La Fiesta de Bajada de Reyes

In Peru January 6th is el dia de la Bajada de Reyes. They say that this is the day when the three kings arrived to visit Jesus after he was born. In Peru we have celebrations for everything, so of course my town had a fiesta to celebrate the Bajada de Reyes. I wanted to share this particular fiesta with you all because it involved a lot of traditional dances. Peru is a very diverse place. It has the coast, mountains and the jungle and each area has a unique culture. Even within these three regions there is a lot of diversity and different cultures. Peru is split up into departments, within each department are provinces and within the provinces are districts. Each department, province and district has its own culture and traditions. The dances that were performed at my fiesta were all very different with different origins and histories and I think they show the beauty and rich diversity of Peru.

The first dance that was performed is called the Danza de los Pallos. This is a dance performed solely by men and it originated in a province about 2 hours from me called Santiago de Chuco . I really like the music they play for this dance. One guy plays the flute with one hand and a drum with the other. I can’t upload videos to my blog, but if you’re interested in seeing a short clip of the dance, follow this YouTube link: https://youtu.be/77moebUmRdo

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The next dance that was performed was a huayno. Huayno is a traditional dance of the sierra (mountains). At fiestas we dance almost as much huayno as we do cumbia. I love dancing cumbia, but I still have a hard time with huayno, it just doesn’t come naturally to me. The dance usually involves a combination of skipping and stomping, but there are many different kinds of huayno. The local kids performed a huayno that was different than the huayno we usually dance at fiestas and much different than most huayno’s I have seen. But, whenever the kids perform for the fiestas they usually do a simple huayno like this. YouTube link: https://youtu.be/kiVBKF31oA4

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After the huayno performance, another group of kids performed a Saia dance. Saia originated in Puno, a department in the south of Peru that borders Bolivia. This dance is very popular in Bolivia as well. My host nephew Germancito along with many other kids in town love dancing Saia.  Although it is a popular dance, I almost never hear Saia music being played just to listen to. At our fiesta there were two adorable little kids participating in the dance with the older kids, they were my favorite. YouTube links: https://youtu.be/aCg2qsmC7fw and https://youtu.be/ar6fgf8VP9Q

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The next dance performed is another one of my favorites. It is called marinera. To me marinera seems to have a lot of Spanish roots. The fancy foot movement reminds me of flamenco and the outfits seem to have more Spanish influence. I’m not exactly sure where in Peru marinera originated, but I know that my capital city Trujillo is known as the capital of marinera. It is a beautiful, elegant and fairly complicated dance. It was a pretty rainy and cold day on the day of our fiesta and for this dance the woman dances barefoot, so props to that chica her feet must have been freezing. YouTube link: https://youtu.be/3s-Id-Q2ius

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The last dance was done by four young local kids. I am not sure what the name of this dance is, but it seems like a dance that originated from the jungles of Peru. The kids were wearing feathers and clothing similar to the traditional clothing of native tribes of the jungle. The jungle is full of many different cultures each with a distinct language.  I haven’t had the chance to visit the jungle yet, so I don’t know much about it, so stay tuned for more information. YouTube link: https://youtu.be/hu09U2GRtVs

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Like I said Peru is a very diverse place, both culturally and geographically. Dancing is a major part of culture here in Peru. It isn’t a fiesta unless there is tons of music and dancing.  It was really cool that my fiesta had so many different traditional dances and I hope seeing them gave you a little taste of Peru.

 

So now for a funny story from the fiesta. We had a celebration after they finished decorating the plaza. It was basically a giant nativity scene. At the celebration they asked me to bring up one of the figurines for the nativity scene. I then learned that this meant I will be a madrina (direct translation- godmother) for the celebration next year. This really just means that I have to donate money and be a part of the ceremonies. At this fiesta de la Bajada de Reyes I found myself in a parade and I also had to take a figurine out of the nativity scene . Sounds easy enough right? Well it would’ve been, but as I was standing up there waiting in line for my figurine they said we would have to dance the figurine out of the plaza. I was hoping my Spanish was bad and I had heard wrong, but nope I had to dance huayno in front of the entire town. I was a bit out of my comfort zone to say the least. Although I don’t love having to dance in front of the entire town, Peru has made me absolutely love dancing in general. Some of my favorite memories here are dancing for hours at fiestas. The first time I met my host family they had a huge family reunion party and we literally danced for 7 hours straight. It was a blast.

I also just want to give you guys some general updates on my life in site since my last blog. We are currently in the middle of rainy season, so I have a lot less work to do.  It rains almost every afternoon and sometimes even all day. Seeing as a lot of my work is outside or involves hiking or biking far distances I’m pretty glad that I have a little less work to do. However, I still try and work in the small surrounding communities in the mornings. I am continuing to train JASS (the water committee) on proper operation and maintenance, so I spend a lot of time helping clean water systems. In January I started teaching summer school classes. I have one class of 5th and 6th graders and middle schoolers and a class of 1st to 4th graders. I teach English as well as stuff about water, sanitation, hygiene, recycling, and the environment. I love teaching and working with kids more than I had ever imagined. I don’t have a lot of pictures of my class yet, but hopefully in the next blog post I will. For now here is a view from my classroom.img_4323

I have also recently started working with a health post in one of the surrounding communities. We are starting to do house visits to improve the hygiene and sanitation within households. I also just wanted to add some more pictures of my beautiful surroundings. The rainy season brings in these crazy clouds in the afternoon and by the evening my town is completely covered in fog. On the sunny days that I am able to hike around I get some pretty cool pictures.

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The Beginning of a Beautiful Adventure

Hello world,

Sorry it has taken me so long to start this blog. I don’t have wifi where I live and I’ve been lacking either time or energy to actually write anything. But I’ll do my best to catch you all up on my past 8 months here in Peru. First of all, wow I can’t believe I have already been here 8 months, time has flown by it feels like I just left yesterday. So much has happened these past 8 months and I’m not even sure where to begin, but I’ll give it a shot.

I’m not gonna lie, leaving the US was much harder than I had imagined. The months leading up to my departure I was nothing but excited. Leaving for the Peace Corps was all that I could think and talk about. But the week before I left everything felt very real all of a sudden and although I was still excited I couldn’t help but to also feel sad and even a bit scared. The first few days after I left were a sleepless whirlwind filled with lots of traveling. We spent our first few days in Peru at a retreat getting to know each other and then we met our host families we would be living with during training. I was so sleep deprived by the time I met my host mom that it was extremely difficult to try and form sentences with the Spanish I could recall from high school. I had the coolest host mama in all of Chaclacayo, Senora Flora. It was just me and her and she was an amazing, independent and hilarious lady. There’s nothing too exciting to say about training, we just spent a lot of time practicing Spanish, learning about Peruvian culture and gaining some skills to start working on projects in our community. Then after three months, we went off to our assigned communities to begin working.

I had always heard that the first few months of Peace Corps are the most difficult and that is definitely true. On the bright side it was much less difficult than I had imagined, but still difficult nonetheless. I mean our lives changed drastically overnight and it was definitely hard to accept this change. Change is scary. It’s hard to let go of the life we were living in the states and accept our new life in Peru. One of my wise best friends (you know who you are) once told me that “the pieces you leave behind make room to harvest the newest and most wonderful version of yourself.” I think this is very true and something that is very important to remember during Peace Corps. These two years are a time of growth and that means embracing change, however scary it may be. During training and for the first month in site, the memories of home were so fresh in my head and I wasn’t ready to let everything go. On top of that, everything here was new, confusing and scary. We were thrown into new situations almost weekly. But with time, my old life faded away and my life here became my reality. Now living here feels very normal and comfortable and I gotta say I’m pretty happy here.

Leaving training and coming to site was honestly a bit scary. I learned and grew a lot during training, but still being alone in a rural Peruvian community is  an absolutely terrifying thought. The first month in sight was definitely a little hard. I’m so used to being constantly busy in the US, but during that first month you really don’t have much to do and it felt very weird not being busy. I spent the first month getting to know my counterparts and people in the community and trying to figure out how to work with my counterparts. It is awkward and uncomfortable at first, because honestly we have no idea what we are doing when we arrive. I mean nothing can really prepare you for that experience. I don’t even know when or how it happened, but at some point all of that uncomfortableness went away and I found myself very busy. Nowadays, I find myself missing all of that free time I had in the beginning.

These next two pictures show the community I live in, Mache. It’s a very peaceful town at about 11,000 ft in the sierra and there are a little less than 600 people that live here. We have been in the dry season for the past couple of months so the weather has been beautiful, as long as you are in the sun. Its like a pleasant fall or spring day most days. At night I’ll admit it gets a bit chilly, especially since we don’t have any source of heating. We had a week last month where it was below freezing at night.

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Sure, things have been scary and sometimes very hard, but god my life here is beautiful and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to live here. The change was hard, but my life has definitely changed for the better. Nowadays my commute to work often consists of hiking or biking an hour or two and the only traffic I encounter are herds of sheep or cows. I love hiking but good god biking is hard here. The high altitude and hilly, bumpy roads kill me, but it helps me get to some communities in half of the time of walking. And to make it worse, the rainy season is starting and riding my bike an hour in the rain is not my favorite thing. I shouldn’t complain though mountain biking through the Andes sure beats sitting in traffic in the US, even if it does kill me some days. The picture below is my favorite view on my hike to one of the nearby communities called Vista Alegre, which translates into Happy View. I think the name is pretty spot on.

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I have been in site for about 5 months now. The first month was very slow when I was trying to figure out what exactly I should be doing here and getting to know people. I had a lot of free time that I usually spent hiking, reading, playing with kids and taking afternoon naps after lunch. They give me so much food here that naps after lunch used to be very necessary. Lately I’ve actually been pretty busy, which is a wonderful change. I work with a counterpart in the municipality and together we work with the water systems in the surrounding small communities. Each water system has a water committee called a JASS and right now we are working on training the members of the JASS on how to properly clean and maintain their water systems and helping them get all of the documents they need to be organized and formalized. Below are some pictures of the work I do.

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I’ve also been teaching English to the fourth graders in my town. They can be a handful, but I love working with the kids. Now when they see me around town they run up and give me hugs and call me Miss Kimmy, it just melts my heart. But wow trying to control a class is so difficult. All of the Spanish I know seems to just go right out the window. But with practice hopefully it gets easier.

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I also work with the health post in my community and my counterpart and I give charlas about different health topics in the small surrounding communities. I usually talk about hand washing and ways to treat and store your water. For global hand washing day we went to a few of the preschools to talk about hand washing with the teachers and kids. The little kids here are so stinkin adorable, so I had to include some pictures of this day.

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I live with a host family in my community and they are wonderful. I have to admit I got very lucky because I am living the Posh Corps life in my house. When I imagined Peace Corps I thought I would be living without running water, electricity or a toilet. I have all of that (most days) plus I even have warm water for my showers most of the time. I live with my host mom and dad, they’re about 70 years old, their son and his wife and kids. They have two kids, 10-year-old Germancito and 3-year-old Fernanda. They are so cute and they always want to play and hang out with me. I love that they refer to me as tia (aunt).

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Peace Corps isn’t always easy. We usually only share the good things happening in site, so it might appear that we are living a perfect and beautiful life changing lives and helping our communities. Don’t get me wrong I do feel like I’m living the dream and most days here are some of the most beautiful days of my life, but it is still life, every day isn´t perfect and trying to make a positive change in your community can be difficult and frustrating. Being alone in a rural community in a faraway country definitely makes those hard times feel much harder.  I am so grateful that I have my host family for those hard times. It is nice having people look out for you and care about you. Living with a host family has also helped me learn about Peruvian culture because I get to be a part of celebrations and they always explain things to me.  Below are some pictures of me and my family celebrating the baptism and first communion of my host nephew Germancito. It was an all day celebration filled with plenty of food and drinks. For special occasions like this here in the sierra we usually eat guinea pig, which I`m actually starting to like.

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So that`s a very brief summary of my past 8 months and life in site. I’ll try and get better about posting more often. Un abrazo fuerte!