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Published: December 28th 2016
December was my last month in Mexico. Just like every other country I've lived in, people started asking about when I am leaving to make sure that we can meet up one last time before I fly. I've heard "cuando te vas?" About two dozen times in the last month, and because Mexican people always leave everything to the last minute, it's made for a busy December!
December started with a family party and a big bar crawl. The family party was a birthday bash, and featured a mariachi band, karaoke, salsa dancing, food, and conversation. It was great fun, despite it being a Tuesday, the party finished at 3am. My host father used his restaurant to host the party, and served delicious porzole to mark the occasion. Porzole is soup comprised of a type of corn, vegetables, and meat. It's very tasty, and is an ideal go to food for big gatherings because it's very economical to prepare. He may have been a little nervous about hosting, but the night was a success; full bellies, good music, and a warm atmosphere.
The weekend after this, a friend asked me to join him at a party for a couple of hours, as he was getting together with a group of friends before Christmas and New Year. There were a few traditions that I enjoyed, and I learned a new word or two as well. For example, I was called "Guero" all night, which means "white Mexican", and is used to refer to pale skinned Mexicans. Not something you'd ever hear a British person say to a newcomer at a party, but I found it hilarious once I understood what it meant! The highlight of the party was the piñatas! Mexican parties are famous for having piñatas, which are decorated hanging boxes made from cardboard and paper that hold candy, toys, and oranges. The piñata is only used at Christmastime, and my friend told me that they used to be bigger and made of tougher materials. This made the challenge of busting it open more about strength than it is now. They were also filled with fruit, and little else, but today they're full of naughty candy and chocolates, with only a few oranges to be snaffled. As they set up the piñata, by throwing a rope over a tree branch, tying the piñata to it, and giving the end of a rope to one of the lads, I heard "El pinche Guero es lo primero, claro!" I was blindfolded, given a stick, and helped towards my potential victim. What I didn't know was that the fellow on the other end of the rope can pull the rope to stop you breaking the piñata too quickly... I had a few swings at thin air before I realised it must be moving, and tested before I swung by reaching out with the stick to find the rope/piñata. I finally cracked it open after about 30 seconds, and was surprised to feel hands and feet all around me; kids dive in after you bust open the piñata to grab as many sugary things as possible. There were 3 or 4 piñatas at the party, and about 10 people got a turn at hitting one. Another interesting part of the proceedings( which started with food and alcohol) that preceded the destruction of inanimate objects, was the speeches. Everyone at the table is encouraged to make a short speech concerning the coming year, with the themes predictably revolving around health, family, and prosperity, in that order. My friend made a speech, looking just a little nervous, and got a big laugh by nominating me to speak next. Up I stood, and I stuck loosely to the theme of previous speakers; wishing everyone a happy new year, and thanking them for their hospitality. I'd been the subject of a few bawdy jokes during the night, all in good humour, and had understood a fair number of them; essentially, one of the matriarchal ladies at the party had taken a shine to me, and wanted to cop off with me in the bushes. As always in Mexico, if there's an opportunity for a joke or any kind of gaiety, it's seized with a big grin! Following this description of proceedings, anyone who's been anywhere near a Mexican New Year's party will probably know what comes after food, speeches, and piñatas... Dancing! I was conscripted to the dancefloor by the woman I'd been chatting with for half the night, despite nobody else being there, and got a loud cheer when I slipped into some Salsa steps with her. Foreigners are known here for dancing like they have sticks up their backsides, so everyone was happy to see someone bucking the trend! I danced with a few ladies at the party, and as always, it was wonderfully platonic and full of alacrity. We bade the party farewell at about 1am, having originally intended to leave before 10pm. One of the features of Mexican life is saying a quick individual goodbye to everyone at the party, accompanied by a hug or kiss on the cheek. Two men don't kiss each other on the cheek (unless one of them is me, and I'm feeling irreverent) but every other type of pair does. If you're the big vikingesque lump at the party, there are likely to be photos included in the goodbye too. Goodbyes at British parties take two minutes, unless you're absolutely hammered. Goodbyes at Mexican parties take about 15 minutes, especially if there are 30 revelers to get round. I love this part of the culture, as it feels more interpersonal to me; in Britain we say goodbye to the entity, but in Mexico there's an emphasis on inclusion and closeness that makes the individual relationship all the warmer. One of the biggest social mishaps here is to miss someone out during your goodbye marathon, and I've always been conscious about avoiding that! We left via the big blue gate, laughing at a particularly naughty parting comment from my admirer. Tehuacan is full of houses that are closed off by enormous metal gates that don't enable you to see what's behind, and it often feels strange to imagine that there are so many friendly families living, and parties happening, behind these gates on a regular basis.
That was my first posada party of the holiday period, and not my last! I went to subsequent posada parties with friends, family, and more family. Each was different and interesting, with the central theme being similar; food, family, and piñatas! A family party in Madero went very well, and I got another chance at breaking a piñata. It went badly, as I broke the stick and the piñata remained intact! A posada with friends in the South of Tehuacan was funny and finished very late. A gathering with family in Veracruz was more rural and simple, and the setting was beautiful. I remember helping some of the older ladies down the uneven hill from the house to their cars, and I also remember the warmth with which I was received as a member of the family by many.
A friend of mine said that December is a particularly dangerous time in Latin America, as people are often short of the money required for the revelling and festivities that are indulged in during the Christmas period. I'm apathetic about Christmas, or I would be if it wasn't stuffed in my face from mid November onwards. I think buying gifts is a nice thing to do, but it's taken to excesses that seem ridiculous to me. People spend a lot of money that they have worked hard for on things that simply aren't necessary. It's their money of course, and I'm sure that plenty of people look at my weekend drinking habit with similar scorn. The tradition of buying gifts, and the way it's manifested itself in recent decades is the reason that December is a dangerous month is because robberies are more common during this time. I was made aware of a bar shooting two blocks from my house in Tehuacan at the start of December, when one of my students posted the news on Facebook. My surprise was palpable, as I've never felt unsafe in Tehuacan, or anywhere else in Mexico for that matter.
For me, I've only noticed a difference in the attitudes of the minority of people, and have never felt threatened by them. Whether this is due to the election of Donald Trump, the stress of the runup to Christmas, or simply my perception of things after seeing/hearing about these two potential triggers. One merely sees a haughty face or two from time to time, and there's never anything overtly perfidious behind them.
As for my Mexican family, they never changed when it comes to how inclusive they are. I've been included in every family meeting it's possible to be included in, as well as the occasional surprise visit to the house. There have been further family parties, with piñatas and Christmas being the central themes. It's amazing to be so close with people that I've only known for 8 months, and it's strange to leave them when we know each other so well. They've been sceptical about my keeping in touch, as it's something that they think foreigners are not so good at. I love to Skype, but hate writing messages all the time. The beauty of traveling now is that we have such an ability to communicate whenever we want; Facebook, Skype, and Email have all made communication so easy that I don't miss many people from home for long, as we can just pick up the phone! There are people who simply don't speak online very often, and we catch up when I travel home. There are people who prefer to exchange messages occasionally, and there are people who I Skype very regularly. Naturally, people (me definitely included) get lazy from time to time. This usually happens when I'm very busy. I'm used to the quiet periods, and the hectic periods when it comes to communication with friends, and have become accustomed to the crazy weeks where everyone and their mums want to Skype me. I've also become accustomed to the quiet weeks where Skype calls go awry, with friends or me forgetting them, etc. They're just part of the lifestyle now, and a quirky and odd part at that!
There's a number of things I'll miss about Mexico; the food, the friendliness of the people, and the school I've taught at for 8 months. I'll miss people saying "provecho" as they walk past your table in restaurants. I'll miss walking to and fro from my school, and I'll miss the funny hand gesture that Mexican people often use instead of saying yes. Use your thumb and index finger to measure out an inch, and then move your index finger up and down. People do this very often here, and it's a mixture of adorable and relaxed in equal measure. It seemed almost dismissive to me at first, but I now do it occasionally as well! It's been a magical 8 months here, and I've made friends for life, as well as family for life. Over the next week, I'll travel to Teotihuacan, Lima, and then up the Peruvian coast to Chachapoyas. In total, I'll have clocked up about 36 hours of travelling from Tehuacan to Chachapoyas by January the 3rd. I've got a shedload of movies on my phone, half a dozen good books to read, and I'm going to be teaching in my 4th country by the end of the trip!
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