On Friday, my second day in Leon, I had a truly amazing day. It didn’t start out amazing though.
First I had to take care of my lingering Mexican visa issue. Upon arrival in Mexico I got a tourist card valid for 180days. But the immigration police didn’t give me the form I needed to take to any bank in Mexico to pay the 262 Pesos for the visa. If you arrive by airplane, this fee is already included in the airfare. If you arrive by land you have to pay the fee at a bank and stop in to a local immigration office to get everything stamped.
I went to the immigration office in Leon and waited 30 minutes to get the form. I then found a bank 10 minutes away by foot and paid the fee. On the receipt was my name – Adam Pervez. Big mistake. I returned to the immigration office and was told I had to go back to the bank because the name on the receipt has to exactly match the name in my passport – which of course includes my middle name.
So I went back, had them print out the form again, returned to the immigration office, and my mission was accomplished. It took about two hours, but it was an experience. And everyone I dealt with was pleasant and nice.
For lunch I went to the grandparents’ house of the family I am staying with. I don’t even know how to describe the atmosphere, but suffice it to say that after the customary “Buenes tardes” and a single kiss on the right cheek, the grandma told me that the next time I come to Mexico I am staying in her house. Case closed. Grandma said so, so I have to!
The food was amazing and I tried everything she made. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world – grandma’s cooking is the best. I had cream of carrot soup, beans, pulled beef, potatoes, rice, vegetables (including a green pumpkin), a dessert that was out of this world, and a juice made out of mixing water with a local flower called Jamaica.
Despite my “still improving” Spanish, I understood pretty much everything that was discussed. We had great conversations and it just felt normal and like I was at home even though I had just met my hosts the day before and the grandparents that afternoon.
And to this point, this is the third time I’ve felt this way. In Houston, in San Luis Potosi, and now in Leon, people (two strangers and one friend) have opened up their homes and lives to me and let me in. And not only that, somehow they have managed to erase the nearly thirty years we haven’t known each other to such an extent that I truly feel at home and comfortable. I never could have imagined this to be possible.
During the lunch we talked about the US, Mexico, culture, and lots of other things. We talked about a few Mexican cities and the ones that I will visit. I realized that it doesn’t matter which city you mention, Mexicans will let out a sigh and tell you how beautiful and wonderful that city is. When I brought this to their attention, it was kind of like a kid being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. They admitted I was right, but offered no apology for how beautiful their country is. I remember saying that life really does just boil down to moments like the one we were having. Good food, great conversation, wonderful people, and love.
On Friday night I participated in a march for peace here in Leon. It was a candle-lit vigil to remember victims of the drug-related violence throughout Mexico. It was also a call to action among the population to be more vigilant and a call to action for the government to do more to stop the violence.
Below you can see the two minute video showing an impassioned speech by one of the organizers of the march. It’s in Spanish, obviously, and unfortunately it’s dark since it was at night. But if you speak Spanish, it’s a great speech.
After the march I met the heads of two local organizations doing amazing things (women’s rights and deafness/blindness help). I’ll probably end up volunteering with one or both of them while here in Leon.
Then I went out with some friends of my host. Some I met the night before, others I just met. We went to a low-key bar that had a mariachi (well, they told me he wasn’t a mariachi – just a guy who sings with a guitar). We ate a bit, though I was still full from the huge lunch!
But the same atmosphere returned. We were there, among friends, talking, drinking a little, and enjoying life. The mariachi sang traditional Mexican songs and sometimes the invisible microphone was turned over to one of us at the table. Below is a short video showing one of us singing. For the record, I can’t sing in English let alone Spanish. Even though I didn’t know any of the songs, it was still wonderful to watch everyone else sing and see their passion expressed via words I struggle to understand but have so much meaning for them.
There is a pride here I can’t explain in words. People here love their country with a passion. It’s not superficial and it’s something every foreigner probably experiences upon coming here and spending time with Mexicans in their environment.
After the bar, we went to a mariachi plaza. It was outdoors, adjacent to a building with a simple tin corrugated roof. It was raining heavily, so it protected us from the rain.
We spent another 90 minutes there listening to the mariachis playing more and more traditional Mexican music. We danced, sang, and enjoyed the atmosphere. Below is a picture of me with the mariachis.
All in all, despite the frustration in the morning with the bureaucracy, Mexico is really growing on me. So much love, so much passion, so much heart. This place is having an impact on me and I can already feel myself changing for the better thanks to all these amazing experiences the wonderful people here are helping me to have.