November 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Halloween: Holidays: The Concord Journal: PCV Marc Gaudet writes on Halloween in Bolivia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bolivia: Peace Corps Bolivia : The Peace Corps in Bolivia: November 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Halloween: Holidays: The Concord Journal: PCV Marc Gaudet writes on Halloween in Bolivia

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PCV Marc Gaudet writes on Halloween in Bolivia

PCV  Marc Gaudet writes on Halloween in Bolivia

PCV Marc Gaudet writes on Halloween in Bolivia

A pirate out of Place: Halloween in Bolivia

By Marc Gaudet

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Oct. 31 was a "typical day" in Bolivia, although I've learned from living in here that there are no typical days. Early that morning I was running around El Carmen, the tiny village in which I lived, helping two mothers fill in birth certificates of newborns, teaching classes, and frantically preparing for the evening, all under the burning hot sun that shines on eastern Bolivia's tropics. I had much to do before 6 p.m. That night would be the first ever Halloween in El Carmen.

In school that day we spent the morning brainstorming ideas to make costumes. To counteract the scarcity of resources in Bolivia's countryside or campo, I brought in my own materials: markers, straws, popsicle sticks, newspapers, and plastic spoons. The students handcrafted paper masks, witches hats, and horrible goblin noses. Tying and binding ensued and, finally, water paints provided our outfits with lively colors.

Lunchtime afforded little respite. Soon, 10-year-old Hernan arrived. Little Hernan, with stark, indigenous features, was more loyal than most men in town I knew, always stopping by to see if he could help the Gringo, never asking for anything in return. We put the finishing touches on our costumes and then decided to make a cake from nearly rotting guineo, or finger bananas. I always seemed to have a surplus of one-type of plantain or another.

By 5 o'clock I was on my way to Panorama, an even smaller village a mile up the road. A dozen of my fifth- and sixth-graders made the two-mile roundtrip daily, reminding me of my grandfather's own complaints: "You know, Marc, in my day we trudged three miles through the bitter New England winter to the little red schoolhouse!" I wanted to personally escort these little Panorameños so they wouldn't miss the evening's festivities.

In the grassy plaza of Panorama, I successfully rounded up the "troops." One-by-one, kids came out of the bamboo woodworks. I explained to a few sceptical-eyed parents what the Halloween tradition meant in my culture. As we departed, Andrea's mother - cradling a small baby in her arms - caught up with us and told me she wanted to come along. She had never experienced such a holiday and was eager to join in the tradition.

Minutes into the dirt-road descent back to El Carmen, storm clouds darkened the sky. "¡Viene agua!" "Here comes water!" the kids cried. Raindrops started to patter the red earth of the road, and the entire group was suddenly bolting down the hill at top speed. As the downpour began, rain smacked our faces and we gave off shouts and yelps of excitement. For a moment I asked myself, 'Is this a dream?' But this was real; this was life in the campo. Sharing the unexpected twists and turns that life throws our way, the constant struggle with Pachamama, the Quechuan term for "Earth Mother," the reminder that out there somewhere there's something larger than humanly possible.

With still a half-mile to go and the rains thickening, we ducked into a half-thatched shelter in the misty outskirts of El Carmen. These dozen soaked students were now disguised as drenched, paint-smeared, unrecognizable beings. I glanced at the mother; her face's tough expression led me to believe that this was just the way life was sometimes: harsh, exhausting, not always comforting. Still, the kids seemed jittery as ever to try out their first Halloween. 'Valiente,' I thought of these children. Brave.

As we huddled together, the kids yelled "Mister,Mister! ¿Como se dice 'vaca' en ingles?" They begged me to translate common campo words or the local tongue, Chiquitano, into English. "Vaca is cow in English," I replied. Soon enough the kids erupted into giggles at the funny-sounding language. "Cow! Cow! Cow!" Then it was "bull," then "calf," then "rain," and "It's raining hard!" I showed off some of the Chiquitano phrases I had picked up in the village. "Curi batrabacaca ou ñoñonrr marriquiatarr" Let's go work in the fields, Lazy! And a round of laughter ensued.

With a united will, we made a break through the darkness for my hut. When we arrived, I began lighting candles and rummaging through my wardrobe for dry T-shirts. Little hands grabbed. Faces stared in awe at the abundance of bizarre treasures inside the hut of "El Mister."

Now it was my turn to dress. With a bandana on my head, the eye-patch made of plastic spoon and yarn, cow-skinned sandals, African-print trousers, and a belt to hold my swashbuckling machete I jumped out from behind the door to see if I could arouse a scare. But instead of frightened the kids looked confused. No one said a thing. No giggles or shouts.

It took me a minute to realize that my students had no idea what a pirate was! With no TV in town and even books a rarity, they had never seen or heard stories of pirates before. Bolivia, being a land-locked country, and El Carmen, deep in the interior, have little access to the resources I once took for granted.

To break the awkward moment, I fled to the kitchen to retrieve the banana cake. At last I had something to offer my little weary guests on such a wretched night. It was an important lesson I'd learned in generosity here: "with a bit of effort, you can offer so much even if you have so little." I offered each guest a hefty piece, knowing that this treat would be the only one received this Halloween. The rain-soaked witches, warlocks, and beasts unknown to this world, plus a mother, young baby, and I, happily gobbled the entire banana cake.

Despite the foul weather, the kids of Panorama ventured back into the obscure night. I thought of the nearly foiled cultural exchange in this tiny village. It never works out like you plan; I guess that comes with the job. But it doesn't matter whether next year's Halloween happens again, I was convinced by the excitement in the Panorameños eyes that something good was felt and shared among us all. That genuine, satisfaction was my treat to be had that night. And the people of El Carmen and Panorama would have a story of Halloween to tell for years to come.

Marc Gaudet grew up in Concord and is a 1995 graduate of CCHS. He joined the Peace Corps in 2002 and recently has returned completing his two-year service. In his last 6 months of service he coordinated the development of a community library in El Carmen which was inaugurated July 15. At least two or three of the books currently on the shelves teach about pirates. If you'd like more info on the project, please write to:

When this story was posted in November 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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The Kerry campaign wants the RPCV vote. Read our interview with Dave Magnani, Massachusetts State Senator and Founder of "RPCVs for Kerry," and his answers to our questions about Kerry's plan to triple the size of the Peace Corps, should the next PC Director be an RPCV, and Safety and Security issues. Then read the "RPCVs for Kerry" statement of support and statements by Dr. Robert Pastor, Ambassador Parker Borg, and Paul Oostburg Sanz made at the "RPCVs for Kerry" Press Conference.

RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

Finally read our wrap-up of the eight RPCVs in Senate and House races around the country and where the candidates are in their races.

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Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and can you come up with a Political Funny?

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: The Concord Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bolivia; Halloween; Holidays



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