Autor: ellielapp

Trip to Mexico City and Puebla!

About a week and a half ago, the program went on our longest excursion yet to Mexico City and Puebla, a total of 10 days away from Oaxaca. It was a very packed 10 days, so I’ll pull out some of the highlights!

On October 9th we got onto a bus to head to Mexico City, and arrived 6 AM the next morning. While in Mexico City we stayed at Casa de Los Amigos—a hostel in the Centro of Mexico City with Quaker origins, that is a safe house for migrants who had been victims of crimes, taken advantage of, and/or just need a place to stay to plan their next steps and heal.

While in Casa de los Amigos, we heard many “charlas”, or lectures, related to various aspects of social justice in Mexico. Topics included the variety of reasons that leads to the “choice” to immigrate, discussions of Machismo and its affect on women and men (the effects on women are often obvious—elevated rates of domestic violence, objectification, lack of opportunity, less education, and many more, but effects on men such as intolerance of expressing emotion or affection, social pressure to be that “machismo” figure also need to be discussed), LGBT activism, the impacts of NAFTA on the people of Mexico, and more.

While in Mexico City we also had some excursions. The first day we went to the Frida Kahlo museum, which was awesome, and later on we went to another refuge house for immigrants called Techan, and got to meet and talk with several people who had encountered many difficulties on their way try and make a better life for themselves and their families. Here’s the group at the Frida Kahlo Museum:

group frida kahlo

One day in Mexico City was devoted to more touristy activities, the Basilica of the Virgen of Guadalupe and to the ruins of Teotihuacan. Both experiences were very interesting, but also problematic. I can’t have a simple day of tourism, and don’t know if I will ever be able to. Nacho, a Nahuatl man, accompanied us on this day. You’re probably wondering what Nahuatl is, and I hope I can give an accurate explanation. Nahuatl is an ethno-linguistic group of indigenous people in Central Mexico. There are several different indigenous groups that all speak Nahuatl, including the Aztecs. Most of the time people lump all of these groups together as “Aztecs”, but that’s not really an accurate description. Many of them were conquered by the Aztecs, but Nacho told me that he gets tired of people calling him Aztec—just because his people were conquered by Aztecs, does not make him Aztec. 2 fun facts:

  1. Not every indigenous person in Mexico is Aztec or Mayan. Just to make that clear.
  2. Many English words have Nahuatl origin. Like Tomato, Chocolate, Coyote, and Avocado! (Also, I had avocado ice cream today, which is possibly the best thing I have ever eaten)

First I will talk about the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Basilica was gorgeous, and so was the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is so so important to Mexican religious life. Here’s a transcript of the story, from Wikipedia!

“On the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. Speaking to him in Nahuatl, the girl asked that a church be built at that site in her honor; from her words, Juan Diego recognized the girl as the Virgin Mary. Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the “lady” for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. Although December was very late in the growing season for flowers to bloom, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, on the normally barren hilltop. The Virgin arranged these in his peasant cloak or tilma. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before Bishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

So here’s me and Sydney on that Hill, and the fabric that is said to be the original that came out of Juan Diego’s cloak.

Me and Sydney on hill                  virgin of guadalupe

And here’s the Basilica that was built in the Virgin of Guadalupe’s honor:

original basilica

This event happened early in the Conquista, at the beginning of the process of converting all of the Indigenous populations to Catholicism, quite forcefully. Nacho told me another way of understanding the story: that the woman who appeared to Juan Diego was the mother earth figure of the Nahuatl cosmovision, and that very important image was converted/ synchronized into a Virgin Mary figure. The syncretism of Catholicism with Indigenous religious symbols is very fascinating and can be seen almost everywhere, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It’s incredibly interesting, but was also definitely a way to maintain control over the indigenous populations.

That same day, we went to Teotihuacan, a massive Nahuatl archaeological site close to Mexico City. As we walked through the entrance with Nacho as our tour guide, two people who worked at the site stopped us and said that because we were foreigners, we had to have an official tour guide (which is not a real rule, Nacho has been giving tours here for years). We said that Nacho is our tour guide, these are the sites of his ancestors. A large argument ensued, and we left to look at the hats while our fearless leader Giovanna took care of the situation. After a long time, they agreed to let us go with Nacho, but he couldn’t tell us anything about the history or the symbolism while we were here. And if they heard him talking, he would be fined. So we walked, climbed the pyramids and explored, and he sneaked comments to us every once in a while. As we were exploring the site, we heard the official tour guides giving dramatic accounts of the Conquista—not exactly the culturally accurate and fascinating information about the true religious, social, and cultural importance of this site for the Nahuatl people we received from Nacho afterward.

This experience was a really harsh reminder of the discrimination and disrespect that indigenous people around the world and in Mexico face every day. It’s not just that they don’t respect his culture, it’s that they glorify and appropriate the ancient culture, using these archaeological sites as tourist attractions, portraying them as if they are ancient, dead cultures. And then they don’t let Nacho, an incredibly well educated man who is a spiritual leader of his indigenous community, tell us about his own history? So it was very frustrating, but definitely a learning experience. Here’s us at the top of the Sun Pyramid, and a look down on part of the ruins– it’s too big to capture in one photo!

top of pyramide del sol              view of ruins

We also had a day where we got to walk around the Centro of Mexico City—I went to an awesome and free modern art museum, saw some ruins that are in the middle of the city, bought two 20 peso scarves, ate ice cream, saw the Murals of Diego Rivera (Fridah Kahlo’s Husband) in a really important government building, and went to a book fair! Here’s a snapshot of the vibrant, polluted, and GIGANTIC place that is Mexico City.

Mexico City centro

The next morning we woke up early and drove to Puebla. We arrived in Cuetzalan, which is another Indigenous Community, around 12 and ate lunch and went to a museum to learn about the town’s history. In Cuetzalan, we stayed in a hotel owned by a cooperative of Indigenous women, which is possibly my favorite thing I’ve learned about so far. The cooperative is a group of women who do so many things. They band together to sell their art products, many of which are weaving and embroidery products, at a fair price. They also make soap, other hygiene products like shampoo and lotion, medicinal tea, all types of food, and many other things, all in an environmentally sustainable way and with local products. Everything comes from the community of Cuetzalan, and all the resources they generate are used within the community as well. The women also give workshops on how to make artisan products, domestic violence prevention, public health issues, and any other topic that the community needs. They also support many local organizations focused on human rights. This cooperative is a group of incredibly inspiring and politically active indigenous women, who have created opportunities for themselves and the other women of the community to become economically independent and exercise their rights to be equal and contributing members of their community.

In Puebla we heard more charlas, from women in the group about their work, from a man about environmentalism/ sustainability, and a woman from a local shelter for victims of domestic violence. We also went to a neighboring Pueblo and visited a community radio station (that plays completely in Nahuatl) run by local youth. Overall, the Puebla trip was much more upbeat and hopeful, which is exactly what I needed after the very heavy themes of Mexico City. The photo at the top of this post is the group at our Hotel, with Dona Rufina (a leader of the cooperative who is now my hero) and her daughter, and Lisanne who works for Augsburg College and coordinated this trip.

I’ve also had some exciting experiences in the past week and half since I got back from the trip, but this post is already quite long! So I can get to those later. The important things right now are that:

  1. Speaking of religious syncretism, Day of the Dead celebrations begin tomorrow!! I have learned about this celebration in every Spanish class I’ve ever had, and am so excited to celebrate it in person!
  2. President Krise and his wife Patty, along with Marc Moulder and Adela Ramos, all from PLU, are here visiting for this week. Yesterday me, Tova, and Nicky accompanied them on another tour with En Via (the micro-lending program that supports women entrepreneurs) and got to do some translating, which was really fun and showed me how much I’ve improved from our first visit!
  3. Daylight savings time in Mexico happened last week. Which shows how arbitrary daylight savings time is. But now I’m in the same time zone as Montana!
  4. We are officially beyond our halfway point, which is exciting and a little scary. I miss home, but am still very happy to be here and not even close to ready to leave. I’ve been trying to make the most of every day, which is why this blog has been a bit neglected—I’m not even going to apologize about it this time :).
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La Quinta Semana en Oaxaca!

Hola todos!

It’s been another busy week in Oaxaca! I have lots to talk about from the past week, so I’ll just dive right in.

On Monday and Wednesday I have my anthropology and literature classes, which means that I have 4 days to prepare for my classes on Monday, but only 1 day to prepare for class on Wednesday. So, Tuesdays are not my favorite day.  I really like the topic of my anthropology class- contemporary problems facing indigenous groups in Mexico- but our professor is a bit hard to follow. And so far I am really, really enjoying my literature class, taught by Giovanna (our professor from PLU). We’re going to be reading Testimonials (personal accounts of suffering) and analyzing their ability to create social change. Sometime soon I’ll post about some of the things I’ve learned!

Wednesday, after I was done with class, some of us met up to go to the Museo de Textiles de Oaxaca. The bottom floor is an extensive collection of textiles, accompanied by field notes by a woman who traveled around the various Pueblos of Oaxaca documenting all the different types of textile-making. It was fascinating to read her field notes (from the 1920’s and 30’s) about what the men and women were wearing and how they made each type of fabric. Here’s us at the museum, and one of the rooms!

textile museum                    textiles

After we left the museum, some of us went to a movie called “The Artist is Present” (In english- yay!) which was about a performance artist named Marina Abramovic, who performs pieces of art where she puts herself in extreme situations to send powerful messages. Some of her topics include power dynamics in relationships between men and women, body-shaming, exploitation, and much more.  One of the best parts of Oaxaca is the amazing amount of cultural events there are on any given night– this theater was beautiful and old and the documentary was really great, all for 30 pesos, which is like $2.50.

On Thursday I didn’t have class, but woke up early to go with Kaja to volunteer at a public Secondaria (high school). We were each assigned an English teacher, and stayed with the teacher and helped with all of their classes of that day. There are 7 classes each day, each one 45 minutes long. Each of the classes had at least 40 students, and I found it nearly impossible to do anything productive with that many students in such a short amount of time. With every class I introduced myself in English, and had them ask me questions in English at first. The first class had 3rd years (14-15 years old) but the rest were 2nd years (12-13 years old). In the first class we spoke English the whole time, but in the rest I spoke Spanish with them (which was a fun way for me to practice, even though they laughed at me a couple times).  Some parts of the day made me a little uncomfortable: Kaja and I were kind of ogled over because of our physical appearance, and I was asked at least 4 times if my blue eyes were “real.” I got quite a bit of unwanted attention from the boys of the school, and even from some male teachers, which I found really unprofessional. I was definitely the center of attention, and I felt like I didn’t deserve or want that attention just because of my physical appearance. But hopefully by next Thursday (we’ll be going every Thursday for the next 2 months) the shock value will have worn off and we can continue to connect with the students and help them in their English classes. My favorite part of the experience by far was getting to talk one on one with some of the students. One story in particular I’d like to share:

Juan is a 3rd year, who lives a few blocks away from the school. He speaks very good English, and when I first talked to him I asked him where he learned. He lived in Oklahoma for 7 years with his family, but him and his mom and his younger brother returned to Mexico a few years ago. I asked him why the three of them returned, and he told me they got scared when during George Bush’s presidency there was a law passed where if they had been caught, both of his parents would have not just been deported, but detained, and the kids would’ve had nowhere to go. His father and two brothers still live in the US. His father has 3 jobs, one brother has two, and the brother with the best job is working in the oil fields in Texas. From the funds they send to their family, Juan can go to school instead of having a job either in Mexico or the United States. His family used to be able to cross the border to return to Mexico every year and then go back to the US to continue working, but now crossing the border is too dangerous, and he hasn’t seen his father or brothers in over 4 years. Juan knows much more about immigration law in the United States than I do. He didn’t want to offend me by criticizing my home country, and he said that he thinks most people have good intentions but don’t understand what it’s like. His family doesn’t want to be split up. His father and brothers don’t want to work in the United States. They certainly aren’t getting welfare or good healthcare or any benefits from the US government (if they did need serious healthcare, they’d go back to Mexico where they can get almost free healthcare at public hospitals). They go to the United States to provide for their family. They go to the United States to survive.

That same night I went to another film showing in a public library about women’s rights in Mexico, specifically the criminalization of abortion. In some areas of Mexico, women can receive over 20 years in prison for having an abortion, which leads to a lot of unsafe practices and unnecessary fear that affect women, especially young women. I would get into specifics but don’t want to overwhelm my blog-readers with too much sadness for one post!

So, this week has been a bit tougher emotionally. In our literature class we’re talking about trauma, in my anthropology class we’re discussing the systematic destruction of indigenous cultures in Mexico during the 20th century, every day I struggle with my privilege in relation to the poverty and exploitation I see on a daily basis, I’m dealing with new gender dynamics that I’m not super comfortable with, I go to sad movies for fun, and all of it is in Spanish! I thought about not writing about these issues in this post, but then it wouldn’t be a true reflection of what I’m doing here in Mexico, and wouldn’t bring up things I think are very important to think about– it’s not all delicious food and fun experiences, but it’s all valuable and important.

On a bit of a happier note, this past Saturday we had an awesome excursion with an organization called Fundacion En Via (their website is here: http://www.envia.org/). The Foundation gives micro-loans to women to grow or start their own businesses, and also provides classes like computer literacy, business, English, health/ first aid, and many more to the women and their communities. We went on one of their tours, which anyone can go on, where we visited 4 different women and their businesses: 3 women made beautiful handmade weavings, one woman sold tupperware and Jafra cosmetics, one woman and her husband made handmade leather goods, one woman made tortillas, and another owned a small restaurant. The impact that En via had had on their lives was amazing: access to interest-free loans allowed the artisans to buy products in bulk and have more supply available so they could sell to people directly or merchants from Oaxaca city who gave them a much fairer price than vendors from neighboring markets, the woman who had a small restaurant could buy more tables and chairs and new kitchen supplies and now has many more customers, and the classes gave them all financial literacy and business skills that lets these women be financially independent– which raises up their community, allows their children to attend school, etc. So this tour was a great way to restore my faith in humanity– and I also bought some pretty great responsibly-sourced christmas presents :). Here’s us with one of the women weavers, and me making tortillas!

weavings              making tortillas

Two more highlights of the week: Making choco-flan on Sunday with my family (which you should all google image right now) and going to Zumba this morning, which were both super fun!

Well, I’m off to a documentary about Corn– unsustainable agriculture, genetically modified crops and their respective mega-corporations, high fructose corn syrup and its contribution to obesity….

And then I’ll eat my feelings with churros afterward. Hasta Luego!

Ellie

Journey to the Mountains of the Sierra Norte

Well, we knew this would happen eventually, but I had hoped I would be a little more on top of this blog thing. The downside of having so much excitement on this trip is that I don’t have much time to write about it! Since I haven’t written a post in a while, instead of talking about what I’ve been doing for the past 10 days I think I’ll just focus on our trip to a Pueblo (indigenous community) in the Sierra Norte. I’ll talk about what we did each day, with lots of pictures, and then some of my general observations about the trip and other things of note.

Last Thursday was our last day of Spanish classes (an essay due and an exam… one reason I haven’t updated this for a while!) and right afterward we boarded a bus to go to Neveria, a Pueblo in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. Roadtrip!

roadtrip

The drive was absolutely beautiful, and it was very refreshing to leave the city of Oaxaca and travel into the mountains.  For example:

montanas

When we arrived at la Neveria, we had comida straight away (and we were very hungry, having not eaten between 8:30 am and 4 pm). Every meal began with the same question: ¿Quieres chocolate de agua (Hot chocolate in water) , chocolate de leche (hot chocolate in milk), agua de sabor (fresh fruit juice), o te (tea from a local mint-ish herb called Poleo)?. The choice was pretty obvious for me and many others, with choruses of “chocolate de leche, por favor!” around the table. Because it’s not just hot chocolate, it’s Oaxacan delicious thick milky chocolate (choco-lat-ay). Before eating we were served fresh bread with our drinks, which we learned how to make later on. The whole weekend we were served delicious food, with fresh homemade corn tortillas, vegetables grown in the community, local chickens, different homemade salsas… you get the picture.

chocolate cheers                     enjoying a taquito

After la comida we walked around the community for a while and set up our cabanas (cabins). We all sat and played Egyptian Rat Screw and other card games, and had good bonding experiences. That was one of my favorite parts of the trip– we were pretty isolated and disconnected from the outside world and spent a lot of time together, so I definitely got to know everyone a bit better! Then we had dinner, made a fire in our cabins, and got a good nights rest to prepare for the day ahead.

cabana

The next day, we woke up and had a delicious breakfast, then went to work in the invernaderos (big greenhouses where most of the community’s food is grown). We used picks and hoes to till the soil, dug trenches for the irrigation system, and planted flowers, stopping for carrot and radish breaks every so often.

carrot yum                         workin in the invernadores

Next, we had la comida (is it obvious that my days revolve around food?) and then worked for another few hours de-kerneling (desgranando) corn by scraping off the kernels of dried corn with another piece of already de-kerneled corn. Corn is a staple here in Oaxaca– it’s the main ingredient in most food from tortillas to tamales to soup, so the corn that we de-kerneled (I’ve used that word three times now, I think that makes it official) will be put to good use in Neveria!

corn shucking together             corn shucking

We then returned to our cabanas, hung out together for a bit and had dinner, and then we had a member of the Pueblo come to our cabana, with a fire lit, and tell us the history of Neveria. Neveria, and the neighboring Pueblos, are part of a coalition of indigenous communities called “Pueblos Mancomunados Oaxaca” which specializes in Ecotourism. The communities have had trouble maintaining their population and culture, creating livelihood for their people, and just surviving in a world that doesn’t value the importance of indigenous groups nearly as much as it should. In the face of these challenges, these Pueblos (which are Zapotec in origin) decided to create a network between each other where foreigners, Mexicans, people of other indigenous groups, etc. could pay to stay into their communities, observe and be involved in their fascinating cultural practices and heritage, and enjoy the beautiful scenery and outdoor activities that these mountains have to offer, all in an environmentally conscious way. Side note: this is not the environmentalism of choice of the Pacific Northwest. It’s environmentalism of necessity– to preserve the surrounding forests and their other natural resources, not pollute or overwork their land or water supply, and provide their people with healthy and nutritious food, they have to live in a way that minimizes their footprint on the land. And, really, shouldn’t everyone view environmentalism this way?

The next day we got up early, had desayuno, and hiked to a neighboring Pueblo, Latuvia, which is about 4 hours away and also part of mancomunados. The hike was gorgeous– it felt like I was back in Washington or Montana hiking through forests, meadows, and always having a great view of the valley below and surrounding mountains. When we got to Latuvia we had lunch and then went to a small building where a woman makes hundreds of loaves of bread every day. And this bread is delicious. It’s in small oval-shaped loaves, and the dough has bits of cloves, anis, and sugar. We kneaded the dough together and shaped it into loaves, and then put them into the forno (a large stone oven where you build a fire before you use it to heat it up, then take out all of the coals and the heat stored in the stones cooks the bread). makin pan(Kneading bread)

pan yum(Eating bread)

While the bread was baking we observed how to make a traditional drink called Tepache, which tasted to me tasted like alcoholic vinegar but is very common in Latuvia.

Our activities in Latuvia finished, we headed back to Neveria. Instead of hiking back, we were transported in the back of a truck. We started the trip sitting, but then realized we could stand up, which was way more fun.

truck back     in the truck

As we rode back it began to get darker, and it was amazing to look up at the stars and down to the lights of the valley below. It sounds like it would be loud and adrenaline-y, but the truck didn’t go very fast and most of the time we stood in silence looking at the scenery around us by the light of the stars. It was a great time to reflect on my experience so far in Oaxaca, a time to take a step back, look at the stars, and realize how lucky I am to be here and having such wonderful and formative experiences.

On our last day (Monday) we took another hike to a nearby waterfall. It was a gorgeous trek through the forest, with a beautiful destination. We crossed the creek and waded into the waterfall area, and got really wet but had lots of fun!

waterfall yay

Then we came back, helped make our lunch (vegetable soup, chicken, and rice), loaded our bus, and left Neveria to come back into the city. So, that was our trip!

I’m sure it’s obvious that I relished the opportunity to live in an indigenous community for a short time and experience some aspects of their culture, but the dynamic was also a little weird. It’s tourism of a people– paying to see the exoticness of their culture and be involved in  small snippets of their daily lives like working in the greenhouses or making bread– which sometimes felt exploitive, like the people that go to Pennsylvania to gawk at the way that the Amish live. There are definitely key differences: this is a deliberate choice of the people to show the world the richness of their culture while simultaneously obtaining resources to preserve it, the members of the Pueblos are in charge of every step, and all of the benefits go directly to the communities involved, but it’s a concept that could go very wrong if mishandled or taken out of the hands of the communities. But, I really feel like these communities are doing it the “right” way, with every decision guided by respect for the culture and a necessity to preserve it, and I would highly recommend Ecotourism as a neat way to travel.

Other things of note:

1. The day we came back, Monday September 15th, is the day before Mexican Independence Day. People here celebrate it kind of like we celebrate new years, with a big party the night before. So right after we got home from the Mountains, we quickly went to our houses, showered, and met up an hour later to go out to dinner and down to the City Center, where there was a concert, lots of food and vendors, and hundreds of people out celebrating independence.

2. This week we started our schedule for Term II, so I am now taking Anthropology and Literature classes (all in Spanish) on Mondays and Wednesdays. That means that I have a lot of homework due on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I also have a lot more free time!  Maybe that means I’ll be better about updating my blog.

3. Yesterday we found out where we will be doing our internships for our last month here. Me and Madeleine will be working with AMEXTRA, a Mexican NGO that is everything I wanted my internship to be! This is their vision statement:

“We are a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable changes through accompaniment and empowerment of community leadership and local participation. Through this work, we aim to transform the quality of life for those in marginalized communities while instilling values of service, compassion and justice.”

And their website is here, if you’re curious: http://www.amextra.org/en/

Well, I should get back to all that homework due on Monday now. Thanks for reading, you’ll be hearing more from me soon! 🙂

-Ellie

(Also, I have not taken very many pictures but am instead using pictures of others in my group– with their permission of course! So the photo credit for these photos goes to Sydney Otey, Giovanna Urdangarain, and Mariann Funkhouser).

Monte Alban, Church, and Protests

Hello again from Oaxaca! As this is a study abroad experience, this post will be more focused on some things that I have learned the past couple of days, since the other one was pretty much just about food. Food is still my favorite part, but hey, learning is good too. 

This Saturday we had our first excursion with the ICO and went to Monte Alban, one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica and the political, economic, and social center of Zapotec society for hundreds of years, with a population of about 17,000 people. Just by looking at the ruins one can derive so much about Zapotec society: it was violent and war-driven, with huge arenas for human sacrifice and battle-esque sporting events; they had a fascinating system of religion with many gods, the Jaguar being most important; religion and politics were closely intertwined with the many temples also being the political centers of the different sects; it was not an isolated city but rather had a complex system of trade and competition with neighboring indigenous groups; and so much more. We went with an anthropologist who does research in Mexico on Prehispanic societies for a living, so he was an endless source of information and could tell us the history and significance of each section, especially when we went to the museum and looked at the artifacts. In other words, the trip was basically anthropology heaven. It’s also in a gorgeous location, with a panoramic view of the valley of Oaxaca and the surrounding mountains, and was very humbling to stand underneath gigantic temples over 2,000 years old. 

monte alban                                    me monte alban

Then, on Sunday, I went to Mass (la misa) with my family at a beautiful cathedral. It was a very interesting experience and I’m glad I went, but it was also a little uncomfortable for me. I loved the singing, the exquisite architecture and art, and participating with my family in something that is very important to them. I also really appreciated the “sermon” section– even though it was in Spanish, I picked up on the main points which were about avoiding materialism,  always treating others with love, and working for peace in our community and the world. The rest was pretty ritualistic and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself for most of it, especially during communion. I also spent a solid 10 minutes thinking about my “pecadas” (sins), and then asking for forgiveness. So that was new! But overall it was fascinating to be in a very catholic church in a very catholic city, and also interesting to learn more about the culture. For example, only the women in my family went to Mass, and the vast majority of the audience consisted of women. Women seem to be pretty in charge of family, religious, and social life here, which is quite different from the “machismo” culture I was expecting. My initial impression is that although I sometimes get negative attention on the street and women definitely still have a disproportionate role in housework and childcare, women and men seem to have different but equally important and “powerful” roles, which is pleasantly surprising. 

After Mass on Sunday, we were delayed about a half an hour getting back to the house because of a teacher protest. In Oaxaca, the public teachers have been on strike periodically for many years, with many grievances against the government. This came to a climax in 2006, when there were many riots and violence from the protestors and the police, and about 20 people died. The teachers occasionally march through the streets, and have been camped out in the Zocalo, or city center, I think for a couple of months. I have seen two of these demonstrations thus far (completely non-violent), and everyone has different opinions about them. Many people agree with their grievances, which include lack of government transparency, corruption, discrimination, and other protest-worthy causes, but do not not agree with their methods because they are very disruptive to every day life in Oaxaca. I will not write much about the teacher protests now because I still don’t know enough to have formed an opinion about or a holistic understanding of them, but it’s a very interesting topic that many people are reluctant to talk about or acknowledge, and I will write more once I learn more. 

It’s probably becoming obvious some of my main interests and reasons I chose this program: to improve my Spanish, immerse myself in a different culture and learn more about anthropology, and learn about things like gender and social justice movements that I’m very interested in (I know that’s bad grammar, but “in which I am very interested” just sounds too pretentious). The past few days have been full of great learning experiences, and every day I have a new adventure that makes me glad I chose to come here! 

Until next time, 

Ellie

 

 

After 6 days here, I’ve decided to make a blog!

Before I begin, some disclaimers about this blog. We’ll call them ground rules, for your reading and for my writing.

  1. I will write posts fairly quickly, maybe look over them once, and then post. I’m in Mexico, and have much better things to do with my time than proofread!
  2. Because I have this once of a lifetime chance of studying in an immersion Spanish program in Oaxaca, Mexico for a full month, updating my blog will not be my first priority. For one, I don’t want to spend too much time thinking and writing in English, and I also want to make the most of this experience by staying busy and exploring. So I will make it my goal to post 2-3 (maybe 1) times per week, and we’ll see how it goes.

So let’s get started!

Today, Friday August 29, is my 6th day in Mexico. Getting to Oaxaca city proved to be a bit difficult, as a rendezvous in the Mexico City Airport taxi station didn’t work out quite as planned. After much waiting, worry, Spanglish, and unsuccessfully trying to use public phones, Chloe, another girl in my group, and I boarded a bus to Oaxaca from Mexico City at 8 pm and arrived at 2 am instead of our previously-planned 8 pm, while Sydney and Janet (unbeknownst to us) waited at the bus station and took the midnight bus to Oaxaca, to arrive around 6 am. That night I stayed with Chloe’s host family, and in the morning my host mom picked me up and took me to our house.

After the semi- disastrous journey here, I have settled in quite nicely and am very happy with pretty much everything about this program and this city. I’ve connected very well with my host family, my house is very nice with a wonderful room of my own (and a talking parrot!), the Instituto where I take classes is beautiful, my group is full of fun and kind people, and I can feel my Spanish improving every day.

Our days are packed with activity, so these 6 days have gone by very quickly. This is more or less my schedule for the next three weeks, Monday through Friday:

6:40 AM- Wake up and run/ work out with Sydney, Madeline, and whoever else wants to come. I’m not usually a morning workout person, or a workout person at all, so we’ll see if this trend continues. But a short run in the morning is a great way to explore the city!

7:40 AM- Return to my house, shower, etc.

8:15 AM- eat breakfast with my family. This usually consists of a plate of fruit (mango, melon, apple, papaya, or banana) with yogurt for a “first course” and eggs, beans, and tortillas for the “main course.” Breakfast (Desayuno) is one of two main meals of the day and I don’t eat lunch until around 2, so I’ve been getting used to eating a much bigger breakfast.

9 AM- Spanish class begins at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca (ICO) which is about a 5 minute walk from my house. The class is from 9-1 every day, and in the first three hours we discuss grammar, learn new vocabulary, read “lecturas” and talk about them, and do other classroom- like things. The last hour is our “hora de conversacion” where we talk about cultural differences, get to know one another better, play games (yesterday we played Spanish trivial pursuit- very difficult!), and practice our vocabulary and grammar from that day. I have a great teacher and only 6 people in my class, all from our PLU group.

1 PM- Spanish class ends and I walk back to my house for lunch and a mid-day break, one of the only times of the day I can sit and relax in my room, talk with my family, or do some homework. Lunch (almuerzo or just “comida”) is the largest meal of the day. In this family it usually consists of a soup as the first course (tomato, vegetable, calabaza, etc.) and then some sort of meat dish with rice as the main course. For example, yesterday I had tomato soup with fresh bread and pork with salsa verde and rice. Yum!

3 PM- I walk back to the ICO and have an hour of conversation with my intercambio, a girl from Oaxaca who is studying English. We talk for a half hour in Spanish and a half hour in English. She teaches me fun words and phrases and the best places to go in the city, and I help her with English vocabulary and grammar. I think it’s helpful and fun for us both!

4 PM- 2 solid hours of Salsa class! So far we know most of the basic steps and moves, including turns to the “derecha” and “izquierda,” the cross, basico adelante and basico detras, and some other combinations. It’s very fun, and also very culturally and historically “educational.” But mostly just fun.

6 PM- We are free! After Salsa we go to dinner somewhere in the city and have some time to explore. Dinner (cena) is much smaller here, consisting just of a sandwich or salad (or churros and ice cream 🙂 ). After dinner we explore the city of Oaxaca and usually find some event to go to. For example, every Thursday a local café shows independent movies for free, so yesterday we ate dinner there and watched a very moving and artistic movie called “Purgatorario: Viaje al Corazon de la fronterra” (Purgatory: Journey to the Heart of the Border). 

9 PM- I usually return to my house around 8:30 or 9, talk to my family for a bit, and then finish my homework for the night and get ready for bed.

10:30- I’ve been getting to bed around 10:30, with my alarm set to get up early in the morning and continue this adventure!

So, that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to these past few days! I’m feeling very excited for the months ahead, although I already miss my family and friends, and the transition to being completely immersed in Spanish is definitely difficult. Well, I have to go eat lunch now (I think we’re having Chile Relleno and Mole Negro today– very Oaxacan!). Thanks for reading!