Friday, December 25, 2015

La Noche Buena

So, I'm going to be honest with you guys right off the bat: I actually forgot it was Christmas Eve for a few hours yesterday. The combination of new christmas traditions, missing old traditions, and a desire to suppress emotional outbursts dominated my subconscious and prevented me from recognizing the date was, in fact, December 24th and not (as I previously thought) December 20th.

December 24th felt almost like any other day for me. 

December 24th I got up early enough to hop a combi and make it out to Nueva Cajamarca. From there it was a short mototaxi ride to the Cueva de Palestina. This cave rests at the foot of the mountain ranges that strike up through San Martin. It's covered in green jungle and the entrance looks like a ruin only Indiana Jones would discover. Count me in.

"Throw me the idol I throw you the whip!"
Stairway to a small shrine
Afterwards our guide invited my friend Sytske and I to partake in some local cuisine. What started as an invitation to tea ended as a full blown lunch with the entire family. I brought the Peruvian-favorite bread: Paneton. It wasn't until I split what little bread I had and shared it with the amassed people did I realize it was Christmas Eve.

Living in Peru has been an absolute blast. The cultural exchanges are numerous and gratifying every time. That being said my site coordinator Jenny warned me the holidays were going to be hard. There's no way around those feelings of sadness, apprehension, and longing when Christmas rolls around. The best thing you can do is immerse yourself in activities. In short: If you idle you are going to suffer.

I think that was part of it. I went to numerous Chocolotadas. I served hot milk mixed with chocolate and paneton to children multiple times. I finalized a christmas greeting video for the office. I took photos of my coworkers chacra. I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice.

Not once did I light an advent candle. I didn't go christmas-lights looking. I didn't watch TV Christmas Specials. I didn't visit a shopping mall to fight the masses and embarrass my sisters at the same time. None of these traditions I was accustomed to took place. To be honest December 24th (and the 25th) was shaping up to be just another day.

My fellow Peruvian volunteer pulled me out from my initial pit of despair with a few wise words of wisdom. When I told her I almost burst into tears she wisely responded: "You may not be home now and that sucks. Next year you'll see them. We may not have those old christmas-lights-warm-cookies customs we did back in the States but Peruvians focus on what is really important: Family."*

The birth of Jesus is the story of a miracle. The origin story of a great man imbued with great purpose. It's also the origin story of a young family, and while Mary and Joseph don't get much screen-time in the rest of Jesus' story there's a reason his birth is one of the mostly widely celebrated holidays in the Christian calendar. Despite Mary's fear and trepidation at giving birth to the Son of God, despite Joseph's doubt about the right path to follow, despite the turmoil they encountered in Bethlehem they figured it out.
Local Nativity scene in the Plaza de Armas
Jesus was born in a rather dirty manger alongside several farm animals. The man who would come to redeem the human race and defeat death was essentially born in a feeding trough. As if that wasn't enough God chose several Shepherds to witness this miracle at the behest of a whole host of angels (cause one wasn't enough I guess). AND THEN God guided three wise men from lands far, far away to the stable of an tiny inn in middle-of-nowhere Bethlehem.

In a sense this was the first family to come together for the birth of Christ. A carpenter, his virgin wife, three nerdy astronomers, some local shepherds, sheep, donkeys, and a partridge in a pear tree. Talk about a mixed bag.

Last night, after christmas service, everyone in the family came over. We drank some wine. The young boys Gabriel and Daniel shot off fireworks. When the clock struck midnight everyone hugged and wished each other a merry christmas. Then we chowed down on a massive dinner. After the dinner the adults lounged around to talk some more. It was probably 3 in the morning when I went to bed. Nobody exchanged presents. Nobody sang carols. Nobody stood under the mistletoe. It was just us, the Villacorta family, gathered around a table together. 

I think I like that quite a bit.

Now I'm not condemning American traditions. Lord knows I love presents, carols, and gingerbread houses. But here in Peru they strip it down to what really matters: Family. And it is a true honor to be considered a member of the Guillen-Villacorta family. I even got an honorary 'Tio Daniel' title with the two primos. I helped my host-brother Roberto move some furniture in his new house. I cooked Tacos for Magda, Elizabeth, Joanna, Jennett, Franco, and Deborah. I have been welcomed with open arms here and found nothing but love and THAT is what helps me during this holiday season.

Merry Christmas! From my family to yours!
In all honesty facing a Christmas away from my family is a daunting prospect. Thinking about it only makes it worse. I forgot what day of the week it was because I was too busy living in the love that is all around me. 

*Roughly paraphrasing what Shaina said, but she seriously helped so much that day.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Peace and Hope Pt. 3: Origin Story

So, one of the things I learned in college was that graphic representation can be used to discuss a number of topics. Artistc representation can be used to discuss serious topics to guide understanding and direct emotions through the application of artistic merit. Examples of biographical comics include the infamous Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi or Maus by Art Spiegelman. Both are fantastic reads and helped me to understand their topics greatly. In the vein of (but certainly not on a similar talent level) these graphic representations I chose to make my own about the originas of the organization I work for: Paz y Esperanza. I highly recommend you read this on your laptop or home computer and I apologize for any discrepancies. I only want to convey the information as best as possible. Any misrepresentation is purely by accident and entirely unintentional.

Here is the full page spread (surprising its not in the exact order I drew it!)

For those who might have read a bit about the Violence here in Peru during the 80´s do not think it was a lonely time with no outside help. In 1984 Evangelical Protestants chose to workly direct in the results of the armed conflict. This work culminated in our organization Paz y Esperanza. It was founded by six professionals in 1996 taking up the work CONEP started: incarcerated people, victims of armed conflicts, human rights education, and enabling churches to be more involved. This initial work prospered into the work Paz does today (Human Rights, Citizenship, Justice an Reconciliation, Sex Education, Protect Abused Women and Children,, Indigenous Rights.) In 2002, Paz grew to include offices in Ecuador (Guayaquil) and Bolivia (Santa Cruz) as well as offices in the US and UK. They also opened several more offices across Peru. My office here in Moyobamba is a result of that.