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!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

settling in

It's hard to believe that I've been in Mexico for over a week and a half.  It still seems like yesterday that I was saying goodbye to all the other YAGMS and alums in Chicago, but so much has happened that it also seems like a dream.  Was I really home in Edmonds 3 weeks ago?

I have now been living with my host family for a week, and they are everything I could have possibly hoped for in a family.  First of all, the house.  I live only a 10 minute walk from language school, and a 15 minute bus ride from the Centro.  My neighborhood is great.  There are a lot of little tiendas, taquerías, and other shops around, and there's even a panadería (bakery) just around the corner!  Everything is right at my fingertips.  I have my own room, which I finally decorated with pictures from home a few days ago (and my brother has already asked for copies of some of my pictures when I leave!), and I already feel very settled in.

My family is also terrific!  I live with my host parents, Mauricio and Zuriken, and my 9 year old host brother Mauricio (Maury for short).  We also have two dogs: a yellow lab named Rayo (lightening, after Lightening McQueen), and a chihuahua named Mate (I think after Mater, also from the movie Cars).  Zuri's sister Carla and her two kids Estefania and Humberto live right next door, and they have a pet schnauzer named Lola.  They're a big, happy, energetic family all the time!

I don't really see Mauricio very often; he works a lot.  But Zuri is almost always around, and she and Carla make life go smoothly around here.  Zuri is always checking on me, making sure I'm doing ok and I know how to do things.  I'm taking a new bus route to church in the morning, and she both wrote out directions for me AND drove me part of the bus route (until where I will change buses) so I can be sure to know how to get there in the morning.  She also plays translator.  Not that she translates things into English, but if one of the kids says something to me that I don't understand, she repeats it in slower, simpler, more enunciated Spanish so that I CAN understand it, even if I had no clue of what was being said earlier.
Estefania and Humberto with Mate

I've been playing A LOT with my brother and cousins.  They have basically two speeds: really fast, and asleep.  I love playing with them, and we joke around a lot (they're trying to give me a nickname, and I get hugs every time I get home), but I get worn out so quickly!  Today, I have so far played some soccer, jump roped, played Uno, and taught them to play Skip Bo.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to teach a new card game to several impatient kids in another language?  They just wanted to get started, and my Spanish is still not very advanced.

Humberto, Maury, and Estefania with Maury's impressive tower (made from Jenga tiles)

It's been really nice to have a sort-of regular schedule for a week.  I've been at language school for the last week.  It's a nice short walk to school every morning, where I then have three hours of grammar, an hour of practice conversation, and then some sort of cultural activity (like going to a market in the Centro, and watching a movie).  I can tell I'm getting a lot more comfortable with using the pretérito tense, but I'm still pretty frustrated with my lack of vocabulary.  Next week I'm planning on making a lot of flashcards in an attempt to improve my Spanish vocabulary.
They were pretty excited to play around with Photo Booth on my computer
I rode my first ruta (bus) yesterday, and I love walking around my neighborhood!  So basically, life is pretty good right now, with the exception of my language frustrations.

Well, that's my life right now.  I'd love to hear from you about how your life is going as well!