11/9/10

Dia de los Defuntos // Cuenca!!

Part of living immersed in another culture involves celebrating local holidays, which are both a great opportunity to experience new traditions and often an opportunity to travel around the country or region since school is on holiday! Below, WorldTeach Ecuador volunteer Krishna Surasi writes about his celebration of Dia de los Difuntos, his introduction of Halloween to his students, and a trip to the city of Cuenca.

"To celebrate Halloween and the Ecuadorian Día de los Difuntos, I had a party in both of my classes last Thursday. Like Americans who wear costumes and go trick-or-treating for Halloween just because that's that people do, Ecuadorians participate in Día de los Difuntos traditions that many people don't really have explanations for anymore. There are some traditional food items like colada morada (hot fruit drink) and guagua de pan (translation: bread baby), but also some odd, non-food pageantry.

For instance, someone in my first class was voted to be "Mr. Wooden Spoon" and another "Mr. Clay". The former brought a variety of wooden spoons into class that he handed out to all of the students and the latter brought tiny clay pots in for everyone. When I asked the students what the hell was going on, I received a variety of explanations, the most plausible being that colada morada is traditionally made in clay pots and stirred with wooden spoons.



My colada morada, guagua de pan, and various presents my class gave me.

I had fun ridiculing my students about their traditions that were bizarre from a foreign perspective until they asked me why people dress up in costumes for Halloween in the United States. The best answer I could come up with was that it gives young women an excuse to dress indiscriminately, and it is so awesome that no one really asks questions about why we do it anymore. I told my first class to wear costumes for bonus points, but sure enough I was the only schmuck who wore a costume to the party.

All in all the day was filled with holiday pageantry and I am glad that I was able to share a little bit of my Halloween traditions with my class as well as experience what they like to do at this time of year.

Cuenca

Día de los Difuntos is a national holiday here in Ecuador, so I did not have classes on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. I decided to go with some of the other WorldTeach volunteers from Ambato to the third largest city in Ecaudor, Cuenca. Cuenca is a seven hour bus ride from Ambato and they happen to celebrate their independence day during the time we had off.

Cuenca is known for its colonial architecture, and I was impressed with how good looking the city is. I don't know enough about architecture to describe its style, but there were cobblestone roads, tiled roofs, and huge churches.

View from our fabulous hostel in Cuenca

 The festivities in Cuenca were pretty fun. Street vendors were everywhere during the day and especially at night, selling things like meat on sticks, banana chips, and candy apples. There were bands playing music in the street, and one night we stopped by a group of drummers and danced for a bit. It was in this drum circle that a friend of mine commented that one of the young Ecuadorians jumping around looked like me. I took a picture with him, so I'll let you decide if he is really my brother from an Ecua-mother.

The most impressive part of the Fiestas de Cuenca were by far the fireworks. I knew well before I came to Cuenca that Ecuadorians love fireworks. Ecuadorians will use any excuse to shoot off fireworks and they have woken me up many a non-holiday night. The firework display in the main plaza of Cuenca were set up on a tall, wooden tower.

When I first laid eyes on the tower I was almost certain that it would not be used for the fireworks display because it was so close to the people and it looked very wobbly. Well, Ecuador didn't disappoint this time, because fireworks did shoot from the tower and it was equal parts impressive and terrifying. There were arms on the tower that were on hinges that spun around disconcertingly fast— powered, of course, by fireworks. Then sparks shot out from all over the place and the tower straight looked like it was about to explode. Fireworks then proceeded to actually shoot into the sky from the tower and explode like a traditional American display.

Things got awesome when one of the regular fireworks hit a tree (we were in the middle of the city plaza, after all) and it caught on fire. The finale was a spinning crown-like firework that shot into the sky and sprayed sparks everywhere. Sparks rained on the crowd, the tower itself caught on fire, and the maintenance crew came to disassemble the deathtrap. I don't think I've ever been that close to fireworks before, so it will definitely go down as one of my most memorable fireworks experiences.

Check out this video I took of the end of the fireworks display. I can't figure out how to change the video to play vertically, so you're just going to have to tilt your head."

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