Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Random thoughts in #Mexico

1. So the days are winding down quickly. And I'm starting to get a little homesick. Or home-food-sick. Seriously. What I'd give for some curried goat. Or manish water. What I'd spend to get some stew chicken with yam and banana and fried dumplings ... *sigh*. And ackee and saltfish? Or a beef patty? I miss Jamaican food with a vengeance. This might sound bad, but it's the thing I miss the most: the look, smell and taste of food from Yard. I miss it. I want it. I need it. Bad bad bad.

I didn't even know Jamaican cuisine was so essential to my makeup. But listen, it's in my DNA. I need Jamaican food. I just need to at least SMELL some Jamaican food flavours really soon. Lest I die. Serious. The craving is real. FedEx me some flour dumplings, please. I'd be eternally grateful.

2. I have passed the test of a true Yardie: I have said 'yeah man' and didn't realise I was saying it. It's funny. You don't realise how much you say things like that till you have a chorus of foreign echoes repeating every cliché Jamaican thing you say. Then you realise how many of those clichés are true. It's funny.

I never even realised I had a strong Jamaican accent until I was teaching someone to say a word, and they said the word with a Jamaican accent. I cracked up, because, well, one, it was just hilarious to hear them trying a Jamaican accent, and two, I was like: oh my goodness! That's what I sound like to you? Shocking.

3. I have fallen in love with this little family I'm staying with. I really admire their work ethic, and how close they are as a family. They have a routine that works, and a structure that pulls them together. Family is a seriously super-big deal in Mexico. Watching them interact on a daily basis: how the boys genuinely love their mom and dad, and show that? How they play together, and work together? It's nice to see, and it's great to be allowed to be part of that - even for a little bit.

4. Speaking of family, I will NEVER forget the chaps I spent the last five weeks with. They are just too awesome. Fun times, you guys! Like when Mark and I taught y'all to willy bounce and bogle and butterfly and sweep ... . Or when we went to La Coltrane cafe and then went to Riu to learn how to dance la Barchada? Or the karaoke bar? Or the informal lymes in the apartments? Fun times. Unforgettables all ... :)

5. I've found the perfect return-home travel song. It's Cold Play's 'Fix You'. I've loved this song for a long time. But for this trip, the song somehow reminds me of my mother:

When you try your best and you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse ...

When tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone and it goes to waste
Cold it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
I will try ... to fix you.

No matter how broken I am, she is always willing to try to fix me ... .
I love you, mommy.
See you in a little bit.
Hope I didn't do too much damage.



Sunday, March 27, 2016

Touristitude: what kind of tourist am I?

Touristitude = TOURIST + ATTITUDE
There was precious little to appetise me here ...
So we went to a Mexican Chinese restaurant. Know what? I prefer Jamaican Chinese food by LEAPS and BOUNDS and GALAXIES and UNIVERSES. Yep. It was that bad. I didn't express the extent of my dislike while we were at the restaurant. That wouldn't have helped anything. I was polite, and explained that I like my cold food COLD and my hot food HOT - and that maybe because everything was room temperature and pretty much tepid, I wasn't feeling very 'appetised'. Plus, I added, I wasn't that hungry anyway (lies!!). I ate what I could stomach, and made polite conversation while my host had his meal. He noticed that I didn't touch half of the food on my plate, but was polite enough to 'understand'.

That's what you get for trying CHINESE food in MEXICO. (But Chinese food in Jamaica is so tasty though ... I thought it was like that everywhere.)

One plate of Chinese food that
pretty much remained untouched ...
Another time, we (not the same host, a different we) went to a restaurant where I ordered a soup called posole blanco. Truth? It tasted like chicken boiled in water with large grains of hominy corn. No seasoning. Not even salt. Now, all Jamaicans know that soup is not soup without some Maggi Soup-It-Up. Plus some thyme and scallion and all them herbs for flavour. So this new dish sans seasoning wasn't going down too well at all. Even with the addition of chopped onions and radish and a little chili pepper.

Know what I did? Same as above: I didn't express the extent of my dislike while we were at the restaurant. I was polite, and sipped my soup, ate my corn grains, truly enjoyed the chicken, and nodded vague approval, masking the sorrow my tastebuds were undergoing.

Only weeks later, after I'd tasted the red counterpart to that white wonder, called posole rojo, did I let slip how terrible I'd found that soup. We laughed about it, probably because I really LOVE posole rojo, and was chowing down with genuine gusto. It was like chalk to cheese. Posole rojo? Win. Posole blanco? Never again.

But I realised something about myself: I'm a polite tourist. You know those people who are perpetually nice and always find a way to 'make do'? I might be one of those.

It got me thinking, and I started paying closer attention to my reactions to things - as a tourist. Imagine my surprise when I realised I'm squealish. Not squeamish. Squealish. Like a person who creates a lot of excitement over every little thing. So I go somewhere, and they say, "This is Mexican dirt." My response will be (in a squeal), "Oooh. How lovely. Mexican dirt!" Only long afterward will it occur to me that it's not particularly exciting to see dirt. But such is the nature of my touristitude. I make excitement for dirt.

I'm also screamish. I scream. Loud. Lots. Especially when excited. One night, we went to a karaoke bar. One of my friends went up and sang. It was sooo good - dude can sing! So I screamed. Loudly. Alot. One of the Mexican girls came over to me and said: "I buy you beer. You scream. How you do that?"

It took me a while to understand. But she was basically offering to buy me a beer, hoping I kept up the hysterics all night, and asking me how I made that shrill sound. I declined the beer. I explained that she was welcome to hang with us (we were the loud ones that night), but she didn't need to buy me anything. It's funny when I think about it because I don't really scream on demand. It just happens if and when I get excitable.

Turns out I screamed a lot more that night. This one girl went up and put on a real Pink performance - rockerchick moves and all. I screamed for that. Another of our brave friends went up and sang Sean Kingston's 'Beautiful Girl'. It was a fun (and funny) rendition. I screamed for that. But when a Mexican mama hit the stage and said, "First I was afraid, I was petrified", I got off my stool and screamed the house down! Then we all belted out that time-honoured karaoke masterpiece and danced to high heaven. Was fun.

So, I learnt that I'm a screamish tourist. Not even just a tourist. I'm a screamish person. I make loud sounds when I'm happy - screams, peals of laughter, cackles, shouts ... you get the gist. I guess I can sum it up by saying I have a polite, make-do, screamish, squealish touristitude.



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Too young to dance ...

On Sunday, I was loaned a grandmother and grandfather for a day. They picked me up at the home I'm staying at and drove me to a beautiful seaside restaurant all the way in Chapala, Mexico. We walked along a seafront pavement overlooking a very murky lagoon; we saw many shops with artesanías selling some of the most exquisite pieces of hand-crafted work I've ever seen; we walked through the town and saw some truly ancient places. These pueblas have cobblestone roads - cobblestone roads!! And red brick houses. Like something out of a movie. And they have the cars to complement the era - Tatas, Volvos ...

I had a fish dinner, with fillet (pescado con mantequilla) and white rice and vegetable salad. Not too unusual. It was tranquil and all very kosher. Until the music began.

And I noticed the dais at the centre of the restaurant. And the couple moving in rhythm at the front of the room. Then another couple got up and went to the dais. Then another. And another. And pretty soon, that little space was crammed with dancing couplets, and a few singlets, stepping in time to the Spanish beat - some wielding their waists like weapons of warfare.

It was mainly elderly couples on the dance floor. You wanted to see those old men get down - dancing and prancing around their señoras with enthusiasm, if not youthfulness. I laughed so hard at some of the antics they carried on with: hunched shoulders, eyes wide, arms flailing. It was a blast from the past.

My personal favourite was la cumbia. Oh my word! It's a lively, uptempo jive that the musicians false-ended three times before finally completing the song with a trumpet and a flourish. So every time we thought the song was done and people started to leave the dance floor, they started again. And the fiesta would carry on ... . At some points, I could swear I saw people doing something very similar to the dinki mini.

I sat watching these people indulging their rhthymical senses on a spectrum that ranged from the very tranquil to the downright frenetic - and I had to just laugh. I declined my first invitation to join them, but the more I watched, the more I wanted to join in. So when the next uptempo song came around and my hosts extended their hands to me, they didn't have to ask twice. I got out there and stepped and shook and shimmied.

I swallowed pride, fear and all inhibitions and had me some fun. Know what? I really enjoyed it. Right up until my thighs started to feel like I had been treading water for more than an hour. I looked around me and saw jubilation and enthusiasm in faces that had forgotten more than I could remember and bodies that had seen age like I hadn't. I had to will my young legs to keep time, and keep up! After all, I was the young one there!

I wanted to take pictures, but my brand new Nikon CoolPics S2800 stopped charging after a whopping three hours of use. So I have to bring it back to the store and get that resolved. So I had no camera with me. Hence no pictures. But use your imagination. Think of old people - couples very much in love. The elderly gentlemen leading their ladies onto the dance floor, assuming the ready stance, then swaying to the music. Think of very young toddling granddaughters jumping with their prancing grandpas. Think of daughters and fathers dancing together at a respectable distance. Think of lovers throwing respectability out the window and getting as close as skin permitted. It was a wonderful mix of the old and the new, sharing in a moment of tranquil synchronicity. I really liked it. And, apparently, they do this every Sunday!

Would I go back? You bet!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Did I buy crack today?

The 'biscuits' in question.
I'm not sure what I bought from the lady on the road today. I want to think it was biscuits. Or cookies, at the very least. But the more excitable parts of my brain want it to be something more ... exciting. Anyway. Let me explain.

It's La Semana Santa, or holy week. So pretty much everybody is on holiday or observing the religious season (Mexico is a heavily Roman Catholic country). When I have no set plans, I've taken to walking as far as my legs will carry me in one direction, finding a food place in the vicinity, having a good lunch, then walking back home. That way, I get to see the sights at a leisurely pace, take pictures if I want to, and also try completely new, unplanned foods.

This time my walk took me west, and I was on my way back from a rather uneventful stretch of residential streets when a woman with a covered basket approached me. She said something in Spanish and I understood enough to make out that she was selling galletas (biscuits or cookies) for eight pesos. I was feeling peckish, so I said why not, and took out my purse to pay her. I had no change. Just four pesos. She smiled, said OK, took the money, and gave me the biscuits.

"Para te aprobarles," she said. (Translated: For you to try them). There were two kinds in the basket: some dusted with a white powder, some without. I wanted the ones without, but she insisted that I try the ones with. "Son mejores," she told me. They're better. I smiled and nodded OK, took the biscuits, and carried on.

Well, I pulled the package and tried the first one. It was sweet. It tasted like ... well, like biscuit. So I had another. And that was when something went wrong. My head felt light. I was walking up the ascent toward an overhead bridge, and I honestly had to stop and just hold on to the railing for a minute. My head felt so very light. And everything felt so very very surreal.

As I continued to slowly make my way to the other side of the overhead bridge, a thought hit me: what if the biscuit induced the lightheadedness? What if the white powder wasn't sugar, as I had supposed? What if that was why she had the basket covered with a towel? And wait, my lovely brain started to tell me, wasn't she glancing around a little suspiciously when she was selling me the 'biscuits'? I had to stop and laugh at myself.

It was probably dehydration, my common sense told me. I had been walking in the sun from morning without ingesting any kind of liquids. I shook my head and continued walking. But I glanced behind me a couple of times, just to see if I could spot the woman ... just to see if anyone was following me ... just in case ... .
 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tengo hambre!

Now that I've been in Mexico for a little over two weeks, my initial peckishness has departed, and a serious bout of HUNGRY has set in. That's how I know I'm definitely starting to feel at home here: my yaad appetite has returned. I regularly feel famished and meal intake frequency has increased.

Friends and coworkers know that 'hungry' is not a word I take lightly. They also know that my declarations of hunger have nothing to do with the insufficiency of food provided at my last meal. My body just has a very high metabolic turnover. So fifteen to twenty minutes after the last meal, I'm hungry again. Jamaicans would call it 'long-belly' or 'wanga gut'.

My housemate chalks it up to a lack of water. She says I haven't been drinking much water. She's right. I hadn't noticed, but my water intake has decreased significantly since my arrival here. I think it may have been a subconscious reaction to the cold. You know how that goes. In cold weather, water in, water out. Like a straight pipe.

Don't get me wrong, though. I am enjoying the delectable culinary offerings of this beautiful country. Oh yes I am. I have become fast friends with dishes such as mole, molletes, quesadillas, posole rojo (lip-licking goodness right there!), moros versus cristianos ... hey, even the Mexican KFC a gwaan wid more tings than the KFCs I have tried in other countries.

But be warned, serving sizes are not like the Jamaican bellyful. The meals are not as starch-heavy as ours. We thrive on loads of rice and peas, yam, cocoa, dasheen, pumpkin and banana, generously slathered in gravy, accompanied by large hunks of meat. And everyday, we eat these large and heavy meals that sit on our hips, waists, thighs, butts and bellies and contribute to the obesity/hypertension/diabetes problem most Caribbean countries face. In Mexico, trim is in. And they have the serving sizes to prove it.

They have a light breakfast, heavy lunch, and then a light supper afterwards. Quite healthy.  Admirable, really.

Some of my favourite indulgences are lonches - basically medium-sized subs made with mollete bread. They are tasty, filling, and most importantly, dirt-cheap. I was telling someone here the other day that if I were in Jamaica, I would be paying a good $800 for a sub the size of a lonche. And I probably wouldn't get as many condiment options. Here, it's only 17 pesos total for a lonche with cooked ham, tomatoes, onions, pepper, ketchup, mayo, mustard, and relish when it's available. Seventeen pesos is the equivalent of one US dollar, which equals about 120 Jamaican dollars. See the difference? It's major.

So of course I'm enjoying it here. Cheap meals mean that even if I'm hungry, I can afford to eat well - and often. I highly recommend a visit if and when you can. Mexico is definitely a country worth getting to know.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Spanish fly?

There's a fly in my room. It's as big as a bee. I don't know how it got in, but I need it to leave.
Funny enough, not two days ago, I was telling someone here that I was impressed at the absence of flies and mosquitoes in Mexico. And now here comes this annoying critter to try to ruin it.

It sounds like an entire hive of bees. And I feel this mad urge to just toss things at it until it gets squashed. But I've watched the cartoons
. I know how those things work out. You toss one book, one shoe, a chair, and crash! There goes the people's expensive mirror. Or the light bulb. Or an antique vase. Or the million-dollar chandelier. And the fly would be no worse for wear. I'll spare myself that drama, thankyouverymuch.

In the meantime, there's this fly in my room. Making a most irritating sound; shooting hither and thither as if it owned the place. I know it can't stay here forever. Eventually, it will leave. Or get tired. Or fall asleep. Or something. So I type. Try to ignore it. And carry on with life.

I mean, big deal. This could have happened in Jamaica. But, I wonder, if I were to try to shoo it, would I have to speak in Spanish?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

'Bus'-ing the truth

Yep, that's a Mexican bus!
Jamaica has some large, yellow buses that are used for public transportation. These vehicles always sound like they're either hawking, coughing, sneezing or spitting. The journey can sometimes be an exercise in religious conversion: you start off expecting a peaceful ride to your destination, but by halfway, you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that leaves you with an urgent need to get right with your Maker ... just in case.

Mexican buses are like the smaller cousins to that. Riding in one of them is like taking a roller coaster. Especially when there's a sharp stop. You jolt forwards and then rapidly backwards. You could get whiplash (a neck sprain). Don't get me wrong, sometimes the ride is quiet, sedate, peaceful. But there have been days when I was forced to remember that turbulence doesn't happen only in the skies.

I remember for one busride home, two toddlers got on with their parents. They all sat on the back seat. For the entire journey, their squeals of delight echoed through the bus as they laughed and shrieked every time the bus made a stop or a jolt. It was great fun for them, and I couldn't help smiling as I reflected on the innocence of children, and how something that was an inconvenience to most adults was wildly amusing to them. When they finally got off the bus, giggling and shouting in Spanish to their parents, the bus felt sadly quiet somehow. Even the jolts didn't seem as pronounced without the little squeals to punctuate every occurrence.

In moments like those, I realise the universality of humanity. That is something that could have easily happened in Jamaica, or, I imagine, the United States, or Australia, or China. That could have happened anywhere in the world because kids are kids, no matter where they're from. They're precious, innocent, amusing, affectionate and honest – before we teach them otherwise.

And, by extension, people are just people. No matter where you go in the world, you will meet comedians, jokers, tricksters, lovers, worriers, warriors, discriminators ... they're everywhere. And that's why I think I'm not too caught up in how I'm received when I go to new places. I understand that people are people the world over. And even if I'm meeting one particular sort in one place, I know other sorts exist there.

Since I've been here, I've met many wonderful people. I've met people who like my sense of style; I've met people who are crazy about Jamaica (I'm just starting to understand how truly significant that is); I've met people who are just generally nice to everyone, so it really doesn't matter to them where I'm from. And I've met people who are not any of those things – not crazy about Jamaica. Not crazy about black people. Not crazy about me. Maybe just crazy :).

The point is, the longer I'm here, the more similarities I see between my culture and here. And the more I appreciate that this is a universal truth: we are all more alike than we are different.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Some pictures of Mexico so far ...

I need to buy a good **hopefully cheap** camera so I can properly document the remainder of my stay here. But here's what I have so far. I took these with an Alcatel phone while in the aeroplane on my way here. Make out what you can :)












Wednesday, March 9, 2016

I'm so cold, I'm so cold, I'm so cold ...

Did I tell you that Mexico is experiencing a cold front? Maybe I did, but you need to hear what that means.

It means that the wind here is bypassing my jeans, my leggings, my blouse, my overcoat, my sweater - and going straight through my skin. When I say chilled to the bones, I mean CHILLED to the BONES! I'm. So. Cold!

It's so cold here, if I want iced water, I can just put a glass out on the windowsill and leave it for five minutes.

It's so cold, when I sit anywhere for too long without moving, my feet cramp up.

It's so cold, when I talk, mist forms. And when we were younger, my siblings and I used to think this was the coolest, most fascinating thing. When we went to country (Carron Hall, St Mary, or Mandeville, Manchester), we would wake up early and go outside just to talk and make mist with our mouths. Now? I don't want to make no mist with my mouth! I just want warmth.

And this is what I've discovered: the cold has settled into everything: my lotion, my hair oil, my perfume, my toothpaste ... everything is cold! So the torture just goes on. I poured mouthwash into my mouth to gargle and it was so cold, I had to just spit it back out.

I was trying to apply lotion to my arm and had to stop and prepare mentally for the impact of very cold cream on skin. When applying my body mist, I call on Jesus. Because one squirt to the neck and I'm just freezing.

It's really cold.

My friend from Canada sent me some pictures this week and had a good laugh at my expense.
You think you're cold? she asked. I had to take pause and acknowledge that yes, Canada is generally colder than Mexico. But still. My tropical, warm-blooded body is screaming bloody murder in this cold.

I was standing at the bus stop and put my hand on the metal railing. Big mistake. It felt like touching the blade of a very sharp knife. I had to look to verify that I had not cut myself. My housemate wears socks on her hands to keep them warm. I might do the same.

I was trying to explain to my friends here: in Jamaica, we bask in the glory of the sun. I will never complain about the heat again. I will never behave like unending sun is a curse again. I will never again talk badly about the beautiful warmth that that golden orb bestows majestically on our people. I will be grateful. And blow kisses at the sun. And spread the gospel of the goodness of sunshine ... .

In the meantime, thoughts of home and warmth - and even heat - plague my mind. What am I doing here??!! I'm so cold, I'm so cold, I'm so cold ...


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

I'm shedding ...

Photo from http://www.bloodyloud.com/wp-content/gallery/
human-met/20110512_taylorjames11-600x309.jpg
This is the skin with the melanin!
This is the body with melatonin!
This is the girl with the endorphins!
Guess what? She's shedding! 


My skin is suffering. There is no other way to say it. My skin is suffering.

I have beautiful black skin which, moisturised once daily, usually yields favourable results. No need for reinforcements. No need to check to ensure that I'm not walking around with arms and legs looking like lizard scales. Usually.

What my skin is doing in Mexico is not usual at all. I have to be moisturising thrice daily. When that doesn't work, I have to wear leggings so that people don't mistake my legs for a crocodile's hide. The cocoa butter cream I brought with me seems piddlingly pitiful when pitted against the task it must now accomplish. My arms and legs look like dry leather. My face is losing moisture faster than a tank in the Sahara. And if something itches, and I happen to scratch, there goes a layer of skin!

I know it sounds gross, and it probably is (in a small way), but I am truly surprised at what my skin is doing over here. I feel like I have become a reptile. I'm moulting. I mean, I expected that higher altitudes would mean different levels of humidity, etc., so I brought reinforcements with me. I bought some of the best and strongest stuff I could find. But, alas, my skin continues to shed.

To be fair, there's a cold front passing over the country, so temperatures are abnormally low. But can you imagine my shock when I scratched my head and half my scalp fell out? (I'm going to stop with the gross references now).

I did a little research online, and what I found was surprisingly symbolic. One site says that shedding is nature's way of preparing animals for seasonal changes, and moulting prepares the animal for a new stage of growth. I read it and thought, 'hmm ... that's kinda true here.'

I'm exploring a foreign country by myself. I've never done anything like this before. It's thrilling and different, and my world view may be changing more than I care to admit ... . My life is literally being stretched. As is my capacity. New growth is taking place. And in the process, it's only natural that I am also shedding. I'm letting go of some old things. For good. Forever. I'm giving up on some stuff. For now. I'm releasing my grip on a lifetime of ... (let's not go there).

Why not shed? It's actually a healthy practice. It makes sense. And what better place to do it than in an environment where you are completely outside of all the familiar influences and truly on your own?

So this is the skin with the melanin!
This is the body with melatonin!
This is the girl with the endorphins!
Guess what she's shedding ... :) 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A beer beer!

If beer levels the vibes in Jamaica, it is the vibe in Mexico. One of the first Spanish words resurrected upon my arrival here? Cerveza.

I've come to realise that it is an important part of Mexican culture. The young and the old drink beer. It's like drinking soda or orange juice and fruit punch in Jamaica. Everybody has at some point. Every party host will offer it. And especially during holidays or when there is a guest, a bottle (or bottles, or cans) will be in the refrigerator. If you plan on going out at all in Mexico, you can bet on what your primary beverage option will be. It's all about the beer.

My first realisation of this was when a group of us 'foreigners' went out for a night. Silly me. I thought we were going to a nice, sit-down restaurant to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine. In my mind's eye, I thought we'd be in this semi-upscale place with maybe a little jazz music, or Mexican souls or Mariachi oozing out of a sound system overhead, or from a live band. And we would talk and laugh and sample strange new dishes.

Instead, we ended up at a restaurant of sorts - of sorts, except that it wasn't a restaurant at all. It was really more like a bar. We got a table in a far corner overlooking the streets below. The view was nice. I should have taken pictures. Our hosts ordered a bucket of beer; then came time to take the non-alcoholic orders. They had nothing else except lemonade. No water. No soft drinks. It was either beer or lemonade. That was it.

I thought to myself, it must be a full night; they've run out of everything except beer. And that might have been the case. But still, it is assumed that most guests will want beer, which is most definitely a mainstay on the Mexican menu.

The beer options are manifold: Corona seems to be the most popular, but there's Victoria, Sol, Minerva, Modelo, Bohemia, Tijuana, Leon ... so many.

I was trying to explain this to a relative in Jamaica. We were speaking in Jamaican patois. I exclaimed: "A beer beer deh yah!" (loosely translated "there is nothing but beer here!"). I laughed afterward about the duplication of sound: "A 'beer' (the Jamaican patois word, functioning as an adjective, translated 'solely' or 'only') beer (the beverage, noun)."

A 'beer beer'. Funny :)