Playing nice…

A few weeks ago, I tumbled down a long rabbit hole… I read an unpleasant barb on one of facebook’s forums. It seemed to me that the text was unpleasant, unhelpful and unnecessary. I try not to let venting upset me, but on this occasion, I made a comment.

“When I first came to Yucatan… 45 years ago… it took 16 months for me to meet another native English speaker… There was no internet, much less forums. But almost all of the people I met offered me helpful and sensible advice. I find it uncharitable that “long-time” international residents (some have been here just a couple of years and call themselves that…) do not offer help to new arrivals. Some tell me that “we” have enough foreigners here now, and “we” should not encourage more to come. Stellar attitude… but careful how you use your pronouns… And hey, it IS Christmas time… COVID-19 has not entirely spoiled that… so let’s get our heads on straight and “just play nice”.

I don’t believe that being nasty is cool. When asked for information, I do my best to help. In fact I have been asked so many questions, and several years ago, I wrote a book that addresses many of them. In fact I am currently writing an updated version…

There is so much to learn and experience in Yucatan, so why waste time sparring on the forums? Those who say they’ve come to Yucatan for a new life experience, need to get out and have one…

With the pandemic, mny attractions are closed and I often hear the lament… There’s nothing to do… I am reminded of when my kids were little and needed to be entertained. It is frustrating but still there are many places open. Just yesterday my husband and I were feeling locked-in. So we got in the car and drove to Uxmal. We wanted to go to Kabah too but found out it was closed. Fine, we drove to the Pickled Onion Restaurant to wish our friend Valerie, a Happy New Year. We ended up having lunch and touring the garden. Then we drove home again. We felt refreshed and pleasantly tired after our excursion.

COVID-induced crabbiness is not always easy to control, but give it a shot. I promise you’ll feel better if you … just play nice

Adios 2020

One second after midnight tonight, will anyone will be sorry to see 2020 end?

The day will change from Thursday to Friday, and one of the numerals we use to represent the year will change from 0 to 1. These are minor differences.

Nonetheless, we will celebrate these changes with grand outpourings of relief and hope. As we plug our ears to dull the roar of the fireworks, we’ll simultaneously toot a horn or beat a drum, creating still more of a racket. Is this a step back to primitive behaviour? Or is it just plain old fun?

Because of the need to socially distance there won’t be a lot of kissing and hugging, but once the noise dies down, our instinct to survive will manifest with resolutions to do better.

This New Year’s Eve especially, we’ll probably be glad the year is over. In Mexico, the fervent wish to chuck the old has given rise to a uniquely humorous (and noisy) custom.

Families decide on a figure that personifies their take on all that was wrong with the past year. Often it is a political figure (Donald Trump has been a popular choice the past four years) but 2020 provided us with an alternative. None other than the Corona virus.

Using any materials that are at hand, the figure that represents the Año Viejo is constructed with mischievous delight, and when it is done, it gets stuffed with old crumpled newspaper and firecrackers (sí, sí, sí – the extra noisy ones called, petardos) A way is found to make it stand or sit upright and usually it’s placed front and center, like a prisoner in the dock.

After the affectionate greetings at midnight, the Año Viejo is doused with some sort of flammable liquid and a match is struck. As the fire shoots higher, old and young step back – and tripping to the light fantastic – they hurl scathing epitaphs at the burning effigies.

Finally, once the secretly held pyromaniac urges have been locked back up, it’s time for the annual resolutions. These are all about survival, don’t you think? It seems that they speak to the universal need for some kind of control over what the Future holds in store.

The future is unknowable, and having no clue about what’s to come makes us feel unsafe, and we look for ways to take control. Maybe committing to positive changes could give us a feeling of security over the uncertain days to come.

Tonight at midnight, perhaps along with vowing to reclaim that youthful silhouette, reduce the intake of the Demon Rum, and wear off the tread of our Nikes, we could also promise to help right a few wrongs of global concern.

Pick a community initiative and donate your time or cash. Tutor children in English or computer skills – don’t know how to get more information about volunteering – ask on the facebook forums. Give 10 pesos to the woman and her child who are begging. Tip 10 pesos to the parking guys who are keeping your car safe. Give generous tips at restaurants because the wait staff are working reduced hours. Buy from local small businesses.

Enjoy this country where you have chosen to reside for all or part of each year. Focus on what you like about living here and be part of the solution. Do not get upset with the small stuff and be part of the problem.  

Happy New Year!

Las Posadas 2020

“Las Posadas” in Mexico begin on December 16th and continue until Christmas Eve. Like many festivities in this country, these nine nights have religious origins commemorating the peregrination of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where their child Jesus was born in a manger. However since the XVIII Century the nine nights are primarily social occasions. Las Posadas are celebrated in a myriad of ways by various collections of friends, colleagues and relatives.

In many neighbourhoods, large groups re-enact Maria and Jose´s journey by going from house to house, asking for a room at the inn. They are turned away time and time again, until one good soul allows the group to enter. At that point, there is more singing, great rejoicing, a few prayers and then snacks are served. Quite often these include tamales, rice pudding and caballeros pobres (rounds of bread prepared like French toast, then soaked in sweet syrup) The party ends with a shower of sweet candy pouring from a battered piñata.

Las Posadas are also popular dates for weddings, company parties and get-togethers with friends. On Christmas Eve the posadas traditionally end with midnight mass. After the religious observance is completed, an elaborate meal is enjoyed, gifts are exchanged and MORE partying goes on until sunrise.

If 2020 was a “normal” year, the first posada would have fallen on a Friday. Jorge and I would probably have been celebrated with our students at our annual Night of Carolling. TTT’s students and teachers are a talented lot, and every year the groups compete for the most original interpretation of a carol. And we have sure had some doozies! One year I had to pinch myself at the juxtaposition of cultures. A group of Mexican-born students from the Japanese language class sang “Silent Night” with their Okinawa-born teacher in her native language. She also helped them to sew simple kimonos and to pen the carol’s title on their song books, in traditional characters.

Saturday morning, Day 2 of las posadas, Jorge and I would have hosted the traditional TTT Staff breakfast at a downtown hotel. After eating way too much at the buffet, we would have continued with a gift exchange. One year I received a silk shawl, embossed with a Frida portrait.  That night, we probably would have attended a wedding… and sometimes multiple weddings. Many receptions are held at Yucatan’s sumptuous haciendas and hotels. These amazingly huge parties always go on until dawn.

Sunday we usually do not commit to attending Posada Number 3… we know from past experience that we’ll need the day to recover from Posada Number 2. Posada Number 4, would often be the afternoon Jorge and I host the International Women’s Club Tea… an event I love. Tuesday, Number 6 and Wednesday Number 7, we like to spend with close friends.

Christmas Eve, after Mass we always celebrated with Jorge’s mom at her house, and once she passed away, the big family dinner moved to his brother’s home.

I have always made it a point to accommodate myself to Yucatan’s customs and traditions, as best I can. But December 25th I revel in those I grew up with, and our guests do too. After all, food and sentiment transcend borders. Christmas Day, at our home has traditionally been the “Canadian Christmas in Merida”… and I go all-out. We often have 40 assorted friends and family for a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings. The loose collection of foreign-born friends I invite always say goodbye with nostalgia brimming in their eyes.

But alas, none of this is happening in quite the same way this year, This is 2020, the pandemic is in full swing and all of the above is verboten. Christmas dinner will be just Jorge and me, my son Carlos and his lovely girlfriend, Yesi (pronounced like Jessy). We aren’t even having turkey. In 2020, the lead-up festivities looked like they would not happen at all. But then Jorge and I came up with an idea… we are re-living the four and a half decades of our posadas through music and movies.

I mentioned earlier that the Saturday posada is usually when we attend a wedding… Well, last night we had none to go to, so we remembered our own. We looked at our photos and Spotify played many of the tunes popular in 1977. At our reception, we had two wedding dance tunes (one in English & uno en español) They were, “If” by Bread and “Eres Tu” by Mocedades. Tomorrow for the Sunday posada night we might watch “Prancer”. Of all the kid’s Christmas moves we took Carlos & Maggie to see through the 1980s, that one was our favourite. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we’ll have other posadas for just the two of us. Maybe a Disco Posada or a Mariachi Posada? And then what? Well, we’ll see…

We’ve had to be creative for nine months now, and we’re getting pretty good at it. It’s what we do when we feel the social distancing is about to drive us crazy.  And we also remind each other of how little we have to complain about. So many people we know are living with really serious problems that are acerbated by the pandemic. We feel it is important to contribute to help out where and when we can.

Most of Merida’s citizens have felt up and down through this whole trial. I have stopped trying to force myself into a good mood when one of “those days” besets me. But neither do I wallow. I have learned to be gentle with myself and others. The isolation will go on for a good while yet.

But vaccine distribution is on the horizon and I for one will be rolling up my sleeve and will welcome the plunge of the needle. I have heard all the anti-vaccine arguments and I am not listening. I cannot wait to be free of the loneliness of living with such limited social interaction. Mind you, I am grateful that Jorge has shared this with me. We have grown closer through the experience, and this is the silver lining of the dismal cloud that has hung over us for nine months.

Our Christmas message and our prayer this year is, “Joy to the World”. We hope that by next December, our planet’s population will have begun to feel more robust health in every way. And yes, we also hope to be back attending and hosting the season’s special social events.

For me though, there will be a difference. I will enjoy it all with new eyes. I don’t think I have ever taken Christmas for granted, and I after 2020, it is highly unlikely that I ever will take my personal freedom and mobility lightly.

A Merry COVID Christmas and a Happy Virus-free New Year to all.