What does volunteering, the birth of a new born baby girl, a census, birthday celebrations and one the world’s largest religious processions have in common? Try a bevy of new beginnings in the month of October.
Always excited about the next destination; our arrival by bus, over the border of Ecuador and into Perú, had us on cloud nine. The history and culture of the country is rich in flavor, tradition and include elements that parallel to our lives as Black Americans.
Beginning the journey by volunteering at a soccer facility in Lurín, we helped an organization with their digital marketing for 5 days. It was our first time volunteering abroad. Dishonest and uncooperative, the facility manager led us astray repeatedly. We cut our time here short, packed our things, said our goodbyes and moved on. There is an ugly side to travel that is not always shared. When this format was created, it was decided to not only include the good, but also the bad and the ugly. We’ve had disappointments, but that’s life. We take the bitter with the sweet, adapt, learn and keep moving. A great lesson we re-learned from the experience in Lurín is to ALWAYS have multiple back-up plans.
Before coming to Perú, we were invited by a wonderful Sister Friend to visit with her family in Lima. We decided that this would be our next destination, so we headed that way and spent a night at La Casa de Arturo, which by the way is a great hostel if you are ever visiting Lima. The next day, our friend’s sister, Mirtha, picked us up from our hostel and we were on our way, leaving our situation well behind us.
When we arrived, the scene in the family’s home was festive and celebratory. The birth of Brianna Antonella was upon us all and she had everyone captured! In great spirit, completely enamored and with pink and silver balloons hanging from the ceiling; relatives knocked on the door, with gifts in hand, giving out hugs and cheek to cheek kisses. As we watched the family interact and engage with one another, it was beautiful to be surrounded by so much love. Our inability to fully understand the conversations, as they all spoke so quickly to one another in Spanish, had us each smiling, trying to pick up on key words, and feeling a bit out of place. Luckily, my friend’s beloved Niece, Cynthia, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, served as a willing translator.
Brianna Antonella’s birth signifies many things. She is the first grandchild of the last generation and not only has she ushered in a new generation for this family, but her arrival coincides with a nation-wide census in Perú. The October 22nd census versus all of the others before it is particularly important. For the first time in its history, Perú will take into account that Afro-Peruvians, Peruvians who ethnically self-identify as having ancestry from Mother Africa, actually exist. In the hearts and minds of many, the goal of a census is not only about statistics or numbers, but it also about providing equal opportunity. Not only has history shown Afro-Peruvians to have been excluded from their very own census, but the current living conditions for many of them are horrible and are the direct result of years of systemic oppression.
This family, however, is wealthy in love and have a true sense of community. They are a proud, accomplished and hard working group from varying professional fields including; education, social work, medicine, agricultural engineering and economics. Besides, a current generation should always want better for their next generation. Everyone in the family, (myself included), has already proclaimed that Brianna will advance further than her predecessors.
The make up of the family include several strong women. Many of them were born in the month of October. In addition to Brianna; other birthdays we celebrated this month included my friend’s niece, Cynthia, my friend’s sister, Mirtha, and my beautiful wife Vanessa.
On her first birthday abroad, our trip to Choco Museo in Mira Flores was a surprise for Vanessa. She enjoyed various portions of choco and explored this upscale, rich and touristy part of town. The evening culminated with us partaking in a festive religious celebration known as El Señor De Los Milagros, The Lord of Miracles. The next day, the family combined a celebration of both Vanessa and Mirtha’s birthday by putting on a full fledge Peruvian barbeque. We had never seen that much meat at one time. Anticucho, steaks, sausages, corn, potatoes, grilled shish-kabobs, chicken, you name it, they had it all.
At the dinner table, as we laughed and engaged in conversation over mass portions of food and drink, a beautiful conversation developed by sharing with one another what we each love about our culture, talking about the underlining differences and similarities of Perú and the U.S.A. Included in that discussion was also the differences of the sub-cultures of Peruvians from the North versus Peruvians from a big city like Lima or the Andes and highlands. In one exchange, we talked about the food. In another exchange, we talked about the history of the pre-Incas and their genius on how they were able to grow vegetation, crops and gather resources for their families to live and thrive during such a period. We shared with them the journey of our ancestors who came through the middle passage on slave ships and were slaves on plantations. We learned that slavery in Peru existed at the same time as it existed in North America and that many Afro-Peruvians today are suffering from the effects of slavery as do many Black-Americans today. Surrounded by a host of family and friends, it was a special event that we will not soon forget.
As proud of a family this is, we are very thankful that they allowed us to cook a meal for them in return. To show our gratitude and to share something from our culture, we introduced to them one of our favorite dishes and wines. It was an awesome feast and we were so pleased to see them enjoy it.
Having this cultural exchange has been unbelievable. It defies description and we count ourselves beyond blessed for the opportunity. My friend’s Brother-in-Law, Jorge, cooked for us everyday. The meals were flavorful and the portions were huge. I think we’ve put on weight as a result of those meals and of course being a bit undisciplined in our habits. But we have no regrets. Our motto now is to live, love, laugh and thrive. Below are a few photos of Jorge’s culinary art.
It’s amazing how the concept of family means different things to different people. Our Peruvian family is a strong and a tight unit. They literally look after one another and anyone else they have invited into their home. We were surrounded by their love and concern not only for one another, but also for us. It was shown each and everyday.
With these brand new or first time experiences, births and re-births signify new beginnings. It is a momentous occasion that offers up an opportunity to begin a mission, fulfill a call, accomplish a feat or try something new. Celebrating, remembering, reflecting and giving thanks this October took on a new meaning for us all together.