Tuesday, December 11, 2012

retreat reflections

Our November retreat was all about globalization and food security issues.  Prior to the retreat we had to read Field Guide to the Global Economy, and then during the retreat we talked about the book, a documentary about food in the U.S., NAFTA, corn farming in Mexico, and all sorts of other related topics.

Things I learned:
  • NAFTA has kind of screwed Mexico, in several ways.  Among them: NAFTA allowed the U.S. to flood the Mexican market with super cheap corn (corn subsidies allow corn to be sold at a cheaper price than Mexicans can grow corn.  As corn is the backbone of the Mexican diet, this is a problem and puts many Mexicans out of work).  At the same time, immigration policies were stiffened, basically forcing Mexicans to cross into the U.S. at the most dangerous places, ensuring that only the most physically fit Mexicans (and thus some of the best workers) survive the trip.  This policy has resulted in the deaths of millions of Mexicans.
  • Corporations really are people!  Only not in a good way.  In a we-can-now-sue-the-government-for-anything-that-could-possibly-affect-free-trade way.  NAFTA lifted all restrictions to free trade, which means corporations can sue governments for laws that might affect free trade.  As an example, a Canadian mining company tried to sue California for a law phasing out the use of a dangerous chemical, because this was going to negatively impact their business.  In other words, companies have an absurd amount of power and the potential to change laws enacted through the political process.
  • Countries are not necessarily allowed to put controls on their imports.  Examples: genetically modified foods can't be legislated against, in Thailand the government was forced to allow cigarettes to be imported which resulted in a 10% increase in cigarette consumption.
  • Companies leverage the threat of pulling their factories from a country when there is the possibility of having to accept union workers, higher wages, paying taxes, etc.  When productions costs rise in the host country, many companies leave in the middle of the night, leaving suddenly unemployed workers (I saw this firsthand in Namibia).  Many companies are also enticed to set up operations in a given country with promises of tax breaks (again, I saw this in Namibia).  This means that a corporation receives large tax breaks, and all the country gains is increased local employment.  Granted, this is a good thing, but is it worth the cost?
  • Reminders about the (usually) awful conditions in factories around the world: their labor practices, low wages, environmentally suspect policies, and increased questions about what impact I can possibly have as a consumer, especially when it's so hard to learn about individual companies' practices.

Every  morning on these retreats we start the day with some sort of reflection.  One morning Alicia led a short Bible study on part of John 9.  The last verse in the chapter reads:

"Jesus said, 'If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.'" John 9:41 (NIV)

I know it's pretty dangerous to take just one Bible verse and use it to prove a point, but you'll just have to trust me here that these conclusions came from a longer discussion of the rest of the chapter as well, and reflect the context from which we were thinking during the retreat.

Our group decided that this verse was an affirmation that we are not allowed to claim ignorance on issues of globalization and food.  It's a challenge to us.  Now that we're (at least semi-) educated, we can't be innocent of the actions we take and choices we make.  I believe an exact quote from this discussion was, "Now that we've seen some things, what are we going to do about it?" 

So that's my challenge to you.  Now that you've read this blog, try to educate yourself a bit more on some of these issues.  Choose one that pertains to your home community, a country where a YAGM is currently serving (a list of most of their blogs can be found here), or research your favorite clothing company to see if you can ethically support them.  Try to be an educated citizen of our global community, because the choices you make have greater implications.

Now that you've seen some things, what are you going to do about it?

Monday, December 3, 2012

November Retreat in Photos

Here's the start of my reflections on my first retreat here in Mexico.  It was an incredibly life-giving week with close friends, and here's some photos!

This plaque is on an old building in Mexico City, close to where we stayed on the retreat.  It commemorates the Irish soldiers who fought on the side of Mexico in the Mexican-American war and were later executed by the U.S.  The plaque reads, "In memory of the  Irish soldiers from the heroic Saint Patrick battalion.  Martyrs who gave their lives for the Mexican cause during the unjust invasion by North Americans in 1847."  Just another example of the victors writing the history books.  It's a good thing to be educated!

Mexico City was a lot colder than Cuernavaca usually is, and it was the first time the 8 of us had been reunited for longer than an afternoon since orientation.  Lots of cuddling time!

giant poinsettia Christmas tree - Christmas has definitely come to Mexico!

Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City (on the Zocalo): according to my guide book it's the largest cathedral in Latin America, and we had some free time to look around inside.  Like everything else on the Zocalo, it's pretty big.

The Zocalo with the GIANT Mexican flag.  It was a little overwhelming, just because of the sheer size.

We had one short afternoon of sightseeing in Mexico City.  It was just enough time to learn how the Metro system works, visit the Zocalo, walk around inside the cathedral, eat lunch, and visit Templo Mayor/Tenochtitlán.  Templo Mayor was the center of the Aztec world, and the ruins were discovered in the heart of Mexico City in 1978.  We got to visit and walk around a little.  This is part of our group at Templo Mayor, with the cathedral in the background (that's how close it is to the Zocalo!)

Thanksgiving dinner!  While our Thanksgiving was a little late, it was pretty delicious, and well worth the wait.  Dinner with all the fixings!  Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, jello salad, roasted veggies, stuffing, bread, homemade applesauce, and the ever-important pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream!

I got a few cards at the end of the month that helped brighten my days!  These cards are from the Sunday School classes at Memorial Lutheran Church in Toledo, OH, one of the sponsor congregations for our country coordinator.  It was pretty exciting to get homemade cards, complete with stickers and drawings of tigers.

After the retreat ended we all headed to Tepoztlan to hang out and climb to Tepozteco again.  It's amazing how much easier hiking is when you can see!  It was also just a good time to continue our group bonding with some hiking, a movie, and walking through the Sunday market.

This is what Tepozteco looks like during the day.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the first Thanksgiving where I have never been home with my family (and that list will just keep growing this year, as I've never been gone for Christmas or my birthday either).  I could easily make a list of things that I am frustrated with in my life, but now is not the time.  Even though I am far from home, I am so blessed!

I am thankful for:
  • warm days and cool nights (and missing Seattle's gloomiest day in 3 years!)
  • supervisors who bring pumpkin pie to work
  • country coordinators who share their pumpkin pie spice and support me through all my freak out moments
  • fast and reliable internet and skype
  • kittens to cuddle with at work
  • family who love and support me
  • a host family who has taken me in and accommodated all my (sometimes odd) requests
  • friends who write me letters and send me numerous emails
  • past and present YAGMs around the world who are accompanying me on this journey and working to change the world one relationship at a time
  • relationships with all the other Mexico YAGMs
  • the relative safety of having an American passport
  • not feeling culturally obligated to get up early tomorrow morning to go shopping
I made my family roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes,  and pumpkin pie today.  This is just the first step, as all the Mexico YAGMs are cooking Thanksgiving dinner together during our retreat next week.  My brother ate some mashed potatoes, tried one bite of pumpkin pie (he doesn't like it), and then told his friends that his dinner was "muy rico" (very good), while I think my host mom was just happy to not have to cook for once.  My supervisor at ALEM bought a Costco pumpkin pie for everyone to share at work today, and then let me leave early so I would have time to cook.

This Thanksgiving has not been much like any of my previous Thanksgivings.  I'm not in a food coma (although who knows after our Thanksgiving dinner next week!), I didn't get to make or eat several of my favorite foods, and I'm not curled up in front of the fireplace with a movie and my cat.  But I know that I will have those experiences again, and in the meantime, I get to eat lots of tacos!

Friday, November 9, 2012

pumpkin mania

I've always loved any type of food with pumpkin in it.  Pumpkin bread? Check.  Pumpkin cookies?  Most definitely.  Pumpkin cinnamon rolls?  Delicious.  Pumpkin gelato, ice cream, truffles, pie, cake, you name it, I have probably eaten it and loved it!  I told this to my host family one day, kind of lamenting the fact that it was fall but that no one in Mexico really eats pumpkin the way I do at home.  

Well, be careful with your words!  My mom came home on Monday afternoon with two giant grocery bags filled with pumpkin chunks from Walmart, telling me that she bought it all for me so I can bake pumpkin pie.  I just kind of looked in astonishment at the sheer amount of pumpkin sitting in our kitchen, at a loss for words as to what to do with all the chunks. 

This is about a quarter of the pumpkin that I had to work with, and this is how it comes from Walmart!
As a disclaimer, I have never cooked with fresh pumpkin before.  I love creating pumpkin baked goods, but my pumpkin has always come from a can.  So I looked at this as an adventure!  I've also been a little sad with the fact that I don't really get to cook or bake at all in my house because my family loves to take care of me.  But that all changed today!

 I spent almost 4 hours in the kitchen today, cooking pumpkin, roasting pumpkin seeds, creating the pumpkin puree, and packaging it for easy access in the freezer.

some of the pumpkin cooking in our tiny oven

pumpkin puree

the finished product!  8 cups of pumpkin puree
As I was working with the pumpkin, my mom looked over and remarked on the quantity.  She commented that I will be eating this pumpkin all year.

I sure hope so!

Día de los Muertos

On November 1st and 2nd we celebrated Día de los Muertos here in Cuernavaca.  My family was out of town for a wedding, so I was hanging out with Colleen all weekend. 

Thursday night we headed to Ocotepec, which is a community in Cuernavaca.  It's one of the few communities where homes are open to the public for Día de los Muertos.  Every family that has lost someone in the past year creates an ofrenda in their home.  People are invited to view the ofrenda/altar and eat the provided food.  Colleen and I arrived as dusk was falling, and immediately bought some candles, as it's tradition to give a candle to each family; it's a kind of exchange, with visitors giving candles and receiving food and drinks in return. 

We then met up with Andrea and her family at the church in Ocotepec, before heading out to visit homes.  At each house we waited to enter, then viewed the altars set up for the deceased family members.  Each altar included some sort of physical representation of the person being remembered, usually with photos and some of their old clothing.  Around that, all sorts of food and other items for the dead to use.  These included: bread, tamales, piles of fruit, tools, dishes, photos, cigarettes, marigolds, items shaped like skulls, etc.  After saying hello to the families, either Colleen or I handed them a candle (then put into a box, I have no idea what they are used for!), and then headed for the food!  I ate a taco, a tamale, several pan dulces and pan de muertos, and drank many cups of hot punch (kind of like apple cider, but with different fruits).

Friday morning Colleen and I headed to Jardin Borda, a giant private garden in the Centro.  From Thursday through Sunday entrance was free, there were several large ofrendas throughout the garden, artisans selling their wares, and lots of decorated catrinas, or skeleton ladies.  We wandered the park taking pictures and just taking in the atmosphere. 

catrinas at Jardin Borda

some of the ofrendas

I think this one is for Frida Kahlo

marigolds are everywhere on Día de los Muertos

Many families go to the cemetery on Nov. 2 to decorate the family graves and eat food, but I didn't know anyone who was doing that.  Día de los Muertos is a way to celebrate and remember your ancestors, as the dead come back to wander the earth.  It's a way of engaging with our own mortality while remembering those who we were close to.

Monday, October 29, 2012

"There's an Angry Birds piñata in my living room."

My cousin Humberto's 8th birthday was last weekend, so we celebrated in style!  However, we were very Mexican about it.  In other words, I didn't have any idea of what was going to happen.  On the Friday before, I was told to invite my friends over for the fiesta at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon, which was the first concrete knowledge I had about this fiesta.  On Sunday my parents disappeared in the preparations (literally, as in, I didn't know where they went), and then people started showing up after 2.  This is kind of how things work in Mexico.

We took over the empty house next door (still not really sure why we have a key) to set up tables and all the food.  Lots of refrescos: Coca, Coca Light, and Manzana Lift.  Mole and chicken salad served on crossaint-like rolls.  Popcorn and chicarrones and other snacks.  I enjoyed chatting with some of my family's relatives, although it got a little overwhelming once 20 people were crammed into a small living room, all speaking rapid Spanish.  

Although this was Humberto's party, he and most of the other kids were in Maury's room playing video games all day.  But they all appeared when it was time for the piñata!
Maury with the unharmed piñata

Humberto mid-swing

the aftermath!

poor, discarded piñata
 So much candy!  I ended up getting to raid Olivia's candy bag as she ended up with quite the haul.  Then it was time for cake!  And by cake I mean strawberry tarts and brownies, which is actually better than cake in my opinion!

All in all, it made for a great party!

Fundraising Note: Many thanks to Dorothy Holman, who sponsored today in my YAGM year!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

time for some tacos!

Saturday night, my family took me out to eat tacos al pastor.  It was quite possibly the most delicious food I have eaten so far in Mexico, which is saying something given the sheer amount of delicious food I have eaten in the past two months. 

This adventure started out the way most adventures here do: my family told me to get in the car.  In other words, I usually have no idea of what I'm getting myself into, but I try to just go with the flow.  As we spend 25 minutes driving through downtown Cuernavaca at 8:30 Saturday night, I wonder why we aren't stopping at any of the numerous taquerías we're driving past.  After all, this is Mexico, there are delicious tacos on almost every street corner!  Well, this long-ish drive was totally worth it. 

We eventually pull up to a brightly lit taquería a couple of blocks down a dark street.  Immediately, I notice the man carving meat from the spit into small corn tortillas before lopping off a chunk of pineapple.  No matter where that pinapple flew, he managed to gracefully catch it in the taco.  Over and over and over again like a piece of choreography.  As we sit down my family greets one of the workers that they know.  My mom asks me what I want.  When I turn to her with a confused expression on my face, she orders me three tacos al pastor with everything.  Waiting for the food, the atmosphere of this little taquería overwhelms me.  The fuzzy little tv in the corner with a soccer game.  The sizzle of meat as it's cooked behind me.  Smelling the overall goodness of Mexican food. 

And then the food comes.  My tacos, loaded up with meat, pineapple, cilantro, and onion.  I try the different salsas on the table, and then wish I hadn't as my mouth starts to burn, my face turns bright red, and I start sweating from the spice.  But it is some of the most delicious food I've ever eaten.  The sweet tang of the pineapple as I take a bite, cilantro and onion falling in my lap.  Needing to finish every last bite.  Washing it all down with the ever present Coca (aka Coca Cola).

I am in heaven.

I hope to return some day soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Learning Spanish

My trusty Spanish tools: pocket dictionary and a notebook for new words!  My notebook has pages for food, for my two worksites, for getting my hair cut, for sickness.  I can pretty much guarantee that this notebook with new vocabulary will become a record of my new experiences for the year and my attempts to explain these experiences in Spanish.
The thing I was probably the most worried about in my YAGM assignment in Mexico was the language.  I studied Spanish for two years in high school and then for another two semesters at PLU, but I in no way felt prepared to live for a year in Mexico or to function at a conversational level.  During orientation I attended Spanish school in Cuernavaca, which definitely helped my confidence level.  But it's been a struggle.  At work I'm bombarded with brand new vocabulary: destornillador plano (flat head screwdriver), destornillador de cuadro (Phillips head screwdriver), tornillo (screw), coser (to sew), ciego (blind), sordo (deaf), aflojar (to loosen), picadura (mosquito bite), freno (brake), apretar (to tighten), género (gender). 

After spending a day at work learning new skills and trying to name them in Spanish, or observing an entirely new workshop, I return home to a household where English is only spoken when my brother is working on his English homework.  Instead of collapsing after a long day of work, I still have to function in Spanish.  I have to try to construct grammatically correct sentences, when all I want to do is give my brain a break. 

Since my arrival in Mexico almost 8 weeks ago, my Spanish has progressed immensely.  My vocabulary has expanded exponentially, and I feel so much more comfortable speaking.  I can use verb tenses I struggled with in my classes at PLU, and I can function on at least a basic level in Mexican society.  That being said, I am nowhere near being fluent, and don't expect to get to that level in my year in Cuernavaca.  I still don't talk very much at family meal times because I get frustrated with my lack of vocabulary on any given topic, and I regularly have to ask for sentences to be repeated (but I maybe only need something repeated once, instead of two or three times!). 

I am so in awe of my fellow YAGMs around the world who are learning and using completely new languages.  Even with their language school during orientation, I can't even imagine starting in a brand new country with a brand new language.  Can you imagine moving to Madagascar, being given three weeks of Malagasy training, and then starting a new life there?  What about learning Hungarian or Malay or Arabic or Xhosa or Afrikaans?  And then there are the stories I hear of my fellow volunteers using multiple languages.  Of Kaia, who uses her Mandarin skills in Malaysia while trying to learn Malay.  Of Kristen, who speaks Spanish with her program director in Hungary.  Of Kelly, who helps the girls at her work site in Malaysia with Spanish.  I'm sure there are countless other stories of people trying to use multiple languages in their communication all around the world. 

I am thankful that I am not starting a brand new language here.  I am thankful that I only struggle with one new language here.  I am thankful for everyone who patiently listens to my (sometimes awful) Spanish and corrects me without making me feel like a fool.  I am thankful for work supervisors who speak in English when I get confused.  I am thankful for the woman at the CEDISH workshop last week who came up to me and told me she wants to talk in English with me because she wants to keep practicing.  I am thankful that I can help my brother Maury with his English homework, and that he can help me with my Spanish vocabulary.  I am thankful for dictionaries and Google translate.  I am thankful for the opportunity to learn a new language, and I am hopeful that I will continue to improve in the weeks and months ahead.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How do I explain Lutheranism to a Mexican?

This weekend we celebrated the feast day of Saint Michael (San Miguel).  On Saturday a parade from the nearby Catholic church went through my neighborhood, and the bishop came to St. Michael's Anglican church yesterday to help celebrate.  As part of this celebration, flower crosses are made and handed out.  If you put it on your door, it's supposed to keep the devil away!

my front door, safely protected from the devil!
When I came home from church with my cross yesterday, my mom asked me if I knew why the crosses were popular, and then explained the story of St. Michael stomping on the devil's head to me.  Needless to say, my Lutheran upbringing has not made me all that knowledgeable about the saints!

After hearing this story, I commented that the Lutheran church doesn't have saints.  Only the virgin?  Nope, not even the Virgin Mary.  Then I tried to clarify.  Lutherans believe in a community of saints, that we are all saints (but I don't know the word for sinner, so I didn't even try to get into the theology of simultaneously being saint and sinner).

It's not hard to see why my host mom was confused.  There are largely two denominations of Christianity in Mexico: la iglesia católica, and la iglesia christiana.  La iglesia católica is the Roman Catholic church, whereas la iglesia christiana tends to be the more conservative, evangelical churches.  This distinction is maintained throughout the culture.  A Catholic isn't considered a "Christian", because the "Christian church" is completely separate.  Most people here don't know anything about the Lutheran church.  Andrea told us during orientation that it would probably be easier to explain the history of the Reformation and Martin Luther, or else to explain that Lutherans "are like Catholics, but without the saints," than it would be to actually explain what makes Lutherans different.

The church I have been attending in Cuernavaca is St. Michael's and All Angels Anglican Church.  It is an English speaking congregation, made up largely of foreigners living in Cuernavaca.  The community is great, the food at coffee hour is delicious, I receive communion by name because the pastor knows me already, and the entire service is in English!  Because there are no Lutheran churches in Cuernavaca, this Anglican congregation is probably the most similar to a Lutheran one, and many parts of the service are familiar to me.  But my host mom was still confused about WHY I attend St. Michaels.  I tell her it is the most similar to a Lutheran church, and it's in English.  While she accepts that explanation, it is one more example of me being frustrated with not possessing the language to explain myself.  How do I tell her that the Anglican church is similar to the Episcopal church in the U.S., and that I grew up with an Episcopal church in my parish?  How do I explain that, in the U.S., the ELCA and the Episcopal Church commune with each other? 

Most importantly, how do I explain my Lutheran faith, my Lutheran community, my Lutheran church, to my Mexican family who has no context for this discussion?  How do I share this part of my identity when I don't have the language to do so?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Green Space!

As much as I love Cuernavaca (and I really do!  It's a great city!), it's very urban and there's not a lot of green space in the city.  My house has no lawn or garden, there aren't very many parks, and it's hard to even get a glimpse of the city as a whole from my neighborhood.

So I was super excited when Mayra, my supervisor at ALEM, took me to a park to show me the site for one of our dance sessions!  It's pretty close to my house (about a 25 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride), it's free, and it's GREEN!!!

so beautiful!

As a side note, these are the kittens that live at ALEM!  They are always one of the highlights of my day when I see them.

The black one is named Pirata (aka Pirate) and the orange one is named Garfield.

Friday, September 21, 2012

pondering sickness

The journey continues, my friends!  I'm now lucky enough to be dealing with a cold here in Mexico.  It's only slightly irritating, but it has been interesting to see how many people in my community here think about sickness.

Now, when I think about getting a cold, I know I've picked up some bug somewhere.  I need to make sure to be getting my vitamins, getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water and hot liquids, and possibly taking some cough drops or other medicine.  My host family has been pretty worried.  They heard me coughing the other day and were worried, and I had to reassure them that I already had some medicine (thank you, prescription strength cough drops I could get without seeing a doctor!) and have been taking it as instructed.  Every day they ask me how I'm doing, and then make sure I have everything I need (not too different from any other day, actually). 

The real surprise came when I was talking to my supervisors at both ALEM and CEDISH.  Comments about how I shouldn't be sitting in front of the fan (but it was hot!), grabbing ice from the freezer (someone has to do it, right?), carry the jug of water back from the OXXO, or even be sitting in on the workshop at work, because I need to rest and not exposed to people.  Not to protect them from my germs, but to protect myself somehow.  I'm not entirely sure.  One of those things that was lost in translation.  "But it's only a cold!" I protest.  Can you tell I'm not used to being mothered in such an intense way? (as a side note: my mom is great.  But I'm not at "home" in Edmonds all that often anymore, and I think she trusts that I know how to take care of myself for the most part.)

Just another interesting cultural difference I thought I'd share...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

¡Viva México!

September 15th is Mexican Independence Day, so of course we had to celebrate in style!

For me, the morning started out pretty much the same as any other Saturday morning with my host family.  I slept in a little, then ate a late-ish breakfast with my family.  My grandmother and uncle were over as well, so there were 8 of us eating breakfast!  The kids all ate hot cakes, while the adults went with the chicharrones tacos (aka tacos with fried pig skins).  I decided to be a kid again, and stick with the pancakes!  As an added bonus, my family has both peanut butter and Nutella for me now, so I got pancakes with peanut butter for Independence Day! 

Later I watched part of a movie, then rode with the family to Walmart for some last minute shopping.  I then got to try pozole for the first time.  DELICIOUS!  Pozole is basically a corn soup, that you then load up with chicken, onion, lime, and avocado.  While we were eating an epic thunderstorm decided to roll through, so I played some games with my family.  Finally, at about 8, we headed to the Zocalo!

The Zocalo was super crowded, with lots of vendors selling everything from posters to tacos to shoes to handmade purses.  I was definitely glad to be there with my family, although I couldn't believe how many people were there with their young children!  Maury, Humberto, and Estefania were always holding someone's hand so they wouldn't get lost, but I was also glad to be connected to one of the children (especially when they were also connected to one of the adults) so there was less chance of me getting separated in the giant crowd.  We waited out another 45 minute rainstorm with everyone else who didn't want to get dumped on.  The rain made a lot of the vendors close up and drove a lot of people away, which was a little sad. 

the stage and balcony in the Zocalo
Eventually I met up with a few of the other volunteers, so we wandered around the Zocalo by ourselves.  Several phenomenal mariachi bands played, and then at 11 it was time for the grito!  At 11 the governor of Morelos appeared on the balcony overlooking the Zocalo to lead us all in the cry.  The governor led the cry, and then we all responded with ¡Viva! as appropriate. (The Huffington Post describes the grito pretty accurately here.)  At the end of that, we all got showered with spray foam!  Think silly string cans that spray out foam pellets.  I wasn't really expecting that, and we got a little messy!

right after being sprayed with foam
And then the fireworks started!  As the fireworks were going off, I was struck with one of those "how did I get so lucky and so blessed to be standing here right now in Mexico with all these awesome people" feelings that have been so prevalent lately.  Although I wished I could have been singing along with the other Mexicans during the national anthem, it was a beautiful moment!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Visiting Tepoztlan

Immediately after orientation ended, most of the Mexico YAGM volunteers headed to Tepoztlan, a small pueblo about a 45 minute bus ride from Cuernavaca.  Casey and Alicia are living and working there this year, which meant a perfect excuse to visit another city in Mexico!  As if that wasn't enough, this last weekend was the celebration of the anniversary of the baptism and conversion to Catholicism of Tepozteco.  This meant the weekend was full of cultural festivals and crazy adventures!

Friday, September 7th, was the one day all year where the hike to Tepozteco Pyramid is open at night (and also free, which is especially nice what with our small YAGM stipends).  Now, when I thought about climbing a pyramid, I pictured clambering up some steep steps in the pyramid itself.  Well, to get to Tepozteco, it's necessary to first climb up a mountain.

view of Tepozteco from Alicia's house - yes, the pyramid is at the top!

close-up view of the pyramid
Next, add in the fact that we didn't start our hike until about 7:45 Friday night.  This meant that it was pretty much completely dark about 20 minutes after we started hiking.  As frustrating as they were, the many police checkpoints meant to ensure that everyone had a working flashlight were a good thing!  Trying to navigate crazy stair-like rocks in the complete dark without a flashlight would have been difficult.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, the 6 of us YAGMs who made the climb were greeted by Tepozteco lit up, oddly enough, by purple and blue lights.

anyone else think this looks like a discoteca?

It was such a surreal experience to be standing in the middle of Mexico, on top of a mountain, next to a pyramid lit up like a techno club, with hundreds of other Mexicans at 10 at night.  Literally hundreds of other Mexicans were up there with us.  We wanted to take a seat on the pyramid itself, but that would have been impossible due to all the people residing on the pyramid by the time we got there.  Stretched out before us were the lights of Tepoztlan and Cuernavaca, and they stretched almost as far as I could see.
6 YAGMs on top of a mountain!
Even though the hike up was kind of tiring, and we were all exhausted and sick from the end of orientation, I would not have traded that experience for anything.  The entire hike we stayed together as a group and took care of each other.  It was definitely an accomplishment to go through that experience together, and I'm excited to keep working with the other volunteers throughout the year!

we had a little fun with the lights of Tepoztlan behind us
for reference again: that's where the pyramid was!
Saturday was another day full of cultural experiences.  In the morning we walked around Tepoz for a while, and just kind of took in the day.  The new seed mural was up in front of the church, and later in the afternoon we watched the reenactment of the baptism of Tepozteco.  The entire day, it kind of felt like we got lucky and were in the right place at the right time.
half of the new seed mural: it depicted the legend of Tepozteco

monks walking to the baptism of Tepozteco

the end of the reenactment, and the end of a long day!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Orientación, parte dos

group photo at Centro Guadalupe with Hermana Raina

After our first week of language school, all the Mexico YAGMs returned to Centro Guadalupe (the convent) for our second week of orientation.  This second part of orientation had two main focuses:

1. Visiting everyone’s different worksites.  This both helped us be not so freaked out about starting work soon, and also allowed everyone to get a sense of what the other volunteers will be doing throughout the year.  The worksites are quite diverse, and it will be interesting to hear how everyone is doing once work starts!
on the roof at Casey's worksite.  We're all jealous of the view!

2. Sharing our “Art and Story” with everyone.  During this activity, everyone shared (part of) their life story in 40 minutes, along with a few small clay sculptures to give some structure.  This was a pretty transformative part of my week.  It’s hard for me to talk about myself for that long, and it’s hard to open up about yourself to a group of people you haven’t known for all that long.  But it was pretty impressive how deep we all were willing to go.  I know more about my other volunteers than I know about some of my friends at home, and vice versa.  I’m excited to continue these conversations throughout the year.

The visit to CEDISH happened on Monday afternoon.  It was great to visit the office, and my supervisors seem really friendly and willing to work with me.  It’s a pretty small office, located above my supervisor’s house.  I’m still not really sure what I’m going to be doing throughout the year, but I guess I’ll find out when I actually start work!
At CEDISH with my supervisors, Mitzi and Magnolia

Mexico YAGM girls on the balcony at CEDISH

Visiting ALEM was a lot more intense.  Because ALEM is an organization for people in wheelchairs, they asked me to sit in a wheelchair for the entire visit.  It definitely takes some maneuvering to get around, and there’s a ramp that I needed help to get around in.  But I’m excited to start work there.  Mayra, my supervisor, is excited for me to start, and I can tell that the atmosphere is going to be good to work in.
getting helped in my wheelchair at ALEM

The week was full of community building, but it was hampered by the fact that most of our group was feeling sick in some way.  Several people had stomach bugs, one girl had (and still has) a cold, one girl hurt her foot last weekend, and it turns out I have an ear infection, so I was in pain most of the week.  I get the dubious honor of being the first in our group to “get to” visit the doctor.  Prayers for the health of our group are greatly appreciated!
we definitely appreciated our pizza dinner!