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The thinly thatched roof of the bamboo hut barely shades us from the tropical sun. The four women do not stop making tamales as my daughter introduces me to them. They smile shyly at me while tending the wood fire and tying the leaf-wrapped bundles with twine-like stems. The flies are thick. A baby sitting on the dirt floor surrounded by chickens cries. I try to look pleasant and non-judging.

"Will you come to the fiesta, then?" my daughter asks the mother and her grown daughters.

"Sí," they nod, glancing at me nervously.

The "intercultural fiesta" had been planned for months around my arrival in El Salvador, where my daughter is working in rural villages. The party was the perfect incentive for the women she works with—practicing songs and skits empowering them to resist domestic violence, an enormous problem in their country. I was part of the program. We would share our lives and learn from each other.

"They'll dress up as much as they can," my daughter tells me. So I dress down: a dress from Walmart, a plastic necklace, old vinyl sandals that stink when my feet sweat. I want to blend in, to be one of them, to not be what I really am: a rich American.

After a skit where my improvisation and faulty Spanish elicit a little too much laughter, we move on to a round of charades. The women act out their lives in the villages, and I do the same for my life in Alaska. For "work," they stand in a row and swing their arms gently back and forth. "Hoeing corn!" I shout out, while my daughter translates. They grin. For my turn, I mime standing in a skiff and pulling in a net heavy with fish. Because they have heard about this already, they immediately guess "Fishing!" When I pantomime church, I bend my head to pray, I lift ...

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Intercultural Fiesta Fail
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November 2011

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