After October seemed to last forever, with daily doubts about what I am doing here in Peru, November seemed to fly by, with a lot of firsts. It was my first time out of Lambayeque since Swearing In, first In Service Peace Corps training, first Thanksgiving/major holiday away from home, first birthday in Peru, and first Festival de Zaña.
EIST was in Huanchaco, La Libertad, which is a really quaint surfer town about 20 minutes outside of Trujillo. I LOVE this place, I had been there once on a day trip during PST. I don’t know if it was the fact that I hadn’t left the blistering hot, dusty desert of Lambayeque in 3 months, or just that Huanchaco really is cool, but I was sooo obsessed. Seriously, I must have said 1,000 times I was eting (early terminating service) as a PCV and moving to Huanchaco to become a surf-bum who pays her bills by working in a local café. Ambitious, I know. That has not happened, yet (there’s still 20 months to go) but on the days that I am literally dying of heat stroke, these thoughts come back real strong.
Anyways, EIST is program focused, so it was the first time since Swearing In I got to reunite with the CED Peru 25 program………but the catch was we had to bring our socios. Honestly, when I read the email that I had to bring a socio to EIST I was ticked off. Completing 3 months in-site was hard and I wanted an actual break from Zaña, as in not having to see or speak to anyone from my town for the full 5 days I would be away. However, having our socios with us for the first few days, was actually a blessing. I brought my socio, Oscar, a cool, funny guy, who quickly made Peruvian friends and left me in the dust. The training focused on Bancos Comunitarios, which are part of our 3rd program goal, and one of the projects I am eager to start. Bancos Comunitarios are small savings clubs (basically) where the bank members can take out loans with much smaller interest rates. In Peru, interest rates for loans from traditional banks are absurdly high, and because of this, most people cannot afford to take out a loan, which perpetuates a cycle of poverty. So, these Bancos Comunitarios are great in that there’s no outside capital or establishment needed, and all the money remains in the community. I felt revived after the week, and knowing that I had a socio who actually and seriously knew what the hell I was talking about in Zaña was reassuring.
Thanksgiving was the week following EIST and it crept up out of nowhere. Peruvians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, or Día de Acción de Gracias, obviously, because it’s an American holiday, so there was no decorations or 3 weeks of fasting before the big meal. However, the volunteers of Lambayeque celebrated together with a traditional meal, mostly cooked by Reesy, in Pimentel (beach town in Lambayeque about an hour and 20 minutes from Zaña) at Roxy’s family’s house. There were appetizers, which included spinach and artichoke dip that I made, hummus and other dips with chips and fresh veggies, and for the meal there was mac and cheese, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, sweet potato pie and apple crisp. So much American food in one sitting, it was so rico, and I obviously ate way too much. Unfortunately, the ovens in Peru cook a bit differently, and so the meal was finally ready at the time Ti’Era and I had to leave to make it back to site*, so we went back with to-go plates and I even got to take a piece of sweet potato pie to my madre (who has since asked for the recipe).
As Thanksgiving was approaching, I randomly got a craving for spinach and artichoke dip and decided I would use it as my first opportunity to cook with my madre. You need to understand that my madre is a very hands-on woman. She’s never had any children of her own and she takes me being her hija very seriously. Basically, the woman thinks I’m incompetent and she does everything for me (just kidding, I know she does it all out of love). So, I had bought most of the ingredients beforehand on Monday and told Eliceni I needed the spinach and garlic from the market. Tuesday morning after her daily trip to the market, she told me that she spoke to the veggie lady and told her that she had to have spinach tomorrow morning for me, so seguro, there would be spinach tomorrow in Zaña and it was 3 soles per kilo. We haven’t even started cooking and she’s taken over, this should be interesting. Wednesday evening rolls around, and she helps me take out all the ingredients from the fridge and I tell her we need to wash the spinach before we cook it, and she’s like “okay hija, hazlo.” I start washing the spinach and I’m not joking within 10 seconds, literally 10 seconds, she’s over my shoulder saying “a ver, a ver, a ver, a ver, yo puedo hacerlo, damelo hija.” This is when I knew it would be less cooking together and more instructing Eliceni how to cook. Eventually she relinquished a little bit of control of her kitchen and let me do some cooking too, in the end, it was a really cute experience. We had spinach and artichoke dip for dinner, which she thought was really rico.
My birthday was the day after Thanksgiving, and Eliceni was very adamant that I was home to spend the day with her. She cooked me a special birthday meal, chickpeas and rice, and we invited Oscar, Ti’Era and her madre Elvie to spend the afternoon with us. Normally, Peruvian birthday parties are filled with loud music, drinking and awkward dancing but I’m not into that. Eliceni even went to the next town over to buy a birthday cake that actually had my name spelled right!!! Without an H! I was shocked.
Later that night the festivities for the Festival de Zaña, or the anniversary celebration of Zaña, began with El Reinado. This is a local beauty pageant to find La Reina de Zaña, who has various duties/appearances to make throughout the year. Two of our dance friends were participating, so Ti’Era and I drank some wine and sat through the entire show, which was several hours long. It was worth it in the end though, because the girls we knew ended up winning! The rest of the weekend was the Festival de Zaña. Saturday night there was live music from the band Afro-Peru and dancing in the main park. At the end of the show the director of the Museo Afroperuano invited people to come listen to another well-known guitarist play. We stayed listening to different groups sing and dance until about 5 am. And then I snuck back into my house just to have my madre laugh at me when I finally woke up at noon. Sunday I participated in the parade, dressed up as La Princesa Mochica. There was a big town baile that we went to, staying again way too late, but it was so much fun. Eliceni laughed at me again when I woke up super late and still was really tired. But it was worth it!
It was a busy, fun month, but it never quite felt like November, as its at least 80° here everyday, there’s no large leaf piles to jump into or chunky sweaters to wear. That’s probably what made it less sad to spend the holiday and my birthday away from family and friends, but maybe it’s because Zaña is becoming my home.
*side note of information: to get to Zaña we take combis which are basically minivans. Our combis travel from one specific location in Chiclayo and stop in our town on their way to the final destination. The combis run from about 5 am to 7/8pm depending on the day. To be safe, we are always in our terminal by 7 pm.