternative, I waited…
Finally, at around 6 pm, three of the promotoras arrived with a torta (cake) and gaseosa (soda). It was an awkward, but friendly little gathering with hugs and generous-sized slices of cake for all. They sang me happy birthday (both in English and Spanish) and I blew out the question mark-shaped candle (they could not recall my age, or possibly had failed to ask…) atop of my cake. All in all, it was a sweet gathering, though I believe that the candle atop of my cake was the best representation of the event…
It Takes the Cake
When I arrived home from my awkward little gathering with the promotoras, I discovered my mother and brothers busily decorating the house with balloons and streamers while my aunt was preparing mountains of food. And, even though I was a bit worn out from all my waiting for the promotoras, I couldn’t help but be excitedly curious at the scene unfolding in my house…I had no clue who was coming over, though I was certain that it was not going to be just a party with my family based on all the work going into it.
At around 8 pm members of the padre’s (priest) family started to trickle into our house. By 8:45 the padre himself had arrived–his birthday is actually the 21st, the day following mine–and we sat down to eat chicken sandwiches and drink coffee. Before we ate, my host dad made a toast to me with his own cocktail (pisco, sugar, strawberries and milk–surprisingly tasty). It was such a sweet speech, in which he pretty much stated that he was thankful to have me as a member of his family, and how appreciate who I am, my thoughts and attitude. I felt so wonderful in that moment. It was one of the fleetingly great moments that I experience occasionally here and reiterates my knowledge that I am indeed where I ought to be.
After dinner I was made to stand behind my cake for a photo op. I believe that we captured every combination of people imaginable during this time. They turned out the lights, lit the candles on my cake, and sang me happy birthday (English and Spanish versions). Then took a picture of me cutting the cake–it felt like a wedding without a groom…
We followed this up with a dance party. I was made to dance in the center of the group with each person individually for photo ops–so embarrassing! the dancing continued until 12 am on the 21st, at which time we surrounded the padre and sang happy birthday to him (English and Spanish). The padre then had his photo ops with the cake as well as the birthday song (both ways), the blowing out of candles and wishing of a wish. At this point the party came to an abrupt halt with the arrival of the car for those party-ers from Trujillo.
Overall, it was a very memorable day. While I had originally gotten homesick just thinking of spending my birthday so far from my family and friends in the States, I realize now that I am blessed to be able to spend it with new friends and “family” in Peru. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful host family who went out of their way to make it a special day for me. I also feel blessed to live in a country that is so generous and hospitable. No worries Mom and Dad, I am well loved and cared for here in Peru too!