I have officially completed my first month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer and wow. It has been a month full of intense ups and downs that I could not have ever anticipated. I knew that the drastic shift in my life from working for a fast growing company in the United States to working in a developing country would have its differences, but I didn’t realize how hard of a cultural adjustment that could be. I also have struggled with missing my friends and family at home and have had countless hours to contemplate- is it worth it? But then, I step outside and feel the chill of the Cordillera Blancas, walk the path to my Municipality and am greeted by excited neighbors who kiss me on my cheek as I pass, and sit down at my desk and speak with motivated community leaders about all we can achieve together over the next two years and I can’t help but feel this is where I am supposed to be.
One of the cultural highlights of my August was the week long Fiesta Patronal which celebrated Mama Ashu, the Virgin Mary. She is called Mama Ashu because I live in the province, Asunción, which is “Ashu” in Quechua. The fiesta is 8 days and includes 7 processions of the Virgin. People travel from all over Perú to dance, parade, drink, eat, play music, and celebrate in the honor of Mama Ashu. The 8 days are packed with activities from 5 AM to 2 AM each day, further proving my theory that Peruvians do not require the 8 hours of sleep each night that I do.
The fiesta began August 13 with traditional Chacasino dances in the Plaza de Armas. From that moment on, the dancing did not stop.Each day there were live bands that alternated between playing traditional Huayno and Cumbia music. In fact, I am now a self-proclaimed expert in dancing Huayno, which was taught to me by someone saying, “Imagine you are trying to stomp on a cockroach and move around”. YouTube it…you’ll see what I mean.
The fiesta also included la carrera de cintas a caballos and bull fighting. I was happy to learn that in Chacas, the bulls are not killed, like in many other places that host bull fighting events. It was fun, entertaining, and a beautiful event that brought the whole community together for Mama Ashu.
Probably my favorite part of the festival is that the whole town has lunch together each day after the procession of the Virgin. This is a time to socialize, listen to music, and enjoy the company of the community. One day, after lunch, my host sister, brother, and their friends put their arms around my shoulders and we started to join a crowd who was doing the exact same thing. I had no idea what was going on, but I followed along. The crowd kept getting larger and eventually, there were people shoulder to shoulder the entire width of the street. We started walking as a unified group from my home in Pirishtu all the way to our Plaza de Armas, which is about a 20 minute trek. The band followed right behind us, playing Huayno music the entire walk. We were dancing, laughing, and enjoying the friendship of the community as people in balconies sprayed beer over the entire crowd. It was a completely new experience for me and really made me feel like a Chacasina. It was the moment I realized that I am home. Soy una Chacasina.