Oh my goodness I just had the most amazing Christmas Eve of my life!
December in general has been the tamest December I can recall. My first December with absolutely no snow, and the temperatures have been mild to warm with the occasional rainy day. Instead of stepping carefully through the streets as not to slip on ice, I found myself running to my favorite cafe to get out of the pouring rain. That was quite fun. I was soaked. This month has flown by, and that means I only have 5-6 months left here. Wow. My Spanish skills have gotten loads better just over this last month. I understand much better when amongst groups, and I can hold my own in a one-on-one discussion. I have gotten past the hard part of homesickness for the most part, and now it has really hit me just how short one year really is. I feel like I wasted a lot of time missing home. Sorry Mom and Dad, but you know what I mean. I just let it get in the way of the whole experience. But that is alright, because we all knew that would happen. At least I have that extra 6 months now to make up for it.
So Christmas itself was amazing. Instead of gathering the entire family from all around the world in at the Casa Rodriguez this year, we had a 'quiet Christmas.' Well, I guess I wouldn't call it quiet, but for this family it most certainly is. My Aunt Rosario that also has a home and family in New York decided to hold the Christmas Eve festivities in her home here. At 8:00 at night, all the family and I went to mass. Sorry, but this one turned out to be quite boring. Whatever. After mass, we all greeted eachother in front of the church. In total, there were only about 30 family members, but that is a whole lot in my mind. I met my Uncle José for the first time; he is from Cochabamba. He had his wife and their children. Also there were my favorite Uncle Juan Carlos with his wife Elena and their children that I also met for the first time. My Aunt Rosario had a friend with here and there were various other cousins I had never met. So after handing out 30 kisses/'besitos' we all met up at Elena's house to transport all the food and treats.
With a box of cookies in my hands, we headed back to my neighborhood , which happens to be where my Aunt Rosario lives as well. The mayhem began as soon as we stepped out of the cars. Typical family Christmas. People scrambling all over helping to get everything ready and lounging in the kitchen much to our host's dislike. After getting alcohol in everyone's hands, the crowd settled down and gathered in the living room. Well, packed into the living room. There was way too much craziness, so I kind of zoned out for the majority of that section of the evening. I was happy to finally be seated at the kitchen table with the rest of the cousins.
Rosario is an amazing cook, and all the cousins were beyond excited for the meal she prepared. Picana. It is a traditional Bolivian Christmas dinner. Very good. Not at all spicy either like I anticipated. It is a beef broth with chicken and beef, potatoes, and a piece of chocla. Delicious. We devoured that and headed outside to digest while the adults chatted. I was so happy to walk outside in my bare feet! A gorgeous starry night with a storm coming in from the east. All I could think about is how horrible the weather was back in Iowa at that moment. There you all are stuck inside with no electricity, and I am walking around barefoot. I love it! So we acted as reunited cousins always do...crazy. I would love to have another Christmas with all the relatives in Iowa sometime. I miss those days. We finally got called inside for a Christmas toast, which I was unaware of at the moment. In all the mayhem I called Mom, thanks to my Aunt Rosario! As I was talking at the top of my lungs I noticed that everyone behind me was incredibly quiet. They were doing the toast! Ahhh. I felt horrible, and then felt equally horrible as I hung up on Mom. :) Oh well. I ended up having to say something and, in typical Hayley-fashion, I did it while teary-eyed. I was just so happy and caught up in the evening that I couldn't help it. I loved everything about that evening. But that turned out in some nice 'aaawwwwwwwws' which made me feel not so ridiculous. Everybody understood how I felt. Everyone finished toasting and we ran around for a little more mayhem while Rosario organized.
Before returning outdoors with the cousins, my wonderful uncle Juan Carlos was elected photographer for the evening. That is him to the right. And the picture above him is of most of the cousins. He is hilarious. He hates my camera. :) I don't. But ya, the cousins were all really welcoming, though quite some years older than me. I still get to be among the youngest of cousins even in my second family. Geez.
Eventually, we made it around to the best part. Everyone gathered again in the living room for gift opening, but before opening the gifts everyone had to do a somersault. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. There was one woman that had to be at least 65 years young and she even did it. My uncle José explained the Bolivian tradition; once the music stops, everyone in the room has to do a somersault. I did mine without any hesitation, but my left shoulder hurt a little bit afterward...and I am only 19! So we got through with that, opened gifts, and walked over to Sandra and Lucho's house. Not as fun there, but there were a lot more people. I suppose we remained at their home until about 1:30 in the morning before going home to wait for 'Papa Noél.' Jorgito ran straight to bed all happy and such, but Vivi and I had some last-minute wrapping to do. That is Bolivia for you. I ran all over town with Vivi on the afternoon of Christmas Eve to do shopping. The stores were absolutely packed with last-minute shoppers. I was surprised to see that all the stores were open all day on the 24th! More of Bolivia--they can't afford to not work. I woke up on the 24th expecting to be a lazy bum all day like we would do in the states, but that was not the case. The same goes for Christmas morning.
I woke up to an 8:30-knock on my bedroom door. My family was ready to open the very quaint amount of gifts we had prepared some time before then. I love that about Christmas here. There were hardly any gifts under the tree. Apparently only the kiddies get gifts, but I guess I count as a 'kiddie' since I also received a few gifts. I was incredibly happy to receive the Twilight books in Spanish. Sorry everyone, for my lameness, but that just made my day. I am currently on page 37 and proud to admit that it is equally delightful in Spanish as in English. A sucker for romance....which is even better in Spanish. haha. Anyway, Jorgito got the Wii he wished for. He is a horrible liar too. He saw the box in the storage room one day, but he decided to keep it secret from Jorge and Vivi. Of course, they are aware he knows, but Jorgito doesn't know that. ;) Jorgito opened his boxes Christmas morning knowing exactly what they contained. He didn't even jump up and down screaming in happiness. He acted like a perfectly guilty young boy. It was pretty funny.
So we finished gifts and got ready for some more festivities at Faviola's home. She is the sister of my Aunt Sandra. That was a nice, peaceful afternoon. The food was delicious and the home was absolutely phenomenal. The same goes for Rosario's home. She has New York right in the middle of Bolivia. She is a very classy woman and it matches her amazing home. Faviola owns an interior design store, and it shows in her home. Stunning. We probably left there around 5:00 and played Wii until bedtime. :)
All in all, a magnificent holiday break...with power. Well, we actually did have power problems last night during the magnificent storm we got upon returning home from the Valley. I will blog about 'The Valley' later. Maybe this afternoon, as it is a lazy Bolivian Sunday and it is storming again. Gee that makes me happy. I will also try and post a couple new albums on picasaweb if wifi starts functioning again. If not, I will write again after January 7th. We are going to be leaving tomorrow morning for vacation in Iquique, Chile. yay.