Sunday, October 29, 2006

month two (and a half):Halloween party

6.) This weekend (I’ve finally arrived to the current events) we had a fabulous Halloween party Friday night. It was the best Halloween party I’ve ever been to! We decorated the house of Patricia, our director in residence, with pumpkins, freaky scarecrows, black streamers, candles, a fog machine, and red Christmas lights. We made a beautiful, traditional, Mexican altar for Patricia’s parents to incorporate the Mexican holiday of the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). We invited all our Mexican friends, and a good number actually came. It was a costume party and all of the Americans and about half the Mexicans dressed up. We had candy, pizza, cookies that we decorated with black and orange icing, a chocolate fountain with fruit for dipping, caramel apples, and other yummy treats. Lauren and I dressed up as “luchadoras” from the Luchas Libres. Our costumes were awesome and we managed to keep them a secret until we arrived at the party, something we consider to have taken some talent since we’re a close-knit group here. At midnight we watched Rocky Horror Picture Show. Many of us changed cloths for the occasion, since the tradition in the US is to go dressed like the characters in the show. We were all dancing and singing along. I think the Mexicans were a bit apprehensive about the movie at first (it’s a hard phenomenon to explain out of context of American youth culture), and perhaps a bit more when they saw us all in our undergarments, but by the end of the movie, they all seemed into it and said they thought it was ridiculous and random, but a lot of fun. All and all I’d say the party was a smashing hit. I think almost everyone had a fabulous time and it was fun to share our tradition with our friends here. They may all think we’re a bit crazy, but that’s ok too, because they’re probably right. ☺

I guess that brings us up to the present on exciting activities here.

1.) Lauren and I as luchadoras. I was "The Burninator aka la quemadora" and Lauren was "La Aguila" (the eagle)."

2.) My host brother, Moises, and I at the party.

3.) A group of us in Rocky Horror costumes.

4.) The altar we made for Patricia's parents.

Month two (and a half): Gay Pride March

5.) Six of us went to the Puebla Gay Pride March. It was a lot of fun and a great experience. The march was small compared to Pride Marches in US cities and it was made almost entirely of young adults, high school age to lower thirties, I’d say. It felt intimate because it was small, like we were all in this together, come what may, and that we really were there because we believed it was important. Homosexuality is still not very accepted here, even among many young college folks. I guess it’s the same in the US, especially outside of Massachusetts, but I am still a bit surprised by the people who are against it or who have the attitude of “they can do what they want as long as I don’t have to see it.” I’ve had discussions with some of my friends and many hold this view or say that even if they wanted to go to the pride march to support homosexuals, they couldn’t because of their parents. Parents have more control over their children in the universities here because many times the kids still live at home. That makes for a different dynamic.

The goal of the march was to pressure the Puebla government to pass a law protecting against discrimination based on sexuality. There is a federal law in Mexico against such discrimination, but the state of Puebla doesn’t have a law. The way it was explained to me, that means that any discrimination case of this sort can’t be taken to a Puebla court, or at least if it is, the courts don’t have to do anything about it. I didn’t actually know that this was the specific purpose of the march until I got there. I also learned upon arriving that it is against the Mexican Constitution for foreigners to take part in political demonstrations in Mexico. We decided the march counted, but decided we were still going to march. Hopefully no government officials will come after us. I’m guessing since there was no violence or anything around the march and a week has passed, we’re probably ok. We did show up in the newspapers the next day, but without any identification. It was just in a picture that was used as the backdrop for the page in the paper about the march. We were careful not to give our names or nationalities to any of the photographers or interviewers, though I did do one interview for an internet paper.

1) At the march

2) The huge rainbow flag at the march.

Month two (and a half):Tlaxco

4.) Lauren, who is running track with me here, and I went with our track team to Tlaxco, a small town about an hour and a half from Puebla, to celebrate the birthday of one of our teammates. We went to his grandparent’s and aunt and uncle’s house. We arrived mid morning and they fed us a delicious breakfast of the best tamales I’ve eaten yet, tasty, sweet, coffee, and sweet bread. Then his uncle took us up into the hills for a hike. We stopped by a ranch on the top of the mountain to talk to the owners and give them a bottle of rum as a trade for letting us traipse around on their property. The hike was beautiful and we probably walked a total of 10km. We arrived back at the house hungry and were part of a huge birthday lunch, with probably about 30 family members. We ate some rather strange things, by American standards. First we had a regular soup with rice and vegetables. Then came the “mole de panza” which is a soup made of cows stomach. This was a bit hard to swallow, because of the texture and the way it obviously looked like pieces of stomach in a brown broth. The taste really was pretty good, but the other elements were too distracting to really allow us to enjoy the soup. Lauren and I did our best to eat most of it. Our Mexican friends got a kick out of watching us eat it. After lunch Lauren and I broke out the M&M cookies we’d made. They added to the already overly abundant dessert. At first people seemed a bit hesitant to try them, but later, someone saw one of the grandmothers come back in and snatch about five, wrap them up in a napkin, and head out again. They were also a hit with the little kids and with the team, who managed to finish off the entire box of about 45 cookies over the course of the evening.

1.) The team on our hike.

2.) Teammates with the bottle of rum and a farm behind them.

3.) Mole de panza

Month two (and a half):Las Luchas

2.) I went to a concert of the Amigos Invisibles, a Venezuelan group that plays what I would describe as latin funk.

3.) I went to Las Luchas Libres (the free fights) with two other girls from the program and the American parents of one of them. Las luchas are like the Mexican version of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the U.S., but they are so much cooler here! It’s basically a stage show of these ridiculously dressed wrestlers throwing each other around the wrestling ring. The do crazy tricks! Most of them wear masks so you can’t see their true identities. It’s a big deal to keep their face covered. Sometimes, if they lose, the other team will try to take off the mask of the loser. If they succeed the loser does everything he can to keep his face covered and his teammates give him a towel or something to put over his head to leave the ring without the audience seeing his face.

The fights themselves are ridiculous, but what makes it even crazier is the crowd. People of all ages go, from little kids, to grandparents. We got lucky because when we got there, this boy I met on the bus one day recognized us, so we got to sit with him and his buddies. It turned out that they are like the official fan club for the “Rudos” one of the wrestling teams. They are the rowdiest group of fans and we got to learn all the cheers and “groserías” (vulgarities) that they were yelling. Everyone in the audience cheers and boos and basically cusses the entire time, at the wrestlers, at the fans of the other team, and at random other people in the audience. It’s so ridiculous, and everyone knows it, that it’s fun. No one is really angry or hostile towards anyone else; they’re all just having a great time yelling vulgarities at everyone else. It’s quite the experience.

After the fights, we waited around outside for the Rudos fighters to come out. Lauren, the other girl from Smith, and I got pictures with all the best fighters. It was awesome!

1.) Las Luchas

2.) Lauren and I with some of the Rudos fans and the luchador "Atlantis" after Las Luchas.

Month two (and a half):Cuetzalan

Ok, so I’m getting way behind on these updates and time keeps on going here and more things keep happening. In the next few posts, I’m going to try to do a quick summary of fun things since the trip to Veracruz:

1) We visited Cuetzalan, a small, almost entirely indigenous, town in the mountains here in the state of Puebla. It was beautiful and I think ranks as my favorite excursion yet! Guides of about our age who work in ecotourism in Cuetzalan guided us around all weekend. We visited an indigenous women’s cooperative where they make clothes, table clothes, sheets, and other cloth goods with traditional embroidery patterns, and weave beautiful fabric, clothes and scarves with the traditional waist looms. They also have a restaurant where they serve only indigenous dishes. We had some fabulous handmade tortillas and salsa there and some tasty maracuya water (a fruit, perhaps passion fruit, juice).

The guides also took us on a hike to a lovely waterfall. On the way there they taught us about some medicinal plants that grow there and about the crops, corn, beans, and squash, that the people grow.

We visited a small town nearby for their festival for their patron saint. The most exciting part of that was the “burning of the castle” which was basically an unregulated fireworks show. They built this huge structure out of thick wire, or thin wood, or something that was supposed to look like a castle tower. It was all covered in these wheels. They lit a fuse and these firecracker things lit up the wheels one by one and made them spin around and around, being propelled by the burning fire. The exciting part came when they spun too fast and the wheel detached from the structure and fell to the ground, where it continued to spin rather out of control, or when one of the burning firecrackers got loose and shot through the crowd of bystanders. There’s nothing like a little bit of danger for you life to spice up a fireworks show.

The next day we got to see the voladores (the flyers). The voladores are the people that spin upside down around a tall, tall pole in an old indigenous religious ritual. It was amazing. First they dance around the bottom of the pole. Then five men climb up the pole, the one I saw was almost as tall as the church steeple, to a square platform. One of them stands on top of the pole and dances while another plays the flute and a drum. The one dancing asks the gods for their blessing and protection of the voladores. When they all feel like it’s time, the dancer sits down on top of the pole and the other four, who are sitting on the platform and who have tied ropes around their waists, start the platform spinning. They lower themselves off the platform and they begin to “fly” upside down around the pole as their ropes unwind from the top of the pole to the ground. The one with the flute and drums continues playing upside down, flying. The one who was dancing on top of the pole climbs down one of the ropes of the voladores, pausing every once in a while to hang upside down or do other tricks. The go around 13 times, which represents the 13 months of their old calendar, before they arrive on the ground. It was really cool!!

1.) A woman at the cooperative demonstrating the weaving process.

2.) The waterfall and one of our guides taking a picture of it.

3.) The ascent, returning from the waterfall.

4.) The voladores asking the gods for their blessing on top of the pole.

5.) The pole is almost as high as the church steeple!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Veracruz (Sept 15)

Wow, so it’s been forever since I’ve written anything here. Sorry about that. Life has just being going full swing here and I’m loving it, though I haven’t had a moment to spare to sit down and type. Where to begin, where to begin? I guess I’m going to try to do a quick summary of the high points of the last month here, starting in this post with our trip to Veracruz.

On September 15, Mexican Independence Day, almost all of us in the group left on a trip planned by ourselves. We headed to Veracruz on the Gulf Coast because we had heard it is a pretty town and that the Independence Day celebration is good there. Also, they have beaches, though not anywhere near the best ones in Mexico. We had an excellent time on the trip. Our group gets along perfectly, everyone is easy going and laid back, and no one dislikes anyone, which makes dividing up for hotel rooms or seating on buses SO easy. It’s great because even Max, the one boy in our group, who could easily feel totally isolated, gets along fabulously with all of us and we all feel comfortable with each other, as if we’ve known each other for years. Highlights of the trip:

Staying in an awesome hotel right on the central plaza with a pool, air-conditioning at night (a must in Veracruz where the weather in September was like Kentucky in the summer), and a terrace that over-looked the center plaza (zócalo).

We enjoyed the pool the first day after a sweaty trip from the bus station to the hotel with our bags and a hot lunch sitting in the plaza. It was quite the sight, the 9 white, American girls in bikinis in the little hotel pool, and Max our token white, American boy. We had a few onlookers from the balcony above us, but by now, I think we’re all pretty much used to that.

The night of the 15th: We had a great time enjoying the Independence celebration from the spacious terrace. There were performances of all different types of traditional dancing and singing starting probably at about 9 pm.

By the time 11 pm rolled around, the plaza was TOTALLY packed with people of all ages, ranging from babies and kids on shoulders to grandparents. At 11 pm, they started the famous “grito” or shout. They first ring the bells of the church. The mayor and other important townspeople were on the balcony of the municipal building and they lead the cry. They shout, “Viva Hidalgo, Viva Morelos, Vivan los héroes de la independencia, Viva México” (Live Hidalgo, live Morelos, live the heroes of the independence, live Mexico.) Between each part all the people in the plaza shout “Viva” then at the end they shout “Viva Mexico” three times. It’s pretty awesome to hear and to see that many people shouting all at once about the survival of their country. I loved it. After the grito there were fireworks which were shot from the roofs of the buildings and so they exploded directly over our heads. Then they lit (ie with fire) this huge sign that said “Viva Mexico” and there were lots of explosions of various other firecracker, fireworks, type things that lit up strings hanging like garlands around the plaza. After all the fire fun, there was a pop concert. The crowd dwindled some, mostly losing its elderly component, but there were still plenty of people out celebrating when I went to bed around 2 am. It was a great night.

Other highlights of the trip:

Eating breakfast in a bustling café where you clinked your spoon against your coffee mug if you wanted a refill and where there were employees whose only job was to come around with hot tea pots full of warm, frothy milk, to add to your coffee. They were pros at pouring milk and did it from about two feet above your mug. Who knew such a job existed in the world?

Going to the beach and lounging around, Max in the shade with his beer and us girls in the WARM water (it was like a bath, much different from the beaches in the US) or in the sun. We also took a ride on the banana boat, which was like a bright yellow pontoon boat only the pontoons were rubber filled with air instead of metal and you sat on the pontoons and held on for dear life as you were pulled behind a motor boat. It was tons of fun, but we didn’t count on the amount of salt water that was going to enter our eyes as we whizzed and bounced about.

Eating sea food in a nearby town where everything we ordered was delicious, including the Guiness World Record stuffed fillet that Max ordered (his serving wasn’t of world record size, but the certificate on the wall testified to the fact that the restaurant made the one of world record size in 1999).

Going to the aquarium and seeing all sorts of weird fish, huge turtles, and lots of sharks. While we were in the circular room with a huge tank all around it, we saw fish swimming right below the turtles and the stingrays. An employee of the aquarium who was giving a talk to a group of tourists confirmed our suspicion that the fish were hiding below them. It was cool to see that in an aquarium!

Hanging out with a couple of guys from Veracruz that play in an orchestra with the cousin of one of the girls in our group. It’s always nice to talk to some locals and feel like we know someone and aren’t just TOTAL tourists, though we pretty much were in Veracruz.

Our hotel as seen from the zócalo.

Max and the girls in the pool.

A traditional dance from Veracruz.

The plaza after about half the people had gone home

Max with his beer surrounded by the girls.

Us on the banana boat.