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S’more cultural exchange: Celebrating the Fourth of July in Perú

Friends and neighbors roasting their marshmallows.

The Peace Corps has 3 goals:

1.     To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained Volunteers.

2.    To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3.    To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Teaching teachers about how to improve trash management in their schools at the local landfill.
Teaching teachers about how to improve trash management in their schools at the local landfill.

Simply put, each Volunteer’s responsibility is to provide technical support and training to the people of the country where he or she works, as well as to promote cultural exchange in said country. Consequently, a large part of my work involves teaching Peruvians about the United States, sharing my experiences of growing up there and correcting misinformations, such as “all U.S. citizens live in mansions.” Teaching about the U.S. is known among Volunteers as Goal 2, and this goal can manifest itself in many ways, including teaching English, teaching a geography class, starting a Frisbee team or, in my case, celebrating the Fourth of July.

Peruvians obviously don’t celebrate U.S. Independence Day (they have their own independence day on July 28), so to share some American traditions with my host family, friends and neighbors, I organized a good old campfire in my backyard. And no campfire could be complete without the ultimate campfire dessert: s’mores.

Around 5:30 p.m., some of the neighborhood kids began to arrive and we started making the fire. None of the kids, not even my host sister, believed I knew how to start a fire. However, thanks to my brief stint in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, I proved them wrong.

Marshmallows and chocolate were easy to find in Perú but I struck out with graham crackers, substituting sweet vanilla crackers instead (they worked quite well).

Teaching primary school students about trash management.
Teaching primary school students about trash management.

Everyone found a stick, popped a marshmallow on the end and held it over the fire. Personally, I prefer to cook my marshmallow by rotating it until it obtains a nice golden-brown color but others, including some of my neighbors, prefer the fast approach in which you just shove the marshmallow into the flame until it catches on fire and turns into a black ball of gooey sugar.

We experimented by substituting the chocolate for a peanut butter cup and went even further buy coating one of the crackers with peanut butter before adding the marshmallow.

While I didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July in typical American fashion, I had a fantastic time sharing some of my U.S. traditions with my friends and family here in Perú. The s’mores were incredibly well received by the neighborhood kids, with responses ranging from dancing and hopping around the yard, to tiny voices screaming “Mark, Mark, regálame otro” (“Mark, Mark, give me another one”), to one of my neighbors saying the s’more with peanut butter was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted.

All in all, the kids made their way through two bags of marshmallows, two large packets of vanilla crackers and three bars of chocolate.

At the end of the evening, I spent some time reflecting on the s’more activity and I realized that despite being two completely different countries, there are many similarities between American Fourth of July celebrations and celebrations for other holidays here in Perú.

A traditional dish from the Sierra of Perú, Pachamanca is the Peruvian equivalent of cookout food.
A traditional dish from the Sierra of Perú, Pachamanca is the Peruvian equivalent of cookout food.

For example, while Peruvians may not have cookouts in the same manner we do in the U.S., they do have a very special meal that is prepared in an underground or temporary stone oven for special occasions: Pachamanca. I call it “Peruvian barbecue,” although that is probably not the best description.

Additionally, while fireworks are usually reserved for Fourth of July back home, in Perú, fireworks are used throughout the year for various religious holidays, Peruvian Independence Day and Christmas. You can even find sparklers here!

Lastly, while the U.S. is well known for its large parades (Fourth of July, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, etc.), I think Perú outdoes us in quantity. There are parades for religious festivities, for school and public institution anniversaries, and for many other national holidays.

So while Perú sometimes seems like a world away from my life in the United States, activities such as making s’mores with my host family and neighbors remind me of how similar we all are in this world and are just one of the many, many reasons why I love my Peace Corps service here in Perú. 

I mean, who else gets to say that making s’mores with children in rural Sierra Perú falls under their job description?