Thirteen-year-old Shehzan’s eyes glistened when his favorite cartoon character made a guest appearance at his birthday party. The three-and-a-half-foot tall Spider-Man made out of paper mâché stole the show when it entered the venue. Some children had puzzled expressions while others seemed to know that he was not an action figure, but an activity that would win them a prize.
It was not the first time Carmen Sayeed was ushering a popular cartoon character to a birthday party. Having spent three days to create the character, it was time for her to bid farewell to it as the Spider-Man piñata had reached its final destination. The five-kilogramme piñata, filled with candy and toys, was brought down with one smart swing, and in a matter of seconds, all the children were stuffing their pockets with as many treats as they could.
As part of the piñata lays hanging, with unforeseen treats inside, other children take their turns and eventually bring the entire stuffed character down and ravage it to ensure no candy is left inside.
“It is moments like these that make me want to make piñatas for more and more birthdays” says Sayeed, while watching the children giggle with excitement over the booty they have collected. Charging a minimum of Rs1,500 to as much as Rs2,500 per character, Sayeed is apparently the sole piñata maker in the twin cities. Proudly keeping a count of her creations, she has managed to make 62 piñatas to-date. It is less about the numbers and more about spreading the culture of her homeland of Mexico, she says.
Originally from Mexico City and married to a Pakistani-American, it was circumstances that destined her to now reside in the heart of Rawalpindi. “I landed at the airport at six in the morning around 10 years ago and all I saw was men,” she recalls, adding that she immediately asked whether the rest of the country was the same. Having lived for in Pakistan more than a decade, she has seen enough of the country to now believe that it is tolerant and receptive of new cultures and traditions. I remember I celebrated my son’s third birthday here and made my first piñata. Back then people did not even know what it was. With a little online advertising and spreading the word through friends and associates, she now gets orders to create at least four to five piñatas every month.
Sayeed’s skills at making perfect piñatas are the wishes of most children for their birthdays but her plans go beyond than just spreading this particular Mexican tradition. Every time she returns from her motherland, she manages to bring back a handful of Mexican ornaments that she decorates her living room with. But that still is not enough for her to feel truly at home — she also brings back a few seeds that she has planted at her husband’s farm. Growing her own avocados and bananas, Sayeed now aspires to expand her business and spread the culture of Mexico across Pakistan. “I plan to take it one step at a time” she says.
Creating piñatas as a start, she hopes to cater complete Mexican-themed birthday parties in the future. She strongly believes that Pakistanis love experimenting and will enjoy Mexican cuisine, although the closest native food she has seen are nachos, mostly served at cinemas in Pakistan. “I’ve seen people enjoy nachos and I hope they’ll welcome a full-fledged Mexican home meal which I’ll start at some point”.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2013.