Just like everywhere else, it was Christmas time this week in Sucusari. I’ll start by saying that the week kind of sucked, because nothing makes you feel more lonely than being isolated from your friends and family during holidays; and Christmas is probably the worst. Definitely worse than my birthday was. Anyway, the Christmas traditions here revolve around panetones and chocolatadas. Panetones are packaged fruit cakes; dry, raisin-tasting cakes with bits of dried sugary fruits in them. Chocolatadas are where the whole community gathers to eat panetones and drink hot chocolate from a gigantic communal pot. The festivities kicked off with a chocolatada that the community organization hosted, as a “year-ending event”. Everyone was so excited heading over, and I grabbed my mug for some chocolate and walked over as well when I heard music start to play.
Kids go first, then adults. Sucusari kids LOVE panetones and hot chocolate. Each kid received a slice of fruit cake and got their cups filled from the communal pot, then it was the adults’ turn. It turns out, the adults got much larger pieces of fruit cake, and most people took 3-4 pieces. They also each had small buckets for hot chocolate, at least 10-15 cups. When I got in line with the adults, Victorino, who was behind me, gave me a disapproving look and told me to go home and get my bucket, that my cup was too small. I assured him that I was only one person and one cup was plenty, but when I got to the front of the line the fruit cake pieces were also huge… so I snuck one from the kids’ pile. They’re not my favorite. Unfortunately, Victorino noticed that as well, but he just laughed. We sat around chatting and drinking and eating for a bit, then the event was over. Much more relaxed and short than I was expecting. Kind of a come over, pick up your sweets, then dash type thing. The end of the day was marked by a larger-than-usual soccer game on the big field. I tossed in my 4 soles to play and walked away two hours later with 3 goals, 3 games won, and 8 soles in my pocket. Not a bad day!
Christmas Eve was buzzing with activity. I headed to Mazan to pick up some food and construction materials for Ellie’s house, and when I came back there were hundreds of people in the community that had come for the church service in the evening. As usual, I was struck by peoples’ kindness as I pulled up in my boat loaded with cargo and jostled into a parking spot on the bank near the stairs. Immediately, 6 or 7 people came walking down the stairs and introduced themselves and offered to help me unload the boat. By the time I had taken off and stowed the motor, all of my hundreds of kilos of junk was waiting in a neat pile in my house. I got to thinking, imagine if you rolled into your apartment complex and a bunch of people you had never met came up to your car and offered to help you carry in your groceries. In the US, I would think they were lunatics. It just doesn’t happen, and thinking of it that way made me somewhat ashamed that that kind of easy selflessness is not a big part of our culture.
Anyway, thoughts whirling, I bought an aguaje ice pop from a lady with a cooler, and whipped up some quick stir fry as the sun was going down. Since it was Christmas I also poured myself a glass of red wine that I had been saving for several months. Turns out it was much fruitier than I like wine to be, but it was still a welcome change from the usual water, coffee, and masato.
I had been invited by Jorge, the community pastor, to go to church that evening and had accepted. Everyone in the church community would stay up all night in the church, but he laughed and told me to come by until I get tired and then not to feel bad I can just leave. That was my plan when I headed towards the church with the crowds. I met Victorino walking out of a house next door to the church and he said you’ve got to go see how much paca we have been cooking, go in the kitchen and check it out. I took a detour and walked into this house’s kitchen and came across a food factory going on. Two enormous pots of rice were on to boil, along with a further two pots of all kinds of game meat from the rainforest. Sitting on the floor was an assembly line of people cutting and spreading butter on fruit cakes, led by Marina at the head of the line. The men were cutting the cakes, the women buttering; but I didn’t notice that at the time. I did notice however that the unbuttered cakes were piling up so I plopped down in an open space in the line and started to butter and laugh and make jokes with everyone. I had asked someone previously if it is common to drink on Christmas and they solemnly said no, never, but apparently that did not hold true for the kitchen crew because I was soon handed a small bucket full of fermented corn chicha. We had a grand time and after I had been buttering for a bit, two more men that had been just watching and laughing at my terrible jokes sat down next to me and joined the butter line. Breaking gender roles, one fruit cake at a time.
When we ran out of butter, I walked over to the church and lingered on the outer fringe of the crowd near Jairo, who was staffing the door to control naughty children. I have never been a churchgoer, but I find religion interesting and church is always an opportunity to learn. Jorge’s sermons are also so passionate you can’t help but want to listen. I wanted to stay up until the feast was served so that I could eat with everyone, but at 9pm I was yawning and Jairo told me the food was coming at 3am. I laughed and said my goodbyes and walked to bed. Even guizo de majas is not worth staying up until 3am for.
Compared to Christmas Eve, Christmas day pretty much was a normal day. I am not sure what I was expecting but since everyone stayed up all night the entire community was dead all day the 25th. I think all day I saw one person walking around, and that was Felipe who didn’t attend the Christmas services. Anyway, it was a good opportunity to chill out and get some work on the house done. When Jairo woke up, he walked over with two salted fish for my dinner and a plate of the guizo de majas from the previous evening. He said I know you go to bed early, so I grabbed you a good plate (which had at least a pound of meat on it, with the fatty juicy skin still on it). Always looking out for me, my neighbors. I felt guilty, enjoying the meal even though I didn’t go to the entire service, but it tasted good enough that I got over it. I hadn’t had paca since October in the field, and it’s my favorite meat here!
Another cup to finish off the wine and a good book in my hammock, and Christmas was all but complete as rain came over the community and the daylight slowly faded.