December for me was marked by three things: celebrations, coworkers, and cuy.
Cuy for the people who don’t know, is guinea pig. I ate cuy. I’m a great vegetarian, right? I figured I had to at least try this bizarre dish that is somewhat of a delicacy in the Andes. Once I got past the fact that they serve the whole body of the animal on the plate, it was surprisingly delicious. I understand why it’s not a dish served in the States, but if you’re planning on visiting Ecuador and feeling adventurous, I would definitely recommend trying it (but make sure you go somewhere nice when you do!).
Aside from strange foods, December was of course filled with festive celebrations for Christmas and el Año Nuevo. At the high school where I work, we paraded the main road in Zuleta singing Spanish Christmas carols and danced toward the elementary school gates. Some students were dressed as figures from nativity scene, while others were outfitted in clown or angel costumes. All of the staff at the high school, myself included, sported Santa hats and caroled for the elementary school, preschool, and all of their families. When it came time for the holiday break, I spent the time with my family going to local indigenous parties. On Christmas Eve, we went to mass followed by a procession to the Hacienda Zuleta (historic hacienda hotel in my community)carrying a baby Jesus doll. (We like parading the streets, partying, and holiday masses here in Zuleta.) It was a Christmas far different from the ones I have grown up with.
Instead of a low key evening with my family watching “Elf” or “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and making cookies, I was dancing the streets of a small indigenous town arm-in-arm with my new sisters on our way to a neighbor’s party. With the band and ¾ of the town trailing behind us, there was definitely an unforgettable energy in the air. We danced throughout the night with every kind of Zuletañean there is, from the four year old playing on the floor to the elderly woman pouring shots to pass around the dance floor. New Year’s also came with a party, only this time it was bigger. After meeting the other volunteers in the Hacienda and watching them chop up an entire sheep to cook, I went out to the plaza and danced around two enormous castillos, burning trees, and bonfires height of basketball hoops. This party was unlike anything I had ever seen. We through human-sized dolls called Año Viejos on the fire, each dressed as different political figures. (One was even the “typical American tourist”.) I danced with my sisters, mom, dad, cousins, and new volunteer friends to the rhythmic sounds of the band and watched as my neighbors sent floating lanterns into the night sky. I danced until 4am with my neighbors by my side, no longer looking at me as the strange white outsider. I felt like I finally belonged.
Not only did I feel more at home amongst my neighbors, but I gained a true sensation of acceptance at my work as well. While my coworkers have always been kind and friendly, I began my gap year with a shyness at work that I hadn’t experienced since middle school. Feeling awkward as the outsider trying to come in (and with the added difficulty of expressing myself in Spanish) I was quiet and insecure of myself at the high school. It must have been somewhere between the in-school baptism where I had to eat a piece of bread covered in chili in front of the whole school, the principal’s birthday games where I had to pop a balloon on a coworkers lap, and the Christmas caroling that I could feel myself being perceived as funny and high-spirited rather than timid. I’ve realized my love of my fellow coworkers over this past month. I even got to go dancing with a few of them for a relative’s birthday. Having their friendship has completely transformed my experience at work and turned it into a place where I findmyself laughing every day.
December was a month of discovery for me. While I already felt at home in my home, I found new families among those who had been surrounding me the whole time. I just needed to open my eyes and have a little more faith in myself and they appeared.
(Sorry! Due to a dead computer battery, this blog was delayed.)