The content of this webpage, and everything associated with this webpage, is independent of the Peace Corps and the United States Government, though I think they should read it too. This blog solely reflects the experiences and observations of Jake DeBerry.

Friday, March 6, 2009

El Monte

Carnavales is best known in Brazil – primarily in Rio de Janeiro…but, it’s celebrated in Peru as well. Basically, for the entire month of the ‘carnaval’ period, you have to water proof anything you’re walking with. Kids hang out on the side of the road and throw buckets of water at passing cars – so you have to keep your windows up as well…or at least be on the lookout and hope you have time to close your window when you spot the little miscreants. Kids hang out on the top of roofs and throw buckets of water or water balloons at unsuspecting victims. If you’re white and walking through the town, you’re an even bigger target. Most of the time during Carnaval, if you’re wearing nice clothing or appear to have something of value, you’ll be spared. With a shaved head and a good scowl I learned from my Dad, I can usually make any kid scared of me and think twice about throwing water at me during the month. Plus, we’re in the rainy season now, so every afternoon it’s guaranteed to rain – which diminishes the water fights.

(Pic from last year's carnaval) This goes on for a month and then it’s capped by a huge parade day with lots of people dressed up, floats, etc. They carry a blood-soaked statue of Jesus surrounded by soldiers to churches. Something interesting, for a very homophobic society, a bunch of guys dress up in women’s clothing with masks on their faces for the parade, blowing kisses as they pass by. Then, there is one day where you don’t go outside unless you want to get wet. Seriously, the entire town shuts down and it’s one huge water fight for those who want to venture out…mainly the youth (I participated last year, not this year).

The youth of my town came to me about a month ago and wanted to work on raising money for the parade. I said I would help and we came up with income-generating activities. One time, we made tamales and sold them – made about 80 soles ($28). Instead of doing more activities or putting that towards the parade, they decided to skip the parade and have a party in our town, called “El Monte”.

Another custom within this period is “El Monte” – which is putting a tree in the plaza or the middle of a street, put presents up in the tree (presents = buckets, pots, brooms, useful household items mainly), then dance around the tree all night while people take turns swinging an ax. Then once the tree falls, grab what you can and it’s yours. (Me dancing huayno...I just stomp around without embarrassment and everyone thinks I know how to dance...funny)

In my town, we made a hole in the street, specifically for this (the stump of the tree is still there a week later). The party began around 6pm and the tree fell around 11pm. Most of the time, everyone is holding hands and spinning around the tree, while two to four people take turns dancing in the middle. When the song is over, those who were dancing in the middle hit the tree with the ax, and then pass the ax. Repeat. Oh, and the music is huayno – a most horrible sounding clanging of instruments and squealing of voices. I’m going to bring back some of it and force some of you to listen to it…just so you can sympathize that I had to listen to this crap for 2 years…of course, I imagine once I’m no longer forced to be surrounded by it, it’ll have a special place in my heart.

(Jenifer, my girlfriend here, taking her turn swinging the ax)Until around 10pm, you don’t really try to cut the tree down, then once it’s past 10 you can really swing. The method of dancing is a type of stomp mainly…kinda difficult to explain, so I’ll just have to show you someday. Once people get drunk enough, then we have a white-dust fight, where everyone is trying to put it on your face. Everyone gets drunk, everyone dances, and everyone is merry.

I hope everyone is doing well.
Much love,
-Following pictures:
Here with one of my artisans and his son-in-law...after all the white-powder flinging. I'm pretty much the only bald dude around, so everyone wanted to put it on my head...
-A group of the youth in my town...coming back and being slightly above the average height will be weird...
- It was also someone's birthday, so that's me eating part of a guinea pig...they're pretty good. Of course, that's also about 7 potatoes on my plate. Eating that many potatoes is daunting.
-Jenifer and I. This was the first big event she came to(she lives in the bigger city near me), so everyone got to meet the gringo's chica. Perhaps now most will stop asking me to marry their daughters.
-This doesn't have anything to do with the above story...simply the sunset view from where I live.


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