Monthly Archives

November 2014

Mexico, Reflections

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 28, 2014

Hola chicos!

Happy Thanksgiving from my heart to yours!  Being away from home during Thanksgiving is always a surreal feeling.  Two years ago when I was studying abroad in Spain I had to celebrate the holiday away from the homeland, and I find myself in the same situation this year.  I may not be in the US, but I’ve still been able to celebrate Thanksgiving with lots of food, friends, and technology and get in touch with loved ones back home.

A big group of Fulbrighters and friends in D.F. celebrated Friendsgiving last weekend.  It felt so great to connect with everyone and enjoy awesome food that we all pitched in to bring.  We even went around saying things we were thankful for, which is a typical tradition my family honors.

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Today for Thanksgiving I arrived to work with cupcakes from my favorite cupcake place conveniently located 2 blocks from my apartment (dangerous, I know) and shared them with my co-workers and explained how I usually celebrate Thanksgiving with family back home.  It was a great opportunity for me to share a part of my family traditions back home with my co-workers who have been so attentative and supportive to all of my random questions about Mexican culture.  It felt really good to return the favor for once!  I went home and skyped with my parents and extended family for awhile.  It was almost like I was there!

Tomorrow, COMEXUS (the Fulbright commission here in D.F.) will be putting on a thanksgiving celebration at their office.  Who knew that being away from home could still mean having a busy holiday schedule?

Being away from home for the holidays is always hard, but in a way it has made me feel even more appreciative of the wonderful things happening in my life.  I’m so thankful for my family being patient with me and taking the time to navigate FaceTime, Skype, and other video chatting services to that I can be in touch with them when I need them the most.  I’m thankful for friends, both here in D.F. and everywhere else, for allowing me to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and for tolerating the questionable food dishes I had brought to Friendsgiving last weekend.  I’m thankful for technology that allows me to communicate for free to all of my loved ones.  Finally, I’m thankful for this opportunity to be in Mexico City on a Fulbright for 10 months.  Yes, it’s had ups and downs, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here and I’m excited to see where I’m headed next thanks to Fulbright.

Mexico

First visitor in D.F. – Mom!!

November 19, 2014

I had my first visitor here in D.F. this past weekend – my MOM!  I was a little concerned how she would feel in the big city, but she pleasantly surprised me 🙂 My goals for my mom’s visit was to show her as many of my “favorite things” about Mexico City, which basically translates to FOOD and any green space that offers some peace and quiet away from the bustling city.  My roommate’s mother was also visiting over the puente, so we decided to have a mother-daughter date night on Friday.  We went to a really nice restaurante in Condesa (Azul Condesa) and we had our moms try the mole (a complex, chocolate-flavored sauce that is usually spread over chicken or other meats) that we had fallen in love with the previous weekend in Oaxaca.

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On Saturday the four of us went to Teotihuacán, the pyramids located about an hour outside of Mexico City.  We had a wonderful time, and we were able to bask in the sun (and even got a little sun-kissed!) as we walked around the massive archealogical site for a few hours.  Here are some photos:

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On Saturday night I took my mom to the Zocalo so she could see the cathedral and the square, which was being prepared for the Día de la Revolución celebration on the 20th.  We walked along Calle Madero (a street for pedestrians only that links the Zocalo to the Palacio de Bellas Artes) until we reached Torre Latinoamérica, which is D.F.’s version of NYC’s Empire State Building.  For those of you that know this part of Mexico City, it is always one of the busiest and packed pedestrian streets in the city.  It was quite an experience, I was a little worried about my mom’s reaction, but she passed with flying colors!

On Sunday we went to my favorite neighborhood (besides Condesa – where I live) called Coyoacán.  We were able to shop around the artesanal markets, eat lunch at a restaurant adjacent to a square, tour a beautiful church, and enjoy each other’s company.  Coyoacán is my favorite place to enjoy a Sunday afternoon (something I admire about the Mexican culture – Sundays consist of precious time devoted to family) and we had such a wonderful day.  That night we went to the Ballet Folklórico at the Palacio de Ballas Artes.  I had seen it during orientation, but I was happy to see it again!  My mom really enjoyed it, and we were even able to get a good picture in front of it.

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Goodbyes are hard.  Having my mom here for a weekend was so wonderful because I was finally able to show someone from my life back home what my “new life” looks like here.  After traveling abroad I realized that many sites or cities that I had visited aren’t as enjoyable if you aren’t sharing the experience with someone else, whether it be a friend, a family member, or a random stranger.  Of course this is a personal opinion and of course I have many friends here to share Mexico, but there was something extra special about visiting the pyramids for the first time with my Mom and showing her my favorite parts of the city.  Thank you, Mom for always being my rock, my support system, and a wonderful travel buddy.  Next step is convincing Dad to visit!

“As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.”
― Kristin Hannah, Summer Island

Mexico

Oaxacan Wonders

November 6, 2014

During our trips to Oaxaca for Día de los Muertos (view that post HERE), we were also able to take an excursion to five surrounding villages for a day to relish in the beauty that is Oaxaca!  Our five stops (aside from Oaxaca) consisted of the following sights:  Arbol de Tule, a visit to a traditional carpentry shop, Mixtla, Hieve el Agua, and a visit to a traditional mezcal farm.

Oaxaca – Our humble abode for the weekend!  Oaxaca was filled with so much life during the Día de los Muertos celebration.  We had a mezcal tasting to learn about the creation of mezcal (a type of alcohol made from plants similar to tequila, usually made in small batches by local farmers).  We were also able to view the main cathedral with attached monastery, shop among the bustling markets, and enjoy the incredible food that is signature to Oaxaca:  Tlayudas, queso Oaxaca (quesillo) Oaxaca chocolate, and MOLE.

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Friends in front of Templo de Santo Domingo.

 

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Templo de Santo Domingo.

 

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Templo de Santo Domingo

 

Árbol de Tule – A giant tree.  We didn’t stay for longer than 20 minutes to admire the massivity of this beauty.  It has the stoutest tree trunk in the world and was planted around 1,600 years ago.  According to the most recent measurements in 2005, it’s circumfrence is 137.8 feet wide and 116 feet tall.

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Árbol de Tule next to the church to show how massive this thing is!

 

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We had to take verticial panoramic photos in order to get the entire tree.

 

Carpentry shop – I’ve learned this for quite awhile, but usually I’m targeted by salesmen.  I guess you could say I don’t have a poker face at all.  Therefore, when the owner of the carpet store needed a volunteer, he eyed at me and coyly asked if I would help him for a demonstration of how they create dyes from natural resources.  These carpets are incredible, and each piece of work usually takes 2-3 months to make them by hand using a loom.

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Mixtla:  Ancient ruins – incredible!  We had an incredible tour guide that was able to give us the scoop about the ruins that were built between 900 BCE and 100 CE.  These ruins were once the main religious center for the Zapotecs, and indigenous group in Mexico.

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Mitla.

 

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Our group of Fulbrighters on the steps of Mitla.

 

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Hierve el Agua:  Favorite stop off all.  Petrified waterfall.  Words can’t explain this place.  Hierve el Agua is a set of two petrified waterfalls that have been formed over thousands of years.  We were able to hike the trails around both waterfalls and some of the group also brought their swimsuits to swim in the nearby pools.  The views were incredible.

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Hierve el Agua

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Roomies Christmas picture!

 

 

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The longer we stayed the more gorgeous the views had gotten. We were able to watch the sunset from this beautiful place.

Mezcal Tasting:  Learned the ins and outs of artesanal mezcal.

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Mezcal tasting

 

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Mexico, Reflections

Día de los Muertos – Oaxaca

November 4, 2014

This past weekend a large group of us BBs ventured off to Oaxaca, Mexico, as we were told that Oaxaca was where some of the most traditional Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations and traditions are still honored.  In Oaxaca, the weekend of Día de los Muertos is split into three events.  October 31 is the day honoring the angelitos – little angels.  This day specifically honors the children whose lives were taken too early.  November 1st is the day honoring the adults.  Finally, November 2nd is the day that celebrates All Souls Day.  The whole weekend is a celebration of life, and it was incredible to witness first-hand!

We took a bus on Thursday night and arrived in Oaxaca early Friday morning to explore the city.  Oaxaca is known for having a strong prevalence of indigenous cultures, so we were really excited to see how those cultural traditions blended during Día de los Muertos.  One of the BBs, Lauren, had made Oaxaca her home a few years back, so we loved having her as a tour guide!  During the day, we were able to tour Oaxaca and view all of the beautiful ofrendas (offerings) that are made to honor the dead.  Families, businesses, all sorts of entities create ofrendas to respect loved ones no longer with us.  Here are a few photos of some of my favorite ofrendas.

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Ofrenda located in D.F. created by my co-workers at MásNegocio!

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Ofrenda in Oaxaca – created by sand.

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Ofrenda in Oaxaca honoring Benito Juarez – a past Mexican president, whose hometown resides in Oaxaca.

On Friday night, our group went to a village outside of Oaxaca called Xoxocatlan to experience the celebration of life in the cemeteries (panteones).  Traditionally, families go to the cemetery to create unique ofrendas over the tombstones of their lost loved ones.  For the remainder of the night (and into the morning) families and friends remain in the cemetery celebrating life.  The two cemeteries we toured were filled with so much life, vibrance, color, and respect as all of the families flocked to the cemeteries to decorate their loved ones’ tombstones.  We were able to walk around the busy cemetery and admire all of the gorgeous ofrendas.  As I walked through the files of the cemetery, the mood differed greatly from family to family.  As I walked past some ofrendas, I felt like I was intruding on a quiet, intimate moment among the families:  A family mourning the loss of a child taken too early, a man sleeping at the foot of his wife’s tombstone, a widow toasting to her husband, a woman in her 40s sitting with her brother who had passed when he was 7.  In these tender moments, I felt as though I were intruding on a moment that couldn’t be (or didn’t want to be) shared with outsiders.  On the other hand, other families were having quite the fiesta:  Bands with trumpets, guitars, etc. performing exuberant songs, families drinking their loved ones’ favorite liquors and toasting to a life well-lived, friends dancing to the band, enjoying favorite foods, etc.  Although there were some somber moments, the majority of the families were celebrating – celebrating – in cemeteries.  Such a beautiful sight to see.

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Tried to get a photo of the cemetery rows. Each grave was beautifully decorated with flowers and candles.

 

On Saturday night, we went to another village outside of Oaxaca called Etla to participate in a Comparsa.  Saturday was ALL fiesta in these villages.  These comparsas are similar to parades.  3 other local villages have bands come while village members dress in symbolic costumes and the whole community parades the streets from 11pm until noon the next day (talk about commitment).  Around 11am the next day, the 3 villages all meet in one of the village squares and the bands have a “battle of the bands”.  The whole night/day is a celebration of costumes, music, food, plays, etc.  So many people and so much life!

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One of the only photos I got of the comparsa.  Video coming soon!

Clearly the US and Mexico’s tradition of Halloween and Día de los Muertos are quite different.  How many times have you seen this concept of community and celebration of life in the US?  Communities relishing in life and death together by creating this beautiful understanding of passion – the mixture of joy and suffering of loving and losing.  In the US, mourning is understood to be felt or expressed solidarily.  In Mexico, the thought goes more like this: “I have lived, I have loved, I have experienced loss of a loved one.  Here I am exposing myself through vulnerability, grief, suffering and joy; but I do not feel exposed because everyone has lived, everyone has loved, everyone has experienced loss; so we’ll celebrate together, we’ll grief together, we’ll share in this moment together”.  Death is a part of life, and life is lived by all.  The concept of death clearly differs, and I think the main difference resides not in the day, not the celebrations, but the fact that this tradition is celebrated and shared within Mexico’s communities and cultures.  In the US, we feel that we can’t publicly mourn, we feel uncomfortable grieving in front of others, that we’re supposed to grief and then get on with our lives, that we can’t share these tender, vulnerable moments with others…but why can’t we?

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One last ofrenda made of colored sand and flowers. Each color is symbolic of a part of life.

As I walked among this beautiful exhibition of celebration, exuberance, grief, and suffering, so many questions filled my head.  I took a class in my undergrad called Justice and Compassion.  The point of the class was to study compassion based on radical displacement; a group of 12 willingly throwing ourselves into situations we had never been in before; situations of tenderness, hardship, joy, grief, passion.  Walking around the vibrant cemeteries reminded me of one of my Justice and Compassion outings.  How close can we get to someone else’s grief?  How close can we get to feeling their pain without experiencing it firsthand in that moment?  On the flip side, how close can we get to experiencing someone else’s joy and celebration of a life we had never met?  How close could we get to feeling like we were apart of those moments and cultural traditions having never experienced them before?  We can’t we in the US come together for a day once a year to celebrate, commemorate, and honor life together in such a way that Mexico does?

Cervantino helped my change my attitude and perspective about Mexico; Oaxaca left me feeling extremely grateful and profoundly appreciative for the opportunity to witness these beautiful traditions of community, honor, celebration of a life lived instead of a life lost.