My attempt to learn Spanish has been hilarious for just about everyone involved. In fact, I've coined quite a few phrases - usually in an attempt to directly translate an English expression. When Oscar (our security guard, who is incredible) helped us move several pieces of heavy furniture downstairs, for example, I thanked him and called him an "ayuda grande". I was trying to genuinely thank him for being a "huge help", but apparently that expression doesn't translate at all. He smiled politely and Lara just died laughing! Oh and this is just one example of many. I'll save the rest for updates in person. Oscar, in the meantime, has graciously embraced my expression as his new name! Yrma, in her never failing humor, likes to remember all of my quirky, cultural mishaps - most stemming from an effort on my part to be respectful or polite or complimentary. This culture, in a beautiful way, is none of those things. I mean, people are respectful, especially children to adults. But in general the culture is extremely direct and blunt and never holds punches. It's refreshing, to be honest. Yrma's favorite phrase of mine is simple. I coined it the first day I was here, and we haven't stopped using it since. "No, gracias." I think I used it first when Yrma asked me if I needed any more blankets in my room. "No gracias." "No gracias?" she said and then proceeded to chuckle and walk away. I was just trying to be polite, but being polite in this context is just really being weird. Well since that point Yrma uses "no gracias" all the time. In a number of contexts Yrma will look at me and whisper with a smile, "no gracias, Lellie. No gracias." She's relentless. We were invited to Yrma's youngest brother's (she's one of 7!) birthday party on Saturday night, which was an honor. Birthdays here are a BIG deal and are celebrated differently than in the US. I've been to three parties so far, and they are always comprised entirely of family members. Friends don't get invited, which makes our presence all the more special. In a way, to extend an invitation to the gringas is like accepting us as family. Anyway, the parties that I have been to have all had very similar formats, and they last for hours. We start out by greeting everyone and sitting along the outside of the room, talking and waiting for all of the family members to arrive. There is usually some type of traditional music playing and a table displaying a cake. After a while simple snacks are brought out and the host carries the chips and crackers around the room on small plates. This means that the party can start in full force - which means lots of salsa dancing. The boys will ask the girls to dance and everyone stands in a line - girls on one side boys on the other. This salsa dancing is so much different than the salsa dancing I've seen before in the states or in the movies. I think it comes from the highlands, and the rhythm that the Peruvians hear is never the rhythm that I hear! I've realized how much I depend on a baseline, which doesn't exist in the traditional music here. At one point at Marco's party, I was trying to follow my partner, who had his hands behind his back, so I held my hands behind my back too and was quickly corrected by the "tias" around me. Only the boys dance with their hands behind them. Well, we'd dance a song or two and sit down for a song or two and more snacks would circle, alongside little plastic cups of Inca Cola. Everyone just kept enjoying each others company. We arrived at 5:30 and left at 11:30 - so we literally had hours of this simple pattern. It was a lot of fun, though. It's disrespectful to leave before the cake is cut, so everyone stays until the end for cake. These Peruvians really know how to celebrate birthdays, that's for sure. One of the uncles even brought out some Chincha wine (some of the best wine comes from Chincha - it's actually all mass wine and super sweet.) which was a huge deal, as Yrma rarely allows wine in the house. Some of the volunteers will have their birthdays here, which will be so fun for them. One of the highlights of the night was the 80s music being played on the combi ride over to Marco's house (actually Marco and his wife Elle and their two sons live with abuelita, Yrma's mom - that's common in this culture). I usually don't spontaneously break out in song, especially in crowded buses in foreign countries, but for some reason Lara and I felt the need to sing "I will survive" with an entire busload of Peruvians. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and I wish I had a video to upload! It really is amazing what a monopoly American pop culture has on music and film throughout the world. That's something I often realize anew here. Anyway, the night was fun. It's really special to be able to experience the culture here at the depth I'm experiencing it. We all have so much to learn from each other. I love the genuinity of the people here - in their faith, in their values, in the way that they are willing to accept us and open their homes to us. I feel really blessed every day to be living here.