Here comes that time of the year when my Facebook home page starts to get filled with pictures of Christmas trees, red Santa hats, and the first snow.
I see you’re all flying back home to spend the holidays with your families and loved ones, I see the events you’ll be attending to celebrate 2017 and I read about your New Year’s resolutions.
Sometimes, even though I don’t want to admit it, I start to feel jealous. I feel nostalgic because this year I will not be flying back home for Christmas, I will not be exchanging presents wrapped in colorful paper, nor will I sit with my family on the 24th.
But then I look outside the window of my wooden room, and it doesn’t feel like Christmas at all.
How can it feel like Christmas, if there are 22 degrees outside? So the nostalgia fades away, and I pretend it’s not the 15th of December, but some random summer day. Some day when I don’t have to miss my family and home, but when I’m, as usual, excited about this great adventure I’m living.
There are, though, moments when I do realize that Christmas is coming, even to Peru. I do see some street lights and decorations here and there, but most of all, chocolatadas are happening.
A chocolatada is a social event, a meeting before the school break, an excuse to drink a cup of hot chocolate, eat a slice of panettone and wish each other happy holidays.
I went back to the Hogar Santa Dorotea, the center for children with special needs in Baños del Inca. The kids’ faces, always smiling, were once more lit up with happiness.
The Damas Doroteas, a group of women supporting the center, had organized a chocolatada for the children and their parents, who had come to collect them for the holidays.
Depending on their families’ geographical and economical conditions, the children see their parents every week-end, a few times a year, or just during the holidays. Some parents live in areas too remote to come more often, such is the case for this girl who was seeing her father for the first time in three years.
The morning went on with talks, games and dances, and the children were entertained by a chubby Santa and a smiling Gingerbread Man.
A couple of days later, it was the turn of the PRONOEI Mayopata. Me and the volunteers donated some panettones that were eagerly eaten by the children and their moms (and us, of course). For a few moments it felt as if I was back home in Italy, eating the traditional Christmas cake.
And today… Oh, today was awesome! Henna and I went to one more chocolatada, the Pronoei Incalaj, another hidden school for children with less resources.
Mrs Georgina, the energetic teacher, welcomed us with a warm hug and showed us the small but colorful classroom. The space is part of one of the kids’ parents’ property and is rented to them for free.
Georgina led us to a second room a few meters further, the soon-to-be new school, where we lit a fire and started peeling potatoes together with the children’s moms. With just two knives, most of us had to use spoons, and guess what, it’s not that hard and you save a lot of food!
While the moms were boiling the potatoes and frying the guinea pigs, I played with the kids. The children’s laughs filled my heart with joy, and I decided that I need no Christmas carol nor snow to feel the holidays.
I see few signs of Christmas outside, but it is all inside me. The Christmas Eve’s dinner is replaced by a dish filled with cuy and papas picantes eaten sitting in a dwarf-size chair next to dozens of screaming children.
The tombola after dinner is replaced by improvised photography classes given to a eight year-old. There is no fir and there are no presents, but today alone was a gift.
And the surprising feeling of belonging there, was the best gift of all. I did not feel white, I did not feel foreigner. I felt like I belonged there like anybody else in that room today, playing with finger puppets, peeling potatoes, chewing my oily guinea pig and being surrounded by loud, cheerful laughs.