Unlike yesterday, today was not as innocent but muy culturally immersive.
My morning started with the sound of church bells and the cracks of what sounded like gunshots. I listened closely for a whistle trail that might distinguish them as fireworks, but I wasn’t hearing any trails and the pops of the loud bangs sounded very similar to the semi-automatic I shot off in the desert some 12 years ago. The rooster barked and the bells and explosions continued for some 30 minutes. By this time my curiosity was getting the best of me.
I threw on my pants, a tank and a sweater. I slipped on my shoes and slowly peaked out my door for signs of war fare. There was a flash followed by a bang and I went back inside. I took a minute to ask myself whether following the sound of Godfather like church bells was worth the chance that these were not in fact just fireworks.
Obviously I left my room to investigate. As I creeped slowly through the center of the complex I was startled by an old Mexican man doing some repairs before the nights festivities. “Buenas aires, señor.”
As I tried to quietly close the gate by pulling the thread it snapped. The wrinkled old man came over to fix it and as I helped he insisted I continue on as if to say “you’ve got more important things to do.”
The streets were still dark. The tents to the street market were closed and there wasn’t a soul out. So much sound of commotion for so little action. I made it to the church I was at yesterday. The remnants of flowers were being swept up by a worker. The bells had stopped. As I made it down the center aisle to the back pew of a fairly empty church the music began. Six men in all black facing the alter of Santo Domingo began to play their string and horn instruments.
I sat there for a song and then moved closer to the other 10 devoted people there this early in the morning. As I came closer to the music I could feel everything clearer and more intense. It occurred to me that I was sitting in a Mexican church as a North American aetheist experiencing an overpowering calm.
I left the church and sat next to a woman weaving baskets and watched her work. Another woman spoke at me while I took it all in and the only thing I could think to say was “yo Rubina” as I pointed to myself. She screams it back at me and points to herself to proclaim “Nori!” She hugs me and kisses me and for some reason I feel like everything she said in Spanish I translated deep in my soul. While I may not know it on the surface, I do deep down.
I woke up from my nap and walked out to the center of the complex. Everyone was preparing for the wedding. The three sons were washing the walls and floors and the women were decorating with flowers. There was a couple working on the food for the evening. Parchment paper wrapped around chicken, olives, pineapple and an avocado leaf submerged in chili.
I am in Mexico because my mothers best friend Raul is getting married. My mother could not attend so she sent me to represent our family. I call Raul “Mi Tio” and I am his “Sabrina”. He says I am family in Izúcar. So like family I just start helping the best way I know how. I grab the parchment paper and point to the chicken. The woman smiles a smile so welcoming I forget we don’t speak the same language. She points the olives and pineapple and motions two for each. We filled two what I think were 10 gallon pots.
As I finish I tell Raul I need to get some lactose pills so I can eat dairy and he sends me off with his nephew Gabriel to translate. We manage to get both what I think is lactose intolerant medication (which isn’t to find out) and anxiety medication. I’ve always wanted to say I got meds in Mexico. While they are actually needed and not as fun as Percocet I feel like I can make a check on my bucket list.
Quickly Gabriel and I bond. By bond I mean he speaks English and I think I can get him to show me some awesome places I wouldn’t normally get to see. Over coffee we talk about the compound being haunted and his grandfather dying there. He says he visits the grave every Sunday and I ask if we can go today.
“Do you ride on motorcycle!”
“Fuck ya I do!”
We wander the grave stones and try to see if there are any bodies on display in the morgue. The smell of death is all around us mixed with sage and souls floating stagnant in the heat. Prayer can be heard. Digging and shoveling is seen down a couple rows.
We hop on the motorcycle and he says there is a place no Americans can go. I ask if I am an exception. I point to a homeless shelter and ask if people live there “yes! I will take you to see it better.” We head up a large hill through walls covered in graffiti. Cars with no tires parked crooked in the streets and dogs running around. The hills are steeper and I’m not sure we are going to make it up.
“Is this the ghetto?!”
“Yes. Mostly gangs and drug dealers. It’s known they bring kidnapped people here to get money.”
“Like Americans or Mexicans?”
“Whoever has money, their family pays like 5 or 10 thousand.”
“Well they won’t want me then.”
We get to the top and look out over the town. I see the church I was in this morning. As we head down he informs me that his breaks aren’t very good but he is wearing pumas. His feet scrape the ground.
“Where else is there to go an American wouldn’t see?!”
He makes a joke about Puebla Nuevo and seeing some “ho’s” but little does this guy know me. I won’t say no to any idea.
We head into a small remote neighborhood of bars and hotels. The road is dirt and it feels sparse like the Wild West. There are a group of women all sitting at the first building with a man looming over them. I gently smile as we roll by. I make a joke about grabbing a beer and he firmly says that would not be a good idea. I want to take photos but I can’t stand the idea of making these women uncomfortable.
We start to leave when he sees his cousins wife. We stop to chat outside a bar but we don’t get off the motorcycle. One woman is in a sheer pink dress with black panties peaking through and three men surround her. My tour guide is laughing and joking with his prostitute friend. He says she knows English and we ask one another where we are from. He makes a joke at her and she ask if me if I will too as she shakes her breast. Not looking back he says “she wants to know if you’ll show boob if she do?”
I get back to the compound and shower. The wedding should start at 6. While I haven’t checked the time in 2 days I can tell it’s getting close.
Raul became naturalized this last year and is finally marrying the woman he has been with for 25 years. This wedding is simple in the most natural way. I’m not sure the wedding has started until the mariachi band enters the complex singing. They serenade the bride and groom, they sign papers and we begin to eat.
I meet one person that knows English and talk for hours. They invite me out to visit him and his wife outside of town. I have no idea as to what my plans are at this point. There is a loose idea that I meet a couple American friends in Cholula and I have a friend of a friend to stay with in Mexico City. Other than that I am free.
Hours into the wedding the rain pours through the makeshift tarp ceiling and the dance floor is flooding. I look around and grab 5 gallon buckets and get the attention of one of Raul’s sons. He takes the bucket and I grab another. When they fill he helps me switch them out. At this point some people are still dancing but most have lined the walls under the two foot overhangs. I make my way behind the bar.
“Dos cervesas, por favor”
The old Mexican man from this morning hands me one. I grab the machete from under the counter and crack it open. The top flies across the dance floor but nobody really notices. I pop the second. I hand them over to my patron and he says “gracias”. The old man nudges me with his elbow and I say “De Nada”.
A few hours go by and my thumb has blistered but I’m having too much fun playing the funny American bartender with a machete. Pretty Woman comes on and I quickly run out to Alexa my 9 year old tour guide from yesterday and pull her out on the dance floor. We run in place, we do the monkey with contorted faces, we do the grandma and we swim. I don’t bother paying attention to being the only ones on the dance floor while the entire party watches us play in puddles with our goofy dance moves. I’m getting exhausted and sweat is pouring down my face but we don’t stop until the music changes. I swing her around, kiss her and head back behind the bar.
A couple more hours pass until I get invited by one of Raul’s sons to come see something. He doesn’t speak English but he tries to say “a present”. I walk around the corner and they present me to a person. I look very confused until he says “I speak English!”
We talk for an hour or so about him teaching English in China. I laugh and ask if he finds it as funny as I do that a native Spanish speaker from Mexico is teaching English in an Asian country, he laughs and agrees. He asks me my plans and I tell him I am debating between Gaunajuato and Oaxaca. I can see an idea come to him and he says his uncle is driving home to Oaxaca the next afternoon. I look at my watch and see it is 5 am, “you mean in less than 12 hours? Well I better get some sleep so I can be ready by 3 pm!”
I say my good nights to the remaining few standing and connect on FB with my new tour guide Armando. We make plans to message when we wake up. Before I head off to my room I have to ask him “is this for real?”
“Yes,” he says “I like the idea a lot.”