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Monday, February 08, 2010

Salsa, Merengue & Me

Jan 1/10

"Mira!" "MIRA!"

"Come see!" "COME SEE!" was what the little girl was excitedly chattering to me in spanish. The little 5 year was quickly rattling off a bunch of things and I couldn't quite get what she was saying. But it was quite obvious by her body language that something was happening out on the back patio so I replied to her in spanish by saying "Vamos a ver." "Let's go see". Upon my response she clapped her hands and in delight and the both of us ran out back. Once I had reached the patio out back, I then saw what the excited chatter was about. She and another kid were lighting sparklers, cracklers, and shooting little home made fireworks into the sky to celebrate the new year. While that the kids were getting a kick out of all the noisy knick-knacks, beside me an asado grill packed with meats on top of it was going strong. The kids were preoccupied so I decided to take that time to get to know the family who was doing the grill and the young woman who was actually the girls mother.

"Sos porteño?" I asked "Are you from Buenos Aires?"

"No" She replied.

"Soy Columbiano" She was from Columbia.

How did I end up on a back patio with kids shooting off fireworks and a family from Columbia? OK, maybe I should back up here. The story began yesterday night when I showed up for the church group that I always go to. But this week it would be held on Weds instead of Thursday because Thurs was New Years Eve and there were many people who would be going to an end of the year party that night. I showed up and I am glad I did for several reasons. Firstly I got to see Marisa, whom I haven't seen for several weeks since we last talked. She greeted me with deep affection like she always does. She has an incredibly strong magnetic energy that draws other people to her and what is even more interesting is that she is totally unaware of it.

As usual, we broke up into our different groups to talk and pray. I greeted the girls who I had hung out with at the fiesta who were now fast becoming my friends. There were a bunch of faces I knew and many that I didn't. Romina introduced me to her friend Diana, who was another member of the church. They explained to her that I was from Canada and I had been living here for some months now teaching english. Diana seemed to take very well to me and while we were conversing, she let me know that there was a party going on tomorrow nite at her house and I was welcome to come. She seemed eager to have me as a guest. I gratefully accepted the invitation and around 10pm the very next day, I found myself hanging out in her home with her mother, father, sisters, and an adorable baby only a few months old.

For me, not only would I have a fun time but it again would be another opportunity for a sneak peak into how life is lived here, this time among city dwellers. I want to take a moment here to explain the set up of her home. After I am done describing it, I think that you'll have a much deeper appreciation of the space you all have in your homes. When you come into her home, there is only one room in her house which is about 500-700 sq feet. In this one room there is a bunk bed, one separate bed on one side of the wall and on the other side there is the kitchen table and the rest of the room is basically the kitchen. It is like having a kitchen with 3 beds in it. That is how they live. Oh! Did I mention that off to the side is a baby's crib as well? Her and her sister's and her niece live together in this room.

On the other end of the room, instead of having a door there are simply some drapes hanging to partition between the living quarters and the outside patio. If you go past the drapes you will find yourself on a nice patio that you can sit outside. But this is not your average patio that you are imagining in North America. On the other end of the patio you can see some other drapes which denote the entrance to another house. If you walk through those drapes, you will find yourself in the living space where a family of 3 generations of Columbians are currently living. An elderly couple, there two sons, their daughter in law, and two little girls age 5 & 3 and a school age boy that make up their grand kids. A total of 8 people all together fit into a space only slightly bigger than the one Diana and her family has.

Tonite, two families would become one. The Columbians would take care of the BBQ meats while Diana and her family would prepare the salads. Then they would come together and eat at the table in the centre patio that everyone shared. The kids would dash back and forth between the drapes that partitioned the two living spaces to interact with their neigbours. The boy seemed to be very engaged in the activity of shooting off the fireworks and lighting the sparklers and crackers. When she wasn't participating in with her brother, the oldest girl would bounce up and down excitedly at the sight and smell of the meats that were cooking on the grill and would rattle off to me what her favorite meats were. She also squealed with delight as she told me about all the things she got for Christmas just last week.

While all that was happening, her little sister would wander around curiously between the two houses. She was at that age where she was just starting to become aware of things and wanted to participate in what others were doing. Grandma and Grampa kept her occupied by giving her a sparkler, lighting it and showing her that she has to hold it away from her face and wave it around in circles until the sparkle dies out. She is still at the stage where she is just learning to talk and every so often you could hear her squeak out in her little tiny voice "Hola" "Si" "Quiero" as she made an attempt to have a mini conversation with you with her spanish vocabulary that she was slowly building day by day.

The time came for everything to come together. Before we knew it, were were all seated at the huge table in the middle patio with latin music playing in the back ground. Diana had invited some more of her friends to come. There would be a latin dance party afterwards and the more the merrier. Just like Romina's family, the food and conversation was none other than the best. I said before and I will say again, I have eaten at a number of places in Buenos Aires but there is nothing like a home-cooked asado feast. I felt so blessed to be able to experience it once at Christmas and to be able to experience it again a week later was like heaven! It was a very different ambiance being among the city dwellers but they still had the same community spirit of giving and sharing.

And in the same way that at 12pm the sky was filled with the sound of fireworks to ring in Christmas, that same sound filled the sky to let us know when New Years had arrived. We toasted and drank to a new year and a new decade. And it was also then that the dance party began! Within a week now I had been to 3 parties. First was Romina's house for Christmas, then last Sat the church had an end of the year party where there was alot of dancing latino style. And now out here on the patio, we would dance into the early hours. But this dance party would be slightly different than anything I've ever been at. Normally at dance party's you're just encouraged to "shake your booty" and go for it.

But the girls here were from that part of Latin America where you learn to "feel the music" and move your body subtly to the beat or rhythm. This way of dancing was prevalent in Columbia where Salsa and Merengue rule. And it was quite obvious that my body still had yet to find it's latin rhythm. I will say now that I do have rhythm. I am not a bad dancer. I do dance tango and my body is used to flowing with the beat of the music. But the way you learn to move your body to the music in those type of countries is entirely different than what you learn to do in tango. They giggled when I started to dance. It wasn't it a way that was mean or anything, it was just funny to watch a foreigner who was only learning to go with the beat. I actually think that the sight of me attempting to dance to their kind of music served as their comic relief that night!

Some of the girls were really good! I would watch them and try to imitate. The trick with this dance is that your hands have to be moving in a certain way and at the same time your feet have to be moving in a certain way. It takes practice but I was having fun and by the end of night, I think my body had started to find it's latin beat. The little 5 year old would dash in between the adults as they were dancing. She loved to move her body too and one look at her and I could see that even at 5, her little body already knew how to groove to the rhythms of latin america. And it would be good for her because learning to dance is very important for survival on this continent!

The dance party went into the early hours of the morning, accompanied by the sound of fireworks lite by others and as well as the kids that were with us. Dancing and partying soon took it's toll and one by one, some of the adults and family members began calling it a night and disappearing back into their living spaces, leaving a few of us girls, the little 3 year old and her uncle out on the patio either dancing, or resting, or chatting. The little 3 year old would stare at the adults swaying to a latin groove in wide eyed wonder as she looked at what everyone was doing. At the age of 3, her mind was like sponge that was soaking everything in world around her, the language, the culture, the food and the music. It was important for her to watch us as we chatted with each other excitedly in spanish and danced the night away. After all, one day that was going to be her.......

Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas