Famous advice from just about every veteran Peace Corps volunteer that I have met: accept every invitation. No matter if you are tired, or if you have already eaten, or even if you have no idea what the invitation is for. Just go!
Needless to say, I was very excited to receive my first mountain-country invite last week. It was to a community dance in the next town over, very close. And, most importantly, it was only for un ratito, or just a short moment.
At ten at night, when watching a movie at a fellow volunteer’s house, we heard a shout down the hall.
“Are you girls ready to go?!”
Man, I am really tired, I thought. This blanket is so warm and it is sooo cold outside. Maybe I’ll just stay in tonight.
It was then that I remembered the advice that I had heard time and time again. Why not go? After all, I had no idea what “community dance” means. This might be a great adventure! I piled on my standard amount of clothing for being outside at night: 2 pairs of pants, 2 t-shirts, 1-2 sweaters, a winter coat, wool hat and socks, and my hiking boots. I was sufficiently puffy and bundled.
We piled into the truck. I had people on either side of me smushing into my puffy clothing. Everyone was in a jovial mood. We turned on the radio and were off down the foggy, dark, windy road, giggling the whole way. Almost one hour later, our radio was suddenly competing with much louder music. The whole mountain valley was filled with the heavy bass rhythm of Banda, and the entire road was lined with parked cars stretching more than a mile. This is apparently a bigger thing than I thought!
Winding our way up the small pathway, we followed the music. Past carnival bread vendors and tequila stands. Luckily, we arrived just as they were preparing to light up the castillo, the TOWER OF FIREWORKS! This process started by a man covering his back in a half-open cement bag. I wonder what that man is up to…oh wait, others are helping him mount a paper-mache bull over his head and shoulders. And there are tons of fireworks attached to it. Where are they going with this? Oh, I see. Right toward me. Running. With fire sputtering everywhere.
For the next half an hour a man ran around pretending to be a bull, charging at the audience. The smell of salt-peter filled the smoke-laden air. Children were squealing in delight. They knew what was coming next…the castillo!
As I mentioned, castillos are towers of fireworks. What I have yet to mention is that the tower is in the middle of the crowd, and when lit, it sends fiery sparks flying in all directions. More than a few people walk away after castillo shows with holes in their clothing. Before it began, teenagers who were in charge of lighting fuses at precise moments were smoking…under the castillo, right next to the fuses. As soon as the human-bull ran out of his second set of fireworks, the first fuse of the castillo was lit with the teenager’s cigarette. Fire shot up the tower while the sounds of Metallica blasted on the sound system. Once it hit the main part of the tower, wheels started moving and fiery designs spun around, decorating the air with colors and designs!
Once the castillo was spent, the live music resumed. As did the dancing. To set the mood, you should listen to this song from the Leales de Mexico. They were playing that night.
I spent most of the rest of the night learning to dance to Banda music. My friend’s host brothers were great teachers. So good that I began regretting my puffy coat. So good that I became less and less inconspicuous as the night wore on. My Peace Corps friends and I started getting shout-outs from the band. After the third or fourth one, more people came to ask us to dance. Somehow, I don’t even remember how it happened, I ended up on the stage! I think that my friend’s host mom pulled us up so that we could dance. Two songs worth of stage dancing and a somewhat-botched English-Spanish interview later, we were rated as all 10’s from the audience.
Somehow, that ratito turned into five hours of dancing, laughing, worrying about first impressions, eating sweet carnival bread, and making new friends. We arrived home just after 3:30 in the morning, exhausted. Just in time to make a huge Thanksgiving feast from scratch the next morning.
Life in the mountains is great.
Making me smile
- Leftover Thanksgiving breakfast-in-bed with friends
- Sharing Thanksgiving traditions with new friends and family, and being grateful for this amazing cultural exchange
- Watching my friends use a machete to open the pumpkin
- Playing Hot Potato with the hot, foil-wrapped guys before we used them to make mashed potatoes
- Translating American sayings into Spanish to see if they work. “Start off on the right foot,” successful. Something that “eats up your time,” not so much
- Getting caught by a park ranger from my work while dancing whole-heartedly to Al Green on my mp3 player while I was on lunch break, thinking that I was alone in the forest
- Receiving my first invite to teach an ecology class!
- Host moms. Standard greeting: Hey, how are you, so good to see you, aren’t you cold, you should really eat something and put on another sweater, I will make some food for you now…all in one breath. They are so sweet
- Accepting another invitation while at work: to pose for a Park-Promotion calendar as a “foreign tourist” rappelling!