I have been back in Los Angeles for almost 2 weeks now, and since I’ve been back I have had more than a dozen people ask me “How was Mexico?”
A fair question seeing as how I was there for six weeks. But it is a very broad question with an equally broad response. How can I just as quickly describe to people how Mexico was?
Mexico was both everything I wanted it to be and everything I had never expected it to be. Mexico was both a mirror-image of my community’s culture and nothing like I had ever experienced before. Mexico was everything at once from mosquitoes with dengue to my Señora’s secret moist doughnut recipe. It’s not something I can explain in a few seconds, but for those of you who want to know more about my experience, here is a little bit more.
But please keep in mind that I spent most of my time in the state of Yucatan, which isn’t the definition of Mexico in general. Just like in the United States, one state can’t summarize the entire nation. So in reality I can only tell you how the Yucatan (mostly Merida) was.
For a strict city girl from LA, Merida had a lot of wildlife and the humidity really brought out the bugs. But with a beautiful product known as Andontol, a cream for sunburns and bug bites, and bug spray (Eucalyptus is a great natural alternative that also has a healing affect.), you can avoid most of the bugs and solve most bites (even if you’re allergic to mosquitoes like myself). But also for a LA city girl, the Yucatan had a lot of natural wonders that you can’t get in most places. Above all, I have to point to the cenotes, natural pits/sinkholes of water. The cenotes I visited were my favorite natural setting that I was introduced to in all of Mexico. And if you’d like to take advantage of visiting some cenotes, which were just recently opened to the public, and you happen to be in the Yucatan, then I would definitely suggest scheduling a visit with Los 7 Cenotes. (Click here to find Los 7 Cenotes on FB; username Los 7 Cenotes.) They gave us an amazing experience when we went with them and we had the chance to see all three types of cenotes: completely closed, half-closed/half-open, and completely open. It’s an experience you won’t regret, especially if you’ve never had the joy of seeing (and jumping into) a cenote before. (Please try and refrain from wearing bug repellent and sunscreen into the cenotes if you can avoid it though. This helps to keep the natural waters clear and clean for future visitors!)
Since I participated in the Studies in Global Health program, it comes as little surprise that a lot of things I noticed in Merida dealt with healthcare. I thought it was amazing to see the various healthcare initiatives that were being implemented in the community. In addition to the efforts of UNASSE, there was a group that met with people (mostly women) in the community of Komchen to provide much needed (and free) educational lessons about living with diabetes and building a healthier lifestyle. In my opinion this was a great advancement to have witnessed in Merida, since the city (and Mexico in general) suffers from high rates of diabetes. But Merida still has a lot of work to do in the realm of public healthcare. For instance, the lack of a public sewage system and un-kept sidewalks made for bad walking conditions, especially in the rain, for the poorer population in the community who couldn’t afford the upkeep of a car. And the public transportation system didn’t seem much better as the buses were often un-kept and seemed to be in need of repairs.
Culturally, Merida was very much like growing up in East Los Angeles. I was excited to see familiar foods/drinks like al pastor (spit-grilled pork) and horchata (rice milk), but it was also exciting to try new dishes like pollo pibil (chicken with Achiote spice, which is oven-baked wrapped in banana leaves) and cochinita (slow-roasted pork). The marketplace was also very similar to walking through El Mercadito in Boyle Heights, where you can buy practically anything and everything from traditional clothing to piñatas. Overall, however, there were many differences in the Yucatecan culture and my experiences in the United States. Luckily I grew up in a time period where it was acceptable in my Mexican-American community to wear shorts and tank tops, but in Merida I had to respect the custom of wearing pants everyday, even in ninety degree weather. It wasn’t always easy, but it really did keep the mosquitoes away.
Overall I really enjoyed my experience in Merida, and I can’t thank the Jennings Brave Companions Fund for providing me with the scholarship that made my whole trip possible. But there is one question that is more important to ask than “How was Mexico?” Instead people should be challenging me with the question that my professor, Dr. Velázquez, asked me to answer for my final presentation, “What next?”
And I will gladly answer that question in a follow-up blog so say tuned!