There are no celebrations as big as the ones with religious background.
I am in mexico and The Day Of The Dead is a huge thing. It is an eight days ongoing party. In Oaxaca, where I am now, there are different parades not only daily but several times a day. I asked the guy at the reception where to see one and he said; just walk the streets and you will see one. They are everywhere. Every neighborhood has their own with a band and yesterday the local one passed the hostel where I’m staying.
It is a festive happening. People paint their faces and wear costumes and they walk the streets and smile and music is played and… they just walk the streets.
In the centre, by the main square, people gather every evening. They either just walk around or sit wherever possible to sit and just enjoy being a part of the crowd.
And they eat. The street food is mainly about snacks. Corn in all possible varieties. The most popular stall is run by a young man, he seems to be in his twenties, is putting on a show while preparing the corn and there is a five to tem meters line of people waiting to be served and entertained. The corn cob is put on a stick, then covered in butter, then cheese and on top of that four different hot sauses. There are these corn vendors one can find every five meters serving the same thing but he is the only one where people are waiting in live. It’s all about the show.
Food and religion. A winning combo. And this happens everywhere I have been where there has been any sort of religious celebrations. Altars where food is placed as offerings, food placed on graves as a symbol for the dead not having to be hungry and above all food the living eat to celebrate. In Bali people stick rice to their foreheads showing they have been praying. Food.
Food used to be a precious possession back in the days when we didn’t have convenient stores. In the days when we had to grow our own food. So of course people were offering food to the gods when food was scarce.
Nowadays we are stuffing ourselves whether we need it or not. And most of the religious celebrations are not as religious as they used to be. Everything changes and evolves.
Tonight I’m going to a cemetery to witness the celebration of The Day Of The Dead. I will think of the loved ones that are no longer physically with me. The ones that are being transported on another escalator in this quantum world.
I have been in Mexico for two weeks now and during that time I’ve tried to find my bearings. A new continent, a new country, a new language and new customs. I was so looking forward to all this. To all the new. This is the biggest reason why I love to travel. To experience the way people in other countries live their lives. The new and the unknown. Everything that I don’t have back home.
But something has been bugging me during these two weeks and I haven’t been able to pinpoint it.
For those of you who has been following me for a while you know how much I enjoy interacting with people while traveling. In Asia this has been an easy thing to do. You just go to any street food vendor or coffee or tea stall, sit down and there is always someone to connect with. Walking the streets in any country in Asia is like a theatrical piece. People do everything in the streets. They eat there, sleep there, do their morning yoga, raise their children, they do everything in the streets. And I love observing and documenting that.
Everyone I have talked to about Mexico and especially about Oaxaca have been telling me how energetic this city is and about the amazing good vibes. And yesterday, my first day in Oaxaca, I walked the streets. I did 15 kilometres of walking. Don’t take me wrong, I love walking. But what I saw was empty streets. No activity at all.
So when I got the question from my friend in India about if I was enjoying Mexico, I had to give it a thought. And Yes, I do enjoy being here. but there is a big But.
I realised that I am experiencing a reverse cultural shock.
Coming straight from India no wonder I find the streets of Oaxaca and the rest of the places I have visited in Mexico empty, desert like.
There are no cows, no barking dogs, no honking cars and motorcycles, no chicken, no street food stalls, no chai stalls, no loud talking. Nothing.
On the bus to Oaxaca the bus was following a truck and I was thinking; why isn’t he honking … The honking that I used to be so fed up with.
Sometimes I close my eyes and try to picture the life I used to live. But every time I fail. It’s difficult when the smells of urin, cow shit, scents and masala chai mixed together finds its way into my nostrils, contradicting my memories of what ones used to represent home.
This is what I wrote while having chai at a small chai stall in a tiny alley somewhere in India. Never could I, then, imagine that I would miss busy and messy India so much. And never could I imagine that I would experience a cultural shock. But I do and I am.
I am used to changes, I welcome changes, I believe it is good to be flexible, I consider myself being flexible, curious and easy to adapt. And for that reason I am so surprised that I am experiencing this cultural chock. But I guess I’m just an ordinary human being. A human being with feelings and I embrace that.
Viva India. Viva Mexico.
I arrived to Oaxaca city after a 24 hour bus ride. Compared to some countries in Asia this one was hard. In Vietnam there are sleeper busses. In india there are sleeper compartments on the trains. In Mexico there are these truly uncomfortable seats. And the bus never stopped for food. haha…. that was interesting. For 24 hours I was missing the uncomfortable busses in India. At least they stop now and then and one can have a decent chai. Here nothing.
I guess this is the thing with traveling through many countries for a long time. One starts comparing good and bad. Don’t take me wrong, there are good things in every country. And of course one of the reasons for travelling is exactly that. To experience the differences.
After fasting for 24 hours I went out for a meal. Being a vegetarian in Mexico has turned out to be difficult. Not many options and when I have found something vegetarian it hasn’t been flavoured. Or perhaps they have prepared something for the ‘tourist’ they think the ‘tourist’ will appreciate. Being spoiled with vegetarian well seasoned food in Asia, I feel a bit like a fish out of sea. This is the reason why I have started making my own food, which I haven’t for one whole year. I feel a bit lost.
This morning I decided to visit the local food market. Just before I left the hostel a woman approached me asking me if I knew the password for the wi-fi. She asked me where I was going and I told her.
So I got to Mercado de la Merced just past 6 am. The merchants were still unpacking and preparing their stalls. A beautiful sight. All the colours and variety of veggies, flowers and bread. The amount of bread to feed a whole army. I sat down for a coffee. And there she comes. The lady from the hostel.
Her name is One, like in one, two, three, she tells me. A chinese 72 year old woman from Kuala Lumpur traveling on her own.
So we talk and I can’t stop asking her questions. She is not the typical chinese elderly woman. The chinese custom is to work and struggle to provide for your children. She says that most chinese buy their children a house and then they take care of the grand children. And that is their life. Always taking care of someone else. They don’t have a life, she says.
She travels on a budget, staying in hostels, trying to do things the cheapest way possible and that will keep her on the road longer.
We talk about the fact that we get older. I am not afraid of dying, I am afraid of not being able to live a good life, she says. And I totally agree. Death is not what scares me. Living a not meaningful life when I get old, that what scares me.
One is full of spirit, full of energy, full of life. I hope I will have that too when I am 72.
I arrived to Mexico a few days ago. The last two and a half months I have spent in India. I have so much to tell about that so I started writing the blog post. But then I realised I have a more important issues to write about.
Yes, me too. As so many other girls and women. It is about when someone does something to my body without me giving my consent. Has it happened to me? It’s no use start counting all the times. Yes, it has happened. In ways that some people might call innocent but also in ways that have gotten men into jail.
I have spent in total almost four months in India, the country everyone has warned me about traveling on my own, and not once has anyone touched me in a not appropriate way.
The one who actually did was an Australian white male who took the liberty of kissing me while having a conversation. A stranger I had known as a co-traveller for five hours. A stranger who got angry with me for not being interested.
This example is one that some might call an innocent one. But to me it wasn’t. Because when you start tolerating these tiny violations, then where do you draw the line for when it is a serious one. There are girls and women who have been raped and in court they are asked it they actually did scream and how loud.
I didn’t know how to defend myself when I was repeatedly sexually abused in my early teens. But what I do know is that men are constantly demonstrating their power when interacting with women.
Every day men demonstrate their superiority towards women. Recently I read a study showing that when men talk about things they are not sure or dont know anything about, they still talk about it in a very sure and assertive way. As if what they say is a fact. This is a way of showing power.
Being a woman questioning that can be lethal I have noticed.
When men run out of arguments in a discussion the punch back, the degrading comment is always about the female physique, mental health or as a sexual threat. The latest comment I got from an opponent in a discussion was his conclusion that I was probably drunk.
Being mentally abused is to me as bad as being physically abused. No one should tolerate any sort of abuse. And I think the most important thing with this #metoo movement is that every woman, every person who has been abused will see that they are not alone. Not being alone is about supporting each other.
If we hear about someone being abused we have to take actions, we have to give our support that person, we have to tell them to fight back, that they are not alone.
Also when it comes to the small violations of the me, of the you, body and mind. In the everyday life.
The bottom line is all about respect. In every day life. So simple.
Don’t degrade women that has a strong opinion as being difficult. Listen to their opinion and meet it with arguments in stead of diminishing words.
So back to sexual harassment. As Alexander Karim express the issue in a Swedish paper today; (in Swedish)
‘Guys, if you see me eating an ice cream and you would like to have a taste of it, you would ask me first, right?’
If you men ask me if you want to touch me and my answer is no, then don’t touch me. If my answer is yes, then you have my consent.
If you men touch me without asking first, then it’s sexual harassment.