Festivals! Alasitas and Carnaval

Alasitas

On the morning of January 24th, vendors set up stands all over the city with miniature versions of everything. At 11:45am, the plazas get more and more crowded as business people, families, friends buy small versions of what they would like to be blessed with that year, and tradition is that at the stroke of noon, you get your purchases blessed by someone like a shaman.

With the hopes of traveling, one buys a mini passport. To have abundant money, one buys small paper bills that say they’re from the “Bank of the Future”, and keeps some in the wallet all year long.

To give a friend good luck in the the romance department, buy a small hen statue for a guy or a rooster for a girl. This festival goes on for three weeks, and the main area seems like its own city!

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Here are some other fun Alasitas: mini food boxes, Image

(like a good engineer, giving a sense of scale by placing the purple pen) 🙂

Miniature tools and materials for people building/fixing a house, or in the construction business. Ruben, our office director, got some for the Engineers In Action office:

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You can get a diploma:Image

Or get “married” here:

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And to top it off, there are full-size versions 🙂 of food and games. Here is Ruben and Mariel, my new roommate, co-worker, and friend:

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Carnaval

Then to Carnaval! The Carnaval in Oruro, Bolivia has been named a UNESCO “Masterpiece” of culture.

Secondary celebrations include throwing water balloons, squirting water guns, and shooting foam. This all starts well before Carnaval: here I am a few weeks ago, victim of a drive-by foam shooting: Image

Saturday I went to Oruro with my two roommates and some family/friends of Mariel. The day before, Friday, the city had an extra energy too it. We were preparing for our big journey, a “day trip” of a 24 hours. We bought and prepared lots of food. We got ponchos. We packed our bags. I even tested my various jackets to see which is more waterproof! It felt like we were preparing for battle! I had trouble falling asleep, anticipating the next day, and then we all woke in the silence of the night at 3am to go to the plaza.

Well, I realized I wasn’t Katniss, filming the next Hunger Games movie, when the bus didn’t show until an hour later and we waited in the rain. When something typically Bolivian happens, some of my friends sing a majestic-sounding song… “Bol-i-via!”

By and by we reached Oruro, and as we had gone with the bare-bones travel package, we had to go under the bleachers and climb between people’s feet to get to our seats. Then… it was mesmerizing! A whole day of parade sounds like a lot, but consider that there are many different types of dancing, there’s acting, huge bands, and costumes like I’ve never seen before. Take a look:

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(quality versions and more photos available in this album)

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There are storys to go along, like the history of slavery in Bolivia:Image

and the fight of good against evil. Image

And then there’s the constant entertainment of actual foam-fights:

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And taking pictures with the performers! Image

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As the day grew dim, night brought the promise of fire and fireworks in the parade. I started to worry as rainy season lived up to it’s name and a storm drenched the city. But lesson learned: Bolivians don’t let even rain, thunder and lightning “rain on their parade”.

The dancing continued with fire coming out of the top of dancers’s heads, bears dancing in colored fog: Image

And the parade passing through a shower of fireworks:

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Finally, we returned to a sleeply La Paz that woke to celebrate again the next day- the next three days, in fact! The dancing continued, the foam fight continued, and I wasn’t even safe right around the corner from my apartment:

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The celebrations close with “challa”, or rituals of blessing, on the day before Ash Wednesday. Most store fronts, houses, and cars have been decorated and blessed.

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Life returns to normal, but now the new year can really start. Businesses have been blessed, dances and smiles have affected us all, and big desires are carried by tiny reminders.

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