Monday, September 13, 2010

Nix on the xoxos

It´s funny how something can be right under your nose for ages without you even thinking of it. Then, once something draws your attention, you can´t seem to avoid spotting it at every moment. For later this month, a group of teachers from the high school and I are planning our second "Escuela de Padres," a mandatory half-day-long workshop for parents. This month´s themes are dental hygiene, nutrition and revaluing cultural identity. Aside from planning the actual logistics and informational content of the event, we are planning different icebreakers and games, to keep people interested. The PE teacher, a merry fellow who would fit in well at a UGA tailgate, had the enthusiastic idea of a hugging ice-breaker. We all laughed, though, because the truth is, hugging is rare among adults in my community, perhaps nonexistent.
While I recognized this fact and quickly directed the brainstorm to more feasible and culturally sensitive activities, the deeper significance didn´t strike me until last night. In a typical bout of insomnia, I was tossing and turning in my bed (yes, bed!! I sprung the 80 soles and am the happiest, most comfortable girl in Musho) and thinking about the little boy on the way-- my host parent´s next baby. At dinner my host parents and I had spent a good 15 minutes brainstorming names. What struck me all at once is that between my host parents I had never witnessed any physical affection-- no handholding, kissing, hugging, putting an arm around, squeezing, nothing. Even in the midst of such a sentimental and exciting time, the 7th month of my mom´s pregnancy, my dad, publicly, won´t even touch her stomach.
Next, I expanded my thoughts to all the younger couples I know from Musho and it´s the same-- no affection at all. Is it from shyness? Or some inexplicable cultural force? It certainly isn´t from fear of touching. I have ridden up in packed colectivos practically sitting in the lap of some neighbor or unknown Peruvian. The greeting-with-a-kiss is a city and coastal phenomenon, which has gained little ground in Musho. I know very well which friends I greet with a kiss and with whom a hearty handshake or pat on the back is more than enough. Edita, my host mom, is in the second category, odd as that seems.
Here, I observe this as a cultural phenomenon, that´s all, without an opinion on whether it is good or bad. Personally, though, I miss affection. Sure, we don´t kiss our friends too often in the States, but we hug, tickle, cuddle, walk hand in hand, and not just when over-packed public transportation demands it. Maybe I only bathe, I mean bathe well enough to get the dirt and smell and particles of animal manure off me, once a week or so, and people don´t want to hug me. Maybe I don´t insist, and starting the practice of generous hugging should be part of my goal 2 (sharing American culture with Musho) work. Either way, I just realized the universal lack of hugging around here, and at the same time, realized it´s something that I miss. But there are other volunteers, and it helps to know of all the hugs waiting for me back in Georgia. Something to think about.
Incidentally, the picture is from the town parties, recently passed.

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