Instead of spending Sunday at my host parents’ daughter’s house as we usually do, this weekend we visited their son-in-law’s family. Perhaps through a miscommunication, I thought we were going to another part of the city, but instead we ended up in a rural suburb 1-hour from Quito. Upon arrival, I learned it was someone’s birthday, but all seemed normal. I was so wrong!
After lunch, the birthday boy was blindfolded and all the guests were ushered outside. Strange way to deliver birthday cake, I thought. On the street was not a birthday cake but a chiva. Think: rainbow bus (or perhaps wagon is a better description) complete with DJ and bar. Loud music played and the birthday boy was un-blindfolded.
As we boarded the bus, each passenger was handed a whistle and a disposable cup on a string. I soon learned we were expected to blow the whistle for the entire bus ride (it took 24 hours for my ears to stop ringing!) and the cup was a necklace so the party go-ers could easily dance and drink at the same time. There were virtually unlimited quantities of canelezo (a fermented sugar cane drink) and the bumpy roads didn’t seem to stop anyone from dancing or having a good time. Did I mention the 40+ guests (all family members) ranged in age from my 1-month old host nephew to an 80-ish year-old grandmother?
At one point, the DJ started calling names, and that person went to the center of the bus and danced with a pole (different from the US version of this dance, the pole was not used as a sexual prop). Thankful that almost no one knew my name, I stayed toward the back of the crowd and watched others dance. But some how, my name was called and I was pushed towards the center. So there I was, shot glass around my neck, pole dancing in front of strangers as we drove by a herd of cows.
I try my hardest not to judge any experience I have here as good or bad, and solely accept them as different. This can be difficult at times, I had a great time but still the chiva experience was so foreign that I don’t even think I could pass a judgement on it. Definitely a different sort cultural immersion!
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Kate Paladin and I'm an Environmental Studies major, Math minor at Bates College. I am a research assistant studying lake ecosystems, volunteer in an elementary school classroom and perform Bollywood dance. Most people study Spanish and then decide to visit South America, but I did the reverse - after choosing Quito for study abroad, I took my first Spanish class! Although I have just 2 years of Spanish under my belt, I couldn't be more excited to study in Ecuador.</span></p>