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Under the Volcano


Leaving the gates of the university I find myself in another world. The floor changes from a smoothed tarmac finish to a cracked concrete muddle. The trees are no longer a healthy lush green but a weeping withered brown. Suddenly, from the serenity of the university paddocks, I am confronted with the hustle and bustle of every day life.

My senses become aroused by the aroma of fresh meat being cooked by street vendors mixed with the stench of deficient drains and mountains of roadside litter. The clatter of oversized and under-serviced trucks is just one of the instruments in the orchestra of daily life in Cholula. Food vendors shout competitively for customers, stray dogs quarrel in the side streets and dusty farmyards emit the raucous clutter of chickens fused with the unremitting gabble of the turkeys. My eyes become awake to a world of colour. Like a countryside of wild flowers, Cholula´s housing is characterized by the interspersed arrangement of colour, unfortunately overshadowed by the shameless suffocation of the street-facing walls with bright and patent advertising.

It is merely a ten minute walk home, but never a dull moment passes. I become conscious of the wide-eyed gawping from children and grown ups alike; my blonde hair and blue eyes clearly far too much for these locals to swallow. I observe the most humble women, of which some must be at least two hundred years old, bent double and terribly fatigued after an existence of arduous and backbreaking labour. They hobble by with bundles of food, occasionally with a daughter/apprentice, and still manage to muster up a beaming three-toothed smile under the strain of their consignment. Their younger children fool around freely in the street amusing themselves with the smallest of things. A somewhat rounded rock will suffice for a game of football just as an empty water bottle functions as a weapon for the highly competitive on-running campaign of ´Cowboys and Indians`, or rather ´Aztecs and Spanish` which takes place my street.

I stare in bewilderment at Popocatepetl, an ever-present giant that commands the respect, and even daily worship of countless locals nearby. The snow-capped monster smokes gently, basking in its matchless splendour, occasionally announcing minor threats to us mere humans two thousand metres below through a disturbingly tangible rumble. The last time she truly erupted was in December 2000, throwing incandescent rock and ash 9 kilometers skyward causing the evacuation of more than 100,000 local folk. I am told by eager storytellers that the eruption launched a spectacular night time display and very nearly a week of complete darkness around the state of Puebla. I submissively wait for Goliath’s next move.

I arrive at my house and on shutting the gates, I am once again hiding myself from the rich variety of life that surrounds me on the outside. I sit in my world of comfort with food on the table, hot water and a nice warm bed and it is easy to forget just how much we all miss when we consign ourselves to our own little prisons.

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