As most of my friends and family in the United States gear up for the most wonderful time of the year (Andy Williams' voice), my town is in recovery mode from what felt like non-step celebrations for the past 2 months. Although there was no turkey served or families gathering to say what they are most thankful for this year, Pajanenses gathered in droves to first celebrate the Catholic Church's Virgen de La Merced (September 24), and the cantonización (or founding) of Paján (November 7). Every parroquía (parish) also had their own anniversary celebrations, and I made it to just about all of them.
(Yes, I'm tired but it was worth it)
Instead of Christmas carols, we danced the nights away to ecua-cumbia tunes played by live bands on grand stages. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we got a few salsa or bachata tunes as well. [Almost NEVER Reggaeton -- the elders would have had a fit!] Streets were filled with families and friends visiting their patria (homeland), and schools were putting on performances of grandeur. It was a beautiful sight.
This year, the Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado (GAD), our local government, switched up the festivities a bit and added on a week's worth of cultural festivities. While many of my neighbors were questioning the changes, I was open to seeing what would be different my second year around. We were not disappointed!
Instead of one parade, we had two; first a pregón where the different organizations that support the town participated in cultural dance performances. And yes, our health center showed up and showed out! I may be a little biased because my sitemate, Evan and I were asked to be a part of this showcase, so it was a real honor and treat to feel included to represent on behalf of our counterparts. I felt SO beautiful that day, and so connected to the local tradition that I'm still in the after-glow, haha. #Integration
Yep, We did that.
After the first parade was Día de Los Difuntos, and for those days I'd already committed to traveling with other PCVs to the Festival de Queso in Salinas de Guaranda. (In Case You Missed It...) I skipped a few weekend parties that I heard were amazing, including a group that came from Colombia. But there was a whole other week of festivities so I didn't catch any FOMO.
When I returned the following Monday, the GAD hosted a folkloric dancing showcase where groups from all around Coastal Ecuador participated in both modern and traditional styles. It was so beautiful to see each part of Ecuadorian culture represented here: Montubian, Sierran, and even Afro-Mestizo! I was particularly surprised to see that my GAD brought an Afroecuadorian group from Guayaquil to perform and highlight their culture because it is so rarely included in these kinds of events. Representation truly matters, and I'm looking forward to visiting them soon (yes, I absolutely got their contact info, you know me)!
Me & some of the members of Afromestizo Candente!
All of the festivities culminated at the annual anniversary block party, where I got to dance with my PCV friends and others in town to one of my favorite Ecuadorian groups, D'Franklin Band! They put on such a great show, nobody wanted to leave. The street was so packed with people that there were folks who were sitting on fences surrounding the area. The energy was palpable and full of life. It reminded me so much of what drew me into this town when I first moved here over a year ago, and why I continue to stay.
Some of my favorite scenes from the last few weeks of parades in Paján and Guale!
"Que viva!" is a saying that we use here for literally every celebration. Whether it's a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation or a wedding, this phrase is used to highlight the occasion; to share a short message of life with one another. It's repeated throughout the event, over and over as a call-and-response. And it is VERY catchy. My Dad even caught on and he was only in Paján for 2 weeks, haha.
If there's one thing Ecuadorians do well, it's living their best lives. It is no wonder their motto is "ama la vida".
I'm just glad I get to share this chapter of my life loving and being loved as well. Here in Ecuador, I have learned to show my gratitude not just by speaking around a dinner table, but by expressing the joy that I have within and the freedom to be my best self wherever life finds me.
Some more great photos from the parades and parties. HUBO FUL BAILE!