The holidays are upon us and here I am in my cozy little Paraguayan house, my 100-count single strand of lights strung by my bedroom window with care, These Are Special Times Celine Dion’s Christmas CD from 1992 a fixture on my ITunes, holiday cookies  cooling (sugar, oatmeal raisin, cocoa thumbprints, and gingerbread) for my Paraguayan neighbors and friends. I should mention it is 95 degrees and unbearably humid. Not exactly the ideal day to bake 12-dozen cookies. More of a drink cold water, lay under my fan, move as little as possible kind of day, however, I decided I needed to share some of my holiday cheer and I figure the sweat currently dripping off my face will all be worth it.

Crazy for cookies!

Crazy for cookies!

The past month and a half, although not much in terms of work, has been pretty eventful. I attended two more Quinceñeras, celebrated Thanksgiving with other Peace Corps volunteers, visited the Virgin Saint in Caacupé, and went to a my first Paraguayan funeral.

The Quinceñeras: While living with one of my host families, I became very close to their extended family. The sister of my host mom turned 15, and because their family is better off than most Paraguayan families in the rural areas, they went ALL OUT. We’re talking fireworks coming out of the stage, a photographer, a band that played on the STAGE, a fruit table with cocktails. It was beautiful and the girl who’s birthday it was had a fabulous time. We danced and dance until 6 in the morning when I decided to take a bus back to my house. A little bit crazier than my 15th birthday and probably nicer than my future wedding will be.

The Quincenera herself

The Quincenera herself

Sweets and cocktails

Sweets and cocktails

Dance floor with fireworks!

Dance floor with fireworks!

Dancing the night away

Dancing the night away

The second quince was for Carmen—my neighbor and host sister. Her family had a dinner with neighbors and a couple of her girlfriends. Much smaller scale, but equally as special. I got pulled into dancing multiple polka songs with my host dad, and spent the rest of the night hiding out by the food table sneaking chorizo and cake bites. The quince tradition here is so important for families and they take so much pride in it. The parties are also a huge source of community gossip for weeks! “I heard she got a car sent to her from Argentina!” “I heard they didn’t even give out cake!” One family told me that it is a tradition to have a quinceñera so big that families spend all of their money to celebrate their daughters 15th birthday and the following day might not even have money to eat. A bit of an exaggeration, but I can see some truth to it.

Quincenera 2

Quincenera 2

Polka with pops

Polka with pops

 Thanksgiving in Paraguay: Considering Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday I was determined to make it a special day even if I was in Paraguay, in the heat, away from my loved ones. Peace Corps has a tradition of renting out rooms in a hotel in the southern part of the country to spend the weekend together eating traditional thanksgiving food, drinking, and splashing around in pools, but that wasn’t until the weekend, and I wanted to celebrate on Thanksgiving day. Three of my girlfriends came to visit my site and we made a Mexican feast. Burritos with spanish rice, black beans, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pudding pie! (I have become OBSESSED with making homemade chocolate pudding, who knew it was so easy and you don’t even have to use a J-E-L-L-O packet! ) We had a wonderful evening together and then a fun filled weekend. Thanksgiving success!

 First Paraguayan Funeral: One of the families that I stayed with for a couple of weeks lived on a small compound where the grandfather had a home right behind the family’s home. Shortly after I left the home, the grandfather fell, became very weak, and had to move into the family’s home. He stopped walking and my host mom became his caretaker. When I would go and visit we would share terere and although his spirits remained high, he continued to deteriorate. A couple of weeks ago I got a text from my host sister informing me that her grandfather had passed away. I didn’t know exactly how to handle the situation. What is the culturally appropriate thing to do? I called the family and let them know how sorry I was about their loss. They told me the funeral would be the following day and that they expected me to attend. Of course I would, no problem. The next day I got ready, headed to the church where they had a short mass and then we accompanied the body to the cemetery. The family had gone in cars and I trailed behind with a couple of others walking. As we approached the cemetery I heard people screaming and because nobody else was freaking out, I decided to go with it. When we got to the casket, the daughters of the grandfather who had passed away were all standing around their father’s body screaming and pounding his casket. It was a scorching day and because they were exerting so much energy screaming and pounding, a couple of the sisters started to faint. Again, I did as the Paraguayans did and just stood by trying to hide my shock. Later I asked one of my neighbors if this was a tradition and he said that although you won’t see it all the time, the screaming and other dramatic displays of emotion show to those who are attending the funeral how sad you are, how much you care. Although I would have appreciated a warning, I know what to expect at my next funeral.

The Virgin of Caacupé: This is a HUGE tradition in Paraguay. Starting around the first of December and lasting until the 8th, thousands and thousands of Paraguayans visit the city of Caacupé to honor the city’s virgin saint or “our lady of the miracles.” It is said up to 300,000 devout Catholics make the pilgrimage each year from all over the country. I went with a commission in my community (by bus) on the 2nd of December and there were already so many people! We attended a crowded mass and walked around the streets where vendors of all sorts take advantage of the influx of visitors. The rest of the week you saw people hitchhiking, riding their bikes, and walking along the side of the highways attempting to get to Caacupé by the 8th.

So many people!

So many people!

Mass

Mass

The virgin saint

The virgin saint

The Church of Caacupe

The Church of Caacupe

 Vacation: School ended the last week of November and although my community has been having lots of graduations and end of the year events, the days seem much longer and the street (I would say streets, but there is only one) is silent. Luckily, foreseeing this months ago, some girlfriends and I started planning a Christmas vacation.  Tomorrow we are getting on a bus and heading to Montevideo, Uruguay. After spending a couple of days there, we will head to Punta del Diablo for 5 days, Cabo Polonio for 3 days, and finally Punte del Este for 3 nights. Not only am I excited to spend Christmas and New Years with some of my closest friends here, but I am SO excited to see the ocean after 10 months and eat SEAFOOD! You better believe I will be eating fish every chance I get! My next blog will extensively document our 13-day journey through Uruguay. I am a little bummed to be missing out on the Paraguayan traditions of pesebres, their version of nativities that most families decorate and put in front of their homes with fruit, lights, and ornaments, the large Christmas dinner, clerico, the Paraguayan version of Sangria, and spending time with the families I’ve grown to call my own here; however, not bummed enough to stay.

Pesebre

Pesebre

Wouldn’t be a blog post without a bug picture!

MONSTER BUG

MONSTER BUG

I hope you all have an amazing Christmas and New Years. I thank you all for following my journey thus far and I can’t wait for all that 2013 will bring—what a year this has been!

xoxo

Bridget

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