For days we had been trying to figure out an appropriate first communion gift for Lili and Pati Ocaña, our two god-daughters (we sponsored one of them for her kindergarten graduation ceremony). We had decided we wanted our gift to "be a blessing". A tough call, especially in Toluca where there is no real Christian bookstore to buy what I had in mind: a nice illustrated children's Bible. But on our morning walk I remembered that a friend of ours, Ruth, hadn't sold all of the dehydrated roses she had stocked at Valentine's Day. In fact she hadn't sold many at all, which we know had been a strain on her budget.
At 10 AM with rollers in her hair, Ruth was more than happy to take a break in getting ready for church to sell us a dried rose under glass (picture the rose in Beauty and the Beast) for each of the girls. And we were pleased to be able to help her out financially.
On the 3-minute walk back home, I stopped by the "paper store" for some gift-wrapping. The owners are a young couple, the most recent in a long line of business that have tried to make a go of it in that location, so we buy from them whenever we have a reasonable excuse. There is a good chance that the $1.80 US we paid them is all they earned today.
It's a great feeling to go to church knowing you’ve already shown love to several neighbors.
However it's not as good a feeling to look down at the plate you're served at the first communion party and see almost nothing that is recognizable as actual meat in the pile of deep-fried pig before you. When I say "deep-fried pig" I mean exactly that an entire pig--eyes, ears, teeth, tail and all--that has been boiling in a deep vat of oil for about five hours. I'm not sure what part of the pig my plate came from but lots of it looked like tough brown jello (click photo to see an example).
You might have an image of a "Mexican fiesta" in your mind. I'm pretty sure the reality of the parties we’ve been to in our ten years here has nothing to do with what you're imagining, unless your vision entails 70 people sitting around long tables in stony silence as they pile the pig parts they’ve been given into tortillas and wash that down with Coke they've served themselves from a two liter bottle sitting in the middle of the table. No one looks even vaguely like they're enjoying themselves until after the plates have been collected and the tequila bottles, adorned with pink bows, are set around the tables, usually one bottle for every five to seven people.
I'm sure we stood out. Not only were we the only foreigners there, and not only does Tim draw people's attention with his cleanly shaven white head, but we talked cheerfully all through the meal. We sat with some former neighbors with whom we enjoyed catching up. By the time the tequila and the ranchero music were kicking in (ranchero is a sort of Mexican country music that prominently features the accordion, nasally singing, usually about betrayal or your wife ruining your "love life" by foiling your attempts to woo the pretty neighbors. If you want to see this video, it has heavy rotation on the cable channel BandaMex), we went into the house (did I mention the party was in the driveway under a large tarp? Quite convenient as it started to pour mid-afternoon) and spent some time with the family. Then, as we gringos have less fiesta endurance than the average Mexican, we said our goodbyes and went home.
I bet half the people are still there. Some are now saturated enough with the tequila that it’s beginning to resemble Hollywood's version of a Mexican fiesta. The majority, however, are still sitting silently in their chairs.