Día de los Muertos

In Mexico, the first day of November is el Día de los Muertos. This holiday is becoming more well known in the US due to the popularity of movies like Coco, but there’s no comparison to seeing how the day is actually celebrated. The week before the holiday at UPAEP, there was a competition of ofrendas between different student groups, some of which are pictured below. In this case the altars were mostly dedicated to various famous figures. As the actual day approached, more and more ofrendas were constructed in downtown Puebla in honor of important people. There was also a lot of Pan de Muertos for sale, which is a sweet bread made special for the holiday, and it is  commonly used to decorate altars. The OU in Puebla group had the opportunity to visit a bakery and see how the Pan de Muertos is made.  The buns are decorated with criss-crossing strips of dough (which represent bones) and a ball on top (which represents a skull).

On November 1st, I went to the town of Atlixco. Atlixco is known for it’s flowers and for having the “best climate in the world.” In the Zócalo, there was a long area covered in marigolds and other traditional flowers, forming a complex and beautiful pattern which could be viewed from a walkway above. We also visited a cemetery there, where people were constructing altars to their family members. We didn’t linger long, but the general feeling was one of happiness and festivity, but also respect.

Tamarind

This post will be a bit silly, but as I was going through pictures to make a different post, I noticed several pictures of tamarind flavored foods. Tamarind is a seed pod which contains a sticky, and delicious, paste. It’s not common in the US, but it is everywhere in Mexico, and I fear I may have become a bit obsessed. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is try new fruits and other produce that is uncommon (or prohibitively expensive) in the US, but are abundant in their native soils. Unfortunately, this means I’ll be left craving it when I get back to the US. Tamarind is commonly used in Indian cooking as well, so I’ll definitely be frequenting the Indian and Mexican markets in Oklahoma City once I get back to the US.

Mexico City

One of my classes being taught by the OU faculty in residence, specifically Dr. Marc Levine, is an archeology class on ancient Mesoamerica. We’ve gone on a previous field trip to Oaxaca, where Dr. Levine does research, but this time we went to Mexico City. On the first day, we went to Teotihuacan, the ruins of a major Aztec center. The site is enormous, and it’s not difficult to picture it as a city. We were able to climb the pyramid of the sun, which provided a beautiful view of the region.

Among other things, we went to the National Museum of Anthropology and to remains of Tenochtitlan contained within the city itself. Most notable was the Plaza de Tres Culturas. This plaza was also the location of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre. Standing in the place where this tragedy that I’ve learned so much about took place, and knowing how much the freedom of speech and freedom to protest has improved since was very moving. We were also able to go see two performances over the weekend. One was a classic, and very fun, musical called Mentiras. The other was a performance by the Ballet Folklorico, which was beautifully danced and joy to watch. Our final visit was to the Museum of Tolerance. I cannot stress enough how moving an experience this was. I firmly believe that anyone who visits Mexico city should take the time to visit the museum and take a guided tour. 

Jardín Botánico

One of my two UPAEP classes this semester is evolutionary ecology. I’m really enjoying the class, and we went on a field trip recently. We drove to the town of Jalapa in Vera Cruz and went to the botanical gardens there. We had a guided tour where we learned about the ecological diversity of Mexico and the different plant species in the garden. This is a really great opportunity since Mexico is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.

These sorts of gardens preserve not only botanical diversity but insect diversity as well. As an aficionado of bugs and insect photography, I spent a lot of the day running between my classmates as they pointed out interesting bugs I could photograph. You can see some of these photos below. 

La Noche Mexicana

September 16 is Mexican independence day. I spent most of that day on a hike (which I’ll post about later), so the bulk of my celebration was actually a few days prior. UPAEP held an event called Noche Mexicana. There was music, dancing, and a plethora of booths where campus organizations sold typical Mexican food. While most of the night was devoted to the live music, there were also several dance performances by the university’s folkloric dance group. Also, near the end of the evening was a presentation of the Mexican flag and some words by the rector. He finished the short ceremony with the “grita de independencia” which is a loud shout of “viva Mexico” in celebration of the country’s independence.

Talavera

Mexico has a rich history of distinctive art forms and handicrafts. One practice which is distinctive to Puebla is the making of talavera. This is a specific method of making beautiful ceramics which dates to the colonial period, though it also has much earlier roots. We were able to take a tour of a workshop called Uniarte Talavera, where these ceramics are produced by hand following old traditions. The work looks tedious, but the workers were very kind in allowing us to observe them at their craft. The resulting talavera beautiful and masterfully made.

Bienvenido a Mexico

I may have mentioned in posts from this spring that prior to traveling to Cuba, my class stayed in Puebla, Mexico for two days. I’m now back in Puebla and will be spending the semester here! I’ll be studying at the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, better known as UPAEP. OU actually has a study center here, meaning I’ll be taking two classes with OU faculty in residence and two local classes: Ecología Evolutiva and Historia Política de Mexico.

So far I’ve been settling into my classes and exploring the city. Mexico has a long and rich history of murals stretching back to pre-hispanic times, so I’ve included some photos of that tradition being carried on today. Beyond just appreciating the color and beauty of the city, I’ve also had the opportunity to start exploring the history of the city. There are a ton of museums here as well old fortresses (including those from the battle of Cinco de Mayo) and nearby archeological sites.

Hiking la Malinche

I was really lucky to have been able to go on a hike one weekend. Puebla is located in a valley and is surrounded by mountains and volcanic activity. I really love hiking, so I’ve been looking forward to exploring the trails here. The mountain we hiked, and nearly summited, was la Malinche. It took us four hours to ascend and two to go back down. The thin air at this elevation made the going difficult, but we still managed to climb to around 14,600 feet (4,461 m). For context, the city of Puebla rests at 7,000 ft (2,135 m). 

There were a surprising amount of dogs on the trail who would follow us for stretches. We also got caught in a could which you can see in the time-lapse video below. Some of my classmates have let me know about a local mountaineering group, so I’m hoping to do this more in the future! 

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Charming Cuba

I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Cuba as part of a Tropical Ecology class this Spring break. Something that often though about throughout the trip but that I didn’t was the idea of things Americans find charming about Cuba being borne out of hardships for the Cuban people. I think the best examples of this are the old cars, the restricted access to internet, and the emphasis on Cuban music and media.

The old cars are of course very enchanting to many tourists. That combined with the restricted access to internet and the lack of international chain businesses has caused many people in the US to describe Cuba as being like stuck in a time warp. Specifically, I’ve heard a bunch of people in the US (even those who have never been to Cuba) describe travel to Cuba as being like stepping back into the 1950’s, a period of time which is over-idealized in the US. This sounds very quaint, but the reality is that Cuba isn’t like the 1950’s America or like 1950’s Cuba; it is the modern day reality of living in a developing country. I’m sure many Cubans would love internet access and easy access to goods just like we do. With the cars in particular, the environmental impact they have on the island is readily visible and the cause of a lot of air pollution. And even though Cubans love their cars, and many might not even prefer a new one, it’s still important to keep in mind that the reason they are in the position to only have the option of old cars is the trade embargo, which has caused a lot of suffering.

Three Idiots

The Integrity Council hosted a Bollywood movie night a few weeks ago as a part of Integrity Week. They showed a movie called Three Idiots, and I would highly recommend any readers who haven’t seen it to give it a watch. Three Idiots addressed a lot of themes related to the intense stress present in high pressure academic environments. Some of these themes were related to academic integrity (hence the reason that the integrity council hosted the showing), but there were also many scenes related to mental health and suicide. That being said, the movie overall was very fun and the ending seemed to encourage the audience to follow their dreams rather than worrying about other’s expectations.

One interesting thing I noticed while watching the film was that the characters alternated between speaking English and Hindi. India is the second most linguistically diverse country in the world, so this made me curious as to the roles English and Hindi play in cross-linguistic communication in India. Another linguistically interesting aspect of the film was a scene in which a character who is not entirely fluent in Hindi gives a speech written in “high Hindi” which he doesn’t understand. He was reciting a memorized speech which was written in a register of Hindi which is very formal and not often spoken. The main characters took advantage of the fact that this register was not intelligible to the person who would be giving the speech in order to tamper with the script we would be memorizing beforehand. It was very interesting to see how language could be used to construct a prank in this way.