Mexico: Día De Los Muertos. Spooky or spectacular? 

Dia De Los Meurtos (or Day of the Dead) is known worldwide as the one of the biggest celebrations of the dead. Festivals, food, flowers and a tonne of skulls and make-up turn the taboo subject of death as we know it in the West into a fun, colourful and completely opposite method of dealing with loss. But is the traditional celebration spectacular or just plain spooky? This year with the children at Mision Mexico, we’ll find out!

 

Four fun facts that you didn’t know about Día de los Muertos:

  1. Día de los Muertos is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd November, not on 31st October! Although the theme is death and it’s closely celebrated near Halloween, the traditions and customs are extremely different. Mexicans create altars (la ofrenda) in their homes and cemeteries to invite their lost ones back down to earth for a huge celebration of their lives! There’s no mourning, fear or sadness, just love, joy and laughter! This is incredibly important for our children also and a lovely way to help with trauma and loss.
  2. Who knows what the food is like in Heaven? Just in case the departed might be missing out on their favourite meals, families make sure to provide heaps of food, drinks and all their loved ones’ favourite things as an offering. It’s also believed that the food will help with the tiredness of travelling from the heavens and back. Pan de meurto and pan dulce (bread of the dead and sweet bread) is usually offered along with atole (sweet porridge) and sugar skulls.
  3. Cemeteries are filled with families, flowers and candles which sounds similar to ours in the west, but you’ll find the atmosphere and behaviour to be in extreme contrast. Children run around playing and families laugh as they share fond memories together. People are at one with death. Life and death come together in the most colourful and uplifting way.
  4. As well as being a fun activity for the day (for the kids and us!), the popular sugar skull face painting has real meaning behind it. Calaveras and Careinas were originally worn and painted on to warn off death. And the holiday itself is an indigenous tradition and recognised by UNESCO.

 

At Mision Mexico, we encourage and celebrate these important traditions and celebrations. “Our altar is still up, and every morning the kids light the candles and have a moment to think about those who have passed. They also spend the day trying to set fire to sticks and paper, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a countrywide tradition!” – Melissa, Fundraising and Events Manager

 

So, spooky or spectacular? I think… Spectacular! How incredible and beautiful to be so at peace with one of the most natural things on the planet. It’s perfect for family time and bringing each other closer to celebrate and remember those we once walked the earth with. And also, a magical time to visit the spectacular country of Mexico!

 

Interested in the dead like I am?

Read my blog about living with the dead in Indonesia. Another fascinating but amazing way of coping with loss and celebrating loved ones along with being one of my most unforgettable travel experiences! https://vanishamay.com/2017/04/28/living-with-the-dead-could-you-do-it/

 

Interested in volunteering at Mision Mexico?

You can apply at volunteers@lovelifehope.com! We’d love to hear from you! Must be over 21 and willing to commit for 6 weeks minimum.

 

Thanks for reading!

Vanisha

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Instagram: @vanishamay and @misionmexicovolunteers

Twitter: @misionmexico

Follow us on Facebook too! https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren/

 

 

Photograph credits to previous volunteers at Mision Mexico**

Volunteering at Mision Mexico - Bringing love, life and hope to our children

Mision Mexico’s Magic

A day in the life of a volunteer

One of the aims as a volunteer is to spread positivity and inspiration. I walk through doors in hope that at the most, I’ll change or improve somebody’s life, and at the very least, make their day a tiny bit brighter and their smile a tiny bit bigger. What you can never plan for is the impact that someone might make on you and the mark they may leave in your life. One of my biggest inspo’s from Mision Mexico is my girl, M. This is to you gal.

 

Like most of our children at Mision Mexico, M’s journey has a been a tough one. M was found at the age of 4, wandering the streets of Tapachula buying alcohol for her alcoholic parents. At 4 years-old, M was classed as a victim of abuse and neglect. She was bought to Mision Mexico by local social services and police, and has spent most of her life with Pam and Alan Skuse and the family they’ve created at the refuge. Through pictures and videos, you can see how far she’s come. From a sweet little girl to a confident, strong young woman, M is now 17 years old.

As one of the eldest in the house, it’s clear to see who’s boss when M is around, and she can definitely play up to the role when needed! She’s a leader who knows what she wants. And that’s one thing that I love about her. That throughout everything, through all the sadness and hardship, she’s a fearless go-getter who loves life. Plus, she’s completely lovable and has the most infectious and charming personality.

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Like most teens, M has discovered make up, boys and a hate for chores. Actually, I think she reminds me a lot of myself when I was her age! Sometimes loving and happy, sometimes stubborn and testing, and sometimes just misunderstood.

 

As a volunteer at Mision Mexico, it’s not always so easy to find one-on-one time, mainly because there’s 22 children all needing their own various kinds of attention and love! But when you find that time, you break down that barrier and you make that little bond, it can be magic.

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My first magic moment with M came on a trip into town one day. We walked and talked about school and bullying and she held my hand for the whole way home. Then our funniest moment was when she took me to get tortillas in the torrential rain. We were running (which is rare for me!) and as we were attempting to walk through a small river in the street, my flip-flop came off and I almost lost it…! She thought it was hilarious.

But my proudest moment and biggest wave of inspiration came when I took her to her first boxing class. As we walked together hand in hand, M told me stories about school and the girl who she didn’t get on well with. As we got closer to central, we had incidents with two separate cars of men stopping by us and cat-calling. Funnily enough, being one of the only few tourists in Tapachula, the attention wasn’t aimed at me, but instead, aimed at a 17-year old M. Feminist me, and human me was mortified and I was quick to wave them along in anger and hand gestures. Unfortunately, incidents like this are common in areas like this.

We turned up at the boxing class and M had a huge smile of excitement on her face. She got straight into it and barely stopped for the whole hour. While she was punching away at the boxing bag with a face full of determination, I couldn’t help but think about 4-year-old M being taken away from her sad family situation, and 7-year-old M growing up with her new family at Mision Mexico, and 12-year-old M getting cat called on the street, and 14-year-old M getting hit by the girl at school, and now 17-year-old M, strong, smart and beautiful and right by my side.

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It’s an amazing feeling to watch someone who is so remarkable in your eyes, keep looking over and checking to make sure you’re watching her in her newest passion, to  wanting to hold your hand whilst walking around the streets and asking advice about her problems in life.

And, although volunteering is all about giving out love and lifting others, you’re always left with that exceptional feeling that along with changing their lives, they’re also changing yours. Magic. Saying goodbye to M as I left Mision Mexico was one of the most difficult for sure. Kidnapping is not always the best idea but she’s amongst the bunch that I would have loved to have with me forever.

 

Unfortunately, life sometimes catches up with the children and M is currently going through some difficult life decisions. We all hope that she chooses the path that will bring her the most happiness and allows her to be the best version of herself. We love you M, and thank you for being such a big part of my life in Tapachula.

For all those interested in volunteering, please don’t hesitate to ask further. You can apply at volunteers@lovelifehope.com! We’re in need of volunteers especially for October-December 2017. Must be over 21 and willing to commit for 6 weeks minimum.

Thanks for reading!
Vanisha
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Instagram: @vanishamay and @misionmexicovolunteers
Twitter: @misionmexico
Follow us on Facebook too! @misionmexico
http://www.lovelifehope.com

https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren/

Photograph credits to previous volunteers at Mision Mexico**

Indonesia: Living with the dead. Could you do it?

Don’t believe in magic? Never had a deceased person in your living room? Never watched an animal sacrifice? Visit Tana Toraja. It’s a land like no other. I’ve never had an experience like it. Tana Toraja is in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and although it’s far off the typical tourist track, it’s worth a visit for sure.

 

The villages of Tana Toraja sit between rice fields and jungle mountains, and is an icky few hours drive through spectacular landscapes from Belopa. Although many villagers now identify themselves as Christian, many still uphold animistic traditions, and are completely at one with the dead. Believing in reincarnation and connecting with their dead, Torajans still practice the ancient ways of dealing with the dead.

 

When we visited, we were extremely lucky to be invited to a traditional funeral ceremony. We had no idea what to expect, and it still seems hard to believe. I’ve been to many funerals, but none compare to this one… this is not for the faint hearted (and put me off meat for two months) … you have been warned.

 

Firstly, the funeral was for a lady who died aged 116. Amazing right?! She had 109 grandchildren and had died two years before (imagine all the names and birthdays?!). Unlike our funerals, Torajans believe that the spirit stays alive, so they embalm the body and keep it in the house to care, feed, clothe and look after it. Funerals can take years, and the body stays with the family until then. The whole village save money together, and the family move into traditional housing which is protected by white magic. Torajans believe that no funeral can take place while there’s negativity felt. If people in the family are not getting on so well, then the funeral will wait until all relationships are fully fixed again. If a daughter is studying away at university, they wait for her return. It’s an amazing commitment.

 

Funerals can last days, and this one was four days long. Living more simpler lives, Torajans save all their money for lavish funerals. They feed their guests buffalos and pigs which are considered to be holy. The buffalo and pig are killed at the ceremony, and given as a sacrifice to the gods. The more that are killed, the more wealth is represented of the deceased family. On our visit, we watched the slaughter of around 11 buffalo. Slit from the neck, bleeding out, then skinned in the main arena, family and friends watch and celebrate the sacrifices. I’ve never smelt, or seen anything like it. Words cannot describe.

 

And for someone from the West, who’s meat is purchased from a packet, and who’s dead are buried within days, it was completely shocking. But, thinking about it now, it’s remarkable and beautiful. Adults and children were at one with the dead, at complete peace, with no taboo or awkwardness. The children were not wrapped up in cotton wall, their eyes were not covered, and there was something so beautifully natural about their connection to the dead. After all, it is the most natural thing in the world, right?! We could definitely learn something from them.

 

Once the ceremony is over, the dead are buried in caves, trees and homes made for them. They’re never forgotten about, and are regularly given gifts of food, money and cigarettes by their friends and family. And every few years, they’re taken out of their caskets, cleaned, greeted, and celebrated all over again. Torajans believe that the magic of the land helps protect the community, and keeps the dead more alive.

 

Tana Toraja is literally a land full of magic, and celebration of life and death. The people were friendly, kind and so hospitable. I encourage every single one of you to visit this enchanting community at some point in your lives!

 

And here’s the latest BBC documentary which explores Tana Toraja for those who want to see more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08p0z6x/our-world-living-with-the-dead

 

Thanks for reading!

Have a good day,

V

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