Thursday, July 30, 2009

My findings

Throughout this year I have been making mental notes on my perceptions of México, Below follow some of my findings.

• Mexicans are gracious
• Always watch where you are walking.
• No does not necessarily mean no. You can talk your way in and out of things quite easily if you try.
• Mexicans love to eat at stands, and you should too.
• Wherever you travel in Mexico, find the tianguis (outdoor market)
• By and large, Mexico is safe.
• If you do not eat meat, it will be hard to fully enjoy Mexico's culinary options
• Be a defensive pedestrian. Cars almost always have the right of way, no matter how wrong it seems. Especially steer clear of buses.
• Even if you are just asking for directions, always begin with a greeting
• Try to speak the language
• If a restaurant has people outside offering you menus, the food is probably not that great
• Stand very close to the person ahead of you in line... especially if an elderly woman approaches. They seem to always find enough room to "budge" in front
• Save your receipts
• Credit cards are not very useful
• Lime and picante goes on everything
• Make sure the taxi driver uses the meter
• Get used to being whistled at if you are female
• Try mezcal
• México is not a poor country. There are many with little, and many with very much.
• When riding on a bus, Hold On.
• Banda music. It keeps going and going. And louder and louder
• If you have the opportunity, attend a quinceanera
• Each street vendor has their own special call
• Travel by first-class bus is very reasonable, and very comfortable in México.
• Always carry small change
• Fresh-squeezed juice is plentiful and can be found in any neighborhood on any given morning
• Where there is one taco stand, there are four

To be continued.

Our Departure

We woke yesterday morning at 3:50AM, closed up the suitcases, walked through the house one last time, and made our way outside to wait for the cab. Most every taxista in Guadalajara drives a Tsuru, which looks a bit like the old-style Toyota Corolla. This taxista was among the norm, and we struggled to make everything fit in the tiny vehicle. It began to rain hard, and we drove through a large, sewage-smelling pond taking over the highway. Our taxista struggled to find sprayable air-freshener while navigating the pond. The windows fogged up. We were inching along and swerving between lanes and fast-moving vehicles. I kept wondering if ironically, after all of our time in México, this was where we were going to have an accident. But we made it.

I arrived at the ticket counter (Josh and I were on different flights through different airlines) embarrassingly trying to make my huge roller suitcase, army duffel bag, large backpack, and computer backpack look a little smaller, and weigh a little less. The woman at the counter noticed that I was over capacity. So as to avoid a $150 fee for an overweight bag, I left the coffee, tequila and a few other items that were weighting me down, in a corner in the airport. I packed even more into my carry-on, and struggled back over to check-in.

While waiting, I stared at a small girl wearing ruffled socks, a pink dress, a pink satin coat, and intricately braided hair. She was squeaky clean. I could not stop staring and thinking about all of the children that I have come to know this year, trying to imagine if given the resources, would the CODENI mothers dress their little girls this way. Would it make their lives any better?

I have been made aware this year. And one of the hardest places to be and observe is in an airport, where only those with the means can travel comfortably, buy their Starbucks coffees, walk around with IPOD's, plug in their laptops and surf the internet. And at moments when I became most frustrated by the disparity, I think of what Danielle Strickland is doing with CODENI, and the fact that she and the staff of CODENI are providing hope and more options for familes with very little. Any of you who have been following this blog, if you feel so inclined, CODENI (AHALA is the U.S. branch of CODENI and fields all donations) would more than welcome your donation.


Tuesday evening the staff of CODENI and some of the families they serve held a despedida for Josh and my departure, as well as Danielle's move to Mexico City. While saying goodbyes I wondered how much the kids will change before I see them next. I said goodbye to Juana, one of the leaders of MNINI, and tried to convey to her that I want to continue doing what I can from afar to help this cooperative make it.

The staff of CODENI and Josh and I. Left to Right: Missy, Josh, Ulises, Tomás, Myriam, María, Roció, Rosario, Ivette, Mónica and Danielle (Irving was missing)

The youngest of a CODENI family of 7, and the only daughter. She is with Oso (bear), who arrived to Guadalajara the same day as Josh, as a wee little puppy

Juana and others looking through photos from the cooperativa meetings

Not only does CODENI have a new space, they also received a new foosball table

Danielle and CODENI are not only assisting children, but they also provide a great deal of support to the families

Later in the evening Danielle had a party at her house. Above is Octavio (our dear friend and my tutor in my opening weeks in Guadalajara) and Jose the photographer and Nora his wife. And Josh, of course.

Monday, July 27, 2009

One More Road Trip

Before leaving México we fit in one more road trip, and it was to the state of Querétaro in the central highlands. We stayed with our good friends Naomi and Jose, who we came to know in our opening weeks in México, and who we are glad to have seen before we leave the country. Jose received a Fulbright grant to work with art therapy in Querétaro with his wife Naomi. They have decided to stay in México until December while they apply to doctoral programs in the states. We enjoyed great meals and fun conversation with the pair, and we traveled south together to the Otomí pueblo Santiago Mezqititan, from where many of the CODENI families migrated to Guadalajara.

Naomi with avocadoes, mangoes, tunas (cactus fruit) and squash from the market

Fresh cheese from the pueblo Amealco, near Santiago Mezquititan

Blue tortillas from Amealco

Maíz and cebollas, Frijoles (estilo dominicana), Ensalada nopal
Corn and onions, Black beans Dominican style, Nopal salad


The festival taking place in Santiago was an odd mix of homage to Catholic saints, blaring Mexican banda music, old carnival rides (perhaps leftovers from the states), greasy enchiladas and gordiitas, and women dressed in traditional Otomí brightly colored blouses with white pleated skirts and colorful ribbons in their hair. We circled the square with all of the town's activity numerous times, and spent a good deal of time sitting at a CODENI family's home. The photos below capture a bit of our day outside at Gloria's house.

Guajolotes (Turkeys)

Rosi and Jose attempting to cut off a tuna fruit from a Nopal cactus.


Playing marbles (jugar a las canicas)

Josh giving Jorge an airplane ride

Danielle and Jose

Llorona and a baby chick

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where you are born and what you are born into

Yesterday presented an array of emotions as we continued preparing for our departure from Guadalajara. In the morning we borrowed a truck, loaded it up and drove the main highway out of Guadalajara until it turned to a beat-up dirt road that spits out at the brickyards or Los Hornos (The Ovens). I hated that all I could think as we drove into the area was that I felt lucky I could leave, and that I was sorry for those who had to stay. Because it is the rainy season, this shanty town now sits in a sea of puddles and mud. Feral dogs and cats run rampant. At one point I saw a pitpull with his fur torn from his throat exposing raw flesh. The people that we were going to visit are now on an island between muddy streams and when we parked as close as we could get to their houses without getting stuck in the mud, they navigated over between puddles and swarmed the truck. It was good to see people and it felt so wonderful to give them our towels, clothes, dishes, shoes and bicycle. But I felt sick as we left again, knowing that those items would soon grow old and dirty, or break, and they would still be stuck living in a place where there is little hope for betterment.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A week of lasts

It has come down to the final week of our time living here in Guadalajara and I can't help but think of things in terms of lasts. Today was the last time I will ride my bike to Colomos Park, and the last time I will ride my bike period... ahhh that lovely bike, which I will donate tomorrow. Today was also perhaps the last time Josh and I will eat at the fish taco stand. I went to the tianguis market for the last time on Sunday. I visited the coffee shop for fresh roasted Mexican coffee- for the last time. In the coming days we will continue to have more lasts as we make sure to visit all of our favorite food joints and see good friends to say goodbye.
We are sure to return to this city, yes. So maybe it is not totally correct to reference my experiences as lasts. Though when I return, I know it will be different.

We have been packing our things, transforming our place back the way we found it. Tomorrow we will borrow a truck and drive out to the brickyards, where we know people who have very little, and we will give them clothes, linens, kitchen items... and my bike. Then we plan to leave on Thursday to travel to see our friends Jose and Naomi who have been living in Queretaro. We will all travel down to Santiago Mezquititan where there will be a large festival to honor Saint Santiago, and many of the Otomi CODENI families that we know will be there.

Our departure date is July 29 and the big question is what to do about "Guadalajara Year?" One thing is for certain, I cannot stop blogging at this point, as many moments every day now filter into the "this would be good to mention in my blog" part of my brain. But a new name? And topics to focus upon? I am thinking them through, and you will be the first to know when I come up with something. For now, I will focus on letting you know how the rest of this final week wraps up. Thanks for tuning in.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Anniversary Excursion

Josh and I completed a mini tour of the neighboring state of Michoacán, beginning with a stay in the P'urhépecha village of Angahuan, where we were fortunate to encounter a procession and mass at the central church. Angahuan reminded us much of the Huichol pueblo that we visited in the sierras of Jalisco, as both are almost entirely inhabited by one indigenous group, who speak their own distinct language. Being in a place like this makes it feel like time has stopped... and makes me feel like I stand out a great deal.

The women above are not wearing costumes; this is the clothing they can be seen in any day

We camped in a "Tourist Center" on the edge of town, and woke the following morning to hike up to Paricutín Volcano. This particular volcano did not appear until 1943 and grew up out of a P'urhépecha farmer's field and erupted for nine years. People who hike to the volcano are advised to hire a guide, and we were fortunate to be introduced to a P'urhépecha man named Gabriel.

The size of agaves along the walk were impressive

Here is where I will note the difference between Josh's sporty backpack and Gabriel's mesh plastic bag with an improvised rope strap. When we returned back to camp we gave him one of our extra backpacks that he will be able to put to much better use than us.

Our first glimpse of the mighty volcano

We hiked over this rocky, rocky terrain for a good distance. The whole while we were so impressed by Gabriel's stamina and speed

Getting closer. Another impressive fact about Gabriel is that he brought along another mesh bag purely for picking up all of the garbage left by hikers before us.

Getting steeper and steeper

If you look closely you can see the steam coming up from beneath these rocks. Their colors were incredible.

Looking down from the top. I was so curious about what it would be like throughout the hike, and this was not a letdown. We ate lunch with this as our view.

Josh walking the rim

And the fun descent... it was like we were skiing down on black sand. Gabriel was yards ahead of us!
The popular option for many who visit the volcano is via horse. These men were having a bit of an uncomfortable ride however.

The way it was, our hike was about 7 hours long, but it would have been even longer had we not hitched a ride with Gabriel's friend to the other end of the lava flow. We enjoyed a quick meal made by another friend of Gabriel. The quesadilla below was made from a fresh tortilla with flor de calabaza (flowers from squash plants), cheese, potatoes and chorizo.

The 16th century Church of San Juan Parangaricurtiru, which was largely buried in lava flow

The entrance to the church is at the bottom of this photo
It was a day we will not forget, and I am hopeful that Gabriel has many years and many more hikes to the top of that volcano ahead of him

The following morning we were off for a warmer destination at a much lower elevation... the coast of Michoacan. The scenery the entire way was incredible.

What we did not realize about Michoacán until our second day there is that there is major unrest with a drug cartel leader based in the state. 12 off-duty federal police officers were killed in response to the government arrest of 10 mayors and 17 government and police officials, who were accused of protecting drug cartels. Thus, the vehicle like the one above was a common sight, as 4,000 soldiers and officers were sent as a counter-offensive. Many of the men were wearing masks in order to protect their identity.

We headed down to the Pacific on a windy, hilly road that hugs the coast and ended up at the same beach I visited with my college friends in April called Maruata. Both the road and the coast were eerily empty.

Yet we had our dog friends on the beach

The indigenous family who owns the palapas we stayed under also cooked a shrimp dinner for us, and breakfast the following morning. This is their youngest pictured above.

Table with a view

Though it was mightily warm (these dogs barely moved) it was a beautiful evening, and nice and peaceful despite the unrest elsewhere in the state