Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pelota Maya

I had never heard of Mayan Ball until we moved to Chiapas (although Caitlin knew about it from her time down here during her study abroad). It is a game with many variations, but it is played with a ball that ranges from 2-3 kilos, and the purpose of the game is to get the ball through a vertical hoop. This game was played anciently in many Mayan civilizations, and recently they started a league here in Chiapas for youth who want to revive the tradition.
We knew a couple of people on the team, and it was a lot of fun to watch them. Anciently, there were sacrifices associated with the game, but that element wasn't reincorporated in this league... luckily. There are a lot of rules we didn't understand, but we did understand that you can only hit the ball with your forearm (not hand), head, hip, and thigh. If you touch it with any other part of the body it is a turnover. 

It is also not a contact sport. The teams stay on their designated sides of the court. There was a lot of whistle blowing we didn't understand, sometimes they let the ball drop and bounce a few times - but the same player could not touch it if it bounced - but they could keep it up in the air for more than one hit. It was pretty confusing, but a lot of fun to be a part of.

They started the game with some traditional dances to the jaguar, serpent, sun god, wind god, sky god, etc. We knew one of the dancers too, so he explained who they were dancing to beforehand, although we didn't know which dance was for whom. 
Our friend Villaney who was on the team.
Us with Villaney and Mayra.
It was really interesting seeing them play this game - and even more fascinating to be so close to where it originated and be able to see the original courts in the ruins. We were trying to think of what type of game we would play that is from our ancestors and we couldn't come up with any ancient European games. Maybe we just aren't cultured enough to know our own history. Square dancing, maybe? If we think back to our pioneer roots. Ha!

Here is a little video that shows the game in action:

Christmas from the Heart

I know I've written a lot about Yo'onik, the remedial education project where we volunteer, but I can't help but write about our Christmas experience with them. 

In many of the indigenous communities, Christmas isn't really celebrated. They don't decorate, or have a Christmas tree or Santa Claus. It is really just an ordinary day for them, unless they are practicing Catholics (which most aren't). So we thought it would be fun to share some of our Christmas traditions with the kids at Yo'onik. 

We taught them about snowflakes, and how every snowflake is unique - and we taught them how to cut snowflakes and we decorated them with glitter. They loved this, even though they kept saying they looked like flowers. But I guess that is what they are familiar with, since they have never seen snow.

The next week we had a Christmas party with the kids. We taught them We Wish You A Merry Christmas in Spanish, listened to Christmas music, decorated the classroom with our snowflakes, and made Christmas ornaments with them. 

They were so excited to make ornaments. They made trees, angels, hearts, snowmen, and a bunch of other shapes. They colored them, decorated with glitter, sequins, and other crafty things. They are so creative and had so much fun. 

After they decorated their ornaments we ate snicker-doodle cookies and practiced our song again. Then we invited their parents in and they sang the song for their parents and gave them the ornaments they had made. They were so excited that they got to keep the ornaments. Such a simple thing to bring joy to a handful of children. 

After we finished with our little program for the parents, Xunka and Yoli (the two in charge of the project) brought in gifts for all the kids. They had gotten donations for new jackets for all the kids and some candy to share with them. The kids were so excited to have new jackets and they all hurried to put them on. 
It is so humbling to see how other people live - when in the states we are so preoccupied with buying gifts, decorating, cooking an insane amount of food, etc. But here - they were so elated just to make some ornaments and getting used jackets. They definitely live with so much less, and are still so happy. We were so glad to be a part of this school during the holidays. We have come to love all of the kids there - and they are always excited to see us too. They always come up and give us hugs and ask us to help them. They are so sweet. This will be one of the things we miss most once we leave here. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas in Mexico

Christmas in Mexico is a lot different than Christmas in the states. First of all, they celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve, with a late dinner (around 11:00 or midnight). And they set off firecrackers all night long as well. Then Christmas day is a day to sleep in.

Not everyone celebrates in the same commercialized way we do in the states either. There is a lot more simplicity, especially in the indigenous communities. But in the center of San Cristobal, they set up a big Christmas tree and an ice skating rink - which made us feel a little more like we were stateside.

But of course, when we went to go ice skating, it was closed, so we have yet to do that. Instead, we decided to eat some tamales - which are everywhere during Christmastime. We picked ours up at a street vendor and took them home to enjoy since it was pretty cold outside and we didn't want to freeze as we ate. 

After eating tamales, we decorated our room with snowflakes while watching ELF and drinking apple cider. It definitely felt like Christmas with a Christmas movie and hot drink. We also opened our first Christmas gift from Caitlin's grandparents - which is always pajamas. 

Ours turned out great this year. Her grandma always makes pajamas for all her grandkids and great grandkids, and those married into the family. She has her hands full around the holidays. :)

On Christmas day we woke up early and made cinnamon rolls, then went back to bed for a little bit. Finally when we got up, we opened our gifts in bed and enjoyed being lazy all morning. We spent the majority of the day skyping with our families and friends... and eating a horrible amount of food. 

Then we went to see Frozen in the theater. It was exciting because it was in Spanish - and they did a really good job with the voice over - even on the songs. I decided to post one here so you could enjoy the Spanish version. :)

We had an amazing Christmas here. We missed being with family and there were definitely some traditional Christmas things we missed - but we were happy to spend our Christmas in Mexico this year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Una Fiesta de Navidad

We had a little visit from Santa Claus at our ward activity this past week - and he was a little different than the Santa's we've met in the states. But the kids seemed to love him (although a few were terrified). 

They had all the kids go to the front of the room and Santa Claus handed out bags full of treats to each of them. 

The party that followed was great - but we really aren't night owls, and I feel that a lot of Mexicans are. Although the party started at 6:00 (or 7:00, I don't remember), we didn't actually eat until after 9:00. So we slipped out right after dinner. A couple of people asked us later where we went to and we told them we weren't accustomed to such late parties - they looked at us like we were strange. Maybe we are getting old. Ha! We just need our beauty sleep. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

La Virgen de Guadalupe

In Chiapas (or maybe all of Mexico) there is a cultural event held every December for the Virgin of Guadalupe. Groups of runners from all over Chiapas make a journey from one city to another, stopping at the churches dedicated to the Virgin. They carry torches and chant about the Virgin and Jesus. It is quite an event - and everyone goes to the church on December 11 & 12 to celebrate.

Of course, all the gringos were there too, so we knew we had to stop by. 

Here is a group of runners on their last leg of the journey. A lot of them don't wear shoes, and there is always a car that follows them with it's alarm going off so as to warn everyone that the runners are coming. Have we ever mentioned how loud Mexican cultural events are? Firecrackers, loud music, car horns, etc. They are a culture that celebrates with noise. :)

We hiked all the way to the top of the church, weaving in and out of the crowds all along the way. There were food booths, games, rides, and thousands of people. I'm not very good with crowds, and generally at these things people just stand around, so we didn't last very long.

All along the street were banners and such too. Although I dislike the noise of the celebrations, Mexicans sure do a great job at decorating and making sure there is a large turnout. Every time we go to an event there are always a ton of people, food, and decorations. I love it, even though I can't stay long. 
We are hoping that we can experience a few other fun Christmas events here in San Cristobal. I don't really know what they do all the rest of the time, but I'm sure it will be an adventure!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Card 2013

Merry Christmas everyone! Since we are living so far away, we decided to only do a digital version of our Christmas card this year. And we decided not to do a traditional holiday newsletter, and instead did a crossword puzzle. I included the word list in this version to make it a little easier, since some of the answers are a little tricky. So for your enjoyment, the Graves' Christmas card: 

The Graves Christmas Crossword 2013

3. The organization where Devin is working for his practicum
4. The name of the lake we visited for a week in Guatemala
6. We helped remodel an old New England house in this small town outside of Brattleboro, Vermont
8. We celebrated our one-year anniversary in February by attending a concert where people sing without instruments, a style called...
9. Devin grew a beard to celebrate this month
10. Caitlin made this type of jewelry to sell on an Etsy shop
12. Devin spent a week in February studying this topic in Washington DC
13. The name Devin doesn’t have a translation in Spanish, but Caitlin translates quite easily into this Spanish name
14. We tried this delicious Harry Potter themed drink during our spring break vacation in Orlando
15. Caitlin accomplished an item on her bucket list when she caught her first one of these animals
17. The amount of US states we visited in 2013
18. The name of the remedial education program we volunteer at here in Mexico
19. Devin donated this in January to a woman with leukemia

1. The state in Mexico where we currently live
2. We love being on the water, and were able to go out on the Connecticut River in one of these in June 
5. Caitlin finished her TESOL Certification and has been teaching this language since September
7. Since moving to Mexico, this has been our main form of transportation
8. Devin led a group of high school students to this country on a summer abroad program with EIL
11. We are hopelessly obsessed with this television show and watched 5 seasons in 2013
16. We toured this city in Texas where Devin served his mission

Word List 
Acapella • Argentina • Atitlan • BiggestLoser • BoneMarrow • Butterbeer • Canoe Catalina • Chiapas • Earrings • English • Fish • Houston • HumanTrafficking   Movember • Natik • Newfane • TwentySix • Walking • Yo’onik 

Singing in a Choir

Ever since high school, I have avoided singing in choirs. Maybe a ward choir here or there, but nothing long term, and definitely nothing time consuming. I don't know what it is about choirs, but I absolutely hate singing in them. Maybe it is because I feel like it is a waste of time, or maybe it is because all the practice goes to a super short performance and is definitely not worth the time you put into it. 

But for some reason, we decided to join the stake choir in San Cristobal. I'ms till not sure what made me do it.

And may I remind you that this is not just a regular choir, but this is a Mexican choir. Have you ever heard Mexicans sing? They don't normally sing in choirs - so it made for an exceptionally difficult task to sing on key and in harmonies. Our choir director/pianist thought we were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or something, so he chose difficult arrangements and a variety of ways to change up the songs we sang. Put on top of that the fact that nearly the entire choir couldn't read music and more than half were nearly tone-deaf, and you have our experience over the past few months. 

But it was a great experience nonetheless. We came to absolutely love the people in the choir. Caitlin made friends with all the sopranos and I made friends with all the guys. We would often separate guys and girls and I would play the piano for the guys to practice. Then I had to lead them... which was always humorous. 
Caitlin with some of her soprano buddies.
We performed twice for Christmas, once in a community Christmas concert, and the other time in a church Christmas devotional. In the latter, Caitlin and I actually sang in a quartet... although it wasn't our finest moment. :)

For our last practice, we brought treats for everyone. I had always teased our director that we needed snacks if we were going to sing for 2-3 hours (from 5-8). But they never brought us any. So we made some cookies and rice krispy treats. I don't think we've ever been so popular before. Suddenly everyone wanted to talk to the gringos. :) But it made for a super sweet last practice. 
And even though I hate singing in choirs, I really loved this choir and am kind of sad that it is over. Although I would not ask for another 3 hour practice ever again.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shaving it Off

Sorry about the nudity in the following pictures. I didn't even think about the fact that I was flashing the camera when I snapped the pictures. I also never thought I would be the type of person to snap a selfie in the bathroom mirror. Oh well. I guess I've become one of those people. 

Anyway, the reason for these high-quality selfies is to show that I shaved off my beard! Yes, it is officially gone! But since I was shaving off a full beard I decided to play around a little with my facial hair, see if I would want to grow anything again. 

First I did a goatee. I really wanted to do big sideburn chops, but I have weak sideburns, so I decided to go all the way to a goatee. I feel like it doesn't even look like me. 

After the goatee I went for the mustache look - which ended up making me look like a creeper. I don't think I will reprise that look ever again. 
It reminded me of Lieutenant Dangle from Reno 911. 
All I need now are the short shorts. Maybe this could be a real god Halloween costume for next year. So sick. It reminds me of my sister Carley, since she had the biggest crush on him. 

Anyway, the beard is gone and for a few days after I shaved it I felt totally naked and weird looking. My upper lip looked funny and I felt like there was a weird space between my chin and neck. But I think I'm getting used to being clean shaven now, and I think I actually prefer it. But it is nice to know that I can actually grow a beard and it doesn't look terrible. :) 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Last Afternoon

I am finally blogging the last afternoon we had with the Hendricksons before they left us to go back to California. It was after out day at the Sumidero Canyon, and when we got back to San Cristobal, it was freezing. Seriously, it was one of the coldest days we have ever experienced in Mexico so far. But we had a few things planned, so we had to stay outside in the freezing cold. 
The first thing we did was head to our landlords chocolate shop to sample a few chocolates and Mexican hot chocolate. Then we walked up to the Iglesia de Guadalupe, which is another prominent church set up on a hill. Although not as many stairs as we had walked up to go to the Iglesia de San Cristobal, it is still quite a trek, especially since you first have to walk all the way up the hill to the base of the stairs. But all of San Cristobal is set on one hill or another, so we are kind of used to that.

This church boasts an incredible view of the city, so we wanted to take the Hendricksons up to the top to see SC one last time before they left. 

Afterward we decided to try a new restaurant outside of the indoor artisan market. Justin had requested tostadas so I found a place with tostadas on the menu. But there were so many good looking foods that  we decided to get a few plates of different foods and meats so everyone could sample a bunch of different Mexican foods. We had tostadas, tacos, quesadillas, and empanadas. I think everyone had different favorites and we all ordered seconds of different foods. So delicious. Of course, the restaurant was outside so we froze the entire time. Ha!
After dinner we went home and packed and got ready for their departure the next day. The trip went by way too fast and at the end we (at least Caitlin and I) were hoping for a few more days with our family. We are going to be down here for a while longer, and are open to having more visitors. It would be great if any of our friends or family planned a trip down here. We are amazing hosts (ha!) and would love to take you in!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Good vs. Evil

If you have ever read my blog before, you will know that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I know that I'm a grown man and I shouldn't be obsessed with young adult literature like Harry Potter, but I am fascinated with the story and applaud JK Rowling for her imagination. And although I love the fantasy world where Harry Potter takes place, I love even more the truth that comes through the series. 

The truth is that Good triumphed over Evil. 

I know that sometimes we may feel as though the good is slowly leaving the world and sometimes I think that I cannot make any sort of impact because of the overwhelming amount of people that are determined to do evil - but then I remember all the good that people do in this world - and that by far outweighs evil. 

Think about all the good we see on a daily basis (even among the evil). In small little ways people display goodness on a daily basis - but we are bombarded with large acts of evil through the media. I remember when the Sandy Hook shooting happened last year and Caitlin and I were distraught. We laid in bed for hours watching news footage, unable to understand why anyone could be so evil. But what we didn't see (at least not immediately) was the outpouring of good that came from that evil act. 

Today I stumbled upon this video that demonstrates how good can win even in a world where evil acts exist. Watch it with tissues because it is a tear jerker - but the lesson contained within it is worth more than this entire blog post. 

Even Anne Frank, who as a Jew suffered more than I can comprehend during the Holocaust understood this simple truth. She said, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart." And I truly believe that too. There may be some who commit evil acts, but I have a hard time believing that the world is evil. Good does win, every single day. And we can all have our Harry Potter endings where we rejoice with our friends and family at the truth that good has triumphed over evil.  

Sumidero Canyon

Have you ever heard of Sumidero Canyon before? I don't think it is so famous as to warrant too many discussions (like Palenque or Agua Azul) but it is actually a beautiful canyon in Chiapas, only about 40 minutes away from San Cristobal. So we decided to head out there and take a boat tour. 
We attempted to point to where we were on the map, but it was too high and our arms were too short. But we were somewhere near where our fingers were pointing. Ha!
And of course, they always want you to look stylish while you are on a boat tour, so they give you these beautiful orange vests to wear. :)

The tour took us through the canyon, allowing us to see absolutely stunning views from the river, as well as some crocodiles. 

It is a lot warmer in the canyon than in San Cristobal, but since it wasn't even noon yet, the sun didn't hit us for most of the tour since the walls of the canyon were so high - so Caitlin and I were freezing. I don't know how the San Diego clan handled it - I think sometimes we are just big babies. 

There were a couple of dozen more people on our tour, some of them were even on our trip to Palenque the day before, so of course we had to take a picture with a few of them... even if they didn't know they were in the shot. Doesn't this guy look so happy to be there? Ha!
Toward the highest point in the canyon, the driver announced that he was going to slow down so we could go to the front of the boat and take pictures. At first we thought we would just stand where we were, but after everybody else in the boat had a turn at the front, we decided we should too. And this was our shot. Gorgeous, isn't it?

Along the tour there were a couple of cool sites to see within the canyon. One was the cueva de colores (cave of colors) where they have a Virgen at the top of these colorful rocks. Natural carvings of the rocks are also said to portray Christ. It was very interesting. 
The second cool thing that we saw was the Christmas Tree Waterfall. As we were approaching it, Justin said, "It looks like a Christmas tree!" and as soon as he finished, the tour guide explained (in Spanish) that the name of this waterfall was the Christmas tree because of it's appearance. Justin was spot on! There wasn't much water falling, but rather more like a mist trickling down. But the green rocks were really pretty. 

After going through the canyon the tour bus dropped us off in Chiapa de Corzo, which is a small town near the canyon. It has a lot of touristy shops - and our bus said it would pick us up somewhere in the center in an hour and a half. There wasn't much to see, so eventually we took a break at the fountain in the center and enjoyed watching the pigeons fly around and wait for the bus to come.
We liked the canyon a lot. I love being out in nature and it made me wish I had my own boat to go through the canyon without a mass of other people. But definitely a beautiful site to see in Chiapas.