Me, elegantly culturally immersing this holiday season:
One-sentence summary: It is just like the gauntlet week pre-Christmas in the States, but on amphetamine-speed-crack, with a side of constant fireworks and I am simply not able to politely disappear from my own fishbowl.
Right Now: Paneton 4-evah
Also, it has to be said again: I freaking LOVE my host-family. They just really are my southern hemisphere teasing-irritating-annoying-fierce defenders of me. Anytime I get sad, or homesick, I get side-swiped with laughter or a hug from one of them and realize I am sure-fire grateful to be exactly where I belong.
And I don’t gush. They’re okay.
Expression of the Week: “Servimos Paneton!” Paneton is the brand name of the ubiquitous fruit cake that appears like oxygen to every event in December in Peru. It is a sweet bread loaf with electric colored, non-specific fruit chunks.
The majority of Week Twenty-Eight was attempting to explain “Solstice” aka Solsticio to everyone. They thought I was speaking in tongues. (Not abnormal.) Turns out Solstice isn’t really a common thing in Peru. Nor is it easy to explain in baby Spanish in a satisfying manner. But Christmas is definitely a thing in my host-family’s house. The sheer volume of Santa dolls actually makes me feel unsafe at night.
I gave my host-sister and host-mom gifts on “Feliz Upside-Down Solsticio Day” and explained my terribly pagan pre-Catholic, pre-Incan belief in the longest and shortest length days of light and the difference in our two hemispheres and that it is really dark and cold right now in Wyoming and they just nodded and politely pumped enthusiasm for my American clothes that said YELLOWSTONE and LIVE FREE OR DIE.
Peruvians celebrate Christmas with a large dinner on the 24th of December and attend church and place Baby Jesus in the nativity scene at midnight. In my family, when the whole extended grown kid family is present and accounted for, we shall exchange presents by playing “Family Bingo.” Every household contributes three prizes and there will be a game and someone will win a cow. Because I am definitely contributing a cow. I just need to discreetly ask someone where can I buy a cow. (As bartenders at Sirens know, my last surprise gift was a dance floor and stripper pole, so I am certainly not gonna step down my game now.)
At the workplace, there is also the ever-popular Secreto Amigo. At the tourism office in Oxapampa, the gift has a minimum of 30 soles. This caused me my first bout of apoplexia. They also gave me less than 24-hours warning. Then they gave me seven hours notice of a change in my Secret Amigo. Then they moved up the party two hours and switched my Amiga back again. Then no one showed up for an hour, even after my series of hostile texting and empty threats of leaving, but when folks rolled in there was PANETON. And my new favorite, CHOCOTON (chocolate Paneton).
December is tricky. End of the year, Christmas holidays… this month feels crazy-busy surrounded by people and at the same time feels profoundly lonely.
I threw some Goal Two at that problem. [Goal Two of Peace Corps is to share U.S. flavored customs with your host country.]
First step, text Wyoming house-sitter Wonder Woman Ariel (who happened to be hosting a Solstice party in our home that made me have next-level FOMO) for a recipe in the folder above the pantry in that red book …maybe? It was 5am and she didn’t instantly respond. Slacker.
Next step, Face Message Mom’s BFF Suzie for the same recipe. (It was 7am in Maine.)
Then send S. a series of screenshots explaining how to send a picture over FB messenger. Get distracted by stupid face filters. Turn face into a breakfast sandwich. Swear at FB. Wait what am I doing on my phone again?
Seven days later I have material for a blog post.
S sent me the most delightfully borrasso photo of my mom’s Christmas pecan recipe, aka “Debbie’s Nuts.” In Mom’s handwriting- so basically all the feels. For three of my readers, you know what I am talking about since you probably have 18 of the pint-sized mason jars she gifted you each December. For the rest of you, it’s roasted pecans wrapped in a light jacket of meringue. We used to make them by the truckload. [Sidequest: The last time I made them was for the UNH Men’s Crew Team when I was a sophomore in college and forgot to cook them again after adding the egg whites. This season I have decided not to share the cultural gift of salmonella.]
Fun-fact: Pecans in Peru are called pecanes and they are also insanely expensive. Sixty soles for one kilo (about $20 USD for 2lbs) AND they come in giant form (not North American style traditional halves) and are truly the size of my thumb. If my thumb also got really fat.
Actual footage of me in the kitchen listening to Shakira and converting “1/2 stick of butter” into grams:
Also busted out a 1000 more salted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies while I was at it.
Still battling the emotional tornado that is December, I got tricky with little cellophane gift bags and have been passing them out to my caseras (vendors I see regularly, like the ladies at the coffee shop or my papa rellena person at the Farmer’s Market or Jovah, the nice lady at the butcher’s who yelled at me for not coming to her 12-hour wedding) much to their surprise and delight. I may talk funny, but my mama’s nuts are damn good. Astrid even showed up at my house this morning unannounced saying “Jessy you maybe have some more pecanes y galletas for me yes?”
Finally, since I am really dragging the post in this week for the sake of posting, it has been raining so hard that Oxapampa lost pasé (access to the one way out of town) cell service and water. At least leaving, making any phone calls, doing laundry or showering this Christmas has suddenly become obsolete. At least I still have cheese.
Cheers family and friends. May your light keep staying longer.
Vamos a ver, amigos.
A Parting Shot
“Cocina Jessy” discreetly selfie films nothing of consequence but there is a glimpse of the Cofia which needs to be classified as a weapon of destruction (electrocution not shown).
*Cofia: Is “hat” in Swahili. We used a contraption like a thermal hat over fry-bake stoves when baking in the field for NOLS (cofia) and since I can’t figure out what Peruvians actually call this oven orb (orno) it’s got a nickname here.
Like sharing American culture by cooking Thai soup, people, here’s a little tidbit about Africa I learned in Wyoming.
Update: I want my 10-qt. commercial stand mixer from my house and my tent and backpack and my truck. Thanks.
Leaderboard: NO HAY PASÉ
Hermana Jessica Rice, Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado NO. 120 SERPOST La Merced
La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, PERU
Please note: 1) This mailbox is two hours away 2) It costs a lot of money to send me stuff – (like $23 for $5 of candy) and only send through USPS to SERPOST 3) Keep packages under 1lb (or to not appear worth $100) or they get sent to Customs Jail in Lima. 4) Customs Jail is as arbitrary and random as my blog posts, so don’t send me anything that you’ll be sad goes missing. 5) The last numbers are my Peru cell phone and they will call me if it gets lost. Place them in the spot you would look if you were lost.