The sheer amount of food is nauseating—a typical plate consists of beef, pork, chicken, sausage, potato salad, rice, corn salad, tomato salad, and a glass of wine. After an extensive grilling process, the traditional Chilean celebration of Independence Days is a vegetarian nightmare and a steak lover`s dream.
In order to properly demonstrate their patriotism, Chileans take two holidays (as well as spending the previous days in work parties) to bring the family together, eat obscenely large meals, and celebrate Chilean music, customs, and ideals.
The holidays naturally led me to reflect on the meaning of my two years as a Jesuit Volunteer here in Arica, as those years draw to a close. But I get ahead of myself…
The curious Cueca
Easily the most curious of the customs for the Fiestas Patrias, or Independence Holidays, is the national dance, the Cueca, based upon the mating ritual of the chicken and the rooster. The male dresses as a Chilean cowboy complete with boots, spurs, and wide brim hat who proudly spins his handkerchief as he chases the female throughout the dance floor. The female wears a traditional country dress and protects her innocent handkerchief from easy capture while she is flattered by the male`s advances.
The band, composed of guitars, accordions, and percussion, plays short, humorous songs about the history of Chile then entertain the croud with verse in between breaks. As with any tradition, the elder generations are thrilled by the Cueca whereas the younger set often refuse to learn the steps.
Ideals of a nation
The prevailing mood of the Fiestas Patrias is the idea of celebrating life and family, and removing oneself from commitments to appreciate quality moments with the significant people in your life. A sense of great anticipation and joy permeate the celebrations, demonstrating the great pride Chileans take in their country.
Similar to the ideals of Thanksgiving, the Fiestas Patrias have tremendous energy in them, calling people to recognize the beauty that continually surrounds them. For me, 18 de Septiembre represents an opportunity to express my gratitude to a town that has adopted me as its own by sharing its pride and joy.
End of the road
Heading towards the completion of any volunteer experience is bittersweet. Looking back, I realize the tremendous people, events, and experiences that have filled my time with a sense of love for the host culture. Looking forward, I begin to imagine the new horizons that will appear and the return to the family and friends who inspired and supported my original decision to pursue this ridiculous dream of life outside the familiar.
The most significant challenge is to remain grounded in humility to continue to soak up the majesty that characterizes the volunteer experience. Focusing on the present, one can appreciate the independence that a volunteer has achieved through the process.
Through the Fiestas Patrias, I recognize the tremendous experience that Arica has been for me and I pray that I may maintain the sense of omnipresent joy long after I have returned to the States.