Chedrahui y Pok Ta Pok

Wed. Nov. 24, 2021

So we were called into action at about 5:00 this morning by the rooster next door, demanding to be throttled. Well, okay, we had to get up soon anyway. Our first official duty as volunteers was to set out breakfast for the other guests, starting at 7:00. That doesn’t involve any cooking — just supplying material for everyone to do their own thing. This includes a bowl of eggs, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and a bowl or two of whatever fruit is on hand. Oh, and making the coffee. So about 20 minutes, and our duties are done — except for keeping an eye out to make sure that supplies are restocked, and nobody leaves a mess they don’t clean up (which is, alas, known to happen).

The kitchen has food storage areas for staff and volunteers, as well as places to leave food for sharing. The sinks are made of hammered copper. And there is a separate tap labeled “Drinking Purified Water”. That’s the one we’ll be taking our agua from, gracias.

This morning in preparing our own breakfast, we took a couple of bowls from the shelf, including one that was set apart from the others. Dennis used that one to heat water in the microwave for making our oatmeal, and then eating his own oatmeal out of it. It was only after he had eaten about half of it that he noticed the small and rather inconspicuous label on it: “perros”, meaning dogs. Ah well, at least the microwaving probably killed any canine cooties.

At 10:00, we had a meeting with Francesca, the staff person who booked us as volunteers. We discussed activities that we can lead for the next few days/ nights. Some of them are things that are in line with our specialties — e.g., teaching yoga and conducting theatre games. Others are more touristy, such as heading up tour groups to visit local attractions. But all of it is going to be fun (even things like helping get breakfast ready), and not at all a bad way to earn our keep.

Since we’re going to be needing groceries (breakfast is the only meal provided here), we asked her for a recommendation for a place to shop. She mentioned a couple of possibilities, and the most promising, at least within walking distance, is called Chedrahui. It’s somewhat comparable to Wal-Mart (which also can be found in Merida), in that it offers all kinds of merchandise, including food.

So we headed out with our two reusable shopping bags that pack away into the attached compact pouches, through about a mile of colorful neighborhoods, until we reached Chedrahui.

Inside the entrance are several ATMs, including one for Citibanamex. We don’t need more cash just yet, but in case we do, it’s good to know that we have nearby access to it. (For some reason, this ATM, and a couple of others not far away, didn’t come up in our online search.) The entrance to the actual shopping area is a turnstile, and before you can pass through it, you must have your temperature taken, and have hand sanitizer applied. This is standard practice in establishments all over town.

The locals also wear masks almost everywhere — even outside. In fact, they’re more likely to be masked outside than inside. Probably because there’s a local law requiring masks, and when people are outside, they’re more likely to be spotted by police. The cops are not as strict as American cops were during the 1918 flu pandemic — they actually arrested “mask slackers”. But the Merida and Yucatan police do at least scold people and, we gather, shut down business operations that flout the law. We did not see a single mask below the nose or chin on anyone, other than some foreigners out strolling the streets.

Despite the size of the store, the selection was not what we are accustom to back in the United States. The produce offered is limited to only what is in season. But we did manage to obtain oatmeal, beans, whole wheat tortillas, nuts, raisins, prunes, apples, bananas, quinoa, carrots, tomato sauce, and even decaf coffee and cashew “milk”. Plus an intriguing dried fruit (we later learned it was blueberries) seasoned with chilis that were quite tasty. But we could not find certain other items we wanted, including sunglasses. But Dennis did find a short-sleeved shirt he liked — which he needed, since he only brought one on the trip — for only 68 pesos ($3.13).

In the evening, we walked into the heart of town, about a mile away, to witness a most unusual spectacle: the re-creation of a match of Pok Ta Pok, a ball game that was played by the ancient Mayans. It was played with a ball of solid rubber that — according to traditional reports — players manipulated with the hip and tried to knock through a hoop about 10 to 15 feet high. Supposedly, the captain of the winning team had the honor of being sacrificed to the gods.

We were to meet up with a group from the hostel and walk to the event; but because of a misunderstanding about the time of our departure, the group already had left when we went to the lobby. But we rushed on down, and the game had not yet started, though there were pre-game orations, which we could not understand anyway.

The event was free, but if you wanted to sit down, you had to get a ticket in advance. When we inquired earlier today about tickets for our group, we were told that they were all gone, so we had to stand. But there were, as usual, no-shows among the ticketed, so we were able to get seats after all.

It was a game unlike any other we’d seen; we were particularly impressed by how the players went down onto the pavement at times to make contact on the ball with their hip. And once the game concluded, we were to witness something even more amazing: another game, or at least a demonstration, of tossing a ball of fire around by hand and tapping it through the hoop, a la volleyball.

It was with a great deal of wow that we made our way back to the hostel when it was all over.

No hands, no feet. The agile athletes used their hips to maneuver the ball.

The Quest?

To volunteer our services in communities all over the world: teaching kids English, performance arts and other forms of cultural enrichment, drawing on our three decades of experience teaching and performing for kids as Act!vated Story Theatre all over the U.S. With your help, we will be able to reach remote locations and engage children in under-served communities worldwide — and to expand our creative online content. You can support our efforts on Patreon or make a contribution via PayPal if you are so inclined.

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