A Mexican Easter

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and for all my Christian readers, I hope you had a Blessed Easter. This being my first Easter in Mexico, it was quite an experience for me. First, there were Stations of the Cross set up all over the village. Two blocks from my residence was Station #3. I didn’t know about this until Friday afternoon, when I went with Doña Meche to light a candle there. I came back Saturday morning, and it was gone, and I never did see the other 11 stations, which must have been very scattered throughout the village.

The big Easter ceremony took place last night (Saturday). There are two churches here, about two blocks apart. At 7pm, everyone gathered at one of the churches, where the altar was hidden with a huge curtain of palm leaves on which were hung tropical fruits – pineapples, oranges, bananas covered this barrier and coconuts were piled at its base. On the floor below and behind this curtain of palm leaves and fruit were many lit candles.

The floor of the church was covered with leaves and the needles of fir trees, starting at the area of the altar, going down the center of the floor between the rows of pews and ending at the door of the church.

After the priest arrived, everyone went to the side of the church, where there was a fire going on the ground. It reminded me of a campfire, with sticks arranged in pyramid form.  Besides the priest, there were the altar boys and altar girls in white cassocks with red collars and red belts. One of the boys was holding an incense burner at the end of a chain, swinging it back and forth as the incense smoke dispersed in the air.

At the end of the prayer, a man took a burning stick out of the fire and lit the candle that the priest was holding, after which the parishioners brought their candles to be lit by the fire of the priest’s candle. After the candles were all lit, we all walked to the second church, where the altar was visible for all to see, and then the priest celebrated the Mass.

When the Mass was ended, people were filing out, and I thought that was the end of the Easter celebration. After walking back to my residence, I heard music off-and-on and kept looking out into the street, but upon not seeing anything, would then go back inside. Finally, the music sounded very close, and this time when I looked outside, I could see what appeared to be a parade at the end of the street.

Quickly grabbing my camera and my key, I went outside and joined the procession. A large triangular-shaped wooded frame had been constructed in which was an enormous crucifix. The edges of the frame were decorated with squares of colored paper, which reminded me of the prayer flags of Tibet. This frame was being carried on the shoulders of about 6 men, surrounded by people with candles praying.

Ahead of this part of the procession were dancers, dressed in indigenous clothing, carrying bows and arrows, and other people in costumes, dressed as what looked like the devil, a monster of some sort, and a man dressed as a caricature of a woman. The indigenous dancers had elaborate headdresses shaped as a semi-circle, and in the center of each headdress was a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Also among the dancers were two men beating drums and playing flutes.

There is no way you can forget that you are walking on cobblestone streets, which is difficult enough in daylight. It was nighttime by now, and yet the dancers were vigorously dancing which moving forward with the marchers on these very same cobblestones without missing a step.

The whole experience was very magical, with the multitude of brilliant stars in the night sky, the music, whooping shouts of the dancers, the sound of the drums and the sound of the wooden arrows beating against the wooden bows, and every few blocks, fireworks would be set off – right up close, not at a distance as would happen in The States.

Meanwhile, the men were carrying the crucifix through the streets, the loud praying competing with the various sounds of the dancing troupe and revelers.

We were all walking throughout the streets for a while, when I suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was. It was nighttime, so it was difficult to orient myself, and therefore said to myself, “Well, I guess I will just continue to go with the procession until I know where I am,” even though my feet were telling me it was time to wrap it up. I know they would have to go back to the church with the crucifix.

Eventually, we were back in the village and when we reached my street, the procession turned right and I turned left to go back to my door. I was in my room by 11:30pm, and continued to hear the fireworks, singing and dancing for a while, but I have become used to the celebrations here, and within a short period of time, was sound asleep.

Because it was nighttime, my pictures and videos are not as good as they could be with more professional equipment, but I hope that you enjoy them nevertheless and perhaps listening to the music will stir your spirit as it did mine.

The only way I was able to post the videos was through You Tube, so I am posting three links here for you to click on in order to see and hear them and I hope you also enjoy the photographs:




La Catrina

When people think of Mexican culture, one of the most common themes is La Catrina and Day of the Dead. La Catrina is depicted as an elaborately dressed skeleton, and does in a way exemplify Mexican thought about death. The skeletons are not scary figures as they are in the United States, but reminders of loved ones who have departed.

However, the Calaveras began from quite different circumstances, which you can read about in detail here: http://www.mexican-folk-art-guide.com/catrina.html#.VvINVEfTXIW

Initially, it was satire, creating drawings of skeletons to represent politicians, celebrities, or others in situations to make fun of them. Then in 1888, Jose Guadalupe Posada created la Calavera Garbancera, which later became La Catrina. In spite of censorship, he was able, through his character La Catrina, to poke fun at politicians and describe injustices in a safe way.

The Catrinas (catrin is slang for a well-dressed rich person), were actually making fun of the elaborate dress of the rich, with their faces covered in make-up.  The heading of the newspaper article in the link states, “Those garbanceras who today are coated with makeup will end up as deformed skulls.”

Even so, La Catrina is now inextricably linked with Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead….

Comala, the Magical Town and the Colima Dog

Had a wonderful, relaxing day today! It took me less than an hour to finish my work in the office, and then I took the bus to Comala to relax, walk around, do some shopping and have a bite to eat.

The first thing I did when I got off the bus was to go to the jardín and have a snack of tacos with pork. Then I began walking around, and there was a lot to see – vendors surrounded the jardín selling everything you can think of – food, clothing, toys, artisanal items and jewelry. Stretched across the jardín were the letters COMALA Pueblo Mágico (Comala, the magical town). There was also a stage set up where I imagine there will be music later on this evening.

After another snack of hot coffee and a pineapple empanada, I continued my walk. Two things that Colima is famous for: the Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) and the Colima Dog. This dog, Xolo (short for Xoloitzcuintle, pronounced show-low-eats-queen-tlee) has been in Mexico for over 3000 years, and can therefore claim to be the first dog of the Americas. It is believed to be a relative of the chihuahua or Mexican hairless dog.

Xolo was a multi-purpose dog, used for food, guardian of the dead, healer and watch dog. At least two different types of dogs evolved – one to be fattened up and eaten or ritually sacrificed and one to use as a guard dog.

You can find pottery Xolos all over the place here, and they have also been found in tombs of the Toltec, Aztec, Maya, Zapoteca and Colima Indians. On the way to Colima City, there is a traffic circle with two huge “dancing dogs” which legend says signify an older dog talking into the ear of a younger dog, imparting wisdom and maybe secrets.

I mention the Colima dog, because there were very large statues of it throughout the jardín today, and I am attaching pictures of some of them.

Just before I got back on the bus to return to Cofradía, I noticed a green bus labeled “The Café Bus.” It looked interesting, so I asked my friend at the office about it, and then looked it up online. Seems that it gives a 6-hour tour all about coffee, and you get to drink some on the tour also.

Even though I’m retired, I still feel as if I sometimes have coffee instead of blood in my veins, and I certainly still enjoy my caffeine, so one day in the next month or so, I will have to take the tour.

So – enjoy the pictures, and I will write a post about La Catrina shortly…..

Flowers, Foliage and Trees

This will mainly be a post of photographs taken on my walks. With the tropical climate, there is always something in bloom, and some unusual sights. One such sight was “The Guardian,” which I was told was a tree that is revered in a village near the volcano. It is said that in all the times the volcano has erupted, the village was never harmed or destroyed, and they believe it is the spirit of this tree that protects them.

I have several pictures of the tree, which appeared from a distance to be enormous. When I got right up to it, it appeared that The Guardian is actually several trees with the trunks intertwined.   The trunk are so arranged that there is a hollow which you can climb, if you are so inclined (I wasn’t).

There was also an avocado orchard on the grounds.

Also on my morning walks, I found a papaya tree, surrounded by squash vines and a tree growing out of the branch of a larger tree. If I had binoculars, I could probably get a closer look, but for now I believe it might be an epiphyte – and that it grew initially out of dirt which accumulated on the branch of the larger tree. I might be totally mistaken, but that is how it appears for now.

There is also a picture of a flower growing in the courtyard of the Hacienda, with eye-popping color, and the photo does not do the coloring justice.

So I will close for now and leave you with these photographs of interesting and beautiful plant life.


Attending a Conference – En Español…

Even though I officially retired from nursing in December 2015, I still try to keep up-to-date about medicine and science in general, so I was delighted when my friend Magda, a nurse here in Mexico, asked if I would like to go to an international nursing conference in Manzanillo.

The conference was the 2do Congreso Internacional de Salud – the second international conference of health, sponsored by the University of Guanajuato, and the focus was the treatment and care of the older adult with a multidisciplinary perspective.  Because of the “international” aspect, I was hoping to meet nurses from different parts of the world, and also hopeful that some of the talks would be in English.

As it turned out, two of the talks were in English, with Magda and Dr. Nicolas Padilla translating into Spanish. The other talks were in Spanish, but thankfully all but one had detailed PowerPoints, which enabled me to follow along by reading and understanding the Spanish written on the Power Point slides.

There were very good presentations about nutrition to maintain muscle mass and functioning of the older adult, Alzheimers care and research, multidisciplinary care at the end of life,  spirituality in the older adult and a very interesting talk about sexuality in the older adult. There were also poster sessions about, among other topics, diabetes and violence and the maternity patient, which was very interesting (the violence did not refer to domestic violence, but rather how some healthcare workers treat the pregnant patient throughout the pregnancy and in labor and delivery).

I also met two wonderful nurses from the U.S. who are doing wonderful work, and with whom I had some great discussions, and with whom I plan to stay in touch.  Dr. Barbara Mader was a public health nurse and is now the founder and director of a wellness center in New Mexico (and I absolutely could not believe that she is 83 years old!) and Dr. Marjaneh Fooladi is a professor in Texas.

It would have been a fantastic experience all by itself, hearing the talks and meeting such wonderful healthcare providers and sharing stories, but the icing on the cake was the location of the event – the Hotel Barceló Karmina Palace Deluxe, situated right on the beach of the Pacific Ocean in Manzanillo.

Walking through it, I got the feeling of being in a stone temple of the Aztecs or Olmecs. The suite was larger than any hotel room I have been in with a beautiful view of the ocean from my window. There was a balcony facing the beach and the bathroom was a big as some hotel rooms – two sinks, an enormous tub, a separate shower, and sliding wooden doors, onyx soap dishes and tissue box. There were also many swimming pools there, but the water was too cool for my taste, and if I had thought of it, I would have gone swimming in the ocean instead, as it would have been much warmer than the pool.

I had totally forgotten about St. Patrick’s Day, and was reminded about it by the Mexicans – that, and the fact that it is also my saint’s name day. However, I was really in the mood for Japanese food, so Magda and I went to the Japanese restaurant, Kyoto, for dinner, and I had sake instead of beer or tequila.

So, all things considered, if anyone has a chance to go to an international conference of any type, I would highly encourage it, and not let the language barrier stop you – but learning a few phrases in the language of that country would also be a nice thing to do.




A few days ago, I wrote an article about coffee and corn. One other thing this land has plenty of is wonderful fresh fruit. We recently visited a banana plantation, so today’s post will be all about that fruit.

The banana tree starts out as an offshoot of the mother tree, after Mom has already  produced its bananas. From the time the baby starts to grow, it is about 10 months until it is large enough to produce fruit.  After the tree bears fruit, it is cut down to make room for the new plant to grow.

The fruit starts to form inside a cluster of purplish-colored leaves that look like an upside-down teardrop. As each leaf curls back, you see the tiny cluster of newly-formed bananas (a “hand”), curving upward. Initially there are flowers, which grow rapidly into fruits without pollination (parthenogenesis). The black crusty tip of the ripe banana is where the flower was originally.

When the bananas are fully grown and ready to be harvested, there are many bunches on a long stalk. The stalks are cut and hoisted onto an overhead conveyor system, and are then pulled by hand into the processing area. Each stalk can weigh 35 kilograms or more – that is, at least 77 pounds – a lot of weight for a man to lift.

Does anyone remember Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song? If not, here is the song along with the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGuYoRWbgt8 –  and, while I am in Mexico, and he was singing about the dock workers in Jamaica, it is the same hard work, and the dock workers in Jamaica, I imagine, were doing all the heavy lifting without benefit of the conveyor…

Once they are in the processing area, a worker cuts the bunches off the stalk and drops them into a water bath. Women then cut them into bunches of approximately 2 lbs. or whatever is required by the buyer, and then drop them into another water bath, separating out the bananas that aren’t perfect for shipment. Those that are not considered fit for shipment will be ground up and used as compost/fertilizer on the plantation.

One of the things that is washed off the banana is a latex sap. Latex is not only in rubber trees, but also in other plants, such as the banana, so someone who is allergic to latex would not be able to eat this fruit. For people with a high allergy to latex, avocados, chestnuts and kiwi are also on this list, with apples, carrots, celery, papayas, potatoes, tomatoes and melons associated with moderate reactions, and many other food sources having a low or undetermined reactive possibility (www.latexallergyresources.org ).

The bananas are then washed off one more time and dried with large fans. Then they are labeled with tape and packed into boxes, then to be shipped via truck to their destination. They are shipped while still green, in an atmosphere of gas which keeps them from ripening any further until they reach their destination.

The bananas I saw were being shipped to Chiquita. While these bananas are grown organically, they are not shipped to just one company, and one company might obtain their fruit from many plantations. The buyer finds sources for their produce, then places the orders, and the bananas are then labeled according to the company that is purchasing them.

There are many factors affecting the quantity and quality of the harvest. There is climate and pests which need to be accounted for in the maintenance of the trees. There was a man there mixing a solution of sulfur and calcium over a wood fire, and he would then fill dozens of jugs with the solution. This solution would then be painted on the trunks of the trees to deter pests.

Many of the bunches of ripening bananas looked like they were wearing white dresses. It turned out that not only were these coverings protecting the fruit from pests, but also to control the temperature. It has been unseasonably cold here in Mexico, and the banana trees need to grow and thrive in tropical heat, so the coverings were put on to maintain an acceptable temperature. I have similarly seen bushes in New York wrapped in burlap for the winter months to protect them from the cold.

I know this is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about bananas, but I hope you have enjoyed reading at least part of it, enjoy the photos, and also enjoyed listening to the Banana Boat song. For those of you with latex allergies, or those who have a friend or family member with that condition, I have provided a little life-saving information as an extra bonus.

So when you next purchase our bananas at the supermarket, you will know the effort it took to bring them to your neighborhood.  Buen provecha!!!




La Yerbabuena, Coffee and Corn

Greetings again ! In this post, I will talk about the coffee-making process, and also the process of turning corn into tortillas. Both are very labor-intensive, but for those who obtain their food from supermarkets, you probably have never thought to question what goes into making these items.

Today, we volunteers took a ride to La Yerbabuena, near the foot of the Volcan de Fuego (Colima’s Volcano of Fire), and home of Jose Ramon’s coffee fields. The coffee trees produce the beans once per year, and it takes 8 tons of coffee beans to produce one ton of coffee. Jose Ramon processes 48 tons of beans to make 6 tons of coffee per year.  The beans were on the trees today. The berries are red and the actual bean is in the center, like the pit of a cherry. I tasted the “pulp” around one of the beans, and it was very sweet.

Some of the beans are put through a grinder to remove the pulp, and then the beans are washed and put out on cement to dry in the sun, the pulp being used as compost for the plants. Some of the berries are not stripped of their pulp, but put out in the sun as is to dry.  Most of the berries are red on the trees, but occasionally there is a mutation which will turn them a yellow color, but it is still the same coffee bean.

The bitterness and acidity of the final product depends on how long you let it dry and how  long you roast the beans. He was very informative, but there were so many variables throughout the process, that I cannot remember it all to repeat here, but I do remember that the beans he grows are Arabica.

Behind his store, he had a small area where he roasts his beans over a wood fire. It was unbelievable to me that he would roast all 48 tons of beans in that one small pan, and do it himself. When all is said and done, he bags the coffee as whole beans, ground beans, plus sells hot and cold coffee at the store, and it is the best coffee in the area. After the tour, we volunteers had a variety of his drinks, from regular coffee (cafe Americano), to espresso, to my delicious cold frappe, all while looking out at the fields and coffee trees.

Not long ago, we also visited the family of one of our students – a family that makes a living selling homemade tortillas. If you’ve ever wondered where the corn flour comes from for cooking, it will probably come as a surprise that it is a very time-consuming and laborious process.

The dried corn kernels are hard and indigestible, so they are soaked in a lime solution, not only to re hydrate and soften them, but also to break down the protein so that they can be easily digested. Once they are softened, they are dried again and ground into powder. Then water is added to the powder and mixed together to form a dough. The dough is then ground again with a stone mortar and pestle which makes the texture incredibly light and smooth. After that, it is formed into balls by hand, pressed in a tortilla press to make it flat and round, and then cooked on a wood fire.

We volunteers, for the most part, were OK rolling the dough into balls and pressing them, but it took practice and skill to lay it out on the pan to cook without causing it to fold onto itself or have wrinkles.

As I stated, it is incredibly hard and time-consuming work. I don’t think people of other countries realize how incredibly hard the people of these communities work to simply stay alive and make a very basic living, and I am so grateful that they have an organization such as Project Amigo helping to keep their children in school, which will enable them to have a better life.


A Very Personal Story to Share

Good morning, Gentle Readers, as Isaac Asimov would say. Today’s entry is very personal, and I have struggled over whether or not to even tell it publicly. However, I have decided to share it now to show the love and compassion of the people among whom I am living.

I have recently experienced a loss, as some of you may have guessed from a previous post. My mother suffered a massive stroke the day after her 97th birthday and has passed away. It is a difficult enough thing when you are present and it is doubly difficult when you are not only far away, but in a different country as well. However, with the technology of telephones, email and Skype, I was able to have conversations with my family members.

When the people here, Americans, Canadians and Mexicans, heard about my Mom, they were very caring, talking with me, and my being able to recall some humorous events from my life at home helped a lot.

One of the directors, Anilu,  told me that our students in the homework club would like to build an altar to my Mom, and requested her name, some pictures and other information about her. She also said that I would need to prepare her favorite food. So, I gratefully accepted the offer.

My mother was 100% Ukrainian, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who didn’t speak English until she started school. So I included a picture of the Ukrainian flag and a picture of the Trident – symbol of Ukraine. I also sent to photographs, one taken in 1948 (the year she was married) and one from last year with one of her great-grandchildren.

In her final years, she always wanted baked chicken and mashed potatoes, and she occasionally liked a glass of beer so I knew that was what I should prepare. The chicken was no problem at all in this village and neither was obtaining beer, but the white potatoes were a problem. So, a few days ago I took the hour-long bus ride to Soriana in the village of Villa de Alvarez, where I knew I could buy them since they stock many foods that are not traditionally Mexican.   And so yesterday, I cooked the meal.

At 3pm, more than 20 students arrived, with Jessi here to direct the action. They moved tables and couches upstairs to clear an adequate space. They had rolls of tissue paper,  which they cut by hand into delicate, lace-like flags. String was found, and two lines of blue and yellow flags (the colors of Ukraine) were strung on either side of the altar, which was constructed by stacking tables and covering containers.

Beautiful flowers were made from the yellow tissue paper. Blue and yellow streamers were attached from the banister upstairs winding down to the fountain. Candles and bowls of fruit appeared and were placed on the altar. While coming back from the kitchen in the Suegras residence, I ran into Doña Meche and told her about my Mom. She gave me a hug, offered condolences and prayers, and said she would be there with white flowers; she arrived after the students with a big bucket of lilies and roses.

The students had also made frames for my mother’s two pictures and a frame around the flag and trident. The final act of the students was to make a cross out of salt at the foot of the altar – which is believed to cleanse the soul of the departed. The flowers were placed in pitchers on either side.

When it was done, a glass of water was placed on the altar, followed by the chicken and potatoes and a glass of beer. It was too dangerous to light the candles and leave them there (meant to guide the spirit, I think), so I lit one and after a few minutes blew it out.

I had no experience with this tradition before, so I was expecting something much smaller that might possible fit on top of a dresser. I had no idea how big it would be, and the students, all of them working on their part, took over two hours to complete it.

I was overwhelmed and unable to speak more than words of gratitude – saying over and over “Muchas gracias” and then get a picture of the altar, Jessi and all the students. And in case you are wondering about the sign above the altar – my mother was born in 1919. I had not mentioned that to Anilu when she asked for information about my Mom. The only dates in evidence were that the one picture was taken in 1948 and the other was recent, so that is why it says “Rose Ryan, 1948-2016” – but that makes this experience even more unique.

So I will end now with the thought that I am so lucky to be here with such caring people who would share their traditions with me to honor my mother.