…by Michelle / from Mexico / PhD Integrative Physiology / 3rd Year
I’ve lived in Edinburgh for three years now. Coming to a new country was incredibly exciting, especially since Scotland is so different from my home (Mexico City). I enjoyed trying new foods, experiencing my first ever snowfall, and even struggling to understand the Scottish accent. But after the first year, a lot of the Scottish lifestyle had become second nature to me. It’s normal to want to fit in a new place and it’s incredible how easy we can adapt to it; but being so far away from home, it’s nice to make sure you make some space in your new life for a few of things that remind you of your old life.
November was a great opportunity to do this, because it starts with my favourite Mexican holiday: “Dia de Muertos”. As strange as it may sound, “Dia de Muertos” celebrates death. It’s a day to light-heartedly acknowledge it as a natural part of human life and, contrary to what people may think, it’s a very joyful day. We get to honour and remember the people that are no longer with us physically, but that will always have a special place in our hearts. In the time I’ve spent away from my home country, I have developed my own ways of feeling connected with my culture, especially during this time of year.
It should come as no surprise that the best way of doing this is, of course, through food. And the staple “Dia de Muertos” treat is “pan de muerto”, a delicious orange flavoured pastry covered in sugar. Fortunately, social media has given me the opportunity to find Mexicans living in the UK with better baking skills than mine, and every year I have been able to get my hands on a few authentic pieces of this amazing snack. Definitely one of the highlights of November is being able to come home after work and make myself a hot chocolate and “pan de muerto”, just like I would do back home. In addition to the enjoyment of having a delicious treat, it’s very exciting to connect with other people that feel as passionate about this holiday as I do. Inspired by this connection, this year I wanted to take things a step further. Nice food and pretty decorations are always a good way to celebrate, but it doesn’t feel much of a party when you’re doing it on your own. I felt a strong need to share my excitement with others!
One of the best “Dia de Muertos” traditions consists in writing Calaveritas for your friends, family, and any other person (alive or otherwise) that you appreciate. Calaveritas are short poems customised for the recipient that describe that person’s interactions with Death, who is usually portrayed as a female character. The poems are meant to highlight identifying features of the recipient such as personality traits, hobbies, interests or even how they dress or what they like to eat. Even though death might sound a bit dark as a topic for a poem, Calaveritas are meant to be humorous and most importantly, capture how much that person means to us. So, this year, I decided to write a Calaverita for every person in my lab (yes, even my supervisor!) At first, I was slightly worried that they would think it’s too weird or worse, that they might even be offended that I’d had spent time even thinking about their deaths! But writing them made me realize how much I truly appreciate them how well I have come to know each one of them on a personal level. And actually, they all really enjoyed it! Just as intended, we had a really good laugh reading everyone’s poem and by the end of the day, they had all gotten together to write one for me!
This will definitely be a day I will always remember when thinking back on my time in this lab. While it is true that Edinburgh has begun to feel like a home to me, I often long for the warmth feeling of sharing a tradition with close friends. And this day felt just like that.