Even blurry photos are worth a thousand words…

Spain’s Camino de Santiago Compostela is a world famous pilgrimage. People from all over walk for hundreds of kilometers to renew their spiritual energy. And in Mexico, we have a similar tradition – the annual pilgrimage from every Mexican village, town and city, to one of the churches dedicated to the patron saint of Mexico – La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Last night Jorge and I joined thousands of our fellow citizens at San Cristobal, the Guadalupana church in Merida. We have been many times, and I am always humbled by this show of faith, hope and love. Nothing I write could adequately describe the sight of thousands gathered to honour the patron saint of Mexico.

We spoke with so many antorchistas – pilgrims – who ran in relays from their homes, to this church. The elderly ones rode in the back of pick-up trucks with the children, and fit young people took turns running, or riding bikes with their torches held high. A few of them rode their bicycles from their villages in Yucatan – all the way to Mexico City to the Basilica there – and back again.

One young man I spoke with, not only completed the journey – all the way  to Mexico City and back – but he carried a life-size statue of La Virgen strapped to the back of his bike!  I asked him why he wanted to do this.

“I wanted to test myself. And that long ride nearly beat me. It was so hard. Many times I almost quit but my friends who came with me kept me going. And I kept them going. Many strangers gave us food and a place to sleep. We experienced a big change in our hearts. We learned that our families are our greatest treasure. I want to keep working hard for my family and for Mexico – Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!”

I am at a loss to explain how such shows of faith and determination inspire me, and give me hope for the future. When this young man returns to his daily life, his fervour will no doubt diminish, but It will live on in him. And when he is tested, he will remember what he’s capable of.

I believe all of Mexico is in a similar state. We are on the verge of possible change – possibly great change – I hope as a country we will stay strong. I hope we will remember what we are capable of, and have the courage ride on.

Here’s a slide show of some scenes from last night:

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La Virgen de Guadalupe

 

La Virgen de Guadalupe -Patron Saint of Mexico

In Mexico, many holidays are celebrated the night before the actual feast day. For example, the Independence of Mexico on September 16th is celebrated on the night of the 15th. Family fiestas to commemorate Christmas are held on Christmas Eve – a lot of people stay up until dawn – and then sleep most of the 25th.

December 12th is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – La Virgin de Guadalupe – the patron saint of the country. But it is on the night of December 11th that the most important festivities are held – Tuesday of this week. 

Every year, I attend the Guadalupana celebration at San Cristobal Church in Merida. I don’t get there until about 10 pm, so my arrival coincides with large groups of antorchistas – the pilgrims who come to this church from towns all over the peninsula – they always look exhausted, but elated.

Many Catholics believe that Our Lady of Guadalupe has the power to grant favours and intercede for them. They pray to Guadalupe for miracles and they often add promises they think will strengthen their pleas. The most common promise is to participate in a relay run from their neighbourhood, town or village to the nearest Basilica of Guadalupe – in Merida this is the Church of San Cristobal – located on the corner of Calle 50 and 69. The Basilica in Mexico City is the second most-visited Catholic shrine in the world. Only the Vatican attracts more of the faithful.

Most pray when a relative is ill, for the safe birth of a child, for the success of a job application, or a salary raise. They believe that public displays of faith and thanksgiving are pleasing to Guadalupe. Theirs is an uncomplicated faith – they do not ask a lot of theological questions – they simply believe.

Because of all the parked bicycles, walking around the atrium of San Cristobal is not easy, and getting into the church itself is next to impossible, except when one Mass lets out and the next has not yet begun. But everyone crowds in nonetheless, in order to leave a flower offering at the altar. I wedge myself in too, and sometimes I wish I possessed the faith of the antorchistas. How comforting it must be to believe with all your heart that the Mother of God is looking out for you.

I ask too many questions. I don’t agree with a host of Church rulings, and I do not make it to Mass every Sunday. I appreciate other religions and sacred congregations. Unlike many of the others who will be at San Cristobal on Tuesday night, I do not feel that the Roman Catholic Church is the one church that “saves souls”. But I was raised in that Church, and the biggest part of my religious allegiance will probably remain stubbornly faithful to it.

On Tuesday night as I place my bouquet with all the 1,000s of others, I will pray that Guadalupe hears our prayers, and bestows the strength to forge a better future for Mexico. La Virgen de Guadalupe is a constant source of peace in my life. She is more than a Catholic icon, she is “the heart of Mexico.”

It is very moving to witness the affirmation of Mexicans’ devotion to her, and the basic faith that sustains them through many hardships. I believe that a country full of people with such deep basic faith is indeed blessed. And keep in mind that faith moves mountains.

 

 

An Historic Day

AMLO’s celebration at the Zocalo on December 1, 2018

At the packed megastore, the day after Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador’s investiture as Mexico’s 68th President (65th if you don’t count the repeaters), I ran into several friends. With each of them I mentioned the TV coverage of yesterday’s historic event.

Some were optimistic like me, some were divided in their opinion, and I  told one of them I was excited to blog about this amazing occurrence. She is of the opinion that most people who read my blog are not very interested about what happens politically or socially in Mexico.

That took me aback, but she had still more to say: “And if your readers follow politics at all, they are mostly concerned about what is happening in the USA – there is much to be concerned about there.”

“But most of my readers of my blog live in Mexico – those who do not – would like to.”

“I need to be off,” she said as she patted my hand and headed for the vegetables & fruit aisle. I was left feeling a bit confused.

I do write sometimes about the political issues in Mexico because a lot of important changes are taking place.  This blog is all about change, and I think there are quite a few readers who like to read about Mexico’s socio-political transformation.

I am not an activist but I am a concerned citizen. I am excited to see that now Mexico has a fighting chance to get out of the mire it has sunk into – ever deeper and deeper – over the past 40 years. Our new President has vowed to tackle corruption and impunity head on. And that is music to my ears. So many of our resources have been squandered and sold off. So much of our tax money never reaches its proper recipients because it is unscrupulously diverted along the way. And when the culprits are discovered with their hands in the honey jar, they don’t get prosecuted because of the impunity laws. That has changed though – now corruption is considered to be a serious crime – isn’t it unbelievable to realise it was not before?

AMLO is promising to put the poor first. About time someone does. After the official ceremony at the legislative assembly,  and a lunch with dignitaries at “Palacio Nacional”, the President went to Mexico City’s Main Plaza to celebrate with his constituents. Every inch of space was occupied. There AMLO participated in an indigenous ceremony that would prepare and cleanse him for the many challenges he will face. He was given the “Baston de Mando”, a Sceptre of Authority, and he accepted it with humility. “I will not let you down,” he told the crowd.  At one point the shaman knelt before the new President to pay him homage.  Andrés Manuel also fell to his knees, paying the same honour to the other man. “The people are the sovereign ones,” he says.

Many public works have been announced and much breaking of tradition. The conventional parties are going nuts and I can see they will not be timid in their criticism. Our president needs us to be strong, and to help him make the country sound, safe and vital once again. There’s no point getting into shouting matches with his opponents – that will do no good – rather our actions must speak for themselves. What does that mean?

Well, if we are asked for a bribe to speed up the government process we are working on, or we are given substandard treatment at a government medical facility, or if problems in our city are not being dealt with by local authorities – we should refuse to accept shoddy service – and we should report the incident to the superior. The same goes for shake downs by police. We no longer need to fear reprisals, so let’s not allow the old ways to continue. Better public service is in the public’s hands.

I am not a combative person, but now that I can see policy changes coming, I will demand fair and equal treatment. And not every day, or every week – but whenever something needs to be reported – I will continue to blog about our country’s peaceful revolution – whether anyone reads or not.

 

 

Deciphering AMLO

My friend and colleague Richard Grabman, author of the (sometimes irreverent) Mexfiles ( http://mexfiles.net/2018/11/30/deciphering-amlo/  ) posted his translation of an editorial he read in yesterday’s La Jornada.. The original piece was written by David Brooks (New York)

https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/2018/11/29/eu-busca-descifrar-a-amlo-y-prepara-primera-crisis-bilateral-5780.html )

Saturday December 1, 2018 – Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be sworn in as President of Mexico. Whether you approve of his politics or not, no one can deny that this is an historic occasion. Richard readily agreed to my request to re-post. And so I give you:

Deciphering AMLO

Shortly before he assumes power, investors, analysts and politicians in the United States have sought to define who and what President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be like.  For now, there is no consensus – he remains an enigma.

However, what is most worrying for many regarding bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico is not so much what the new Mexican government will do but the erratic and provocative policy of the Donald Trump regime, which already laid the groundwork for the crisis López Obrador must face.

Media reports here say AMLO is scaring investors (Wall Street Journal), while others offer a more positive outlook for investors, calculating that fears are exaggerated (Bloomberg) while still others are alarmed that a possible “enemy” is of democracy is coming (Financial Times).  All this, along with the usual claim that AMLO is “unpredictable”, “temperamental” and “you-do-not-know-which-version-of him-will-govern” (New York Times).  And still others fall back on the word of the day, the increasingly ambiguous term , “populist “(one headline sought to merge everything and call him “a pragmatic populist “).

Meanwhile, experts and former diplomats (including former ambassadors in Mexico) predict “a difficult path” and possibly even “explosive outbursts” between the two leaders — based on their personalities, or their divergent policies – They offer lists of recommendations of what the new government should do, from economic, energy and security policy, and center on anti-drug cooperation with the United States.

The first crisis:

Almost all indicate that the first bilateral crisis of the new president is already more than announced: asylum seekers in the border. In fact, perhaps as early as 24 hours after AMLO takes office, his chancellor Marcelo Ebrard is scheduled to fly to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to continue to address the issue.

Ebrard had already begun discreet negotiations with Pompeo in Houston a few days ago. News reports reported that an agreement had been reached, but that was denied, and Ebrard insisted that all that exists is a conversation for now on how to deal with the situation.

But Trump’s position does not leave much room. While talks were going on between the Americans and the elected government last week, Trump tweeted that asylum seekers would not be allowed into the United States until a court approves their petitions and that “everyone will remain in Mexico. If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border. ”

In part, what is at stake are principals governing the relationship between the incoming Mexican government and the Trump regime.  The US government’s position is that Mexico should be a staging ground in the process of evaluating asylum requests, something that can last for months and even years.

According to José Pertierra, an expert lawyer in migration and asylum in Washington, what Trump asks is nothing less than that “Mexico become an accomplice in violating the international law on refugees” and violating the United States’ own asylum laws. that establish that anyone has the right to enter US territory to request it.

“What Trump is doing is dismantling the entire asylum system,” by increasingly restricting entry into the country and, with his former attorney Jeff Sessions, reducing  reasons for granting asylum until they are almost non-existent — for example, nullifying claims for asylum based on domestic violence, or gender violence, or criminal violence as he  explained in an interview with La Jornada.

“But for this to work, he (Trump) needs Mexico to accept and house all those people in its own territory, where the applicants do not know anyone or have access to the support infrastructure on the US side. Many come [to the United States] because they know someone here, “he explained. Therefore, Pertierra reiterated, Mexico is in danger of being subordinated to Trump’s anti-immigrant strategy.

In the coming days, the first impressions and reactions will spring up about the new president in the neighbouring country, including among the Mexicans and Latin Americans living in the United States who await AMLO’s response to the persecution they suffer from this regime and its allies.

 

Reflections after visiting Colombia

Colombian artist, Fernando Botero used this self-absorbed figure to represent the powerful elite who caused such violence in his country

 

As I write this post, Jorge and I riding the ADO Platino bus from Cancun to Merida. We are more comfortable than we would be on a plane – we have wide, fully-reclining seats, snacks and drinks, free movies, WIFI – and AC. Bus travel has come a long way, Baby.

Over the past 10 days, we’ve been visiting three cities in Colombia – Bogota, Cartagena and Barranquilla – we’ve had a variety of new experiences, excellent traveling companions and we also talked with Colombian people we met. By my yardstick, it doesn’t get much better than this. I feel grateful that Jorge and I could make this trip. Recently I read on facebook:

There are lots of wonderful books found in libraries, but the most interesting stories are found between the covers of your passport.

I could not agree more – and one more thing – travelling widens a person’s perspective. It makes us think. What an important activity this is, because nowadays, there is much that requires careful thought and the forming of judicious opinion.

While in Colombia, many told us how much they love Mexico’s music, food, TV productions (especially “Chavo del Ocho” and telenovelas). They say they’d love to see the Maya ruins and laze on the beaches of Cancun. They seem to admire so much about our country.

But they also expressed distress about the current situation we face. Big change is taking place and the Colombian news channels point out that many Mexicans are not rising to the occasion. It seems we feel afraid of losing what little we have left of our former status as the, “Paradise of Latin America”.

Colombians have more than a little experience with this. Ten years ago they had to overcome many of the same problems we are now grappling with, and they also faced others that we do not have. At great risk, they voted in new leadership and while the results are not altogether to their liking, the situation for most Colombians is much better than it was a decade ago.

On July 1st of this year, Mexico also voted for new leadership, and now that Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador is poised to don the tri-colour presidential sash, the traditional media is making a last-minute pitch to weaken AMLO’s base of support.  This a typical move by the desperate “old boys’ club”; they use fear to get their way.

They say AMLO is risking our finances and future with his harebrained schemes like building a train through south-eastern Mexico (a promise made, but not carried through, by both PAN and PRI during past electoral campaigns). Our president-elect insists on scrapping construction of a new airport (that stands on sinking land owned by politicians and their cronies). He wants to build more oil refineries (most of the existing ones were constructed in the 1960s, or earlier). He wants to cut legislator’s salaries and the number of civil servants (anyone who has tried to get a permit or other document issued knows how inefficient the system is) He has already started selling off private presidential planes (more luxurious and expensive than those owned by the USA). And he plans to restructure Mexico’s centralist government (again, consider the current state of inefficiency). The powers-that-be want us to excuse the excesses of the political / business / religious leaders.

Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t. My time in Colombia was short, but it was long enough to strengthen my belief that change is a necessary and positive force.  Of course it must be responsible and I agree that some (not all) of AMLO’s proposals are “a bit out there”. But if his government can achieve even a quarter of what he wants to change, I feel our country will be a much fairer and more productive one at the end of his 6 year term than it is now.

Convincing readers to seriously consider our opinions is what writers aspire to. And like most of my colleagues, I am not always confident of my own abilities and skills. But I am not one to shy away from expressing (as best I can) what I believe to be true.  I know that change is scary, but I also feel we cannot continue as we are, and Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador is our best hope.

Cartagena

Jorge and I arrived in Cartegena two nights ago.

Because of the tropical climate, beautifully maintained Spanish-colonial arquitecture,  colorful gardens, delicious seafood, and a well-developed tourism infrastructure – Cartagena is one of the most popular destinations in Colombia – and indeed in all of South America.

After five days of wearing bulky cold-weather clothing, we happily slipped into our cooler cotton clothes, and soon felt the familiar sheen of sweat on our skin. I didn’t need a mirror to tell me that my bouncy Bogota hairstyle had wilted. I quickly put on my wide brimmed hat – a practical way to save time on hair maintenance – and avoid more sun damage to my skin.

A few minutes of walking around town made me wonder about other differences between this port city and the high-altitude capital of the country. I enjoyed visiting Bogota, but I often sensed tension there. I am used to a visibly-armed police presence, but the graffiti on almost every wall and the sullen student unrest made me feel uneasy.  In Cartagena, I notice that  most of the well-dressed patrons are Latinos or tourists – the servers are predominantly black.

A bit of historical background: In 1533, a Spanish conquistador named Pedro de Heredia took the village of Calamari by force, and founded the city of Cartagena. The “new city” was settled by the conquistadors, and in a relatively short time, it became one of the wealthiest ports in the Americas. One truth left out of the typical narrative for tourists is that this port’s biggest business was slave trade. The native population had been decimated by disease, and a new source of cheap labour was needed. It is estimated that over one million Africans were shipped to Cartagena.

Cartagena was also a major port for shipping the gold that was looted from the Inca Empire and that of the local indigenous Zenú people of the coast. The city was often filled with gold and precious stones and it quickly became a target for pirates in search of booty. The Spanish rulers built an 11 kilometer-long wall that managed to withstand most of the attacks, and in fact Cartagena was never completely under siege as was the case in other wealthy Spanish-American ports.

The British also attacked the city several times in an effort to take it from Spain, yet another painful and bloody episode in the history of colonization. Cartagena declared its independence from Spain in 1811, one of the first cities in Colombia to do so. Finally, in 1821, Simón Bolivar entered the city from the sea and re-named it – La Heroica – the Heroic City.

During this whole time, slavery continued, but many slaves escaped to create free villages, called palenques. In these communities, they could celebrate their African roots and culture. In 1851, Colombia abolished slavery, 14 years before the United States. The only surviving palenque is San Basilio de Palenque. It was the first free city in America dating its foundation to 1713. To this day, the people there speak a unique language, Palenquero, a combination of Spanish and languages from West Central Africa.

Walking along the fortified walls – touring San Felipe, a hill-top castle built by the Spanish – or visiting the Palace of the Inquisition are reminders of the contradicting perspectives and cultures, and Cartagena’s inequality.

Above all others, one sight caused me to contemplate the different “worlds” of Cartegena. I noticed many black women dressed in colourful Colombian dresses, selling fruit and posing for photos.

Did Jorge and I take pictures of these women? Yes – after being asked to do so by many of them – we did. The photo at the top of the post shows two of them modeling their splendid outfits. I suppose they feel that their work is easier than a lot of other jobs, but I felt uncomfortable holding up my phone for the quick photo shoot.  But as always, Jorge was complimentary and generous, bringing out genuine smiles and thanks from both. He can relate to everyone and I am grateful to be making this trip with him.

And we did spend money on another purchase – if you guessed that we bought something “green” – you guessed right. This is my new silver pinky ring – designed by a Columbian jeweller who told me he had lived for several years in Canada.

So yes indeed, cultural melding of many kinds are found in Cartagena.

 

Bogota

Are you wondering why I am in Bogota? Colombia is a country I never expected to visit. but I’m glad the fates have brought me here. Our nephew Raul is getting married next weekend in Barranquilla. We are close to him and his girlfriend, Jassel, so when the “group” that will sit on the groom’s side started forming, Jorge and I signed on.

There are 13 of us, and we all figured it would be silly to travel all this way and not see as much of the country as we can. Jorge and I opted to stay in Bogota for 5 days and Cartagena for 3 more before we travel to Barranquilla for the wedding.

Last Thursday’s non-stop flight from Cancun to Bogota was literally as easy as eating apple pie. Interjet took off on time, we had lots of legroom, a free checked bag – a sandwich and a cocktail too – all for about 7,000 pesos return. It felt like the “good old days” of air travel had returned.

Immigration and Customs in Colombia are extremely “thorough”, as are the foreign currency exchange and hotel check-in security. We had to fill out lengthy forms, allow our passports to be photocopied and even had our fingerprints taken. The government seems determined to know everyone’s business. But who can blame them? A decade ago the country faced dire crime-related challenges that are more or less under control now. And the citizens I’ve spoken with have opted to take the strict measures in stride. They don’t like to talk about the past but obviously, they feel that too much control is better than not enough. They do not want a return to the dark days.

However, the day we arrived, a crowd of about 1,000 students marched through town, causing havoc with the traffic. Much of the angst derives from the constant devaluation of the currency and sky-high Inflation.  A cup of coffee costs about 10,000 Colombian pesos. (Mind you it is excellent coffee!)

The next day, Friday, no sign of the protestors could be seen. By noon, even the graffiti they sprayed on public buildings had been scrubbed off. When I looked at the recently cleaned walls, I saw clear evidence of earlier erasures. Obviously, the troubles of the past are not entirely in the past. But I can relate to that – all of Latin America is undergoing changes – for us all the sacrifices and the stakes are high.

And speaking of “high”; Bogota is the fourth-highest of the world’s capital cities (2,625 m / 8,612 feet). I spent a short time in the highest La Paz, Bolivia (3,640 m. /11,942 feet) during my youthful backpacking days. But I have never been to Quito, Ecuador the second-highest (2,850 m / 9,350 feet)  or Thimphu in Bhutan, third at 2,648 m or 8,700 feet. In La Paz I never got sick – at 20, who does? – but on this trip, both Jorge and I felt queasy the first evening.

However we have picked up the pace since then.  Our hotel is located in the colonial district and we’ve done plenty of walking through the narrow cobblestone streets. The architecture reminds me of other Latin American cities I love – San Cristobal de las Casas, Puebla, Mexico City and Lima.  The atmosphere is lively and street vendors line the sidewalks. Although the rain has not let up for much of our stay, people don’t let a little foul weather deter them from gathering in the Main Plaza to play chess, feed the pigeons, listen to music, and mingle with friends.

The rain did hold off long enough on Saturday morning for us o go see the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrate perched atop one of the highest hills in Bogota. To get there we rode a sky tram and had fabulous views of the city below. We did not stay long though because we could see that our luck with the weather was not going to last much longer.

 

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All our outrunning the rain built up an appetite and our first authentic Columbian meal took care of that. Very nicely I must say!

Ajiaco, a delicious Columbian dish

We would have liked a siesta, but instead we spent the better part of the afternoon at the Botero Museum. Up until now, I have not been a huge fan of the artist’s pudgy people, but seeing such a large body (no pun intended) of his work has changed my perception. His work is full of social commentary and irony — his technique is masterful. He is also generous with his art, in both Bogota and Medellin he has built museums and filled them with his own work, as well as his personal collection of other artists’ canvases, including – Chagall, Picasso, Renoir and Dali – admission is free of charge – and I plan to return there today.

 

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But I also want to visit the Gold and Emerald museums. I have not been near the jewellery shops, but today my companions will not have to “force” me into a shopping foray.

In the next day or so, I will let you know how my restraint is holding out!

 

 

 

 

¿Quien sabe? – Who knows?

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Jorge and our “altar de muertos” – his mother taught us to observe this tradition

Did you see the movie Coco when it was released in 2017?

If so, you’ll remember that the story begins on November 1st, the night when the dead are supposedly able to visit the families they left behind.  All they need do is follow the path of magical marigold petals that leads back to their homes in this realm.

A young boy named, Miguel is accidently transported to the “other side” and he discovers that not all the deceased are eligible to make the annual journey.  If they are not remembered by their still-living family – if their photograph is not placed on the commemorative altar – they are forbidden to leave their world.

Miguel ‘s great-great grandfather is not among those honoured by the family. Miguel’s grandmother has repeatedly told him that her grandfather abandoned the family to seek fortune and fame as a musician. With a tear she added that his great grandmother, Coco, never recovered from her daddy’s abrupt departure. But when he meets the the old man, and hears his version of events, Miguel realises that Abuelo has been a victim of deceit.

Miguel’s epic effort to restore Great-great Grandpa’s reputation is a fiesta that could only be conjured up by Mexican imagination. No other nationality uses colour, movement and music with such aplomb.  Rainbow-hued mythical animals, known as  alebrijes, sweep the young hero out of imminent danger, the orange marigold path pulses and shimmers, mariachi music swells, bones clang against each other, googly eyes pop, tears gush forth and immense teeth grin with telescopic effect. Coco would be exhausting to watch if not for its overlying sweetness.

I also loved the director’s choice of voice actors. All of them are well-known and exemplary Latinos – Edward James Olmos, Gael García Bernal and Ana Ofelia Murguia – and my favourite Mexican writer, Elena Poniatowska Amor lent her voice to Miguel’s great-grandmother, Coco.

It is rare for movie distributers to return a production to the screen, but that is precisely what has happened with Coco. If you have not seen it – or you want to see it again – you can do so this week in most of Merida’s cinemas.

Coco is all about family – the importance of remembering and cherishing – a reminder to not forget and honour our departed loved ones. I recall watching my mother-in-law arrange her altar. “Do you really believe that the spirits will come here?” I sceptically asked her. She gave me one of her enigmatic smiles. “¿Quien sabe?” – “Who knows?” she replied as she touched each of the framed portraits. “But just in case they do, I want to have this feast waiting for my mother, father, aunts, uncles, and for my little girl who died 2 weeks after her birth.”

I realise now, that the altar was Doña Bertha’s way of dealing with the finality of death. She knew it could not be reversed, but maybe it could be suspended, if only for a day and a night?

And in that spirit, our family also embraces the tradition. I cover the sideboard with  my hand-crocheted white table cloth, arrange flowers, and I polish the frames that hold the images of our dearly-departed.  My sister Anne has joined my parents and Jorge’s, our assorted aunts and uncles, as well as our little boy who died when he was only three days old. Today I will place some mucbil pollo (commonly called pib) on the altar and pour a few shots too. And for Jorgito, I’ll lay down some chocolate.

After all, “¿Quien sabe?”

Life is like a bowl of soup…

Mom used to make delicious soup from the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey… we kids gobbled it up, and she joked that the meal was “the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers.” In Mexico I have carried on the tradition… whenever turkey is cooked in our house, soup will follow.

Every year, as the Thanksgiving meal is cleared away, I fill a heavy-weight plastic bag with the bones and stray scraps of meat… and into the freezer it all goes.

Yesterday, I removed that bag of turkey bits and bones from its icy shelf,and  let everything thaw. I assure you, this does not take long in Merida. I used the biggest pot I have, and filled it with the scraps, a piece of onion, celery leaves, coarse salt and black pepper corns.  Then I covered the whole works with water. Like a Baptism.

It took about two hours for the unpromising mish-mash to boil and transform into rich broth. I then strained off the liquid and piled everything else onto a platter. Back on the burner went the broth, with the addition of 2 cups of garbanzos that I’d left soaking the night before. The pot slow-boiled until the garbanzos were soft

And while that was happening, Jorge helped me pick off every bit of meat from the heap of bones on the platter. We are always surprised by how much there is. We also peeled and diced 6 potatoes and 6 carrots, and just as we finished cutting the veggies and salvaging all the turkey we could, the garbanzos smelled done, and we added the final ingredients into the pot.

During the 15 -20 minutes it took for the soup to simmer to perfection, I set the table, chopped fresh parsley, put it into a pretty bowl and I filled a basket with French bread from Escargot (my favorite treat!)

The aroma wafting from the kitchen brought the household to the table so we could savor “the soup of our labor”.  I could not help but think how soup-making parallels the living of our lives…

When we start out, we are nothing more than macromolecule building blocks: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. Our mothers nurture us and we develop into tiny but remarkable replicas of our birth parents. As we squeeze through the birth canal, we shed the flotsam and jetsam that sustained us through our nine month gestation. And with a primal cry, we begin walking our path,   One fine day (upon college graduation? marriage? the birth of children?)  Mom and Dad pronounced us: “ready for the bigger, wider world. “  But “ready” seems to come in fits and starts for me.

The past couple of months have not been easy, and sometimes I’ve felt like my turkey soup is all gone. But those who love me have helped me to see that I still have plenty left in my bowl.

As we sustain others… they sustain us.

 

 

 

The Hot Seat

Despite the difficulties, the migrants keep moving north

 

The largest-ever Migrant Caravan has entered Mexico. More than 1,000 people have applied for political asylum in this country, and about 400 have returned to Honduras.  Yet the number of those walking towards the USA is growing. Why is this?

Even though the initial group has reduced, others have taken their place. I read this morning that another 1,000 Guatemalans are preparing to cross the Mexican border and catch up to the Caravan. What drives them on?

In Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the four top reasons are corrupt government, inflation, unemployment, and organized crime. We can nod our heads in agreement; these sound like compelling reasons for leaving the country. But my gut twists when I think about what this harsh reality would feel like.  I have never been subjected to anything that remotely resembles what the refugees have endured.

None of my loved ones has been gunned down in the street. No vicious gang member has ever tried to recruit my husband or my son by holding a knife to their throats. Neither my daughter nor I have been raped. No one in my family has worked 10 – 14 hours for $4 USD. None of us has been punched, thrown to the ground and kicked by a police officer because we refused to pay for “protection”. We have never been threatened with death for an outstanding extortion payment.

U.S. politicians claim that Central America’s plight is not their responsibility. But the truth is: American policies have contributed to such scenarios in Mexico, Central and South America. Roosevelt frequently referred to his foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, as “the big stick” (speak softly but let the threat of heavy retaliation hang in the air)

In the early and mid 20th century, countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were in their formative modern periods and could have progressed, but the United States supported military dictators and far-right parties who in turn kept wages low for the foreign companies that had established operations there. Progressive education was discouraged, and any insubordination was met with extreme violence.

Then in 1996, U.S. authorities approved the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act,” and in the early 2000s, tens of thousands of convicted criminals were deported to Central America. Soon we saw the expansion of gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang (Barrio 18) – this  gang originally born in the U.S.  – spread like virus across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Additionally, the region’s civil wars left an unknown number of young people with no family. And that, combined with extreme inequality, incarceration of suspicious-looking youth, and weak judicial and security institutions brought the bitter brew to a hard boil..

Over the past 15 years, the gangs have taken over both rural and urban areas. Across the northern part of Central America, boys from 12 years up are prime targets for recruitment. Under-age girls can also become part of the gangs, either to be used sexually or as active members.

The struggling Caravan families tell stories of this abuse and more. They get no help from the authorities – there is nowhere to turn for help – so they are forced to leave.

But all the difficulties the Migrant Caravan has endured up to this point is like an “initiation”. As they get into higher elevation and colder terrain, they will need warmer clothing and more food. Where will it come from?

I ask myself – What will happen to these people IF they reach the US border?

The Trump administration swears they won’t let them cross the border. So what is Mexico expected to do with thousands of desperate people ready to storm the ramparts? The American president has threatened to send in the army. What will the soldiers’ orders be? Will they start shooting? Use tear gas? Will they gather everyone up and detain them for due process, as the UN has insists. The families will be separated. How will they deal with still more psychological trauma?

I feel quite sure that this Central American Caravan has started a tide that cannot be stopped. All the politicians on our continent had better stop creating policies that serve their interests and those of big business. They must look at the people’s needs. They have to stop posturing and work together to find an immediate solution that can be expanded over time.

The world has changed and will change still more. Those who are able to adapt will thrive. Those who grip on to the past with their toenails, and deny what’s happening will find the world more and more hostile.

Like it or not – Trump is in the hot seat. He would be well-advised to cool down.