1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
4. development or improvement of the mind by education or training.
5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
That is the definition of culture according to Dictionary.com. I am inclined to believe it is accurate.
Knowing this, I have to admit I am not a thoroughly cultured person. I’m pretty open-minded, I’m intelligent enough, I watched a lot of Britcoms growing up and I like to read, but I’m certainly not cultured.
This is not for a complete lack of trying though. I have traveled to the glorious city of Monterrey Mexico on three separate occasions, all for around a week long. Monterrey is gorgeous and by far one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve seen in person–I’ll have to remember to share some of my photos with you all. Just trust me, going from small town in the east to a GIANT, mountainous city faaaaar south? Quite the “culture shock”.
But this brings me to the photo I chose for this photo challenge. Shame on me, but I don’t recall the lady’s name, probably because I don’t speak Spanish very well or, you know, at all. She was, however, one of the most memorable people I met in Monterrey, and in a city with a population of 4,080,329 in just 2010, that’s saying something. There’s a lot to take in.
I met her on my third (and so far last) trip there. She was waiting outside the hospital; her son had been in a construction accident and had been in the hospital for months. She still sat outside and waited though, abandoning the rest of her life to be nearest to what mattered. Like many others who were unsure of their loved ones fates, that’s all she could do.
We spoke, we ate, she prayed for her son and all the other people in the hospital with me, and I was able to snap this picture of her as she laughed at a joke my translator made. She may have been pretty solemn when we first met, full of concern for her son, but seeing her smile like this let me know that hers is a face that’s used to smiling.
I am not very cultured. I went to Monterrey to learn more about God, mostly I learned things about myself, but I did take away with me some of Monterrey’s spirit and culture.
I remember the bustling city, overripe with life. I remember learning how to tell someone’s wealth by what kind of objects they fortified the walls around their land with. I remember the quieter places that I got to live, hidden away between the mountains. I remember getting lime popsicles from the OXXO down the street. I remember tasting Joya for the first time. I remember eating the best oranges in my life, straight off the tree. I remember visiting all the must-see locations and bumping elbows with all sorts of tourists. I remember the giant Mexican flag flying proudly, and myself taking refuge in the shade it provided. I remember the cooling waterfall at the end of the most depressing carriage ride in existence. I remember exploring caves carved into the side of the mountains. I remember the mass graves. I remember going to the outskirts, squatting grounds and trash heaps made into makeshift homes. I remember building those people homes. I remember feeding them, playing with their children, getting to know their families, telling them stories and feeling honored to be able to speak to a group of strong, passionate women like the lady I took a picture of above.
I remember being overwhelmed and crying myself to sleep on my allotted bunk bed as I stared out into the city outside my window.
But that is not what I truly took away from my experiences in Monterrey or the experiences with the people of Monterrey. No, the overall impression I got from them and their way of life was that they were unapologetically joyful.
Despite everything, every hardship and mountain in their path, they were always capable of such intense happiness. The people of Monterrey live life, and I mean really LIVE. Whether it’s for their family, friends, lovers, their country, their dreams, or the dreams of those that they care for, the people of Mexico took all the bad thrown at them and lived each day for the good. I saw that every moment I was with them.
The joy, that’s what I think of when I think of their culture. Everyone was so open, so willing to talk and share what little they had and rejoice in what little that would be given to them, and in the face of uncertainty, they still knew how to laugh.