Friday, February 20, 2015

Birthday Tacos

January 6, 2008 – January 14, 2008

Elder Nájera surprised me on the morning of my birthday with a candle and the last piece of what I think was a cookie bar one of the local members had given us.

Compared to Christmas, I remember my birthday in Xalapa much more positively. Some of the ward members found out it was my birthday and decided to make it special. One family made us a chocolate cake and brought it by. Another bought us some tacos al pastor.

My birthday tacos and cake.

If you know me personally, you’re probably surprised I haven’t already talked about tacos al pastor on this blog. They are so delicious, I seriously have no idea how they haven’t caught on more in the states. Every missionary I met, Mexican or gringo, loved tacos al pastor. They’re basically small corn tortillas filled with seasoned pork meat cooked on a large spit on an open flame. They’re usually topped with onion, cilantro, and (if you’re lucky) pineapple. Actually, I talked to a Mexican missionary who’d worked as a butcher prior to his mission, and he described the meat recipe as “a layer of fat, a layer of meat, a layer of chopped onions, and then another layer of fat.” This is probably why they’re great.

On top of tasting awesome, tacos al pastor in Veracruz were also dirt cheap. The priciest taquerías would charge around 5 pesos per taco ($0.40 or so). The cheapest ones charged only 2 pesos ($0.15). Getting a plateful of delicious tacos for less than two dollars felt like a steal. And lots of taquerías delivered right to your door. Sometimes I’m amazed I didn’t eat tacos more often.

Elder Guerra liked tacos al pastor so much that one night we ordered a kilo of carne al pastor and other taco fixings delivered to our apartment. The whole thing ended up costing us more than 150 pesos, which isn’t much for a dinner in the states, but as missionaries in Mexico, that about cleared us out for the rest of the month. I remember we actually ran out of money and had to walk because we couldn’t afford to take the bus until more money came in. I didn’t understand how much it would cost ahead of time, or I’d probably have said something. All he told me was that I’d like them. And to be fair, he was totally right.

Anyway, a family in the ward brought us tacos for my birthday. And they were good.

A couple of days later, another family gave me a cupcake when they found out about my birthday. And another gave me a jar of Nutella. It was nice to feel like so many local members cared about me even though I was only there for a few months.

The most memorable part of my first birthday on my mission was when we joined a couple of families in the ward for a group family home evening. Family home evening is a weekly event, usually held on Monday nights, when a household gets together and talks about its needs and goals for the coming week. It often includes reading scriptures, giving a short lesson, and maybe singing a hymn or playing a game. Generally family home evening is just held by a single family by itself, but sometimes wards will organize an informal meeting at one family’s home where several families are invited. The latter was the case here.

Someone must have mentioned it was my birthday, because the whole group decided they needed to sing me a song. But it wasn’t “Happy Birthday,” like they sing in the states. Instead it’s called “Las Mañanitas” (this is tricky to translate—the best I can do is something like “The Morning Song”). I’d never heard the full version of this song before, though we sang a shortened, modified version at zone conferences to each of the missionaries that were having birthdays in the coming transfer. When they sang it for me that night, I had no idea what the words were or what they were talking about. I grabbed my camera and recorded it halfway through.

Las Mañanitas” (Mexican “Happy Birthday”), as performed by some of the members of the Alborada Ward.

This was one of those cultural experiences that sticks with me. I really felt like a foraneo that day, but the people there were just so overwhelmingly nice and inviting. I was the only one out of the loop, the only one that couldn’t possibly have sung the song, even if it had been for someone else. I was totally out of my element, and had all eyes on me for this moment, even though at times I just wanted to disappear and look like everyone else. But I couldn’t help loving all the people that went out of their way to make me feel at home even though I was so far away from everything I was familiar with.

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