July 1, 2009
San Juan WHAT?!
We recently attended a couple San Juan celebrations. San Juan is a pretty big holiday that gets to be celebrated any time during the month of June, and sometimes into July. The parties reminded me of a typical fall festival we'd hold in late October-early November. The highlight of these celebrations for our family was the typical food, including asaditos (meat on a stick roasted over a fire--think SHISKABOB!), bejy (pronounced bay-JEW: a flat, fried bread-thing with cheese inside), sopa (similar to cornbread) and chipa (very dry doughnut-shaped biscuits).
Both parties were to benefit the local schools that sponsored them. The first was held at night with a DJ, blaring music, and tons of dance space. When we were there, there wasn't ANYONE dancing, but a lot of people standing around their motorcycles enjoying the asaditos.
The second party was held on a Sunday afternoon, with much more children and much less music. This seemed to be the family version of the party we'd attended earlier. Our neighbor Gladys had invited us to attend, as this is her little sister's school. The little sister is the girl on the left in the flowy red skirt, below. We met her mom and aunts and watched them cook bejy and hot dogs--I guess you can't get away from hot dogs no matter WHERE you go!
We enjoyed watching "Draw the Tail on the Pig" and a couple guys trying to eat apples dangling from strings. Everyone laughed while the competitors in the flour sack race fell down, and watching the boys try to eat a long piece of string without using their hands was funny to most (except me...I was thinking of all the mud as the long end of the string drug across the ground. Yeesh.)
Several dance presentations were performed, in traditional long flowy skirts, with little boys dressed like gentlemen cowboys and farmers (see pictures that follow). In one dance, the children paraded around in a big circle, as pairs. The music stopped every thirty seconds and one pair would walk into the center of the circle, where the boy presented some compliment to the girl and proposed to her, I think. The girl replied with something that turned his own words into a refusal on her part. This was mostly in Guarani and we couldn't hear even that, but the crowd was roaring. As the last couple did their little conversation, she accepted, and they began to dance in the center. Then the other little couples joined in and danced around to celebrate the "marriage."
From one of the soccer goalposts hung a stuffed scarecrow sort of thing, which they told us was Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. At one point, someone lit Judas on fire, and he burned until the firecrackers and little "bombs" inside him caught fire, sending flaming projectiles into the crowd. This was my first clue that I shouldn't have used hairspray that day!!
Later, two boys climbed underneath a metal frame with plastic draped over it, in the shape of a cow, if you used your imagination. I'd never have known it was a cow except that they had a real skull on the front of it, with big horns wrapped in cloth. They dipped these horns in kerosene, lit them on fire, and the boys underneath took off running the flaming bull through the crowd. Faster than I could say, "Danger, Will Robinson," the thing started heading my way. Could be that we stuck out like a sore thumb, and I was the only person really standing still, as I was trying to catch the whole thing on video. I'm including the video because my description doesn't do it justice. Either way, I had no choice but to run. Luckily, the flaming cloths fell off before anyone was injured, although one little fella was scared and cried for quite a while.
After this, things got a little hairy. One of the teachers was the emcee of this event and moderated the dances and comedy skits the children presented. He called out the next skit, which was a Paraguayan beauty contest. Sadly, young ladies paraded around in their skimpiest wear, while the young men in the crowd all pulled out their cell phones to capture it on video. As the skit ended, the teacher began a whole different style of music and these girls began to dance. It was--how can I put this?--very raunchy, and it made me quite sad. In this country full of unwed young mothers, infidelity, cohabitation, and STD rates through the roof, I wondered why the adults at the school, not to mention the parents in the crowd, found the provocative dancing to be cute. I tried to imagine Camille or Caroline up there (writhing with other girls or with the guys that soon joined in), and Ken and I standing in the audience smiling. I don't think so. One of the little girls participating looked to be about 8 years old, which meant the crowd applauded even more loudly when she did a really "sexy" dance move. Our friends noticed me talking to our girls about this and why we didn't find it cool, and he seemed really confused. He replied that it was just tradition. (Sigh.) Set Judas on fire, send the flaming bull through the crowd, but don't teach these little girls that they should be giving away their purity. Our fellow Paraguay-missionary blogging pals, the McKissicks, posted a blog about the festival they attended, which you can read here.