One thing I truly love about the South American culture I have seen thus far is the importance of family here. Right now there are about ten young children eating fried chicken and french fries and soon to be enjoying cake as a birthday celebration. I am fairly certain the birthday girl is a niece to the family I am staying with, and this evening I have met grand parents, cousins, nephews and nieces before shirking off to my room feeling a bit awkward down by the children's party.
Various relatives live right around the corner from this family, and for lunch an aunt literally enters the home through a kitchen entrance. Lunch is the important meal here and in this family the 19 year old daughter, her mother, an older aunt, and young cousin, combined with the son if he is back in town from work, all join together to share a meal.
I love my family but have never truly felt a strong presence from my extended family. My immediate family always ate dinner together and now that us children have grown up we have become closer, but here it is more than just the basic family that is close. Clearly distance and number of individuals in a family influence how many people can be close and how often they can join together, so this is not a criticism of typical American families, but rather a recognition of the strength of family in South America.
I have just now returned to my room after rejoining the party after more people had come and the eating had morphed into social hour. The extended family where I am staying is full of some lovely people, even if one of the one year olds had recently discovered the joy of scraping legs with his tiny nails. If you saw my legs, you might believe I had been attacked by a cat.