Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sergio's Fifth Birthday Party

Yesterday afternoon, Oscar’s wife Rosario and her two children stopped by my apartment to drop off an invitation to Sergio’s fifth birthday party. The invitation read 4:30 this afternoon.

I arrived at 4:40, thinking I was late. But barely anyone was there. I later found out that other people’s invitations read 3:30. Yet many didn’t show up until five.

Oscar and his family rent an attractive house, surrounded by flowering trees and enclosed with a large black gate. In the back of the house is another building with three separate doors. These seem to be rooms, or apartments, that other families live in.

The theme of the party was cars. I think there was a movie about cars recently, because everything had the same logo – the folded cardboard gift boxes, the sticks put into the gelatin cups and the soda bottles, the Congratulations Sergio poster on the wall and the pull-string bell piñata.

They had a two-man DJ ensemble, who blasted children’s music so loud as to rock the eardrums and make conversing very difficult. Nevertheless, I was able to meet an interesting woman from Cuba and her Bolivian husband. They left Cuba a few years ago due to the worsening economic conditions there. She is an English teacher and has a sister in Miami. But she found it impossible to speak any English when she went to see her sister in Miami. “It’s a purely Spanish city,” she said.

We talked about the importance of the family in Bolivian life and about the way the work culture supports strong families here.

“In the US, the work culture drives families apart,” she said, and I agreed. “It becomes normal for children to leave at 17 or 18 and the parents end up alone, just seeing their children at Christmas or holidays,” she said. “And the majority of them end up in a nursing home. But not here. Here, old people remain a part of their families until the very end.”

I told her how delayed childbearing can make it difficult for some middle-aged people to take care of both children and elderly parents. They told me that here, people have children much earlier, age 21 or 22 on average, but frequently at 15 or 16.

I surprised that the lack of having an abortion option probably played a role.

“Yes,” she said, and her husband nodded. “It’s really a debate here. There are cases of young girls who are violated and are forced to bear the children. There was recently a case of a 12-year-old who was raped. And during all the time they spent going to court, she eventually carried the child to term. They delivered it by C-section, but still. Someone of that age doesn’t have the capacity to be a mother.”

She told me that the numbers of unwanted children are high – that many families continue to have one child after another after another. That children are abandoned, mistreated, and many turn into criminals. She said that birth control is available, but the lack of education and a culture of using it mean it is not very effective.

What I find most troubling is the lack of options for women who are victims of violence. The other day in the newspaper I read an article about some neighbors who found a woman in their neighborhood. She was about 30 years old and seemed to have been drugged and violated. What if she should become pregnant?

As if suffering the violent act wasn’t enough, can any lawmakers or religious leaders with a conscious truly believe she must continue to be reminded of the horror for another nine months, or twenty years?

Back to the birthday party, where the upper-middle-class children in attendance seemed to have been wanted, we were served muffins, donuts and sodas as we tried to shout to each other over the music. The adults sat in a semi-circle around the patio, while the children sat in the center on small red, blue and yellow chairs. The boys sat separately from the girls.

When the festivities began, the DJ led the children in games – a dance contest, hot balloon, musical chairs. One girl, when she was eliminated in hot balloon (the equivalent of hot potato) ran to her mother crying. Sergio blew out the candle on his cake, then everyone was served a slice of cake with an empanada and another soda.

Finally, the piñata was brought out. Unlike Nicaragua, where they still have artistically made paper-mache piñatas, broken with a bat and blindfold variety (which I prefer), here the piñata was a commercialized paper bell with a bunch of strings. The children gathered under the bell. Rather than take turns at pulling the strings, the birthday boy was able to yank them all at once, guaranteeing that the piñata burst apart on the first try.

“Don’t look up at the piñata!” the DJ told the kids. “Look down!” As though children could look away from candy.

The bell burst and toys and sweets rained down in a cloud of dust and confetti. After the children gathered their treasures, they then swept the dust and confetti into piles with their hands and threw it in each other’s faces.

Each child was given a gift box. I wondered whether that was an American import. And while Sergio received gifts from everyone who came, he didn’t open any of them during the party.

It was a nice way to spend an afternoon and a rewarding little peak into local life.

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