Friday, September 23, 2011

Cultural Immersion

September 6-8, 2011

Tuesday morning
I awoke knowing that on the other side of the world in a small town in Michigan several thousand kids were winding the ir way through the halls of a high school after a long break, some for the first time ever. Many are kids that I will not meet or know for another 6 month s. I knew that teachers would be welcoming them at the door, shaking hands, and probably have some sort of cool assembly at the end of the day. It was a very weird feeling not being around for the first day of school for the first time in 12 years. I logged on to my teacher email account to kind of get a feeling of what was going on. There was a first day Bucs’ Blade, early dismissal for band students to go to the assembly, and Mr. P was absent because his kid was sick. Well, that is another world for now, but I miss my colleagues, students, sporting events, Interact, and just being around. Go Bucs! But I am glad I am here and wouldn’t change it for anything. And it is comforting to know that life goes on just fine without me.

Thursday of this week was the anniversary of the local high school, Ollantay. I mentioned last week that the girls missed some tutoring because they were working on the dances for the big celebration. I wasn’t too happy about that. This week was even worse, shortened classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and no class on Thursday or Friday. Apparently this celebration was a big deal.

The festivities kicked off Tuesday with the Miss Ollantay 2011 beauty pageant. I guess the festivities during the week needed a “queen” to preside over things. Elena was asked to be a judge, so we all headed down as an entire group to watch. Alex, Elena, and I were the only gringos in a completely packed, standing-room only municipal building. There were about ten students from the school, 12-15 years old vying for the title of Miss Ollantay 2011. It began with two couples (not competing) performing a traditional dance as a sort of warm-up. It was pretty cool. Then, round one was a single academic question asked to each girl while dressed in the school uniform. I think each girl got their individual question right, so it must not have been that challenging. Round two was the traditional dress competition. Each girl walked down a runway which was two tables put together in the center. They had to step up on a chair to get up, it seemed a little unsafe to me. The traditional dresses were really interesting, and the girls were asked another question after the walk. I recognized some of the attire from the villages we worked in over the past two summers. The final round was the formal gown competition. It definitely is not something I could ever see happening in the states. We do have the Miss Coast Guard Pageant, but it is not a school sponsored event. Alex and I left after the traditional dress part, so I didn’t see who won or how that went down.

Wednesday the girls were back at the dorm earlier than usual, and had to get ready for the big parade that evening. So that evening the two girls who go to a different high school (Nohemi and Maria Elena) and I headed down to catch the big parade. I gave them my camera and told them to go crazy, take as many pictures as you want. All the kids from the school lined up outside the main square and then proceeded to walk around twice. Each grade had a special, select group of dancers all decked out in traditional costumes. Four of our girls participated in the dances. As they came around the second time, the principal was in the center of the plaza talking into a microphone introducing each grade. They then performed a shortened version of their dance. Wow. It was really cool. One again, the plaza was packed, but this time there were a bunch of tourists watching as well. I wonder if they knew the reason for the celebration. On the way back to the dorm, Nohemi and Maria Elena were messing with the settings on the camera and accidentally erased all the pictures and videos, so I don’t have any from the pageant or the parade.

Thursday was the big day, the official anniversary of the school. Elena, Maria, Anatoli, and I headed down to the high school at 11:00 a.m. When we arrived, all the seats lining the sides of the cement courtyard soccer field were filled, and people were sitting on the ground or standing along the edges. But the principal saw us, made people move from the center chairs, and seated us as the guests of honor. Right next to us was the huge statue of the patron virgin (saint) for the school, and on the other side sat the staff and Miss Ollantay.

Patron saint of the school from our VIP seating

The principal announced the first group and the dancers lined up. The music was live, and it consisted of two flutes and a drum (a guitar joined later for the older groups).

It. Was. Awesome.

I didn’t expect to see such colorful routines, upbeat music, and skilled dancing. There were about 12 routines in total, each lasting about 10-15 minutes. Each grade told a story with their dances as well. I went from extremely upset about all the missed class time, to a little more relaxed as I watched this tradition of the Andes unfold before my eyes. But there were still a few things I stayed mad about, like being served checha (traditional alcoholic drink) while sitting there in the schoolyard watching in front of all the students. Unfortunately, the battery on my camera died just before the last and oldest group danced. They had recorded music instead of live, and are the ones that everyone stays to watch. The costumes were intricate, black, colonial Spanish ones with bells on the legs. They were incredible. And our four girls did a great job as well, I was proud to watch them perform. (Videos are coming as soon as I get reasonable internet.)

One of the routines


The dancing lasted from about noon to three in the afternoon. After the dancing, we were invited to the VIP dinner, which was set up in one of the classrooms. All the school officials and teachers were invited. There were about 30 people in the room. The lunch was exactly the same as Gabe’s lunch at the Loayza’s. It was roast pig with tamales. But, once again, the after lunch was exactly the same too. They came around and handed everyone a 12 oz beer at first. Then, we saw them coming around again but this time with the big 1 liter bottles. We managed to escape, but upon exiting the classroom we saw a mountain of cases of beer. I found out there was no school on Friday simply because the teachers would be hung over. They all got plastered on Thursday, at the school, with all the students still there, on the school’s budget. Interesting. Hopefully my principal is reading this, any chance we could miss several days of school and drink on the school’s budget? And, as it turns out, do it multiple times a year any time there is any kind of reason? Yup, doesn’t seem to make sense to me, but welcome to Peru.

1 comment:

Jay Greer said...

Nice post - you brought out a chuckle! Love following the journey. I'll make sure to forward it to Keith:)

Nice pics by the way!