Monday, December 24, 2007

Feliz Navidad otra vez

Remember when I called for comments last time? I want to know: what do you want to know about Mexico? Come on, there are enough stereotypes to fill a book. You must want to at least know a little bit about where some of them may have come from. Of course, there is no hard and fast answer to any of these questions, but I'd still like to get the discussions going.

As far as life goes here, I must say, the difficulties I've had with getting my phone to function may prove fatal to my social life this holiday season. When you have every expectation stripped from you, and you realize that you will possibly be spending the entire holiday season with your Mexican host mother, whose activities consist of exhausting herself on daily trips to the market and to run other errands, you realize that complaining is useless. At that point, all you have is your sense of humor. I've decided it is probably best, tonight, if I get drunk on the weak, terrible, sparkling cider she had me buy. I am one deep and feeling better already. I'm looking at tonight as a great chance to laugh about how small this apartment is and how few place settings (3) my host mom has put at the kitchen table. It's such a quiet little place. I'm planning to introduce my host mom and her son to Bailey's Irish cream tonight and teach them to play poker...if I can remember the rules.

I just spoke with my parents on skype, and it was just dandy to see their faces, I must say. I haven't spoken with them on skype yet, so this was the first time since I arrived mid-November that I saw them.

Those of you that know me think of me as an exercise fiend, but it's just my addiction to endorphins, and I've decided to give it up. I'm quitting, not cold turkey, mind you, but little by little. Today I did yoga and have decided that I don't need to bother with the difficult exercises, only the stretches. it's better, more graceful, more harmonious, more tranquill. this way .I"m just trying to imerse myself in Mexican culture--wait a minute, I am being called... we have visitors. We never have visitors!


I think my host mom is using me as a scapegoat for why she is not attending her family's Navidad celebration. They have come to claim her. They are here, at the door, two of her four long lost sister's she references in explanations of the familial neglect and sorrow that's befallen her in recent years. It has seemed up until now that her sisters do not care about her. But just now, I saw them at the door, dressed in nice shirts and festive shawls, looking Navidad ready if I've ever seen it, hoping to untie the knots of logic that keep my host mom from agreeing to go to their Navidad.

I thought they lived six hours away. This is what she told me last night, when I asked if she had any Christmas plans. She said they asked her to come to Navidad and she said no, it's too far away. She explained to me that she could not possibly go because she did not whether I was going to Puerta Vallarta or not (this was my original plan but the hotels filled up before I could book, and the friend I was going to travel with ran out of money). What I really wanted was a big Mexican family get-together, and it's beginning to look like it might be possible...unless my host mom refuses to go. As it turns out, one of them lives right here in Guadalajara!

She tries to explain to them that she did not know what my plans were, and this is why we cannot have Navidad with them. The plans have already fallen through, she says, and it is too late. She says that she has already made the chicken salad and I've already bought the cider, and she's already set the table. She gestures to the table in her room filled with antiques. They nod in understanding. Then they list the things they have prepared: beef, wine, dessert, the works. "Es Navidad," they say. They say there is plenty of food, we would not even need to bring anything that we made.

I told them, "No me preocupas," (It doesn't matter to me) and "Podemos ir" (we can go). Honestly, I'm dying to get out of this knick-knack stuffed apartment and see a real Mexican family get together, all of them, around one big table, eating their authentic, traditional, Mexican dishes.

And it is Navidad, so why aren't we a family? Okay, so maybe "we" are not a family...I'll be the awkward Gringo using my broken Spanish to make my way through the conversations. But it'll be interesting. Sure, I may not know her family, but I know her and her two sons, and this is a great chance to learn about how their family functions, and to talk to them about their lives. That's really why I'm here. This is Christmas and cultural immersion opportunity combined! And they should be with the rest of their family on Christmas. Isn't that what Christmas is for? Or is Navidad a different thing entirely, where togetherness doesn't matter so much...

No, it does matter so much to her sisters, it seems. The shorter sister looked at my host mother with sad, pleading eyes. This sister has thick black hair and dark skin, the sort of coloring we think of as truly Mexican. Right now, she's discussing with Magda (my host mom) behind the closed door of her bedroom. The fate of my Christmas hangs in the balance at 7:30 on Christmas Eve.

To be continued.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas

It's been quite a while since my last post, mainly because I have been transitioning into teaching this past week. I wound up taking a job here in Guadalajara at a school that teaches to business learners. The students at the school work for companies like Hewlett Packard and Hershey's, and other companies based here in Guadalajara. All my classes but one got cancelled this week, which worked out well since it gave me time to go get my permission to work from the government office, as well as get a little more teaching training. I taught for the first time on Friday. It was a private lesson for a man that works for one of the larger companies here in Guadalajara. I spent the day preparing--going over and over what he had already learned, and selecting the games to play carefully, according to the skill level and his current topic of study. But when I got there and started teaching, it became readily apparent that he was not, after all, up to the level that the paper said. He wants to review the entire book. There is something inefficient about the way ESL teaching is happening in a lot of these places because apparently it's pretty typical for students to get through an entire book without having actually acquired any permanent, or recall-able, knowledge. Language acquisition may be tough, especially when you have a full time career on top of classes, but it seems like there's got to be a more orderly way of going about this. I met with the teacher that used to have my students today, and he said that sometimes he just talks to students all of class, rather than making them do lessons, because that's what some of them prefer. It's not exactly like teaching high school kids, where they're going to have a test at the end and need to be responsible for the knowledge you've tried to impart.

i find myself having the same conversations over and over again in Spanish. Everyone wants to know: do you like Mexico? What do you think of Mexicans? Do you like Guadalajara? I love talking to people but when it comes to answering these questions, I am considering making a tape recording of my answer and just playing that whenever people ask them. It would really make a lot more sense. I mean, practicing my Spanish is all well and good, but I'm beginning to feel like a walking broken record. On the other hand, I do appreciate that Mexicans tend to take a genuine interest in Americans who come to live here. There is always a smile, and the effort to engage in conversation, when they meet you. Mexican culture seems to really value honesty of heart, and openness towards strangers. Yesterday, I was on the bus during one of those really intense rides, where it's dark and there are blue lights inside, and everyone is crammed in, clutching the bars for balance as the bus lurches and halts. At one point, we went up onto a curb in order to make our way around another car in heavy traffic. I looked over at a lady who was clutching her little baby, trying to keep him safe, and she looked up and said "Dios mio!" and gave me a look of exasperation at the bus driver's craziness. There was a strong sense that we were all in the craziness together, for better or worse.

We really are, too. There is no telling what a day will bring forth, says Magda, my host mother. She does not make plans because you never know what is going to happen. i agree. When I make a call on my cell phone, for instance, I never know if I am going to get through or not. I never know if the last place I tried to purchase minutes at was truly legitimate or not, or whether I am going to mysteriously run out of minutes. I never know if I am going to be able to meet up with friends or not, due to these phone issues. And I also never know if my taxi driver truly knows where he is going or is going to drive me all over the city in search of my destination. And I never know when the next wave of exhaustion is going to hit. When I'm out on the streets for too long, or have gone running at all or done yoga, I get these waves of exhaustion where all I want to do is sit and watch the crazy world go by...or sleep. It's strange because a lot of the time, I do not know when they are coming and cannot explain why it happened then. Each day is this unlocked mystery that demands me to respond as I go, rather than make a plan and stick to it. It's not exactly intuitive, but it's interesting.

I will be moving in with two other teachers soon: a mother and a daughter. They're back home in London for the holidays, and I'll be moving in over break. The apartment is midway between the city center and work, which is perfect. They both have a really sophisticated air about them, with their regal British accents. Sitting in their airy common room, drinking coffee at the long wooden table, it seems that everything the mother says has an authority to it. With her extensive background in teaching, she is a legitimate authority on ESL teaching, but even their hobby of making pigs out of paper mache has a sophistication to it. As they tell me how they have filled the table with crafts for months to make these pigs for their friends, I can't help but think to myself that maybe, sometime down the road, they will be professional pig artisans, and this is just the beginning. These pigs are hot pink, green, light pink with feathery wings, orange; you name, it they've done it. There's a real sense of respect for taking a creative approach to things, and I appreciate that.

In any case, I hope everyone has a merry Christmas!

I have one Christmas wish for you all, and that is this: if you could ask anything about Mexico--the Mexican people, the city of Guadalajara, the mentality, the way of life---what would it be? These questions will give me more to think about, more to question for myself, as I live here.

As we say here, Feliz Navidad.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Transitions are tough, especially the ones that are drawn out. It's now been a month since I arrived, and I just completed my Spanish class. That means saying goodbye to a lot of people that I've met here. The school where I've been studying, called IMAC, is full of people who come and study Spanish for a few weeks, or a month or so, and then leave. It just so happens that a lot of the people that I know from school are leaving now. They are heading to Puerta Vallarta for some fun in the sun. As for me, I will be starting a trial week of teaching at a school called ICI on Monday. First I have to go to the government and get my statement of permission taken care of on Monday. Then on Tuesday I will start teaching. It's just a trial week, so I don't think the job is mine yet, but we'll see how things go. The school teaches English to businesspeople. They work for companies such as Hewlett Packard and Hersheys. I hear that I am to avoid jobs with Hersheys because they often involved teaching on Saturday, but I think I might try for those ones anyway in hopes of free chocolate. (Just kidding)

I have been really awful about writing lately because I couldn't think of anything good to say, but I think that was just a low that I hit from the lack of endorphins. I am no longer running because the pollution is too thick, so I am trying to brainstorm other ways to energize myself. Let me know if you have any because I am at a real loss without running. I thought it was a myth that pollution can have a noticeable affect on health. I always thought that people who complained that pollution affected their lungs or their energy or whatnot were just using it as a scapegoat for their own poor health. Oh, those stairs were tough today, must be the pollution, sort of thing. It seemed as though telling the difference between breathing polluted air and clean air would be a lot like teling the diffrence between Coke and Pepsi. This is not the case. Polluted air smells bad. it makes you feel more and more tired with each breathe. It gives headaches, sucks the life out of your step. They don't call pollution toxic for nothing.

In comparison to Guadalajara, Guanajuato is a pure jewel. It is like being in Europe: truly enchanting. The streets are made of the giant stones, as are the castle-like buildings. There are old churches that line the cityscape, and the streets are all very narrow. They wind this way and that in romantic arcs. When you go up to the top of the city, all the buildings look like they are stacked one on top of the other. To add to the cuteness and quaintness of these buildings stacked one on top of the other, they are multicolored: pink, orange, green, blue, white, and purple. It really doesn't seem real, and for those of us enthralled by color, it really looks like a dream town, painted for the pleasure of our muse.

Tacos tacos tacos. The five of us that trekked to Guanajuato together could not get enough of them. Eating tacos was our main activity. They were always cooking meat at our place, a hallway shaped restaurant a few doors down from our hostel. Lured in by the meat on the turning spit, with its juices dripping onto the stove. Then there was the platter of eight salsas and sauces they would bring out: pineapples, chipotle sauce, picante salsa, mild salsa, chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, the list goes on. We must have eaten there five times during the two days we were there.

Every wind in the road begs to be explored in Guanajuato because it is all so beautiful. There is something about the aesthetic quality of windows and doors with thick borders and huge beautiful stones that makes a place really romantic. The plazas have fountains.The people flood the plazas at night. Roam from bar to bar and you'll find plenty of salsa. And you may just find yourself jumping up and down in ecstatic glee when you stumble upon....get ready....a normal bar with normal American music from the likes of the Killers. That's when you may feel the night is just getting going, and you may feel guilty because it's the very thing that does not fit this quaint town that you are the most excited about. But that's when you remember, oh yes, you are American, and you like your own culture quite a bit. That can't be helped.

While I did enjoy the American bar, I also found myself salsa dancing at various clubs throughout the weekend. The challenge of salsa is many times a process of learning how to coordinate things with another person. That's tough. There are hands, feet, hips, all these things are supposed to work together. It's pretty impressive to see people who know what they are doing. So many spins, so much synchronizing.

Right now my goal is simply to learn Spanish. That means making more Mexican friends. It's really fun, actually, practicing all the time. But of course, there is also the difficulty of understanding all the understood ideasa that they live by, those deeper cultural differences that I have only scratched the surface of so far.