Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pueblo Royalty

It’s that time again: Carnaval! Also known as the happiest time in one of the happiest countries in the world, this year’s Carnaval celebration has been filled with everything you would expect – extravagant costumes, traditional dances, and copious amounts of drinks and laughter. The above quote, which loosely translates to “he who lives it is he who enjoys it”, accurately captures the atmosphere here on the coast during these celebrations.

The celebrations this year have taken on a bit of a different meaning for me. Last year, I was caught up in the pomp and circumstance that Barranquilla’s festivities bring with it. Touted as the second largest celebration in the world, the parades, hordes of people, and constant music established an amazing experience. However, this year, I wanted more of a personal experience, one where I was more actively involved in the activities and excitement. Carnaval in the pueblo has offered me this opportunity and more.

Pre-Carnaval Activities

Although the actual Carnaval itself is a 4 day celebration that leads up to Ash Wednesday, the build-up to the main event starts over a month before. Decorations adorn houses. Costumes and traditional outfits are pumped out by local tailors. Music fills the air with more gusto and strength than during the rest of the year.

These activities extend to the schools as well. Carnaval rotates each year based on when Easter is. That meant that this year Carnaval fell on the first weekend in February, which happened to be about a week and half after the start of the school year. This means that the only thing on everyone’s mind was who the school queen was going to be and what the school’s float was going to look like. Needless to say, academic matters have been of little concern.

Prior to the start of the school, the teachers gathered for about two weeks of meetings, planning, and discussions about the upcoming year. Those discussions this year included the choosing of the teacher queen and rey momo (Carnaval king). Normally, these honors go to new teachers that have just started as a way to welcome them to the school. Despite the fact that I am not a new face, the other staff voted me as the Rey Momo of the school for this year. It probably helped that I am one of only 2 male high school teachers, but still, it was an amazing honor to have been chosen. 

The week before the  start of Carnaval was spent nominating candidates for the student queen, working on dance routines to perform at numerous assemblies, and figuring out where all the party hot spots will be. Each grade elected a female representative from their class to be in the running for the student queen of the school. These candidates then went through a competition, in which they danced, wore traditional outfits, and answered questions. The candidates were judged by a panel made up of the school coordinator, jefe nuclear (more or less the superintendent of the schools), a former student, and a respected parent from the community. The build-up to the announcement of the student queen was infectious. When she was announced, the students went wild! The Miss Universe pageant has nothing on the queening of the student queen!

With the candidates for primary school queen
The teacher queen, Alison, and I
With the representative from 10-2
Angelica and I! Best counterpart around!
My favorite janitor crew in the world!
The student queens for 2016!
Later that night, I took to the streets with my friend Jaime. We headed down to the plaza and scouted out the best location to watch the coronation of the pueblo queen. Chosen about a month before, this year’s queen is the cousin of one of the student’s in my community class. This honor brings a great sense of pride to the family and everyone associated with her. The festivities that night were filled with lots of dances, vallentato performances, and the eventual crowning of the queen. It was a great event filled with tons of espuma (foam), maizena (corn starch that is thrown at bystanders in good fun and jest), and sore feet from hours of dancing and standing.

With Jaime and Kevin before the start of the coronoation
Getting ready for the festivities to begin!
The Repelón Carnaval Queen!
Cumbia performance
Espuma aftermath!
Carnaval Activities

This past Friday I was able to participate in a parade of my own. All of the schools in town created floats, dressed up in their best Carnaval attire, and made their way through town. I was joined on the IE John F. Kennedy float by the queen of the teachers, the primary student queen, and a cumbia band. This event reminded me a lot of our homecoming tradition back in the States. There was a lot of town pride, with students from all three schools joining in and walking the route with their respective floats.

Alison and I all decked out in our outfits
Ready to start the parade!
With some former 11th grade students
Clapping along with some cumbia!

Repelón wasn’t the only town kicking of the Carnaval season in style. Just up the road, in Rotinet, my friend Jessi was having a grand celebration of her own. A few days earlier, she had told me that she was being crowned as the queen of one of the local casetas (club) near her house. With this being such an amazing honor for her, I made my way to her pueblo and experienced one of the coolest events ever.

It is obvious that Jessi has made an amazingly positive impact on her town. A large majority of the citizens gathered outside of the caseta, where a stage had been constructed (complete with an American flag, which was an awesome touch!). Throughout the night, Jessi made multiple outfit changes, danced cumbia, mapale, and champeta, and stole the hearts of all of the Rotineros all over again. As an added bonus, I was unexpectedly named Rey Momo and was able to enjoy the night by her side. Not only was this a night that the town will never forget for quite some time, it’s one of the many memories that I will bring back home with me. 
Ready for the coronation ceremony to begin!

And what an absolutely stunning and beautiful queen she is!
There are still three more days of festivities left. More vallenato will be played, aguardiente drunk, and maizena dispersed. However, the events that I have been able to experience so far make this year’s Carnaval far and away better than last year. Remember – Quien Lo Vive Es Quien Lo Goza!!

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