January 14, 2013 by jiejie768
As Meg and I finally have returned to Ayacucho and have time on our hands, we are updating our blog with tales from when Meg’s family and the Collinses came to visit over the Christmas holidays (Dec. 22-Jan. 5). So far, we’ve told of the gift-giving trip to Chiara with Ty, Tom and Lolo in tow, the night of food and football that followed and the first part of our Christmas Eve adventures. Today, we’ll post parts II and III of the Christmas Eve fun, starting here with Part II:
Christmas Eve, Part II: The KATC Christmas Party
Meg and I have really enjoyed just about everything about KATC to this point, but I think I speak for both of us when I say the undisputed highlight up to now was the Christmas Party. Meg wrote a bit about this, and posted a few pictures, in a recent South American Days of Christmas post (LINK), but I’m going to revisit it nonetheless. For a few more pictures from the Christmas Party, click here.
Everything about this event was truly amazing — from getting a chance to just hang out with the kids without any kind of lesson or activity to administer, to watching our family and friends engage with and meet these children and learn just why we think they are so special.
In particular it was a blast seeing Lolo and Pam really dive in, despite speaking virtually no Spanish whatsoever, and connect with the kids. Likewise, it was just as fun to watch the kids light up and do their best to charm and amuse the visitors. Meg and I, though beloved, have long ago lost our novelty, and it was real treat for the kids to see so many new faces and have so many new people to hug. After a bit of shyness on both ends, Lolo and many of the girls played well and traded off asking Meg and I to translate various questions for each other. At the end of the day two kids (Reny and Jhonathan Garamendi) even gave Pam the Christmas pictures they had spent the afternoon coloring. This is a BIG deal here; our kids tend to treasure their artwork and giving it away is no small thing. Katie, who speaks Spanish pretty well, was also a huge hit as one of our kids (Luis Alberto) along with a few buddies spent most of lunch chatting her up.
I was also amused when some of the kids expressed such awe that Meg and I were able to speak English so easily with our family; apparently some of them missed the memo that Spanish is our second language. This left me a bit concerned, as if they think Spanish is my first language, there is a good chance that they also think I am an idiot.
In addition to a special lunch — the aforementioned pollo a la brasa along with a fruit juice and potatoes with a green sauce (I can’t remember the name, but it was tasty) — GeGe had a few surprises in store for the kids. The first was a trip on the Ruta Amarilla (the big yellow tour bus that Alejandro drives). This surprise had been unveiled the week before as each kid had to get a permission slip signed in order to ride, but that just served to let the excitement build. The bus is often parked at the school when Alejandro isn’t working and passes by daily as Alejandro’s tour includes a trip around the Mirador. Anytime the bus goes by a window, a murmur of excitement ripples through the class (think of classrooms in Western Washington when a single snowflake is spotted outside). So you can only imagine the thrill they got from learning they’d actually get to ride it.
The top level of the bus seats about 35, so the kids went in three shifts, with the other kids eating whilst their classmates were on their tour. Meg and I, and most of the family, accompanied the youngest group of kids during their tour. As upstairs seating was limited, most of us sat downstairs while Alejandro took the children from the school, down to the city center, back up past the school to the Mirador and returned once again to GeGe’s. All told each tour lasted about 30 minutes, and the kids loved it. Meg’s family and the Collinses also enjoyed their tour, though from a lower level, but for me the highlight was when I got to replace Meg on the top level during the second half of our tour.
We had been assigned Isak duty (my favorite kind). As the little guy is too small, and too restless, to occupy his own seat, one of us had to sit with him on our lap for the whole tour. I was green with envy when Meg was tabbed for this task, but she kindly agreed to switch places with me at the halfway point.
Isak himself was mesmerized by the journey. GeGe’s attempt to brainwash the KATC into sharing her love of Christmas decorations has been wildly successful with Isak. Every single time we passed a house with a tree, or a wreath or Christmas lights, Isak was transfixed.
“Mira, Rya, Mira! Luces!) (Look, Ryan, look! Lights!)
“Mira, Rya, Mira! Corona!) (Look, Ryan, look! Wreath!)
“Mira, Rya, Mira! Papa Noel!) (Look, Ryan, look! Santa!)
The other kids, while slightly less expressive, were also awed by the nearly-birds-eye-view of their hometown. In addition to the visual stimulation, the bus was playing a mixed CD of mostly Peruvian Christmas carols (most of which I knew by heart at this point), but also included an eclectic selection of pop music — specifically “Gangam Style.”
Meg and I, being in Peru, have mostly missed out on the “Gangam Style” craze that swept the U.S. shortly after our departure, but we had just recently seen the video and were at least aware of what it looked like. Well, once the song came over the speakers, it was clear that Peru at large had not missed out. We couldn’t help but crack up as Abel Vega Ramos (GeGe’s neighbor and the youngest boy in one of KATC’s biggest sibling groups) busted out the well-known horse dance while seated. In addition, Nelson, one of the kids Meg and I work most closely with (and who speaks nary a word of English), belted out “YEAH! SEXY LAAAADY!” at the top of his lungs.
Nelson’s PSY impression was merely a preview of what was to come. Each year, GeGe uses the month of December to have the kids learn and practice Christmas carols. She readily admits this a mostly selfish endeavor; she loves and misses the carols popular in the States, but the kids also seem to enjoy it quite a bit. This year, GeGe added a degree pressure to the whole thing by telling the kids they were going to be performing for visitors (Meg’s family) and they had to be on their game.
Whether due to the added incentive, or due simply to a talented group of singers, they came through with flying colors. The younger kids regaled us with “Mi Burrito Sabanero” which is about a donkey (not Mexican food) that takes a visitor to see Jesus in Bethlehem. The third and fourth graders belted out a heart-warming rendition of “Cholito” a Peruvian Christmas classic that, I’m pretty sure, examines what the birth of Jesus would have been like if it took place in Peru. The older kids performed “El Tamborilero,” known to English speakers as the “Little Drummer Boy”. I enjoy all three songs, but “Tamborilero” was probably my favorite as I’ve always loved the sound of the English version but never learned the words. Still haven’t, but I’ve got it down pat in Spanish.
Videos of this currently are uploading to Facebook and we will link them here as soon as they are ready. You will, however, have to forgive the fact that at a few spots, I can’t help but sing along so I hope my terrible voice doesn’t drown out our more impressive young minstrels.
Everything up to this point had been phenomenal, but the best was still yet to come. In addition to getting a small gift (like we hand out in the campo) for each of the kids, each year GeGe buys about 15-20 bigger ticket items that are to be kept at the school for the kids to play with there. She wraps these gifts and puts them under the tree for the kids to prod, shake and consider for a week or so before the party, and then brings them out at the end of the party to be unwrapped. As there are more kids than gifts, GeGe collects each kids’ Christmas Party ticket (which has their name on it) and puts it in a bag. Then, names are pulled from the bag and the child selected gets to come forward and choose a gift to unwrap. It reminded me a lot of “The Price is Right” only if the contestants and the audience were ages 3-12. Furthering the analogy, there is no shortage of audience encouragement/cajoling/suggestion as the lucky gift-opener is mulling which of the many presents to open. It’s a lot of fun to watch as the reactions from the kids are a delight and can lead to some pretty amusing moments.
One such moment of comedy came when Nelson, the “Gangam Style” fan, was drawn. The 10-year-old boy approached the table (about half cleared at that point) and considered his options carefully, using as any kid his age would, size as the primary factor. After settling on what appeared to be a formidable haul, he tore into the wrapping paper with reckless abandon. Once shredded paper was discarded, he held his prize aloft only to discover that this particular gift was kitchen set with a decidedly feminine tilt. As the crowd tittered at the gender juxtaposition, a horrified Nelson cast his soiled bounty onto the table and returned, defeated to his place in the audience.
To be clear, Nelson is an eternally upbeat child who often smiles before, while and after receiving any kind of scolding/punishment. His reaction to the gift should not be read as ungrateful or any such thing, but simply as the amusing reality of a young boy suffering the indignity of having opened a girls’ present.
Another fun moment came when Marco, who at 4 is our youngest regular attendee at KATC (Isak, though younger, is not technically enrolled) and opened a box containing five numbered pieces of paper. His confusion quickly cleared as GeGe explained each paper corresponded to a large gift (which she had not had time to wrap) that was waiting in the kitchen to be unveiled. It was, thus, the happy duty of Marco to select a child to draw a number while Meg, Lolo and I waited in the kitchen to play Vanna White with the respective selection. Marco clearly enjoyed wielding this power over his older companions as he teased and taunted a crowd full of eager would-be number-pickers before making his selection each time.
When all was said and done, the KATC haul included two new Monopoly sets (Barbie-themed for the girls, Ben 10-themed for the boys), a much-needed new Candy Land game (our current set(s) is/are in a state of great disrepair), a whole host of new cars, action figures, princess dolls and other figurine toys, a barrel of monkeys, a table-top foosball set, and at least two kitchen sets (one that has a toy oven and everything). I’m sure I’m missing a few items, as GeGe definitely goes all out in making sure these kids have a memorable Christmas each year.
After the group presents, all that was left were the individual presents, snacks and hugs. The kids in our program received basically the same thing as the kids in the campo had gotten the previous two days: a choice of personal gift and a bag with paneton and chocolate milk. Also, as a special treat from the States, Meg’s family handed a miniature candy cane to each kid on the way out the door. This was a bittersweet moment for Meg and I, as it was great to see the kids get their gifts, but it would be our last hugs for about two weeks as we left on vacation (the school was on break for much, but not all, of that time as well).
Each kid was excited about his or her present and few asked for (and usually received) a gift for a sibling or cousin who was not part of the program. One kid, Jhonathan Garamendi, even claimed, to much laughter, that his little cousin needed a present because all she has to play with are rocks (GeGe, who knows all of Jhonathan’s various cousins, granted the wish while assuring us that such was not the case).
One boy, however, took a different tack. Juan Carlos Cordova, when it was his turn to select, didn’t bat an eye before opting for a toy kitchen set, a present almost universally favored by girls and scorned by boys. GeGe, upon seeing his selection, quizzed him about it only to learn he had eschewed a gift for himself in order to get the kitchen set for his younger sister. This, of course, was so touching that GeGe nearly cried on the spot and told Juan Carlos to return after everyone had left so that he could select a gift of his own as well.
After all the kids had gone, we made our final arrangements with GeGe for the next day’s dinner, which would be at her place. Meg and I also said our final good byes to our three buddies — Lucas, Abrahan and Isak — before leaving for a couple of weeks. It was hard, as when Meg told Lucas, the oldest of the three, that we wouldn’t be back for two weeks, he actually began to cry (she failed to point out that only three of those days would be school days in which we would have actually seen him anyway). Having a had a truly wonderful experience, those of us remaining (a few family members had headed out earlier in the day as the altitude was taking its toll) caught a cab (or two) and headed back to Santa Ana and our apartment.