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Published: October 24th 2016
October started with a visit to Ajalpan on the 2nd. The school has cultural days out that are run by a friend of the school. We chatted in the car about Mexican food, day of the dead, and the little town we were going to visit. Day of the dead is fairly famous around the world, and for good reason; Mexican people really celebrate their dead, with traditions that predate the conquest. It's a strange concept to me, as I don't believe in life after death due to the decomposition of the brain, and there's no proof for the existence of supernatural entities like souls. However, it's fascinating to watch the buildup to a cultural practice that's existed for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. My students and locals have told me that the family go to the cemetery and hold a party at the graves of the dead, taking a whole lot of their dead relative's favorite food and drink with them. Mine would probably be beer, chocolate cake, and Indonesian kwetiaw goreng (fried noodles that I still get homesick for now) which is a bit of a dichotomy. They tend only to celebrate the people that they knew in their lives, which is sensible; trying to buy the favorite food of your great great great grandfather who lived a couple of hundred years ago could be quite difficult! Another tradition is that the students of your school write a poem for their teacher, detailing their death. The poems are usually humorous in nature, and the whole deal is pretty lighthearted.
Anyway, the car journey to Ajalpan... We arrived at the town after spending equal amounts of time talking and looking at the landscape. Rugged, mountainous, and unique are words I'd use to describe the view out of the window. We remarked that the people who lived in the houses dotted around the roadside woke up to the view every morning, and probably never got tired of it. We arrived in Ajalpan and went to the market to eat traditional food that I have forgotten the name of. Essentially it was pastry balls with beans inside, and tacos of different varieties. It was extremely tasty and very cheap, like a lot of Mexican food.
We then went to a basket weaver's house, where we watched him make a handle for a basket using both his hands and his feet. We marveled at the fact that it takes him a full day, or even two, to make a complicated basket with different colours, etc. There were turkeys walking around his garden, and it was the first time I'd seen them in real life before. They're enormous, easily weighing 30lbs! I've eaten mole de wajolote (mole being a thick traditional stew, and wajolote being the Nahuatl word for turkey.) No idea if I've spelt that correctly though, as I've never seen it written.
There are a whole host of interesting places nearby, but I've been particularly busy lately. I've been teaching in the morning and in the afternoon. My first class being at 9am, and my last class finishing at 9pm. I don't like taking too many buses back and forth, and thus end up being around the center of Tehuacan or the school for most of the day. However, my class in the morning shall be changing to a different class that starts at around 12:30pm. This means I can get back to studying Spanish in the mornings, as well as seeing a little more of my lovely host family. I'm currently living with them without them getting a free student at the school, and am extremely grateful for their generosity. The kids are all busy with schoolwork or university assignments, and thus studying English is not feasible for them time wise at present.
One of the easiest to access, and most relaxing places close to home is the Zocalo; the park in the city center that every city in Mexico has, apparently. There's a plethora of coffee shops, restaurants, and little stalls selling all manner of nick-nacks. Whether I'm buying a coffee and lazing around in a coffee shop, buying a snack and lazing around on a park bench, or merely walking through on the way to the local market, I always relax a little more when I see the greenery and architecture of the surrounding area in the Zocalo. I meet people all along the sides of the park, and chatter in Spanish and occasionally English, if they're able. There's one particular person who always makes a beeline for me for a chat; an adorable 9 or 10 year old girl who sells candies and handmade ornamental flowers. She calls me "diablo" and I call her "bruja" (devil and witch respectively). She's out there for 8 hours a day some days, and she's selling because her grandma isn't well and needs extra support and care, which doesn't come cheap. She's not at all forceful, but I often buy something chocolaty or sweet from her, or we have a chat about whatever it is that I'm doing at the time. That's usually playing chess with a friend or drinking beer and eating naughty food with friends.
Other aspects of October have included my feelings about traveling; I'm getting restless again. Almost exactly at this point in time during my stays in both Indonesia and Taiwan, both of which were as enjoyable as this in many ways, I started to get restless for travel. I get too comfortable; I have friends both from the school environment, and from outside that environment. These are friends whom I can drink beer with, relax around, and see every weekend without getting tired of them. I crave new situations, people, and new cultural idiosyncrasies to learn about. During the last week, the feeling's been growing stronger, and I'm sure it'll get even stronger tomorrow. Perhaps my mentality will change by the time I'm 50, and I'll be able to settle down in one place, with a small community, colloquial language, and different customs all around me. There'll be a brief respite, as I'm off to Guatemala for a few days in a fortnight's time. I'm also trying out couchsurfing for the first time, so I'll be sure to post about that once the trip's over. Time is growing short until I fly to Peru at the end of December, and I've just started learning Quechua, which is the colloquial language of Peru, and was spoken by the Incas. I would love to be able to have a conversation by the time I arrive, but being able to order food, find a bathroom, and introduce myself will do just fine.
I recently went running into the mountains, last Sunday, and it was wonderful. The views were spectacular, although the amount of dust I breathed in has significantly shortened my life expectancy... The reactions of the locals, as I was about 5km outside if Tehuacan city center, ranged from curious stares to hollering "Buenos tardes" from their car windows. I went there around 3 months ago with a couple of the other teachers, and had a very memorable trip. I'll be making this a regular thing during the week, I think. I've missed running, and it's a sweet way to counter the debauchery of Friday and Saturday nights.
Other than that, I've finally got round to getting a tattoo for Taiwan; another dragon, and plan on getting one for Mexico... I'll let you guess what the design will be!
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