Tag Archives: home

A Long Time Home

Despite the lengthy break (insert torrential apology here) this blog definitely isn’t finished, I still have a long list of posts to write, and not a day passes when I don’t think of Mexico. In the meantime, I’ve been reading a lot, and I’m currently reading an incredible book with a passage I wanted to share. I know lots of people who have so kindly supported this blog are similarly wandering-minded, people who have shared that inexplicable but unignorable pull I felt before I went to Mexico, to escape the confines of my home country, culture and everything I knew. We all have our own reasons for going, but whether it’s borne of a simple boredom and restlessness or a valiant quest for the meaning of life, there’s a common denominator: we are compelled to question, to learn, to explore.

Culture and identity have been key themes explored during my time in Mexico and documented here, and just a short step on from analysing personal culture and sense of identity lays a broader international and political perspective: ideas of nationalism and borders, territories and boundaries. Stepping outside our own culture is hugely liberating; it is, metaphorically and physically, like stepping outside of your self. The freedom to form our own thoughts and opinions is a luxury we just seldom have the time or capacity for when we’re lodged prohibitively amidst the everyday doldrums of school, studies, work, politics; even the smaller cycles perpetuated by pressures and consensus amongst family and friends. And they’re just the external factors, never mind the pressure we put upon ourselves, the neverending drip of doubts that seep through layers of consciousness like acid rain. We might be struck by the odd bolt of inspired thought, but never seem to have the freedom to explore them fully, to develop our true selves as we’d like to.

 “But let’s just suppose. What if the whole deal – orientation, knowing where you are, and so on – what if it’s all a scam? What if all of it- home, kinship, the whole enchilada – is just the biggest, most truly global, and centuries-oldest piece of brainwashing? Suppose that it’s only when you dare to let go that your real life begins? When you’re whirling free of the mother ship, when you cut your ropes, slip your chain, step off the map, go absent without leave, scram, vamoose, whatever: suppose that it’s then, and only then, that you’re actually free to act! To lead the life nobody tells you how to live, or when, or why. In which nobody orders you to go forth and die for them, or for god, or comes to get you because you broke one of the rules, or because you’re one of those people who are, for reasons which unfortunately you can’t be given, simply not allowed. Suppose you’ve got to go through that feeling of chaos and beyond; you’ve got to accept the loneliness, the wild panic of losing your moorings, the vertiginous terror of the horizon spinning round and round like the edge of a coin tossed in the air.

You won’t do it. Most of you won’t do it. The world’s head laundry is pretty good at washing brains: Don’t jump off that cliff don’t walk through that door don’t step into that waterfall don’t take that chance don’t step across that line don’t ruffle my sensitivities I’m warning you now don’t make me mad you’re doing it you’re making me mad. You won’t have a chance you haven’t got a prayer you’re finished you’re history you’re less than nothing, you’re dead to me, dead to your whole family your nation your race, everything you ought to love more than life and listen to like your master’s voice and follow blindly and bow down before and worship and obey; you’re dead, you hear me, forget about it you stupid bastard, I don’t even know your name.”

It’s from Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which follows three peoples’ lives knitted closely together only to unravel wildly throughout this tragic tale. I haven’t finished it yet but I highly recommend it. And I’m totally poaching “the whole enchilada” for my everyday lexicon. In the book, Rushdie explores themes of home, belonging, escapism and identity, as well as their consequences. His writing is as questioning and provocative as any work of political non-fiction, and while I’m back in England, it’s literature I turn to to give my mind the taste of liberty it craves.

There is such immense opportunity in independence; when chatting with friends we have likened extended travels to a kind of rite of passage¹ to peace of mind, self-knowledge and realisation. What makes us happy? What do we really care about? What do we value most? Egotistical though it seems, to leave our loved ones behind and spend so much time thinking about ourselves, it’s more like a simultaneously selfish and selfless finding and losing: you lose yourself in the bigger picture, and you find your place in it. We come home, and by all superficial appearances things go back to how they were, yet we continue to live in a heightened state of awareness and autonomy. What an incredible privilege to have had that experience.

Having a British passport gets me practically anywhere in the world, with relative ease. Many passports don’t have that kind of international leverage, and it’s just one of an endless list of consequences of that long-established global order that breeds a warped sense of cultural and national superiority and creates a kind of NIMBYism on a global scale. Having a sense of national pride isn’t wrong, but it is dangerous. It is natural to feel love for a country you have grown up in, to feel a sense of reciprocal obligation, but there is nothing natural about incarcerating others in the country they were born in, condemning them to a life of poverty and misery because they had the misfortune of not being born elsewhere. It’s so valuable to get out, to question our politics and motivations, open our hearts, feed our minds, and nourish our souls, for ourselves and for humanity. And to remember that even if we go back in, we’re not going backwards.

Image by one of my favourite artists, Lisa Congdon

Footnote:

1. The concept of the rite of passage was innovated by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep to describe rituals that initiate members into various stages of society, such as transition into manhood or marriage. His major work was Les Rites de Passage (1909), in which he observes a tripartite sequence in ritual observance: separation, transition, and incorporation. One hundred years on, we are truly global citizens: could the 21st century rite of passage be about getting out not getting in?

This Place I Call Home

Puebla is a beautiful city with an abundance of incredible culture, history, food, religion, arts and crafts. Many attractions deserve their own dedicated posts, which will come in due course as I get to know it better, but for now here are a few photos of my more immediate surroundings:

Mi casa
Mi casa

This is my house. Luckily for me, it’s the one on the right, but the comparison with our next door neighbours serves as a constant reminder of the enormous wealth disparity in Mexico. Behind the enormous black gates there is a small forecourt for three cars, and then the house, which is split into two halves. I live in one side with my host parents, and on the other live my host brother and abuelita (grandma). The security might look substantial, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to prevent our house from being burgled at the weekend. Despite being  a nice neighbourhood in one of Mexico’s more affluent cities, it’s not immune from the regrettable reality of crime here.

Mi calle
Mi calle

This is the view just down my road, and it’s a very typical Pueblan vista. Blue sky, check. Multicoloured buildings, check. A scattering of Beetles, check. The Volkswagen Beetle has become an icon of Puebla since VW opened a plant in 1965 on a 2-million-square-metre field in the Pueblan suburbs. The first Beetle rolled off the production line in 1967, and the plant made history in 1981 with its 20 millionth. A further 1.15 million units were made in Puebla between 1997 and 2010. Today the plant builds the coupé and cabriolet versions of the Beetle, the new Golf and the VW Jetta. The sight of so many Beetles, more old than new, give the city streets a distinctive rustic charm.

Popocatépetl and Itzaccíhuatl
Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl

Captured from just behind my house, this is the view of the volcanoes Popocatépetl (meaning Smoking Mountain in Nahuatl) on the left and Iztaccíhuatl (meaning White Woman) on the right. Popo is the second highest peak in Mexico (after Pico de Orizaba), and also Mexico’s most active volcano. Izta is the third highest, but is craterless and dormant. Due to Popo’s temperamental behaviour its summit has been off-limits for the last decade, so I am going to climb Izta in a couple of weeks instead. I love a big volcano!

The church of San José
The church of San José, a 10 minute walk from my house.

What do you get when you mix a Catholic calendar crammed with Saints’ Days and celebrations and the Mexican taste for all things bright and beautiful? A church façade adorned with giant, colourful foam décor and a bustling market brimming with rides and street food, of course! Almost every very week there’s a feria (fair) somewhere in the city, and last week the man of honour was none other than San José (Saint Joseph), Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and step-father of Jesus Christ – quite a biggie!

Reading up on Saint Joseph’s Day (which falls on or close to March the 19th), I learned that in Catholic tradition it’s a day of abstinence with the custom of meatless dishes. With an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world I’m sure this may well be the case for any number of them, but in Mexico abstinence isn’t a word that I’ve heard crop up too often: where the theme ‘more is more’ seems apparent in their approach to pretty much everything, why would a religious festival be any different?!  Enter embellishment in excess:

The grand entrance!
The grand entrance!

This huge decoration is typical of Mexico’s vibrant colours and patterns; it really embodies the lively, joyful spirit of festivities here.

Regardless of the ‘meatless’ custom (wherever that may or may not be), chalupas are the dish of choice for most street party attendees.

Tasty chalupas.
Tasty chalupas.

Chalupas are a Pueblan speciality, and when the Poblanos want to eat on the street, it’s most likely to be these greasy little treats they’re looking for. Made from little discs of masa dough, they are fried and topped with either red or green salsa, shredded chicken or pork, and onion. You ask for however many you want and they’re piled high in a big sloppy mess – and served with no cutlery, which just adds to the fun. A  delicious dinner for about 50p, you can’t really grumble at that.

So that’s a little insight into my life here in the heart of Mexico. With plenty to see, to do and to taste there’s never a dull moment: it’s a crazy place and they pride themselves on exactly that. It’s everything I dreamed of, feared, and so much more – and I wouldn’t change it for the world.