Peace Corps Volunteers have three goals: to help provide skilled labor to the country we are serving, to teach the people of our host country about the United States, and to help educate people in the US about the different cultures we are experiencing.  (If you’re reading this post, you’re helping me achieve my third goal.)  The idea is that through our service, we can spread a little more understanding and peace in the world.  So, with the second goal in mind, I decided to share a Christmas tradition with my new family…  Candy Houses!
I have been making Christmas Candy Houses with my students for many years, and I hoped my new family would enjoy them too.  But making gingerbread cakes or a wooden frame was not going to happen, so after a little searching, I decided that square vanilla cookies and wafers, glued at the edges with frosting, would make perfect personal sized “casas”.  I bought sprinkles, bulk candy, and cereal decorations and asked Carmen if we could have a “Casa de Dulces” party in the back of her store where she and her daughters could tend to their customers and join the fun.  In hindsight, this was a brilliant move, because lots of extra embellishments were at arm’s reach on the store shelves.  Before we started, Jose returned from a soccer game and brought his brother and nephews along too.  It was a party!  I laid everything out and started to show the kids how to use the cookies for walls and roof.  It wasn’t 10 seconds into my demonstration and the “kids” of all ages “got it” and went right to work on any flat surface they could find… on tables, stools, and boxes too. 

Anthony designed a traditional house, while Oscar created
an A-Frame.

Kennedy, who is an engineer, decided he needed a strong foundation and opted to set his walls in a bread roll. 

Carmen and her daughter Marjorie loved the creativity of this project.
I think Anthony and Santiago ate more than they built, but that’s the fun of Candy Houses!
When Margarita discovered powdered sugar could be snow, that really changed the game. 
Francisco and Susy worked some magic with their frosted roof, while Johana helped Pablo. 
As people started to finish, Francisco started counting down and I realized the family had turned this into a competition like a baking show on TV.  They insisted on the hands-up rule, but Santiago couldn’t help stabilizing his house when someone bumped the table. 
Then, Jose started a clapping competition to judge the best house.  Jose’s house, who he built with Pablo, received the loudest applause but then everyone chided him for being the judge and the winner.  So they went and got an impartial person off the street to come and judge the houses.  Jose still won and he went into the store and brought back prizes for the second and third place winners. 
This is my little brother Pablo.  I think his winning smile says it all!
Throughout the event, we laughed and cheered and teased everyone.  I am from a family who likes to have a good time together, but I’ve never experienced happiness like this.  This family has so much love for life and each other.  It’s completely contagious. 

Kennedy and his sons Oscar and Santiago showing off their houses. 
Margarita and Jose
Margarita and my brother, Alex
Johana, Pablo and Alexander were all smiles with me. 
After the competition and all the photos, I told them they could eat their creations.  There was a look of shock on each of their faces before they dug in.  They were so proud of themselves.
After most of us had achieved a candy high, each one started to give a speech as Ecuadorians so often like to do.  They each spoke of how wonderful it was to learn about a different tradition and how happy they were to welcome me as a sister into their family.  I was so touched by their kindness and appreciation of me and what I can offer to them.  But, I admit, the biggest complement of all was when they started to discuss how they’d build their structures differently next year. 
I think I achieved my second goal.