In our endeavor to make a cultural presentation video of our community, my partner and I visited houses to conduct short interviews. As we had done at several previous houses, we asked one local woman, “Where is your favorite place in Chimay?” We were amused and slightly disappointed when her response seemingly had no relevance to the question. After criticizing the mayor of the town for not making a park, she continued talking about how she rarely had time to leave the house because she was up early every morning to take care of her many animals, had to cook three meals each day for her family, and took care of her six year old son. We didn’t end up including her response in our video, as it was very different from the other responses that we got and it didn’t quite seem to fit with the happy background music. Looking back, however, it did feel a little dishonest to manicure our video to not include the burdens an old woman had lamented to us.
A couple weeks later, we were trying to find family members to attend our ‘despedida’ in Yaxunah. We still had a few seats left in the taxi, so we asked our adult host sister if she wanted to come. She expressed how badly she would have liked to attend, but said she couldn’t ask permission from her husband who had just left Chimay. While he was gone, she had to take care of their year and a half old baby, and also wasn’t sure if her husband would want a meal right when he got home. We encouraged her to come and bring her child with her, and she said she’d think about it, but cancelled last minute explaining that she thought her husband might be annoyed.
Both of these experiences, accompanied by similar ones, made me realize the extent to which family burdens limit what the people, especially the women, do in Chimay. Coming from a culture that is very different, I was surprised and found myself feeling that what I experienced was wrong. However, perhaps another way in which my perspective has shifted, was realizing that my way is not necessarily objectively right, and that I cannot be the movement for change in other people’s space; the desire must be present within the community.
The night before we left community, my partner, some local youth and I planned a birthday surprise for one of our friends in the community. His birthday was the next day, so our plan was to go to his bedroom window at midnight and sing a traditional birthday song to wake him up. At 11:45 PM, we met in front of the store, and the kids told me about the other birthday tradition that I was not aware of: smashing an egg on the birthday boy’s head and then covering it in flour. So we bought three eggs and flour and went to his house, accompanied by the young new teacher in the community. After singing outside his bedroom window for almost ten minutes we realized he wasn’t there, but found him and his mother in the main house. Deciding that the eggs and flour wouldn’t be an option in the house, we all hid them away. His mother let us in and we proceeded to serenade him, but perhaps because it was the middle of the night, he (understandably) didn’t want to get up and acknowledge us. After more than twenty minutes of us and his mother encouraging him to get up without success, we all awkwardly sat in silence. Without warning, I heard a “Waaahh!”, and turned to see my partner smashing an egg on the birthday boy’s head. We all stared in shock and his mother’s eyes widened as egg dripped onto the floor. Then came two more eggs, one breaking on the hammock and the other with a shall too hard to break got into the birthday boy’s hands. He picked up remains and the final egg and started chucking pieces at us. Someone else grabbed the flour and tackled the birthday boy with it, covering them both and the surrounding area in a sheet of flour. And so, for about five minutes in the middle of our last night, in a random house, we had a food fight.
Time moves slower in the Yucatán. Seconds feel like hours, and hours feel like days. The people in Kancabdzonot understand this and can convert time in their heads with ease: a meeting at 4:00 PM means 5:15 PM if you’re lucky. The first time my partners and I scheduled a meeting with out local youth, we sat on a concrete bench for what felt like days, watching the sun set slowly behind a line of blue and yellow houses. But the longer we waited the more irritable we got. By the time they arrived we were almost too upset to work, talking only in sharp, curt Spanish until we finally went home. As we worked with more community members, our frustration seemed to grow. The night before we started our action plan, we dreaded the series of meetings we had planned for the next three days. And, as our first meeting began, the expected flood of frustration filled our heads. Each page took hours, and the meeting began the spill further and further into our day camp time. But as I sat there, watching my host family and friends joke over materials costs and the cockroaches that ran over our papers, I realized that I had no reason to be impatient. I did not come to Mexico to change their definition of time, to impose my own idea of punctuality. I came to celebrate the place I’m in; to learn about the culture and make it a part of the person I am. And so I started to laugh with them, teasing my host sister about her messy handwriting and poor punctuation. Even when our meeting took double the time we had expected, I didn’t care. I finally understood how something so small, as small as joking over tardiness instead of loathing it, can teach you to appreciate your differences and change your perspective.
One person that changed my perspective a lot was my host mom. We interviewed her for the narrative project and she told us about how her family couldn’t afford to send her to secondary school so she only has a primary education. She is still incredibly smart and wise and has made a good life for herself and it’s just amazing to me that her situation is common for a lot of the people in the community. I’ve always really valued my education and pushed myself with it and I still do but she has made me realize that it’s not all that matters and that you don’t have to be a perfect student or attend a fancy college in order to be a successful and happy person.
One thing that I did that was really fun was getting coconuts for the last time with Nestor and Nelly. We went to the lady in our community that people always get coconuts from and I had to climb up on her wall and try to get the coconuts which made Nestor nervous. He ran up and was trying to hold on to the rocks on the wall so they wouldn’t move so then I had to try to not step on his hands. Jasmine and Nelly and the coconut lady kept joking that I was going to fall on Nestor’s head. It was really hard to get the coconuts because we had already taken down the lowest ones in the weeks before so now the big ones were above my head. Everyone was laughing so hard at me struggling so much with the coconuts and Nestor panicking about me falling that we forgot to pay the coconut lady for the 7 coconuts and she forgot to ask for the money. When we got home, Nestor carved a hole in the coconuts so we could drink out of them and then we used our straws to eat the meat inside. We would scrape the sides of the coconut with the straw so it would make little noodles and then suck them up. One time I messed up and accidentally blew out the straw so my coconut noodle went flying out which everyone thought was very funny.
On one of the first few days in community we attended the primary school graduation celebration. The graduating class all wore fancy dress while the younger kids all wore elaborate face paint dressed as animals as which they performed dances for. I left that evening amazed at the education, the elaborateness, and the work that I’d seen during the graduation. With the kids on their summer vacation after that we didn’t discuss their schooling for several weeks until one morning we were making tortillas with our host mother and aunt when they began discussing it with us since it was almost time for them to begin purchasing school supplies, and one of our host cousins was going to be beginning school. They began by just talking about it and how parents would drop off their kids but quickly got to the extreme cost of school supplies- some years being 1,000 pesos for supplies alone. And they told us that was bad because if some of the kids didn’t have every material the school required, they wouldn’t be able to attend. And they said that getting all the materials could really be a burden. But beyond that they said the schools would also restrict kids from going for other reasons. An example they gave was with one of our host cousins who had really struggled with asthma when she was younger, initially the school had said due to that she wouldn’t be able to attend, and her parents had to really fight for her to be able to. The difference between what I saw at the graduation and the parents’ views on their local education were very different, and getting that added opinion really changed my perspective on some struggles the families face, even with the education of their children.
On our last evening of community the local youth and the cultural center held a surprise despedida for us. After the initial eating and dancing some of the kids started grabbing fistfuls of confetti and throwing them at unsuspecting people. Everyone quickly was covered in confetti as more people were dropping to the ground and scooping up handfuls of their own confetti to throw at others. Everyone was running around darting around everyone else trying to get everyone completely coated. People were getting facefulls and the confetti was sticking everywhere. People started to form sorts of teams and alliances which very quickly ended in the “allies” covered in confetti. Everyone was laughing as we went on for over an hour attacking everyone with confetti. Our confetti war was a very notable part of our last day of community, and I feel like it also brought us closer to the local youth we hadn’t really met prior.