Thursday, April 30, 2009

The News

Well, I tried to avoid it, but I figured that I had better comment on the spread of swine flu, or more accurately H1N1 flu (those poor pigs in Egypt). To begin, everything is fine here in Guadalajara. Really. It breaks my heart that first the crisis, then the fear of drug cartels, and now this- is crushing the Méxican economy and tourism industry. Our cabbie yesterday told us he had been waiting for 6 hours to give someone a ride.

They have canceled classes in all schools and universities. Museums and government buildings are closed. But today after I rode the subway numerous times, flanked by people wearing masks, it seemed odd to me that they would not close one of the most densely populated confined spaces in the city.

This strain of flu is a problem, yes. It is scary to think of what can escalate from the spreading of germs. But at the same time, it seems the hysteria that comes with an unknown illness like this is just as detrimental- if not more so.
The New York Times relays, "...some hospitals have reported healthy people — the “worried well,” in the words of some health officials — returning from vacation in Mexico and going straight from the airport to the emergency room."
And now in the United States:
"Around the nation, drugstores have sold out of surgical masks. Schools have closed, sports games have been called off, and doctors’ offices — and their phone lines — are jammed. The truly anxious confess that they are trying to avoid touching elevator buttons, library books and the knobs on bathroom sinks."

People are being told not to travel to México. People leaving México are now being screened.

And now, times will most inevitably fall harder on many more in this country. The more I hear about swine flu hysterics, the further this notion sinks into my heart.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spanish México

Josh and my "suegros" Angela and Richard are headed by bus back to Guadalajara after two days in the hillside city of Guanajuato. This beautiful place is something to be seen in México. The city is so compactly built into a hillside, that any new road construction must go underground. Hence there are numerous tunnels weaving below the city. Most travel within Guanajuato is either up or down, and one could easily lose their way in a tiny alleyway that looks like the next. We enjoyed our time wandering up and down curving stairways and narrow sidewalks, had terrific meals together in unique restaurants, and shopped a bit along the way.

Above is the central cathedral where a number of funerals were taking place today

We stayed in a place perched high in the city called Casa Azul. This was one of the most original hotels that I have stayed in, with dark wooden furniture, beautiful plants and artwork. Above is the window to our room.

Back in Guadalajara tomorrow we will all go to the MNINI cooperativa meeting up on Cerro del Cuatro. An important milestone has been reached for the group, as the owner of stores called "Twisted Goods" in Canada has made an order for embroidered blackberry cases, pencil cases, and laptop bags. We are awaiting news on whether a grant for sewing machines for the women will come through. Currently the women sew everything by hand, including zippers and seams, which slows their production time tremendously.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On the Road Again

My in-laws Angela and Richard arrived this week and we are now traveling in the central México highlands, a hilly and dry landscape that has been beautiful to view out of our bus window. Our first stop was to the famed city of San Miguel, which is very pretty, and- as my friend Katie so aptly put- is definitely the cool kid's table of México. 10,000 people from the United States have made their homes here, many of whom were wealthy in the U.S., and even more so in México. Thus the town can support upper-scale restaurants and shops, where a designer shirt might cost $150 and an entree is around $20. The cobblestone streets are free of trash, the colorful historic buildings are untouched by graffiti. Traffic stops for pedestrians.

There is art galore here and shop after shop with hand-woven rugs, tin ornaments, silver jewelry, ceramic dishes. Real estate prices are comparable to the U.S.. At one real estate office there were advertisements featuring places like this:
"17th century 8,900 square foot home with courtyard. 7 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms. Swimming pool and gardens." No indication of price. But our friend Jose told us that there are places around the city that people rent for around $10,000 a month. Meanwhile there are elderly women begging on street corners. This is one aspect that makes San Miguel more like the rest of Mexican cities.

Though it has been terrific to see this colonial city, I could not see living here. Going back to the cool kid analogy, the Americans we encountered on the streets were not those that we necessarily felt inclined to interact with. And it has been quite different to be "just another American" when in Guadalajara we often spark interest. People don't travel to Guadalajara like they do to San Miguel. This is something that makes me like Guadalajara even more.

Some other notes of interest on San Miguel. The cathedral in the heart of downtown is like no other that I have seen. It is pink! And has the most striking spires.

There is an art center much like the one that I attend painting classes at in Guadalajara. The Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez once housed a girl's school, and was then converted into an art school in the 1930's. From that point forward classes ranging from ceramics and print to guitar and dance have been held in this enormous stone building.

Last night we went to a fun new restaurant with my in-laws and our friends from Querétaro, Jose and Naomi. It was a sweet way to end our time in this city. Onward to Guanajuato.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The things I can expect

Last night I was walking home from painting class and wished for a recording of what I was passing by. It seemed everyone was out on their door stoop. Kids were running around and zooming by on their bikes. Makeshift taco and tamale stands were set up in doorways with extension cords reaching to light small bulbs. Three elderly women sat huddled together in lively conversation and called out "Buenas noches, que te vae bien" as I walked by. Men sat sharing beers in a mechanic shop.

On our street Tlaxcala our neighbor Jesus and his wife sit with their two friends in the corner park that hugs their house. Every evening like clockwork they are out chatting for a few hours until the sun goes down.

Around 7:00 each night the pan (bread) delivery man cruises up the street with his notorious theme song blaring. People come out of their homes to view his assortment of pastries and breads before he pops back into his truck and drives down the next block.

Each morning our sidewalk is met from both neighbors who sweep. Our neighbor Jesus and our other neighbor Rosa cover us from both sides to ensure that the sidewalk is clear of obstacles.

The young boy who lives next door to us practices his trumpet in the evenings and transports himself by skateboard to go and meet up with his friends when he is finished.

The spunky waitress Marcela is always waiting tables at the Don Benja taco stop two blocks from us and will call out to the street if she sees us walking by.

Estetica Lupita around the corner from us serves as both a garage and hair salon. There are always women chatting in this space. Josh likes to get his hair cut here.

There are details that I will long remember about this place, and have made me feel comfortable and happy in a foreign land.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My good friends

During my freshman year in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth, I met my great friends Jacquie and Kate. We connected swiftly and excitedly, and found commonalities that bonded us, and differences that we fed off of. Through the years we have remained close, despite the physical distance between us, with Kate in Washington, and Jacquie in Arizona.

The highlight of our time together was a trip to the state of Michoacan, south of Jalisco, a place with beaches that are slightly touched by tourists compared to the much larger pull north in and around Puerto Vallerta.

We rented a small Renault and hit the roads; my first time driving in México.

We reached the coast and a beach called El Faro, or The Lighthouse. This is a beach that will always remain in our memories as the place where Missy almost lost the key to our rental car in the great big ocean. We had walked the length of the sparsely populated beach and Kate had the great notion to ask me if she should hold the keys after noticing me haphazardly lifting my skirt so as to avoid getting wet. I reached into my pockets and the key was gone. I headed back running down the beach to retrace our steps with little hope, as Kate and Jacquie scoured an area where water joined from two sides around a giant rock. Kate spotted it, we tied a big green rope to it, and from that point on I was forbidden to hold onto the key.
After El Faro we drove 15 kilometers south to a tucked away beach called La Noria. We never would have found this place had it not been recommended by our friend Danielle. It was a breathtaking beach, with no one on it and giant rock formations hugging each of its sides.

There was a palapa for us to set up our tent under, and a shelter with bathrooms and a kitchen.

We cracked open some refreshments and sat under the palapa enjoying the view as the waves crashed powerfully in front of us and the sun slowly set. Later we lit a little candle, which was the only light that we had in a place without electricity.

The sky was one of the darkest and starriest that I have seen in a long time. A bit later we were able to see green glowing phytoplankton in the whites of the crashing waves and where sea foam spread along the shore.

The following day we took a walk down the length of the beach and crouched through a small arch to find more to the beach than originally met the eye. We found beautiful polished conglomerate rocks and the small tracks of the endangered black sea turtles.

A bit later we packed up to head back north about 5 kilometers to Maruata, another tucked away beach, which was more populated, but not so much that it mattered. We stayed under palapas once again and ate food from the small kitchen 50 feet from us. The seafood was about as fresh as could be, and the ocean lapped up to shore 20 feet in front of us as we enjoyed our meals and good conversation. The surf was too strong for swimming at La Noria, but was perfect in Maruata. We used goggles to explore the rocks and sea anemone below us. Later in the evening we walked over to two intimate neighboring beaches, which were more beautiful still.

Maruata is home to a small sanctuary for black sea turtles, which are endangered species that thrives at this location. Later in the evening a few local men were rescuing baby turtles that had swum the wrong way and they let us see them up close. The following morning on an early walk down the beach I was fortunate to see a mother sea turtle leaving the location where she had just laid her eggs.

I was reminded again of why I like these friends so, as conversation comes easy and nothing seems forced. I am missing them this evening, and am eagerly anticipating our next adventure together.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

95 Years

It was a quick trip, but well worth it. For 30 hours I had the chance to zap back to Minnesota for my grandfather's memorial service and to see my whole family.
The service was bittersweet; I learned even more about my grandpa's contributions in the public service realm and his impact on University of Minnesota Political Science students. I read my creative writing piece. We visited the location where my grandpa's ashes will be buried and joined with my grandma's. We also planned to get together this summer up on Lake Superior and spread both George and Lois' ashes in that big Great Lake.
My aunt was telling me about how determined my grandpa was to make it to 100 years. During his last bit of time alive, when asked by a nurse how old he was, my 95-year-old grandpa replied, "100." It was his indicator that he was ready to go.

To end, they have been featured a few times already on this blog, but I cannot help but post photos of my ever-changing nieces and nephews. The true testament of time is in them, as they are growing so quickly it seems. Below follows a "portrait" of each. I miss them all dearly.

Avery and my mom

Avery, 1 year

Casey and his artwork


My sister Kim and Avery

Owen and Alex

Monday, April 6, 2009

Los Hornos

A few days past Josh and I headed out to a place called Los Hornos or The Ovens, which is on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Josh has been working at this location for the past few months taking photos and subsequently getting to know the people who live in this community. I went along with him so that I could meet some of the people in his photos. I am also beginning a website design for an organization called Tracsa, which is providing funding for education and meals for the children of this community.
I will only use a few of Josh's thousands of photos (thank you Josh) to show a little of what this place is like, and will try and explain further about Los Hornos.

The people who are living in this community are very poor; the poorest that we have seen in México, and their livelihood is brick-making (the name of the community reflects the kilns that are used to "cook" bricks). Large families are squeezed into the tiniest of one-room homes, which are made from bricks and scrap metal. They do not own the land that they live upon, and do not have electricity or running water. It is hot and dusty at Los Hornos, with few trees and little to no vegetation surrounding people's homes. The sun is strong, and the heat seems intensified by the numerous kilns heating bricks.

The main family that Josh is focusing on is led by Rosa, who is featured in the photo below with two of her four daughters and some of her grandchildren. Behind her is their kiln.

The women make bricks every day, and for every 1000 made they receive roughly $20.

There are sad stories abound at Los Hornos, such as that of Luis, who has been living on his own since he was 11. He is now 15 and is attending the Tracsa school in the afternoons.

Rosa's mother-in-law (whom I did not meet) lives in the community as well and has been taking care of other children who have lost their parents. One of these children is now a grown man who has mental disabilities; he spends his days with his ankle tied to a bed.

I am running out of ways to express how discouraging it is to see so many people making just enough money to hang on. All of the people I met were kind and happy- even seemingly proud of the work that they are doing. They definitely did not seem to be wallowing in self-pity. But I am sure that they would gladly welcome an escape from the hard lives that they lead.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

To our Friends,

Eric and Nicole, who were recently married and are spending their honeymoon in Puerto Vallerta. Eric has had big dreams of being featured on this blog, and this is his lucky entry. Now all the world is seeing him.

We traveled this past week to Puerto Vallerta to spend an evening with Eric and Nicole. During our time with them we visited Huichol art stores, where there are numerous works of art made from colorful beads and yarn by this local indigenous group. We traveled south by bus toward Mismaloya, the site where The Night of the Iguana was filmed, which helped put Puerto Vallerta on the map. Just before reaching Mismaloya we stopped to swim at Playa Gemelos, a pretty and quiet little beach with strong waves and white sand.
It was terrific to have a bit of Roanoke in Mexico for a few days, and we were quite glad to spend time with one the of the first friends we made in Roanoke, and to get to know his new wife Nicole even better. They are off to a happy start to their life together and we wish them the very best. Thanks for letting us crash your honeymoon for a few days you two.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's Time... change the tone of my blog. I decided I wanted to share what I was doing this past week when I received the news about my grandpa and pet Sally. Fortunately I was in the company of good friends and was traveling to see new regions in México, which helped distract me a bit.

I began by traveling by bus to Querétaro, a beautiful city in the central Mexican highlands where our friends, the art therapists Naomi and José live. We spent an evening walking the city where there is church after beautiful church and there are a number of historic buildings and plazas. They made me dinner and breakfast and I had my own room and bed to sleep in, which was nice.

Naomi enjoying sage tea and a cookie

View of the city from José and Naomi' s upstairs porch

The following morning we loaded up their car and headed east to the mountain city of Xalapa (pronounced Halapa- where the Jalapeño pepper originated) where our Fulbright friend Katie is living. The trip was a few hours longer than anticipated due to construction and odd road blocks, but we enjoyed the different scenery. It was a dusty, dry landscape and I had my first opportunity to see tumbleweeds and salt flats with huge white curtains of salt whipping through the air. About 20 minutes before we reached the city of Xalapa the scenery changed dramatically and turned green and lush and hilly.
Katie is living in the heart of the city in a quaint apartment, which felt like a cabin in the mountains- in the middle of the city. Our goal was to first visit our friend Martie's (another Fulbrightee) art opening. Martie created a show featuring the taxi drivers of Xalapa using her paper-making skills.

A map made from hand-made paper of the city of Xalapa with its taxistas

After the art show we happened upon a flamenco performance while having dinner

The following day we all headed to the nearby town Coatepec for a paper-making workshop hosted by Martie, the artist.

Martie and some of the people in our class

Later in the evening we enjoyed fresh strawberry margaritas and talked politics, religion, culture... this kept us interested enough to stay in Katie's apartment for the night instead of heading out on the town
Katie and José

Naomi and Colleen, a Fulbrightee writer living in México City

Riley and Katie (a Fulbrightee doing environmental studies outside of Xalapa). They live next door to Katie.

The following day we traveled an hour to the east coast, which is met by the Gulf of México. We stopped in a small town on the coast to have lunch and walk the beach before traveling south to Veracruz.

Becca (Katie's roommate from México City) and Katie

And finally we made it to Veracruz, a city with a pretty and historic interior and a gritty port-town exterior. We walked the malecon (boardwalk) and had a frustrating dinner out in the plaza where we were swarmed by vendors of all ages with sunglasses, bracelets, shirts, candy, noise-makers...
The evening ended on a better note as we enjoyed watching danzon, which is a style of dance and music (which Katie is studying) that is special to the Veracruz region.