By flying over the Pacific, I have regained the hours the watch had lost on my journey halfway around the globe by heading east. The limits of the capital cannot even be seen from the aeroplane at night, but the vibration you dive in by landing in Mexico City is felt immediately. A city that moves, vibrant in every way, a concentrate of teeming intensity that well represents the rest of the country. In Mexico, 68 languages with 264 variants are spoken, as many as 10% of the animal species live on these 2% of the earth's surface, 64 different varieties of chillies adorn the country’s cuisine, which has meanwhile been declared a World Heritage. The diversity of ethnic groups and ecosystems is the richest in the world. All this variety is constantly present and visible, active, it brings colour, melody, taste, liveliness to every place, even to the cemetery.
Family, friends and acquaintances urge me to be careful, as Mexico is also famous for its dangerousness. The Swiss EDA also warns: when travelling to Mexico, great attention must be paid to personal safety. The country has a high crime rate, with shootings between security forces and drug gangs as well as politically motivated kidnappings and attempts at extortion are frequent. The whole country is earthquake prone, and hurricanes can occur on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from May to November.
…the famed Latin temperament may have a reason to exist. When one is aware of the transience of life, there is no space for loss of time and opportunities. Feelings are not hidden if one fears losing the chance to express them. This context, of people who sing their broken heart out loud without shame, every night along with the Mariachis, and who declare a sense of community through food, seems to me like a school of love.
In almost every country I have visited so far during this trip, I have found myself watching wrestling, and so I learned that the rules of the oldest sport in the world often reveal the basic structure of a specific culture. What particularly fascinates me about the Mexican Lucha Libre is the double identity of the wrestler, who already as a boy creates a character with a costume and specific characteristics, which begins with the basic decision weather to be a Rudo (evil) or a Tecnico (good). At the entrance, masks of the heroes of all times are sold, all knows their names, many of these people visit the arena every week. While watching, it seems to me that the Lucha Libre has the ability to stage the contradictions of a society, giving the possibility to analyse and finally accept them. Between politics and spectacle, tradition and modernity, ritual and parody, there is not only chance for a fight, it’s also a game. Performing such issues on a stage means not only highlighting problems but also celebrating diversity: the homosexual 'Maximo Sexy' scares his opponent by taking him from behind and those who cheer/support/root him shout "Beso! Beso!" ("Kiss! Kiss!"). KeMonito', a little person (with dwarfism) in a bear's outfit, is thrown around the ring by the bad guys, and this strongly stimulates the anger of the crowd, who demands respect. The audience's participation is passionate, it appears like an opportunity to vent and a moment of pleasure. The main vocabulary is allowed by the parents to their kids only between these walls, but expressiveness is not limited to words, one stands up, raises arms and voice, they are small revolutions, one takes a role and defends it, so spiritedly that even dishes and drinks sometimes fly. I love this active participation, and the idea that children instead of passively watching cartoons on television, can actually meet their heroes, see them sweat, fight, win, lose and celebrate with them, seems healthy to me. I like the fact that, thanks to the variety of personages, everyone has the opportunity to identify and deal with things as concretely, if metaphorically, as in a Greek Agora, but not only for brain workers. Everyone reaches their limits and even older women shout "Matalo! Matalo!" ("Kill him!"). When you leave the Lucha Libre cathedral, it's like stepping out of a theatre and a stadium all together, both as a spectator and actor.
Diary excerpt, Mexico City:
There are masks that do not cover but reveal, they are not fictions but interpretations. One becomes what it takes to provoke discourse. As often in life, you take on a role so that you can support/aid the interchange. I thought that one should remove the layers of protection, so that the "true identity“ can conquer the space to exist... but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe all my personalities are also part of me, it is the form they take and the way they develop that is interesting to observe. I can learn from the masks I wear to express and defend myself. How many characters are there in me? Perhaps as many as the people I meet.
The National Museum of Anthropology in the Districto Federal is visited like a school. The aim is to study the past, to understand the present and to look into the future in order to carry out projects that create an arch across time. Of the young people I have met in Mexico, most are anthropologists, biologists, artists, designers or Zapatistas: defenders of diversity, beauty-sensitive supporters of culture. Knowledge is also useful so as to avoid being easily manipulated - this high appreciation of culture is perhaps a consequence of the country's corrupt and dysfunctional government. One therefore recognises the individual responsibility and the value of the social function one can assume.
Diary excerpt, Oaxaca:
I can see the difference between peoples who have to fight for their own rights and therefore constantly have the opportunity to see that nothing can be taken for granted, and those who have all their basic needs covered. In the first case, the necessity to cooperate, to communicate is constantly recurring, this stimulates exchange and thus, the unity of the people. One needs to play, to reinvent her/himself, to start over again, and create new structures for every case and every situation, one needs to move. In the second case, there is the space and conditions to feel comfortable and safe only in what one has and knows. Sometimes the combination of these elements is a fertile ground for selfish thinking and for developing a fear of the other and the unknown. To defend what one has, one builds a wall with which one ultimately surrounds her/himself.
In the museum I learn that the southern states are the richest in indigenous peoples and this determines my direction. In Oaxaca, I really only have to follow the rhythm of drums or the sound of trumpets to take part in all kinds of ceremonies: weddings, quinceaneras, funerals, parades. To explore the surroundings of the city, there is a choice between shared taxis and minibuses. By car, you don't leave until the entire horizontal and vertical space is filled, and you often find yourself with a few children on your lap. From the colectivos you get in or out at any point along the route, through a shout that must be loud enough to be heard by the driver, who always listens to music at high volume and in most cases sings along. I soon learn that it's enough to be ‘just get out’, the rest happens by itself and you come back from every trip filled with energy. No matter where, when or what, from the ice cream in Zaachila, the moles (sauces) all over the state, the buildings in Mitla, the handicrafts from Barro Negro (black clay) in Coyotepec, the carpets in Teotitlán del Valle to the alebrijes (animal figures) in Tlacajete, you can see the involvement of the hands and the taste of the locals, which have been passed down through the ages from generation to generation as art and knowledge.
In the Chiapas highlands lies San Juan Chamula, where pre-Hispanic cultures and customs have been preserved. The Tzotzil (indigenous people and descendants of the Maya) of Chamula are known to defend their traditional culture and religion strongly against external influences. The village enjoys a unique autonomous status within Mexico. In the Catholic parish church, which the Pope has no say in, traditional rituals are held daily. Because of the syncretic faith, the Christian saint figures have two names each, in front of them confessions are made in a personal way. The mirror they each hold is there for the believer to reflect, the Chamulas are dedicated not to lie to themselves. The floor area, cleared of benches, is completely covered with pine needles, which diffuse a strong smell that mixes with that of the many candles. Thanks to the incense vapours, the sun's rays become visible, the murmur of the prayers is added to the spiritual density. The atmosphere is strong and arouses emotions. Part of the curanderos' (healers') care ritual consists of turning the head of a hen or rooster (depending on the sex of the person being treated) or breaking an egg (if it is a baby). For some tourists these sacrifices are the reason to avoid visiting the church. Others do not come here for even more dramatic reasons, the resolution of the problems is particularly direct to this area. Although the Mexican police and military have no right of access to the Chamula area, I met armed state officials during my visits. I am told that recently the former mayor was shot in the square because he was defrauding the people. A few months earlier, it seems that another three men were also publicly lynched for raping a woman. Although I do not share a violent solution to a problem, I find it remarkable: the fact that it is not expected of ‘someone else’ to take care of one's own problems makes me realise how rarely I have encountered this way of thinking.
On November 1 and 2, the souls of the deceased return to their families. At least one month before, preparations for this celebration begin throughout the country. Cempasúchil flowers are generously distributed to brighten the path of the loved ones, and on the altars the images of the departed are accompanied by their favorite dishes. For the processions on the main streets of each city, the women dress up as Catrinas, the iconic figure of a skeleton lady representing death. Skulls decorate display cases and become sweets. The origins of Día de Muertos date back to before the arrival of the Spanish, when it was apparently customary to preserve the crania as trophies and display them during the rituals that symbolized death and rebirth. In different regions, people spend the night in the cemetery, reading poems and telling stories out of books or their own memory in the light of a sea of flames. I was invited to participate at every corner and was introduced to many dead people. In the morning, everyone merrily says goodbye at the exit, I only know the quality of these hugs from the warmest of our family customs: Christmas. I recognise traditions as a fundamental part of a society, because they encourage values like union, participation, hospitality and solidarity. They also show that it is possible to leave everyday life behind and open the doors to the transcendental and to that which cannot be fully understood.
To get to Real de Catorce, you have to pass through a tunnel in a horse-drawn carriage, after having ascended the mountain on the rump of a wagon with everybody that fits on it. The village of Huchol culture and mysticism is very close to Wirikuta, one of the most important sacred places for this people. In their cosmology it is assumed that the world was created in this desert. Everything is sacred there: every plant, every animal, every spring, every hill. Much of the flora and fauna is endemic, and many of its species, including jikuri (peyote), are threatened with extinction. Pilgrims travel here to reach a state of absolute contemplation. This ancient medicine sprouts in this desert and the Huicholes eat it to receive the "gift of sight”.
It is said that the Abuelo (grandfather - this is what the peyote is referred to) calls you when you are ready to work on your own heart. My journey to the foot of the holy hill began months, if not years ago. Since our first encounter days ago, I have been meeting with the shaman every evening, so that he could explain the meaning of the different moments of the ritual, and I can illustrate my goal to him: the "embrace of my vulnerability" and thus the acceptance of who I am. On the morning of the day of the ritual, I already wake up at 5 o'clock, in the clear sky a smile is shining, at this moment all my worries disappeared. Back to bed, lying down, I talked to each of my organs and in this moment I realised that the journey had already begun: I have just loved myself very much.
24 hours in the desert, Mariposas Monarca (butterflies) flying around and resting on trees after the long journey from Canada. A bee came to bless our sacrifice, our thanks for the acceptance in this rough and generous terrain where we spent the night. I think a coyote came twice to visit to chant with us around the fire. The sky presented itself with all its stars and some of our ancestors. The moon appeared in the morning with the smile I knew from the day before and shared the awareness that there is much to learn and much to let go.
Diary excerpt, Real de Catorce:
When you leave the guilt, you can give up the focus on yourself. To be able to contemplate, you first have to free yourself from the preconceptions, you can't do that if you are constantly worrying about proving yourself or correcting yourself. It's scary, and it's a bit like dying, because you're used to perceiving yourself in your own hardships. When you give up the definitions of yourself, you just have the fear of losing your identity. While what's left when you forget judgement is.... Everything.
I thought I needed a name to have a place in the world, but my place is wherever I am, and my name should be what is needed. The acceptance of the inevitability of death awakens the consciousness of being alive. In Mexico, I learned that a day is lost if you have not laughed, cried, loved. Wonder has put through on the rhythm of drums in my everyday life, I will encounter death dancing.