Patriotism and an earthquake

For this post I had actually planned to write about last weekend and the national celebration of Mexicos independence day on 16th of September. However, now there is an earthquake I would like to talk about. I am not going to bore you with the facts about the earthquake that happened on tuesday in Central Mexico, you can check that in the news. I want to talk about the atmosphere and what is going on here in Mexico.

The month of september is a month of pride for Mexico due to the celebration of independence. The whole month you find city centers decorated with the faces of the heroes of the independence and with the colours of the flag – white, red and green. This year I heard a little jingle on the radio – imagine a Mariachi like melody singing “México, México, México que país!” Than I don’t remember well the lyrics, but in the end it said “Unidos somos uno, un sólo México”. So translated: “Mexico, Mexico, Mexico, what a country! United we are one, one Mexico.” Never ever would you hear or see such a public display of patriotism in Germany. Yes, ok, we put out our flags for a FIFA worldcup or Europe cup, but that’s no more than pseudo national pride. Mexicans are actually proud to be mexicans! They are aware of the problems in their country, but they love it anyways. That is something I absolutely admire but it’s true – there are a lot of reasons to be proud of our home countries!

The earthquake in Central Mexico happened two days ago and since then everyone I know is doing something to support the people in Mexico City and the states of Morelos and Puebla. People living in Mexico City distribute messages about where help is needed via WhatsApp and facebook, people living in the surrounding cities like Querétaro distribute messages about places where people can bring relief such as food, articles of personal hygiene (diapers, paper, shampoo etc.), blankets, clothes and so on. Daily several trucks and vans leave Querétaro, bringing the needed articles to the affected areas. Just on a short walk in the city center today, I saw 4 of those places where relief is collected – it can be anything: a café, a university, a medical station, any public place really. People are even collecting in their houses to help the people in need. Most of the news you get via facebook and WhatsApp – I read about a woman who is collecting toys and things for children at her home to bring it to the affected areas, there are messages asking for translators because german and english speaking people from european brigades come to Mexico City to evaluate the damages and help with reconstruction. On facebook I saw the message of a couple living in Mexico City that went around several places to bring food yesterday – at three places they were sent away because there was no need for food anymore! The user wrote that it was kind of frustrating but also amazing that so many people are helping!

Mexico is being very strong and the population incredibly supportive. Something that cannot be said from the mexican government where several deputies refused to help the people in need. People are angry about that as they say they pay taxes, so it’s their money the government doens’t want to give them when they are in need. Hopefully, people will remember this in the next election.

The earthquake happened on 19th of september, exactly 32 years later than the last big earthquake in Mexico City in 1985. Mexicans are superstitious and believe in destiny, so they say that this can not have been a coincidence. In 1985, thousands of people got killed and over a million of people where left without their homes. The good news is, that since then, construction improved to prevent such a disaster and it worked: In a city of millions and millions of inhabitants, only around 40 building collapes this time and so far there are 250 dead due to the earthquake.

I also think that this earthquake wasn’t a coincidence. I don’t know yet, what was it’s purpose, but so far the consequences it brings are good: mexicans working together and helping eachother without much help from their government but with a lot of support from one another.

Mariachi and ‘Despacito’

So today I want to talk about music in Mexico. The amount of german music that’s present to mexican people is pretty much limited to Rammstein, Mozart and Beethoven. Other than that people might have heard of the electronic music scene in Germany and of the song “99 Luftballons” from 1990s star Nena, although the english version ’99 red balloons’ ist far more known outside of Germany, I guess.

Same applies to mexican music for us Germans – before coming to Mexico I had never heard of Alejandro Fernandez or Juan Gabriel and they are mexican superstars in the music industry. My brother in law was shocked when he found out that I didn’t know them! However, one mexican musical genre is world-famous I suppose: Mariachi music. This music than can be both happy and sad, but is mostly rather up-beat. It’s usually performed at a birthday or some other event with one or various guitars, violins, trumpets and sometimes different flutes. A typical job for a group of Mariachis is to be send to the window of a woman by the ladies boyfriend or admirer and play for her outside on the streets below her window in order to show the admirers love. Mariachi always dress up in their traditional costume when performing and where the big hats – sombreros. Lately, women can also be Mariachi, although it remains a classic male occupation.

Besides traditional mexican music, there is a lot of US-american music in the radio – sure, stars like Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson or Miley Cirus are known everywhere. The funny part is, that often songs that everyone knows and that are originally in english, have their spanish version. I have this heard with a couple of Beatles songs and with ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ from the Jackson Five (1978), which Luis Miguel (another mexican singer who has become famous in all Latin America) converted to ‘Será que no me amas’ in 1990. The lyrics are more or less similar, but it’s certainly not a direct translation. The melody however is clearly the same.

Spanish music is of course very big in Mexico – whether it comes from Spain, Colombia or any other spanish-speaking country. This means music of all genres and from a lot of different countries, but this music unites Latin America in their identity. Before I came to Mexico, I didn’t know any spanish and had never lived in a spanish-speaking country, but even I knew some songs from my childhood and youth – songs that were played on kids parties and in the radio. Of course the most famous one is ‘La Macarena’ – who doesn’t know this song?! But with some other I surprised Gus even more when singing them: ‘Veo veo’ (Tatiana), ‘Asereje’ (Las Ketchup) or ‘Hijo de la luna’ (Mecano).

Today, songs in spanish or at least in a mix of english and spanish are popular around the globe. Latin singers are conquering even the german radio – Shakira, Ricky Martin or Marc Anthony are just a few examples. Personally, I really like that the latin music is becoming more popular, however I feel a bit sad because so far, only one kind of song part of this trend: happy party music, for example ‘Loca’ or ‘La Bicicleta’ from Shakira, ‘Vayamos compañeros’ by Marquess, ‘Bailando’ from Enrique Iglesias or ‘Danza Kuduro’ by Don Omar. Don’t get me wrong – I love most of these songs and they tend to make me feel like life is easy and all you have to do is dance, but artists like Shakira, Enrique Iglesias or Ricky Martin have so much more to offer than these simple ‘party songs’. But well, apparently these are the songs people want to here – Reggaeton most of all it seems, because not only do I hear ‘Despacito’ from Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on every street corner here in Mexico, but also in the european radio. Similar to ‘Despacito’, the following songs playing were everywhere during the last couple of months here in Mexico: ‘Subeme la Radio’ (Enrique Iglesias), ‘Chantaje’ (Shakira feat. Maluma), ‘Reggaetón lento’ (CNCO) and ‘Vente pa’ca’ (Ricky Martin feat. Maluma). Songs like this in spanish or mixed between english and spanish are incredibly popular and it seems like more and more artists follow the example of Pitbull or Daddy Yankee in this genre. The thing about this music is, that even though the lyrics usually don’t say much or talk about sex and are often disrespectful towards women, it’s music that will make you move and probably make you feel like you are in the Caribbean dancing on the streets or on the beach – it’s feel-good-music. And well, there are so many songs with no meaning – at least these ones allow you some day dreaming 😉

 

Mexico for the senses

Mexico is a country that’s famous for it’s lively, colourful way of life. You think of Mexico and bright colours come to mind whether they are imprinted on a traditional dress or give the exotic fruits their appeal. Houses are painted in a lot of different colours and are not just held in tones of brown, white and other discreet colours.

Now imagine a Mexican market – when I go to such a market, I am always fascinated by the rush of the vendors, people walking around buying their things, fresh fruit and vegetables next to clothes, baked goods and electronic devices. All the different things you may purchase and all the smells – spices are being sold loose in big bags, so you can smell their aroma which is still mostly unfamiliar to me, the wonderful intense smell of fruit and vegetable that is so ripe the exotic fruit we buy in European supermarkets will never get. Then the smell of chlorine based chemicals businesses such as the butcher use to clean their premises mixed with the warm air that is always missing ventilation in the market halls. You keep going and smell more and more – the smell of plastic from the cheap electronic devices, the smell of new clothes, of herbs and plants and the smell of sea when you walk by the fish and seafood section.

I love how colourful and intense Mexico is and it is something that fascinated me right from the beginning. But I also have to admit, that sometimes, it’s a challenge to keep up, let me explain:

You may have heard of the term “highly sensitive person”. In modern neuroscience, this is the term to describe someone who receives more stimuli than an average person. The highly sensitive person experiences and processes the stimulus more intensively. This means that the person can have a much more intense experience with their surroundings. But it can also mean that everyday life situations can be challenging for him or her because instead of focusing on the thing they want to do and everything that’s important for that task to be concluded they see, hear, feel a lot more of what’s in their environment. So maybe instead of concentrating on the person who is talking to him or her and what that person is saying, they might only think about how their clothes are itchy, how it’s too hot in the room, how the music is playing too loud or the discussion the people next to them are having.

Now I am not highly sensitive, but every now and then in Mexico, I feel like I am. The perception of temperature, volume, texture and the intensity of smell doesn’t seem to be the same for my Mexican family and for me:

In Mexico, you will always find ‘background sound’ wherever you go – sometimes it’s music but mostly it’s a turned on TV that nobody is watching. There just always needs to be a sound on rather high volume in the background. It’s one of those things I will probably never understand, but you just have to deal. For me, the TV is a killer for any communication because it makes it harder to understand the other person, it creates a distraction and in case that somebody is actually watching you don’t want to disturb that person. In general, volume sometimes is an issue. Music or TV is always on high volume, people are talking loudly or are almost shouting when they stand right next to you, making it impossible for me to have a conversation.

I feel to perceive temperature more intensely in Mexico than in Germany: When it’s hot here in Mexico, it’s really really hot and I can only smile at the thought that in the North of Germany we call 25 degrees Celsius ‘hot’. When it’s cold in Mexico, it feels even colder because no one is prepared for the cold – houses are not constructed against cold but against heat and in winter that same house can feel like the ice palace from the movie ‘Frozen’. There is no heating or adequate clothing, you can just put on a lot of layers and hide underneath a thick blanket. In both cases, I am always the first one to feel hot or cold. I am either the first one of the family to start sweating although I am already wearing light clothes compared to my niece wearing jeans and sweater when it’s 30 C out there or I am the first one to look for a warm jacket and a big blanket when I am already wearing knitted socks and a scarf inside the house.

I have to get back at the smells one more time, because Mexico is so rich in aromas: Sometimes when I am out in the street, the different, intense smells are a challenge. You smell different kinds of delicious food, skunk, emissions, air conditioning, wonderful flowers and trees, delicious baked goods like churros someone is selling on the street and with the rainy season also the smell of sewage water when the drain pipe system of an area gets blocked. Then suddenly, Germany just seems clean and boring, without sensations and emotions, diversity and challenges for the senses.

A multilingual marriage

One of the things that distinguishes the marriage of Gus and me from others is that we speak different languages. My mother tongue is German, Gus’ mother tongue is Spanish. During the first couple of months of our relationship, Gus and me communicated in English. This was the time when I had just started to learn Spanish and my Spanish was rather ‘bumpy’ at the time. Luckily, Gus speaks well English which definitely doesn’t apply to most Mexicans. After about 4 months of knowing eachother, we changed to Spanish at some point. At first, it was a bit weird. I don’t know if you have ever noticed this, but when you meet somebody new and start communicating with him or her in one language, it is weird to switch the language and you will most likely feel a bit uncomfortable at first. However, if you speak several languages with one person from the beginning of your relationship, it doesn’t feel weird at all to switch between two or more languages with this person. Anyways, this was just a brief moment of weirdness and it was definitely the right decision to switch to Spanish at that point. Communicating in Spanish for us means, that Gus speaks his mother tongue and I always have a slight disadvantage. Of course, this disadvantage was bigger before when I was just learning Spanish and got smaller over time, but it will still always be there. This is nothing bad, it’s just the way it is. On the other hand, I understand (almost) everything Gus says, he however, doesn’t have a clue what I am talking about when I talk in German. To be honest, I don’t know how it feels for him to not be able to understand me in certain situations.

Having a multilingual relationship has a lot of advantages because you have a huge motivation to learn a new language or to get better at a language you already speak in order to improve communication. If both spouses speak several languages, you can switch depending on the people you’re with and either switch to their language or switch to another one if you don’t want them to understand you 😉 It means, understanding your partner in different ‘versions’ and having a connection independent from language. You realize, that communication doesn’t depend on language, because every language has different forms of saying and describing something and these can be pretty different. Depending on the language you talk in, one partner has an advantage and can help the other one in communication. It’s also interesting to see, how body language, tone of voice etc. changes depending on the language you talk in at that moment. Gus’ voice is lower in Spanish than in English, my body language is more expressive in German than in Spanish.

Of course, for Gus the different languages in our relationship can also mean great fun, when he makes a joke that he knows I will have trouble understanding and sees me trying to figure it out (see spanish article ‘Deslices linguisticos’). Or when he makes me say something funny or naughty and I don’t have any idea what it means.

However, sometimes there are also small problems because of the lack of understanding due to different languages. Gus can get impatient when I don’t get him or we simply talk at cross-purposes and get angry. I guess, this happens in every relationship but it can be pretty demotivating or even depressing, when it’s because of the lack of knowledge of another language that you think you speak well. Sometimes I just don’t get why we aren’t on the same page when I think I make myself perfectly clear and don’t see why Gus doesn’t understand me.

Another disadvantage is that there are certain linguistic borders. In German, I would probably make use of a saying that fits the situation perfectly. Then I try to translate the meaning of the saying to him in Spanish and I just see his face with a big interrogation mark and I see that he doesn’t have a clue what I am talking about. So I just leave it at that and think, one day he’ll understand when he can speak German.

#marriedtoamexican

 

 

Long distance relationship with happy ending

Today I want to talk about the time of Gus’ and my long distance relationship. There is a saying in mexican Spanish: “Amor de lejos es de pendejos” which means “Long distance love is for idiots”. When you hear this, the motivation sure gets a boost.

I just want to lay out the situation for you: Gus and me had a long distance relationship for a little more than 3 years. This was the time when I was studying in Giessen, Germany, and he was studying in Mexico. You might ask, “Why didn´t you, Hannah, study in Mexico or why didn’t Gus study in Germany?” Well, for Gus it was not possible at that moment to leave Mexico and go study somewhere else, luckily, this now has changed 🙂 And me, well I have to tell you that there are clear advantages to study in Germany – it is a lot cheaper to get a good education than in Mexico, the careers are much more flexible in the sense of internships, student exchanges etc. and a lot of careers we have in Germany, simply do not exist in Mexico or they only exist in very few universities through out the country.

So whilst we both were students, we were geographically seperated. Anyone who has had a relationship like this would always coma and ask us: “Isn’t it difficult? How do you do it?” To be honest, it never seemed very dificult to us, at least it wasn’t something impossible to do and we both new that it was worth so much to wait a little bit until we would see eachother again. On average, we saw each other every 6 months during this time. Sometimes it was just 3 or 4 months and sometimes even 7 or 8. When we saw eachother, the time together was always very intense – at least one of us was on holiday and therefore had a lot of time for the other one. Time was precious and we used it 100%. We did an awful lot of travelling during this time, especially around Europe. We spend the whole time together, just without going to the bathroom together. When we were apart, the most important thing for us was to let the other one be a part of your life even if he or she is so far away. So we communicated daily via facebook and WhatsApp, we talked on Skype once or twice a week and invented the ‘photo of the day’. By sending one picture daily of anything regarding our day, we had the feeling to be more a part of the other one’s life than with just talking and explaining. Over the years we had a lot of ‘photos of the day’ from food, our friends and family etc. Communiction is super important for a long distance relationship. So if you ever are in one – do not let all the circumstances interfere with your communication between one and the other. Gus and me also had the difficulty of the time difference. When I woke up in Germany, Gus was still sleeping (7 hours difference) and when I went to bed he still had half a day to come. We got into the habit of writing something for the other one to read when he or she woke up. I really loved to wake up and the first thing I would do was reading from Gus.

A key to surviving the time without eachother is to keep yourself busy. We both had a lot going on with our studies, work, hobbies etc. which makes time go by faster and therefore it feels like you see the other one again sooner. So since we were both pretty busy with our lifes and had a place for eachother for example when talking on skype, the only thing we both really really missed was physical contact. You might be surprised, but I don’t mean what you might think now. No, just a plain old hug, a kiss or taking the other ones hand would be totally enough. Because you know that sometimes you just need a hug and feel better immediately…

Another very important point is to know that this is just a temporary situation and that you will not be seperated geographically forever. The goal was always to have a ‘normal’ life together and you definitely need something like this to make things easier. Also it helps during the long distance time when you know when you will see the other one again. Once I or Gus had booked the flight ticket, it was always so much easier for me, because I knew the exact date when I would see him again and the countdown could began.

I have heard of a lot of long distance relationship in different situations and I have to say, that I think it helps, althoug it is not always necessary, to have a good foundation before starting this episode of your relationship. For us, it really helped, that I had already been living together with Gus for about 10 months in Mexico, before we started the long distance thing. But I also know couples who didn’t have this kind of ‘basis’ and it also worked out well. So, as always – things depend on the people who are involved and ther is not one solution for everyone.

The last thing I want to tell you about this kind of relationships is the goodbyes and the reunions. A long distance relationship is much more intense than a ‘normal’ relationship, because you are either seperated for a long time or together 24 hrs a day. So, the moment when these intense feelings reach its climax is the goodbyes and the reunions. Whenever I had to say goodbye to Gus at the airport and I knew we weren´t going to see each other again for several months, it just literally ripped my heart out. I didn’t want to go, I was weeping and wanted to stop the plane or bus or whatever. I was crying during the flight and people were looking at me like I was crazy. Then, a couple of days after, it was already a lot better, because we would both return to our daily lifes. And after a month or so I was already planning what we would do the next time we would see eachother.

Now the reunions: I have never felt so intense as in the moments before seeing Gus at the airport. It didn’t matter if I was receiving him or if was going to Mexico. During the trip to the airport/ the baggage claim/ the immigration/ etc. etc. everything was too slow, I was incredibly impatient and my heart started beating faster and faster. Until the moment when you stand in front of those doors and you know he is behind there. Whenever we saw eachother in this moment and had the first hug after months, all the tension went away and I was just crying out of happiness in his arms. This huge amount of happiness and luck and love was suddenly in my heart and I just wanted to embrace the whole world.

So, as you can see – a long distance relationship is not for wusses 😉

 

 

 

 

The sombrero, the donkey and the tequila

This is the post excerpt.

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I honestly don’t know where this stereotypical image of Mexicans comes from, but this is the idea a lot of people have about Mexico: A dark skinned guy leaning on a cactus in a desert-like landscape. The sun burning while he is taking a siesta with his sombrero on his head tapping his eyes. Next to him lies a bottle of Tequila and his donkey stands close-by.

To be honest, I also had this idea before coming to Mexico. I was expecting emerging cities and industries but I thought that in the rural areas I could actually see this image. Until today I have not solved the question why we have this idea in western Europe. My husband has no idea where it comes from so this is a true riddle.

Another idea, basically promoted by news we see and her about Mexico in Europe is that it’s an incredibly dangerous place – dead People lying on the street because of a war between drug dealers and cartels.

I am just going to cut to the chase here – both ideas are not true. Well, concerning the drug war I have to say that there were times when in some cities in the North of Mexico the situation was truly horrifying. This was during the time that Felipe Calderón was president of Mexico (2006 – 2012), before and after this most presidents just let the drug cartels be and don’t bother them too much, but Calderón decided to fight them which let to an escalation of the situation. Anyways – more on mexican politics in another post.

So what I am trying to say is that Mexico is nothing like this – Mexico is huge for european understaning (it fits about 30 european countries, I think) and incredibly diverse. This diversity is visible in culture, clothes, arquitecture, landscapes, climate zones, altitudes, language, history, mentality and food. There is desert and jungle, people working on their land with donkeys and modern industries, handcrafts and made in China, Catholicism and indigenous Religion and traditions. We will look into mexican history, geografics, etc. later, but I just want you to know: Mexico is an incredibly beautiful country and definitely worth a visit!

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Another very popular idea of Mexicans is that they are unreliable and lazy. That they are unreliable is mostly true – of course it depends on the person and the situation, but I would definitely say that Germans are more reliable. However, lazy is definitely an adjective that is not true for Mexicans: Most people have to work incredibly hard and long hours in order to supply for their family because of very low wages. In some rural areas, indigenous people are still growing plants and food with their own hands without any agricultural machines. Most students work and study at the same time to be able to pay for University.

So, here is a quick summary of what Mexico is for me: Living in central Mexico means sun (almost) everyday, it means spicy food, relaxed people, it means cars and busses everywhere, almost no bicycles and no train. It means being close with the family, because here in Mexico, family is everything. It means people looking at you like you are from another planet and people welcoming you into their home or helping you in an incredibly nice and welcoming manner. It means dealing with Machismo and with false friends and promises as well as having the best parties of your life and living life to the fullest. It means you can get yourself out of a ticket in exchange for some cash and driving around in a car with 6 or 7 people. It means you don’t have to worry and should just enjoy life instead of worrying about the future like they teach us in Europe. It means very high temperatures in spring and freezing in winter because of the lack of a heating in the house.

Ultimately, it means a lot of adjustment and possiblities, because in Mexico, everything is possible.