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The two-year new year's resolution

I think it was about two years ago that Steve Tilley (a member of the clergy from my church in Leamington) preached on the concept of the 'two-year' new year's resolution. I don't remember the substance of it now, but the gist was that a year is often not long enough to achieve some of our greater goals we set as resolutions, and so introduced the idea that we should make resolutions we can more realistically achieve in a two-year time-frame.

I'm not sure if there was any great Christian teaching in all this (!), but these musings did play in the back of my mind in 2004. One of my great life-long dreams has always been to live and work in a Spanish-speaking country, and I spent some time on my own and with others praying through if this was a calling from God.

Well, in May 2004, I took a holiday in Gran Canaria with two other friends. We were there to celebrate our 10th anniversary of living and working there for three months in 1994 as part of a work programme, and to this day many of us have stayed in touch. But walking through streets which I had not seen in 10 years, yet were so familiar to me, my heart yearned to return to a country like this.

At the end of our week in Gran Canaria in May 2004, I set myself a 2-year resolution that I would be back living and working in a country like this two years from now. Of course, this is to some extent a selfish dream, but I prayed through and talked extensively with others about if this was something God might be calling me to.

For those of you reading this who are not Christians, you may ask what the hang-up is about having 'selfish' dreams, and you may wonder if I'm unnecessarily beating myself up to seek the approval of a 'God' in these matters. I could discuss this issue in much greater depth here, but I want to keep things short (so I can finish my story!). I would just say that in my (often painful) experience, dreams that I have not submitted the God who I believe loves me and has the best plans for me, are dreams that usually let me down in the end. If my ultimate dream is to serve and love the God who loved me first and lets me call him 'Father', then nothing can disappoint. As a human, I always have to work at this, but that is my ultimate aim.

Well, it seems that God wanted somewhat to smash my two-year resolution I made in May 2004, as the chain of events that took place over the following year meant that by May 2005, I had been offered a placement to work in Mexico City, and I was on my way to raising money to be out there.

So here I am, having arrived in Mexico in October 2005, eight months ahead of schedule, writing to you from Mexico City. I thank God every day for how he is taking my life forward, both in fulfilling dreams and allowing me to serve him to the best of my ability here. I don't know what the future will bring for good or bad, but I know that whatever comes, I want to submit both doors that open, and doors that close, to God.

And so, as the new year approaches for 2006, I ask myself again, where will I be in two years from now? I know where I'll likely be in one year - in Mexico, as my current placement doesn't end until Spring 2007. But by Christmas 2007, where will I be? Well, my boss here at the mission office has expressed great interest in keeping me here for a longer period of time. There is so much work to do, it seems lame by the scale of my job that I should leave as early as next year.

Over the next year and a bit, I will spend a lot of time thinking and praying if God wants to use me out here for a longer period of time. I am about to start properly on my job in January, so the next few months will give me a greater sense of any potential calling for living in Mexico. But through all this I want to always put my hopes and fears before God, and to know that what doors open for me are his will for my life.

In the first instance, I will more than likely have to return to the UK in Spring 2007, and I will have many challenges ahead of me, not least of a financial nature! But as for Christmas 2007, will I be back in Mexico? Well, my heart has a few ideas, but only the God - for whom nothing is impossible - knows.

Check back in two years...
Happy New Year.

2 Comment(s):

Blogger St said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator. Wednesday, February 01, 2006 6:59:00 AM  

Blogger St said...

The point was, I recall, not that two years' resolutions are biblical but that one year ones aren't either. Time is arbitrary. Hello, by the way. Wednesday, February 01, 2006 7:00:00 AM  

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¡Feliz Navidad!

A few weeks ago I was invited to spend Christmas with a local Mexican family from my Church. It was an honour to be invited, and I was also rather grateful given my distance from home. However, I can't say it has felt all that much like Christmas these past few weeks.

Bearing in mind that, at least during the day, the temperature here can be similar to that of a late British summertime, it seemed strange to me to see a Mexican labourer walk past me recently wearing a Santa hat. But yet apart from the weather, Christmas in Mexico shares many similarities to festivities in the UK.

The Traditions

Although perhaps decorations go up a little earlier here (November-time), Mexicans share the joy of putting up the same tacky flashing lights, tinsel and Christmas trees that likewise we adore in the UK. The commercialisation of Christmas is also well-rooted, with the same last-minute rush to the shops on Christmas Eve.

However, there are also great traditions we celebrate in Britain noticeably absent here: Carol singing (not that children would go out at dark in this city, mind!), mince pies and mulled wine, roast turkey, christmas pudding and the breaking of christmas crackers to name a few.

In lieu of christmas crackers however, Children get to enjoy wielding a stick to smash open piñatas - large star-shaped Christmas decorations filled with sweets such as peanuts, fruit and sugar. Piñatas have religious symbolism too, and is a tradition originally brought over from the Spaniards. If this wasn't my highly un-systematic treatment of Christmas in Mexico I would elaborate further on this and other traditions, so I will save that for next year...

As Christmas day approached, I began to miss some of the traditions from home, and wanted to share something of my own Christmas experience with my Mexican family. I've always been brought up eating little oranges around Christmastime, and as Mexicans don't seem to 'do' little oranges at Christmas like we do, I thought it would be a nice idea to take some to the party. As the whole family was gathering, including brothers, in-laws and cousins, I bought about a dozen to distribute on the day.

La Noche Buena

For Mexicans, the most important day of celebrations is Christmas Eve (called 'La Noche Buena', or literally 'The Good Night'). Late in the evening (and I mean *late*, 11pm onwards) families will get together for a big meal. Afterwards, in the early hours of Christmas-day morning, people exchange presents. Christmas day is spent pretty much in recovery.

When I arrived that first evening, people seemed a little bewildered why I would bring a bag full of oranges to a party. I put the bag down to one side, and waited for the right time to explain my tradition. However, after a lot of preamble it wasn't until a staggering 1am that we actually sat down to eat (and boy, I was hungry). But with plate after plate of food coming to the table, we all soon ate more than our fill. I would at this point explain the traditional Mexican Christmas meal - but I have no idea, as my family this year chose to break from tradition and eat something different (some meat-thing I won't attempt to describe), so I'll have to save that for next year.

After the meal, the family held a present interchange. Beforehand we had all been given the name of one person to give a present to. In this family's tradition, the nature of the present was agreed in advance - socks! I had bought a pair of american football socks for a 10-year-old boy who I knew was a fan. Afterwards, individual presents were exchanged.

Of all the bizzare (but enjoyable) traditions, we ended the night playing dominos, and I was returned to my house at 5am Christmas-day morning. After all the abundance of food and commotion that night, I had forgotton to hand out my little oranges.

El Dia de La Navidad

Christmas day I returned late afternoon (after sleeping away most of the day) to enjoy much of the same - eating scraps of food left over from the night before and playing dominos. For me though this was quite anti-climactic. I normally enjoy going to Church Christmas-day morning, enjoy the build up to a huge turkey lunch in the afternoon, and later to open presents and watch a film in the afternoon. But this is Mexico, and holding all the festivities the night before meant it felt more like Boxing day than Christmas day.

Still, I did enjoy the more party-like atmosphere of the large family get-togethers they have here. I think Mexicans know how to let their hair down a bit more and have fun, and I was aware throughout the night of the great privilege I had of spending this Christmas with a Mexican family, and all the experiences I was enjoying, that otherwise I would not have had.

Now I just need to find a way to eat up all these oranges.

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The death of a digital camera

It is with great sadness to report, that at only 3 months old, my digital camera died the other day.

I was in the process of taking a photo of the family with whom I was celebrating Christmas, when the naughty little gadget fell out of my hand.

Now, I don't know why it is, but Mexican houses have never heard of carpets. There is the lesser-spotted rug every now and then, but I have not once seen the wall-to-wall variety in any home I have visited. All floors are hard-tiled in Mexico, like a kitchen. This was the case in the home I was taking the photo. As the camera slipped out of my hand, I saw it falling, as if in slow-motion, to the ground. My arms and legs moved frantically to prevent it's fall, but the camera craftily dodged everything I placed in its way. It obviously had a death wish. I watched helplessly as its hard metal body cracked against the solid tile floor.

I bent down to pick the poor thing up, and it was completely dead, not a spark of life in it. For a £230 camera, that was an expensive drop.

Well, I kept a cool face in front of my family, but inside I was ever so slightly gutted. The camera otherwise is an absolutely fantastic reporting tool, and I have hoped to take many photos, and tell many stories with it, so for me the camera is a highly important tool.

Fortunately, I took out an extended warranty on it's purchase to cover things like this, so I should not have to spend too much money to replace it. But I will still have a circus of a time posting it back to the UK, waiting for it to be fixed, and waiting for it to come back to Mexico.

For this reason, I don't have any photos of the Mexican Christmas to show, and the next few weeks will be a little 'blind' too, but I hope to be back up and running by late February. Please pray for a speedy and successful resolution to this problem, as in March I will be celebrating my birthday in Cuba - and I have to say - it would be pretty cool to take some photos of that. But more on Cuba in a later blog...

R.I.P. Canon Digital IXUS 40, long live your successor.

3 Comment(s):

Blogger Rolando said...

that's so sad, about your camera, now you have to buy another one, i could recommned "Kodak easy share 7530"
£103.20 more or less,

Hey man what do you think about mexico?
i see you, by the way you have a great blogger.
Note - Sorry my english is not good, i am mexican, and like you know i only speak spanish. Saturday, December 31, 2005 8:11:00 PM  

Blogger Tim said...

Gracias por tu consejo,

Probablemente podré mandar la camera para reparación, pero tengo que comprobar mi documentación. Si no, pensaré en Kodak - es muy barato teniendo en cuenta las características.

Pienso que México is chido, no? La ciudad es muy ruidosa y peligrosa, pero me encanta mucho la gente y la cultura. ¡Lo siento - mi español es un poco limitado también! Saturday, December 31, 2005 10:36:00 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tim, it´s fun to read your blog. Keep up the good work!
Sally Thursday, January 05, 2006 12:06:00 PM  

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Status update

[This article was originally written for an e-newsletter sent out on 28 November 2005.]

Work-wise, I have not actually started much work yet - the problem being my Spanish. Although I knew a little when I came, I am not fluent, which is really a necessity for working here! Therefore, I have been spending the last few weeks taking intensive Spanish lessons full-time at the University here. I intend to carry these on into the new year, though will probably balance my Spanish lessons with work over the next couple of months, as I begin what I came here to do.

For accommodation, I have been placed with a wonderful Christian couple (and their dog) in a nearby area of the city. The couple are about the same age as my parents, and have a room to offer me for a couple of months. It has been lovely living here; they have been very hospitable and taught me many things about everyday survival. In fact, they've looked after me so well, it's rather like I never left home. However, I am soon moving to another house for a longer-term period with a family, but I will be a bit more independent with my own kitchen. I'm a bit anxious about this next move, as my independence will mean having to cope on my own a bit more in a world where I as yet do not speak very good Spanish. But I have good support around me, and the new home seems to have a lot of character about it (it is a family of four generations under one roof), so it is also a very exciting step. The move will not take place until the new year, so more on that in a later mailing...

To see a picture of me with my current host family, visit:

Church life. I have been placed with this fantastic Spanish-speaking baptist church called 'Getsemani'. I am fortunate that one of my English-speaking co-ordinators goes there too, so I am not stuck if I need translation. Also, all the people there are lovely, and there are some great personalities there that I'd like to get to know. I'm just limited somewhat at present by my level of Spanish, which generally means I don't get all that much from the sermon at the moment. However, I love being there, and it's a great motivator to keep going with my Spanish.

To see some pictures of my church, visit:

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A day trip to the volcanoes

[This article was originally written for an e-newsletter sent out on 28 November 2005.]

Well it's not all toil and labour here, and on a recent public holiday, my hosts gave myself, and the two other Latin-Link volunteers here in Mexico, Graham and Joey, the opportunity to visit the nearby volcanoes Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl, in a country park about a two-hour drive from Mexico Ctiy.

The trip took place on Wednesday 2 November and this was my first venture out of the city since I had arrived a few weeks earlier. Mexico city is so built up, and people don't seem to have gardens here, just small backyards if that, so I felt I had not seen any 'green' in weeks. As I began to escape the seemingly endless corridors of urban landscape, and saw for the first time real countryside, I felt like the lead character in the film 'Brazil', who in the dream sequence at the end, began to escape at long last to the countryside he had for so long dreamed of visiting.

As we looked back over the city, I saw for the first time the plume of smog that continually hovers over the city. I was stunned by its dark-purple appearance, and horrified to think that this is the air I breath every day. I was able to snap a quick photo of the haze looking down from a mountainside as we left the city: The photo isn't that great, but I will try to get a better shot in the future.

Mexico City is already at high altitude (7000 ft), so as we headed out of the city it was amazing to see these great mountains dominating the horizon.

I had been warned to apply plenty of sun lotion. However, when we arrived, the temperature was pretty cold, so I figured I would be ok, besides which I had a hood. I guess I've always associated sun burn with hot weather. This though is a mistake I will not make again - especially at high altitude - as when I arrived home that afternoon, my face was as red as a beetroot.

The views were pretty cool as you might imagine, with snowcapped mountains and deep valleys, but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves (link at end of article).

What perhaps I enjoyed most about the day (as anyone who knows me will understand) was the lunch part. In what totally blew my mind, there are all these local people who set up mini restaurants alongside the winding roads of the volcano. They're called 'puestos' (= stands), and are a simple affair with a long table, set with some inviting drinks under a small canopy. The hosts (in our case a husband, wife and baby) had a small stove to one side, and ingredients to cook you a lovely lunch. You just find a puesto along the road where no one is sitting, and pull over.

We stopped at this puesto about half-way down the mountain and ate 'quesadillas', surface-baked tortillas filled with delicious Oaxacan mild cheese and various other hot fillings. As we sat watching the wife cook the food, the husband was in the background chopping wood for the stove - I felt a million miles away from the regulated, modern, computer-driven world I had come from. I thought if this was the UK, they'd probably have running water, a gas stove, some degree of sanitation, and there would probably be a law against chopping wood. But this is Mexico! I wasn't too convinced about the hygene, but I blessed the food, crossed my fingers, and it was really delicious.

To see photos from this day trip to the volcanoes, visit:

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My first day on the job

[This article was originally written for an e-newsletter sent out on 28 November 2005.]

I came into work on the Monday morning having arrived just the previous day, to be invited to help out on a 'fotonovela' photo-shoot. Being jetlagged, I just wanted to crash back to bed, but I couldn't resist going along.

Every two months, Milamex publishes its Christian women/family magazine 'Prisma', and in each issue there is a fotonovela - or photo-soap-opera as a rough translation. The fotonovela is a series of photos of actors enacting a story, with speech bubbles - just like a print cartoon, but in photos. It dramatises real-life problems, and through the story explains how a faith in Jesus can heal these situations, or how the Church can help to meet people's needs. I was drafted in to help with the lighting.

The fotonovela is in fact an important meduim of communication in itself, as it serves many less-literate Mexicans (often women) who would struggle to read text-heavy literature.

The experience of that day was both wonderful and yet surreal. Just two days earlier I had been wandering around the streets of Bedworth going about my everyday UK life, and now I found myself surrounded by this Latin American spanish-speaking world, helping with a photo-shoot. I can't say my role was all that earth-shatteringly significant on the day - I just helped position lighting to minimise heavy shadows being cast in the photos, but it was wonderful to have this small role to play on my very first day.

The latest issue of Prisma was published a couple of weeks ago containing the fotonovela I had attended.

You can see a picture of the photo-shoot in action at: The two pictures that follow in that set show the finished results.

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The work of my host organisation 'Milamex', and its challenges

[This article was originally written for an e-newsletter sent out on 28 November 2005.]

I have been placed with 'Milamex', a Mexican-based missionary organisation founded in 1964. Among its activities, Milamex works alongside churches to promote evangelism, and help guide Christians to return to their 'first love' in Christ.

However, in addition, it's work in Christian publishing has been a growing ministry over the years, meeting a need for relevant Christian literature that is not met elsewhere. Publishing is now perhaps its main activity. In fact, one of Milamex's primary periodicals, 'Prisma', has been in publication since 1969.

What makes Milamex's ministry special, is that it has an excellent relationship with all evangelical Christian denominations (a rare quality here); a fruit of it's late founder Juan Isáis (my boss's Dad) who was widely respected.

Yet Milamex faces great challenges. Mexico, although strictly a secular country, is both politically and socially prejudiced against Christianity - and there are many stories I could tell to illustrate this but don't have the space here to elaborate (I may do so in a future blog). It was only as recently as 1992 that a law was passed allowing a Christian organisation to be a legal entity.

However, as part of my first analysis of Milamex publications, I asked why the titles of their periodicals gave no hint that they were Christian publications eg. 'Prisma', 'Noticiero Milamex'. I was told that the government would not allow them to be printed if they had a Christian-themed title, and they have to be very careful in how they 'spin' the language.

We launched a book just last month entitled 'Secrets for a Successful Wife', and gives biblically based advice on how to deal with real everyday issues in a marriage for Christian wives, such as sex, developing the friendship and conflict resolution. The book has been written by Juan's wife Elizabeth Isáis, who is still working an 8+ hour day at gone 80. There is no such material on the market here for Christians to read, and the book has had a huge reception here amongst Christian women.

To see a picture of Elizabeth, visit: The following picture in that set is that of her book.

However, just like the periodicals, there is nothing in the title or on the cover of the book to suggest it is Christian material. This is not to be deceptive, but to try and cut past the deep prejudices that are held by people who for example choose whether or not to stock the book in their bookshop. Bookshops will hold material from many other religious movements, but why not Christianity?

I ask that question especially so in relation to this book, in a city where marital unfaithfulness runs riot. Families break up and there are many thousands of children and youths 'on the street' with mothers who can't look after them and fathers who just don't care. It is of course the broken lives that turn to crime, not an insignificant problem here. What greater need could there be?

The problems of politics and prejudice against Christianity, and how they affect Milamex, I think run much deeper than I present here; I don't fully understand the situation as yet.

One of my main roles will be to see how we can use the web to help market materials like this, to widen their distribution where we struggle to distribute them otherwise. Because people don't have much money here, we try to subsidise the cost of our publications against money donated to support Milamex - which makes it all the more important to market and distribute the materials effectively - as we never have very much money!

That's a little taster for the moment, I'll give more on my work with Milamex in future updates.

To see some pictures of where I am now working visit:

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The contrast of rich and poor, and on being the only white face in town

[This article was originally written for an e-newsletter sent out on 28 November 2005.]

One of the first things I noticed when I began to travel about Mexico City was ubiquity of 'mestizo' faces - ie people of American-Indian/Spanish descent. Being in a major capital city, I had expected to see at least some North Americans or Europeans, but this was not the case. Unlike the UK where there is a wide ethnic mix, I felt like I was encased in a world that does not seem to do business with the 'West'.

I am literally the only white face to be seen in the course of my everyday travels. For me, this must say something about the state of the economy here. It was very hard to aquire a work visa for entry into Mexico - it would only be granted if I could demonstrate that I was bringing X amount of money into the country each month. Additionally I am not allowed to take up paid employment here. With such strict requirements, it's no wonder there are very few people here from the 'developed' world.

The reason is of course the high level national poverty, and with thousands of Mexicans risking their lives to cross the US border every year to find work, there's no capacity to feed one extra mouth.

With all this said though, City life is suprisingly modern, developed and westernised, and there is a thriving middle-class. Apart from hints of traditional dress here and there, clothing in the city is much as we would wear in the UK. Near to my office there is a shopping mall that would be at home in any city in the UK.

However, what marks the city out is that alongside the well-dressed, shopping-oriented middle-class Mexican are streets teeming with sellers and beggers. There is also a bustling economy in the sale of pirated CDs and DVDs, as sellers will board the Metro (the underground) one after another trying to sell you a CD for 10 pesos (about 60p).

I see one man 'entertain' passengers by performing stunts, somersaulting his naked back into an open bag of broken glass in the standing area of the train, just to collect money for his family. Yet also in every modern-built Metro station you will see a mother with her child sitting on the steps; her hand stretched out asking for money.

I don't think my photos as yet show this side of Mexico - I feel quite vunerable getting my camera out in public, and keep my distance to take 'safe' photos. I am very pleased I bought a super-compact camera, because it's very easy to whop out, snap a picture, and then hide in your pocket again. But still, I would like to capture more of the character of this town, personalities and stories, so hopefully I will be able to do this more over time.

At it's most frenetic, I would perhaps liken the claustrophobia and pandemonium of city life here to the surreal or post-modern worlds presented in films like 'Bladerunner' or 'Brazil'.

Yet the two extremes of affluence and poverty sit side by side.

One thing which caught my attention that reflects this situation, is how all houses in the city have bars covering their windows. Barred windows are standard issue. Many buildings exist behind high security walls with barbed wire, broken glass or electric fenses. And these are just ordinary suburbs. In addition, in central commercial areas police carry firearms - and we're not just talking pistols here - we're talking pump-action shot guns. I have never seen more firearms except in the confines of a computer game.

The need for this level of security almost depresses me; I can't quite believe that everybody goes about their everyday lives as if this was normal. And yet, I pray for God's protection every day, and then go about my normal everyday life.

Mexico City however is thriving and wonderful, and every part of me loves being here, but the things that I see do make me appreciate and think more about the lifestyle we take for granted in the UK.

To see some general shot of the Mexico and my life here visit:

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Greetings and first impressions of Mexico City

[This article was originally written for an e-newsletter sent out on 28 November 2005.]

Well here I am, reporting from Mexico City. I truly can't believe I'm here. Coming to a Latin American country has always been a dream of mine for many many years, and I have to pinch myself everyday to believe it.

It is also a great privilege to be able to serve God in this country. There is such a wide gulf between the rich and poor, and with so much poverty, crime and a sense of meaninglessness that you see in many eyes, there is great need to share the news of God's love among the people here. When I enter this country with my western riches like my Apple PowerBook (which you won't prize from my cold dead fingers), I struggle to equate the wealth I have with that of many people I see around me. Many people were shocked when I told them no one was paying me money to come out here, but I have more money allocated for my coming to Mexico (which isn't that much by western standards) than many people here will ever see in a lifetime. That's senseless to me. A topic for a future blog...

But yet what an amazing country this is! When I first arrived at Mexico City Airport at 6am on Sunday 9th October, I was picked up by my hosts by car. As we drove out into the city, the first thing I noticed was the huge advertising boards that dominate the skyline. Then I looked around me to see street after street of concrete buildings of all shapes, sizes and colours seemingly piled one on top of another - it's like they don't know the concept of planning permission.

My hosts took me for breakfast on that first day to 'Sanbourns', one of a string of department stores owned by Latin America's riches man Carlos Slim. We ate Chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican breakfast made of tortillas, chiles and cheese (actually, pretty much every food here is made of tortillas and chiles in one form or another, but that's another topic...). Afterwards, I stood outside, and took in for the first time the sense of standing on real Mexican soil. I was simply blown away by the knowledge of being in this whole new world, and began to feel that, after months and months of planning, a whole new phase of my life had at long last taken off!

Later on that first day, I was given time to settle in and was introduced to my host family with whom I would be staying for the next couple of months.

There is a lot more I could say about my first impressions and experiences of this wonderful new world, but I hope they will come out as I tell some of my other experiences in this newsletter, and blogs in the future...

To see pictures of my departure from the UK and arrival in Mexico, visit:

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Welcome to my new blog

After many missed deadlines, I am pleased to introduce my new blog. I am writing this from Mexico City where I am working for a Christian publishing organisation called Milamex. I am working voluntarily on an 18 month project - I flew out to Mexico on 8 October 2005, and am not due to return to the UK until Spring 2006. It is my hope for this blog to be an on-going record of some of my experiences and observations of life in Mexico City during my stay here.

The first 6 posts produced here are articles of a newsletter I wrote on 28 November 2005. If you received that newsletter, they may look familiar to you, if you didn't, you may find them interesting reading, - they record well some of my initial experiences of being here in Mexico City.


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