Chocolatadas, Panetón and WiFi – Part One
It was about a week before Christmas, and it just didn’t feel like Christmas. Maybe it was the lack of busy shopping centers, buy-all-of-these-things-for-your-kid commercials, and ugly Christmas sweater parties. Or, maybe it was that realization that Ian and I wouldn’t see our family and friends for Christmas….
All I Wanted
Ian and I were in our departmental capital, Chachapoyas, for a meeting, and we had a little extra time to use the Polleria / Mini-Market, a.k.a. the Internet cafe. I was thrilled because this place also had hot chocolate on the menu. I knew that drinking hot chocolate while downloading Christmas music and movies from iTunes would put me in the Christmas spirit. The Internet was high(ish) speed, and my favorite holiday songs were filling my library. Then, my hot chocolate arrived. I took a big gulp of the steamy goodness and promptly gagged. It tasted like foul, rotten cheese. I ordered a coffee and sulked while trying to download “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Later that morning I walked across the street to a hardware store to pick up a Christmas tree and some lights. Decorating for the holidays usually helps prepare my heart for Christmas. I found a perfect little Christmas tree with ornaments and bright red Christmas lights. I negotiated for the items using my newly-acquired Spanish vocabulary. The lady behind the counter, in attempt to make conversation, commented on the size of my tree and, therefore, the size of my Christmas. Yes. I know. I’m going to have a pequeñita Navidadita. Thank you. I hope you have a nice day, too.
We returned to Luya shortly thereafter to find our host family preparing the Naciemiento, or Nativity Scene. Okay, Amanda. Baby Jesus is coming next week, whether you are ready or not. So, Ian and I helped our host cousins, aunt, uncle, and parents string Christmas lights and place plants around the nativity scene. (Actually, Ian strung the Christmas lights because he was the tallest person in the room. He’ll never escape that holiday role.) Then, we all sat down for a late dinner of potato pancakes and canned tuna. Much to my surprise, Meister, our host dad, then brought out hot chocolate and the fruitcake-meets-bread delicacy, Panetón. Hot chocolate. How did he know? We all sat around the dinner table laughing and telling stories. It was the first time Ian and I truly felt like part of the family. Later that evening, Ian and I sat in our room listening to our new Christmas albums while decorating our pequeñita Christmas tree.
Chocolatadas y mas Panetón
Two days later Ian and I attended the Health Center’s Christmas party. We were invited to participate in their amigo secreto (secret Santa) gift exchange, so that evening we wrapped up little gifts and headed to the party. It was filled with food, toasts, and dancing. My amiga secreta gave me a bottle of perfume and Kuelap bag. Ian received a traditional Chacapoyas hat from his amigo secreto. He wears that hat all the time. (Side note – I never thought I’d use perfume in the Peace Corps, but when you don’t consistently have access to showers, it is helpful.) The Health Center’s Christmas party really made us feel like part of the staff, which we will be for the next two years. At the end of the night, Dr. Arturo passed out baskets full of food to all the employees. We received one, too. It was filled with pasta noodles, canned food, Panetón, and canned milk with a bar of chocolate to make my favorite holiday drink. How did they know?
We had a busy next few days wrapping up details for our Vacaciones Útiles program as Christmas approached. Neli, our host mom, told me about an upcoming Christmas pageant at the church. She asked if we had any musical instruments and could help…. Fortunately, Santa’s elf heard the conversation, so Santa visited Ian a little early this year so that he could have his new cajón in time. Ian practiced with some of the kids beforehand, and then we all headed over to the plaza for a parade, pageant and Chocolatada.
First, in true Peruvian fashion, there was a parade. The kids marched and danced around the plaza to the tune of music from the local colegio (high school) band. Then, they entered the church for the pageant. The mayor greeted the families in attendance before the traditional Peruvian holiday tunes and dancing began. Ian’s group was the final act. He drummed along to those sweet voices as they sang “Ven A Cantar.” I still can’t get the tune out of my head.
After the pageant concluded, we walked over to the soccer field for a Chocolatada. Now, Chocolatadas might be my new favorite thing. Essentially, they are parties for children in the community where every kid gets a little gift, hot chocolate (!) and, you guessed it, Panetón. It is filled with dancing, and if you are lucky, maybe Scooby Doo or a Smurf. When Ian and I return in two years, you all are invited to our inaugural Chocolatada.