Saturday, November 30, 2013

Día de los muertos

I would like to share with you some of my experiences with the celebration of Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead here in Tepoztlán.... A little late, but better than never! I want to preface this first by saying that as in most traditions I can only speak for Tepoz and for my particularly family that I live with. Celebrations, has everywhere, vary greatly pueblo to pueblo and in the different areas of Mexico.

It is traditionally celebrated the November 1-2 and is a fusion of pre-hispanic celebrations and All Saints Day. I have found this tradition to be very beautiful. Thursday afternoon I sat outside of the office drinking my coffee and eating my pan de los muertos and one of my coworkers shared with me more about this celebration (I'm paraphrasing):

I enjoy it more than Christmas, she told me. It’s the smells and the colors. Later in the evening we walked through the zólcalo or town center and saw all the chilacayotes (explained later) and marigolds used to cover the graves and ofrendas. They were selling candles and dishes and food. The perfume of the flowers filled the area and I could see why the colors and smells meant so much to my co-worker.

Many people in the pueblo place an “ofrenda” in their house for your loved one(s). In this ofrenda they include flowers (mostly marigolds), food (that their loved ones enjoyed), fruit, drinks, tequila, papel picado, and a picture of the person. The idea is that at noon on the 1st the loved ones return and stay for twenty-four hours. It’s one day that you get to feel close to your loved ones again. My coworker continued to explain. The first few years are really painful, but then it becomes something that is really beautiful
The ofrenda at the bus station
The ofrenda at a local preschool
The ofrenda at the house
On the 2nd or the next week, they visit the cemetery and decorate the graves with the flowers and candles from the ofrenda. I was very touched to be able to accompany my host mom to clean and decorate the grave sites of the family. It was a way that I could think about where my host family has come from and to thank God for bringing them into my life. I was also able to think about my grandparents. My grandma Byington was always an adventurous woman and so I thought about how interested she would be in how they do things down here. One day when I return I may stop by her grave and put a marigold cross and share with her all the stories I have from my time here :)

The marigold cross I helped place on a family members grave
El pantéon- the cementary
As I have shared in this tradition I was also able to show pictures from this summer when I went to Iowa and visited family members’ grave sites. In a small way I was able to remember my loved ones and share with them how we celebrate those that are no longer with us. 

Another part of the celebration is “pidiendo calabera” which is when the children go around and ask for candy. The tradition is different from Halloween in that it happens on the first of Novemeber and the children (at least traditionally) do not dress up. They carve their “calavera” (Skull) which is made of chilacayote/Zucchini (not a pumpkin) and walk around WITH it saying “Una limosna para mi calavera” (“A alm for my skull). The interesting thing about Tepoztlán is that they celebrate this twice: first on the 1st of November and then again the next week. I had the pleasure of walking around with the family for almost 4 hours the first time we went out! We had both children and adults of the family and they were very good at making sure that I asked for my candy! 

Chilacayotes at the market
The beginnings of carving my chilacayote
Carving our chilacayotes
Getting ready to go around for candy
These are not very common in Mexico... but I found one!
My host brother with his chilacayote
Walking through the streets to ask for candy 
I heard someone explaining to his daughter once the difference between Halloween and Día de los Muertos. He said that los Muertos is a celebration of death and those that have died. Halloween, on the other hand, is a about fear and terror. I see a lot of similarities with our All Saints Day and Memorial Day, but there are also very many differences that I have enjoyed learning about. There are so many rich smells and colors and a beautiful idea that on these days your loved ones come back to spend time with you. I am very thankful that I was able to experience this celebration this year and to begin to understand a little bit more about how important these days are for many here in my part of Mexico. 

November Newsletter (Site Placement Update)

Monday through Friday I work as a volunteer with a consultation group called Sarar Transformatción. They work with issues involving water, sanitation and closing the nutrient cycle in various parts of Mexico, Latin America and the world. I have been able to participate with el equipo in many different ways: working in the office, observing and helping with workshops in surrounding schools and even getting outside to plant lettuce in the garden! 

At the same time, I am learning a lot about the logistics of working in an office and my understanding of different types of water and sanitation systems continues to deepen. I also hope that my professional Spanish is slowly getting better! My coworkers have been great guides as I learn more about my new home and continue to have moments of “Spanish struggle.” They have taken me under their wings and I am very thankful for their friendship. 

November Newsletter

Love of the stranger
“Hospitality is the practice of God's welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God's actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis.” -Letty Russell

To begin, I would like to once again thank all who have supported me. It has been two and a half months since I left for Chicago. Wow! These months have been filled with a lot of excitement, boredom, laughing, crying, hellos, goodbyes, experiencing new things and craving old comforts. I have hit the whole spectrum! But en fin I am extremely happy and content in my new home. 
If I were to summarize what I have taken away from this experience so far the word would be HOSPITALITY. The spanish word for guest comes from the same roots: huésped. To come into a new home, workplace, community and have such a warm welcome is overwhelmingly humbling and comforting. Here are a few of my recent experiences of hospitality:
  • I have started to meet enough people that as I walk through town there is often a familiar face that greets me with “Raquel, adios!” That simple act of walking through the street and being acknowledged can make my day. 
  • One day I left my cell phone at home and it was very important that I make a call. I finally remembered that my family had a relative with a shop on the main street. In desperation I rushed in and asked if I could use her phone. She gracefully handed it over and then later helped me dial when I couldn’t get it to work. 
  • I found myself unsure what to do when I couldn’t quite read the cultural implications of a situation. I thought of running to my country coordinator, but instead I found a family member who listened, gave their advice and in a moment when I wasn’t sure what to do, made me feel understood. 
  • I visited a friend’s house and was invited to join them for some evening warm tea, honey and bread. I knew that it was more than just warmth and conversation, I was cared for. 
  • My host family has been there for me when I was sick, sad, late for work and just in need of some good old distraction. 
  • My coworkers have guided me, taught me, laughed with me and even taken me to Pilates!

A friend who is from and lives in another part of Mexico texted me before I left and said, “I hope you are not sad, because there is another family waiting for you here in Mexico.” It was comforting to hear then, but now I am very blessed to have found this to be true. 

I have only read an excerpt from Just Hospitality: God's Welcome in a World of Difference by Letty Russell, but its now on my reading list. I’m thinking about this passage and I invite you all to contemplate it as well: “The word for hospitality in the Greek New Testament is philoxenia, love of the stranger. Its opposite is xenophobia, hatred of the stranger. The ministry of the church is to be partners with strangers, to welcome those whom Christ welcomed, and thus learn to be a community in which people are made one in Jesus Christ..."

Even as I write this newsletter about hospitably, I must confess that I have found myself struggling to show welcome to someone I recently encountered. Hospitality is not always easy. It’s never as pretty or simple as chocolate mints on a clean pillow.  However, as I find myself living in an ever-present state of receiving hospitality I am contemplating more and more about how I can emulate the love and friendship that has been shown to me, even when it is not easy. 

Today I am thinking about and praying for those who have made similar journeys as I have made. People who have crossed borders and left behind family: our brothers and sisters who are extranjeros in a new land and who are in need of that sense of family.

I am also thinking about and praying for those who have not crossed borders, but people who do not feel welcome in their own home or school: our brothers and sisters who are searching for love and acceptance.  

“There are a lot of 'missing persons' in our world today whose situation of poverty, injustice, and suffering makes God weep. These missing persons are not strangers to God, for God already has reached out to care for them. Yet they are strangers in the world who need to know God cares through the witness of a church that practices a ministry of hospitality and justice on their behalf.” - Letty Russell

God’s work. Our hands.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.