In an earlier blog post I discussed the dangerous generosity that directs the drinking culture here in Ecuador. This Christmas season, I experienced a greater and more expansive generosity that much better defines the character of my town.
I woke up on December 22nd sure that my family and my friends had forgotten my birthday. There would be no pancake breakfast, no family gathering, and no cake, the trappings that I so associate with the date. I was flabbergasted when I entered my friend’s backyard that afternoon to find a party in my honor. Bryan had bachata blasting from a set of loudspeakers, Jarol was adding charcoal to the barbeque, and Belen had just finished hanging up the streamers and sign reading, “Happy Brithday Chloe Bash.” I left with an armful of presents, looking forward to a nap after two hours of dancing to the latest hits, but the celebrations had only just started. That night I found myself first at the local karaoke bar, then the discotheque on the river, and finally at a cousin’s house cheering to choruses of, “Viva la Cumpleañera.” At each location I was heartily congratulated, hugged, kissed, and pulled up to dance.
Just two days later I stood in front of the town in a toga and halo, narrating the Christmas story dramatized by my dance group. That night I was pushed in front of the congregation to deliver a rendition of “Silent Night” at the evening service. No one commented on my cold or my pronunciation of words like “Nazaret,” but rather thanked me for my participation and applauded my performance.
The attention I received, the opportunities I had been offered, were influenced by my position as an “extranjera” a “gringa”: other members of the dance group have not been thrown birthday parties, and there were obviously more capable Spanish speakers for the pageant. At times the special treatment I receive deepens the cultural gulf separating me from my family, my friends, and my neighbors. But for this birthday, for this Christmas, the generosity the members of my community demonstrated was the greatest gift I could receive.