Thursday, July 12, 2012

hasta pronto

I cannot even begin to believe that almost a whole year has passed by.
One thing that I do know is that I have really formed a life here, a real routine, and the transition back into my life in the States has the potential of being difficult.
First of all, I love my jobs. I probably have communicated that enough to you all, but I thought I would just say it one more time. I love my jobs. (Okay, that is two more times!) Not only have I learned some amazing skills, such as cooking, embroidery, crocheting, talking about life stories with senior citizens, but I have been able to do it in the presence of some life-long friends. My co-workers are great individuals that treat me with love and respect, and everyone that either lives in the nursing home or goes to the project where they do their art project and have a small meal has a very special place in my heart. I have been blessed for sure in both worksites, which has truly enriched my time here in Mexico.
Second, I don’t just have one family here; I actually have two! I live with a host family, and they are wonderful people. I spend time playing outside with my host sister and cousin, or chatting with my aunt, or helping out my grandma do something. I interact with the family I live with daily, and it is a big family, so there is always something going on here. But, not only do I have my host family, I have also been somewhat adopted into another family. My co-worker in the kitchen, Vero, invited me over to her house in March one afternoon, and I have been going back frequently ever since. They have a lot of young kids living in the house, so I am always outside playing soccer or running around with them, but also helping Vero’s mom and sister cook a meal, or just chatting about the day. I even recently became the "madrina" (godmother) for Fernando's graduation, so I am actually a real part of the family! Once again, another blessing here has been the love and support that I have gotten from my two Mexican families, and I am so grateful for that.
Third, I have some pretty good friends here. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would make any friends here because of the language barrier and also I didn’t know how I would meet anyone my own age. But, after time, I started going out and meeting people, and I have a real solid group of friends to hang out with and be there for me when I need them. We sometimes just hang out and watch movies and chat, or sometimes we will go out dancing and have a good time. I have also learned to make tortillas by hand and make a special bread called Rosca through the help of some of my friends and their families, and that has been an awesome experience as well.
Fourth, I have an amazing group. Just because we are all from the United States and will be going back together, we live a lot farther apart in the States than we do right now in Mexico. The 7 of us really have formed a tight friendship, and it will be weird living in different states and not seeing each other at least once a month like we have been doing here.
There are a ton more things that I could think of that will be missed of my life here in Mexico, such as speaking Spanish, eating tortillas and salsa everyday, other foods that will easily be missed because you cannot find them in the States, being able to get everywhere by bus (even when the bus rides can be a bit bumpy)…and that is just to name a few.
Transitions are bittersweet. I am excited to see everyone and share stories in person, but it is really hard to even think about saying goodbye to some of the people who have meant the most to me these past 11 months. I guess I am asking you all to think of me during these next couple of weeks, that the “goodbyes” can really just be “see you soon” and that I do find a way to really “leave well” from my time here in Mexico. Also, I am asking for patience with me when I return to the States. I truly am looking forward to seeing you all, but I may be quite sad still thinking of some things that I miss. I apologize already that all my stories will start with “In Mexico…” or that I may throw some Spanish words into our conversations because I simply cannot think of the word in English. I did have an amazing year, one that cannot be described in only a few words, and I am sure you all had an eventful year too. I am real excited that we both will get to share stories with one another, and I thank God for all the support everyone has given me this year. I would not be the person I am today without each and every one of you, so thank you so much.
See you all real soon!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

feeding of the 29

I’m going to share a specific story. Something that happened just one morning this past month, but I think it a good one to pass along. Let me set the scene for you all.
It was a Friday morning. I don’t remember exactly how hot it was, but I can guarantee that it was quite warm already for only being 9am. I walked into my worksite where I cook, helped set up the tables and chairs outside, put away the dishes from the group who had come the afternoon before, put my apron on (yes, I do get to wear a pretty neat looking apron to cook) and started my morning with Vero in the kitchen. That is something that has become quite routine by now, so no big surprises yet.
We get things ready to cook a meal that involves a tomato sauce and pasta soup and a dish called sincronizadas (which is a really fancy way of saying a quesadilla with ham). Overall, Vero and I knew the dish was not going to be too difficult to make this day, so we just started getting things together and setting up to cook.
People come to the worksite around 10am to start their embroidery projects. Throughout the morning, Vero and I will walk outside and count how many people are there so we have a heads up of how much food to prepare. Lately, we have been getting less than usual, only about 20, so we have been mindful of that. This day was just like the others, and by a little before 11am, we knew we had about 17 people outside.
Vero and I were in the kitchen, talking and laughing like usual, and it gets to be 11:20am. I walk outside the kitchen, turn the corner to count exactly how many cups of water to serve, and I counted 26 people and three little girls. Sometimes the people bring their grandchildren with for a day if they are not in school or didn’t have anyone to take care of them, and we always welcome them to sit and enjoy some of the food with us. Needless to say, however, I was shocked, and ran back to the kitchen to tell Vero that I thought we had a problem.
Her and I both looked at each other with complete doubt that all of a sudden a lot of people just arrived. We looked at each other, we looked at the food, and even though we didn’t directly say it, we both were thinking that this food was not going to be enough to go around. But, we were not going to turn anyone away, and we were not going to tell anyone they couldn’t eat, so we began the serving process with hope.
I set out the cups and served the water to everyone. Meanwhile, Vero was serving the food. With each plate that she put down of soup, I could tell her eyes were getting more and more nervous of whether or not this was going to be okay. Also, I really didn’t think we made enough sincronizadas for everyone, so at this point, I didn’t even want to help serve in fear of running out.
Honestly, there is no other way to put this than it being a complete God-moment, but by the time we ran out of food, every single person outside had a plate of soup in front of him or her with a sincronizada in hand, including the little girls who had come that day.
I walked back into the kitchen, looking at the empty dishes left over, and looked over at Vero and said, “How did everyone get served? I really didn’t think we had enough food.” She told me that she was surprised as well, and in the 4 years she has been cooking in the kitchen, this has never happened to her before. But, she ended it by saying, “Gracias a Dios.” (Thanks be to God).
The story that comes to mind here for me is the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Okay, so it was not quite intense as having a large group of people follow you up a mountain to listen to you speak, but we definitely had more people than we expected, and had the same fear and doubt the disciples expressed to Jesus when they didn’t know how to feed everyone who was outside. I felt like I was one of the twelve handing out food the same way they were handing out the 5 fish and 2 loaves of bread, and somehow there ended up being enough.
When it comes to times like these, sometimes we let the fear and doubt rule our lives instead of the faith and trust in God. And, it doesn’t have to just involve serving food. Sometimes we don’t know how we are going to pay the water bill this month, or finish a big project before the deadline is due, or buy new tennis shoes for our children. But, the most important thing to remember is that God is always faithful and has plans much larger than our own, and when you turn to Him, even with the doubt, there will always be enough food to go around. Gracias a Dios!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

the tortilla of life

I want to tell you all about something really important in my life here in Mexico. In fact, it is of such high importance that I get to interact with it on a daily basis, at least two times a day! What I am alluding to is…TORTILLAS!

Now, I know I have talked about tortillas before, and how my love of them have just grown with more time that I spend here, but tortillas really do mean more than just a necessary item with all meals.

I have a new role in my family. For at least the past month, I have been able to go and buy the tortillas and coca-cola from the tortilla shop and tienda (it’s like a small store on the street) outside my house. This may not seem like quite an honor, but it actually was a huge step for them to trust me and send me out on my own (okay, it is only a minute, maybe minute and a half walk) to go and buy the tortillas. Just for a cultural reference, when you are allowed to buy tortillas and coke alone at the tienda close to your house, that means you are grown up. So, usually that happens around 11 years old or something, so I am technically old enough, but this is my "big girl" moment in my house. They love that I can go and grab the 10 pesos of tortillas (always make sure they are hot!!) and I always do it with a smile.

Obviously tortillas are important at my worksite where I cook. Sometimes we will go and serve the plates, and everyone will just sit and wait to start eating their food if we haven’t brought out the tortillas yet (even if the food is a type of salad or pasta). It doesn’t matter what food we cook, tortillas are always a side dish. But, for the past couple of weeks, our microwave has been broken. Since we can’t buy fresh tortillas every day, we usually buy for the week and then warm them up in the microwave to freshen and heat them up. Without a microwave, one must warm tortillas up in a pan on the stove. It’s not easy to stand in a very hot kitchen behind the flame heating up over 2 kilos of tortillas…oh, and you flip them with just your hands. This was the moment that I realized I do not have the “Mexican hands.” Vero, the other person in the kitchen with me, is just flipping the tortillas, heating them up, without a flinch. I could barely get close to the pan without feeling the burn! Noticing my lack of tortilla heating up skills, Vero handed me a spatula to help. I graciously accepted it, and even though I have gotten better at heating tortillas up on the stove, to this day I still keep my spatula in hand ☺

If I hadn’t confirmed at my one job that I didn’t have the “Mexican hands,” it was clearly confirmed at Las Palomas (the nursing home). One day I showed up to Las Palomas and was just talking with a couple of women, and one just stopped talking and looked at my hands. I didn’t know what she was doing, but I went with it. She looks at me in the eyes and says, “You don’t make tortillas with these hands, do you?” I said no, and she said that she figured as much because I didn’t have hands that looked like I had made many tortillas. I also have two women, Maria & Juana who live in Las Palomas, who have offered to make the tortillas by hand at my wedding. I tried to explain that a wedding isn’t in my near future, but they both told me that they would be there to make tortillas for the big party of which my wedding will be. I guess I have the hard part figured out now, no? ☺

Tortillas really are a way of life here. They are not only amazing and delicious; they are a job or even a rite of passage. It makes me think of how much meaning John 6:35 has when Jesus says, “I am the BREAD of LIFE, He who comes to me will never grow hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus really is our daily bread, or daily tortilla if you will, and filling up on Him means we will never be hungry or thirsty. Jesus always provides us with some bread, hope, love, reason, and tortillas when we feel like the world is bringing us down. Going to Him brings comfort to the unknown. Some people in Mexico only have access to tortillas and, if they are lucky, beans. But, the beauty in the corn here is that fresh hand-made tortillas have so many nutrients in it that you can eat tortillas and beans and have a healthy and balanced diet.

Tortillas are good, (and believe me, they are so good, I sometimes will eat 5 in a day!) but God is greater! Keep the faith and love!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

just laugh

"A day without laughter is a day wasted" -Charlie Chaplin

I like that quote. It has a lot of depth to it for just a few words. Laughter is beautiful, and comes in many forms, and definitely is a big part of my experience here in Mexico.

I love listening to others laugh, even when I am not involved in the conversation, or potentially even know what is going on. At 10 de Abril, I do get the chance to know the people who come, but I do not often get the chance to spend a lot of time with them. When there are a lot of tasks to accomplish for the meal to get done (like cutting lots of vegetables, heating up tortillas, making the juice-type drink...) I barely get to spend any time with the senior citizens who come. I will get to eat with them, but that is a quick 10 minutes, and even then I am busy making sure people get more to drink if they want it and they get their dessert whenever they finish their meals. That hasn't stopped me from forming relationships with them, but just lacks time to enjoy the relationships in which we have formed sometimes. But, one thing that I absolutely love about all my friends at 10 de Abril (okay, I could name a million things that I love about them all, because they are so great, but here is just one) is how much they have all formed friendships within themselves. They are outside for 2 hours while I am in the kitchen, and sometimes I can just hear their conversations and laughter, and it just makes me smile so much, even when I have no idea why they are laughing. For example, last Wednesday I was working on shredding the chicken to put in the Ensalada Rusa off to the side in the kitchen, and it was starting to become a monotonous task and at that moment Vero (who I work with in the kitchen) was somewhere else, so it was just me and this really hot chicken burning my hands as I am pulling apart the meat. Then, out of nowhere, I heard 4 or 5 women just burst out with laughter, and they could not stop! They were laughing so hard, that I just started smiling and laughing too (mind you, completely unaware at what was said). When Vero came back in the kitchen, she asked me why I was smiling and laughing and what was so funny. I told her that I just heard everyone laughing outside and it made me smile, which in turn had her look at me a little funny, but then she knows how much I love everyone there, so she carried on with her day. I really think it is great how 10 de Abril is a place to bring people together, for friendships, and clearly for tons of laughter.

I love laughing with people over ridiculous miscommunication. This happens to me a lot, I will not lie about that at all. Not speaking Spanish clearly allows for many mistakes and misunderstandings of words, which can lead to some good laughs. I've had moments as simple as asking "A donde vas?" (Where are you going) and that gets heard as "Como estas?" (How are you doing?) so the answer is completely different than the question, but that is pretty easy to roll with. However, working in a nursing home also opens the door for some good miscommunication. I can't remember all the great moments, but one that comes to mind real quickly was recently a conversation with my favorite resident from Las Palomas, Juana (I know, I know, I am not supposed to ever choose favorites, but I easily can point out my favorite person there). She doesn't always remember everything, and will ask me the same questions over and over again, even though I have been there for 6 months already. She does know who I am now, and has been remembering my name a lot and even some basic information, such as that I only have one older brother. But, I still enjoy every second that I spend with her, and we sure enjoy laughing. But, back to the miscommunication story... Juana forgets that she eats about 5 minutes after breakfast, comida, and dinner. So, sometimes she will ask me if I ate and what I ate. One day, this is how our conversation went:

Juana: Ya comiste? (Did you eat already?)
Me: Si, ya comi (Yes, I ate)
Juana: Que comiste? (What did you eat?)
Me: Posole (pronounced po-so-lay, it is a soup made with either chicken or pork and elote, which is corn)
Juana: Que? Corazones?? (What? Hearts??)
Me: No, no, POSOLE!
Juana: [bursts into laughter]

Okay, I must say that Posole and Corazones do not sound the same at all to me in Spanish, but that is a little insight into my life. We laughed for a good 2 minutes straight after that. I have many little miscommunication situations everyday, but the best thing to do is just roll with it and laugh.

I love to laugh when I actually understand a joke in Spanish. So, I didn't think that jokes were so hard to get...until I started hearing jokes in Spanish. My family who I live with LOVES jokes. They are continuously telling bromas (jokes) and laughing, and I am usually sitting there, silent, and very confused at why everyone is laughing. Jokes are a play on words or expressions...and when you don't know all the words in the language that the joke is being said in, jokes aren't all that funny. When a joke gets said, and clearly I did not follow, one of two things happen. Either they take the time to retell the joke and explain it step by step to me (and that still only gets me to understand the joke about 50% of the time..) or they just go "Oh, Lisa, it's a joke, believe us, it was funny." and then they carry on with the rest of their conversations. BUT- a big moment happened the other day for me--> I understood a joke in Spanish! I do have a confession though, it was a joke that was written by a 2nd grader... but I still understood it in Spanish! I was at 10 de Abril and Vero was reading a book of jokes from a 2nd grader, and most of them went over my head until one, and I just laughed and laughed. Vero and Luz (the two women I work with) looked at me quite funny because it wasn't all that funny of a joke and I was laughing pretty hard, but when I explained to them that I hardly ever understand jokes in Spanish, they understood my happiness, and we all just laughed together. It was great. I actually understood a joke in Spanish, and I'm hoping it's my first of many!

There are many other times that laughter comes into play in my life here in Mexico, but those were just a few snapshots. I have good friends and family and coworkers to laugh with here, and that really helps in feeling comfortable with everything. Sometimes, whether it is the situation or lack of communication, the best and only thing to do is to laugh, and everyone just understands what it means. The best advice really is to live, love, laugh...

"Everybody laughs the same in every language because laughter is a universal connection." :D
Yakov Smirnoff

Thursday, January 19, 2012


"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain." -Revelation 21:4; "Él les enjugará toda lágrima de los ojos. Ya no habrá muerte, ni llanto, ni lamento ni dolor" -Apocalipsis 21:4

I remember sitting at orientation in Chicago before I came down to Mexico and listening to presentations about doing our best to come in without expectations into our year of service. I also remember them saying that we were going to have expectations no matter what we try to tell ourselves, and many of our expectations wouldn't be realized until they were either met or not met. I knew before I came to Mexico that I would be working with senior citizens, and one place would be a nursing home, but I can guarantee you that I was not expecting to deal with someone passing away while I was here.

How do you say goodbye to someone you only knew for 4 months and 11 days? How do you begin to grasp something that large-scale when your job description is to sit and talk to people and get to know them? I spend about 20 hours a week in Las Palomas, and really do my best to talk to everyone around the same amount of time. Yeah, there are people that I will talk to more than others or for longer periods of time, and one of them was Rosa.

Rosa was absolutely beautiful. She was one of the sweetest women in Las Palomas, never got in arguments, graciously accepted hugs and food and gifts from vistors, and humbled herself to ask for help multiple times a day when she needed to walk to the table to eat or go back to her room to sleep. Rosa lived in Las Palomas for a little less than 4 years and for the whole time she lived there, she was blind. I was told she used to walk around by herself with her walker and had the routes down of the house and knew where she was going, but about a year ago, she just couldn't do it alone anymore, and many residents and all the workers began to help her guide her walker so she could get where she wanted to go. I loved when I got to take her back to her room and we would slowly count the steps and she would fight through the pain just to get back to her bed so she could lay down and sleep. She always thanked me multiple times on our walks, knowing that we were walking slow, and I continuously told her how strong she was and how she could make it and we were almost there.

I remember my first conversation with Rosa. The workers told me that she was blind, so when I wanted to talk to her, I would just have to hold onto her hand and let her know I was there and let her know if I would ever walk away. We started chatting, and I asked her questions such as where she was from and if she had a family, and basic ideas such as that. She told me all about her days in Oaxaca and how she used to make clothes and was an excellent semestres. And, she also talked about how she owned a tienda (which is a small store here) and used to sell oil, eggs, flour, sugar, milk...the basics... but she was also very clear that she did not sell chocolate or coca-cola because she didn't think that was good to sell in tiendas. We talked about her husband, who she loved more than anyone else. I could see it in her eyes when she talked about him that she loved him with her whole heart. They used to go out at night in Oaxaca and dance the whole night away in many different places. Rosa told me that her husband died about 8 years ago, and that is why she moved to Cuernavaca. When I asked her how many children she had, she told me that she had 2 sons and 2 daughters, but 2 of them have passed away, and 2 of them never come to visit her. I could tell she had her mind about her, and remembered a lot of things, so I was pretty much lead to believe that it was the truth that her children did not come to visit her. She clearly was getting quite sad, and I just squeezed her hand and told her that I was here now and we could chat if she wanted. She then told me that I would be her daughter now, and from that day on I called her "mamita" and she called me her daughter, her "guerita hija" (which means white/blonde daughter, and I found that ironic that she knew I was not from Mexico even though she couldn't see me, guess I couldn't hide my accent from her, haha)

Every day with Rosa was another blessing. We would just chat about a lot of things, and I learned a lot about her town and where all the best places to eat were and all the best places to dance. She kept telling me that one day she would take me to Oaxaca (but we would have to leave at 8am and would not get there until 5pm) and we would go dancing together. When Christmas came around and we had a little party at Las Palomas and Santa came to give out gifts, I got to sit with Rosa and help my mamita open her gift from Santa. I told her what she got and watched her smile as if she could see the gift that was in her hands, and put it in her room for her. I always got to tell her what time it was, and soon enough, she knew my schedule well enough that just by me saying hello or goodbye to her, she knew what time it was in the day. She was so beautiful.

Rosa also had cancer. She was hit hard with breast cancer, and found out too late in life (around 80 years old) to do anything about it. She was a couple months shy of her 88th birthday, and lived every day with breast cancer, severe back pain, trouble walking, and being blind. She was fighter. Her strength is inspiring. And last Monday, January 16th, her fight on earth was done and now she is living freely with God.

I could tell that Rosa was getting worse for at least the week before she passed away. She was really struggling with walking, and eventually started taking a wheel chair back and forth from her room to the table to eat. She could barely stand up without being completely out of breath. And, although she still remembered who I was, she was not overly interesting in talking to too many people and wanted to spend most of the day sleeping. I arrived at Las Palomas on Monday afternoon and one of the residents flagged me down and had me sit with him. He told me he was really sad that day, and I asked why, and he told me that Rosa was really bad. He said he could see all her pain, and he told me to go over to her and talk to her because she would not be there in the morning. I was thrown back by this statement, and probably more in disbelief than anything. I did not know how Ruperto could say that she would not be there in the morning, but I was also knowing I should go see how she was. I went down and sat by my mamita and we talked a little and she told me she wanted to go lay down in bed. I went to get a worker and also another resident who helps take care of people when we need an extra hand, and it took the three of us to get her into the wheelchair and then put her in her bed. I let her rest for a while, talked with a few other people, and then went back to her room to say goodbye before I left. I was sitting on someone else's bed and we were talking when I saw Rosa shaking. A woman named Cecila went over to her and put an extra blanket on her and just started saying prayers over her. I was thrown back again for the second time of the day because Las Palomas is not a religious organization, but still a woman, a friend, stood up and took the time to say some prayers over her in this time of suffering. Another woman, Chela, went to go get Rosa a cup of water. Maria told Rosa that she should just walk toward the light and let her know that God is good, all the time. The way these women were grouping together to be there for their friend who they knew was clearly suffering and hurting was beyond beautiful. I said goodbye to my mamita and left for the evening.

I didn't want to go to work on Tuesday morning. I barely slept Monday night. My stomach hurt the whole 35 minute bus ride to Las Palomas and walking up the 4 minute pathway to Las Palomas felt completely miserable. I knew I was not going to see Rosa in her normal chair. I knew that when I looked into the house, the chair would be empty, and that my mamita would be gone. I kept trying to think positive, but I could just feel it. I walked in, her chair was empty. My heart sank low into my stomach. I went and said hi to the workers, Lupe and Laura, and I looked at my supervisor Angeles and she was shedding a few tears. I knew then and there that Rosa was gone. We didn't say much, and I just went out to be with my friends in Las Palomas. I saw Maria first, one of the people in Rosa's room. She looked at me, said hello, and told me how around 10 or 11 the night before, Rosa was gone. Tears started filling her eyes, and I was choking back my tears as well. I sat down with Maria and we talked about life, about death, about the process. I tried to be so strong for her, because Maria just wanted a friend to talk to for the moment, and we did our best to share our stories that we remembered about Rosa. We mentioned how wonderful it was that she didn't have to suffer the way she was the night before for too long, and how now she is with God and now she can see everything beautiful again. I then went and talked to Ruperto. He was not doing well either. He kept saying that Rosa was gone. We didn't really say more, but I once again just tried to be a good person to talk to if he needed anything. A couple others were sad, and the rest don't have their minds about them so they didn't even realize someone was gone from the Las Palomas family. Either way, Tuesday was the absolute hardest day of work for me.

I wanted to be so sad, I wanted to grieve, but more than anything, I wanted to be around my friends and my family of Las Palomas. I also agree with Maria, how wonderful it is that Rosa can see again now. She hated not being able to see, we talked about that a lot, and now she is pain free, can walk, and can see. Rosa left behind a ton of friends and family and her "guerita hija" here, but also people that love her so much and know this is best for her. Sometimes it is so hard to not be selfish when thinking about death. I want Rosa here, I still sometimes look over at her chair and hurt when I remember she isn't there anymore. But, I want Rosa happy, I want her healthy, and I now know that I just have another wonderful angel looking down on me, my mamita is always with me in my heart, and I will always be her "guerita hija."

I love you Rosa, mi mamita, Rest in Peace and Rest with God.

"So that should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." -1 Corinthians 12:25-26; "A fin de que no haya división en el cuerpo, sino que sus miembros se preocupen por igual unos por otros. Si uno de los miembros sufre, los demás comparten su sufrimiento; y si uno de ellos recibe honor, los demás se alegran con él." -1 Corintios 12:25-26.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

the 3 Kings came to town

Last Friday, January 6th, was Dia de Los Tres Reyes (Day of the 3 Kings) here in Mexico. Before a lot of the impacts of globalization, Santa Claus was not well known here, and it was the 3 Kings that brought all the gifts for the kids on January 6th. I learned that children used to write their "wish-list" to the 3 Kings and put out snacks for them and their camels in a similar fashion to when you leave milk and cookies out for Santa (and maybe even a carrot for the reindeers!) Even though Christmas has started to be associated with Santa or Papa Noel here, the traditions of Dia de Los Tres Reyes have stayed strong and not dwindled away.

Something that is very popular for Dia de Los Tres Reyes (besides giving toys to the children) is to eat a Rosca and drink hot chocolate. A Rosca is very similar to the King's Cake that is eaten for Mardi Gras. It is a ring of bread, some are small and some are quite large, and has some sugar on top and the Rosca has little fruit flavored gummy candy as well. But, the most important thing to note about a Rosca is that is contains little plastic babies inside the bread. Now, if you know the tradition for Mardi Gras, if you get the baby in your piece of bread, then you have good luck and you are the "king" for the day. However, the tradition is a little bit different for a Rosca. If you get the baby in your piece of Rosca, then you have to make the tamales for February 2nd, another holiday here in Mexico (but no, it is not groundhog's day). I was warned before my first piece of Rosca that if I got the baby I would have to make the tamales, so I already went into this holiday a little bit nervous about having a small plastic baby inside of my bread.

Here is a picture of what a traditional Rosca looks like

So my first taste of a Rosca was on Thursday night. My family had been out picking up some things, so I was upstairs in my room when I heard them call to me and tell me to come downstairs. My host mom told me that they had bought a Rosca and that my grandma was making hot chocolate, so I should come down and join them. I questioned her because I thought that the 3 Kings Day wasn't until the next day, but she said they had bought the Rosca that day, so we were just going to eat it the night before :) I wasn't going to question it, even though I was still nervous about getting that baby and having to make tamales. I went downstairs and my host dad and host sister had already cut themselves two pieces and neither of them had gotten the baby. They told me cut myself a piece, and I reluctantly picked up the knife and cut a relatively small piece, and I look to the left-hand side of my piece and BOOM I got a baby. Everyone laughed that on my first piece of Rosca I got a baby, but it was all in good fun. I did now know that I was going to have to make some tamales for my family. We sat around and chatted for the rest of the night and drank the hot chocolate and people kept serving themselves more of the Rosca. My grandma ended up getting another one of the plastic babies (there are around 5 or 6 in each Rosca) so I felt better that I could make some tamales with her when February 2nd came around. My host parents offered me another piece of the Rosca, but I wasn't all that hungry so I politely declined, but then they asked again, and I still said "no gracias," until finally my grandma told me just to have another piece because who knows when I will have another Rosca again in my life, ha. So, I decided to take another small piece, this time even smaller than the first time, and, as luck would have it, I found another baby! Once again, the laughs came, and even I was joining in because it seemed so ridiculous that I had two small pieces of Rosca and ended up with two babies in the one evening. However, this was just the beginning of my celebration of the Day of the 3 Kings.

Friday morning I went to work at 10 de Abril and cooked the lunchtime meal, and we had a Rosca for our dessert. Everyone was really excited to eat the Rosca. For many people at 10 de Abril, this was their first Rosca of the day, and probably their only because Roscas can be a little pricey and not everyone has the money to purchase one. My supervisor was cutting all the pieces of the Rosca, and I was handing them out and watching to see who was getting the babies this time. The cool thing about this Rosca was that instead of having little plastic babies in it, it had all the characters from a nativity scene (even a donkey!!). So, when everyone got their piece of the Rosca, my supervisor told me to make sure that I got a piece as well. She cut really big pieces, and I wasn't that hungry, so I told her I was just going to cut a smaller piece from what was left of the Rosca. Well, sure enough, I cut myself a piece and see something sticking out of my bread. THIRD BABY. This time, I didn't get the baby, but I got Mary. So my record is now at 3 pieces of Rosca, 3 babies.

Then, I went to Las Palomas in the afternoon. I enjoyed my couple of hours talking to the people there, listening to more stories- some the same as always and some new ones, and right before I was about to leave, Andrea (my coworker) tells me to wait because she is about to cut the Rosca. I told her I already had three pieces and got three babies, and I did not need anymore, but she insisted that I at least take a piece to go. So, she cuts the Rosca, and hands me a piece. I look at it, and I thought I was in the clear, but, sure enough, there was ANOTHER baby. I almost wish I was making this up that I was now at a record of 4 pieces of Rosca in 3 different places and the proud owner of 4 babies, but, such was my luck for the day.

After I got home from work, I was sitting and talking with my grandma when she told me with a very excited smile that the Three Kings came for me and left me a gift under her Christmas tree the night before. So, I went inside the house, and saw under the tree a small bag with my name on it, and took it outside to where my grandma was sitting. I opened it up and I had gotten a pair of Hello Kitty socks! :) My grandma was smiling so much and so happy to see me open the gift, and she kept claiming it was from the 3 Kings, so I had to keep saying thanks to them for not forgetting me when all the other kids were getting gifts from them too. So, even though I had gotten 4 babies and was going to have to really brush up on my cooking tamales skills, I ended the day wonderfully with some Hello Kitty socks from Los Tres Reyes.

me with my socks

Although Friday was now over and I thought my Rosca eating days were over, I had quite the surprise at church on Sunday. I went to the church service, and after it was over, I was going to leave, but the pastor stopped me and told me to wait because they had a Rosca to share with everyone. First thought that jumped in my head- there is NO way that I can get ANOTHER baby, that just would be impossible and crazy. So, I decided to stick around and enjoy the Rosca. When they brought out the Rosca, they made me cut the first piece. I picked up the knife and cut the first side, and as I was cutting the second side of my piece I could hear whispers of everyone saying "she is cutting too small of a piece for herself" or "she should take more," but once again, I wasn't looking to eat a whole lot of bread. Then, I pulled my piece out of the ring, and BOOM, another one of those plastic babies was sticking out. Everyone said "YAY, She will make us tamales now!" and I just smiled and said yeah, I will have to make a lot of tamales now, ha.

So, my Dia de Los Tres Reyes had me ending with a record of 5 pieces of Rosca (eaten in 4 different places) and 5 babies (4 plastic ones and 1 that resembled Mary). Everyone also mentioned that I was apparently really lucky to have gotten that many babies in my Rosca, but even if it means good luck, it also means cooking tamales. Hopefully I have some help cooking all these tamales (or for the better, they forget that I got all these babies) but either way, this was quite a memorable new holiday for me. So, that's how I celebrated the 6th of January, and I may just be the luckiest person alive with all my babies from my Roscas.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

You want me to do what for New Years..?

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo! [Merry Christmas and Happy New Year]

I was able to spend a wonderful Christmas Eve with my family here, eating quite a large meal together at 9pm at night, and watching fireworks go off in the background with the memories of all the broken piñatas from the previous week still fresh in my mind. Then, on Christmas day I went to a friend's house and we made our "Christmas sushi" (just regular sushi, but hey, we were wearing red and green Christmas hats) and we watched movies for the rest of the day. Needless to day, Christmas celebrations were not quite what I am used to in Chicago, but definitely memorable.

I also had quite the memorable New Year's Eve celebration here. I thought I would share with you how my evening went, so that you all can take these traditions and integrate them into your New Year's Eve parties next year, because I know you will definitely want to.

I went to my friend Mariana's house for New Years along with another YAGM volunteer named Kyle. Mariana told me ahead of time that we would be able to do some Mexican traditions at midnight to either bring us luck or happiness in the upcoming year, and I thought that sounded like it would be fun and I was excited to learn what they would be. When Kyle and I arrived at her house around 7:30pm, she started telling us how we would prepare for midnight. After listing 7 different things, I looked at Mariana with a very dumb-founded look and basically said, "you want me to do what for New Years...?" Kyle even jokingly brought up that maybe Mariana decided to tell us all these things that are traditions to celebrate the new year in Mexico, but really aren't true, knowing that we would believe whatever she said because how would we know any differently. But, she promised us they were real, so we smiled and went along with all these new traditions. So here is the list of things to do right when it hits midnight and it is the new year:

1. Make 12 Wishes for the New Year and Send Them Up in a Balloon: We got pieces of paper and made a list of 12 wishes for 2012, and were told to really think about these wishes and write them as specific as possible. After we made our list of wishes, we folded the paper up real small and rolled it to a tiny little ball and kept it with us until midnight. Once midnight hit, we wished each other a "Feliz Año" and ran quickly to get the helium balloons. We tied our pieces of paper to the three helium balloons and we were headed outside to let the balloons go when we figured out a major flaw in our plan... the paper was too heavy for the helium balloons, so the balloons fell to the ground. Being quick on our feet (and knowing we had a lot more things to take care of in a short amount of time) we ran for a marker, wrote a couple wishes on the balloons, and let them go into the sky. So *side note* when you decide to make your 12 wishes for the New Year, make sure the paper will not weigh down the balloon before midnight, or plan ahead of time to write your wishes on the balloon :)

bye bye wishes!

2. Sweep the Whole House, Quickly: After letting the balloons go, we ran back inside to grab some brooms. We had to sweep all the dust and "bad stuff" from the previous year outside, in order to have a nice and clean start to the new year. It was meant to be a quick sweep, because once again, we had more things to take care of in terms of traditions, so make sure you have your brooms ready to go and sweep at a rapid speed.

3. Eat 12 Grapes: The trick of eating the 12 grapes at midnight is that you eat them while you are sweeping the house too. This is meant to save time so you can move on and get more of the traditions done as close to midnight as possible. The 12 grapes represent the 12 wishes for the new year as well, so each grape that you eat, you have to think of your wish, and then eat the grape. Once again, a great way to be prepared for the eating of the 12 grapes is to have them set aside in groups of 12 in a red solo cup, so all you need to do is quickly grab your cup and go to town getting those wishes made and grapes eaten (all while sweeping the floor)

these grapes are ready!

4. Fill Your Wallets/Purses with Lentils: After the grapes were eaten and the house was swept, we went to the table where there was a pile of lentils. We had to grab handfulls of lentils and shove them in our pockets and wallets, which symbolizes that we will gain money in the next year. You don't need to keep all the lentils in your purse or pocket or wallet for the full year, but you are expected to at least leave a few in there until the next year, so that you keep your luck and get money for the whole year.

5. Run Around the Block with Suitcases: This was probably the moment where I really thought Mariana was joking with us and this was not a tradition. However, I still went along with it. We set aside our suitcases, and after we finished the first four things on our list, we went running with the suitcases. We quickly left the house with our rolling suitcases and started to go down the street. The reason you take your suitcases out for a walk around the block is to symbolize that you will travel a lot in the next year. I cannot say that I was not laughing while I was dragging my suitcase around her neighborhood, but the best moment was when I actually saw some of her neighbor's taking their suitcases out too! This proved to me that we were actually doing a real tradition, and it was kind of fun to see other people out with their suitcases just like us. So, it looks like traveling is something that will be in my future.

Mariana, me, and Kyle with our suitcases

6. Throw Confetti on Each Other: This, I must admit, was a real fun part of the evening :) After we returned to the house after our suitcase adventure, we went outside to the patio and brought with us a huge bag of confetti. We made quite the mess with a lot of confetti throwing, but it was a great way to laugh and start the new year together.

confetti shower!

Mariana and me enjoying the confetti

7. Sparklers and Fireworks! It wouldn't be a party without at least a little bit of pyrotechnics. Mariana has a beautiful view of the city of Cuernavaca, so we were able to see a lot of fireworks while we were standing outside on her balcony. Also, Mariana had some sparklers, so we had fun lighting those and moving them around to keep our celebration of the new year going.


So, there are 7 great ways to celebrate the New Year Mexico-style that you can all incorporate into your fiestas next year! Also, make sure that you do it all while wearing some great "Happy New Year" party hats, and do it with great friends and tons of laughter.

Feliz 2012 :)