Crickets, Bulls, and Thomas on a Mission in Mexico

Trip Start Jun 06, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

1. Cri-Cri, Chirp-Chirp

        In the Dominican Republic dogs say, "How! How!" In the U.S. they say, "Ruff! Ruff!" Sitting in my quarters at the church in Mexico there were two unforgivable dogs barking incessantly. I wondered how to best sound out their bark but drew no conclusions as my wonderings drifted to the best and most permanent way of silencing them. Well, enough of that. This story isn't about dogs anyway; it's about bugs. I learned during my two weeks in Mexico that crickets don't say, "Chirp! Chrip!" they say, "Cri! Cri! "
        It was a quiet Friday afternoon (except for those two howling oafs). My watch chirped to announce that 2:00 p.m. had rolled around. I had no plans for the afternoon but had a great need to take a break from writing the sermon I had been asked to deliver for Sunday. I knew that it would be a depressing break to sit around the apartment so I opened up my newspaper and flipped through the local events section. I looked for something dramatic, a beautiful, rich, and inspiring expression of Mexican culture and history. I found it.
        "Cri! Cri!" Wow, I thought, what a dramatic sounding title! The image above the title was of a young forlorn-looking man with long striped stockings and a Robin Hood style hat. I thought this must be historical, this must be dramatic, this must be inspirational! All that, and it was at the National Auditorium! I checked the time thinking such a presentation would be shown on a Friday in the evening only to find that it would begin at 2:30 p.m. I had no time to think and 27 minutes for a trip that takes 25-30. I decided that even the thrill of the race would be a welcome and non-depressing alternative to sitting in the quiet staleness of my room listening to the damn neighbor dogs barking at their front door.
        I ripped out the newspaper cutting, grabbed my raincoat and money, and went to wait for the bus to come by. It was now 2:04 p.m. The bus came by within a minute of standing out there and I hopped on. I was 75% certain that I knew where I was going and 22 minutes later I saw the great and prominent National Auditorium. I checked my watch, 2:26 p.m., I still had time! I ran up to the entrance and was stiff-armed by the usher who pointed me to the ticket booth. 2:28 p.m. Would there still be tickets? Yes! and they were cheap. I paid $10, got my ticket with a "gracias!" and ran back to the usher who kindly yielded this time and allowed me to step into the vastness of the National Auditorium. It was 2:30 p.m., I had made it just on time, a dramatic arrival for a dramatic show.
         Everything worked out right- the directions, the timing, the bus, the ticket, but when I stepped into the auditorium it seemed that everything was wrong. Half the audience was screaming! It was dark with the show about to start so I couldn't tell what was happening. I found my seat despite my fear that soon I would be screaming too. I crept towards the middle of the row and stepped around a man and his young son. I wondered what this man was thinking bringing his innocent child into the chaos of this dark instance. Then, before I turned around to face the stage and the drama that was about to ensue, I looked up at the small faces dimly lit by the stage lights and realized the source of the screams.
        They were all children! They were crying because it was dark, because they had rashes on their butts, because they were hungry, and they were all there because Cri! Cri! is a children's play!  I got the scoop from the man with his son. "Cri-Cri" is the sound that a grillo (cricket) makes. I had assumed that Cri! Cri! was like Cry! Cry! and the show would be some historical Mexican drama: a tale of love through the Mexican revolution or a story of a young bull fighter who, at the height of his glory, was struck down in a tragic show of hubris. Instead, it was a show about slugs, bugs, crickets, and kids.
         It was an amusing afternoon- the adrenaline of getting to the auditorium, the triumph of a timely arrival, the mystery of the crying audience, and the hilarity and embarrassment of realizing all the effort was child's play. The costumes were colorful, the orchestra was good, the singers were in tune, and the stories were fun. I probably understood a whole lot more than I would have in the Mexican Revolution Romance or the Bull Fighter stories. Kids really know where it's at: fun, imagination, color, music and learning all together! Since returning home it has been lovely to listen to the chorus of crickets and decipher whether they are calling, "Chirp! Chirp!" or, "Cri! Cri!" Listen one night and let me know what you think.

2. The Running of the Bulls

         Among his great novels, Hemingway wrote and compiled a collection of short stories called, Men Without Women. I came upon it as I entered the church apartment where I stayed in Mexico City. I was a man without my woman, being that my girlfriend was thousands of miles away, so I picked it up. The first story, The Undefeated, tells of an aging matador and his final fight with a beastly bull. I took this story as a sign and commission and embarked on my journey to a Mexican fair with the Running of the Bulls.
         I was told that the Running would be at 12:00. I figured that meant midnight- the Latinos are so wonderfully dramatic. My four-hour journey to the fair was similarly dramatic. A van in Mexico City carried me to the subway, the subway zipped me to the bus terminal, and the bus took me to Puebla, a larger city near my final stop. In Puebla I was told that I better hurry up to make it to the village in time for The Running. To quicken my ride I was told to look for "Fecha verde." I understood that to mean something green "verde." Maybe it was the bus line? I looked around and saw no green "Fecha" busses. Fecha... Fecha, wait, I thought, maybe it actually means something! I flipped through the tiny pages of my pocket dictionary as people paraded past me. Fecador, fecede, FECHA! It meant "arrow!" He was telling me to look for the green arrow, not green busses!
         I spun all around and power walked until I found a green arrow. The first one I found led me past an open market. As I hurried past each store it sounded like someone was flipping through radio stations on a stadium-sized speaker. First, Brittney Spears was blaring in my ears, then someone barking about kitchen appliances, then hardcore heavy metal, then a soccer game. The music moved my steps along and the arrows brought me to the Oro Autobuses (that means "gold" so I guess I was looking for a colored bus company). I bought a ticket and within five minutes the bus was off. I was confident I would arrive in time for the run.
         We arrived at the village of the Running at 3:30 p.m. The village was described as a quiet farmer's community. The village before me was scattered with scores of riot police, drunken Mexicans (it was a fair after all), and long, narrow and crowded streets. I was intimidated. I asked a nearby vendor where the Running was. He pointed down a street packed with people. I couldn't believe they would all be so brave with the bulls about to run. I checked with him again and my feeling of intimidation was replaced with despair. He told me The Running had ceased. I had missed it.
         After all of this effort- the trip to Puebla, running through bus terminals, following green Fechas, asking directions- I had missed it. What would Hemingway think of me? What a failure I felt to be. I wished that I had been a man with a woman, because that woman would have asked if The Running was at 12 noon or 12 midnight. When I heard 12 I figured that meant midnight because it would be more dramatic like Hemingway's story of the matador. Torches, screams, a bull's glinting enraged eyes in the darkness... how could that happen at noon? Well it did, and it happened for several hours and came to an end only 30 minutes before I arrived. I felt like I had taken the horns right to my gut. I walked and sulked and hoped to gather my emotions before any of the macho Mexicans saw them tumbling out. The crowds were taking down the solid wood and steel barricades that had protected them from the bulls just minutes before. As the barricades went down my spirits fell with them into the dust.
Only one thing could pick me back up off the ground- the one thing that had brought me happiness consistently since my arrival in Mexico: tacos. Delicious, greasy tacos cooked at the street stands and served with green onions and spicy hot salsa. I found an old kindly woman cooking them in an alley. The grease, heat and spice of the taco gave my system a new sensation to contain and it distracted me from my failure. To further my cathartic coping I confessed my failure and stupidity to the vendor. She listened graciously.
         Then in her eyes I saw a glimmer of hope. She told me that I had missed one running but there would be yet another! I put my half-eaten taco down on the plate, looked at her questioningly and she reassured me, "Sie, sie, Joven (young guy)." I devoured the taco, paid up, and she pointed me down the street. I followed the crowd of people to the gates of a big stadium and bought a ticket to the evening Running of the Bulls.

         I had missed it in the streets, but I would see it in the arena. For three grueling, exciting, and uncomfortable hours I heard the cheers and jeers of the crowd as they shouted for the Toros (bulls) and the Toreros (the men killing the bulls). My circumstance began to make perfect sense. After all there was no running of the bulls in the streets in Hemingway's story, why would there be in mine? The rationalization worked for me and I settled into my seat to watch the Bullfight.
         The first fight was the toughest to watch- Dolce, 476 kg, in all his hugeness and rage was no match for the picks, swords, and spears of the Toreros. The sequence of the age old battle of Man vs. Bull was fascinating. The enraged bull tore into the empty arena. He was egged on by men with their pink blankets flashing and taunting. The bull was heaving, nervous, pissed off, and tired. Then out came the Torero (matador) for the bull to make a few passes at. Dolce brushed an inch or two by the man's waist every time. After the matador got the crowd behind him with a few close passes, out came the picadores (guys with spears) on armored horses. The horse, blinded by a mask and ordered to stay put by its rider, was a big, easy target for Dolce. He dug his horns into the horses side, but it was all a nasty trick. As the bull pushed against the armored horse, releasing its rage into the horse's steel-plated ribs, the picador plunged his spear deep into the bull's back, drawing the first blood and staining the Dolce's back. He moved away after several seconds when he finally realized the intense pain of the spear. Then the matador teased Dolce away from the picador with his flashy blanket. Dolce remained strong and charged at the man, but in making his turn he stumbled. This first sign of weakness was the beginning of Dolce's end. The music sounded from the band, a tragic Spanish tune of trumpets, bass drum, and clarinets that signaled the picador to exit the arena. Then it was only one man and one bull.
         For this final fight the man switched to his red cape and grabbed his sword. Dolce stood a moment, heaving, trying to collect himself and understand what was happening. I imagined him wondering, "What happened to my calling of mounting cows? Was I not breeding the beef this country needs? What do these men want with my flesh?" Dolce had no time to think once the red cape flashed. It turned him into a crazy killing machine. The music intensified as the bull got crazier and clumsier. The man began to make a spectacle of it all. He slapped Dolce on the back, yelled in his face, and gained more and more confidence as the bull lost more and more will to fight and will to live.
        Then everything was silence. The music, the drunken men yelling, the bull, the cape, the man, it all stopped. The two of them faced each other only a few feet away. The man lifted the hilt of his sword to his ear and pointed the blade just above Dolce's lowered head. The silence was broken by the cry of the matador as he lunged toward Dolce and plunged his sword deep through the bloody holes in the bull's back. He planted it with precision and sliced into Dolce's vitals. Dolce the bull had his already spinning world brought to a cold and final halt. He dropped to his front knees first, proudly attempting to stay on at least some of his feet. Then his back legs buckled and dropped as well. The man laughed and shouted and the silence was smothered by the cheer of the crowd. A picador came in with a dagger and finished the paralyzed Dolce off by cutting into his brain.

         Only the end came quick for Dolce, the bull. As the crowd cheered and awaited the decision of the judges, two grand and ceremonious horses were hooked up to the dead and bloody Dolce. They proudly dragged him out of the arena. The fight was over.
        I wasn't sure how to think about the whole event. I know it tired me out and exhausted my emotions. I felt like I had just completed a busy chaplaincy on-call overnight in the hospital. Though it was a unique cultural expression and my understanding is that they feast on the bulls that are killed. I wonder what happens to the people who die in the Runnings. I was kind of glad I didn't make it in time to find out. I could have left a woman without a man.

3. Aldo the Anointed: A Week at Mission Mazahua

         "I think we will see each other again." Have you ever heard someone say that to you? I'm not talking about anytime someone says they'll see you again. That is something maybe you heard from the principal after you left detention, "I'll see you again." Or maybe you heard it from a boyfriend or girlfriend before you snuck out of the bedroom window, "I'll see you again." What I'm talking about are those times when someone shakes your hand, holds on, looks you in the eye and says, "I think we'll see each other again." The person smiles in a way that can bring both a feeling of fear and fascination. Usually there are no plans to see that person again. What better to say at the hint of an awkward pause in the doorway, than, "I think we'll see each other again." However, when I heard that from a man named Aldo it made me wonder if that suggestion was good for more than a smooth departure.
         Aldo is a Mexican man with family from Europe. He went to the best Mexican schools and worked for a dozen years at a job that paid him well even in U.S. standards. He just recently began work at Mission Mazahua where I spent a week of my 14 days in Mexico. Mission Mazahua is a place of promise, a place for rest. It is a small workers village atop a hill about 90 miles outside of Mexico City. Hearing Aldo's story gives me the sense that he was anointed for his new calling. I'm excited about the future of his work there and the future of the mission.
It was an enriching experience. The hills roll with the thunder there during the rainy and green season. The Hacienda (or worker's village) is well-settled on its columned colonial foundations with stone pathways, arched entries, and stained-glass windows. The vision of the mission is to create educational and employment opportunities for the local indigenous people. With a Christian philosophy and foundation at the mission, the days of work at the Hacienda begin with a devotion. I contributed to the community by leading hymns on the piano. That was a fulfilling first for me to lead on the piano. I also washed dishes and cleaned and painted walls. Most effective of all was the comic relief I provided with my frequent Spanish blunders.
         The beauty of the Mission recalled for me many stories and scenes from my travels in Peru last summer. Both places enriched me in meaningful ways. In both places I learned of a lot of need nestled all the beauty. Just as I learned from my experience in Peru with The Future Seekers program, Mission Mazahua would welcome your presence to come and learn about the Mazahua people, the mission, breathe in God's Spirit, and build a roof or paint a church while you're at it. Norberto, the director of the Mission, was telling me about a project he'd love to have some folks help with. He said it'd just take five skilled adults (or 15 energetic youth) to come pour a roof for one of the rooms where high school age youth come and learn marketable skills and earn money to get through school.

         If you, a church group, friends at school, or Spanish club, are interested in the mission, please write to me or the Mission, You can also check out their website at Maybe you'll be seeing Aldo before I do. Let me know if you get the handshake and hear, "I think we'll see each other again" on your way out.
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