Monday, January 3, 2011

My Peruvian Holidays

Christmas snuck up on me... I think it's because I never had the Christmas spirit. Not because I've been homesick or any other less than positive reason, it was simply just because it didn't feel like the Christmas season, my Christmas season. It has been hot and sunny 98% of the time, there are less Christmas lights and decorations, less commercials and movies on TV that were Christmas-y, no chocolate covered pretzels, peppermint bark, or fudge and perhaps most of all: hardly any Christmas music. So, because of the lack of my traditional surroundings, it didn't feel like Christmas.

In Peru, everyone celebrates Christmas on the Eve, more than the day itself. Before me and my immediate family joined the bigger group at my Grandmother's house, we opened our Christmas presents and had a glass of champagne accompanied from a toast from by my dad and then me. I basically stated that even though I was away from my real family from the United states, I was more than happy to be sharing my first Christmas away from home with them and thanked them for including me in their activities. I received several books, cds, jewelry, too many chocolate bars (don't ask if I still have them), a t shirt, a Peruvian nativity scene and other random small things. I loved all of my gifts. The highlights of what I gave to my family was a princess barbie doll set to my niece who LOVED it, and a photo album with pictures of the last 5 months of my life in Peru with a story line and captions for my host parents- my mom cried and exclaimed, "Que preciosa! Eres muy inteligente" (how precious, you are very smart)... to summarize it. Then she brought it to the family get together for everyone else to look at.
As midnight approached in my grandma's house, we set the table and got baby Jesus to put promptly in his crib when it was time. My host brother that is now in New York for his exchange was skyping with my family and fire works started to go off. When it was midnight, everyone went around kissing each other and shouting, "FELIZ NAVIDAD" (Merry Christmas) because the fireworks outside were so abundant that it was hard to hear. Baby Jesus was put in his crib and we sat down to eat our pork, potatoes and salads. The party stopped around 3am so people could sleep, but then was picked back up at noon on Christmas which carried out until 6pm. I don't think I've ever had such a hot Christmas before, I've never seen the baby Jesus nativity thing in action, I've never had fireworks for Christmas, and this is my first time being able to open all of my presents on Christmas eve (a childhood dream now accomplished).

On New Years eve my family hosted a party, also because the 1st is my Dad's birthday. We at late at night (more pork, pasta salad and potatoes), and casually socialized for the following hour until midnight. 10 minutes 'till midnight and everyone became scattered as people tried to gather all of the ingredients for the various traditions to conduct. As the last minutes of 2010 passed, more fireworks started to go off... I wondered how much of it was from people having different times on their clocks. To start off the new year, I put on my superwoman cape- yes, I really did bring it all the way from the United States. I have been waiting for the right moment to bust it out, and I decided that it was then; I wanted it to be known by everyone that I was a superwoman and that's how I wanted my new year to start off with.
The first tradition: run around the block with a suitcase to bring good travels. This was difficult, running in heels on broken side walks and rolling a big suitcase behind while trying to dodge people. It was also fairly scary to run so close to all of the fireworks that were being set off dangerously in the streets (including the bonfires in the middle of the roads and in parks). After returning, we (me, another exchange student, and my host mom and grandma) took a glass of champagne and gave everyone kisses. Second tradition: take 70 cents and do the cross blessing thing 3 times and then toss the money behind your shoulder without looking back at it, this was to bring luck financially. Third tradition: eat 12 grapes because each grape represented a wish for each month of the new year that would come true. Fourth tradition: drink half a glass of champagne and then throw out the rest behind your back for good luck. Fifth tradition: carry around lentils, rice and a kind of wheat in your pockets to carry good luck with you into the new year. Sixth tradition: wear yellow, because not only is it a beautiful color, it's lucky. Another tradition that I didn't do, but my host dad did (not sure why I wasn't given the opportunity), was to bathe with water that was boiled with different types of flowers- again, for good luck.
After all of the midnight traditions, the family returned inside to drink, dance, and enjoy each others company and at some point we ate cake for my dad's birthday... Close to sunrise, there was about 15 minutes of playing 80's music and somehow people designated me to stay in the center of the room while people took turns dancing with me... I WASN'T EVEN ALIVE DURING THE 80'S and yet I was teaching people who were, how to dance to its music! Ridiculous, but lots of fun. I didn't go to bed until 8:3oam, making a new record (my previous one was set at 7am from my prom) and the best part is that the old folks stayed up longer than I did! Also, when I woke up at 4pm, they were already up and drinking again. I'm glad to say that since then, my sleep schedule is MESSED up, I have practically become nocturnal.

In summary, I've had better Christmases, but this was the best New Years I've ever had. I'm looking forward to merging my old customs with the new ones I've experienced in Peru, to make an unbeatable forthcoming new year.

Goodbye Tacky Uniform...

First two weeks of December

...Hello summer vacation. It's a bitter sweet ending because there were things that I had a hard time going along with: the academic assessment based mainly on test taking, staying in one class room all day- sometimes up to 3 consecutive hours sitting in the same seat, no field trips, using text books and lecturing as the method of teaching, "gay" and "black" thrown around as insults between the students, excruciatingly long and boring homework assignments which were frequent, and let's not forget about those tacky uniforms. These are just mentioning the bigger points, but along with the less favorable qualities that I was submerged in for 5 months, there were also the qualities that I absolutely loved: socializing and learning about the culture, having Spanish lessons with Grecia almost everyday, randomly learning facts as I started to learn more of the language, play fighting with the other students in the few moments we had to be rambunctious, loud, and ridiculous and then rushing back to our seats to sit in silence when the next teacher walked in, and having some of the typical high school experiences that I missed out on such as the olympics (to summarize all of the sports and competitions), prom, and a big fancy graduation. Don't worry, I still prefer my graduation from P.S.1 as it was shorter and more personal.

The last couple weeks of school were just exams, grading, and the two big events of the year: graduation and prom. Oddly, graduation came before our two weeks of finals and finishing school...

Prom: I did have a date, another exchange student- his name is Jeff and he's from Canada. A swell fellow and I was glad I brought him to my prom. My girl friends from school were all over him and made remarks like "if you don't kiss him, I will". Woah now ladies, calm yourselves. There was no kissing. I brought a couple other exchange students as well: Sofiane (France), Chelan (Washington), and Savannah (Oregon). It was a blast, despite the food being a bland attempt of something American... but we danced until 3am, then returned to my house for an after party and didn't go to bed until 7am.
Graduation: Ugly caps and gowns (I don't know which is worse... graduation gown or school uniform), 3 hours long, lots of talking, 120 students... but it was also nice; it was in a newly constructed theater and I received my yearbook, several photos, and a medal. I went out to a Chinese restaurant with my parents and Savannah afterward.

Finals: These two weeks were my 2nd set of finals in my life (1st being last trimester here), but the 1st that I actually tried and studied for because I felt confident that I had enough Spanish to show that I did learn (and already knew) some things. I took 19 classes this trimester and went from averaging 5 points or lower (out of 20), and now about 1/2 of them are passing- higher than 11 points. I have a handful of exams where I have 17 and I even scored some higher than some of the other students in my class! My overall grade for all of my classes, 13.64 (technically passing, but still not a pretty score), is not even the lowest grade in my class... how sad.

One of the most valuable skills that I feel that I was able to practice by attending this school, was test taking- a skill I hardly practiced at my old school because there weren't as many tests. The finals I'll take in college will hopefully feel easier since I won't have to translate content back and forth between two languages (imagine all of the time I'll save!) and try to memorize Spanish vocabulary that I might never use again.

It was sad to see everyone say goodbye to each other on the last day of school, after all the majority of these students have been in the same class since grade school. While students were crying and taking pictures, I just stood back and observed, while saying goodbye to passing students that I knew. For the most part though, I didn't feel the same feelings as them- I was sad to say goodbye to my close friends, but I didn't have any type of connection like what I had with P.S. 1 so comparatively, goodbye was easy. Besides, I have another 6 months to hang out with them, but when the end comes, I know it might even be harder to say goodbye than when I left to come to Peru. Saying goodbye takes practice; the first several times are really hard, but then one figures out how to make it more meaningful, or easier, or simply acceptable. I got a lot of practice right before I came to Peru, so I think I can say that I'm better at accepting change because essentially, that's what a lot of "goodbye" means: change.

Now I'm on summer vacation, which I'm enjoying every second of because it is a well deserved break after all of the late night cramming for two weeks in a row. In March I'll go to a university, but I don't know which one yet or how that will work out... I'm hoping that I won't have to wear another tacky uniform.