This was my first year celebrating Christmas. My host sister and I took part in a christmas “parade” on the 10th of December. We were dressed up as angels with ginormous gold wings. The “parade” was a culmination of 9 days of Navideño, where my host family would gather with their friends and discuss the meaning of Christmas and family values, as well as methods in which we could all improve as humans. The sun was beating down on my skin and unfortunately for me, I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen. My host sister, Nereida, and I were part of a group of angels, alongside other biblical characters. We walked together to the bright yellow church and removed our wings, before sitting down for the hour-long mass. These “parades” are called paseos. After the paseo we all went to the house of one of the families that took part in the Navideño, who are part of the Club Milan with my host parents. We had Rosero, a traditionally Gualacean drink, and quesadillas (not the tortillas with cheese, but a pastry with a delicate shell and a cake-like center). I took part in two more paseos on New Year’s Eve.
At 11:56 p.m. on December 31st, 2016, I was with the other fellow in Gualaceo, Allie, and her host cousin, Vanessa. We were watching Vanessa’s brother try to light a person-sized homemade doll, stuffed with newspaper, on fire. Alongside us, on the narrow street, were other people standing outside their homes and trying to light their dolls on fire. The doll represents the negativity of the previous year. Burning away old grudges and frustrations and anger and cleaning the slate for the new year. By 12:01, the doll was burning away, fireworks were going off, and we were smiling and kind of cold.
I have a very clearly set out schedule now, which makes my A type personality extraordinarily happy. I wake up at 7:01 in the morning. I set my alarm to go off at 7:01 and 7:05. I chose 7:01because 7 am just seemed too early. I can hear my host family eating breakfast in the kitchen, or rushing around outside my room before my host siblings head off to school. My host mother will bang on my door and say “Raquel, toma la leche!” before she heads off to work. I put coffee and sugar into the hot milk and maybe eat a piece of bread. Then off to work, I go. From 8:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m. I am either on site visits in the surrounding towns and mountains, helping out at events, packing candies and animal crackers into little baggies for the children, elderly people and the people with disabilities of the surrounding areas for the holiday season or doing arts and crafts. I eat an almuerzo that consists of rice, beans or potatoes, veggies, chicken, soup, and a cup of juice. These are served at most restaurants and cost $2 – $3. After I finish work, I go home and read, or I walk around town. I relax. At 7 p.m., I go to a gym near the central marketplace and exercise. By 8:30ish I am finished with my work-out and I head home to take a shower and eat dinner and sleep. That is the bare minimum of what I do every day. Some days, I will go with Allie to get salchipapas (fries, a hot dog, various sauces and sometimes salad on one plate), hang out with my coworkers (who I am very good friends with….we climbed a mountain together) and I usually find time to play with my host family’s new puppy, Pancho.