Living Like a Local: The Importance of Family

8 weeks have flown by here in Agua Caliente Nueva. It’s been an incredible experience living with such a wonderful family. They’ve welcomed me with open arms and took care of me through thick and thin, especially when I had food poisoning twice during my time here lol… Extrañaré a mi familia Mexicana 😥 Mexicanos son muy buenas personas y me encanta la gente en Agua Caliente mucho. ¡Conocerlos antes de hacer juicios! (I will miss my Mexican family. Mexicans are really good people and I love the people in Agua Caliente. Get to know them before you make any judgments!)

I learned that Mexicans are very family-oriented and everyone knows each other in a small pueblo like Agua Caliente Nueva (less than 1,000 inhabitants).  The families here are large and from my understanding, there are generations of families that remain in this little town.

I was talking with my host father the other day and he brought up the fact that there are some people who have grown up in their town or in other cities in Mexico, only to leave to the United States. He mentioned that this was understandable, but it was sad to find how some family members wouldn’t want to return to “su casa“, or their home in Mexico. These individuals would leave Mexico in order to pursue the “American Dream”, as I tried to rationalize with him. He acknowledged that and said that it made sense, but that it was disappointing when these people didn’t return home, and seemed to forget their families here. It was disheartening to hear, especially coming from the US and understanding why people would want to try to pursue prosperity in the States. He mentioned that some men who had moved to the US continued to send money home to their wives and children who are here, meanwhile having another family in the US.

My host family is extremely close. My host father runs a carpentry business from his shed and hires his own family members to work for him, keeping things in the family. When I’m invited to family gatherings, there are toooons of people who show up, all of whom are family. I admire the close-knit ties they have to each other :’)

Mi familia Mexicana ❤ 

Living Like a Local: Fantasmas!

I’ve heard SO many stories about fantasmas (ghosts) or almas (spirits). My host father is full of these anecdotes and it’s just so interesting and quite spooky since I never wanted to believe they existed. Sure, there are a bunch of TV shows about ghosts and all things haunted, but me being the scaredy cat that I am, I’ve never indulged. I’m not sure if people in the US share these ghost stories so openly, but I was intrigued by how many of these stories existed in the little pueblo of Agua Caliente Nueva.

Story time! Dun, dun, duuuuuunnnnnnnn……

The Guardian Angel: When my host father was an infant, there was a neighbor who would always look after him and give him candy and other sweets. He had been killed and my host father continued to grow up in that neighborhood. His house was still being built, and there wasn’t a door to the entrance of the house; it was only an entryway. When my host father was 8 years old, he was sleeping and suddenly woke up and found there was a very tall, tan-skinned man standing in the entryway, who ducked his head to enter the house and approached the bed and stood there for a good while, not doing anything, and would leave. This apparently happened until my host father turned 14. He told his mother about it, and she suspected it was the same neighbor who was watching over him to make sure he was okay while growing up o.o

The Murder Suicide: There is a vacant house in Colima that has remained empty for many years. Why? In the past, there was a man who had shot and killed his wife, and then later killed himself. There would be people who attempted to rent the house, but would leave within a few days because they would hear sounds and voices during the night when no one was there.

Have We Struck Gold?: A man offered one of his friends a house to stay in up on a hill since he owned it and it was not currently occupied. My host father explained to me that this friend could not stay more than a few days because it was just so noisy, with people knocking on the door and other noises. At first, I thought it was because maybe there were hooligans knocking on doors and running off, but he explained that no one was there and these knocking sounds and other noises happened late at night. This spooked me out. But another one of this man’s friends stayed in the house and didn’t have problems. He had some kind of intuition to mess with the large stone-like structure at the corner of the bedroom, to find that there was an olla (jar) of gold buried under the floor directly under the stone!

White Figure Walking: When my host father was younger, he used to stay up really late and just look outside of his house. Back then, there weren’t street lights so it was pretty dark outside, but there was a time when he looked outside and saw a bright white figure coming down the street. He wasn’t sure what he was seeing, but the white figure had literally passed through a fence. He couldn’t believe his eyes!

Mystery Horse Carriages: This story kind of confused me, but way back in the days, there were no paved roads, and the highways were all just dirt roads. To get around, people either had to walk or use horse-drawn carriages. My host father said that some older people in town have claimed to hear the sound of horses trotting outside of their homes in the dead of night, but there were no horses or carriages to be seen or heard.

Knock Knock, Who’s There?: Many years ago, my host father would hang out for long periods of time outside, and then come home to sleep. There was a time when he came back late, and made sure to close the door when he came into the house. BUT… the sound of the door would open, and his father heard someone calling my host father’s name, but when he checked, there was no one there…

The DJ Request: An 8-year old boy had an accident and I think he fell off the roof of his house, close to the time of his older sister’s birthday. A year later, the sister turned 15, which is a huge celebration in Mexico. She didn’t want to celebrate her birthday because she missed her brother, but her parents wanted to throw her one because it was an important year. They had hired a DJ to play music for the event, and at one point in the celebration, the DJ came down from his booth, locked it, and announced to the party that there was someone who wanted to make a speech. Everyone got quiet, and then a young boy started speaking, wishing the sister a happy birthday. The boy apologized to the sister for not being there, and that he was watching over the family. The mother recognized her deceased son’s voice, and fainted, while the father got angry and asked the DJ what kind of cruel joke he was trying to play. However, the DJ had no idea that their son had passed a year ago, and said that a boy who looked about 8 years old had approached him with a request to speak during the party, and he brought him to the DJ booth and then left him there to speak. When they went to the DJ booth, the door was still closed, but there was no one there.

Phantom Chauffeur: I saved the best one for last. There was a couple who was expecting a baby, and the expectant mother was in labor. The expectant father yelled for help, but no one was around to help. The only logical thing to do at the time was to leave the house and just start walking and looking for people, since they didn’t have a car and didn’t want to deliver at home where complications could arise. They walked, and walked, and walked, until they came upon a house that was celebrating what appeared to be a newly married couple. They went in looking for someone to help, so the newlyweds offered them a ride. They got into their car, and drove to the hospital, where the baby was delivered safely. They bought flowers and wanted to thank the newlyweds properly, so they found their house, but when they arrived, it was completely vacant, as if no one had lived there in years. They asked a neighbor if they remember the party that happened the other day, and who the newlyweds were. The neighbor told them that there was a couple that had gotten married a year ago, and were on their honeymoon but had died in an accident, and no one lived in that house since. I’m still in disbelief that a phantom couple could physically drive a car and help a couple get to the hospital, but hollllly bananas, right????

Living Like a Local: Día de los Muertos in Michoacán

In history class, most of us learned about Día de los Muertos, which falls on November 1st and 2nd every year. Mexicans pray for and celebrate friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. Betcha didn’t know that the 1st is dedicated to the children, and the 2nd is dedicated to the adults!


My host family is teaching me so much about the culture in Mexico, and shared a tidbit about this Mexican holiday. In Michoacán, a state in Mexico, residents take this holiday to a whole ‘nother level. They spend this holiday at los panteones, or the cemeteries where their loved ones rest. Here are some fun, rather bizarre facts (to Americans) that happen during this time:

  • Michoacán celebrates Noche de los Muertos, where people will sleep over in the cemeteries next to their loved ones’ tumbas (tombstones). The cemetery is filled with lit candles and maravillas (yellow marigolds), which are said to be bright and deter the bad spirits from lingering around.
  • Mexicans in Michoacán have a tradition from waaaaay back where they will dig up the graves of their loved ones to CLEAN THEIR BONES. Yes, you read that right. I looked at my host father in disbelief as he said this, and he said it’s a strange tradition alright, but it’s been practiced for centuries :O

Living Like a Local: “Mexican Time”

When you hear people talk about “Mexican time”, you don’t really know what that means until you’ve actually lived in Mexico. In the past, I went on vacations to Cancun with my family, so I didn’t really count that as understanding the concept of “Mexican time” since we never had schedules to follow. Even when I volunteered abroad in Mérida, I had a schedule to stick to since I worked at a food bank, and whenever I took excursions out of the city, the bus schedules were somewhat on time. Living in Agua Caliente, however, is a whole other story!

Some of my classmates are doing their practicums with organizations with set work hours and co-workers and supervisors, but here in Agua Caliente, I’m a solo gal communicating with my professor via Skype weekly, while my other supervisor is currently exploring the hills of India looking for more exotic plants to investigate. My schedule is relatively “set-it-yourself” and while I’d like to sleep in in the mornings, the carpenters working in the shed like to work at the crack of dawn (what I mean is 8am, but still, SUPER early and who wants to wake up to sawing sounds?!)

Moringa site
My supervisor who lives in Mexico has this Moringa germplasm site where he plants all the Moringas he’s been able to collect from around the world, along with other trees that grow in dry tropical areas.

On the times when I don’t work on my coding part-time job or on my Moringa projects, I get invited to travel to other parts of Mexico such as Colima (the city), Manzanillo, La Manzanilla, Melaque, Cihuatlan, etc. It’s funny because I’m so used to being on time for everything, that when the family says we’re heading out at a certain time, I’m ready to go about 10 minutes before said time. However, this has been my error on more than one occasion!

The first occasion: We were going to La Manzanilla to the beach and to grab some yummy fresh seafood for lunch, and I was told “Vamos a La Manzanilla a las dos” so as you all know, I’m extremely punctual, and I’m ready to go. Two hours later, my host father texts me “Vamos!” Yes. TWO WHOLE hours later! But I didn’t quite learn my lesson…

La Manzanilla
We always manage to go to the beach at La Manzanilla when it’s cloudy :c

Second occasion: We were going to Manzanillo to Walmart and I was super excited since *civilization and cityyyyyy* and I was in the middle of eating my lunch, and I’m like “¿A que hora nos vamos?” and my host mother goes “Ahorita”, roughly meaning, “[like] right now”. So here I am trying to scarf down what’s left of my soup and rice, and then I see my host mother and sis just grabbing their plates and sloooooowly sitting down and taking their time eating.

Lesson learned that “ahorita” never really means “right now” and that I need to learn to take the times they mention REALLY lightly or risk choking on my food the next time lol.

Recipe: Sope (Savory Mexican “Pancakes”)

I promised to introduce more Mexican recipes, so here’s another one! Here is a recipe to make sope, which I can best define it as a small savory Mexican pancake made with masa (dough). You can put toppings on each sope, and from my understanding, these are always savory! I visited one of my participants who demonstrated how to make sope and incorporated Moringa in the dish! It was deeeelish 🙂

Sopes with Chicken and Moringa (con Pollo y Moringa)

Ingredients // Ingredientes :

  • to make chicken broth infused with Moringa // caldo de pollo con Moringa
    • a handful of Moringa leaves // hojas de Moringa
    • 2-3 chicken breasts // pechuga de pollo
    • 2 tbsp dried oregano
    • 1 onion // cebolla
    • salt // sal
  • to make masa
    • blended poblano peppers (optional) // chile poblano liquado
    • chicken broth // caldo de pollo
    • flour // masa de harina
  • to season the chicken
    • black pepper // pimiento negro
    • 3 cloves of garlic // ajo
    • a pinch of saffron // azafrán
    • cumin // comino

Steps // Proceso :

  1. Boil water and add the chicken breast, Moringa leaves and let it cook until the chicken is fully cooked. // Hierve agua y pone pechuga y hojas de Moringa.
  2. Add oregano, onion, and salt to taste. // Pone oregano, cebolla, y la sal hasta que le gusta el sabor.

    Caldo de pollo con Moringa
  3. Take out the chicken breast and shred them. //Saca el pollo y hace trizas.
  4. To make the dough, add the flour and the chicken broth and knead until it’s like dough. // Para hacer masa, añade harina y caldo y mezcla.
  5. Heat a pan and add enough oil to submerge the dough in order to fry it. // Calenta una sartén y pone aceite para sumergir la masa para freír.
  6. Roll the dough into small balls, flatten them and place them into the pan. // Hace bolitas con la masa, aplana las bolitas, y pone en la sartén.

    Sopes con Moringa!
  7. Use a blender and blend chicken broth, black pepper, garlic, saffron, and cumin to make a sauce for the chicken. // Mezcla pimiento negro, ajo, azafrán, comino,y el caldo para hacer salsa.
  8. Heat another pan and add the chicken and the sauce. // Calenta una otra sartén y pone pollo y la salsa.

    Adding the sauce onto the chicken breast
  9. When the sopes are golden brown, take them out and let them drain of extra oil. // Cuando los sopes estan dorados, sacan y secan.
  10. Put the chicken on top of the sope and enjoy! // Pone pollo encima de los sopes.¡Buen provecho!

Living Like a Local: Women vs. Men

men-vs-women-leadersLiving in Mexico has opened my eyes to how different their culture is compared to in America. Our generation has considerably changed the norms surrounding the roles of women and men in the home. In the 20th century, it was commonly accepted that wife played the role of housemaker/housewife to tend to things at home such as cleaning, or cooking, or taking care of the children, while the husband was responsible for working and bringing home the “bread” to the family. Today, more and more women have higher aspirations to succeed and advance in their careers before they settle down. More women are embracing the fact that the era when women “belonged” in the house has passed, and we can aim for CEO and executive positions, The gender pay gap is slowly decreasing, and women are always wanted in the STEM field, often getting paid more than their male counterparts.

As I’m getting to know the community here in Mexico, I realize that they are still very traditional about the male and female roles in the household. My host father explicitly stated that in Mexico, the women take care of the cooking and the cleaning. I’ve witnessed it at home when the males who eat meals would leave their plates on the tables or at the sink for someone else to clean. I can’t tell you how much that makes my eye twitch when I’m very pro gender-equal responsibilities in the house loll. I always try to wash my own dishes while I’m here to lessen the load on whoever is responsible for washing the massive mountain of dishes D: It seems to be the norm at every household I’ve visited, where the daughter or the wife is responsible for preparing the meals, bringing food over to the males first to eat, and then cleaning up afterward. I’m doing my best to keep that open mind since not every culture is what I’ve grown up to know. It’d be interesting to see what changes in let’s say 10-20 years’ time!

Living Like a Local: A Series of Unfortunate Events

This week marks the 5th week I’m living in Agua Caliente; the longest time I’ve ever been out of the country was 3 weeks. I thought I was doing so well with handling my time here, but as luck would have it, I was wrong and faced a series of unfortunate events.

As some of y’all know, I’m here working on my first practicum through school where I’m making Moringa fresh tea leaf samples for my professors, and also doing my own side project where I’m interviewing locals about their dietary practices at home and whether it’s acceptable and feasible to incorporate Moringa leaves into their diets. After successfully integrating myself into the community, I recruited an adequate number of female participants whom I would interview. This past Saturday, I scheduled a Moringa cooking demonstration, expecting at least 6 people to show, but I only had 3 (one of whom I literally had to walk over to the demo site myself). So that’s one. My host family tried to explain to me that flojera is a thing, where people are essentially lazy and will commit to something but end up not following through -big pet peeve-…

Quesadillas with Moringa leaves and flowers

Religion was never something I was forced to embrace in my family, but it’s a huge part of the Mexican culture. It seems that the longer you hang out with someone, the more likely the topic of religion comes up, and it’s kind of a huge deal when you say you don’t practice one. I have been asked at least 4-5 times if I believed in God or practiced a religion. I would get responses like “Oh, that’s bad. You need to believe in God” or the best one from a Jehovah’s witness was a whole hour-long lecture about how I need to study the bible in order to be saved. To each their own, you know? It made for very uncomfortable table talk when I’d get preached…

And then there’s the issue of food poisoning. I posted about food safety on my public health blog after my first bout of food poisoning when I arrived, and was doing SO SO well being more careful with my food, until this weekend. We went to Colimilla and ate seafood at a waterfront restaurant (we were taken by boat!). Silly me, thinking that since we’re right by the water, that the seafood would be nice and fresh. When we ordered oysters, not only were they at room temperature, but they tasted fishy… I tried to convince myself it was because they were taken straight from salty seawater, but I think my gut instinct was correct. I suffered my second bout of food poisoning this week and was out of commission for two days and literally felt like the bacteria/viruses were having a party in my stomach. Note to self: don’t eat room-temp oysters –> when in doubt, throw it out 😡

We took a boat to go to the seafood restaurant in Colimilla
I think these were what caused my food poisoning 😥

And to put the cherry on top, I am very very averse to bugs and all things creepy and crawly, and I’ve had to endure lots of them while living here. Mosquitoes seem to seek me out wherever I am in the world… BUT, there’s one thing worse than a mosquito when it comes to staying safe: scorpions. I discovered my first one in my room, so now I’m pretty paranoid about shaking out my sheets and my clothes before I wear them ><

If you want a real experience living like a local, this is it. Find a home stay with a host family, and not a luxurious hotel, so that you can experience all the ups and downs of living in a foreign land! Moral of the story: expect plans to fall through and set low expectations, try to avoid talking about religion as much as possible, don’t eat suspicious foods, be careful of bugs 😐