Monday, December 31, 2007

Family Visits and Colder Weather

Christmas is over and we are into the dead of winter in Mexico. Well, perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, but it IS cold here least for the moment. OK, the temperature is not that the mid 40's at night and the low 60's during the day, but it SEEMS very cold. The houses are drafty and make of brick and if it's 45 degrees on the outside, it's 45 degrees on the inside too. We have been having small fires in our fireplace, and that warms it up a bit, but I'm still wearing my fleece in the house. Of course, when I think of the winter Maine is having I cannot complain, but I do hope this snap is short-lived.

We had wonderful visits with four of our six family house guests so far. Eric and Crystal and Cassie and Alana all were here over Christmas for two weeks. Sadly, they are now back in Muncie and Providence. They all had a chance to become familiar with Ajijic and enjoyed exploring the area on foot. It's about 1.25 miles from our casa in West Ajijic into the center of town, and the walk winds through a very Mexican area known as Six Corners. Cassie and Alana in particular enjoyed exploring some of the different tiendas and vendors throughout the village. We all had some wonderful very traditional Mexican food, especially at a restaurant in San Juan Cosala, Tia Lupita. Cassie, who had problems digesting wheat, found that the abundance of corn tortillas was a wonderful, as she could easily eat and digest them. We picked up buckets of raspberries and found lots of ways to use them. Crystal, in her pregnant condition, had some difficulty with some of the Mexican food, but she was able to find some palatable food nonetheless.

Here, Eric and Crystal accompanied us to a fiesta with a mariachi band shortly after their arrival.

We hosted a neighborhood fiesta the weekend before Christmas for our gringo neighbors and our Mexican friends. Here are Cassie and Alana enjoying day, and Cassie and Yoselin working on some drawings together. They became good amigas that day!

We all enjoyed experiencing Christmas in Mexico. We went to a Posada with Eric and Crystal. This is a traditional procession, usually for children, where they weave their way throughout their town reenacting the nativity story. As the children playing Mary and Joseph knock on doors looking for lodging, they are turned away from many homes before they find the stable with a manger. Many people follow the procession singing Christmas songs, sometimes holding candles. It's a very big community event which is repeated for the nine days before Christmas. People will pass out the traditional hot fruit punch to the revelers at the end of the Posada.

There are many Naciamientos throughout all villages in Mexico. These are nativity scenes, and some of them are very large. There was a big one with metal figures in the gazebo in the Ajijic plaza. Traditionally, they do not put the baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning. Cities like Guadalajara have huge naciamientos throughout the city, and many families have large ones in or in front of their homes.
Christmas eve is really the big event in Mexico. The plaza in front of the main church in Ajijic was a busy, festive place with many types of nativity scenes, music, and celebration.
Families were going in and out of the decorated church and attending Mass, happy to be together and enjoying "Navidad"

Later in the evening, after we had opened gifts and Cassie and Alana returned to their temporary digs at Fred and Mardele's house (Fred and Mardele are friends from our Fellowship who were away for the holidays and graciously allowed us to use their house for Cassie and Alana to stay at night while our guest room was occupied by Eric and Crystal), they went walking around town after midnight and found families sitting in front of their homes with bonfires, eating and drinking and enjoying each other. Christmas Day was quiet and everyone recovered from the revelry of the night before.

On Christmas Day, our Mexican friends, Daniel and Dora asked if they could "Borrow" our tree to give Jesus and Yoselin their gifts: new bicycles! Daniel had been teasing the kids telling them that since they had no tree, they could receive no gifts! "No arbor, no regalos!" So once he'd put the bikes under our little tree, he brought the kids over. Rather than squealing with delight, as we expected, they soberly smiled and took the bikes outside to try them. We think, culturally, they don't show their emotions as much as we do. In any event, this was a huge gift for children who have very little. It took many months for Daniel and Dora to pay for the bikes. We also gave the kids a pinata. When the extended family gathered here later in the day, we watched as the children whacked at the very durable Christmas-tree shaped object before the candy came pouring out.

We were invited across the lake to Rick and Leigh's house in San Luis Soyatlan for a big dinner. He had even hired a guitar trio to seranade us with romantic Mexican songs. Cassie sketched a picture of them which she gave to them before we left. They were very appreciative, and seranaded Cassie with a special song at our table. It was a lovely dinner with ham and turkey and salad and margaritas, and other pot-luck foods, but a very different experience form our "usual" Christmas dinners in Maine! Here is a photo of our host Santa Rick posing with Pixie.

Eric and I climbed up to the Chapel in the mountain behind Ajijic one morning for a wonderful view of the lake and the village. Eric and Pixie and I took a trip to Teuchitlan to see the recently discovered round pyramids which date back to 400 BC. Cassie and Alana took the overnight bus to Mexico City to see Frieda's house and enjoy the atmosphere of that huge city. But mostly we hung around and enjoyed much warmer weather than we have now and had good family time.

Wendy and Troy arrive on Monday and plan to stay in Mexico for a month visiting us and doing some traveling on their own. We are looking forward to that! Pixie is planning a pagan service for the Fellowship on January 13, and I'll be getting back to teaching and taking Spanish after the Christmas break.

Happy New Year to all our friends and family!

(Despite what the header on this post suggests, this was actually posted on January 5, 2008!)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Feliz Navidad!

It is indeed a strange feeling. For the first time in my life, we are going through a winter season in a climate which never freezes. The flowers are out, the days are sunny and warm, the skies are bright blue, and there is ne'er a wisp of frost in the air, let alone the white stuff. We hear Christmas music in the air; in fact, we're going to a Christmas concert on Monday, yet it hardly seems like the holiday season. Of course we are going to see all of our children and their partners over the next few weeks, so that will seem more like Christmas. We do have our house decorated, pictured here, a Mexican pine, and Pixie's nutcrackers on the mantle:

We had a very interesting trip to a 130 year-old hacienda in the mountains near Mazamitla. We have a small dinner club with our good friends Paul and Jeanne and Steve and Sue, who accompanied us on this trip for two days. We hiked a bit in the mountains and ate authenic rural Mexican food on a Mexican schedule: Breakfast (desayuno) at 10:00 AM, lunch (comida, the large meal of the day) at 3:00 PM, and a smaller dinner (cena) at 8:00 PM. Since the hacienda is a working farm, we enjoyed butter, cheese, and "crema" made on the premesis. Paul and I, awaking early one morning, had a unique "hot chocolate" made from chocolate, corn alcohol, and warm milk directly from the cow's udder into the glass, a traditional Mexican eye opener!

My English students are making great progress, and we are continuing to have a wonderful time. We laugh and I have my usual good time hamming it up. Next Thursday, our last day of class before the Christmas break, they told me they wanted to have a "Posada" with me. Now, this seemed a very strange request to my gringo mind. A posada, you see, is the Spanish word for hotel. It also refers to the ritualistic reenactment of the nativity scenes which are popular around this time of year in Mexico. Puzzled, I replied, "Una posada? Con Virgin Maria y Christo?" They thought my ignorant response was hilarious. "No teacher, a fiesta por Navidad!" I had images of them wanting me to play Joseph or something. I was greatly relieved. So on Thursday, we are all bringing food and small gifts. I tried suggesting a Chinese auction, but gave up. They were looking at me like I was crazy, so we'll do a simple gift swap. I'll try to remember to add photos to this blog entry after the party, in this space. [Here are a couple of photos of the party, with at least some of my students. Notice the guy in the back row with the Yankees' cap. That's Jose Antonio, and he loves to wear that cap to tease me.]

Tomorrow we go to our first Quinceneara, for the 15 year old girlfriend the son of our Mexican friends. After the church service at 6:00, I guess there is quite a fiesta....we'll see. I'll take some photos, and add them here. [OK. Below are the photos of the church service and the Banda band at the fiesta. It was a great event. By my count, there were over 250 people at the fiesta, and we were the only gringos. But we felt most welcome and had a good time. We had goat stew and beans for dinner, and enjoyed the music and dancing, lubricated by cerveza and tequila!]

Next week life gets a bit hectic for us as the kids start to arrive. I may not post much over the holidays, but I'll post photos after.

Feliz Navidad to everyone!