Friday, October 31, 2008

Ecuadorian Halloween Parties and Costume Judging

Last night I went to the costume party that my student Mario had invited me to. The party was a kind of fundraiser for the Bio-Chemistry department, but I was given an entrance card that waived the $3 cover. I hailed down a taxi on the street and as we drove further away from the areas I know, we were suddenly heading into a field. It was dark, about 9:30 p.m., and I didn't know where I was. I was bracing myself for the possibility that I would be robbed in this field, but then the small dirt road opened up and there was a parking lot where I could see a bunch of people in costumes standing around near an entrance.

Relieved that I was actually in the right place, I went in and found Mario who was happy to see that I'd come. Between 9 and 10 p.m. there were free shots of a sugarcane liquor called Zhumir, so the bar was packed with guys trying to get as much as they could, but Mario helped me out and got me a drink when I wanted it. Since I came alone and only knew Mario, I hung back by the bar and watched everyone else.

It was a very funny scene. Not everyone was dressed up in costumes, but those that were put some effort in. Most of the costumes were store bought and pretty unoriginal, but there were a few good ones. One kid was dressed in a Gorilla suit, a couple was dressed as hippies and really pulled it off, and another was dressed like devils. It made me think of my days at UMass and how Halloween is one of the biggest weekends of the year. The one night of Halloween, when kids go around asking strangers for candy, has turned into a 4 day MegaEvent, where students spend more time planning what costume to wear than actually doing school work.

These costumes didn't hold anything on what I've seen in Amherst, but it was still funny to watch as they adopted our holiday. As soon as the free drink hour was over, everyone rushed onto the dance floor, something that I've never seen happen in the United States. People paired up and started Salsa dancing or just moving back and forth to the rythm. It was fine just watching them dance, but Mario kept coming back to make sure I was OK, and then asked me if I wanted to look at the costumes. I said OK, but I obviously didn't get the translation right.

Mario led me to a table with his other professors who were chaperoning. The other professors were stuffy and in their 40s or 50s, so we didn't talk after the introductions, but I soon learned that we were judges for the best costume contest. The lights came on and all of the attention was focused on our table, where it was clearly visible that I was out of place, but my excuse was that my costume was dressing like a gringo.

The students were getting wild as they showed support for who they liked, and the Gorilla kids' supporters were near madness. One of the prizes given out was a bottle of Zhumir for the loudest group, so suddenly the entire place started shouting, "BO-TE-LLA! BO-TE-LLA!" meaning Bottle! Bottle! For a minute I thought a riot would break out, but it was under control soon enough.

I planned to stay for a couple of hours and leave around midnight, but soon more students from my class showed up, and they wanted to talk and dance. They insisted on feeding me small shots of Zhumir and orange juice, so I accepted out of courtesy. Finally at 2:30 a.m. I got a ride back with one of my students and her friends. Most of those students had to wake up for 7 a.m. classes today, but I'm lucky that I don't have to teach until 1 p.m. Today's word of the day to teach will be hangover. H-A-N-G-O-V-E-R. I think they'll like that. And today starts the 5 day weekend full of celebrations, with many of my friends from all over the country coming in to Cuenca. It's going to be a good weekend.

No comments: