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I just realized that it’s been over a month since I have given you guys updates from Mexico. Here’s a brief overview of some of the highlights from the last month:
September 15: Independence Day
One of my co-workers from Americorps last year lives here in Merida with her husband. She invited me over to her friend’s house to learn how to make typical food from Mexico City. We cooked all afternoon and made tamales, panbazo and jamaica. (Look at the post: “Photos” for pictures and descriptions of the food). It was delicious, but a lot of hard work. I’m pretty sure it was around 100 degrees in the kitchen all afternoon.
Dzibilchaltun (Pronounced: C.V.chal-tun)
The Maya Empire covered much of Southern Mexico and Guatemala. Since the Maya Empire was very spread out, the Spanish never completely conquered the Maya, and to this day, Maya culture remains a large part of Yucatecan life. Many people speak both Maya and Spanish, and there a lot of Maya phrases that people incorporate into Spanish.
The Maya language and history varies a lot region from region, and I am only starting to learn about the Maya culture, so I can’t give you guys a very clear picture.
There are Maya ruins all around the region, and there is one called Dzibilchaltun that is about 15-20 minutes away from my house. I forgot my camera when we went, but you can see pictures here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dzibilchaltun
The city just opened up a new museum here called Mundo Maya (Maya World), and it was free the first week it was open. The collection of artifacts that they had was amazing, but they still haven’t finished building the museum, so there was a lot of information missing. For example, there were these beautiful carved jade pieces, but it never explained where the jade came from. When I talked to someone later about the museum, he explained that you can find jade close to Mexico City, and people traded it. What was neat about the information that they did have about the pieces is that a lot of the plaques were translated into English, Spanish and Maya.
In September, the local government changed political parties from PAN to PRI. The old government wanted to be able to claim that they opened up the museum and made it free for everyone to enter, so they opened it the week before new government took office, even though the building is still under construction. I’m hoping that by the time they finish, there will be a lot more information throughout the exhibitions.
Halloween is starting to become very popular here, but it’s a relatively new phenomenon. People have told me that 3 or 4 years ago, no one dressed up at all or really celebrated Halloween. Now, in all the stores, you can find Halloween decorations and costumes. We put on a Halloween party for all the students this weekend. On Friday night, we had a party for the younger kids. Trick-or-treating isn’t a custom here, but the director of the school has organized a small trick-or-treating event for the students the past few years. Before the party, we asked the neighbors if they would like to participate, and about 12 houses said yes. We walked around 3 blocks and stopped at the houses. The kids absolutely loved it, and people really enjoyed seeing them all dressed up. It was a much smaller scale than it is in the US, but everyone got a taste for what trick or treating is like. After that, we came back to the school and played a bunch of halloween-themed games and had a pumpkin piñata. Last night, we had a party for the middle school students. The school has a small outdoor pool, so we had a pool party and rented a big projection screen, so the kids could watch Jaws. It was a small party, but a huge success.
Hanal Pixan (Pronounced: Ha-nal Pi-shan): (Dia de los muertos / Day of the Dead)
Hanal Pixan is the Maya phrase for Dia de los muertos, or Day of the Dead. Although people are starting to celebrate Halloween here, the major celebration is next weekend for Day of the Dead. It’s pretty amazing to think that Halloween originated in Ireland thousands of years ago as a harvest fest and a way to honor the dead at the end of October, and here in Mexico thousands of years ago, they had a very similar tradition at the same time of the year. When the Spanish arrived, they combine the Hanal Pixan celebration with the Catholic celebration of All Souls Day. Next weekend, they will decorate the city and people will construct altars downtown to remember loved ones that have passed away. There’s also a lot of typical foods that people only make once a year for Hanal Pixan. I will post next week with more information about the celebration.
Work has been going well. I am teaching adults in the mornings, and kids in the afternoons. The school is in the process of building a sports and rec complex for afterschool programs for kids. One of my projects this month is to help them develop different afterschool programs, including some environmental education programs. Right now, we are just starting to discuss what these programs will look like, but as we figure out the details, I will let you guys know.
I hope everyone is doing well, and is staying warm! Take care, and keep in touch.