Hola y bienvenidos a mi clase de español.
Sign up for REMIND! Click on your class above and follow the link.
Hola y bienvenidos a mi clase de español.
Sign up for REMIND! Click on your class above and follow the link.
As you may have seen in the news, the state of Oaxaca is encased in a bit of turmoil. The teachers are protesting reforms, and many others are joining in the fight against what they are calling a corrupt government. Daily protests are the norm and as of Sunday there have been upwards of twelve deaths, scores wounded, and many arrests. My family and I are living in Oaxaca for a month and although we have been surrounded by the protests on more than one occasion, we are completely safe and sound. It seems that this fight has been going on for many years and the months of May and June are typically the busiest as far as the demonstrations go. One never knows what will happen, for this is the first time the teacher’s union leaders have been arrested, AND this is the first time protesters have been killed by the police. However, daily life goes on and we are flowing right along with it. The education we are gleaning from this experience, however unpredictable it may be at times, is incredibly important.
While the fight goes on around us, we are spreading peace and love by making art. Well, that is a bit flowery… I guess you could say we are just making art. The girls are taking an Alebrijes class in the afternoons, and Marty and I are taking a linoleum cut printmaking class in the mornings.
Marty has us doing a daily workout regimen to combat all of the food we are eating and I am happy to report that this morning was the first time in a week that the girls and I weren’t too sore to make it down the stairs without wincing.
We have a little less than two weeks left and already the girls are lamenting our departure.
(They do however greatly miss their grandparents and animals.)
Peace and love!
When I was in my early 20’s, I lived in Israel for several months. I recall one day my mother calling me with a frantic tone in her voice. Watching CNN, she had seen scud missiles being dropped on that tiny country and wanted to know if I was O.K. Earlier that day, I had been working at my waitressing job on the beach, enjoying the sound of the waves while schlepping hummus and drinks to the customers. I assured her that I was perfectly fine and had no idea that anything that alarming was occurring around me. I learned a very valuable lesson that day… media is often used as a tool to keep people in a state of fear, and while it was quite possible that a scud missile was dropped somewhere in a far corner of that country, it had in no way affected my daily life. While I am sure this view of the media is a generalization, I have seen it happen time and again during the past 25 years of my international traveling forays.
So, here I sit in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, in the midst of teacher protests that are growing more heated by the day. In the past, our family vacations consisted of traveling to several locales over the span of a few weeks. This summer we chose to stay in one place for a month to experience daily life. And experiencing it, we certainly are! In addition to sightseeing and getting to know café baristas so well they know our names when we walk in the door, we are also dealing with daily issues such as running out of fresh water and what to do with our garbage when we miss the weekly garbage truck. (As we discovered this morning, you just lug it to a busy street corner and dump it with the other bags.)
Regarding the mounting civil unrest, my first clue that something was awry was when I saw the piles of burning tires in the streets last Sunday morning. Then, of course, there was the astonishing amount of federal police officers with heavy weaponry at the airport. I brushed that one off as the police merely taking precautionary measures. Next came the staggering lines into the gas station that snaked down several city blocks. I recall telling Marty that I had a sneaking suspicion that something big was about to go down. Low and behold, the next day I read that the protesters were blocking the highway that led from the Pemex petroleum plant into the city, and gas shortages were a real possibility. Yesterday I woke to the din of incessant police sirens that seemed to last the entire day, and yesterday evening when we finally ventured outside, the streets were practically deserted. Our waitress told us it was due to a combination of being Sunday, and of course because of the teacher protests.
So now I am more paying attention. The news said that six protesters were killed yesterday in a small town outside of that gas plant and that if the blocking of the petroleum plant continued much longer they would shut down the entire plant. This of course would mean no gas in Oaxaca… and no jet fuel to get us home. Apparently there were rumors that the Zócalo was going to be cleared of protesters last night… undoubtedly using force. He said that with the rise in use of Twitter and Facebook, equal amounts of positive and negative information gets spread very quickly and most of it never actually occurs. As it turns out, the incident at the Zócalo never actually happened. I am trying to stay rational as really we have not seen any violence nor felt the affects of what is happening around us. Honestly, if I weren’t reading the news on the Internet, I would not really know what was going on. It’s just that I am a worrier by nature and I like to be prepared for whatever comes my way. I have already been strategizing possible escape routes if the proverbial excrement hits the fan. Other than riding out of the state on bicycles, I am sort of drawing a blank.
Talk about an amazing teaching moment for our children.
I am optimistic that all will be well and this thing will clear up soon. If I am wrong, we will deal with what comes our way and figure it out. Until then, we will continue our adventures and have one heck of a story to tell when we get home!
An hour later…
Ok… now I am freaking out a bit. Just after writing this, the language school had a mandatory meeting to explain the current political situation to the students. Turns out, the only way out of the state is by plane. They allayed out fears, and then we walked out of the hour-long meeting only to find a huge protest occurring just outside the school gate. The fireworks… I hope that’s what they are… are deafening and the gates are now locked. So at the moment, we are trapped in the school waiting for the protest to dissipate, which it doesn’t look like will happen anytime soon. The protest is simply a long parade of people yelling for justice and apart from the loud booms of the fireworks, it appears to be peaceful. As I age, I think I might be getting tired of such adventures! Oh, and I’m ready for lunch. 🙂
Sorry Mom for freaking you out too.
Another hour later…
The protest has moved passed us, the gates are open, and it looks as if nothing ever happened.
My students and I generally watch this movie every year called Pulling Strings. It’s about an American woman working at an embassy in Mexico City. It is basically a rom-com, but I like it because the movie is equally in English and Spanish (It’s on Netflix). In one scene, the woman is asking a Mariachi singer why people in Mexico are notoriously late. He said that Mexicans are optimists. When they tell you what time they will arrive, it is more of a wish. They hope to be there at that time, but more than likely, they will not.
I was reminded of this today as I sat outside of a locksmith shop on a random street corner here in Oaxaca. Allow me to digress…
It all started Wednesday when I took Max to the airport. As our taxi drove in, we were a bit taken aback at the multitude of Federales standing in full-armed regalia at the entrance. Machine guns, rifles, clubs, shields, you name it, they had it. There were a good 200 of them then, and I hear there are roughly 5,000 of them now. The ten-year anniversary of the 2006 teacher strikes has added fire to the protestors cause, and apart from shutting down most of the major highways in the state of Oaxaca, there are rumors that they might march to the airport to try to shut it down. Great timing for flying out, no? Hopefully all of this will be resolved before we try to fly out in two weeks.
Needless to say, Max and I waited for 2 hours before finding out that his flight was delayed. About ten minutes before the flight was to take off, his own personal attendant escorted him through customs. I was told to stay at the airport until the flight actually left the landing strip, you know, just in case. Therefore, I proceeded to wait another 2 hours playing solitaire on the floor, as all 15 of the seats in the entire airport were occupied. When the departure screen finally said he was in flight, the collectivo bus/taxi line snaked out the door and rather than wait any longer I went outside to catch a good ol’ yellow taxi. Unbeknownst to me, taxis were no longer allowed past the airport gates and I had to hoof it a good mile to the highway outside of the gates. Apparently, yellow taxis were not allowed to pick up passengers near the airport either and there I was standing on the street corner with groups of people waiting for who knows what. After about 20 minutes in the baking sun, a shoddy maroon and white taxi (the ones tourists are told to avoid) pulled up and two indigenous looking ladies climbed in. Desperate, I asked if I could share the taxi with them. I had no idea where they were headed, but at this point I had ceased to care. During our trip around the city trying to find routes that were not blockaded by the protesters, I kept having flashbacks of my youth, traveling alone wondering if I would make it to my next meal.
About 45 minutes later, they were dropped off on some random street that looked vaguely familiar. I could see the domes of churches in the near distance and figured I was in the general vicinity of where I wanted to go. I told the taxi driver the name of a street near our house and he was happy enough to take me the extra blocks to my colonia. Little did I know that sharing a cab did not mean that I got it any cheaper. He gouged me for full price, and I grudgingly paid because I so desperately wanted the ordeal to be over.
When I finally walked in the door to our house, Marty was on the phone to the states trying to get a friend to hack into my computer to track me down, and the girls were upstairs planning what to do with the rest of their lives if I never returned. Yes, it was that dramatic. We have no cell phones here and apparently my telepathic messages never reached them.
My next little adventure occurred on Thursday while the girls were at school. Marty and I decided to walk to a different side of town and find the Starbucks. It’s not that we crave the overpriced coffee, it’s just that it is one of a handful of places here that I knew must have air-con and we were hot and sick of killing mosquitoes. Saying that we stumbled into the wealthy side of town would be an understatement. We’re talking fancy outdoor malls, Irish brewpubs, Nike stores, and froyo (frozen yogurt stores). ALL of the places had air-con here! It was super odd and other than the Churro Frappuccino (yes, a churro Frappuccino!) the Starbucks was just like all other Starbucks on the planet. I drank my chai and we got out of there as fast as we could.
As we walked back to pick up the girls, I was sort of hoping that my ordeals with taxis and long waits were over, but alas, any time you choose to leave the house, you should be prepared for anything…
If you know my husband well, you will know that he trusts everyone and feels little need to lock doors, widows, etc… Our house here seems to be in a safe enough neighborhood, but we not only have a door with multiple locks, but also a wrought iron gate in front of the door fashioned with a rather large u-lock. When we got here, we were told to make sure we locked both, even if we were home, but Marty, being Marty, found that excessive. Yesterday, he went out for a run and when he returned he forced the family to join in his workout. Afterwards, I opened the door to make sure the gate was locked, and found that the U-lock was gone. Apparently, he neglected to close it and it was stolen. Why anyone would want an industrial strength U-lock without the keys is beyond me, but for someone I suppose it held some value. I emailed our house manager and was told to purchase another lock and make 7 copies of the keys.
The next morning, I was about to head out in search of a locksmith, when the maid showed up for the week. I explained the situation to her and she sort of freaked out. Apparently, a lock had been broken off of the gate two guests ago and she was afraid to be there alone. That reassured me, of course. Now I had a new reason to hurry the hell up and find another lock. I had seen a shop earlier in the week, but at 9:30 a.m., it was still closed. Next door was a small stationary store and the man working there suggested I get the phone number off of the front wall and call the owner. I went back, jotted the number down on my hand, and returned to the school supply place to see if the shop owner would let me use his phone. I got through and was told he would be there in 15 minutes. Fifty-five minutes later, I was still standing on the corner waiting. I decided to give up and return to the stationary store to ask the man if he knew of anywhere else I could buy a U-lock. He was kind enough to write down the name and address of a store about 7 miles away. I left with the intention of taking a taxi, but when I walked out… low and behold the lock shop was now open. Feeling optimistic, I headed over and was dismayed to find out that they didn’t sell locks.
Next, I walked to the language school to tell Marty I was still alive, lest we have another incident like the day before. Of course, I found him in the courtyard making yard art with flowers, leaves, and sticks. He was in competition with the man trying to clean up the gardens, and he had to finish his masterpiece before it was swept away.
Before hailing a taxi to the other side of town, I decided to ask the people at the school if they knew where I could buy a lock. Luckily, there was a store a few blocks away, and this time I made Marty join me so that he could share in the suffering. We bought the lock, but unfortunately they did not make keys. By this point I was exhausted and I gladly let Marty go it alone on the key search. It seems that he headed back to the same place I went just an hour before, but it was closed again. How’s that for regular business hours? Knowing that he was to meet us in an hour, he hoofed it to the non-tourist side of town. Apparently, he found a guy making keys in a little street stall, but he also stumbled upon the red-light district and had a slight run-in with ladies of the evening working in the early afternoon.
Needless to say, by the time we finally met up at 12:30, we were both ready to call it a day. This, of course, gave us a solid excuse to spend the next few hours in cafés recuperating with amazing food and frappes. The girls successfully finished their first week of classes, and next week as they work through week 2, their father and I will be taking art classes at a little local studio. I sort of hate taking art classes with Marty, I mean, please. However, I will suck it up and go with the saying, “The couple that makes art together, stays together.”… or, they want to kill each other.
Vamos a ver.
The girls started language classes Monday at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. They were apprehensive at first, because rather than letting them take the children’s’ classes, I signed them up for the adult classes. I figured that if they were here to learn, they might as well jump right in. When we arrived, they had to take a written and oral test to figure out their proficiency level. I think that freaked them out, but Marty told me to back off and they handled it just fine. They were put in a class with two other students, a 20-year old boy from Ireland and a 13-year old girl from Alabama. Perfect! The boy, Emmanuel, is here on a scholarship to help disadvantaged kids in the countryside. His family immigrated to Ireland many years ago from Africa and he is studying in Dublin. This is great, because now we know someone we can visit in Ireland if we ever get to go on that dream vacation. You know, the one where you bicycle around Ireland going from pub to pub?
Carmela and Pilar entered the class with looks of apprehension, but emerged 3 hours later laughing and happy as clams. They loved it and spent the rest of the day begging me to help them practice what they learned. Honestly, I was quite impressed with what they learned in just one day. They even requested that next week instead of studying only 3 hours a day, they would like to do the 7-hour a day program. Well…. OK, I suppose.
Our friend Max leaves today and that leaves us with three more weeks here is Oaxaca. I imagine that means the sight seeing portion of our trip is somewhat over and we will hunker down to study, write, and make art. I guess that also means we have to cut back on eating out and I have to start cooking again. Maybe.
When it comes to material objects, I think most people have certain items that they covet more than others. As for myself, I have a slight issue with scarves and bags. When my aunt and I came to Oaxaca when I was 19, I bought a woven bag from some Oaxacan village and although that bag is in a very bad state today, it remains my favorite. Now that I think about it, I might have subconsciously picked Oaxaca for our summer trip because I wanted another bag just like it. Scary. Long story short, I had been searching for one since we landed, but much to my dismay I had yet to see a bag like it in the markets around the city. Not being one to give up easily, I researched the surrounding villages and their handicrafts and found the name of a village that specialized in handmade woven bags. I found a tour company that went there, and on Sunday we were set to go.
We started the day in search of an early morning breakfast before our guided tour of ‘The Magical Craft Route’ began. We have hit a different café each morning thus far and with the exception of a couple of dodgy experiences, we have been quite lucky. Marty tries a new Frappe at each locale, and I have chai. I think there is a Starbucks somewhere on the other side of town, but luckily we have not stumbled upon it. From omelets with green parsley potatoes to egg and cheese topped bagels with mole sauce, we have tried it all. Yesterday, however, was the most decadent thus far. The girls ordered waffles with Nutella and were shocked when the food emerged. It was a normal enough looking waffle, topped with fresh fruit and cream, but about an inch of Nutella covered the entire waffle. Saying it was a dessert breakfast would be putting it lightly. They were giddy with anticipation when it came out, but by the end of it I think their obsession with Nutella had finally come to an end.
After breakfast we headed towards the Zócalo to find a representative from the San Tours Company to take us out of town. We had been handed a flyer a few days before and knew where we wanted to go. The Zócalo is a park in the center of town, and is generally a lovely open-air, tree-lined space where people can sit or walk around. Since May 15th, however, the Zócalo has been filled with protesting teachers on strike who have taken over the space and set up a tent city where they are protesting the educational reforms the government is trying to impose upon them. Apparently, the government is trying to mandate a fee for tuition and books for the families who send their children to public schools, and in the poorest states like Oaxaca, this means many children will be unable to afford a basic education. Some families have the means to send their children to private schools, so these reforms do not affect them. Most of the people I have talked to see it as just one more way the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. Children here in public school don’t get out for vacation until July, but since the teachers have been on strike, they have already been out for a month. The problem is that not only are the students not getting an education, but the businesses in and around the Zócalo are basically shut down due to the numbers of protesters who have occupied their space. This is completely legal in Mexico and happens regularly. This morning as we were walking around it, the air was filled with smoke as enormous piles of tires and trash had been burned during the night in the middle of the streets. Apparently, it was another act of protest and the police and teachers had clashed over it the night before. We were told it didn’t end well.
The tour was to last from 10 to 5 and include 5 stops along the craft route south of the city. The cost was 250 pesos per person (roughly $13 USD), but seeing as up to this point we were only accustomed to the cramped conditions of squeezing five people into a small taxi, it was totally worth it. Our tour guide was Soledad, a sweet girl from the area that had studied English and business administration in Iowa for a year, and was now saving money to go to the University here. At ten we boarded our spacious 12-passenger, air-conditioned van. We were the only people on the tour, so we had plenty of room to spread out. I really only wanted to go to two places, so we got Soledad to skip the portion of the tour that included a small museum and church so we could spend more time in the villages.
Our first stop was in the small pueblo of Ocotlán de Morelos at the studio of Apolinar Aguilar Velasco, a famous craftsman of handmade swords and knives. We spent a good hour at his studio as he taught us the 100 year old process he uses. What I found amazing was that they use all recycled materials from melted down keys to car pistons. His swords have been featured in many movies like Conan the Barbarian, and he now exports knives and swords to the U.S. He even has a seasonal workshop in Wimberly, Texas where he makes knives for festivals and the movie industry.
Next, we got back into the van and drove to the town of San Martín Tilcajete, famous for Alebrijes, fantastical animals carved out of wood and then painted with bright patterns. We visited the studio of Jacobo y Maria Angeles. The craftsmanship was crazy and it made both Marty and I green with envy.
After eating lunch, we finally headed to search for the bag I wanted in Santo Tomás Jalieza. I was expecting a market-like atmosphere with many vendors and lots of haggling, but was surprised when we pulled up to a large, wooden, open-aired building off of the highway. Apparently, the government built this central co-op type structure two years ago as an initiative to help the weavers of this area consolidate their efforts and therefore become more profitable. It seems to be working and it was downright wonderful. I found the bag I was looking for, but unfortunately there were so many wonderful colors that I couldn’t decide on just one. And then of course, my family became enamored with the array of bags and the innumerable color choices, and they all needed one as well. Lucky for us, we had yet to buy anything on this trip and felt slightly justified in buying more than our fair share. I suppose in the end, the money goes to amazingly talented women. More importantly, their craftsmanship is truly astounding. Whatever helps me sleep at night, I suppose.
We were back in town before five, just in time for nap-thirty. Not wanting to venture out again for dinner, we decided to take a chance on a pizza flyer we found stuck in our door the day before. It was called SUPER PIZZA! How could we go wrong? I called and ordered the pizza, but when I told the man the address, guess what? He had never heard of it. After repeating the address a few times, he assured me he would figure it out and have the pizza to me in 45 minutes. Two hours later, I called him back.
“Oh yes, I remember you. The pizza is on its way,” he said.
Another 30 minutes later, the phone rang.
“I can’t find your place. Can you come downtown and pick it up yourself?”
By now it was 9:15 at night. Desperate, I walked outside to see if I could find the name of some intersection that might help him locate us. Just when I was about to reach the range limit of my little cordless phone, a little old lady came walking down the alley. I decided to take a chance and I asked her if she could get on the phone and tell the pizza guy how to get to our house. Fifteen minutes later, we were scarfing down really cold, sub-par pizza. She even came out of her house when the pizza scooter arrived just to make sure it got there safely.
The girls start language school tomorrow. Excited is not necessarily the word I would use for their outlook, but I look forward to putting them in an uncomfortable situation and watching them figure it out. I am optimistic they will be just fine.
Today we ventured east of the city to the pueblo of Santa Maria del Tule, the famed home of El Tule, a 2000 year old cypress tree that many say is the oldest and largest tree in Latin America. It has a trunk the width of a house and limbs that climb several stories high. A large iron courtyard now surrounds it and you have to pay roughly 50 cents to enter. This is not a bad thing, as the growing pollution is killing the tree and this helps maintain it… or so they say. It seemed more cloistered that it did 25 years ago, but it is still impressive and lovely nonetheless. The gnarled trunk is completely mind boggling the way the branches slither around one another and continue reaching towards the light.
Then of course, we ran into that wacky tour guide again who had his own take on things.
We took a taxi there and back, passing the year-old Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town. Our taxi driver said no one likes it because it puts small stores out of business, but that is the joy of development. Sound familiar? Yeah! (insert sarcasm here)
We spent the rest of the day napping, eating amazing guava mole with plantains in salsa verde, searching for ice cream, watching Marty nonchalantly tag a wall! (he insisted because it was charcoal it would disappear in the rain), and haggling for hand-made crafts. It was another successful day.
Tomorrow we head south out of town to a few villages famous for local crafts. Should be fun.