Thursday, March 6, 2008

I went to Morelia last weekend, and it was absolutely wonderful. I met some travelly people to travel with, and thanks to the fact that my school is international, they were from all over the place: Germany, Sweden, England, and Mexico. We all made our way three hours south on our own and met up at a hostel. On Saturday the adventure began when we took a tour from Morelia to Rosario, a smaller town where the butterfly migration happens each year. We hiked up the hill together to see the butterflies. It's funny how you can feel absolutely exhausted sitting down, but yet able to make it to the top of a small mountain for the love of exercise and trees and dirt, which Gudalajara sorely lacks.

At the top, there was a disappointingly small smattering of orange monarchs flitting around the trees. We stood there for a while amidst the deep green cloaked pine trees with the rest of the crowd. I sat down on the grass for a little bit out of some deep urge to soak up all the wilderness that I could before heading back again to the hard cement grounds of Guadalajara. We had to be quiet on the way up and down out of respect for the butterflies. There were makeshift signs saying please be quiet in spanish. They hung from trees and were misspelled and crossed out and respelled in Spanish. I felt content in my own silence, out of reverence, not for the butterflies but for the place.

There were so many careful and skilled artisans who lined the path leading to and from the butterflies. They sold woven things, beaded things, carved things, each of them so carefully and beautifully constructed. They sold things people love, like blackberries and guanayabas, these amazing yellow fruits that are like pears only more satisfying and interesting. My touri group and I were quiet to, contemplating which fruits to buy and marvelling over the novelties they'd spread out on the dead grass or hung from their wooden constructs.

After seeing the butterflies, we ate at one of the many hillside huts, where they were cooking up meat (which I downed gladly like medicine to combat this stupid anemia) and beans, as well as blue corn tortillas filled with cheese. I can't remember what we talked about, although we did exchange words for a while, sitting there in that little hut, watching the caring old women with their long braids and boldly patterned clothes work at the uneven stove. I felt I could stay until nightfall, but we had to embark on the trek down and the long drive back to our hostel in Morelia. It seemed the trip ended just as it had begun, but maybe it won't be our last group trip.

My roomate Lily took me to Wal Mart last weekend, and I bought a bunch of premarinated steak and chicken. Going to Wal Mart in Mexico was like going home for a second, where the vast world of food choices is simultaneously comforting and overwhelming. I can't cook up the stuff today since the stove broke, but that's okay. I am also well stocked with sliced ham. My sickness is getting better.

This week, everything seems to ellicit exhaustion. I've been leaning on telephone poles for support on my way to classes, putting my head on my hand as I teach. I conserve energy by spending a lot of time in bed, walking slowly and carefully down the street, and packing my bag as lightly as possible. In class, the white walls and white tables and white board seem overwhelmingly bright. Like a diseased person, even talking seems a tall order. I've had to explain to my students that I can't talk much because I am sick, and as I do this I am saying to myself, oh, come on, are you kidding? It's hard to believe that talking could actually be a source of exhaustion. But I think it's true, I didn't fabricate this in my imagination, because now the exhaustion is lifting and I'm remembering what it's like to get up out of a chair without wondering if I'll feel light headed or if I'll have to sit down right away again.

On Monday, as I sat in the white classroom with it's white tables and white board, teaching my 7 a.m. class, one of the office women came in and told me that my main class is cancelled for this month. That I can sleep off this sickness after my morning classes for six more hours per week, soaking up all the rest that I'm constantly craving. But it also means 420 less pesos per week (about $42), and that's a pretty significant chunk of my salary. So it looks like there will be no trip to the beach for Semana Santa (the week before easter when everyone takes off for vacations). All I could do when she told me was stare blankly, taking in the meaning of this lifted work. When I asked why the class was cancelled, the office people told me that Wendy, the rich, 21-year old fashionista I teach, was on vacation for the month. Just like that.

I'm not sure if she knew she would be taking this trip. Maybe it was an emergency, the need to relax seizing her and her family suddenly and without warning. Their normal daily activities of eating out, studying a little English, and going to clubs must get a little old after a time, so maybe that is why they left. Oh the rich of Mexico. Her dad trains boxers for fun. He gets his money from this and then some other business venture that he owns. Where this family's money comes from is quite unclear. Her father doesn't exactly work, per say, it sounds like from her descriptions of his daily routines. He "manages" the business, which seems to mean he pays other people to tell other people what to do. Her mother does not work. And she does not work either. I have not met anyone like her in Mexico. Everyone else works, has to work, and can't afford to take a month off. Heck, most people work over eight hours a day during the week, plus a half day on Saturday, to make ends meat. Hence the reputation for a stark divide between the rich and the poor of Mexico.

As tired as the people look, they do not look stressed. There is a soft look on their faces. They are open to new ideas, new opinions. They are wiling to chat, wanting to chat. I have one student whose love for chatting extends into class. Today he went on and on about Mexico and the problems it has. He had so much to say. I kept going to the board to write down English rules, stopping to correct him, but it was of no today. He wanted me, during my time in Mexico, to understand what they are going through. It was like he read my mind, since that is exactly what I am curious about. I felt a twinge of guilt as I let him take over the direction of class. I kept imagining the head teacher, who I just so happen to live with, coming in and discovering me, as I let him slip into Spanish and just chat away. He said that the local government leaders get everything paid for by the government: their cell phones, their houses, everything. He had this really pensive look in his eyes when he told me, like these perks were so beyond belief. I refrained from telling him that these were normal perks for many businesses in the U.S. He said that he wants to see the government pay the teachers, policemen, nurses, and everyone more. These sounded like just echoes of cries I've heard from the poor in the U.S., but the issues are more serious, more pressing, here. Here, a boy recently died after falling in a nearby river that the government had neglected to clean up. He did not drown. He simply swallowed some of the water, and because it was contaminated, he died. Here, the people--educated and non-educated, hard working and lazy--are always dying for money. They're always holding out for payday, which happens twice a month, on the same day for everyone. On th first and the fifteenth, the stores and the banks fill with anxious people. It's tough getting by on the amounts we earn, making it to each payday is a delicate balance, so easily thrown off by little cancellations or unexpected costs.

To improve the economy, the government recently lowered taxes significantly. The idea is to offset the U.S. economic downturn. In an effort to do this, President Felipe Calderon recently cut the corporate income tax, the social security tax, and electricity rates. These cuts are supposed to offset rising costs on some staple products as well as the rising price of fuel.

Regardless of how much the government taxes its citizens, the real issue is what they do with the money, my student Luis said in class today. He wants them to stop lining their own pockets and start offering social security like the U.S. has and fancy educational opportunity programs like Germany. He wants welfare. I smile and nod.

At night, on the weekends, the severely unfortunate make their way out onto the streets. They are the people without legs whose families have abandoned them. They sit, leaning against the buildings, outside of crowded ice cream parlors, with hopeful eyes that gaze up at you. Some of them have deformed faces. I often wonder how they got there. Whoever drops them off is kind enough to do so, but heartless enough to leave them without company as they sit waiting and hoping for fortune.

For some, the waiting and hoping starts at an early age. There is a woman on the street corner, right by my school, that I pass four times a day. She has two children with her who prance around with chicklets as she slices the skins of papayas, cucumbers, oranges, jicama, and mangoes. She also chops the off the hard outsides of watermelons and pineapples. The potpouri of fruit smells perfumes the street as I walk past, and watching her top off the tall cups of fruit with sprinklings of chili and salt and squirts of lime. Always intensely concerned over something, she doesn't smile or look up much. As for her children, they often wear these concerned, desperate looks as they hold out their chicklets for you to buy. Other days, they prance around, like it's their favorite corner to play on. And other days, the five year old boy sits on the ledge by the fruit stand, leaning back on his hands and tossing his voice to the sky in hopeful, happy song.

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