When I was a young man, serving with the Peace Corps in Chile, I discovered “Jauja”! I remember once standing on the rocky shore of Lago Villarrica in southern Chile, looking out over that beautiful emerald lake with the smoking, snowcapped volcano in the background. I admitted to my Chilean counterpart Enrique, that I had never seen scenes like this before, to which he commented “You are in Jauja, Gringito”. I was told this again one cold, rainy evening while sitting around a crackling fireplace in the Protectora de Empleados Particulares just off the central plaza in Valdivia, drinking warm red wine and eating seafood-filled empanadas with my colleagues from the Instituto Forestal. Upon exclaiming my total pleasure of the moment, Humberto, my boss at the Instituto stated, almost accusatorily, “You have really found “Jauja”, haven’t you Gringo”. For the longest time, I must admit, I did not really know what they meant by “Jauja”. At the time, it did not matter much to me to find out, because when it came up, I was usually too happy and enjoying myself too much with my colleagues to care. Later on, however, in a more inquisitive time, I learned that “Jauja”, while the name of the first capital of Peru, in Chile is a metaphor for prosperity and abundance, or more to the point, an ideal place.In the interceding forty plus years since I first heard of “Jauja”, I have myself occasionally invoked the term “Jauja” to others. I remember well sitting at an old table behind our Shenandoah Valley country home with Francisco, our Chilean nephew, and shared a bottle of 10-year old Concha y Toro Don Melchor, just the two of us, reminiscing about our lives in Chile and how fate brought us together as family. We bonded a bit more that night, uncle and nephew, in the calm mist of the humid evening and under the soothing effects of one of Chile’s best wines. I stated to Francisco, “You know, this is “Jauja!”. I wasn’t exactly talking about the place, although it was pretty perfect that evening, but more about the mood of our relationship. An ideal place.And again when a bunch of my Peace Corps buddies and our families stood together on the streets of Santa Barbara, California, drinking cold beer, celebrating the floats in “La Fiesta” parade and toasting our friendship, the day before our oldest daughter Andrea was married. That too was “Jauja”. When you lead an exciting life, have many good friends, and a wonderful family, you tend to have lots of “Jauja” moments.During the second week in January of this year, Ximena and I travelled to Hastings, New Zealand, to attend the wedding of another Chilean nephew, Francisco’s brother Joaquin, our Godson. Joaquin went to New Zealand about three years ago in a “working holiday” program New Zealand has with Chile. After experimenting with several different jobs, mostly temporary worker jobs like picking fruit, cleaning shellfish, milking cows (you see, New Zealand does not have a border with Mexico), Joaquin found a longer-term opportunity in the wood products industry, made possible because Joaquin, like his father, and like I his godfather, has a university degree in forestry. So he stayed on in New Zealand, much like four decades ago when I stayed on in Chile for a third year of Peace Corps service that culminated in my marriage to Ximena.
As one might expect, Joaquin, a young man, good looking, gregarious, and probably somewhat lonely and nostalgic for his homeland and family, soon found the woman he has been searching for over quite a long period of time, and Laiza and he were married in a lovely Orthodox church in a residential neighborhood in Hastings on January 15. Because I am his Godfather, I was asked to make a toast at the wedding reception. But before that, since we arrived in Hastings several days before the wedding, we were invited to several parties, dinners, and gatherings to meet Laiza’s family and friends. To make things more exciting, Laiza is a Kiwi whose parents are Greek. It didn’t take long to see that the entire Greek community in Hastings makes up Joaquin’s newly found New Zealand family. They all call Joaquin “Joe”, signaling a high degree of integration in this English-speaking country, familiarity and permanence, I believe. So of course we roasted a lamb on a spit in the backyard under the expert guidance of Laiza’s father.
We learned Greek dancing, including Zorba’s favorite, so we would not embarrass ourselves at the wedding reception when we would have to spin, kick, and circle all together. We drank too much wonderful New Zealand wine and a good bit of Ouzo. And we even broke some plates, that’s required in a Greek party, even in New Zealand.
Joaquin’s and Laiza’s wedding ceremony was traditional, beautiful, and moving.
Through all this, I had been having a difficult time constructing in my mind the toast I would give at the reception. I had almost given in to the easy way out of giving a short, to-the-point congratulatory toast. However, when it came time for me to propose my toast at the reception, I was suddenly inspired by the moment and instead told a story, the story of how young foresters find “Jauja”.I explained how forty or so years ago another young forester travelled far from his upstate New York home to work for a short period of time in a foreign land where he had no friends (other than his Peace Corps colleagues) and no family. I explained how that young forester, after struggling with a difficult foreign language, a curiously intricate culture, and loneliness, was taken in by a group of caring colleagues and a loving and fun-loving family, how he learned a new language and delved head first into the new culture. In essence, I clarified, he found “Jauja” in Chile. And what’s more, he is still married to Ximena and together they have raised a multi-culture family with close ties with families in both Chile and the US.Now the God-son is repeating the cycle. Joaquin has been completely taken in by this loving and happy Greek-Kiwi family, and he is a valued employee in his work where his relationship with his colleagues so reminds me of what I had at the Instituto Forestal back in the late 1960s in Chile. Joaquin and Laiza will raise a family that is a blend of Chilean, Greek and New Zealand genes and culture, and the Spanish, English, and Greek languages. That is really how “Jauja” is defined. Just like forty years ago when “El Gringito” found “Jauja” in Chile, “Joe” has found “Jauja” in New Zealand.
Felicidades!! Congratulations!! Sinharitiria!!Written in Leesburg, Virginia on January 31, 2011