Dinner with Friends

Mole Poblano

Mexican fiestas are as colorful as a summer garden, and the crowd of joyful dancers, twirling in their billowing skirts, looks like a flock of exotic birds about to take flight. Then suddenly they turn and follow the aroma of spicy foods wafting through the plaza. The culture of Mexico is complex – a mix of indigenous and European customs – that varies as much as the weather.

But despite all the country’s richness, a substantial segment of the population lives in some degree of poverty, and many families have dire needs. This can be a challenging aspect of relocating to Mexico – newcomers want to help, but they feel they don’t understand the culture or language well enough to be effective.

However, they soon discover that the international community has formed a host of non-profits that compliment the efforts of public associations. They all work together to meet the pressing needs of the population. All of these groups welcome volunteers. Several, such as the IWC Scholarship Program, Telchac Education and the Progreso Apoyo Program, help young people with their schooling expenses. As well, there are food banks, homes for seniors, and crisis centers for women and children. Mentoring groups, reading, music and art and animal rights groups also exist, and there is an English-language Rotary Club.

One of the most active groups is Yucatan Giving Outreach (YGO) A.C. This is a registered not-for-profit foundation that supplies essential support and services at many of Yucatan’s orphanages, shelters for the elderly and women, soup kitchens, and rehabilitation centers in Merida and across the state.

As you can imagine, YGO’s efforts bumped up to hyper-drive at the start of the COVID Pandemic. Volunteers collected and distributed tens of thousands of food bags, sanitary products, clothing, and other essential supplies.

YGO also strives to meet the needs of the state’s migrants and displaced persons. Fundraising is a constant challenge, but some out-of-the-box brainstorming gave birth to an innovative and fun idea for bringing in much-needed money.

Dinner with Friends

A score of YGO supporters was contacted and asked to host dinners in their homes. They were further asked to invite friends who were ready to “sing for their supper” by making a cash donation. The proceeds would go to YGO.

Our home was a Dinner with Friends venue – 20 people joined us for “Mole Poblano” – and our friends Susana and Carlos helped us with the cooking and organization for the dinner. Jorge and I have an authentic Mole pot and not many of our guests had ever seen such a huge one!

All ready for our friends

On Saturday, October 15th, the day of the dinners, the weather was what my mother used to call, “iffy”, and just 15 minutes before the guests were due, our power went out! But thankfully, after 10 anxious minutes, the electricity was back on, and light drizzle of rain fizzled out.

Jorge and I had a lot of fun planning and preparing the evening. We served a spicy-chocolate Mole and side dishes of Fried Plantains, Saffron Rice and Guacamole. Wine and Tequila were enjoyed by most guests, and I saw lots of them looking around to see if there might be seconds of the Coconut Pudding dessert. For quite a few of them, this was their first time trying this signature meal from the state of Puebla.

The many fundraising events, parties, and concerts held in Merida and the beach communities are a lot of fun, and it is satisfying to know that spending a pleasant evening helps others. A win-win situation indeed.

Here are a few photos of “Dinner with Friends” at our home. Maybe you’ll join us next year?

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Tea for (more than) two…

This photo is from1985: The IWC Children’s Halloween Party

When the International Women’s Club of Merida (IWC) got started, in many ways, it felt like a lifeline. The international community was far smaller back then, and individuals were spread out all over the city. Before that first meeting, I only knew 4 or 5 women who were not born in Yucatán. They spoke fluent English, and we talked about having a club. And finally on the last Saturday in October of 1984, twenty-two of us attended the first meeting of the IWC.

The IWC is open to women of all nationalities who enjoy a friendly English-speaking environment. The majority of the members are from the USA and Canada, but at different times we have members from other countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia – a few African and Indian women, and even a few from the Lands Down-Under.

Our group provides a setting where English-speaking women of all ages feel comfortable sharing conversation in our own language. You might ask why we have such a need to spend time with women like ourselves. And the answer to that question is complicated.

I am typical of the early members. I was young, but I had traveled quite a bit, and actually lived for a time in Peru. I loved learning about different cultures, seeing the sights and traveling the open road. But when I married Jorge, it did not take long to truly realise that I had made a life-long commitment not only to my husband, but also to a very different way of life. I had not considered how much I would miss my family, my country and my culture. There was no internet, phone calls from Mexico to Canada were terribly expensive, and so my only contact with Canada was through hand written letters, delivered by snail mail.

Within a short time, I felt nearly as close to some of my IWC friends as I feel to my family. We raised our children together and celebrated our holidays with them. These women understood all my little foibles and fears and they shared my joys. Most people know us as a social club, and we definitely are. But we are also very active in community service and in self-improvement.

Our club will soon be 40 years old and we have so much to show for all those years of sisterhood. One of our regular activities is a monthly morning coffee klatch and another is the afternoon tea. We also share a monthly breakfast at a local restaurant, and at our once-a-month general meeting, we have a speaker as well as discuss our different projects and activities. You can read more about the IWC at: https://iwcmerida.com/  If you plan to be in Merida for a visit, for a short stay, or forever, the IWC might become an important resource for you, just as it is for me.

The following photos here were taken at our monthly tea, held yesterday at the brand new home of one of the club’s most vital members. What can I say about the event? “As usual, a wonderful time was held by all.”

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thank you to everyone who commented yesterday. The Relocation Workshop is shaping up well.

People tell me that one thing really worries them about living away from their home countries. And that is: How will we celebrate our special holidays? They fear they’ll feel nostalgic because they’ll miss the joy that’s part of being “home for the holidays”.  

Our family, never has this problem because we celebrate every single one of the Canadian holidays here in Merida. Just as though we were in Canada. I decorate our living-dining room, put a wreath on the front door. On the back burner of the stove, I leave a cinnamon stick simmering in a pot of water. This way our house smells like Thanksgiving.

And definitely, we have a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. I love having helpers… because as anyone who has made the traditional meal knows, it’s a big job. I find it works really well to get most of the prep work done the day ahead. While I gather around the kitchen table with my crew, we peel potatoes, cut up veggies and make bread cubes for the stuffing. And we talk about previous feasts we have shared. Thanksgiving is not traditionally celebrated in Mexico, but for our friends and relatives who live here, it has become a treasured celebration. After sharing Thanksgiving at our home, quite a number of my son’s and daughter’s friends have begun the tradition with their own families.

Some of the ingredients are not available here. So when I visit my Canadian west coast family (usually in the summer) I fly back to Merida with a can of pumpkin for the pie and poultry seasoning for the stuffing. Cranberries are available locally, and I always have a few cans stocked in my pantry – just in case someone else buys-up every can on the shelf. I also go to the dollar store and pick up Thanksgiving favors and festive napkins.

I pack Christmas provisions too – more pumpkin, a jar of mincemeat for the second pie, and candied citrus peel for the fruit cake – At Christmas, there’s no need to worry about seasonal napkins or decorations though. The stores in Merida are flooded with them from September on.

As I write this post I am waking up from a delicious siesta and I know it’s time to get the rest of the food cooked. My table for 12 is already set, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. While they are enjoying a pre-dinner glass of wine, each person will tell the rest what they are most grateful for this year.

Maybe some of them maybe feel a bit self-conscious, but they know it is important to be aware of our many blessings. Last year everyone felt thankful to no longer living with lockdown. That seriously curtailed our Thanksgiving and we all felt happier than ever to be together again. I wonder what my loved ones feel they have to celebrate this year.

There’s no question in my mind what my biggest blessing was. One night in the spring, Jorge woke up with a pain he’d never experienced before, and he had the good sense to ask me to drive him to the hospital. I won’t go into the details of all that happened next. But as you can imagine, his heart attack would have been fatal had we not made that two-in-the-morning dash to CMA’s Emergency room.  

Whether you are Canadian or not, today is a good day to give thanks. What are you most thankful for?