1st Communion, Peruvian Style

“We’re going to the first communion this weekend,” Matt said when he came home from school one night.

“Okay, whose first communion?” I asked.  Having been to plenty of first communions in the States, including my own, I was interested to see one in Peru.

“I don’t know.  The fourth graders, I guess,” he replied.  “I have an invitation somewhere.”

“All of them?”  I was confused.  Davy is not a Catholic school and while I know Peru is 85-90% Catholic, I didn’t understand why first communion would be associated with the school as opposed to a parish.

“I don’t know, but I’m the principal so we need to go.”

Fair enough.  So last Saturday Matt and I put on church attire and headed to Iglesia Belén (Church of the Nativity) in the center of Cajamarca.  (Once at church I discovered that if I owned a micro mini skirt and stiletto heels those would have been equally appropriate attire for a first communion although I am not sure how I would have sat down…)  We arrived and knew we were in the right place by the host of little angels all around us.

Matt was in hot demand for photos.  Mainly with the girls – like in most countries, the boys stay farther away from the principal.  But Miss Mistina, a fourth grade teacher, was sought after for photos with boys and girls and, in one case, the family scurried down the street after mass to catch her.  We chatted with some parents who spoke excellent English and the mom explained that the children usually make their first communion with their school.  She added that 48 children were participating today and that 1 other student already made her first communion in Lima and the remaining 3 fourth graders “were not participating.”  It was clear she did not approve of the three non-participants. She also explained that the children dress alike to avoid the “miniature bride” factor and competition.  That seems like a great idea and probably an easier sell in a country where uniforms are the norm.

The same mom kindly led us into church and to our assigned seats – places of honor on the side, right up front by the children.  Not my usual back-of-church choice, but we were not alone as the teachers were similarly honored.  The priest even came down to greet all of us before mass, and I almost had a giggle fit when the priest said “Que Tal” to me, which is an informal “How’s it going” greeting.  I managed to stutter back “Buenos Dias” as he continued down the line of teachers.  Then I looked up at the dome and had to stifle my giggles again as the cherubs holding up the dome look like they are making “Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo”  faces.  Look and tell me if I am wrong:

Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

While the service lasted two hours, it was very pleasant.  Our years of Catholic education certainly helped as Matt and I generally knew what was going on.  There was also a handy written program, so I could even say the responses (the shorter ones or I got lost) and sing in Spanish.  The Our Father, which should have been easy, was confusing, so I am not exactly sure what was going on for that.  All 48 children participated in some fashion by reading petitions, bringing up the gifts etc., which was nice.  I had considerable anxiety during communion when everyone was taking the wafer directly in the mouth, a practice long discontinued in the US.  So I intently watched the line and was relieved when I saw one woman extend her hands.  Then I saw she was noticeably pregnant.  Was there some special pregnancy rule? By the time we were headed up to the altar, I had seen two other women, neither who appeared to be pregnant, do the same, so I held out my hands and was awarded my host (and not whacked with a ruler by the nun dispensing communion).  Whew.  Poor Mistina, who is not Catholic, was being urged by the children to take communion.  She explained that she was not Catholic and received stunned, uncomprehending looks.  So on Monday she had to explain where her Christian beliefs and their Catholic beliefs intersect and diverge.  She said the kids are still a little shocked that she isn’t Catholic.

After church we wandered to the Belén museum and ended our outing with a baby mummy and a skeleton.  All in all, a lovely day!

RIP Nazca Mummies (Vacation Part IV)

After our flight over the Nazca lines, we toured the Chauchilla Cemetery, the Nazca’s final resting place that dates back to 200-900 AD. The preservation techniques used by the Nazca, together with the arid conditions, created an amazing combination for body preservation. The tombs were discovered in the 1920s and subsequently raided countless times before the government placed them under protection and took efforts to restore some of the tombs to their original condition and rebury other remains.  It is a surreal site: the barren landscape stretches endlessly and yet these tombs lie within.  The mummies themselves initially appear almost fake, the gruesome details too perfect – a foot, teeth, hair.  But once the reality sets in that these were real, live people, it gets creepy.  So just in time for Halloween (and with all due respect to the dead), I bring you the mummies:

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Notable qualities of the mummies include the finely woven textiles that cover them, the fetal position they are all bound in and the fact that apparently they all face east in the tombs.  I say apparently because the graves were robbed and later restored, so how we can know that all the mummies faced east?  Maybe only certain ones did – dignitaries, women, peasants, who knows?  There is also a theory that the very long haired mummies were the shamans or priests of the community, but I am not sure what support there is for that theory.  In addition to the dead, the tombs contain animals, pottery and other artifacts, including seashells.  Regardless of what we don’t know, the cemetery is an incredible, albeit morbid, sight.

Preceding the Incas and the Nazcas were the Paracas, who lived in the Ica desert between 1300 BC and 200 AD.   Before heading to coastal Paracas to continue our vacation, we also saw some Paracas lines, which differ from the Nazca lines in that they are situated on the side of hills and depict humanoid figures instead of animal and geometric shapes.  The Paracas also are known for skull binding from birth until about age 8, which would create elongated or oddly shaped skulls believed to identify tribes, and brain surgery (not sure whether such surgery was necessitated due to the skull binding).  You guessed it – elongated heads and sand drawings – a theory that the Paracas were extraterrestrials also exists!

Paracas Lines

Paracas Lines

Next: We hit the beach!