The open market took over Sucre street like every year on Thursday before Carnival, with colorful paper flags, round baskets, round sweet bread of all sizes, colorful candy and endless fruit and vegetable arrangements. Janet is a Tarijenian who woke up yesterday morning and went to the market in a hurry. The vendors offered her all the goodies and she looked not only for good prices but for the best pieces of bread and vegetables, so common in this season. Only the best for the girlfriend she would make “Comadre” today.
Her little daughter goes to kindergarten and she will also make her best friend a “comadre” today. It is the last Thursday before Carnival and one week before it was “compadres” the occasion for male friends to become best friends or “compadres”. But this Thursday the party is a lot bigger, because in a way, the meaning of the day is liberation, and all women are free from family work and dedicate their time to devotedly befriending their female companions in life.
Tarijenian husbands are truly very “Machos” and go out with their male friends every Friday, but women don´t. One day in the year, only one, they are able to break the chains of womanhood that does not allow for them to go out with friends very much. And they do. Janet called her friend Ruth this morning to tell her she will be at her house after lunch at one. She needs to take her child to school, where she will be having a small party, and then to the “Entrada de Comadritas”, a parade where girls of all ages dance in the streets with their baskets on their heads and their newly made comadrita (small comadre).
Janet hurried to take Anita to school. Anita wore a short skirt and her braided hair was topped with laces to match the skirt. A beautiful little angel. When they got to school, the band was playing tunes and all children were dancing. Anita chose Wendy to make her comadrita, her best friend. She gave her the basket with yummy goods, and they danced together around school. They promised to be together in good and bad times and they ate from a piece of bread so that they would never fight.
When the celebration was over at school, Janet went home and had lunch in a total hurry. Her husband had made a light meal which she enjoyed. She was happy that Ruth was to be her comadre today. After lunch she was ready to get dressed. She braided her hair and wore a colorful embroidered shirt. She prepared some firecrackers to make a lot of noise in the door of her new comadre, a bottle of soda and a bottle of wine and of course, how could she forget, she hired a man who plays the Erke, an instrument made from a bull horn, with a traditional raucous and monotonous sound typical of carnival, to call her new comadre to come out and receive her basket.
Carnival traditions in Bolivia are different in all nine states, but they have one thing in common: somehow they all manage to “free the devil” and have fun during four weeks before the penitence coming in holy week. The carnival festivities end on Monday and Tuesday of carnival, two holydays here in Bolivia, which will take place next week. This Saturday there will be a parade in the streets where kids will dance with their best costumes. Sunday will be the turn of adults, who will dance in the streets too. On Monday there will be dancing in small parties with friends and on Tuesday Mother Earth will be celebrated with gifts in small burning fires, which I will talk about next week. Big family happening.
This Thursday, tradition mandates that women are free from all duties. Janet took all her stuff and knocked at Ruth´s door. She lighted the firecrackers and while the Erkero man was playing his instrument, she put serpentine around the neck of Ruth, her new comadre, and asked her to become best friends. They danced together arm in arm to the music of the erkero and went into the house and had a glass of wine with soda (they don´t want to get drunk). Ruth invited her with another glass of wine and they made a pledge to be together later that afternoon in the street parade, with a group of comadres called “These Comadres DO NOT want a husband”. Carnival is like that, always making fun of everything.
Janet and Ruth danced in the parade with the baskets in their heads and all the group of comadres “who DO NOT want husbands” went to the house of one of them and had a blast in an all-female party. They joked a lot, told stories about their husbands and made fun of all politicians. This group does not like to drink alcohol very much, so they focused more on having a good dish and great dessert. Before midnight the party was over and Janet went back home.
She tried not to wake up the family, but her husband was up waiting for her. He smiled when he saw the other two baskets his wife had been given. He had made dinner, he took care of the kids and made them sleep, he washed the clothes, made the kids do homework for tomorrow and washed and ironed school clothes. Janet told him every detail about the party and they laughed together at the insane jokes of the women. The day was over. Janet would wake up this Friday full of new stamina, with a bigger circle of girlfriends, and as she received two baskets, next year she will have to give back the baskets and confirm her new comadres how much she loves them.
She loves this day. She loves her new comadres. She will do this over and over again throughout her life, and new chains of friendship will form every year, in the Thursday of Comadres.