Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dance classes, train tracks, and a circus (August 26,2011)

So this week has been a little bit different from the first two because Carmen, my señora had to leave unexpectedly on Monday to go to Cuernavaca to care for her youngest sister who is currently fighting breast cancer. From what I understand, the sister usually lives in Mexico City and had to go to Cuernavaca to receive treatment. So, the other sisters are taking turns caring for her while she is there. Unfortunately, that's all I really know about the situation, so I've just been praying and hoping for the best. What that means for me is I am lacking a señora for an unknown period of time. Luckily, Hugo and other Carmen live here with their 14 month old baby girl, so I haven't been left out to dry. Things have just been happening a little bit differently than they would normally. We still have Comida every day, and they still won't let me go anywhere near the sink when I try to help out and do the dishes, it's just different because there are many times when Hugo and Carmen are upstairs, and the house is quiet, and there's no one to ask about what I did after school or tell random stories about the crazy things they have done.

Although it has been a different week, and felt a little more lonely at times, I have appreciated the opportunity to get to know Carmen and Hugo a little more in the process. Hearing about how each one of them wound up here, and the places they have seen is really interesting. Also, after hearing more about their stories, the random things they do make a little bit more sense. For example, Hugo is looking for a job because his last one ended suddenly. For the first two weeks, I couldn't figure out for the life of me how sitting on the couch and watching Mexican soap-operas counted as looking for a job...but no one seemed to mind. All the sudden, the other day he came back from an interview and seemed fairly confident that he was going to land a great job working for a company that sells typical Mexican crap to giftshops all over Mexico and America. Today, I asked him how he found out about the job, and he said that when he was at home, he would read the classifieds and call the places while I was at school. He also said that they had just moved in a few days before I arrived, so it's not like he's been freeloading for a long time. It's just funny how "actively" looking for a job can be so different here. I guess it works in the context of this culture. Also, Carmen decided to go out and look for a job, and had an interview this week. Pretty soon they will both be working individuals. In some ways, Hugo was just proving the stereotype that Mexicans don't make work a priority. However, he was doing it within the context of his culture, which is the part we frequently forget to do when we look at other cultures. Once I asked him about it and saw how relieved he was to hear that he got a job today, his approach made more sense within this context.

After class on Wednesday, four of us wanted to go out for an hour or so, so we stumbled into this restaurant on the second floor of one of the buildings on a corner in the centro. Excited to see the little balconies overlooking the plaza, we ran in the door, saw MTV on the tv at the foot of the stairs, and ran up...not realizing what we were signing up for. The linoleum floor that looked like it belonged in a rundown Walmart, the metal patio chairs (inside and out) were lacking cushions, and the 50 something year old man singing Mexican love songs into a karaoke machine with the words on the screen should have been signs that this was NOT the place for us. However, by the time we put the pieces together, it was too late. We had a table on one of the balconies (meant for two people) around which we crowded all 4 because we wanted to be as far away from the blaring music as possible. The tacky blacklights were  a flashback to glow-in-the-dark mini golf from 1998, and the singer seriously reminded me of Ramón from The Proposal. His expressions, enthusiasm, and overall lack of tallent were equal to the scene in the movie when she has her bachelorette party. Only this was real life...not even kidding...After we had ordered our drinks, I couldn't take it anymore, so I sent one of the girls to go ask the singer if he knew any American songs. Everyone here does. Actually, they probably know more American songs than Mexican love songs. Unfortunately, he said she came back and sat down. A few minutes later, he did manage to find one. So he came running up to our table and asked her if she knew it. We all thought it was a common song so she said yes. Next thing we knew, she was handed the mic, and rushed up to the front to sing for everyone! Unfortunately, she didn't know the song. Actually, I'm pretty sure no one knew that song. So she just stood there...staring at the TV, mumbling the words while we laughed uncontrollably. In America, the singer would have taken over after a verse and covered for her...but no...she stayed up front for the duration of the song. Poor Esther. But it was great. What a great story! After that...we just left. It was too painful to even order more than one drink. A poor choice of location on a Wednesday night, but at least there was Esther's steller singing skills to lighten the mood.

As told by the title of this post, one of the highlights of the week was our dance class which started on Thursday evening. The class started, and we stood up and did these ridiculous warmups...for dance class. We were pointing our toes and stretching in so many ways that the professionals tell you NOT to stretch...but the instructor seemed to think it was the best way to warm up. So we went with it. Then the real class started. We learned some variety of dance that originated in Guanajuato. The only thing I learned that class was what a terrible dancer I am. Can you say born with two left feet??? I have NEVER been so legitimately confused in my life. We would be turning one way, shuffling another and then we were supposed to march in place? What did that even mean? What's was all in Spanish. So sometimes, I didn't know what was going to happen next, and she would start counting. Literally a tenth of a second later, people would all be moving in one direction, and I would be the awkward tall kid with the blank stare on my face. It was not a rewarding experience. I don't know if I have a vindetta against learning traditional dance (aka I don't care about it), or if I was tired, or what happened...but it was not a successful hour and a half experience. Ironically, everyone else LOVED that class. They all left saying how fun it was and how they can't wait til next week...I wish I could say the same. I think it may be time to say "bye-bye" to dance and enjoy a quiet hour in a cafe while everyone else is subjected to that torture next week, and every Thursday from now on. So it looks like I may only be doing 16 units in Mexico...which I'm totally ok with. Especially because I am already dreading the "performance" at the end of the semester. And I am not afraid of the stage...just the dancing.

Moving on...

After that class from you know where we were walking home and decided to venture up to the train tracks we walk under everyday on our way to school. It was really cool because there was a spectacular view of the sunset and the city in the distance. There were some concrete barriers covered in graffiti that made perfect seats, and we just sat there and hung out for a solid hour and a half. Twilight gave way to dark, which revealed incredible lightning in the distance, lighting up the clouds. For me, it was a good chance to breathe after an incredibly frustrating experience, and be reminded that it was going to be ok, even if being in Mexico can be frustrating at times. Someone busted out a guitar, and we just hung out up there, talking about the experience thus far. That was definitely one of my favorite moments of the trip thus far.

Friday is always in interesting day because we only have class until 12:30, and then we are free to do whatever we want. We knew at some point we were all going to go out and celebrate a birthday, but people look at you funny if you show up to any bar or club before 11pm, so we had a lot of time to kill. We all went into the centro for a while, seriously lacking a purpose. Random things would happen, like we would go to a shoe store and want to try something on, but the sizes are completely different. Keeping in mind, we are speaking another language, we tried to figure out the way the rest of the world measures shoe sizes.  30 minutes later, we have a vague idea of what may work, but the store only sells a select few shoes in that size because most Mexicans are TINY. A half hour only to figure out we don't fit in...I could have told you that from the stares we get everyday on the bus, but is a whole new level of being aware of just how gringo we really are. Needless to say, wandering around the centro without a purpose sounds completely dreadful, but it is always an experience. Even figuring out what the ATM is saying is remarkably challenging. Someone accidentally donated 5 pesos to a random charity because at the end of a transaction, it asks if you would like to donate, and we just clicked through it without realizing what was going on. Several hours later, we'd had enough wandering and decided to start to find a place to eat before we went out. Along the way, we encountered several clowns and a man on stilts...

Turns out, there is a circus in town, and they were giving out flyers inviting people in the centro to come and see. At the bottom of the flyer, it says "suggested donation: 50 pesos." In America, that's code for "this is for charity and we aren't really that talented, but take pity on us." But, having nothing better to do, we figured it was worth a shot. We found where they were having the circus and stood in line to get in the door. As we approached, we saw a very small stage with a curtain pulled across the back. Through the gap in the curtain you could see some of the props...namely a large metal hoop. Across from the stage, was a section of very unstable bleachers, with about 7 rows of seating. Off to the sides were some more chairs and benches (apparently they were expecting a full crowd). In my mind, I was terrified that this was going to be the biggest joke ever, and definitely not worth a 50 peso donation. Then the show started. There were clowns, magicians, a mime, men who twirled things, women hanging from the ceiling, unicycles, and a lot of flashy lights and music. Surprisingly, we were all genuinely entertained. The people were very talented, and even the clowns were funny (and I am usually super bored when a clown takes the spotlight). It was so tiny and pathetic looking, but so genuinely fun. There were no exotic animals, and very few flashy costumes, but the slapstick humor completely carried the show. We were all very impressed by the end and more than willing to donate to whatever the cause was. I'm starting to think we are magnets for charity...running 5k's for the peace (we still don't know what that means), accidentally agreeing to support something at the ATM, and the circus fund. The funny thing is, it all happens on accident and with the exception of the ATM, it is a rewarding experience.

After the circus, we wandered into a bar where we celebrated a 21st birthday the way it is meant to be celebrated  Lots of friends, fun, and shots all around. We encountered the group studying in the same university from Oregon (some of them are in our classes), so they joined the party too. It was super low key, but a good way to end the week. There was a pool table in the back of the bar, and plenty of good music, so everyone was happy, even the few in the group who have made it very clear that they have no intention of experiencing the nightlife of Querétaro...I guess we broke down that barrier in the first month.

chinese yo-yo's at the circus...note the party pants he's rocking on the right

waiting to get in to the circus...skeptical

painting her nails on a vespa! and he was moving!

dance class = epic fail. note how i am not even kind of in step with everyone else...

view from the train tracks - the city is where the clouds are, but you can't see it well 

we look so hipster - typical westmont shot

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BERNAL!!!, Parties, Food, and Friends (August 21, 2011)

Well...these past few days have been a fantastic attempt to gain a sense of normality as I become more comfortable in Querétaro. The major event of the week was the start of our classes. It is really interesting because I usually have a class at 9 or 10 in the morning until around 12. Then we come home for Comida, and return to school from 4:30 to 6:30 or 7 every day except for Friday. While this sounds like a completely dreadful schedule, I think it makes sense in the context of the Mexican lifestyle. We don't have to wake up too early, which is good because EVERYONE stays up until at least midnight, and we are the loser Americans who choose to go to bed around 10 or 10:30, if we can. Usually I get roped into sitting at the table with my family for a few hours in the evenings, so I am lucky to be asleep by 11 on a school night. I love them so much, so it's ok. Later in the evenings is usually when I get the scoop on where good places to go to eat or study, so it is time well spent. Then, coming back home in the middle of the day is so nice. It gives me a few hours to do my homework before Comida, or take a nap (usually a combination of both). What starts out as homework time, usually evolves into ciesta. But it's ok, because as previously mentioned, evenings are quite late here. It is nice to get my work done before the evening so we can just stay out after school and hang out in the centro, which is my favorite part of the day. Class itself doesn't seem like it is going to be that hard. My two classes at the UAQ (the big university) are phenomenal. I am going to learn so much about the language and how it relates directly to the culture of today. The professors speak clearly and are easy to understand. The history and art classes are a little more difficult because the professors talk really fast, and they both talked straight through the full hour and a half, so three hours later my brain was a little fried. But I think that is largely because it was the intro day, and especially the art class will have us doing projects almost every time we meet. History is infamously the hard class of the semester, and that is largely because the book is written in very complex Spanish. So, once we figure out what it is about and how much we actually have to read, it should be ok. 

That's enough about school. So many things that are WAY more interesting have been happening. On Wednesday night, I went out with Marcia, a Mexican student who is studying as an exchange student at the UAQ. Her room is right next to mine. We didn't even leave the house until 8 or 8:30, and took a Taxi to the Centro. There, we met one of her friends and 2 students studying here from Finland. Yeah...I made friends from Finland. It was pretty cool. So we started out at an Irish pub, where they had the soccer game on TV. Soccer is SUCH a huge deal here, and I'm pretty sure that the entire city (maybe even the entire country) stops to watch a game. Sadly, Mexico lost in the last 15 minutes of the game, which was a bigger deal than usual because they were playing their rival, Brazil. So, after the game, 85% of the people left the bar and a band started playing. It was a rock band, and they were pretty good. They played covers of popular American songs, which I thought was interesting. My favorite was their impressive repertoire of Maroon 5 and Black Eyed Peas songs. Of course, these two groups are very different, but here they know it all; and are not afraid to cover every genre, and give it a rock spin. Then we went to a restaurant called Harry's and sat on the patio for a few hours just talking and passing the time. Some more of her friends met us along the way, and we wound up having a group of 10 or so. Let me tell you...Mexicans can drink, and drink, and drink some more. I have never seen so much booze on every single table in a restaurant.  We didn't return home until 1:30 in the morning. 

I don't have class on Tues or Thurs until the afternoon, so it was nice to be able to sleep in after a late night adventure. After we got done with school on Thursday, we went to the centro to watch what we thought was going to be a dance show in the park. It turned out to just be an open space for people to come and dance if they wanted to. Some were taking lessons while "performing," others were just there dancing for enjoyment. The people who danced were mostly older (from late 40s to wayyy too old to walk...let alone dance). There were a couple younger couples there, but the majority were older. People gathered around the plaza to watch as the night went on. By the time we got there, quite the crowd had developed. Families, teenagers, anyone who was around just stopped by for a few songs to watch. Towards the end of the event, two men came up to us and asked a couple of the girls if they would dance. Of course, they accepted and twirled around the floor for a few songs.

It's funny how nice the people are here. It is very easy to point us out in a crowd. People here don't typically have blonde hair, blue eyes, and are usually a head shorter than people at home. Needless to say, we attract a lot of attention, though not necessarily in a bad way. People are more intrigued by us, and want to ask us a bunch of questions about anything and everything. I've had multiple kids come up to me and ask me how to say something in English. Most of the students take English starting in elementary school, so they like the practice. They are fascinated by our accents (in Spanish and English both), and want to know what we think about Mexico. They are very proud of their city and country, so they want to ensure that we are having a good time. At the end of almost every encounter with a stranger, we get invited to parties or asked if we want to meet them somewhere later on in the week. It's really interesting to go sit with a book in the centro and wait and see how long it takes for someone, usually a student, to approach you and start a conversation. Usually, it doesn't take much more than a few minutes before you have a new friend. While this makes it nearly impossible to do homework in public, I really like this element of the culture because it makes us more comfortable with approaching other people when we have a question or need directions. People here don't seem bothered when you approach them, like they do at home. Everyone wants to be your friend, if only for 5 minutes. And those 5 minutes can prove invaluable because it is the best way to learn about where to go for certain foods, or what store sells the best version of whatever we are looking for. The past few days, I started to realize how those random encounters have been some of my favorite moments of the whole semester thus far. So, I am making it a point not to be constantly surrounded by a group of Americans. Of course, sometimes this is not practical and we are going to stand out as the group of 15 white kids wandering around and standing in a giant circle. But during down time, I love to go out and just see what happens. Querétaro never fails to provide an interesting interaction of some sort. 

Friday night was interesting because we got roped into attending another dance performance. I wasn't too stoked to be seeing more dancing...I was kinda danced out from the previous evening. Luckily, once we arrived it became apparent we wouldn't wind up being a part of the performance again because there was a legitimate theater and stage with performers in costumes. So, I was relieved not to have to participate in the event. Unfortunately, that was where my luck ran out. It turned out to be a dance recital for a local company. The dancers weren't professionals of any sort. Actually...there were a few girls that weren't much more than 8 or 9 years old. was one of those events that parents love because they get to see their kids perform, and everyone else dreads because it is just plain awful. Although it was not the ideal way to spend a Friday night, there were a few interesting elements. Very few of the numbers were set to Mexican music and were traditional dance genres. Instead, we were all surprised when the opening numbers contained dancers in very flashy and scandalous attire, dancing in traditional Bollywood style with the little bells in their hands and everything. This was more than 80% of the recital...Bollywood. Who knew that Mexicans liked Asian things too? It looked like something we would see in Santa Barbara, but never would have expected in Mexico. But gets better. There was a dubstep number. Yep...they blacked out the theater and twirled lights for an entire song. Like the rest of the concert, there was a lack of talent, but I didn't fall asleep, so that was good. Right? So, even though none of us had much use for the event, it was interesting to see that people here have interests in things other than just traditional Mexican culture. 

Saturday was one of my favorite days thus far. We went as a group to Bernal, about an hour away from Querétaro. It is basically this giant rock that sticks out of the ground in the middle of nowhere. They told is it is the 2nd largest and 3rd tallest monolith in the world. I know...who cares about the technicality, but a monolith is a single consecutive rock top to bottom. There's a fairly well defined trail that goes about 3/4 of the way up the rock. I guess it is illegal to climb the top part without ropes and proper gear and licences. It must be harder than it looks, because several of us agree that it would be TOTALLY doable to go all the way up. Maybe one time we will return without a professor and hike it all the way. :) What's the law in Mexico, right? It's all up for debate here. We were talking the other day about how we can't decide whether to be afraid of the police or thankful to see them roaming around the neighborhood at night in their car (lights matter what, even if they have nowhere to go). They just don't have the same upstanding reputation like they do in America. Anyways...back to was awesome. The plants that naturally grow are very similar to what you would see in a desert mountain range in Arizona or California. Things manage to stay pretty green, despite a serious lack of water most of the year. And...the flowers are gorgeous. There aren't many, but they stand out because they are so bright and colorful amidst the dust that covers everything else. The rock is mostly shale, and is covered in a fine white powder, making it slick to climb in places. So, after we hiked in the morning, we went into town for Comida at a local restaurant and to explore. It is more of a puebla (village), which was interesting to see after spending the week in Querétaro. They have one plaza that is in the centro, and the various shops and restaurants surround the plaza. There is also, of course, an elaborate church (painted bright orange). The shops are less influenced by modern cities, and are more local arts and crafts. Blown glass and lace were the most common. Bernal is known for their gorditas, mole, and apple beer. So, we tried mole and apple beer. An interesting combination to say the least, but people were right, it was good. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough room to try a gordita. Oh! And...people there eat grasshoppers. Like fried grasshoppers. It's the grossest thing ever. We got an order of them, and some people tried them. I had no intention of ever touching one...but they made for some good pictures. I loved our outing to Bernal. It's a slower pace than being in the big city here, and more indigenous, so it was totally different in what people appreciate. I want to return and stay in the hostel, built in the old castle below the monolith. If for no other reason than to say I spent a night in a castle in Mexico (and summitted the rock). Again...who knew that was possible? 

After returning from Bernal, we had an hour or two just to relax and shower after a long day in the sun. Then, we all met up at Dr. Montgomery's house to celebrate a birthday. It was a great way to end a long day, just hanging out, laughing, and looking at pictures. Of course, the brownies and ice cream were pretty magical too. :) It was only a couple of hours long because we all had to get back home and sleep because Sunday was going to be an early morning.

At 5:45 Sunday morning, my alarm woke me up. I threw on some running clothes and rushed out the door. Outside, I met 3 other people and we hopped in a taxi that took us to a race that we all decided to run. One of our señoras has a son who coordinated a 5k/10k race "por la paz" (for the peace). None of us know what exactly the cause is beyond the Paz, but we all ran for it! And...150 pesos (just under 15 dollars) later, we all got metals, t-shirts, and a great (though early) workout. It actually turned out to be really fun. We ran in a couple of bigger groups, and just laughed and talked through the whole thing. It was really funny to see 1500 Mexicans and 15 white kids running a race through the streets of Querétaro as the sun came up. It was actually quite pretty. And who knew that many Mexicans liked to run? They are certainly almost all stalky to say the least, so we were surprised to see that many enter a race. Maybe "the paz" was just such a valiant cause that they couldn't resist. We may never know. After the race, we all came home and just took it easy after such an eventful morning. 

It was my intention to take it easy for the rest of the day...however...intentions in Mexico are always just ideas, never plans. When I came downstairs for Comida around 2, I was surprised to see 3 of Hugo's (Carmen's son) friends crowded around the table waiting to eat as well. It caught me off guard because the last thing I asked Carmen before my extended ciesta was "are people coming over today?" And she was like "nope...just us." So, I was a little surprised to walk into a fiesta after my ciesta. They were super nice, and the party just kept going after Comida. After successfully polishing off a few liters of beer, Hugo ran to the store and returned with not one, or even two, but THREE bottles of Jose Cuervo. Yep. Three. I was surprised too. Remember how Mexicans don't buy things to save them for later? The same is true with their booze. Those three bottles were all empty by the end of the evening. We hung out in the kitchen from about 3:00 until at least midnight. Needless to say, as time went on, the friends got funner and funner to talk to. ;) 

That's about it for now. Now that school started, my week should look kind of similar to last week, which is good. Routine is good. But I can also assure you that the stories will remain plentiful. The best ones come from the most unlikely of situations, like when I sit on a bench in the park and open a book, or when I walk into a fiesta instead of just a meal. One thing is for certain, I have no idea what crazy things will happen. But I can assure you it will not be a boring week. :) Here are some pictures so you can see what we've been up to. 

Group shot at the base of Bernal

One of the stores in Bernal

view of the monolith from town

from the top of Bernal, the view of the city was awesome...

and this is what we were subjected to instead of professionals...

birthday partyyy!!!

birthday girl

grasshoppers??? eww.

another group shot from Bernal

after the race...

before the was still dark

Some First Impressions and General Info (August 16, 2011)

Carmen and I on our first day together in the Centro

A typical street leading from the mercado towards the Centro

A random fountain inside the mission we took a tour of
So I finally found a place to go that has wifi! It's a really good Italian coffee shop, about a 10 or 15 minute walk from my house. There are lots of places with wifi, but you always need a password which means you have to sit down and order something, talk to the waiter for at least 10 minutes and then you can get around to getting the password. It's pretty funny because everything happens pretty slow around here. It's totally normal to just sit wherever and talk to anyone you encounter for a long time. I wrote a long letter with a play by play of the first two days to give you a sense of what it's like here, but just got a chance to post it today. I wrote that entry only 2 days ago, but since then, I have become way more familiar with the city and confident in my ability to interact with people. So I'll just catch you up on yesterday and today. :)

Yesterday, we had our orientation at the university. I totally slept through my alarm because my phone alarm DOESNT WORK IF IM NOT IN SERVICE. BOOOOO. So 10 min before we had to start walking, Carmen (my señora) was knocking on my door like where areee youuuuuu????? And we were supposed to eat breakfast together first. Needless to say, that didn't happen and I threw on some clothes and ran out the door. Then we met the other 4 students who live close to my house (in the same neighborhood more or less) and walked to the bus. About a 10 minute walk. Then, we got on the bus and took it to the UAQ (the university) (pronounced phonetically). It's about a 15 min ride on the bus to the UAQ, so not too bad. Oh, and a side note...they drive like lunatics. I had no idea a stick shift bus could even go that fast! AND almost take out so many pedestrians. The cars don't stop for lights, crosswalks, people...animals. They just swerve to avoid. It's pretty funny. Anyways...we just got a tour of the campus, which is easily as big as UCSB and they told us some of the rules and stuff like that. Nothing too exciting. Luckily, all of our classes are in one building so we don't have to get lost on campus. I totally understood what they were saying, so class in spanish may not be as tragic as I had imagined. :) 

After orientation (around 12 or 12:30) we took the bus back to our houses to see our families and have Comida (the big meal of the day). Comida is a 2 hour production sometimes, so I just sat there and talked and listened and ate for a long time. Then, the best part of the day...ciesta. We had about an hour to nap. Usually, we go back to school at 4:30 for our night classes. However, yesterday we didn't have them. We will today. The good thing about those is they are at the escuela de Gabi, which we can walk to. No bus drama or anything like that. It's about a 20 minute walk. And, it's really close to the centro, so we can go out after school no problem. Because we eat comida in the afternoon, there is no rush to be home for dinner. My señora will make me a snack whenever I get home if I want one. And we can buy delicious ice cream and dessert pretty much anywhere in the city. 

Since we didn't have school in the evening, we went to the centro to buy some toiletries and stuff like that. It is GORGEOUS. In my previous email, I couldn't find the real centro and the big cathedrals and buildings. But we found it all in a big way yesterday. Statues, fountains, colors, street vendors and churches are everywhere. It is like a real downtown, and super fun. After walking around and talking to a bunch of street vendors for no apparent reason, we sat down on the patio of a restaurant for some chips and guac. They were magical. Then we learned that it was happy hour and margaraitas were half price. So we had some of those too. Don't worry...we all walked home together and no one was even close to drunk. But we sat on the patio for hours and just watched the people and the sunset and everything like that. It was awesome. Needless to say Margarita Monday is now a tradition. No one has class Tuesday morning because our language classes are almost all on Mon, Wed, and Fri, so it's a perfect night to go out. Today, Tuesday, we only have classes that start at 4:30 and go to 7. So that's kinda different, but it's nice. Several of us went running this morning, and we'll go back for Comida around 2 or 3. 

Well, I think that is pretty much all for right now. Some general information so you can get a sense of the city: It's really nice weather right now. It gets up to like 80 during the day, and cools down to about 65 at night. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning anywhere, so especially upstairs, it is really hot at night. It has yet to rain, but everyone says rainy season is coming, so we'll see. The good thing about the rain is it clears the air because it is very polluted here. Kind of feels dirty like downtown LA on a smoggy day. It makes running interesting.

My room is a master bedroom. It's really big, with a full size bed, a closet, and a bunch of drawers. The bathroom is pretty of the sinks doesn't work, but there's another so it's not a big deal. I live upstairs and one other Mexican student lives next to me in another room. The rest of the family lives in rooms that attach to the courtyard behind the house. Some are upstairs and some are down. There is a kitchen and dining room directly below my room, and a living room across from my room upstairs (where the only tv is). We spend most of our time in the kitchen, just talking or entertaining the baby or whatever. It is totally functional, but looks like it is from 1960. There's an oven with a stove, a blender and a sink. No toaster or microwave, which is different. The furniture is all simple, and mismatched. There isn't much emphasis on decoration or anything like that. Almost everything has a purpose. The streets are cobblestone in the neighborhoods and downtown, but the major roads and highways are all paved just like in America. Everywhere you look, it's colorful. Buildings, clothing, cars...all of it. Interestingly, 65% of the cars are pretty new and nice. If someone has a car, they are probably wealthy, and that is one way they show their wealth. Social class is pretty divided here, and you can easily tell by how dark someone's skin is. Most of our señoras are upper middle class or upper class and very fair. Some would even pass for American. Because we are white, people assume we have money, even if we don't. It's really interesting because blue eyes and blonde hair are rare here, so people are fascinated by it. 

Here are some pictures of the city and stuff like that too:

One of the buildings in the centro...they're all lit up at night

cathedrals are on almost every corner in the centro

most of the buildings in the centro are formed around the plazas and parks like this one

a typical street that links the various plazas

another cathedral

this statue is one of the symbols of the city...still trying to figure out why

the PANADEREIA! - pastries galore...every day before class...and after

homework in the park by our houses

the random exercise equipment in the parks is hilarious...people actually use it all the time

The Beginnings of an Adventure...(August 14, 2011)

These past few days can be accurately summed up in one word...adventure. The random things that happen are hilarious, and trying, all at the same time. And there was an interesting mix of emotions inside each one of us, which makes every adventure that much more exciting. Hopefully this can give you a sense of what the first couple of days were like. It has been interesting (in a good way) to say the least.

When I got off my flight from Denver, I was excited to see Starbucks and other modern touches that made the airport seem like it wouldn’t be a bad place to kill some time (Thank goodness it wasn’t the Santa Barbara airport). After looking around a bit, I decided to make my way towards the gate for the flight to Querétaro, in hopes of encountering some friends along the way. I’ve navigated some pretty big airports before, but none have felt as big as this one. I started in terminal E (who knew that was even possible?) and had to end up in terminal B. And they were HUGE terminals. Finally, I wound up finding a tram that takes you outside to the other buildings. Yeah...there is more than one building. It was crazy. So, finally, I was somewhere close to my gate and decided it would be a great time to eat lunch. Just wanting a sandwich, I go to the deli where the lady yells at me because I had no clue what she was saying. The worst part, she wasn’t even Mexican. She just had such a thick Texan accent, and I had no clue what was going on. So, 9 dollars and a lot of frustration later, I had a sandwich. So, I walk towards my gate...and keep walking...and walking. It all the way down at the end of the airport that looked like it was built in 1960 and left untouched since. There was a serious lack of air conditioning, and 10 gates were in a circle, sharing one common seating area. There were no seats, it smelled bad, and it was at least a mile away from any sort of food, even the mean lady at the deli. The bathrooms felt like a cave, and I was afraid to walk around because everyone looked like they wanted to kill me. So, I found a seat, in a sketchy hallway next to a bathroom and opened up my computer to catch up on some TV episodes. Then the first tragedy struck...there is no wifi in the airport. How is that possible? An airport that big certainly should have wifi, right? Apparently not. No Jersey Shore for me. :( Needless to say, I am no longer a fan of Houston. Or the people. Or Texas in general.

Luckily friends started to arrive and we killed the time talking and laughing about summer and what is about to come. It became evident that we were all equally unsure of what to expect. Some people had read each email and the little information book repeatedly to be sure that they didn’t miss a thing. Others had just returned from a camp, and barely checked their email at all over the summer. None of us had heard more from our host families, and information from the directors was seriously lacking, which made everyone a little nervous. It seemed that no matter how prepared you were, no one knew what was going to happen once we touched down in Querétaro. Everyone equally uncertain, we hopped on a puddle jumper of a plane, hoping for the best. The brakes on the plane squealed when we were going 5 miles an hour, and everything seemed like it was going to fall apart at any given moment. In my mind, it was all just an extension of the Houston airport. Boo. But we were all together, so it wasn’t tragic. We made up like 80 percent of the population on the plane, and the other 20 was Mexicans who just stared at us like we were crazy. It was great. The flight attendants didn’t speak a word of Spanish, so hearing them try to pronounce words like Querétaro was a definite highlight of the day. Thankfully the plane landed on time, and in one piece, so we were all glad to finally arrive and truly begin the adventure. When we got off the plane, we went directly to a line to clear customs. After the man stamped our passport, we were grateful to see our luggage had made it. Everyone’s stuff was there, except one girl’s bag. I’m still not sure if she got that bag back yet. But, compared to what we had heard about the likelihood of our bags arriving, we were relieved. Customs was easy, and we were all pretty quick to get through it.

Waiting on the other side of the sliding door was Dr. Montgomery. After a greeting and a little catch up, we put our bags in a big van that didn’t look big enough to hold all of us. We were all prepared for Dr. Montgomery to take the wheel and all of us to pile in with all of our stuff and head off to wherever was next. Luckily, this was not the case. They actually had 3 of the vans for us, and we had more room than we could have asked for. No one told us where we were going, but we got in and hoped for the best. Driving into the city was cool because we got to see the aqueduct all lit up and drive through the centro on the way to meet our host families. Still nervous, but more excited we stared out the window, taking in for the first time where we would be living for the next four months. It was different than I expected. No tall buildings, and the centro (downtown) looked like an extension of other parts all coming together at the mission. Everything is in Km/hr and when they ask me how tall I am, I have to think about how it works in metric units. Things cost $100, but really, that’s less than 10 dollars. It’s just totally different. Cars are all stick shift, and people drive like lunatics. Then we arrived at a big parking lot, in the heart of the centro, where our señoras were waiting for us. After piling all of our stuff off the vans, we crowded around as each señora said the name of their student and took them to their house for the first time. It all happened so fast, and before I knew it, I was alone with my señora walking to the corner to hail a cab.

I was shocked when I saw her because she is tiny. Even for a Mexican woman, she is small. Of course, I am awkwardly tall here, and it is hilarious to see the two of us together. She introduced herself as Carmen, and rattled off a bunch of things that I didn’t understand even a little bit. So I just followed. Then, I followed her into the middle of the street and she stopped traffic to hail a cab. After we got in, she slowed down her speech when it became apparent that I did not understand what was going on, and we started to talk. Every once in a while, she would interject with directions for the cab driver. She seems like a feisty little lady, and she told him exactly what was going on. I was so culture shocked and lost that I barely was able to hold any form of conversation. I bet she thought I was retarded because when we got to the house, we went over everything step by step. “This is your bathroom,” she would say as she pointed to various things with specific directions for how to do things. I was just grateful to understand, so I didn’t feel belittled or anything like that. Then we came down to the kitchen and she showed me where everything is, asked what I like to eat, and I tried to give her a very general sense in broken Spanish as best I could. It is such a vague question, and really hard to answer in a foreign language. But she was so nice through the whole experience. I’m sure she was dying too because I was so slow to answer anything. Then, I went upstairs to unpack while she fixed a snack. I was so overwhelmed by the whole day at this point, that the time alone was great to catch my breath for a moment.

When I came downstairs, I was surprised to find her son and his wife sitting at the table as well. I figured out that they live with Carmen, and so do 2 other students. I couldn’t figure out where she put them all, especially because my room was so big and had its own bathroom and everything. Were they all like that? My brain wasn’t functioning enough to form the words to ask, so I just nodded my head and smiled. We all ate chicken nuggets and sat around the table for about an hour just talking. I understood maybe 20 percent of what was going on, but they seemed to be having a great time. Finally, it was time for bed. Carmen said to sleep in because we didn’t have anything important to do in the morning. I was torn because everything I had read said that Mexicans wake up early and start their day, but she was telling me to sleep in. So I set my alarm for 8:30 and hoped for the best.

Well...waking up at 8:30 is not what she meant by sleeping in. Carmen was shocked to see me that early and wasn’t entirely sure what to do with me. So I wound up going on a walk with one of the students who lives here. Her name is Wendy and she has a little taco dog named Galleta (cookie). There’s a park with a walking path around it that sits in the median of one of the roads and is super long and narrow. I wouldn’t call it a park, but I don’t know what else to call it, so for now it’ll be the park. There’s metal exercise equipment at one end. It’s not all plushy like the ones in the gyms, but people use it all the time. There were so many people running or walking on the path, and almost every single one stopped to use the exercise equipment. None of them did serious work on them, but it made them feel good about themselves, so it was fun to watch. Wendy did too, and it was hilarious because she would read the sign that told you what to do before she did any of it. Each machine lasted maybe 30 seconds before she moved on to the next. I stood there and watched awkwardly, but it was pretty funny. And I held her dog (he was scared of me so it wasn’t very successful). It was nice because Wendy is more my age (26), so we were able to talk about more similar things. I still spoke very poorly, but I was able to understand more than I did the night before. After our walking adventure, we returned home for breakfast.

Breakfast was eggs and toast, which we had to go to the corner store to buy on our way home from the walk. It was actually really good. Everyone ate together before going separate ways. After breakfast, Carmen, Wendy and I went on a walking tour of the city. Wendy is from a state closer to the Mexico/Texas border, so she is still learning how to navigate. Carmen took us all over the place. We walked to the mercado, the centro, a bunch of neighborhoods, the mission (which I think is the center of the centro) and everywhere between. At one point, I was convinced that we were dropping Galleta off at doggy day care, but we returned to pick him up a few hours later. He just got a bath, not day care. But that’s how most things happen here. I have a general idea of what is going on in a conversation, but I always miss one key detail and it completely changes the whole situation. It’s kinda funny because I genuinely have no clue what is going on most of the time. I just follow Carmen and hope for the best. So, after our walking adventures, a dog bath, and a water break in the centro, we returned home for comida. Comida is the big meal of the day. At some point (I think in the mission) we acquired Carmen’s other son and his wife and 2 kids and they came home for comida with us. Did you know it was possible to put 8 people in a taxi? Well...we did it. It was hilarious, but I was over walking in the heat, so I was grateful for that stuffy taxi. After we arrived, Oscar and I walked to the Super Q (similar to the 7-11) to get a few things before comida. Namely cerveza. Lots of cerveza. We came home with 4 liters of it. And the minute we got in the door, the beer was open and everyone was just hanging out, sitting on the steps in the shade, enjoying each other’s company. We sat around and talked for 2 hours before we even thought about starting food. I was kind of dreading the experience before, but it was actually super enjoyable. It was good to get to talk to everyone more and begin to hear about what they do and what daily life is like. It was the first time I was not completely overwhelmed by everything around me. Particularly, Hugo and Oscar, Carmen’s sons were great. They speak english, so when I didn’t understand or couldn’t come up with the word, they could help. We just sat there, drinking beer and enjoying the afternoon. Then it was finally time for comida. We ate soup, salad, beef, quesadillas, fruit, and a bunch of stuff I didn’t really know what it was. But it was all good, so I was happy. The experience of comida was cut a little bit short because I had to go to a meeting at Dr. Montgomery’s house at 6. Oscar and Hugo gave me a ride in a truck that just appeared...i don’t know whose it is but it isn’t here anymore, so it found an owner.

At her house, it was so interesting to hear everyone else's experiences. Some people went to birthday parties with their señoras, and some went to health clubs. Others just checked out the city. It sounds like my day was one of the more eventful ones, so I was glad to have so many great stories to tell everyone already. We got our class schedule and went over what school is going to be like. Now we aren’t quite as clueless as we were initially. I think Carmen really missed me or something, because she called Dr. M to tell her she was on her way to pick me up. And 20 minutes later, she rang the doorbell to let me know she was there. So I left early. Which is fine, the group is cool, but everyone was stressing about the details, and I was over it. So it was a good excuse to leave. I think they all went to one of the malls after, which was a bummer to miss, but I had a great evening with my family. We hung out and watched some soccer. Then, at 10 o’clock, my bedtime, I got sucked into going to the store with Hugo and Oscar. We came home with a few things and más cervesa. And not a little bit of cerveza, 4 more liters. The party was just starting up. We already plowed through the 4 liters from earlier, and had to go back for more. It was crazy. So we sat at the table, drank our beer and talked for a while. Then Lady Gaga came on and they know that I like her music, so we started dancing. It was great. We just talked, danced, laughed, and hung out until 1 or 2 in the morning. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Sure I was super tired and still haven’t been to a mall or anything, but it was so much fun.