After five weeks of language and culture studies in Lima (and one week of travel to Cusco and Machu Picchu), the Goshen students say goodbye to their Lima host families and teachers and travel to their service locations. They spend a second six-week period scattered across the country, working in schools, clinics, churches and social service organizations.
Before they go, however, the Peru groups have traditionally thrown a farewell party – or despedida – for the host families. The party is a chance for the students to thank their host families for opening their homes and hearts.
The students were busy with party-planning for several weeks. Committees planned decorations, games, special food, music and speeches. Students wrote and performed two skits, which they rehearsed in the week leading up to the despedida.
The evening was a wonderful time of community. Some host families have hosted for years; others are new to the program. The despedida party is one time they all see each other. The students kept things lively with games, songs, and good food. The humorous skits brought laughter, and the touching tributes and flowers the students offered to their host families invited a few tears.
Then, just as the evening seemed to be drawing to a close and sad, final good-byes, the students and co-directors Richard Aguirre and Judy Weaver began to act strangely. They made unnecessary speeches. They sang an extra song. They asked the families if anyone had a story to share. People shifted in their seats, ready to go home.
Soon enough, the families found out what all the stalling was about: a bright trumpet peal interrupted the final speeches, and a mariachi band strode into the hall. The whole Goshen group gathered on the stage to sing “Volver, Volver,” to our host families. The chorus of the old Vicente Fernandez song goes, “Y volver, volver, volver a tus brazos otra vez; llegaré hasta donde estés; yo sé perder, yo sé perder, quiero volver, volver volver” (To return, return, return to your arms once more; I’ll come to wherever you are; I know about losing, I want to return, return, return”).
Alejandro had been practicing a good grito – the impassioned howl that is such a fun part of traditional Mexican music. The other students gave him a poke, and he threw his head back and let ‘er rip. The mariachi musicians were so impressed that they asked him to do it again later.
Families began to sing along – in Peru everyone knows Mexican music – and soon tables were pushed to the side and everyone jumped up to dance. The mariachi band was a special good-bye from Richard and Judy, who will end their year of directing the program in August. Richard chose to share music from his own Mexican-American heritage knowing that mariachis are popular at Peruvian celebrations. So the party and the term ended on a joyful note.