The Birthday Party

16 Nov

Waking up around 10 a.m. after being out until 3 is a tough thing to do, but it’s just too difficult to sleep in when you live in Ecuador. For some reason Ecuadorians don’t need much sleep, and so by 7 or 8 a.m. they are around and bustling about. So for the majority of Saturday morning and afternoon I was just sitting around lazily and recovering with cat naps and The Simpsons.

My new friend Jenifer had invited me to her cousins’ birthday party, and though she was going to be working until about 9:30, I was going to arrive with her other cousin, Diana, who I’d met the week before. Arriving by 7:30, we were the first guests there. I’d met her cousins at a club during the fiestas a couple of weeks before and they were extremely friendly and welcoming.

The cousin, Rene, was turning 39, and I was a little surprised to find that it wasn’t a big birthday party, but rather the cousins and closer family. So only about 15 people were coming, and I was one of three foreigners invited. I was touched, considering I barely knew them, but they were inviting me into their home for a close family party.

The family has three children, and the 8 year old son loves playing baseball, which I found amazing. I always thought that the popularity of baseball ended around Venezuela, and though it’s an obscure sport in South America, there are a few leagues in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. The son plays on a team called the Rockies, and because of that he loves the Colorado Rockies. Though I have very little talent I can offer for advice, I told him how he could improve his batting stance. He’d shown me how he swings, and his was almost jumping as he swung, so I told him to keep his legs planted. Funny enough, the family was very interested in what I had to say about baseball since I’m the closest thing to an expert on it that they’ve ever met.

Soon enough more of the family arrived and the party started. The music was turned up and the dining room/living room was turned into a dance floor. Oddly, the aunt of Diana is a friend of my other friend Monica, and I’d met her a few weeks before. In a city of 500,000 I somehow worked into this coincidence.

The family is mostly from Zaruma, in the El Oro province. This province is on the coast, but Zaruma is high enough to be somewhere in the mid-range between Sierra and Coast. According to them, people from the coast party differently, and they were all dancing together and joking around, which I found to be normal. A huge part of Ecuadorian culture is drinking, but up until this point I haven’t really seen much of it. The family I lived with in Quito didn’t drink for religious reasons, and my family in Cuenca doesn’t seem to drink much either. At the party however, I finally saw the drinking part of the culture.

The main things to drink were whiskey and water or rum and Coke. I like whiskey and Coke, and I had to argue for 5 minutes to let them allow me to make a whiskey and Coke drink, and another 5 for them to try it. Apparently it’s not very popular down here, but they agreed that it tasted good. At orientation we were told how to deal with situations when you didn’t want to drink but were being pressured into it. The main way is to just hold on to your drink, this way you don’t get a new one. But I never got that option.

Instead, the girls were hand feeding me the drinks and forcing me to chug cups of whiskey and rum. Every time I said no the entire house would chant “Toma! Toma! Toma!” and wouldn’t stop until I’d finished the cup. I was feeling good, but somehow didn’t get wasted, which was all the better, unlike one of the cousins who’d had too much. He probably broke about 5 glasses, and instead of getting him a glass of water and a bucket they gave him another whiskey drink. Not exactly the best cure. No one cared about the glasses though, they just kept laughing it off. Being drunk is a solid excuse here, and no one holds it against you.

The two other foreigners were a 7 foot, 16 year old German who was living with some of the cousins in a year long foreign exchange program, and a Chinese girl who’s been living in Ecuador for at least a decade and teaches Mandarin. I spoke to the German boy, who was nearly perfect in English, with a slight British twang, and the Chinese girl who the family affectionately calls, “La China.” She speaks 4 languages fluently, and the 16 year old speaks 3. I felt weaker with just my 2 languages.

In between the drinking and dancing, I could see how much love there was in the family. No one brought any gifts or cake, and there was no birthday song, but everyone was laughing and having a great time. Essentially, they were busting each others’ balls all night long, and it was hilarious to watch and take part in some of it.

Around 11:30 p.m. dinner was unexpectedly served. A nice big plate of steak, rice, and eggs helped to further the party and give everyone a little extra life. The power suddenly went out and for a few minutes we sat in pitch black, listening to music coming from someone’s cell phone.

Some of the family left as it got a little later, but we stayed dancing until 3 a.m. Once again it was a late night. I thanked Rene and he told me that I’m a friend of the family and his house is my house. It was really touching that near strangers would take me into their house and treat me like family. Piling into a car with 8 or 9 people and a dog, it was a tight fit on the ride home, but just like the family, we were close and comfortable with it.

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