The smell of fresh tamales mingled with whiffs of sweet atole and my stomach grumbled. Throngs of people of all ages were crammed into the dark plaza with lighted brujas (lamps) as the only source of light. Someone came onto the stage: a roadie setting up a mike. An excited murmur moved the crowd.
It was the Martes de Brujas gathering in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan (Xoxo to locals, pronounced ‘ho ho’), a municipality of Oaxaca, Mexico. Every Tuesday night for a month, starting in late February, the small central square is set up with stalls selling traditional tamales: a corn-dough mass filled with a variety of sauces and then roasted in banana leaves or corn husks. You can buy all kinds: mole (a slightly sweet sauce served with chicken), beef, bean, pork, and even sweet ones like pineapple and chocolate. They sell for an average of 50 cents and it doesn’t take many to fill you.
Atole, a hot, sweet drink also made from corn is served along with the tamales. Both tamales and atole are pre-Hispanic foods that were often used as offerings to the Aztec gods.
The word bruja translates from Spanish as ‘witch’ but it’s also the name of an old-fashioned wick-style lamp, made from tin. In the colonial days when the first cathedrals in this area were being built, the workers often toiled long into the night, and the lamps, lit by the women were the signal of a shift change. The men were given tamales and atole as their meal. They all ate together as if they were one big family.
Now the lit brujas draw in neighbours and visitors looking for a delicious and cheap meal…and to pay tribute to the hard working men and women who helped construct the town. The recipes have been passed down for generations and the mood is friendly and social. The entertainment is nothing to sneeze at either!
Apart from the opportunities available with language schools, universities, and private classes, giving lessons online is another option that makes for even more flexibility.
Teaching English to students from all around the world by Internet, while based in Oaxaca, allows me to receive good pay in a city with a low cost of living. I don’t have to work much to cover my expenses. A few hours of conversation classes in the morning and I have the rest of the day (and weekends) to explore Oaxaca and the surrounding villages—and to attend local events like this one.
As Lila Downs burst onto stage and the crowd went wild, I smiled, feeling grateful once again for my career choice.
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