Monday, April 21, 2014

Let's talk about fashion...

PERU MODA

fashion: a popular trend, esp. in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior; the production and marketing of new styles of goods, esp. clothing and cosmetics

I never thought I’d be able to say in my life that I have been to a fashion show, but I have. Peru Moda. I went with Daniela for work. It really was like entering a different world. Along the abandoned coast just minutes from my house, huge white tents were set up. We entered walking on red carpet and were given an official-looking badge naming us as “Buyers.” We also were given huge heavy-duty felt bags to store all of the pamphlets and business cards we were handed and all the merchandise our nametags told us we were going to buy. Once inside the tent the red carpet became gray, but I still nearly forgot that right underneath was dry dirt. Inside the white tents there was luxury and excess and wealth and fashion. Just outside and underneath there were dirt and lawn maintenance staff and brown ocean foam and normality. I came in wearing brown corduroy pants, my most stylish cotton shirt that I brought to Peru, and Toms shoes. I saw around me tight, short dresses, stiletto heels, and as much jewelry as tastefulness would allow.

We spent the first part of the day wandering from booth to booth checking out the latest styles and designs. We found a potential client and a couple potential artisan groups to add to Bridge of Hope. But at the end of the day we went to watch a show of several jewelry collections on the catwalk. It was freezing in the room because portable air conditioning units were getting a run for their money. It was one of the few places I’ve been in Lima that has air conditioning. There were five or six designers that had their jewelry collections, their models, and their music selection. It was quite exciting actually, although most of the collection consisted of totally outrageous and not-for-daily-use items (anyone want a silver Roman-style helmet?!)

I didn’t really know how to respond then and still don’t really know now. Although there was a very small section of Fair Trade companies (though all of them very large) and a small section where smaller artisan groups could display their products, the majority of the people in attendance and the majority of the producers come from large companies and corporations. I couldn’t help but think that we were supporting by our attendance this fashion ‘entity’ and all of these huge corporations that really have made it much harder for our artisans, and other small organizations or artisan groups, to market their goods. But at the same time, we do have a lot to learn from them.

JUEVES SANTO & EASTER IN GENERAL

fashion: a manner of doing something; in the style associated with a specified place or people

The Catholic Church, especially when it comes to holidays, shapes much of the culture in Peru, at least in part. Although it is probably true that in most places around the world, church attendance skyrockets on Christmas and Easter, it is definitely true here for all of holy week. It is tradition or the fashion, if you will, to attend a Palm Sunday mass, participate in various activities during the week, “fast” on Friday by eating tuna instead of another type of meat, and attend an Easter mass.

The mid-week activity that I participated in with my host mom was on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday), or Maundy Thursday as we would call it. It is tradition to do a sort of pilgrimage and visit 7 churches that night. To start the evening there was a longer mass where they did 12 foot-washings of various people in the congregation. There was also a lot of singing, one of the priests did a lot of throwing of the incense smoke at the congregation, they gave communion, and there was a short biblical reflection. From there, a solid group of about 100-150 people set off from the church to walk the circuit of churches. The first mass started at 7:45pm and we finished the route at about 12:45am. In each church we went inside to see the altar with Christ’s body, in the form of bread and wine, inside. The priest who came along would say a few words and give time for prayer and reflection. Then we’d get up and continue on. The whole time there was someone carrying a full-sized cross at the front of the group. They would rotate people, but the idea of visiting 7 churches, according to my host mom, is to remember the 7 falls that Jesus apparently had as he walked to be crucified.

The evening wasn’t really a somber occasion as I was expecting it to be. True, when we arrived at a church there was silence and time for meditation, but the bulk of the time we spent walking. As we walked there was a taxi that followed us with two huge megaphone speakers on top and a wireless microphone sound system. The priest had the mic and led everyone in children’s songs and occasionally in the repeating of the Lord’s Prayer and other prayers to Mary. We quite literally were walking the streets of Lima, blocking traffic, chanting: Give me a C. C!! Give me a R. R!! Give me an I. I!! …. What does that spell?! CRISTO!! Cristo! Cristo! Cristo! Cristo! That had to be one of the most ridiculous thing I have ever done in my life. Although I’m not quite sure chanting “Cristo” in the streets is the best form of evangelism, it was cool to see the number of people that this event attracted and to be a part of a tradition that has been around for so long.


The sense of being a part of something so much bigger is something that I have often lost in the Protestant church in the U.S. Yes, I understand that there is the church universal. Yes, I know that there are Presbyterian churches around the globe. Yes, I know that the Protestants formed out of the Reformation. Etc. etc. But the Catholic church is so much older! It is so interesting to think that an entire culture, for the most part, decides not to eat meat on Fridays because of a church tradition. Or to know that across the world in Catholic churches, they hold to the same practices and liturgies and daily offices on the same days. I feel more aware of the greatness and vastness of the God we serve.

Ukrainian Easter egg decorating!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Artisan Gathering, Moving, and News!


ENCUENTRO DE ARTESANOS

On March 18th and 19th, Bridge of Hope artisans from across Peru came to Lima to celebrate the International Day of the Artisan and to participate in the 10th Annual Artisan Gathering. It was a fun time of collaboration, community, celebration, and recommitment.

We started both mornings with a short theological reflection that I gave, first on the importance of teamwork and working together as a whole body (1 Cor. 12:14-25) – whether that be in the family, community, particular artisan group, or Bridge of Hope – and second on the value of artisan work and it’s place in society (Jer. 18:1-6). From there we spent time reflecting over the past years struggles and successes. It was a time of honesty and encouragement. Another important part was the time we spent making goals for this coming year. Each put their “signature” – their handprint – on a document to show their commitment to growth and solidarity moving forward.

In the afternoons we did the celebrating! We had a small “fashion show” where the artisans showed off some new products for Spring 2014. We visited Lima’s famous Parque de las Aguas that is full of gorgeous and massive fountains and reveled at the water “art.” And finally, we visited an exhibit on the history of Peruvian art in the National Museum. The artisans were fascinated by the way their different trades have developed over the years and were excited to be a part of a tradition that has lasted thousands of years.
Giving a theological reflection.

The artisans at Parque de las Aguas.

Dionisia putting her handprint signature.

Victor showing off a new scarf and hat.

Claudia and her daughter, Mayte, who's sporting a new hat.

























































































WE’RE MOVING AFTER ALL

I just got word last week that the house my family is living in has finally sold. I was kind of hoping we’d continue living there indefinitely as the house was on the market but no such luck. The current word is that we have 20 days to move out, but they are talking to the real estate agent today to see if they can stay for another two months while they look for a house. It is now a reality, though. I will be moving before my time in Peru is over. Please be praying for the whole situation, though. The price of houses and apartments has skyrocketed over the last few years, and it is going to be difficult to find something affordable in the areas where they want to live that are close to work, family, and friends.

I’M GOING TO SEMINARY

Other big news: I am going to seminary in the fall! I will be attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary starting in September, which is just a little bit to the NE of Boston and only a few miles from the ocean. What an adventure! I was offered the Partnership Program scholarship, which is a full-tuition matching scholarship. I am raising support again to fund about half of my seminary education. If you would like more information or to support me in some way (financially or in prayer), please let me know.

STORIES FROM YAVs

Jenny and Jed have been visiting the United States during the month of March, and one of the things they are doing is visiting churches and sharing about the YAV program to raise support. They put together this video of us each telling a story about our time here so far. It’s really well done, so check it out:


READING

This past week I have been devouring The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen. It is a really insightful account of his 7-month stay in a Trappist monastery and has offered much encouragement to me. Here are a couple quotes that are from very different periods of his time in the monastery but go well together:

“It requires a great act of faith to accept the love that is offered to us and to live, not with suspicion and distrust, but with the inner conviction that we are worth being loved. This is the great adventure… to really believe that God loves you, to really give yourself to God in trust, even while you are aware of your sinfulness, weaknesses, and miseries” (140).

“When we have found our own uniqueness in the love of God and have been able to affirm that indeed we are lovable since it is God’s love that dwells in us, then we can reach out to others in whom we discover a new and unique manifestation of the same love and enter into an intimate communion with them” (68).

Monday, March 10, 2014

I've hardly been in Lima recently...

VISIT FROM WOMEN OF HUDSON RIVER PRESBYTERY (NEW YORK)

I spent a week and a half traveling around with six wonderful women in the middle of February. We also had the pleasure of welcoming two men, who were visiting from St. Louis to attend the annual Joining Hands Network Assembly, from time to time as well. We basically had the same itinerary as what we as YAVs did during our orientation here in Peru, and it was fun to visit some of the same places and people that I hadn’t seen in months. I did make a quick detour when we went to La Oroya and Huancayo to visit our artisan groups there, so that allowed to me to get to know that area better, but other than that I was there to help translate, offer a different perspective, and provide some calmness when things got stressful or a little overwhelming. These women (plus me!) represented every decade of life from a 20-something all the way to an 80-something year old. It meant we had quite differing perspectives, but I was impressed with the sincerity and commitment they brought to each interaction. We had many conversations about the overwhelming nature of many of the problems we can see in Peru and how/if they could make a difference when they return. I am excited to see how they continue to be involved with the work we are doing here in Peru!

Wanda, Norma, Susan, Joy, La Sheila, Lori, and Me (in order of age)!

YAV RETREAT 2

The last week in February we took off from Lima in a Cruz del Sur bus to head 20 hours up the desert-y coast of Peru to a private house right on the beach. There we spent the week enjoying the warm and oh-so-beautiful beach, soaking up some rays, eating and cooking delicious food, and playing Frisbee practically nonstop. It was a glorious time of relaxation and community and worship.

We spent the mornings having a time of worship, Bible study, and reflection together. The passage we focused on was Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” It was good to look back on these past months and evaluate how my life has or has not reflected those principles and also to think ahead to how I can re-center and recommit, especially in this time of Lent as I look back and remember who my God is and all that he has done for me. The rest of the day we would spend laughing, eating, sharing, playing, swimming, singing, and tossing the ‘bee.

Mary Kate, Blake, Me, Spencer, Emma

Our house and beach furniture.

Beautiful days on the beach!

We had a pool and hammocks as well.

Travel to and from the house was in moto-taxis.

A night out in Mancora.

Bonfire and songs on the beach.


ARTISANS

I have now finished visiting all of the artisans. Of all the things I have done so far this year, these visits have definitely landed at the top of the charts. It was fun to adventure around to new places and see where each of them lived and worked. They each have such a different reality, each challenging in its own way. I loved hearing their stories. I loved making them laugh or smile. I loved making them feel uncomfortable as I pulled out my camera and captured them on film.

It was encouraging to hear the stories of success, and the ways in which their participation in Fair Trade has positively affected their lives and the lives of their family. Each one had one of these stories of success and growth. But each also had stories of struggles and failures and difficulties, both presently and in the past. There are stories of economic insecurity, of constant battle against a chauvinistic culture, and of lack of running water in the home. What amazed me was the hope that they all showed. One question I asked every group was what their vision or goals were for the next five years. Almost without fail, they replied that they wanted to get more orders and find more customers. That was more or less the response that I was expecting to hear. But what they said next was what really made an impression on me. They want more orders and more customers not primarily so they can have more money for themselves and their families, but rather so they can employ their neighbors. They want their neighbors to know and experience what it is to be a part of a team, to have a voice, to have a vision, to dream again. Bridge of Hope provides so much more than just an income for these artisans; it provides a new way of life. A way of life that is fair and just. One in which the women stand up for themselves and begin to share equally with their husbands. One in which they can say proudly that they are sending their children through college because the children were able to stick to their studies and graduate high school. One in which they value the work that they do.

The website is now done and just needs to be published. Check back in a week or two to see the new design! www.fairtradeperu.com/en

I also put together a short video to allow the artisans to introduce themselves. As you will see, they are awkward and funny and unique and so loveable!


And now I leave you with this:

"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What?! I'm 23 already. When did that happen?

MINI UPDATES (to make up for my long blogging absence)

CHRISTMAS DAY

Although everyone says that Christmas Day is the 25th, I almost don’t believe them. The celebration starts on the evening of the 24th and carries into the early morning hours of the 25th. Many families goes to mass in the evening, bringing their baby Jesus from their nativity scene. Baby Jesus has been covered in the nativity because he really shouldn’t be in the scene yet, but for the mass he lies uncovered on a table with dozens of other baby Jesus’s and waits for the priest to come bless him after the mass. He then disappears under a cover again until midnight. I think my family really sought to understand the last hours of Advent because after mass ended at 8:00pm – ¡¡8:00pm!! – we sat bored out of minds in various places around the house and waited until midnight. I figured the TV in the living room didn’t have cable because no one turned it on. I came to find out at about 11:30pm that they did indeed have cable, but like I said, I think they were just subconsciously seeking to understand the waiting period of Advent. At midnight we all wished each other a Feliz Navidad with kisses on the cheek and then ran famished to the dinner table. It was finally dinner time. I ate about four different kinds of pureé (mashed potato, mashed sweet potato, apple pureé, and pineapple pureé), a seaweed salad (or something that looks like it), and turkey. We toasted with about an eighth of a glass of sweet wine. Dessert was my beloved (not!) panetón with hot chocolate. Then came presents and chatting. But by 3 or 4:00am on Christmas Day the celebration was over and everyone was sleepily rubbing their eyes and starting to wonder whether they’re going to try to find a taxi to get home or just sleep on the living room floor under a blanket. My theory: I think those wee hours of the morning still belong to the day before.

I met my host mom’s sisters for the first time at our Christmas celebration, and all jokes aside, it was a difficult experience to finally meet her sister who had a severe stroke a year ago. She can’t walk, has difficulty moving her arms and hands, and only recently has been able to form a few garbled words. The hardest part is that she is very much there mentally. There has been some damage, but she understands everything going on around her. She is extremely frustrated with her physical limitations and verging on depression. She broke down in tears twice while I was there out of embarrassment and shame I think. It is beautiful, however, to see the way that the sisters have come together and sacrificed so much to take care of her. It has cost a lot emotionally for them though. Prayer would be very much appreciated.

CUZCO & MACCHU PICHU

Because of the fact that Christmas Day has shifted to the 24th of December here in Peru, Blake and I were able to head to Cuzco on the 25th. I got a few hours of sleep before I had to get back to my house to shower and pack really fast before heading to the airport for a 1:00pm flight. The 10 days I got to spend in Cuzco were just what I needed. It was absolutely wonderful to get to spend quality time with my YAV friends and meet some new friends as well. We spent a lot of time relaxing around Cuzco and trying out the different worldwide cuisines that I’ve missed even while enjoying my host mom’s cooking. My favorite was some deliciously spicy falafels. It was the rainy season, so it was relatively chilly and poured down rain most afternoons and some mornings as well. We spent a lot of time shopping for sweaters for Blake and long sleeve t-shirts for Spencer and hiking to the top of all the hills for me. The highlight of the trip, though, was the Salkantay trek that we did. We spent three days hiking up and over a 4,600-meter pass and then the fourth day enjoying Macchu Pichu through the fog. There were so many great moments but hopping from rock to rock to avoid probably a mile of thick mud, crossing a river on a little cart connected to a cable, having great conversations when there was room to walk two-by-two, and making it to the top of Macchu Pichu mountain stand out.

Panorama of Cuzco.

Trying out the cuisine.

The whole group.
Picture with the llama!


Crosses at the top of the hill.

That's Salkantay Mountain in the background.

We made it the pass - 4,600 meters! (Our guide Abel is on the far left.)

Lunch site Day 2 of trek.

Crossing the river.

There were stairs like this all the way up Macchu Pichu Mountain.

Top of the mountain. It was too foggy to see the ruins except for a short 30 second glimpse!

It cleared up a bit in the afternoon. So impressive.


BIRTHDAY

Birthdays here are such a big deal! I was ready to pass the day with a few “Happy Birthdays” and maybe a special lunch, but it turned out that the festivities stretched for about a week and a half. People kept expecting me to have big plans and worried about me when I said that I was okay with just having a chill day. Here’s a glimpse of the activities… Friday before: Lunch out with my coworkers followed by singing (first Happy Bear-thday in English, then two or three Spanish versions) and apple pie and ice cream. Jan.12: Brought gifts by my host mom and brother at 8:00am. Delicious shrimp pasta lunch with host family and Jed and Jenny. The movie Frozen with my host mom. Over the next week: Birthday donuts with Emma. Delicious nut pasta with host family and Emma. Two homemade and beautifully decorated birthday cakes from Aunt Fabio. Cake (1of 2) and singing at Ada’s sister’s house. Birthday cake (2 of 2) shared with the office. Receive gift of German pretzels and coffee. Birthday cards in the mail.

Thank you everyone for making me feel so extremely loved and taken care of!

The fam. (My host mom is on the far left.)

Blowing out the candle.

Cake 1 of 2.

Cake 2 of 2.


UPDATE ON WORK

Since the end of the year I have not been working for CENCA anymore. With my YAV coordinator, Jenny, I decided for many reasons that it would be better to focus my time and efforts on my Fair Trade job. So since getting back from Cuzco I work full-time with Bridge of Hope.

The decision was a good one. My time has been well occupied over this last month with Bridge of Hope. Over the past couple of years there has been a lot of changes in leadership and because of that, there has not been good follow-up as far as updates go. We get emails all the time wondering if our organization still exists because the website hasn’t been updated at all since 2010. Because of that, we are working on getting up a whole new website in both English and Spanish. I am more or less the point person on that project. I visited all 8 artisan groups in Lima to work with them a little on design of a new “product line” for 2014 and to get new pictures and information to update their profiles on the website. I have been rewriting and translating the group profiles and meticulously posting and adding titles, captions, etc. for all of the products that we sell – that’s a lot of products! That project should be done pretty soon. I will post the link on my next (hopefully!) blog so you can check out all my hard work ;) The one thing the artisans always ask of us is to find them new clients so they can get more orders. Many of them depend on this work to provide for their families, so when there is a slow year, like this last one, they struggle to get by. We hope that with this new website we can attract some new customers.

Once the website is up you will get to see some of my pictures, but if you’re interested in getting a sneak preview of the group profiles, check out my drafts in the Google Doc.

COMING UP

Next week a group from the Hudson River Presbytery in New York, which supports Jed & Jenny’s ministry, is coming down to visit Peru and see first hand the work that the Joining Hands Network is doing. Jed is leading the visit, but I will be accompanying them the whole trip to help with translating and a few logistical things. We will be doing things like visiting a few of the members of the Joining Hand Networks, visiting an artisan group, traveling to La Oroya and Huancayo, and seeing a few sights around Lima. That’s from February 13th – 22nd.

On the same day that I’m finishing up with this visit, the 22nd, we are taking off for our second YAV retreat. (I can’t believe it’s here already!) We have a 16-hour bus ride to get to the far north of Peru to Mancora. We are staying in a house on the beach. I am so ready to spend some time soaking up some glorious rays with my lovely YAVs! We have to jet up to Ecuador to renew our visas, but other than that we are just relaxing on the beach and spending a lot of time in worship and reflection. We arrive back in Lima on March 1st.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“Christianity is not first and foremost a concept. It is, above all, a fact.” – Gustavo Gutierrez, Theology of Liberation


“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman, theologian

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Travels in the Andes :: The Christmas Season

THE PROVINCE OF HUANCAVELICA


I got the opportunity to travel to the province of Huancavelica a couple of weeks ago now, leaving on Sunday, December 8th, at 7:30pm on an overnight bus and arriving back in Lima on Sunday, December 15th, at 5:30am after traveling all night. I went with Daniela, my coworker with fair trade, to visit the artisan groups that live in this area. One of the groups lives in the city of Huancavlica, and the other three groups live in the tiny district of Yauli, about 40 minutes by car from the city of Huancavelica. The purpose of these visits was to get to know the artisans face to face, since we only ever get to talk to the leader of the groups on the phone or through email, and offer workshops for the groups to help them think about how this past year went production-wise (quality control, efficiency, timeliness, etc.) and make suggestions for how they can improve in this next year. I led the more social aspect of the workshop and did a couple activities to help them construct what it means to be a part of a team and be a leader within the group.

El Mercurio. Huancavelica.

Sumacc Ruraq. Yauli.

Tupac Yupanqui. Yauli.

A possible new group: Achkamaki. Yauli.

It was a much to different experience than being in Lima, both in working with the artisans and in life in general. I loved it though… especially Yauli! Here are some notes on my experience:

LANDSCAPE/WEATHER: We were high up in the Andes Mountains - more than 3,600 meters (>13,000 feet). I’ve traveled to this altitude several times now so I don’t feel it too much, but the lack of oxygen in the air was definitely noticeable as we did a little hiking around. It is gorgeous here! They are in the rainy season there (somehow it works so that certain areas of the country are in winter even while Lima is entering into summer), so everything had a soft coat of green grass. There were lots of open pastures for sheep and cows scattered around and people had squares of farmland where they grow mostly native potatoes. This region of the country is known for its potatoes. There are supposedly more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes grown here! The weather felt like a mix of fall and spring in the northwest. The days were chilly and crisp with the sun peeking out and offering warmth here and there, interspersed with a fresh rain that nourished the rich soil but also made everything muddy. We had to expect any and all types of weather at all times.


Old church in Huancavelica.

View up the river in Huancavelica.

View of the mountains in Yauli.

Beautiful little waterfall and cow pasture next to the river in Yauli.

Cute little runt pig!

LANGUAGE: In this area of the country pretty much everybody speaks Quechua. In Huancavelica most people also speak Spanish fluently and for many it is their first language. There were still a couple artisans we worked with that could not respond to us in Spanish. They understood everything we were saying but would respond in Quechua and someone would have to translate. However, among the people I met in Yauli, I think everyone’s first language was Quechua, and if they spoke Spanish, it was something they didn’t begin learning until later. Many people still didn’t understand Spanish well let alone were able to speak it. The accent of Spanish I heard in Yauli was really strange as well and made it difficult for me to understand at times. (For example, a lot of the ‘e’ vowels in Spanish end up sounding like an ‘i.’ Also, most of the r’s that come at the end of words sound more like ‘rsh.’) I joked with Daniela that I was having a hard time distinguishing even when the artisans were speaking Spanish and when they were speaking Quechua because their accent was so thick. They also had a harder time understanding me than most people I encounter in Lima. It was interesting trying to navigate this difficulty.

DRESS: There was not a single woman that was from Yauli itself that did not wear traditional dress. Some wore more elements than others, but at the very least everyone wore their outer skirt with deep pockets to hold their knitting. Most wore everything: their leather shoes, leggings, leg warmers, multiple skirts, multiple sweaters with a button-up sweater on the outside, a manta or special decorated cloth covering their shoulders and pinned in front (or the manta tied with a load or child on their back), two braids in their hair tied together in the back, and a hat with flowers tucked in. As if I didn’t stick out enough as a tall, white gringa already, without the traditional dress I stood out even more in Yauli and literally drew prolonged stares and dropped jaws with every step I took.

One of the women from Sumacc Ruraq.

Selling potatoes in the main plaza of Yauli.

LIFE: I love the simplicity of life in Yauli and the way people work hard and walk long distances and end up looking weathered and like they’ve put in their time. Most of the houses are constructed out of big chunks of rock held together by mud and have a tile roof. Some of the houses have a little cement, but mostly they are made out of natural materials. They have to be sure to have a good roof, though, to protect from the rain and to keep the mud from rewetting and washing away. The floors of the houses are often dirt. Walking down the street during the afternoon when it wasn’t raining, I saw in front of nearly every house at least one woman sitting on a stool or on the curb knitting. They lined the streets. At first when we would ask the artisans what they liked to do in their free time as a hobby and they would respond by saying knitting, I didn’t think they had understood the question correctly. But upon seeing that the pastime of women in this culture really is knitting, I found that assumption corrected. It is standard practice to offer guests something to eat. When we went to visit a group, they would provide us potatoes, which you are supposed to peel by hand, cheese, and a hot (really really) sweet tea. Even though they barely have enough resources to keep up with all the kids that are running around, hospitality is top on the list of priorities.

The house of Ezequiel and his family from the group Tupac Yupanqui.

An older woman leading her sheep home in the evening.

They came right past us!

OTHER PICS FROM HUANCAVELICA:

Luz. One of the children of a woman from El Mercurio.

The workshop of Sumacc Ruraq.

Jon Alex. The son of some of the founding members of Sumacc Ruraq.

Girl from Sumacc Ruraq.

CHRISTMAS CRAZINESS

First thing you need to know and understand about Peru at Christmas time: panetón. The word literally means ‘big bread.’ I like to describe it as that fruitcake that people always joke about old people serving at their house. Peruvians are obsessed with their panetón and crave it like it there’s no tomorrow around this time of year, although I still get that fruitcake sensation every time I eat a piece. It is basically a fluffy cake with raisins and red and green chunks of “real” dehydrated gummy watermelon. It is common for people’s work to gift them a panetón for Christmas. Right now we have three sitting in our house. Apparently all the bakeries stop making regular bread on Christmas Eve and only sell panetón because they can make so much more money by doing so and that’s all anyone wants anyway.

Three different brands of panetón. D'onofrio is probably the most popular.

Coming back from Huancavelica I was thrown into the Christmas craziness. This past week has been jam packed with activities and hot chocolate and panetón. The thing to do around here is have what they call ‘chocolatadas.’ It is something that NGO’s or other organizations put on for kids in poorer areas of the city. They have games, dancing, hot chocolate, panetón, and usually a gift and/or a little goody bag for the kids. Bridge of Hope put on a chocolatada for the kids in the neighborhood where the artisan group Ima Sumacc yesterday. It was absolute chaos trying to coral these sugared-up kids and be vigilant for the moms who don’t have money to buy their kids a present and therefore are hiding their kid’s present so they can hopefully get another. We were filling up baby bottles with hot chocolate and kids were walking around double-fisting their panetón. My favorite age to observe was the little toddlers!

The whole group.

The boys team for one of the games. They tried hard...

but the girls pulled a win!
Our little "gordito."

Cutest kid at the event hands down.

For this event I went shopping in the center of Lima where all the cheapest things can be bought. It is block after block of stores and markets selling anything and everything. Each street is more or less designated for a certain product, so you have to know where you are going. To name a few, there’s an electronics area, kitchen, Chinatown, shoes, clothing, and where we went, toys. There are Black Friday crowds every day fighting to get to the front of the mob to buy 12 plastic toy cars for 24 soles or 12 plastic Barbie-type dolls for 32 soles. Everything is sold in bulk and people (including myself) are walking around holding black plastic garbage bags full of toys over their heads trying to squeeze through the tiniest gap and advance through the walkways of the market. The lowest level is the hottest (my guess would be right around 105° F), but in none of the four levels do you ever stop sweating.

That being said there is MUCH less emphasis here on gift giving. Kids do not expect huge piles of expensive gifts and the holiday has not reached the levels of commercialization that it has in the U.S. The tradition instead focuses more on the aspect of being together as a family and sharing a good meal together. As long as there is something on the table and someone to share it with, it is a good Christmas. Instead of presents being the focus, the nativity and the coming of Jesus is still what takes center stage, as it should.


I wish you all the merriest of Christmases and pray that God may provide for you abundantly in this coming year. May there ever be enough food on the table and good company to share it with!