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29 January 2019
Chocolate, Man-made Mountain and More

27 January, the readers' club, The Tip of the Iceberg, invited a special guest from Mexico, Rafael Mejia Santana, to tell about his home country and make Mexico a little closer to Syktyvkar people. Rafael is a software developer who has a lot of experience in multi-cultural communication in education and work field.

In his presentation delivered in English, Rafael told about his home country, its national symbols,  Mexico City and famous sights. 

Not surprisingly, Rafael's first comment was about the difference in temperatures on that winter day. In Kolima, where his family lives, it was +28°Ð¡, whereas thermometers in Syktyvkar showed - 20°C. It was the coldest temperature he has ever experienced, stated the guest. 

Rafael started his presentation by dispelling the most common geographical myth European people share about Mexico. Many erroneously believe that the country lies in Central or South America. This is not true. In fact, the United Mexican States are situated in North America, next to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The area of the country is equal to approximately half of the European Union and covers three time zones. There are 31 states, with Mexico City counted as 32d state. The capital city with a population of around 27 million is a tourist paradise: Mexico City takes the second place in the world after London by the number of museums and sightseeing places. 

According to another popular misconception, the largest pyramid in the world is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, which is not exactly so. A more massive construction and the largest pyramid to exist in the world today is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl, or hand-made mountain in the Nahuatl language. The temple-pyramid complex is located near the city of Puebla and is visited by more than 200,000 tourists annually. Over the centuries the pyramid turned into a huge green hill due to the fertile clay used in construction. The pyramid it topped by the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Remedies built by the Spanish in colonial times. Indeed, for many years it the pyramid had been believed to be a natural hill until archaeologists discovered burial grounds there and started excavations. Now the church and the pyramid form an important pilgrimage site for Catholics.

Other amazing facts about Mexico are connected with indigenous languages. The indigenous minorities speak 72 languages and many more dialects. The most numerous minority - about 1.7 million people - communicate in Nahuatl, the leading language of the Aztec group. The words borrowed from Nahuatl include chocolate, tomato, avocado, cocoa, chilli, and coyote. Most people do not realize that saying 'chocolate' they speak the ancient Aztec language.

Rafael also shared a popular version of the origin of the colours for the Mexican national flag: the green, white and red stripe remind of the colours of a cut watermelon. Officially the Mexican tricolor symbolizes hope, purity and blood shed in the was for independence, but it is common to nickname the flag as Mexican watermelon. The coat-of-arms in the centre depicts an eagle perked on a cactus over a blue lake and eating a rattlesnake. According to the legend, on this lake in the picturesque valley, the ancient Indians founded their city, following the will of their gods.  Talking of cacti, in Mexico they are made use of in every possible way: cacti are roasted; they are used for making yarn, shampoo and natural colorants, wines and liqueurs are produced from certain sorts of cacti, cacti are used to relief sun burns and to compensate for shortage of vitamins. You can buy cacti in a supermarket, peeled from its prickly skin and ready for cooking. By the way, famous agave tequiliana, commonly known as blue agave, does not belong to the cacti, but to the family of Asparagaceae. Agave is a relative of hyacinth, bloomeria and sea onion.

Another topic announced for the meeting, was prompted by out guest's background. He talked about his experience of completing master's degree under the European academic exchange programme, Erasmus Mundus. Rafael answered a lot of practical questions from the audience: how to apply for a grant; which documents are required; how to select a university in accordance with your field of study; what accommodation is best; which English language test is necessary to pass; what is the system of credits and grades in universities of the European Union and many others. 

After the presentation, the most active people from the audience came up to ask more questions, to practise their Spanish and add themselves to friends in social networks. Everyone wanted to know about Rafael's impressions of Syktyvkar and Russian winter. 

Those interested in Mexican literature, can find the following authors in our library collection:

  • Carlos Fuentes - realistic adventure novels
  • Jorge IbargÏ‹engoitia Antillón - clever political satire
  • Octavio Paz (Nobel Prize winner) - poetry and philosophical essays
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