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Friday, November 20, 2009

El Nino Que Esta Aprendiendo (The Learning Boy)

So, as one might imagine, there’s been many a first time for things since I’ve been here:

-my first time driving a quatrimoto (an ATV or 4-wheeler)
-my first time to a Latin American indigenous culture site
-my first time gambling in Mexico
-my first time ice-skating in at least 15 years, and the second time I’ve ever done it
-my first time washing my laundry by hand—jeans are the worst
-my first time driving a motorcycle on my own. (I think I’m addicted now)
-my first time kissing a beautiful woman in Mexico. (I think I'm addicted now)
-my first time experiencing Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is truly a beautiful celebration in Mexico. I’d seen pictures of the event and read about it previously, but it is a completely different experience once you’re in Mexico. It harkens back to a pre-Columbian tradition of the native peoples, that has changed and adapted with religion, culture, and other forces that mold traditions as they do. There are so many colors present in the flowers and decorations of the art and figurines, and it is such a compelling mixture of images of death and beauty, art, and culture, that I was very much taken aback by it all.

In a circular formation, there were about 6 or 7 skeletons arranged in front of the ancient church, each with different garments and accessories. They were cartoon-ish type skeleton figurines draped in robes of purple, black, white, red, and yellow, and are called “Katrinas.” These Katrinas weren’t the horror-movie type either, but rather, smiling cartoon-like depictions, enjoying themselves on their holiday. Surrounding all of this were flowers and the pistils and stamens of flowers for coloring—weaving around in paths and forming artistic patterns of their own. (I regret not having pictures of any this for you…I’ll try and get pictures of some things up on here soon!)

As I stood there at night, taking in all of the culture, history, and reality behind the event, I stumbled across this opinion: any event which is a celebration of human life is a beautiful tradition. Now, let me explain. In front of the church, on the stairs leading up to the building, were pictures of deceased people, surrounded by food, sweets, and flowers, all blending into create the holiday’s esthetic. As I looked at the faces of these dead, I was reminded how short life is, and how incredibly fortunate enough we are to be things which recognize their own existence, the breaths they take, and thoughts they have. And in a glimpse, the entire life of a person is swallowed by Time, which envelops everything that surrounds us, and surpasses it all. For we only have but a short little window of existence to acknowledge and enjoy before its gone, and we’re remembered on days like Dia de los Muertos. So as I took it all in, and thought these thoughts, I said to myself, “this is a beautiful tradition, a celebration of life and a longing for those who we miss who are no longer among us…I’m fortunate to be here.”

So, this is an encouragement to all who read this (all 13): if you haven’t yet had the experience of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, you definitely should have it. Come on down next year and soak in the holiday. You won’t be disappointed.

So right now I am in the process or learning one language, and teaching a separate one. First: some signs I know I’m learning another language:

1) I’m having increasing difficulty finding the words I want to say in English—only Spanish comes to mind
2) example: it took me a while to write that last sentence, and I’m still not sure it’s right.
3) People are frequently laughing when I talk not because I said something wrong, but because I said something right. And it was funny!
4) People are frequently staring at me with a searching expression, utterly without a clue as to what I’m attempting to communicate.
5) I wish there was a Thumbelina-sized translator I could have stuffed in my pocket at all times.

Overall, my Spanish is improving bit-by-bit, but I still have a long way to go. I’ve got a couple of dictionaries for both languages, as well as grammar and usage books, but it’s just a matter of time: studying and practice. Hah I get practice every day whether I want to or not, it’s the studying that’s hard to find time for.

Teaching a different language has got my gears all mixed up in my brain, but on the whole, I’m learning a lot. My job requires an in-depth knowledge of the English language, not just simply the ability to speak it. For example, I’ve had to learn what gerunds, past participles, and infinitive clauses are, and the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. But ironically I still can’t tell you why you should say “lie” instead of “lay” or vice versa. Back to the books…

I’ll try and get some pictures up on here soon…I gotta prove to you that I’m actually down here, ya know? Take care all! Until next time…

Friday, November 6, 2009

Realizing Mexico

Haha so I said I’d try and get this post up by “the end of the week,” almost a month ago! Well…lots has been going on and let me try to fill ya in…

Guachimontones. An ancient, pre-Columbian site about a half hour West of Guadalajara. It has some of the world’s only round pyramids—most have a square-base shape like the Egyptians, Sumerians, Mayans, etc. Here, they are rounded, with a stepped-formation to the top. There actually isn’t a name for the people that lived there, because the whole site is such a recent discovery (10 years ago) that not much is known about them. Unfortunately, when the highway was built some years back, it was reported that there were “stepped” formations in the ground, but it was paved over due to haste and a lack of knowledge of the site. So, another of the pyramids is probably under the highway, not to be recovered. Anyhow, it was a beautiful site, and a great time, and since I didn’t take any pictures, you can check it out on wikipedia ( or just do a google image search.

Family is central down here. And I knew that before coming down here, but I hadn’t experienced that, you know? It’s almost as if my aunts and uncles are surrogate parents, my first cousins as big brothers and sisters, and my “nieces and nephews” (2nd cousins) are like the little brothers and sisters I never had. Really. It’s very different, but very homey. And I never would have anticipated it would change me like I feel it has. My family really has “grown” down here, and I feel as though I’ve grown in proportion to it—each new brother and sister, each new parent, each new niece/nephew has become a part of who I am.

The fiestas here. The days of last month are referred to as “las fiestas de Octubre.” (I’m not going to translate that…because…all you do is switch the “r” and “e” in Octubre.) There are different holidays for different towns, different saints that are celebrated, combined with regional and national celebrations during October. Monday the 16th was Columbus Day, and man do they celebrate the heck out of the day. The day that marked the beginning of the genocide of native peoples on two continents, their subsequent rape, exploitation of their land, death by foreign disease, and enslavement. I asked my Tia where are the Native Americans to “celebrate” this day. She pointed to the small group of Indians on the TV, and I responded by joking the government paid them off. Columbus was a product of his times, in part: the age of imperialism. He was following the model of his predecessors in other parts of the world: enslave and exploit the locals. Anyway, this where you tune out because the “college boy” is going on a rant borrowed from authors and professors, so I’ll stop myself.

Back to the fiestas. Here in Zapotlanejo, the whole town turns out for them. The other week was 9 straight days of fiestas, where a bunch of taco and snack stands were out, “Banda” bands walking around playing for whoever pays them, and fireworks. All this takes place mostly at night, centered around “the plaza” here: the open space downtown, with a little gazebo where everyone congregates. I’ve already started to see people I know from school or mutual friends when I go to the plaza at night—it’s a fairly small town. All in all, it was pretty fun. Except for the fireworks at 5am each morning. That was enough to make me want to walk outside my house with a bat in search of the culprits.

What’s also been good is the realization of the world that travel brings. Being a sheltered American not having been to Mexico for 10 years before moving here, I had stereotypes and preconceptions about this place before coming here. I’ll confess: I thought it would be a bigger version of East LA with its whole aesthetic: the cars, the fashion, the language, the culture—but I am glad to say my na├»ve understanding was utterly proven wrong. Those are just aspects and products of Mexican-American culture. Once I travel I remember/realize that the cultures I’m used seeing, and the view of the world I’m used to having is obsolete, for the reason that it is uninformed.

Here, this place is a completely different culture from those in the U.S.—it is a separate country. It is a different Mexican culture than any Mexican culture I was familiar with in the States. And I have loved realizing this; it has been a similar awakening experience as when I lived in Ethiopia. The world is bigger than our preconceived ideas and limited experiences. (Or at least mine.) One reason why I bother talking about any of this at all, is that I’m hoping it’ll inspire some of you to travel, and realize that some assumptions are off-base until those experiences are had for ourselves.

Just a warning: I might get a little soap-boxy, or rambling sometimes (one of the meanings behind The Rambling Nomad) about my opinions…but if you know me, then you know that that’s how I get sometimes.

I do have much more written, just not “published” yet…so I’ll try and be more prompt about getting that up on here soon! Coming soon: Day of the Dead, Learning a language and teaching a separate one, and a list of "First-Time" Experiences in Mexico!!

I’ll wrap up with two quotes I really like right now:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” –Mark Twain

“Deje el mundo cambiarle y usted puede cambiar el mundo.” (“Let the world change you, and you can change the world.”) –Ernesto Guevarra