El Clima 1: Long Live Christ’s Corpse

Here is a story from the latest El Clima, the volunteer magazine. This piece is by PCV Todd Helmelstrand:


On the 22nd of June, Pujilí held their annual Corpus Christi festival. It’s celebrated to honor the Holy Communion and is celebrated with a large parade, music, dancing and, of course, drinking.

Though I don’t live in Pujilí, the week before the parade, my friend asked me to dance in the desfilé with him and his high school.

I was happy to accept the invitation and showed up at his house early Saturday morning. There we ate a giant breakfast to “give us the necessary strength” to make it through the day. We gorged ourselves on jugo de carne con huevos tibios or meat juice with soft-boiled eggs.

We donned our ponchos, indigenous hats and pounds of sunscreen, and then we were out the door.

Eventually, we arrived at the starting point of the parade. My position was up front with my friend and three teachers of the school. I asked how I was supposed to dance.

Even though I had accept- ed the invitation to be in the parade, I realized, last minute, that I had no idea what I was supposed to do. But the instructions given to me were simple: dance the way the music makes you feel.

Clearly the gringo heard the music differently than the rest of the group. There was a lot of arm-flailing and shuffling to the beat from this guy.

The people dancing around me—high school students’ parents also participating in the parade—had large stalks of sugar- cane.

I don’t care to remember how many times I got hit in the face by the long leaves as they danced and swung those canes.

Throughout the parade, my friend darted around yelling to the crowds, passing out drinks and enlivening the on-lookers—the Ecuadorian equivalent to a hype man. This left me out front, and at times, it appeared like a gringo was leading the high school in the parade.

In these frantic moments, I would yell to the crowd the same thing I had heard many times before, “Viva Corpus Christi” to which the crowd responded “Viva!”

It felt odd yelling, “Long live Christ’s corpse,” but when in Pujilí, do as they Pujilense do…

Dancing under the strong equatorial sun for more than two hours accompanied with copious amounts of Pájaro Azul really took its toll on us. At the termi- nus of the parade, we were exhausted.

We congratulated one an- other and made our way back to where my friends were watching the ongoing parade.

I finally was able to sit down and was just about to eat lunch when my friend informed me that the dance team from his high school would be pass- ing by and we should support them by parading with them.

Sure, why not?

Then I realized what I had gotten myself into. Our small gesture of support turned into another two hours of dancing.

People immediately rec- ognized the indigenously- clad gringo, and no doubt wondered why he was taking a second lap. This time the dance was a bit different. Every 10 minutes, we had to stop and pick people out of the crowd to dance with. This was incredibly awkward, and I tried to only pick women who would be eligible for AARP.

At the end of the second lap, my legs were noodles and weren’t going to sup- port me much longer. Finally, we returned to our friends who were watching the last bit of the procession.

Once the parade ended, we all went indoors for dinner. A bowl of chicken soup and fried pork awaited us. Fritada has never tasted so good.

Over dinner, my friend and I reflected on the day and entertained our friends with our tales (some of them taller than others).

As we spoke, I realized that this is what integration feels like. Even though I didn’t even live in Pujilí, I felt like a part of the community.

It is hard to believe that this was my second Cor- pus Christi and I won’t be here for the next one. I don’t know where the time has gone. I suppose along as it is spent making memories like this, it really doesn’t matter.

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