It is rainy season in Perú. A lot of people ask me what that means. To be honest with you, I am not quite sure myself. I have asked lots of locals, and have gotten just as many different answers as the people I have asked. So, for now, I can only go by my last month’s experience. IT RAINS. Well, it rains every day, or night. Really hard. It always stops though, and then it may be gray. Or the sun may come out. Really strong. What is the pattern? Who knows? All I know is that if you are trying to get crops to grow, the weather is perfect.
I was thinking about the rainy season yesterday as I spent the day in local communities, spreading a little holiday cheer. First, I stood in the rain for many hours, then, in the sun. Many people have also asked me “So, what’s the holiday season like where you are?” My answer…. “Pure.” If someone dropped you here from another planet, you would probably have little clue that this was any different than any other time of the year. No mall madness. No shopping frenzies. No credit card debt. In fact, it is really impossible to even use a credit card here. Well, there is really nothing to buy anyway. Now, if you travel to the big city of Cusco (2 hour drive by collectivo), there are some shops where you could buy things, if you wanted to. But living a simple life, here in Ollantaytambo, I cannot really imagine anything I would buy anyway. I mean, what do I really need that I don’t have? I really can’t think of anything. Ah….. well there is one thing that I did ask my husband for (and we’ll see if I get it when he arrives here tomorrow.) It is a thermometer. “Why?,” you ask. Well, there just are no thermometers here. Anywhere. I guess it doesn’t really matter what temperature it is, does it? I mean it just is what it is. The weather changes so frequently that you are either burning in the strong sun one minute, or shivering in your unheated room from the damp weather. Hot or cold. The bigger thing is if it’s raining or not. The locals find no need to put a number on it. Dress in layers. So, why do I want a thermometer, then? Well, the truth of the matter is that I still talk with a lot of people who do NOT live here. And they are always asking about the weather. So, as a courtesy to y’all, I would like to be able to quantify the “temperature” that it is here. But I digress.
Back to the season at hand. It is Christmas Eve. A small nativity scene was put up in our main Plaza, just a few days ago. Very nice and simple, it is decorated with all natural mosses and plant things from the jungle. People here in town will celebrate with their families. They may go to Church, and will definitely have a big meal and lots of chicha and beer. Perú is predominately a “Catholic” country, as it was conquered by the Spaniards. They built many churches and cathedrals on top of the native Incan places of worship. Peruvians have adapted the Catholic religion, incorporating their own traditional belief system. It is truly a syncretic religion. So, although they may attend Church, many still have their own polytheistic worship which dates back to their Incan culture. The Peruvian Constitution states that there is freedom of religion, but the law mandates that all schools, public and private, impart religious education as part of the curriculum throughout the education process. So, if kids go to school, they are taught Catholicism. But I believe that privately, in homes, a combination of religions, or a syncretic religion is practiced.
I would like to believe that this is why the holiday season is still so “pure” here. People will practice what they will. No bastardization of a religious holy day into a frenzy of commercialism. I may be idealistic in that thought. It could very well be that capitalism and commercialization just haven’t made it here yet. I mean, after all, you can’t even use a credit card here – yet.
I know that in the mountain communities that our girls come from, there will be no Christmas tree, no presents, no holiday meal. I don’t know how to explain it more plainly. These people have very little. So, there are a few organizations around that spread a little holiday cheer to the poor children in the communities. And that’s what I was doing yesterday for 10 hours in the rain/sun. A community persona “Washi” has been bringing chocolatada (homemade hot chocolate) and pancito dulce (little sweet breads) to children in the communities for the last 10 years. He, as well as dozens like him, is like a Peruvian Santa Claus.
Yesterday, we visited 6 communities in a very sparkly van – with tinsel streamers and loudspeakers on top. Today, 7 more will be visited. We were playing fun Christmas songs – from Spanish songs to dogs barking Jingle Bells to Feliz Navidad. As the van rolled into the communities, children flocked in, clutching empty mugs to get their chocolatada. We saw up to 100 kids at each stop we made. Community leaders already had a huge pot of water boiling on an open fire, and Elisabeth, a friend of Washi’s, would get to work, adding oatmeal, pure chocolate, sugar, milk and cinnamon. We had about 9 local Ollanta kids, mostly teenage boys, with us in the van – who hauled ingredients to the cooking station. One was even dressed up like Papa Noel to bring further delight to the kids. The kids waited patiently as the hot chocolate was made, then lined up to get their cup filled, and have a treat of sweet bread.
Oh, to see the excitement of kids at Christmas! There were not dozens of brightly wrapped presents under a tree. No huge “wishlists.” There was not days spent buying the perfect ingredients for the perfect meal. No holiday cards. No decorations…. Just a cup of hot chocolate and a sweet bread. In the rain. The gratitude from these kids was more touching than I think I have ever experienced. So much for so little. I think back to all of the time and money I have spent “getting ready” for the Christmas holidays, as well as the stress that goes with it. Of course, it’s always turned out to be lovely. And of course, I have always enjoyed the time spent with my family. And I think about the fact that here, there was none of that. Just about a buck spent on each kid, and stopping at the market and bakery to pick up some supplies, the same morning. So much for so little.
This year, the holiday season has new meaning for me. It is not about all of the trappings we so easily get caught up in. It’s not about finding the perfect gift or planning the perfect meal. It’s not about taking the perfect photo to commemorate the season. All of these things will come and go. It is about taking the time to think about your beliefs, and quietly celebrating them in an appropriate way. It is about doing what you can to bring joy to others. Even if that means standing in the rain.
As my holiday gift to you, I would love to share some of these kids and the joy that they bring ……… Enjoy them, in addition to your family and friends, this holiday season.