Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter Coats and Sunglasses: It's Christmastime in Juarez!

Now that the excitement of getting our new assignment has quieted down, it's back to focusing on life in the present instead of the future. 

Speaking of presents: it's Christmastime in the borderlands! 
While Juarez can't compete with Bogota's lighted wonderland of city parks with their fake snow machines and nightime bike riding on the cyclovia, Mexico does have some awesome traditions that we've been learning about.

Two weeks ago it started with our first posada, which is like the Colombian novena where people gather with friends and family in the evenings during the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Two weeks ago we went to our first posada, invited by a neat guy who works in the Consulate's warehouse.  He gave us rather vague directions involving going to a particular landmark bar where nearby we'd see a road and a private house. After a half-dozen u-turns on a busy avenue, looking for the nondescript road and private house, we finally called him and were directed down a scary, dark, narrow dirt lane that dead-ended in a dirt parking area in front of a cluster of tiny houses and the posada well underway.  It was a terribly cold night, so there were bonfires going from trash barrels and people warming up in the small three-room house in front of huge pots of pozole.  Pozole is a spicy soup made of broth with hunks of pork and/or chicken stewing away with hominy and then garnished to taste with fresh lime juice, sliced radishes and chopped onion. It was delicious!  After having our fill of pozole, we went outside into the dirt lane to see our host's family perform as dancing matachines.  You can take a quick look at this link, or just picture what looks like a Native American dance, complete with dancers of all ages and both genders in headdresses, beaded and fringed pants and skirts and a nearly trance-like devotion by the dancers to keep up with the rhythm of the heavy drum section.  The Mexican twist is that it's done in devotion to the Virgin de Guadalupe in a representation of paganism vs. Christianity.  El mal (evil) was represented by what looked like a guy dressed in a Halloween hobo costume who is apparently defeated by good in the end - no big surprise there.  Three families of matachines came in one after another, and after watching for nearly an hour, the drumming and dancing still hadn't missed a beat. The cold finally got to us and we left with the festivities still in full swing.

The next night, our neighborhood had its third and final party of the year in the park in front of our house.  Besides pozole, tamales are also Mexican Christmas traditions and there was a huge table full of trays of red, green and sweet tamales.  It seems that many Latin American countries claim to have the first, the best, or the only kind of tamales and we certainly saw the Colombian version wrapped in banana leaves with whole hunks (sometimes with bones) of chicken.  But here we have a version that is more familiar to me, wrapped in corn husks and full of shredded beef. There are red and green ones depending on the chiles used, and the sweet ones were stuffed with raisins and some kind of sweet-tart filling.  After the eating came the music until the early hours of the morning. We were warm in bed by that time and only catching strains of karaoke drifting from across the street.  

Finally we had our own Second Annual "Why did I put THAT in my HHE?" white elephant gift exchange with a big group of friends and coworkers. HHE = household effects, i.e. the stuff that we start dragging around the world, growing in size like a snowball through the years. Our first party was in Bogota, and we had such a fun time we decided to do it again.  People really got into the spirit of getting rid of things they'd been packing around for a while, including among many other things: a 3-foot hookah from Tunisia, many small kitchen appliances that seemed useful at the time, a much-coveted set of Super Hero glasses, a 4-DVD set of the Andy Griffith Show (now on our shelf), a 2004 DreamWeaver user's manual, a bird feeder and pounds of bird seed (which were actually from different people, but married up in the end) and a 10-pound stone molcajete (guacamole grinder) - among other things.  My husband made pots of Mexican hot chocolate and mulled wine and we shared plates of Christmas cookies and a giant San Francisco sourdough loaf of bread shaped like a snowman.   There was lots of cheering each other on in stealing presents and I think we've started a tradition to carry on to our future posts. 

Meanwhile, it's crisp and cold outside and our garden has gone dormant with the last leaves of our pretty umbrella trees finally hitting the ground. We have a gorgeous red male cardinal visiting us and about eight ring-neck doves fluffed up to keep warm in the garden each morning


Next week will be our first Christmas in Mexico.
Feliz Navidad everyone!

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