Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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.

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