Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A time to plant

Last weekend we had a work party to plant corn. Like many people in Oaxaca (and other parts of rural Mexico, I’m sure!) la Casa Hogar grows its own corn. Not long after I arrived in the fall, it was time for harvesting, and now it is time to plant again.

I was struck by the display of community. Both mothers and fathers arrived first thing in the morning, and were served breakfast before beginning to work. Just like during harvesting when the women brought their own baskets for collecting corn, this time the men brought their own coa, a tool for digging. It was clear that this was a task that they had all done countless times; at Casa Hogar, in their own homes and the homes of their families and neighbors. The boys from Casa Hogar and their fathers formed a line and worked their way down the field and back up. The women drew water from the natural spring wells on the property and watered the individual seeds. It was a little comical to see the variety of carrying utensils, 5 gallon paint buckets, pitchers, buckets of all sizes, and cream containers. I listened to the women and girls slip effortlessly between Spanish and Mixteco and was reminded again, that this process of planting and harvesting is old, and these people have been planting corn for a very long time.

As nice as all that sounds, it is definitely hard work. There’s not much shade in a corn field and the sun is hot! Don’t be fooled by the people wearing sweaters, they are for protection from the sun, not warmth! The men worked hard digging the holes with one end of their coa, and using the other end to make a hole for the seeds. Although watering may not sound like hard work, those 5 gallon buckets seem to get heavier the farther you have to carry them. When I asked one of the girls if her family planted corn, the answer was the kind of yes that you only get from a teenager…. Yes, we plant corn… (and I’m tired of it). I think some of the adults were entertained by the idea of me, a gringa, being there. In the US, they don’t work like this, do they?, they asked, already knowing the answer. And then they asked if I was going to drink some pulque with them. (Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the magey plant) I thought it was a joke until someone handed me a glass! The day ended with a delicious chicken dinner, which tasted even better after hard work.

For me, the best part was the realization that more than just seeing this tradition, I was a part of it. Yes, I helped carry water, but not just that. These are the boys and girls that I’ve lived with and worked with for the last 6 months. Many of their parents I’d met before. I have had the privilege of being a part of their community, even if just for a short time.

The coas

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A visit

I cannot believe how quickly March has gone by! And how close I am to Semana Santa; the end of my time at Casa Hogar. It’s definitely starting to sink in how little time I have left and that I am going to be sad to leave. Last week some people from the Methodist church in Huajuapan and San Pedro came. They brought food, soap, etc, and lunch too. Which was good because we were out of all the paper supplies- no paper towels or napkins, and no extra toilet paper. The churches help Casa Hogar by sending basic food staples and other supplies. It’s a nice way for more people to be involved, and it certainly helps. It also means that those basic supplies are not included in the monthly operating budget, and if it has been a while since the last donation, we run out of stuff. It’s an interesting position to be in- so dependent on others. Anyways, I showed some of my pictures to the visitors and someone said how happy everyone looked… playing, working, studying- a full life. Another person told me that the students were going to miss me. It was just one of those moments that rang true for me. It has been a good life here, with playing, working, studying as well as flowers, chicks and puppies. There has been a lot of life. Even though the pace of life is slow, the quality is full. And I think it will be hard to say goodbye. On one hand, I am excited for some traveling, and excited to go home for sure. But… this will be a goodbye that seems big, final. I would love to come back and visit, and probably will someday- but when? It’s hard to know when I will be able to. And even if some of the students are still here, others will have moved on. Some goodbyes will be final. So… three more weeks. That makes me sad… but then, it should, right? It shows that I have, in fact, built a life here.

Everyone at Casa Hogar with our visitors

La Playa

Ok, yes, sometimes I travel. Like last weekend when thanks to Benito Juarez, we had a 3-day weekend. It occurred to me that I had been in Mexico for 5, almost 6 months and had yet to make it to the beach. That seems funny to me when I think about the many weekends I spent at the beach in Colombia. An extra long weekend was the perfect time to journey to the beach. And it was a journey. I took a transporte van to Oaxaca and another transporte to Puerto Escondido, and just like that, 12 hours later I was at the beach! No wonder I hadn’t made it to the beach yet! It was really beautiful, and totally worth the trip. Essentially, it was everything you could ask for in a beach, warm water, sun, palm trees, beautiful sand and rocks for waves to crash on. I came with no agenda- just to enjoy the beach; so that’s what I did! I also found some live music to listen to, some dancing and some yummy food. I ordered a fish fillet meal at a beach restaurant that was a lot like the meals I ate at the beach in Colombia. Granted, it came with Mexican rice, not arroz con coco and French fries, instead of fried plantains, but other than that it was the same. It made me realize that even though it was not an easy school year last year, being able to spend time on beautiful beaches with good friends was certainly a blessing. A little taste of paradise. There was a Spanish teacher who worked out of the hostel I stayed at, and I decided to make an appointment with her. I speak in Spanish every day, but it’s hard to me to tell whether I’m improving any more. We chatted, went through some exercises and I ended up buying some workbooks for subjuntivo (because it’s subjuntivo!). And she said my Spanish was good-yay!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Just an update

So, I’m still in Tlaxiaco… lest you think that I spend all my time traveling… not true. The majority of the time I’m here at Casa Hogar. Life is tranquilo, and that’s good. Days go by with a routine that leaves plenty of time for hanging out, reading and playing games. Mostly, the changes happen slowly, but there are some changes…

It is springtime! The peach tree in front of the house is full of pink blossoms. (No peaches until the summer though.. ) When we returned to Casa Hogar in January, there were 8 new baby chicks. And a couple weeks ago, 5 puppies were born! The cold temperatures of November, December and January are gone, and the sun is officially a sol que quema… I got burnt the other day! Normally, at home, I hate the gloom, ugliness and seemingly never-ending days of February and March. It is marvelous to skip right past that with so many signs of new life… and sunshine every day. Of course, it is pretty dry, and last weekend when we passed some fields with alfalfa, and other green growing things, I could hardly tear my eyes away from all that green. I suddenly had an over-whelming desire to be at Lake Sylvia, sitting in the woods, drinking in the ferns, and the moss, and the green-ness!

Once all the schools were finally back in session, we were (and still are) 4 students less than we had during the first semester. Agustin says this happens every year… there are always changes in the middle of the year. One student was assigned to do his servicio in his home town, and there was no need for him to stay at Casa Hogar anymore, one student is now living with her sister in town, one girl moved in with her boyfriend and another student actually got expelled- yikes! We are expecting at least one new student next week, maybe two. Although, we won’t be advertising to fill the girls’ places. Now there are 14 girls, which is good because there are, in fact, only 14 beds in the girls dormitory. At least now, everyone has her own bed. (That being said, it is not uncommon for them to choose to share beds during the cold winter months… but still.)

I am trying to speak in English more with the students. There are a couple students specifically, who really do try and want to learn. It’s hard; I know how long it took before I felt comfortable speaking in Spanish. I notice students are more likely to say things to me in English now, which is definitely a good sign. Although every once and a while someone will still ask me what weekend means even though I ask them every Sunday, how was your weekend? and it is posted in the common room along with possible responses. *sigh* But we’re working on some other things as well… we’ve had a Vocab Bee and will have another one this week, we’re working on phonics as a way to improve pronunciation (and hopefully build confidence as well) and attendance rewards have been given. Over all, I like the way things are going. It feels good to have a plan. The biggest challenge within this setting really is just getting the kids to come. Finding a time that works, and just working around the fact that they are high school students, they have school activities, required volunteer service, homework, chores and tortillas to make.

One of these things is not like the other...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hierve el Agua

Sunday I went to Hierve el Agua. The colectivo site was easy enough to find, since it was right by the bus station where I arrived, but getting a ride proved to be a little more difficult. Right now, it is the temporada baja, or low tourist season. Which is great for a lot of things, but makes it harder to get a large enough group. I tried to go Saturday afternoon, but by the time I was ready it was late afternoon and there weren’t other people around to go. So, Sunday it was, and by 11:00 we had enough people to go. Because Hierve el Agua is up in the hills with about an hour’s worth of dirt road to travel, this colectivo was really a small pickup with benches rigged up in the back. With 7 of us piled in the back and a family squeezed in the cab, we were off. It reminded me of driving up forest service roads with magnificent views and steep drop-offs.

Literally, hierve el agua means boiling water. It doesn’t boil. They are mineral springs that bubble up lukewarm water. But they are pretty cool. They form pools to swim in, as well as amazing mineral formations. Check it out…

To Mitla!

Since one of my goals was to travel and see more of Oaxaca, I decided to take a trip last weekend. After consulting a copy of Lonely Planet that Katie and Nithim left behind (I love Lonely Planet!), I picked Mitla. Mitla is a small town just outside of Oaxaca City with ruins to see, and a jumping off point to get to Hierve el Agua. I was surprised by how close the ruins were… they really were in the town. They were beautiful, not as big as a site as Monte Alban, perhaps, but they had some amazing, intricate stone designs.

This was my first time really traveling solo. I’ve traveled to and from places on my own plenty, and I’ve gone on weekend trips with friends, but I’d never gone anywhere all on my own, just because. I was so excited to leave Tlaxiaco that morning, to be doing something on my own, something new. And once I got going, I realized that I CAN do this. It’s true I hadn’t traveled solo before, but I have traveled a lot. I know how to do it. So, going alone wasn’t that much different. Except, of course, that I didn't have company. It wasn’t all that bad. Although, since I stayed in a small town, things really did close up early. I went to try to grab something to eat and maybe hang out for a bit, but most places were closed! I guess that’s what happens in a place where the tourists mostly just come during the day. Would things have been better with a friend along? Yes, but I don’t intend to let that stop me from making another trip!

This group of ruins really was in the middle of town.

Decorations inside the palace.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Day in Tlaxiaco

Every day in Tlaxiaco, vendors set up their goods alongside the main plaza. Recently, in and among the regular vendors selling fruits, vegetables, clothes, pirated cd’s and movies, have been vendors selling Valentine’s Day items. Fake roses with perfume, stuffed animals, bags of candy, and heart-shaped balloons saying Kiss Me. Which all seemed funny to me. Apart from being overly cheesy, it all seemed out of place... so very American in a place with relatively little outside influence.

At Casa Hogar, we had our own Valentine’s Day event. Students chipped in 10 pesos apiece to have some carne asada and refrescos. Also there was a gift exchange planned, and an evening campfire. Before all that, though, we had a short prayer, Bible study and sang a couple songs.

As I was standing by the campfire, I looked around at everyone enjoying their carne asada, saw new pink blossoms on a nearby tree, watched people bring their presents for the gift exchange… it was all quite festive… in a way that seemed somehow familiar, yet entirely different at the same time. It seemed to have a little bit of a summer BBQ atmosphere, plus springtime, plus Christmas gift exchange…. all around a campfire. It was good.

For the gift exchange we stood in a circle around the campfire to give the gifts. One person started by saying a mí, me tocó a (person’s name), and then gave the gift and a hug to the other person. The person who received the present did the same thing until everyone had a turn. There were always oohs and ahhs when the gift was exchanged between a boy and a girl, along with chants of beso! Beso!

All in all, a good way to spend Valentine's Day.

Lots of onions!

The carne asada, onions and cactus were all grilled up over the campfire.