Thursday, August 27, 2009

Week 2

Last week was nice and lazy. Class until one every day, and I'd go practice piano and be home by three. Have a big old lunch and usually a nap, do something in the evening or do nothing at all, eat more, sleep more.

This was the week that if we wanted to we could check out the extra classes offered. Those of you who know how I do school... well for those who don't, to be a full time student one is required to take 12 hours, my scholarship program encourages 15, the university caps you at 18. Last semester I took twenty while I directed, produced, and promoted a show and somehow, gods be praised, managed to pull a four point. I have a problem with coasting - I like to go balls to the walls or nothing at all.

So naturally, I signed up for all of them. If a student takes grammar and conversation, s/he can only take two extra classes; if s/he drops conversation s/he can take three. I signed up for five and kept going to conversation.

First was Geography and Culture of Mexico with an emphasis on Tourism. The theme of the class is absolutely perfect - study each of Mexico's major states/regions, their geography, their culture, things people go to see there, and their food, as well as cooking some of it too. When the maestra pitched the class to us, I figured if I could only take one this was it. Then she had us go around the class and introduce ourselves. We were to tell our names and where we were from. All went well until she got to the Korean boy.

He's in my same level for grammar and conversation, so I've gotten to know him a little bit. His name is Sung Rak and he's pretty rad. He's definitely in the better half of the class, not scared to speak in class unlike so many, and usually correct. When he introduced himself, the maestra said, "But what's your Spanish name?"

Um, he said, I don't have a Spanish name. My name is Sung Rak. "But," she said, "All the Koreans, when they come here, they choose a Spanish name because Korean names are too strange and too hard to pronounce. So, you should pick one, and let me know as soon as you do." Um, his name is Sung Rak? Try to say it. You had a tougher time with the Germans and Americans than you would have with his if you'd give it a go. His name is a big part of his identity and who the hell are you to tell him he has to change it because it's "too strange?"

First I should mention that class started a half hour late. After introductions we took a "five minute break" (try twenty) we met back up for her to give us a brief intro to Mexico. She mostly read info off a website, and when she got to the part about religion, she read that 93% of Mexicans are Catholic. "Now," she said, "I want to get an idea about you all. What religion do you have? We'll go around and I want everyone to tell me their religion." First, your question presupposes that everyone here has religion. The first person said either Catholic or Christian, then it was my turn and I said "I don't like to talk about religion," and the rest of the class sounded off with either Christian or Catholic, all of them. But it was clear that I wasn't the only one feeling awkward about it. The next day she basically read a crappy powerpoint presentation word for word and took another "five minute" break in the middle of class (again after starting super late) to answer a Skype call that kept interrupting the presentation. She's on vacation next week. The class isn't required for my major and I can only take so many. This isn't hard math to do.

What else did I try? Phoenetics, which is being merged with the Linguistics class since it's the same teacher and gives us a grand total of three students. But it is required for my major, and the teacher's cool as hell. Honestly made me go and check my university's website to see if I could change my major to Linguistics, so that one's definitely getting taken. Cultura Latinoamericana is another one that will count toward my major, and the teacher has made it clear he's not going to be too hard on us, god bless him. Literatura would also count toward my major if I could figure out when the hell time it's going to be offered.

Historia de Mexico would be fucking sweet to take, because the teacher is not only precious but really just enraptured by the subject, and says she's going to take us on outings to go see sites and museums and stuff, but I don't know if I have room for it, since Linguistics and Phoenetics is going to technically count as two classes. But then, you know me...

No Kiki this week. The saddest thing happened either Friday night or Saturday. No, it was Saturday! Because we were intending to go downtown and go dancing and I got all dolled up and shaved my legs and everything and then I heard Kiki sniffling a rather lot and trying to work the phone. My first thought was about how I went on that little trip to Tennessee and was having a great time and then got the call that Lucie had died. She wasn't having much luck with her calling card, so I just went and set my info to use mine down in front of her. I never know what to do when my friends cry, because everyone wants something different and all I want is to help. Some people need to be held, some need to be left alone, others need all sorts of stuff, but right then Kiki needed to make a call, and I knew I could help with that. Her grandmother, who had been having some health problems, had just passed, so she had to buy a last minute flight back to Canada for the funeral this week. She left Monday morning and comes back Saturday. I have missed that radical girl a lot and can't wait for her return.

I'm getting exhausted by the end of these days where I start out at 9 with grammar, then go negotiate a food purchase in Spanish, then listen to the History teacher talk twenty miles a minute then go to Linguistics then Cultura then practice piano and talk with that teacher... like, my brain starts getting really tired and even though it's the middle of the day and I shouldn't be sleepy, all I want to do is leave whatever discussion I'm in the middle of and go lay down. While I have finally come to terms, I think, with the fact that I am in another country, I'm not quite sure yet that I fully comprehend how long I'm going to be here.

That's all I've got for now, I guess. I'd have had more if I'd updated earlier, when details were still fresh, but I have been one busy cracker this week. Remind me to tell you about the German boy's birthday party and the best taxi ride yet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where to find my pics.

Will be updated from time to time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

First week of classes

I have one that starts at nine and goes until ten forty – Grammar. It’s all the technical stuff, all the conjugations and which ones go with which others under which conditions and making sure I get not only that but accent marks and spelling. The teacher’s name is Gloria, she’s about the skinniest full grown woman I’ve ever seen – I’ve seen fifteen year olds this skinny, but damn. She’s very formal, but it’s a formal class I guess, so maybe it follows.

The next one starts at eleven and goes until twelve forty – Conversation. The teacher’s name is Abraham, which is pretty much pronounced abRAM, and he’s a big old hippy. He’s all the time talking about like how Mexican culture should respect women more and animals more and about how after his mom had cancer they both promised to always be happy no matter what because life is too short … basically we’re getting married. Bueno, he’s probably not interested, but the class is super fun.

But I had a realization about halfway through the week when we were talking about where we all came from. I’m from the U.S., as is another girl, there’s a German boy, a Chinese boy, a few Koreans, a couple Japanese… and some of us are there in the exchange student program, and others are actually living there in Guadalajara, wives of diplomats or working in restaurants, and I can hear people’s different accents, like the German boy can’t really say an R, it sounds all French and in the back of his throat, and the Asians speak rather like they do in English and I realized…

…like, we are THOSE PEOPLE. Have you ever seen a promo vid of an ESL class? Or a show or a movie where they had an English as a Second Language class? And it was kinda funny because they all came from all over and all had different accents and different manners of screwing up the language, and the teacher was trying to unite them all under English… it was a little embarrassing, to be honest. But whatever, I’m here for my four months and I’ll get all my college credit and feel like I accomplished something. To be sure, I’m having a ton of fun outside of class, and so…


MONDAY: was the day my belly got sick. Sunday was the day I ate what made me sick, but it didn’t kick in until I was in class Monday. To be honest, when I felt my belly getting all awry, I got pretty friggin pumped. This little medical test I’m participating in is supposed to pay more if I get sick! The nice lady in the doctor’s office gave me crackers and Gatorade, told me to eat no fruit, no veg, no milk nor milk products. No money yet. I got home from class and took a huge honkin nap, from four until about eight pm. That’s when the Mister of the house came home and the energy changed altogether. It was really bizarre. “Mom” told us he was coming, with his brother, who was bringing two guitars for Kiki to check out – Kiki being about to start guitar lessons and the Mister working in a shop where they make guitars, it followed. Mom was bragging on the brother-in-law, about how well he played, and assured us he would play for us. It was really nice, we all sat down in the little plaza, she had me show him my cigar-box banjo and he threatened to put frets on it for me (cool, might happen too!) but it was so strange watching the husband come home and he and the wife didn’t even really greet one another. Things got awkward-turtle, and for the next couple of days Kiki and I felt like we were tiptoeing around the house almost. I had started laundry and hung it to dry, but the nightly rain was coming soon, so I went up to move it over onto the lines that were under a little roof so they wouldn’t get rained on – I got it almost all moved over just as the rain started dumping down and Kiki and Mom and Lore and Gonza junior came up to check. Lots of laughing and splashing ensued and it was pretty fun.

TUESDAY: traffic was INSANE when we got out of school. We waited and waited for the bus, but after a solid half hour and none had come, we started talking to the two girls next to us. Turns out they were waiting for the same bus, so we decided to split a taxi – it turned out to be twenty-five pesos each, which compared with the regular five pesos to ride the bus was pretty steep, but when you do the math into dollars is still a friggin deal. When we finally made it back to the house a solid two hours later, we went to go look for the piano book my maestro had recommended and ended up swinging by a shoe store, too. All I have are these fucking beat up ugly ass tennis shoes that I have been wearing for years, one pair at least for a decade and the other not as long but still a while, and a pair of cowboy boots for iffin I want to go out. I needed something I could be comfortable in but that didn’t look … well, like damn sneakers in bizarre colors like kelly green or fuscia. As I was trying some on, Lore stood up and I told her something must have been in her chair because she had some stains on her bum. Turns out it was woman problems. She ran to the car to wait for us with my bag covering her backside and I paid up and we went home to order sushi delivered (it’s all the rage here in Mexico, but not quite as good) and watch Perfume, some pirated copy, with Julie and her boyfriend Jesus.

WEDNESDAY: Mom came to pick us up nearby the school because traffic was still sic and we had to get back quick so we could grab some comida before returning for our music lessons. When we walked back to grab the bus again, we got a ridiculous amount of whistles and calls! I figured maybe it was because Kiki had her guitar on her shoulder? No idea. When we grabbed the bus, Kiki was wrapped up…

…first I should tell about the wonderful thing Kiki has brought into my life. Surely y’all know how much I love to hear stories. Stories of all sorts from all sources, I want to hear them all. Kiki has done some traveling in her day and met some pretty radical people and has some great stories to tell about them. My walk to the bus is usually accompanied by one of these awesome tales, and I eat it up.

So Kiki was in the middle of one of those tales when we got on the bus, and didn’t notice that the man sitting in the front seat had his eyes pretty much paying rent on her ass. I motioned to her to scoot further away from him, saying Honey you’re being nudey-fied by that guy there, and she scooted and he tried to give us this big grin but you know we weren’t having it so he went back to digging in his nose. I hope he was drunk. He kept staring though, and eventually this woman leaned forward and said “Why do you keep staring at those girls? You don’t know what a woman is?” She was getting off the bus, so she told us to take her seat and she got off, giving him a nasty glare and he never looked at us again. We decided she was our Mexican auntie and refer to her as our Tia now.

My class is at four, so Kiki does homework for an hour, then hers is at five, so I do homework for an hour, and then we go home. Or that’s the plan. But the traffic was still sick from them having to repair the sinkhole in the road, wherever the hell it happened, so we had to get creative. Plus, it was raining, so we had our little travel umbrellas and were walking all over trying to figure out where we could catch our bus. When we finally saw one, traffic was so bizarre and it was not in a lane to come pick us up, so we just walked into the road to get it. P.S., my piano class was awesome. My precious little viejito teacher started at the very and I mean VERY beginning to give me a brief history of music, starting with friggin cave men hollering and beating on trunks with rocks, up until when people tried to figure out how exactly to note music to know not only the pitch of the tune but the timing of both the sounds and the silence up until the Italians came up with words like allegre and stuff to tell you how to play it. When he got to Chopin, and he told me that Chopin taught his students that they don’t play piano with their fingers, the fingers are just another instrument, they play with their SOULS, he got choked up and of course therefore so did I. He speaks so slowly and precisely, due probably to his advanced age, that I understood every single word he said. I’m positively enamored of him. My new shoes hurt so much that day but I was determined to wear them in, and I think all that walking in the rain helped.

THURSDAY: So after class, I went to practice piano a while before I had my 3pm Ritmos Latinos dance class with my homoboy from my home school. Most dance classes I’ve ever taken, the teacher is like, okay we’re going to do this step now and this is how it’s done, step by step, okay now let’s all do that together, hey you you’re going the wrong way you should go the other way… no. This guy just turned the music on and started dancing and we could either follow him or screw it all up as much as we wanted. And he went full steam ahead, hardcore dancing. On my walk home from the bus stop, however, after yesterday’s nonstop piropos, I only got one whistle that I think was probably for me and one honk that I have no idea. Here’s the test then, I thought. I’ll ask Kiki how it went for her. If she still got ‘em, then they’re all for her. If she didn’t, then it’s just our power combined. Turns out she got way more. That’s right, I’m holding her back.

When I got home, we lunched (ahhh, the things learning Spanish is doing to my English) with Lore, who was flipping the television channels around and was watching some movie with horses and Spiderman. Turns out it was Seabiscuit, and when I realized it and hollered – Ah, Seabiscuit! – she thought it was the funniest word she had ever heard and kept making me repeat it for the duration of the movie. We started talking and ended up talking about plastic surgery somehow or another. Kiki and I were both strongly against it, declaring that women who get it don’t believe they’re beautiful, and that we think it’s better for someone to say “She’s pretty good looking” than to say “She’s friggin gorgeous but it’s all fake.” Stressing natural beauty over manmade falseness. Lore stressed that it wasn’t a big deal, that people in Mexico do it all the time, that it’s super cheap and a boyfriend of hers almost bought her boobs once. Kiki and I were both appalled … come to find out a couple days later that the nose Lore has now isn’t the one she was born with. Whoops.

She was also telling us about how she doesn’t really pal around with her old friends ever since she split up with her ex boyfriend – that most of her friends were also his, and so to avoid awkwardness she’s just kinda quit hanging out altogether. So Kiki and I declared that we would be her new friends, so we took her with us to the bailet folclorico downtown in this grand old theater where we met up with another couple of kids from the program. It was seriously impressive, and just fifty pesos, which is less than five bucks. Sweet!

FRIDAY: We went home after a Kiki watched me practice piano until my hands got tired and ate, then went with Lore to meet some friends in the city center – the same ones we met at the bailet last night. We went to the Mercado San Juan de Dios again, the one from when we went downtown with Mom last weekend, so that was kinda fun, so that the girl Monica could look for a violin to take lessons with. Then we needed to head back to make it to the futbol game in time – our school’s home team was playing a big deal team from Mexico City and we all wanted to go and pretend like we were longtime fans. But Monica and Daniel wanted to wait for another chick who was super late, and we did a lot of sitting around.

I have a problem with restlessness. It manifests a little in everyday life, but it goes over the top when I’m traveling. We were sitting waiting for this chick to show, this chick I’d never met before in my life, and she was taking way too long to get there, meanwhile the time was burning and we were supposed to meet my homoboy before the game for a drink but time was awastin and everyone was wanting to take pictures of the group in different combinations and I HATE being in photos and it was making me go bonkers plus the clouds were gathering and threatening to start raining at any minute…

…when the chick finally showed, there was MORE indecision going on, more like well are we gonna take cabs or a bus and are we going together or in groups and meanwhile if we take a bus it’s gonna take too long, I wanted to hop a cab with Kiki and Lore because I needed to go back to the house to get my ticket anyway because I’d thought we were going to be going back by there so I left it there and then get to the game but they were all well wait are we gonna blah blah…

…then the rain started and I just started walking. I figured anyone who wanted to come with me could, and I’d be able to manage either way. Kiki and Lore hopped the cab with me and we made it to the house just in time to make it to the game just in time and had a BLAST. You would not BELIEVE the fight songs these guys kept singing – some completely appropriate to be repeated, some I wouldn’t even repeat in a bar. We went expecting to get SMOKED by the other team, but we smoked them three to zero. The stadium was entirely full and went wild.

We were standing with a group of exchange students who all wanted to go out partying afterward. Neither Kiki nor I really had any desire to go somewhere crazy (Lore hadn’t gone to the game with us), nor my homoboy (whose name I intentionally keep omitting because some folks back home might know him and I don’t want his antics recounted without his consent) and we wanted to just find a place nearby to sit and get a bite and a drink and head home… but the whole group jumped on a bus so we, like good little sheep, followed. These two Korean girls from Kiki’s class were following too, and while grammatically and on paper their Spanish is great, when it comes time to speak they’re way too shy and apologetic to be any good at all. We felt the need to look out for them, and when we all ended up at the place the Germans had been leading us, it looked like a posh dance club with a dress code and a line to get in. Man, all we wanted was a cheap taqueria and a margarita! So we looked at the place, at each other, at the place, at each other… and there it was again. A group of people, standing around, indecisive, wondering what to do. Kiki and I had spotted a place we were interested in eating at, so after more than enough indecision we just said, alright, we’re going. Whoever wants to can come. Ended up us two, my homoboy, Daniel, and the two Korean girls.

We ate entirely too many tacos and quesadillas and I drank my weight in horchata and the whole table’s ticket was like two hundred twenty pesos and we paid and made our respective ways home. What a week!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Catching up - thoughts mostly, few events.

Before I left, people warned me about a lot of things. I tried not to roll my eyes – of COURSE there are dangers any time anyone travels anywhere. I was cautioned against swine flu, against kidnapping, against rape, against drug wars, against drinking the water… all sorts of nonsense. Well, I don’t want to say nonsense, but drug wars and etc are on the border and in Mexico City and of course I won’t drink out of the tap, every place has filtered or bottled water from which the ice is made and swine flu’s on the decline and I’m not a YOPI anyway…

No, I don’t think my biggest threat is human nor bacterial. My biggest threat is mechanical. If something horrible happens to me while I’m in Mexico, my money is on getting hit by an automobile. It’s like a constant game of frogger. I’ll tell you how it’s going to happen, too. I’m pretty good at checking the lights, checking the traffic, etc. The one thing I keep forgetting is that even though you think you’re good to cross, sometimes a car comes speeding up from behind you to make a quick right turn without doing a lot of checking first.

I’ve started having bilingual dreams. That started pretty early, actually. Like my second or third night here I had this bilingual dream in which I was a man but also at the same time somehow (dream logic, don’t ask) a dog who was chasing a horse that was also at the same time an Indian. Native, not Hindustani. Every time I managed to catch up to him we would talk, I can’t tell you what was said, but in both languages at the same time and telepathically. Then he’d wrap a rope around my neck until I backed off and the chase would begin again. No idea.

There are no clocks anywhere here. Like, in the States every bank has a big clock out front, whether analog or digital. But I don’t have a phone anymore and can’t wear a watch since the metal screws up my skin for some reason, and when I leave the house in the morning, I make it all the way to the classroom without ever finding out what time it is unless I ask someone with a phone. Bizarre.

I’m thinking in Spanish, too. What’s more, I find I’m losing English words sometimes, or slipping up, or finding that there’s just no English substitute for the Spanish word I want to use. One American friend told me about something he’d ordered, how it wasn’t fitting like he’d expected, and I couldn’t remember the English word for “acostumbrarse.” I had to get out my damn dictionary and look it up to find out I’d lost the phrase “get used to it.” I was talking with the mom and sister here, telling them about a lady I know who lived up until age 96 perfectly healthy and of sound mind, even peppy and able to drive around and etc., until she caught… and since I didn’t know the word in Spanish I couldn’t think of it in English either. After three days of struggling with not being able to think of it, but knowing it started with a P, I sat down with my dictionary and read every friggin entry under P until I got to pneumonia. And words like “platicar,” it just doesn’t have the same meaning in any English translation, and what on earth do I use in place of the magical word “Bueno”? Not when it’s used as an adjective but when it’s used as a placeholder. I can’t think of an example, so I’ll just slip it in for the rest of this entry when it’s appropriate.

I still don’t really feel like I’m in a foreign country, and I’m not really having culture shock like I did when I worked in Scotland. Bueno, clearly I know I’m not in Little Rock anymore, Toto, but I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’re in the same time zone or that I didn’t have to cross an ocean to get here or that I spent so much time getting to know Mexicans while I was in Arkansas and Kentucky… I did get a little emotional either last night or the night before, thinking about how the mother in this house has made me feel more loved in the last week than my own mother has in the last decade and a half. Really I love this woman, you guys. It’s kinda pathetic. She reminds me of my own mom just enough to substitute… well, those of you who know me know I’ve always looked for substitute moms, but I’ve never gotten to live with one before, and this is really just some glorious stuff for me.

One other way I might die is from starting a fight with one of the men here. Apparently not only is it culturally acceptable for passing dudes to whistle, hoot, yell, bark like dogs, squeal like monkeys, or conjure up names or phrases, but some girls, if they don’t hear it, are actually upset and wonder what’s wrong with them. One day some horny asshat is going to be driving past and honk and holler and I’m going to flip the bird and he’s going to stop and ask what’s wrong with me and I’m going to ask what’s wrong with him and there will be fisticuffs. Bueno, I probably won’t do that, but just in case, this sassy gringa keeps a knife nearby.

Got to see my football playing husband again. That’s football as in futbol, not as in handegg, or American Footbal. When I spent last Thursday with my homo boyfriend checking the team out, he really wanted the team so I bartered to get just one. I figured they might be practicing again, and you know, I like to go to museums or go see nice buildings or cathedrals – I like looking at pretty things! So I thought I’d go see if they were there and they weren’t and as I turned to walk away, the one I bartered for walked right past me. Didn’t notice me at all, but you know, destiny’s tricky sometimes, and he might not know about our impending affair yet.

I guess the last thing I have to talk about is another cultural difference. Americans are really direct in the way we communicate. It’s no big deal to walk into an office and say “Can I sign up to go on the such and such here?” But like here, you really have to take the time to say Hello, How are you or Good morning before you launch into a conversation. I’m getting better at it. I catch myself and say Disculpe, Buenas tardes, and then go on…

A lot has been going on besides these random thoughts – classes, laundry and hanging it to dry on the roof where the dogs live, taking taxis with random locals, buying shoes, having Mexican sushi delivered, the extended family I’m picking out, a trip to the city center to see some local dance stuff… but this is long enough. I’ll try and catch up soon. I’m a busy girl between class, homework, piano class, dance class, long-ass walks and bus trips to get anywhere, and wanting to spend time with my friends and family too. I’ll hopefully post pics on a site somewhere soon besides just on facebook so other people can see them.

Anyone who wants to send me love, just ask for my address. Bueno, Anyone who doesn’t, I love you too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sunday we went to some markets

So basically, Kiki and I talk about how awesome our host-mom is all the time.

My gentleman friend from my home university has been getting jealous. Apparently his treats him like the red-headed stepchild. She has told him he’s not allowed to come in her part of the house, he has to be home by ten because she locks the house up and otherwise he can’t get in, he has to be there for meals, etc etc etc, the best part is he has to pay his rent in American dollars.

We’re in friggin Mexico. We go to the ATM and pesos come out. But she expects him to exchange them for dollars and pay her so she can get a better exchange rate from her bank and make like thirty centavos per dollar. Yeah. That’s like three cents.

So anyway, our mom said we could bring Cory to the markets with us on Sunday because she’s so super sweet. First we went to one that’s in the middle of a street on the median. It was full of antiques – I saw one thing there I definitely want to get for one of my housesitters but it was priced a little high. I’ll keep an eye out for another. I don’t want to blow the surprise altogether but… okay, I will.

So of course the vast majority of Mexico is Catholic. There’s a tradition here whereby if some “miracle” happens in your life after you pray to somebody, you make a tiny painting that sort of displays the miracle with some writing underneath where you explain what happens. They’re generally small, usually painted on thin pieces of metal, and always positively charming. Sam, heads up. I think you want one for your house. I think I want one too. But I bought a huge ridiculous chunk of amber to put on a necklace, as well as a belt buckle with who other than the Powderpuff girls on it, it’s so precious and it was one yankee dollar.

We went to another big big market where I bought a cute top and looked at all kinds of nonsense and took some pictures. They sold everything there, from souveniers, to clothes and shoes, to candies and fruits and nuts and meats and … menudo and cow’s feet and pigs heads and… yech. Saw some crazy stuff there. Apparently the third floor is “puras brujerias” – little witchcraft charms and such. Missed out on that floor and intend to head back.

On the way home I saw a sign for tortas ahogadas. I’ve seen it a lot so I asked what ahogada meant. They couldn’t really describe it (Mom nor Lore, they took us out) so I looked it up in my dictionary and it means “drowned.” Which is to say, it’s a sandwich that is literally swimming in red sauce. Mom was all psyched up about it and said she was going to take us to the best stand to get tortas ahogadas.

And now we come to how I got Montezuma’s revenge. But seriously, they were delicious.

It’s cool, we went home and sat in the little plaza and talked about everything in the whole world – different dances traditional to Mexico and how America doesn’t have different regional music or dances, and then how the indigenous people did but gringos don’t, then to politics then to religion then to every other possible thing we could talk about and it was actually quite fun, even if I try to avoid those topics of conversation usually. Eventually it was time for dinner and we had some ceviche Mom made and it was quite nice. She fell in love with my friend from school and when we went to drop him off she was actually really sad to see him go. At the end of the night she came into my room with her serious face on.

Sat down and said how sad it made her to think about my friend’s condition – how his mom doesn’t care for him at all and has all these wacky rules about when and where he’s allowed to be and how she wishes she could take him in too. She said if Kiki and I shared a room there would be a space for him. I ran it by Kiki and she was down, so we said we would run it by my friend the next day…


Saturday we went downtown

I was on campus by 8:30.

I’ll say that again. I was on campus by 8:30 AM.

“Mom” drove Kiki and I in and dropped us off. Sure it was Saturday, but we’d been told at the orientation about a little trip to the city center and we wanted to take advantage of it. It was hit and miss, and mostly miss. The common theme here is, nobody knows what’s going on and we’re all really under-informed. So we weren’t really told what we were going to do, got there and kinda just stood around for a good twenty minutes wondering what the hell we were doing there, and you KNOW how I can be early in the morning…

Eventually this guide showed up and led us into the building we were standing in front of. Not just us, though; also a few guards with big friggin guns. I don’t know what they were, but I took a picture of Kiki standing in front of them so maybe one of you can tell me. We did a lot of wandering around, a handful of hours, and he told us what we were seeing. Problem is, let’s be honest – my Spanish isn’t exactly perfect. What’s more, he was talking into one of those bullhorn things and while it did raise the overall volume of his voice, it muffled it so much that I understood half or less of the sum total of what he said. It really felt like a total waste – I could show myself around, read, ask questions, and learn that way rather than be rushed from one place to the next never really understanding what’s being said. Le sigh!

We finished up in a plaza in front of some old building, who knows what, with some statues, who knows by whom, and went to eat in a little restaurant nearby. There was stuff all over the menu, but you know as soon as I saw they had fish tacos I quit looking.

For more fun and confusion, the two boys who went as ‘guides’ from the school with us had each told people a different time to meet back up – one said at 1 and one said at 2. The boy from my school and I ran into a group of kids, two boys and a girl, from the United States, who were drunk. They had come to meet back up with the group at 1, didn’t see anyone, and decided to go back to drink more – they invited us to come with. At first we were a little interested, but then as we walked we saw that not only did they not speak any Spanish, but they weren’t even trying. I’m just not trying to be *that* tourist in any country I visit. They were drunk and acting silly and really weren’t worried about meeting back up to catch the bus back at all… so we ditched them. Went back and immediately found the group and made the precious 19 second video you may have seen on my facebook page.

Kiki’s fascinated with accents, I think, and encouraged us to talk in an Arkansan one about how smoking hot we thought she was. It just happened. It was pretty fun.

Now I can’t remember if it was Friday or Saturday that we went back out after the siesta with our “Mom.” We hit up a local market and went to the Wal-Mart. Oh yeah, I said it. It was actually kinda nifty – it was in a little plaza with a group of other shops which we also explored. It was a super cool mall. That night I ate more of the leftover meat in the sauce, and some more taquitos on the side. Y’all, I am eating like a queen here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday was orientation

Well I’m behind. I’ve been a very busy MexiCAN.

I think I last wrote Thursday. The next morning was Friday and orientation at the University, as well as a placement test to find out what level we would be in. It started at nine…

…but I have to tell you about my homestay sister first! Her name is Ageliki, a fine Greek name, a part-native girl from Canada. We went and picked her up from the airport, Guille, Lore and I, and got good and lost in the area nearby. But we decided we didn’t get lost, we were just getting to know the city better, and it was nice! They called it a bad part of town, but to me it was beautiful – after dark, who knows. And everyone there was so kind – Guille asked several people, just random people in the car next to us or on the sidewalk, if they would tell us how to get to the airport and everyone was so willing to help. One truck driver told us just to follow him for a ways! We got there JUST in time to find which door she’d be coming out of and hold up the sign. We’ve become fast friends – she’s a brave traveler with a great sense of humor and a really kind heart.

Bueno. So that’s Kiki, and we were both going to take the bus from our part of town to the school… but when we woke up for breakfast Mom said she’d be driving us to school that day. So sweet! So she drove us in like a precious mother hen and gave us hugs and kisses goodbye. We got there and met up with the boy from my school who had nothing good to say about his mom, so we just went on and on about how ours is this perfect loving angel and he got a little jealous, natch.

Some guy talked first. I’m sure he was important because he kicked it all off in this nice suit, but I can’t remember his name or position. He told us about a few things in Mexico – that we have to be super cautious crossing the street since it’s basically a big game of Frogger here and the cars get points for hitting us or something. He told the women to get ready to ignore lots of whistles and comments, then talked about diarrhea for a while before cautioning us against heavy drinking. He got done and we had to listen to a few more people prattle on about the same things, we watched this video about the history of la Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara and all its dozen or more campuses… man. Can you tell I was bored?

One thing I perked up for was an American doctor from Texas talking about this new pill he is testing. Ours will be the last group to be tested before the pill is taken to the FDA for approval. Already there exist pills that help with the diarrhea once you get it – this one will be a preventative pill that the traveler takes for two weeks when first traveling to a developing country. Half the group, he said, will get the pill and half will get placebo, but all will get paid minimum $80 and maybe $100 or more depending on whether you get sick and how many times. That’s American money, by the way, so you know I signed up. I have to keep this diary about what time I eat, what time I take these pills, then answer all these questions about my daily movements and how they came out.

Just to skip ahead a little, today, Monday, I decided I’m definitely in the placebo group. Somebody ain’t altogether well in the belly right now.
So after all the talking and the video and talks about future trips and stuff, we were paraded across campus to take the placement test – out of nine levels, I tested into level five. Not too bad, I reckon. I tried to study the afternoon before but I just fell asleep. By the way, I have really fallen comfortably into the schedule of eating and sleeping here. It’s a breakfast, normal like we do (although I hear some eat beans or chilaquiles or different things, more savory things for breakfast, but my mom makes cereal and fruit and juice and coffee), you head out early (for me – it’s like 8AM or so), get back by sometime around one until three PM, have a big honkin lunch and take a nap, then wake back up to do things and have a late late light dinner, like any time from eight until ten.

So after our tests, we went to get student IDs and then were told we were free. Kiki and I and another student from Washington state named Daniel went looking for the music school because they wanted to take guitar lessons and I wanted to take the bus back with Kiki to show her how it goes more or less. We found it by wandering around more or less, and these two precious tiny old men were inside with a couple or so students. The viejito at the door started asking what they wanted to play and then asked me what I play – I said banjo and piano even though I had no intention of taking any lessons, and he pointed to the other viejito and said that he was the piano teacher. He called him over and introduced us, and I was pretty much told to go play something. I apologized, saying I hadn’t taken lessons in years and hadn’t played much for months, but picked out a Beethoven tune and then a Regina Spektor tune. I was then pretty much told I would be signing up for lessons.

You know what? I’m actually really excited about it. I haven’t taken lessons in years and the guy is a classical piano teacher, and that’s what I really like to play. He picked out some Bach, some Mozart, some Beethoven and they all sounded like songs I would really enjoy playing.

When Kiki and I finally made it back to the house, our mom was so worried! She said that if we had taken another half hour to get home she was about to call the university looking for us and then drive over to find us. Her genuine caring about us is so… just … awesome. Really I wish she was my real mom. She reminds me of my real mom a lot, mostly in the hair and a little in the face and the laugh, only she’s much nicer and I actually feel like she loves me. It’s bizarre. I’m never leaving this house. Okay, of course I am, but I really intend to keep in touch with this family for a while.

It’s crazy – the kids get home and sit on the couch watching television together and cuddle, the mom is just full of real genuine caring for everyone… It makes the house feel like such a warm, positive energy filled HOME. I’m so happy here it’s ridiculous.

So that was Friday. Mom had made this delicious meat in this sauce with a gorgeous red rice on the side and I chowed DOWN. Ate two servings for lunch, took my nap, woke up and hung out with the fam a bit and then had another serving for dinner. If she keeps cooking food this good, I’ma be a big ole fatty when I come home, y’all.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lunchtime in Guadalajara

WELL! I should start with the last leg of the flight I suppose.

There are two other students from my school who’re coming this semester. One’s a boy, one’s a girl, and I feel pretty sure the boy and I are going to be fast friends. We were going to be on the same flight from Dallas to Mexico, so I started looking for him after all the excitement about the troops coming through, which by the way, was one of the most moving things I’ve experienced in my short life. I found him and we started talking about the placement test we would have to take Friday, the families we were joining, and other preparatory nonsense, when an announcement came on about our flight. The woman said there were some exit row seats available… that’s all I needed to hear. I took off running and said my friend and I needed to be in them. Look, I have a lot of leg, and the exit rows have the most leg room. I’m down with the responsibility, I think I could manage in a pinch. So we got to sit together and have lots of leg room, that was nice.
But we didn’t really have any idea what would happen when we got there. We heard something about there might be a bus there from the university to pick us up, that there might be someone with a sign that said UNIVERSIDAD AUTONOMA DE GUADALAJARA or something… we didn’t know. Would he take us to the University and we’d find our homes from there? But we made it through customs and baggage and everything and as soon as we walked through the doors together, a man started excitedly waving two signs, each with one of our names on it. Whoops, so much for blending in at all.
Mario was a perfect gentleman. On the drive he asked us about ourselves, told us the history of how UAG got started, which was beautiful and inspirational, and also told us why the people of Guadalajara are called Tapatíos – one part of it is truth, he said, and one part legend. The truth, he said, is that the indigenous people who lived here used to say Tapatíotl for a form of bartering that involved trading three for one. So for example I have a goat, and you want to trade but all you have are chickens – you’d give me three for my one, and it was quite common. The legend part is that when the Spaniards started moving in, and the area was called Nueva Galicia, the governor’s wife was pregnant. They didn’t have real tests like we do today, of course, to tell people it’s a boy, it’s a girl, it’s healthy, it’s going to have these problems, etc. But the doctor was able to tell the governor that it was probably twins and possibly triplets. The governor loved children and longed for many, so he prayed that it would be a Tapatíotl situation, the word he’d learned from the indigenous people, a three-for-one deal. They turned out to be only twins, so the governor said that each person who lived there would be his third child, his Tapatío. You know how mushy I am, I ate that up.
He drove me straight to my homestay house and I just fell in love from the front door. It’s very simple, almost minimalistic, unassuming and friendly. The inside has got this great open feeling, even though it’s a small floorplan. It’s three stories though, and the entire house feels like it’s made of air and light. The energy’s great in here. The mom, Guillermina, who insists that I call her Guille, gave me the tour of the house – the sitting and dining room, the kitchen, the patio, then the second story where all the girls live, and have a couple small bathrooms, the top floor where the boys live and the two dogs (!). She’s got three daughters and one son, one daughter has already moved out and started her own family with a husband and a son – Marcela is the daughter and Sebastian her son, and they were here when I arrived. Later Lorena, or Lore, got home, she’s about twenty and we hit it off. Later Gonzalo got home and then we went and picked up Juli from work. Guille made some taquitos de pollo for dinner and was almost apologetic that it wasn’t something more impressive, and that the salsa verde might be too “picoso” for me… but it was absolutely delicious, a great first meal, and the salsa was really calm. I even tried some of the habañero sauce on the side. Red’s okay, it turns out, but green is FRIGGIN PAINFUL.
Oh! My room. Well there’s wireless in the house which will help with my online class, and will mean I don’t have to take my laptop to school with me to use the wireless there, so that’s awesome. But she opened the door and it was just… breathtaking. It’s completely simple, a small one-mattress twin bed, a small desk, a little nightstand and a small … what’s that thing called that’s like a short dresser with the mirror on top? who knows, one of those. Everything was white, big window, clean and fresh and just perfect-feeling. I unpacked and promptly passed out for a couple hours before getting up for the taquitos, a quick shower, and back to bed. I did, after all, wake up at 3AM that day to drive to the airport to arrive early enough to check in for my 7AM international flight…
Woke up today and Guille drove me to meet the boy from my school near the university and we explored a little, that was fun. I took the bus back, managed rather well if I may say so myself, and have gotten here just in time to smell Guille cooking something delicious… off to stuff my face with more spiciness! So far my belly’s been holding up just fine.
I haven’t felt any real stirrings of culture shock just yet. I had it way worse in Scotland, but then I wasn’t staying with a family. We’ll see how it goes, it might take a week or two.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

dallas airport draft

Who started it, though? The clapping.
I thought they were just excited that their
delayed plane was finally here. But no.
I heard the wild applause and looked up
to see everyone looking up even higher,
nearly to the ceiling to the walkway
behind the glass, where they strolled along,
looking back down at us.

Who was the woman who kept hooting
and hollering, in the bright red t-shirt
with her patriotic pom-poms? Surely
she was someone's mom, or maybe just
a woman, who happened to be there,
right place right time sort of thing.

And that man? The one who came
running over with flags for the group
of kids, who asked if they wanted to stand
in front and wave them. Who was he?
Where did he come from in his
silly bow tie with his handful
of tiny flags and why?

Who were those troops? Must've been
a hundred of them, easy, they just
kept strolling, filing down the corridor
and we just kept clapping, cheering,
hooting, hollering, whistling, waving
our flags, who was the one who stopped
to dance and wave, who was the one
who stopped only to stare back at us
for a solid minute while his brothers
and sisters filed past behind him, who
was the girl with the mile-wide smile,
who was the one who cried? Was it me?

Guadalajara bound

I’m typing this in airports as I travel to Guadalajara today. I’ll be staying for four months with a host family I know nothing about, save their partial address and the name of the lady of the house. The last time I spent time abroad like this was just over five years ago, when I did my culinary school internship in Scotland. I lived and worked there for three months before traveling the Mediterranean for a month. For three months, everyone around me spoke English, and during the last month around half of the people I was around did… so this should be fun.

In order to prepare me for the trip, my home university held an orientation a week or two ago. We were given page after page of information – a guide to studying abroad in general as well as specifically in Mexico from my home university, maps of Guadalajara, and several packets from the university in Guadalajara. I always get a kick out of lingual-based humor – puns that only specifically work in a particular language, or jokes or riddles based upon wordplay, or when something is written in a language by a non-native speaker, the particular voice and idiosyncrasies that comes through… So the first thing I chuckled at in the packets from Mexico were particular phrases, like when they caution visitors to be extra careful when crossing the street because “cars do not mind pedestrians as much as they should.” Cute things like that. Then I got to the cultural differences.

First, greetings are explained – people do cheek-kissing in Mexico it says, and then we’re warned not to value strict punctuality too highly and “not get restless when you have to wait.” Dress, table manners, telephone use, etc, then shopping: “In Guadalajara it’s not only good but sensational!” Relaxed concept of time is brought up again, blah blah, and then we get to a paragraph that made me more than a little nervous. It was in all capital letters, and it said:

The following does not mean to frighten you, only to make aware of this information since you are away from home. It’s always better to have more information than none at all. It’s better to exercise some common sense, and be responsible adults.”

Well no hard feelings there, I like to be informed and aware, and exercise common sense while traveling… but then it goes on:

You may be independent and self-confident, but maybe you cannot read between the lines in a FOREIGN culture. The following may be consider leads:
· Provocative dress and dancing
· Accepting drinks from strangers
· Being out by yourself, or in an all-female group acting loud and cheap
· Engaging in discussions about topics like sex with new acquaintances you know nothing about
· Accepting casual invitations, solitary rides, or more night fun in high hours”

Okay now this does worry me. Who sets the standards on what the exact definition of “provocative” is? And I really have to turn down a free drink? What if the bartender him/herself hands it to me as opposed to the stranger? And no hen parties allowed? An “all-female group acting loud and cheap” sounds like a pretty specific description of some of the best times I’ve ever had in my life. Now I’m not one to start blathering on about how I prefer my intercourse with strangers, so that’s not a problem, but that last bulletin is the most vague of all.

Once, in Madrid, a passing boy grabbed my butt. He kept walking, I yelled things about his mother, that was over and done with. Once on an overnight train in Italy, a kind gentleman found me sleeping in the hallway and said I should come into a cabin where he and a couple of other travelers were passing out. They didn’t know him, so it didn’t seem like a setup, it seemed safe and I was tired. I went in and laid down… and he promptly started cuddling. I spent the rest of the night curled into the fetal position while he urged me to “lie down, get comfortable.” Sir, I said, I cannot be comfortable if I’m lying down right now. I don’t go walking down dark alleys by myself in foreign countries, I don’t climb into cars with random passers-by, I think I’m smart and cautious in general.

But then on the next page there are some more warnings, for example, “Girls do not go out to bars or discos alone; they go with friends, trying whenever possible to have a male companion who sees that each person gets home safely.”


So there’s that. On a lighter note, I got every single thing done that I needed to before I left. Cigar box banjo is made, finished, pegged and strung so I’ll have the ability to make music while there. Got a little carrying bag made too. Packed everything on the list I worked on for some time, and packed into only one checked bag and one carry-on. My house practically cleaned itself somehow magically, it’s the cleanest it’s ever been I think, and it all just happened almost effortlessly as I was getting errands done, last-minute supplies purchased, important calls made… things went so ridiculously, inexplicably well it’s feeling like the whole universe is conspiring to get me on this trip. Five years it’s been since I did something like this, and it was the single most formative experience of my life thus far… I’m feeling like this just might blow it out of the water. I’ll be back in four months, and God willing, with my hymen still intact.