Published: January 3rd 2012January 3rd 2012
I’m beginning to think this organization won’t last much longer. Manos Amigas relies on volunteers to be able to afford the lunches and whatever else that's provided for all the kids. There have been problems with the website since the summer and the owner, from what I can tell, hasn’t been doing much to do solve it. Apparently he has paid a lot of money to hire a guy that does the website, but this guy has only taken the money and messed things up. For this reason, there are no volunteers. If there are, it’s because they’ve met a former volunteer somewhere in Colombia, or because they’ve come to learn Spanish and the school also provides the option to volunteer after class. The kids haven’t had lunch in the past two weeks, and I’m worried for their health. I highly doubt they get what they need at home, especially after a very humbling experience of going to a few kids homes in both San Jose and a neighboring slum this afternoon (you seriously have no idea how lucky you are). We’re going on three weeks now of no lunches, but there’s word they’ll start back up on Wednesday. A couple
have just arrived to learn Spanish and have also signed up to volunteer, which is why I think lunches are back –there’s money now. I’m told there are always volunteers ranging anywhere from 6-15 or more throughout the year. Last year, there were 14 here for Christmas. There must be something else going on, too much time has passed and nothing is being done to resolve this website issue, (volunteers are unable to sign up to volunteer, there form gets lost in cyberworld). Please send money, via PayPal, to email@example.com. Just login into your PayPal account and you'll see an option to pay another account holder and enter the given email address. Seriously, every little bit helps, I’m here to see and experience it first hand.
So on to Christmas festivities. I’ll try to keep it short but well, I like details…
The first is the lights of Christmas night celebration. To help keep things short, check out the Colombian Family blog entry I wrote earlier as it’s explained there.
Everyday, beginning the nine days before Christmas, the kids receive presents from someone. But before they receive these presents, they must come wearing white (to show purity),
put a Santa Claus hat we provide on, sing a few Colombian Christmas songs, read a prayer (which is more of a very long story, and it changes each day), and perform a traditional song and dance representing Christmas. The volunteers and I were the first to give presents. We all chipped in and bought them a small toy, cookies, and soda (the giver also gives a snack). It was really cute, at first, to see this whole tradition. The dance especially, was pretty funny as a few kids pretend to open a present and one pulled out giant granny panties! But by the end of the nine days I wanted to shoot myself. Having to hear the same songs, which are sung with no tune or rhthym was just pure torture! By the end of it, the kids were screaming all of these very long songs and singing them as fast as they could, since they were sick of them too! I can’t even really call them "songs" by that point!
The San Jose kids performed a few dances and sang some songs at the bus station. I’m not sure why there, but they did. They even made
it on the radio, so I’m sure they thought that was pretty neat. Plus the terminal provided them a very traditional Christmas snack (greasy banuelos, like a donut hole, and a hard, flavorless pudding). Obviously, I’m not a fan of either of these treats. Banuelos look yummy, but the grease they cook in them is very not yummy! You can sort of taste the other foods that were cooked in the same grease.
Here, they’ve got their party days a bit mixed up. For the 24th
, the day they really celebrate Christmas, they have a very late dinner with their family, and then ditch them to go party in the streets or clubs with their friends. The 25th
isn’t celebrated whatsoever. Then New Years is only celebrated in their respective houses only with their families. After midnight, it’s supposed to turn into a huge street party in each neighborhood (no one meets up with their friends), partying all night with their family. Seriously, big clubs are closed that night, so weird considering they know how to party here.
Since the Christmas celebration doesn't start until the night of the 24th, the entire town is going haywire with last
minute shopping and errands. It's strange to me that this is the day of all days has everything open. Anyways, Nick and I had planned to spend the holiday with Berenice and company. But every time we talked to them, it changed (no surprise there, remember what I said about the Colombian answers?). So from what we understood, we would go hang out at Berenice's boyfriend's house first, around 10, then come back for dinner at about midnight, then go party in the streets of our neighborhood as it's supposed to be a huge party. Nicklas had decided he wanted to make Swedish meatballs for them to bring to dinner, which of course, I helped with. Plus he never cooks, so it was probably in everybody's best interest! Jk! But when it was time to leave, Nick saw Wil's car getting piled with food, and he quickly figured out we were actually going to be eating at Wil’s. So we only grabbed the balls and not the presents as Nick was told that would happen back at our place.
Wil lives clear on the other side of town, so it was a bit of a long drive to get
to. As well, we had a bit of an interesting experience there, but not just because we had no idea what was going on. His front door/wall opens up and he parked his car out front and blasted his music. Of course he has a stereo in his house, but why use that when you’ve got a 4-door car you can just open up and blast music through for all your neighbors to hear?
Dinner wasn't the sort of Christmas dinner one would expect. I’m not saying this because I'm used to a giant, warm meal for Christmas, but because Berenice is a dang good cook and typically cooks in that sort of fashion every night. For dinner, we had slices of cold cuts (not sure what meat that was), fruit salad, vegetable salad, rice, and meatballs. But despite my complaining, it was really nice to eat something light when it was sooo late. I think everyone would have been coma toast afterwards otherwise. Plus the balls we made were stellar! I don't think the Colombians were too hot for them, but Nicklas and I had no problem popping them back!
Once we finished dinner, we opened up
presents; which is when we found out presents wasn't happening back at home. -I'm not sure where Santa fits into this present delivery thing on Christmas Eve since all Colombians open their presents on this night. Once that was done, it was so late and the kids were so tired, they set up their spot on the tiled floor and went to sleep. This is also when we found out we were sleeping over, not once was this fact mentioned to us. Then Nick, Wil, Berenice and I went to the corner tienda (shop) in the community which had some tables, and blaring reggaeton music -a sort of a makeshift bar if you will. According to them, it gets pretty poppin there for Christmas. It normally is a giant party there with lots of people, dancing and Aguardiente. Only it had rained during presents time, so it had scared everyone off indoors. Though I think the rain is why the whole gigantic celebration never went underway this year. We stayed a bit longer and caught a cab home, as sleeping on a tiled floor with no change of clothes somehow wasn’t very appealing to either of us.
25th, everything, and I mean everything, is closed. This too doesn’t make much sense since they don't celebrate the actual day anyway. Nicklas and I hung out as the family spent the day over at Wil’s (there’s a pool in his gated community). We tried going out for dinner in town, but all there was, was street food. Tons of people were out as well, admiring all the Christmas lights, walking around, total opportunity for at least a few restaurants to score some bills. But we found a rock bar and enjoyed some 80s rock and I got a stick of chicken.
For NYE, I went to Cali on a whim with Yamile. Cali is 7-8 hours away and is the Salsa Capital of the world, it’s also the host location for the Salsa Festival that begins right after Christmas and goes until New Years. Yamile came over Thursday night and we decided we needed to go somewhere (in case you’re wondering, Nick had his final good-bye and left to Rio to celebrate the NYE –lucky duck!). But when we called to find out what times the buses left the next morning, we were told they were all full;
however, there were two spots on a bus leaving that very night within the hour. We figured we better take it since our chances weren’t looking too good otherwise. (I’ll explain more about our time in Cali in another blog post but I’ll continue with the NYE lack of celebration.) I initially heard that people spend it with their families in their homes, and then hit the clubs or the streets by 2 am –with their families, not their friends. Well in Cali, that definitely wasn't the case. The family that runs and lives in the hostel we stayed at had some people over, and they invited us and the two Spaniards we hung out with that weekend to eat dinner with them. This turned out to be a bit of a lifesaver as everything was closed anyway. Then just before midnight, and I really enjoy this one, we went around the room saying what we were thankful for that year (me struggling to make my Spanish sound really good on my turn). At midnight, we heard fireworks going off, and according to Yamile, that's when everyone hits the streets and the party begins. There are even papermache men that
are sold on the streets during the day, and then you put fireworks in them and blow them up during this night celebration. It's supposed to be a giant party, but our neighborhood was filled with crickets; the only party was the one the mosquitoes had feasting on my legs. So the four of us tried our luck with going out, which failed miserably. Most every club and bar were closed, and the ones that were open, barely had 5 people in it. We at least stayed and enjoyed a few beers and danced a few salsa songs and called it a night. Total anticlimactic considering the way Colombia likes to party, nightly. At least the night we had before made up for the lack of NYE celebrating!
The holidays were definitely interesting, but I don’t think it would be Colombia otherwise. Nothing makes sense, so questioning anything is just pointless. Besides that, the people I spent this awkward time are incredible, and for that alone, I’m truly thankful and grateful I had this opportunity. As for the kids, it was fun to watch them light up with new gifts, and they were ridiculously cute in these over-sized Santa
Claus hats. I also wanted to witness new traditions and way of celebrating Christmas, and I sure got my share of it -nine days to be exact! The whole idea of the prayer-story each day the nine days before Christmas is really a great idea for the kids. As well, the Christmas lights day was one of the best. It was great to see everyone come out and come together on this night and watch it last the whole month long. Of course it goes without say, the Crackhead Christmas lunch I wrote of in my previous blog entry, was reason enough alone to spend Christmas so far away from my family and friends. It’s so easy to complain about the things around us instead of remembering to appreciate these very things we take for granted.
I hope you all enjoyed the holidays; as well, I hope 2012 has already begun to be a stellar one for you.
There are more photos below