Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I don't recommend eating in the streets here

Parasites and amoebas are swimming inside my stomach, Dr. Perla told me today. I found out about her through one of my students, this nice family guy who is really anxious to learn English. I called him desperate for the medical hook up on Monday, when the stomach pains from whatever I caught on Thursday continued to persist. He gave me the number and said I had 40 minutes to get there, or I could wait until another day, so I dropped my teaching planning and hobbled over with my parasites. (These days there always seems to be some reason to drop my teaching planning...or just plain never to get to it. Luckily my students seem pretty happy with the way things are going, but I have a feeling my style is not exactly textbook.) I was pretty relieved to have gotten a recommendation, and not just wound up in any old doctor's chair, especially when they were sticking me with a needle and prescribing me with medication. All in all, if I had to describe the experience in two words, those words would be almost spiritual. The office, on a quiet street, was like an oasis. It had natural looking walls, and the reception desk had a ceaselessly content little lady smiling underneath a huge painting of a red flower. I felt calmer, more comforted, than I'd been in a while. The room was long but spacious, with high ceilings that let strong rectangular streams of light cut in from above. I felt I could sit in the waiting room as long as they wanted, just breathing in and out, knowing they would soon rid me of the waves of stomach pain, and maybe the other symptoms too. It all started last Wednesday, and I'm not exactly sure what it was I ate that triggered it. It started with chills, then a day of a fever, then the stomach issues and everything else that goes with Moctezuma's revenge. During all of this, my roommates decided to give me lectures about dishes that weren't mine and to ask me to clean the entire bathroom. They're not exactly the warmest people you'll meet.

The truth is, you really never know who a person really is until you've known them for a while. Many of my students are beginning to become friends, which I did not anticipate happening. I think they like it when I call them outside of class and they get to hear me stumble through my Spanish, instead of them having to wade through their the strange new sounds and flaky rules of English. I realize when I try to talk to strangers that while the sentence structure makes sense to me at this point, there are still a lot of words I don't know. I've got to get some more vocab!!! It's tough, though. I am still struggling to make it to my classes with prepared lessons. There is always something that comes up that takes up more time than expected---a broken copy machine, a long wait for a bus, the need to write...oops, I guess that last one could be helped. Maybe I'm not cut out for teaching. It's pretty ridiculous when the teacher is the one who just can't stop yawning.

But according to Dr. Perla, I have am not fabricating my chronic tiredness out of my imagination as some sort of sorry excuse for poor teaching, as I had suspected. I actually do have anemia. I couldn't help but laugh in her office today as she dished out the list of sicknesses I had. All I could think was well, good. Great. I'm not crazy. I thought I was going crazy, or that the elements were just overwhelming me or something. I had been refraining from running, conserving my energy, even before the amoebas and parasites invaded. I kept thinking it was the sound of the rumbling buses or the pollution or maybe the need for more water. But no, I'm actually physically hindered right now. So I've got new medicine, and am scheduled for another consultation about the anemia. I wish I had more to report about Mexico, but I've really just been surviving lately. I'm going to be eating more red meat, and not in the streets. Those are my plans for the next few weeks. And well, if all goes okay, I'll be going to see the butterfly migration in Morelia this weekend.

I hope all is well in the grand 'ole U.S. of A!!!

Until next time...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Feliz San Valentino

Here in Mexico, it seems Valentine's day is a little less commercial than it is in the U.S. (Surprise surprise.) People do celebrate, though. There are special balloons and little gifts that they give, (Yay for chocolate!) but the stores aren't completely tranformed into red and pink havens. In fact, I'm in Starbucks right now, the one place that you would think would go all out, and I don't see any signs of Valentine's day, besides a few pink drinks.

Valentine's day aside, life in the classroom continues. Lately I remember my teachers from high school a lot. Their frustrations have become my own. I remember them scribbling things on the board that were unreadable and wondering why they wouldn't just slow down enough to make things legible. Now I understand. Sometimes, you are just dying to get a sentence down on the board and move on to the next part. Sometimes, lessons drag on and on and on, and you are just dying for them to start understanding so that you can get to the next part. I'll be sitting down with a student, and they will make the same mistake over and over and over again, as I try to explain the correct way over and over and over again. For my beginning students, this happens a lot. There are so many words that they don't know, and it's to the point where I find myself trying to explain things with words they don't know. Pictures are key. So is playing little games of charades here and there. But how do you explain a word like do? Or the word else? Become? There are some words that are a little more abstract, a little more tough to get your head around, unless, of course, you already know. There is always the option of translating into Spanish, but we've been forbidden to do that. It's not exactly realistic to never use Spanish, so I do use it sometimes.

I have this one student who takes classes at 7 a.m. every morning. He comes in late every day lately. I've been really trying to correct his mistakes by correcting him as he talks, but that doesn't work to well because he's already really down on himself about how quickly he is learning. He's always ducking and apologizing, ducking and apologizing. So now I try not to correct to much and to say good as much as possible. But at the same time, it's so frustrating to hear him continue to make the exact same mistakes, after I've corrected him time and again. The most frustrating thing, of course, is when I give an entire lesson on when to use am working, and then, the next day, to hear him use it incorrectly. In the end, it's not a big concern of mine, though. In the end, I am doing my job, and he can either take it in or not.

I found a place to run. There is a train station just one block from mine, and it goes straight to Unidad Deportiva, this park with a bunch of dirt soccer fields and a track. I ran there on Sunday, around and around and around. As boring as it was, it was really nice to be running without stopping at intersections and breathing in exhaust. It's also nice not to be stopped by people who try to strike up conversations as you're running by. I mean, it's nice and all, but it really breaks up the workout. It's so strange how few people go to this park. I'm wondering what it's going to be like to run in the race on the 24th, as I'm planning, because I don't see where the runners are going to come from. I hear some will come from Kenya. Maybe they'll be shipping in all the competition from outside... :)

In any case, they won't have to ship in the interesting spectators. I'm guessing there will be supporters. If there's one thing the people I see on the streets are good at, it's support. Well, support and self expression.

The little things they do

When I went running at Parque Metropolitana on Sunday, I left my bag underneath a tree and smiled at the family picnicking under the tree when I left. A nice looking lady smiled back. When I came back for a brief check on the bag and to get my bearings, the family was leaving, and they told me to take my bag. They said it was not safe to leave it. I told them I had my money and my key on me, and maybe the bag would be okay. I kind of looked at them with a hopeful look, like I hoped they would let me leave it, but like any good mother, the mother shook her head no. She would not let me be that irresponsible.

At Parque Metropolitana, about twenty girls put on a Bring-It-On style show for all the many park goers. As pairs of people wheeled past on their strange pedal-car contraptions (kind of like the Flinstones, only with pedaling power) these girls danced in perfect unison to some great American pop song. They wore these uniforms with short red skirts and red shoes, and white shirts, all of them skinny, with their black hair in ponytails. It’s fun to be a part of a cartoon every now and then.

So often, in the afternoons, when everyone on the bus is incredibly tired, these musicians come on and play. They play guitars and sing. The other day, there were these two bigger ladies with long black hair, and their voices were so strong and smooth. The bus-musicians seem to have a solid amount of talent, enough to be employed by a bar, and people recognize that. At the end of the song, they go around and collect money, and the passengers give it gladly.

Today on the bus an old lady came on, and as the bus lurched forward, she nearly fell, and had to grab onto the seat quickly in order to get her balance. I tried to help steady her, but she was okay by the time I reached out. I felt compelled to do this because it had been done for me. Once when I almost fell on the bus, even though I was holding onto the bar above, a lady in the seat next to me reached both arms out behind me, to catch me if I fell. She looked up at me with a relieved expression and then a smile. I laughed and said “Gracias!”

There is a girl that gets on the bus about the same time I do every day, and she is always dressed in perfect Mexican fashion. I think she’s about 19 and seems a good gauge of what a typical perfect Mexican girl should be. Today she wore shiny silver pointy flats with perfectly tight jeans, the grain of the material running lengthwise. Her Sweatshirt was striped Light and dark purple, and she wore big round purple earrings to match. To match her shoes, she carried a shiny silver purse.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

On happiness

The people of Mexico are not rich, but are they happy? We all know money can't buy happiness, but it's only natural for the American mind to wonder: doesn't economic instability hurt one's overall sense of happiness?

Well, as far as I can tell, the answer is no.

They seem to enjoy riding life's ups and downs, like a roller coaster. People on the streets offer car washes for a little cash with exuberant energy. There is such hope for what can be earned through one's individual efforts. On buses, people take care of eachother. I almost fell down the other day when the bus lurched with more force than usual, and a lady reached out to catch me. We laughed immediately afterward. Musicians looking for cash enter the buses to play their guitars and sing for money. Their voices are incredible, and they explain their hopes for money. Then there are the entrepreneurs selling incense. They too enter the buses, where there is a captive audience, and explain the health merits of their product. In appreciation of the presentation, and the amazing-smelling incense, several bus-goers purchased a few bundles.

Even in the midst of their unrest, there is celebration. Such was the case in Thursday's protest, when workers wore corn husk costumes to protest the recent lifting of tariffs on U.S. corn. The agreements from NAFTA recently expired, and that means Mexican corn farmers now have to compete with American farmers to sell their corn. So in protest, a bunch of workers lined up in a huge crowd outside this old government building, calling for something to be done about the agreement. I'm not sure what the local government could do. It seemed ridiculous to me that they would be lining up outside a local government building, calling for something to be done about a national treaty. But in the end, it appeared that whether they had an affect on the government or not, they were going to have a good time. I mean, they were wearing corn costumes. They were also playing music that echoed throughout the plaza, as though it were time for a fiesta. In reality, the unfair tarriff lifts were an excuse to gather in the plaza, take a day off of work, and listen to some good 'ole Mexican beats. I don't mean to dismiss their cause--the trade agreement is a serious issue that is affecting Mexico's economy. But the effort was decidedly quaint and festival-like.

But the calm nature of the event did not stop the police from coming out with their machine guns at the ready. They stood at the side of the building in a neat military formation, wearing black and carrying shields. They stared straight ahead in true military form, shifting their eyes to watch me as I passed. It was really strange. I went over and asked the head police, who was standing on the side with his walkee talkee, if this was common. He said yes, these types of protests happen about 4 or 5 times per year in Guadalajara. But things are very "tranquilo" (calm--one of their favorite words, a huge compliment, it seems) here, he said with a proud smile. The people don't get violent. They don't do anything rash like people do in Mexico City or Monterey.

I started to wish I lived in Mexico City or Monterey when he told me this. I know, that's not exactly an intelligent reaction, but aren't you a little curious too? I want to see the drama of Mexico playing out before my eyes. I don't want to keep missing out on the action. I've lived such a sheltered life. On the cover of a newspaper recently, I saw this photo of people with their hands pressed up against the glass and these really desperate facial expressions. It was a hold up at some bank in Venezuela, far far away. It seems that no matter where I go, the exciting stuff is happening somewhere else. Maybe I'll see something crazy at some point. I've got my eyes peeled. Sometimes on my runs, I take little detours away from the nice neighborhoods, so that I can see the shady streets. I want to see what happens on the streets with the broken glass and all the graffiti. Of course, I only do this during the day and then quickly slip back into the nice neighborhoods with the nice houses and the trees. But sometimes I just wonder what stories I'm missing on these other streets.

As I run through the quieter streets, I often see happy lives unfolding. I see store owners talking idly with customers and friends. I often wonder what they are talking about that keeps them entertained hour upon hour, just standing their, waiting for business to pick up? I visited a little market last Sunday, a market with little eateries lining the periphery. I ate an incredible little quesadilla, which I doused in guacamole and salsa, while talking to the ladies behind the counter. One of them said she'd been working their for eleven years. I asked her how old she was, and she said 17. She said she didn't live close; she lived about a half hour bus ride away, but it was a family business and she liked it. She, her mother, and her sister went about their work peacefully, greeting the men who stopped by for tacos and gorditas with genuine warmth. They smiled as they talked to them. I wonder if they have dreams of meeting their future husband as they work. Maybe they too gaze at the beautiful white wedding dresses in the dozens of "Novias" stores that line Vallarta as I do. Maybe my sense of happiness is not so different from theirs after all.