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 :)