Land of Snails – Stories from the Bolivian Upper Rainforest
Welcome at » Grandpapa’s Birthday Bash

Grandpapa’s Birthday Bash

Jacha-Tata by Jaime Molina Escóbar
with contributions from Huáscar I. Vega Ledo

The morning of that February 8, it wasn’t the karakunka rooster who woke up the kid with its unique cock-a-doodle-doo as it did day after day. That morning it was a terrifying squeal, a high pitched wail of anguish that shook up the child and the metal cot where he had been sleeping. It was a piercing cry that shrieked the air, paralyzed the sunrise and shattered the glassy violet of the rain-forest dawn. Rubbing his eyes, frightened, he approached the windowsill and he saw the huge boar-pig crying, moaning, wailing, weeping, screaming and kicking in all directions. He also saw the multitude of servants busily starting their duties all over the patio of the hacienda. They were beginning to get ready for the celebration of grandpapa’s birthday. Five servants were trying to control the huge pig fighting and resisting to be drowned in the pit the men had dug in the dead center of the yard. Ultimately, the child watch! ! ed h ow the pork abandoned life spilling hot red blood all over when after being drowned, the servants mercilessly and resolutely sliced its throat. Two maids fetched the copious dripping fresh blood to later make blood sausage and, supposedly, other culinary delights. The bright red bubbling liquid, the noise and the busy crowd of servants, frightened the child a bit more. His fright increased even more when he heard the simultaneous chaotic added noise made by the chickens in the chicken-yard, the ensuing barking and howling of the dogs, the mooing of the cows and bulls, the braying of the burros and the whining of the horses incited by the squealing pig. To make things even worse, almost at the same time, he saw a pigmo bird jumping across the cachi stones. When he saw that bird that represented a bad omen, he feared what might happen and became even more frightened. Those big fies! ! tas often ended in drunken binges, in bickering quarrels and in customary fights.
When he reached the veranda, on one side of the window he saw the climbing flowers named Golden Rain, wet with morning dew looking like fresh tears over a pink soft cheek. That made him forget his fears. He regained his peace and smiling like the majestic sun of that morning, he quickly put on his trousers and sandals and swiftly went running to join the birthday bash preparations.

That was the way the biggest celebration day in the hacienda started. It was grandpapa’s birthday. In a corner, the musicians were already tuning up the violins, the guitars, the charangos , and were pinching the bandoneón … The grandmother-child, aunt Francisca Eulalia Golpepecho and her twelve maids were engrossed doing one thing and another, busily getting ready for the big banquet that was to follow. The child, in astonishment, saw how the foreman killed a young fat steer with a single hit with a sledgehammer so it could be roasted in an open pit fire. Slabs of meat were skewered on long iron spears set at angles around the crackling fragrant firewood. In the gigantic oven made with adobes and wild dry grass he saw how they baked plantain bananas brushed with fresh butter. He saw how the maids were cooking yuccas! ! and walusas , white potatoes and yellow racachas . He saw how they prepared the savory ” kaja ” rice and saw how grandma prepared his favorite salad with sliced tomatoes, thin slices of onion, palto avocado, white cheese and cucumbers. He saw how they made the ubiquitous ” jalpahuayquita ” with fresh prime tomatoes, optimally ripened locotitos chili peppers and with much quirquiña and grandmaternal love. The cooks had marinated the meat with mora and papaya leaves and had rubbed the pork with achiote , lard, garlic paste, lemon and a yungueño little secret they only kept to themselves. They also prepared sajta out of one hundred and seventy five chickens sacrificed to feed the many people who were already arriving so early. And of course, they couldn’t forget the required ” lojro yungueño made with roasted peanuts, chalona and yellow powder chile-peppers. More and more guests were arriving and mixed with them the everlasting ” mankagastos “, uninvited opportunists, parasites who survived infiltrating party after party.

Adults and children were arriving, males and females, literally, the entire town was pouring itself into the hacienda. Relatives, friends and acquaintances from Chulumani, Coroico, Tajma, Irupana were arriving too. Also from Ocobaya as well as from Coripata, Churuhuasca, Chirca, Huancané and all the neighboring villages… “Congratulations, dear grandpapa”. “We hope you live to be a hundred, dear tata “. “For our own blessing and for the blessing of all these lands…” Nobody knew if they really loved him so much or simply it was their way of coming to merrily eat and drink for free. Or simply to get drunk and have fun like they couldn’t do it anywhere else around those lands and around that time. They would shower him with confetti in the same manner they tossed petals to the stucco man. They would surround his neck with floral l! ! eis and drape his shoulders with paper streamers. His cheeks were soaked with wet kisses. In the background, the musical group was already spreading the noisy happiness of the regional music. And then the spree of the fiesta dance started with taquiraris , huay&ntil de;itos , bailecitos and climaxing with the required cuequita . The town’s public notary,Don Dominguito, who was normally calm and refrained, on this sole occasion, was briskly shaking his hips and thundering his shiny little boots. He was also flapping his embroidered linen handkerchief made for him by grandma with much love. It looked like a little white pigeon frantically flying around his wrist. Don Dominguito jumped and jumped, full of joy and candor just like the little kids would jump when playing on the chijipampa fields.

And little cocktails here and more little cocktails over there and even more over yonder, little pisco over here, ” blondies who don’t cheat” over there. Some of the men played the taba and other ones played the sapo while the women were cackling and dissecting half a world. And later the renowned cockfight would start. Grandpapa would always win with his black and red fighting gallo ; feisty cockerel who would tumble and overturn the other roosters as if they were mere chicks. When the child saw the roosters fighting and bleeding, losing feathers and eyes, all of a sudden he started to cry. To console him Grandpapa then told him:
“C’mon my lad; don’t cry.
Be macho, c’mon;
like your grandpapa be macho,
a macho man from Churuhuasca.”
The child listened to him with much attention and stopped sobbing; he swallowed his tears and puffed up his little chest as another victorious fighting cock. Many decades later, when he became a man of twenty, thirty or fifty years he would often remember what the old man had taught him: “Whenever you feel like crying, with reason or without reason, and specially if you are away from me, repeat fourteen times to hold your tears: I am a fighting cock in my rodeo and a super fighting cock in somebody else’s rodeo.” He would never forget the lessons and some of the verses the old man used to tell him many times.

Close to dusk, late in the evening, when everybody was pooped and skunk-drunk, Uncle Marabunta showed up staggering. He was an animal who would come and provoke everyone every time he was tipsy. He would pester the other men and tease them to the point that a fight would always break out.

This time a big fight erupted that was noisier and more chaotic than the fury the animals had caused that morning. Women screamed trying to contain their drunken quarreling mates. Dishes flew and crashed, broken chairs splintered, a punch here, a missed uppercut over there and, all of a sudden, Uncle Marabunta would fall like an old bag of potatoes thrown to the ground. When he fell he cracked the stubborn coconut he had for a head and drenched himself in blood. Suddenly everything came to a halt and the miracle of an instantaneous sobering came about. The adults felt shame and embarrassment; mumbling and muttering regrets to each other they started leaving the place. Tomorrow would be another day and it would be like nothing would have happened.
And that’s how the the first day of Grandpapa’s birthday bash ended. The first of three consecutive celebration days that continued with another week of wild parties and merriment. Mardi gras was about to arrive, long before the atonement of the Holy Week… It was then when the child’s mind would turn into a intoxicating whirlpool, just like the dizzying spiral of his fantasy snail.

” Naranjitay , pinta pintitay
te he de robar de tu quinta
si no es esta nochecita
mañana por la mañanita.
A lo lejos,
se te divisa
la punta de tu enaguita,
la boca se me hace aguita
y el corazon me palpita…”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.