I haven’t written for a few months and there’s a lot to tell you. It’s so nice to be able to write to my Wisconsin family and friends in December from warm, sunny Mexico.
My work is going well and I am deriving much satisfaction from doing what I came here for. My counterpart and I made a presentation to the Director General for improving internal communication at our center, and he approved all our recommendations! Implementing them will keep me busy for my remaining 18 months here. My workshop at the botanical garden also went well, and they asked me to do it again next year (see photo with fellow volunteers helping at workshop http://www.flickr.com/photos/20264995@N07/). Among my proudest accomplishments is that one of my English students passed the TOEFL (test of English as a foreign language), a requirement for graduation for the master's program.
My son, Jonas came for a week at Thanksgiving, and I loved showing him my Mexican home, the local sites, my center and the town where I lived when I arrived in Puebla. We had Thanksgiving dinner with fresh produce from the local Mercado, a turkey from COSTCO and fresh cranberries from Superama labeled, “Something special from Wisconsin.” It was so much fun to Skype with my family on Thanksgiving – Jonas and I on the Mexican side of the table, my son Jacob and the rest of my beautiful family on the other. I also Skyped with my kids on the first night of Hanukkah. Jonas lit the menorah candles, prayer and all. It was beautiful.
My kids might come for Cinco de Mayo -- a big deal in the State of Puebla because it commemorates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The rest of Mexico is blase' about the holiday; the U.S. makes a bigger deal out of it.
I was a guest at a Posada last week, a Christmas tradition held at the homes of the more devout Christians to re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging on what is now known as Christmas Eve. After enjoying a traditional Christmas punch called ponche (like mulled cider with stewed fruit), we re-enacted the posada, choosing whether to be outside and pleading for lodging, or inside saying “No.” (Since it was chilly outside, and having assumed no guilt whatsoever for the innkeepers’ selfish behavior … or other acts to follow years later, for that matter, I opted for inside). We took turns reading our part from a printed script. The whole role play lasted about five minutes, thanks to a very familiar conversation I overheard among the family members about doing only part of the hours-long re-enactment so they could hurry up and eat. Afterward we played with sparklers – the big, 2-foot-long kind, which they call “Luz de Bengala” (lights of Bengal). The Mexicans were surprised to learn we celebrate with sparklers on the 4th of July. After an untraditional dinner of “Mexican hot dogs” (avocado, cheese, mushrooms and bacon), the festivities wrapped up with the breaking of a Piñata.
In the past month I have visited Tlaxcala, Queretaro, Leon and Chignahuapan. Tlaxcala is a lovely little pueblo about two hours north of Puebla with a charming centro and archeological ruins nearby. As my friend and I were exploring the ruins I commented that during my visits to ancient sites I sometimes imagine that the people I encounter there are spirits from another time. At that moment a coyote ran across our path. Cool or what?
I and several other volunteers were weekend guests in Chignahuapan, Puebla, at the home of a woman who works at our center. The town is famous for hand-painted Christmas ornaments and produces millions every year. After shopping for souvenirs we headed for the thermal baths nearby. The baths are nestled in a river gorge and offer a spectacular view of the fog-shrouded cliffs from the outdoor pool (see photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/20264995@N07/). I had a soak and a massage, then considered asking someone to flip me over with a spatula.
The photos of the harvesting of marigolds (cempazuchitl) on Flickr.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/20264995@N07/ were taken on Oct. 31 in my neighborhood just before the holiday of Dia de los muertos. These are traditional flowers of the holiday and can be found everywhere -- on alters honoring deceased loved ones, in doorways, and used to create pathways to lead the departed to their alters. I was lucky to catch the harvest during the brilliant yellow light of late afternoon.
I have two more weeks of vacation and might take some day trips, but am mostly looking forward to relaxing, painting, reading, and doing lots of nothing until I return to work on the 9th.
Until next time, may you all find happiness and peace in the new year.