An Irish man in Mexico: ‘Thankfully, we avoided any encounters with narco-terrorists’

An Irishman abroad on his holiday visit to uncle Félix and his trusty axe

Colin Carberry lives in the city of Linares, in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, with his wife, Verónica Garza Flores, and their two daughters, Kathleen and Emma Carberry Garza, 11 and six on January 16th. He is an English teacher, poet and translator

With the arrival of 2022 I reflected on the fact that we are now two years into the Covid-19 global pandemic. After all of the death, anxiety, and trauma we have endured, I feel thankful to be alive, grateful that Verónica and our daughters are healthy and happy, and looking to the future with a sense of qualified optimism.

December 12th - El Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe - is a special day in Mexico, as anyone who has an image of the Virgin can offer up a rosary to her. Isela, my brother-in-law's wife, inherited one which has been in her family for many years. My daughters, Kathleen and Emma, are the designated "madrinas": their role is to offer candies and peanuts to guests after the rosary.

We spent Christmas Eve, the most important celebration in the Mexican religious calendar, at my parents-in-laws’ (Macario, 80, and Martina, 79) in Villaseca, the part of Linares first colonised by the Spanish. When everyone had gathered, members of the family reenacted the biblical scene when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay the night. This is called “Pidiendo posada”.

After that, around 20 of us gathered around the Christmas tree and prayed to El Niño Dios (The Baby Jesus). Then we proceeded to consume plate-loads of tamales (a corn-based dough mixture filled with chicken, beans, pork and/or cheese) and rajas (strips of chopped chile poblano, corn and cream), washed down with soft drinks or beer.

Early on Christmas Day, we drove out to visit Veronica’s maternal uncle Felicitos Briones (everyone calls him Félix) in Ejido La Nuevo Unión, a remote rural townland just inside the border state of Tamaulipas.

Fond as I am of Félix, I initially baulked at the idea of us visiting him and his family. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once referred to the patterns of narco-violence in Tamaulipas as comparable to those of an "insurgency" and Félix's farm is so remote there are no paved roads, police or military outposts, and only intermittent internet service.

Thankfully, we avoided any encounters with narco-terrorists - the only victim being a pig, which our smiling host chopped up with an axe and served to us later that evening.

Despite the lack of internet connection, Kathleen and Emma had a wonderful time, riding the horse, playing with their toys and a pair of newborn goats, wandering the dusty roads, exploring the edges of the vast semi-arid brush.

New Year celebrations here in the north-east are similar to the rest of Mexico. We gathered at my parents-in-laws’ house again, and at midnight watched the countdown on TV, everyone holding a cup filled with 12 green grapes. This Spanish tradition is known as “las doce uvas de la suerte” (The Twelve Lucky Grapes). At the first stroke of midnight on “Nochevieja”, you begin eating one grape for each toll, and if you consume all 12 prior to the last toll of the bell, you are in for a lucky new year.

Suddenly there was a high-pitched whine and  the crisp night air was punctuated by single gunshots from short arms, shotguns, hunting rifles, followed by the intense rattling thump of an AK-47 from a house nearby. As a precaution against getting hit by a stray bullet, we stayed inside for the next half hour

As I chewed, I silently reviewed my personal aims and aspirations for 2022: to get back in shape; finish our house (we are almost done); and to complete the translation of Yuria, a volume of verse by Mexican poet Jaime Sabines.

I am also working on an anthology of selected poetry by authors who have read at international festivals I founded and helped organise in Linares, which I hope to release later this year. Among the writers I will be inviting to the book's launch is the celebrated novelist and arts activist Jack Harte, founder of the Irish Writers Centre and the Irish Writers Union.

Politically, I hope we learn to tackle the Global Climate Crisis. I have been researching and hearing about this topic since I moved to Canada from Longford in my teens. In fact, my first published poem, printed in Ontario community newspaper The Brampton Guardian when I was 17, was called Ecocide - and things have been moving steadily, perhaps irrevocably, in that direction ever since.

Suddenly there was a high-pitched whine and the crump of fireworks exploding and the crisp night air was punctuated by single gunshots from short arms, shotguns, hunting rifles, followed by the intense rattling thump of an AK-47 from a house nearby. As a precaution against getting hit by a stray bullet, we stayed inside for the next half hour.

After wishing everyone a Happy New Year, I called my father, Bernard, in Toronto, and my mother, Nuala, in Milton, Ontario.

By then our daughters had conked out, so I kissed them goodnight and Veronica drove me across the river to our house in Barrio San Felipe. I lit a fire in the living room, fed and watered our four dogs, Amber, Lisa, Milagros and Lucas, and poured a bowl of milk for Vaquita, our cat.

As I stood on the balcony of The Dáil, my private Irish pub, Spancil Hill crooning into the darkness, for a moment I was 7,901 km away, myself and John, gazing out our upstairs bedroom window in Lanesborough, Co Longford, lost in the hallucinatory hiss of rain impinging long ago on Rathcline Woods.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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