Over the next two years, I will be writing occasional columns for The Fond du Lac Reporter, my hometown newspaper. The following, originally titled “Volunteer Impressed By Generosity Of Peruvians,” is the second such piece. The first, “A Journey To ‘Connect The Dots Down The Road,'” can be found on the previous post. My thanks to Mike Mentzer, The Reporter’s managing editor, for his help on this project.
I have been living in Peru for just over two months, and almost every week since arriving, I have witnessed some kind of parade or festival.
Whether marking the Immaculate Conception or the end of the school year, the Peruvians I have met like to take any and every opportunity to celebrate.
These festivities generally entail large numbers of people dressing in costumes that vaguely resemble animals, dancing in a circle for three or four hours and occasionally taking breaks to eat chicken-based dishes and drink.
This early February party was for Dìa De Compadres, a Peruvian celebration honoring godfathers. For the sake of cultural comparison, I was curious to hear how people planned to observe this holiday.
Some of the children who attend the English classes I teach excitedly told me their goals included throwing water balloons at each other and, as luck would have it, at me. I was unsure what a water balloon fight had to do with paying tribute to godfathers, but I decided I would visit the main plaza in Andahuaylillas, the town where I am living, anyway.
Unfortunately, I showed up shortly after the parade had passed through. The kids seemed slightly disappointed not to have had me for target practice, but they directed me to a nearby house where the fun was supposedly set to continue.
Accompanied by some American and German volunteers, I found the house and was ushered inside by people I did not know. With two-open air patios and a long, dining room table inside, the home was larger and more equipped to host a party than most of the other houses in Andahuaylillas. My fellow volunteers and I found some open seats and waited for something to happen.
“Something” ended up being another man I did not know handing everyone their very own plate, each nearly overflowing with cookies and bread.
It seemed too good to be true, and as I looked around the room and saw burning candles and several large crucifixes that had been part of the festival, I began to wonder if I had died and gone to Heaven.
When bottles of beer and plates of corn, tamales and an unfamiliar but delicious slice of meat followed, I was fairly certain I was dead.
Reasoning that it would be rude not to enjoy the afterlife, I ate as much as I could and began to make friends with some of the Peruvians attending the party.
For the next five hours, all that was asked of me was to graciously accept whatever my hosts brought me and occasionally get up to dance to the live music playing in one of the other rooms.
At one point, a middle-aged woman intercepted me on my way to the bathroom and adopted me as her dance partner. At another, a new friend named Oscar pinned his Dìa De Compadres ribbon to my chest as a gift.
When I think about the birthday parties and holidays I am used to celebrating in the U.S., all of this sounds very strange. If a crowd of strangers showed up at my house in Fond du Lac expecting fresh food and a good time, I would probably close the door on them.
In Peru, however, these festivities are par for the course. As I said, Peruvians love a cause for throwing a party. Despite the great variety in their reasons for merrymaking, the common denominator is that they always involve celebrating each other and their collective membership in their community.
The fact that people I do not know would gladly open their doors to the town at large and me, a foreigner who has yet to contribute anything of real substance to their community, says a great deal about the generosity of the culture I find myself in.
I hope I can learn to be as benevolent in return. Of course, I also hope to continue my adventures in the afterlife.
This column can also be read on The Reporter’s Web site by following this link: http://www.fdlreporter.com/article/20120226/FON0603/202260374/Commentary-Volunteer-impressed-by-generosity-Peruvians?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|p