Saturday, June 20, 2015

Semana Cinco

We all began our pasantías this week. Pasantía is a Spanish word that roughly translates to 

"passing through social practice with a critical eye and with a sense of personal fulfillment"

In English our activities this week would be described as an internship or as service learning.

Each of us had the choice of various sites throughout Cuernavaca that focused on different areas of the community and different specialties. The sites included the Kindergarten at La Estación, a public and private hospital, a local clinic, a rehabilitation center, Casa Hogar (an orphanage), and the Quest Mexico NGO. Since there were so many different locations and each of us has a different area of study, we split up into groups and chose locations based on our areas of study. 
While both of us (Heather and Laura) could have easily written a whole blog about our personal experiences at our pasantías we thought it would be a lot more interesting to provide a little insight into the varied experience of everyone in our group: 


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Semana Cuatro

On our final day of classes we were all a little nervous for our test.  The night before was pretty quiet, everyone was hard at work reviewing all the information we had learned over our time at the Language School (ICC).  After our tests were over, we continued to have class; some groups played Spanish games to practice vocabulary while other classes had conversations in Spanish.  At 1:00, we had a cookout.  We grilled a wide array of food from onions and peppers to beef.  All of the teachers, students, and their families were invited!  It was great to have one last opportunity to thank our teachers for helping us through the struggles and processes of learning in Spanish and to say goodbye to the friends we made at school.

After being able to rest Wednesday night we were reenergized and ready to go.  In the morning we had some time to do group reflections and look back at what we had experienced and felt so far on the trip.  It was so nice outside that we held discussions on the roof of the quest center.  Later in the day we went to a local orphanage.  The kids were finishing lunch when we showed up so we sat down to talk to them.  Some of us had brought along little gifts such as crayons, coloring books, and small toys to share.  It wasn’t long until we were playing soccer and running around.  Being an adult was no excuse to not play.  Even when we tripped over the jump rope or confused our Spanish words, the kids were cheering us on.  They showed us what it meant to be compassionate and accepting to all.

On Friday, We had a free morning.  Half of the group headed to the town center to look around at the markets and to practice some Spanish.  The other half of the group took some time to catch up on sleep, journaling, or writing their paper.  We met for Lunch at an Italian restaurant where the food was fantastic.  Afterward we all piled into the van, which has now been named the Green Machine, and headed back “home” for a night of relaxation and free time.

Saturday we had a blast at ‘El Rollo,’ a water park about one hour from our house. The group favorite was the not so lazy river- we would all sit on a ledge and wait for huge tidal waves to come sweep everyone away and push us through the river; it was gallons of fun, even if you wouldn’t get to come up for air for a minute. Other fun activities at the water park included body slides with dropout floors, making new friends, and sipping pina coladas. We finally made our way back to the quest center exhausted and sun-burnt, where most crashed for the rest of the night.

Last but not least we had Sunday as a day of relaxation. A few of us went downtown to see some more of the sites, and the rest enjoyed the day sleeping and doing homework. We had a group discussion in the evening to finish up our fantastic week.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Semana Tres

Yet another week has come to an end that was filled with adventure,
learning, laughing, meeting new people and of course eating delicious
food. We had language school every day this week from 8 am till 1 pm
than at 1 we would have a 45 minute class all together to learn about
a different aspect of Mexican culture.  This week the classes were
more interactive than our previous week. We had lessons on the
different Mexican foods made from corn, a lesson on salsa dancing, a
session of traditional Mexican songs, and the different popular
Mexican drinks made from Tequila.

Monday after our classes we went to a local rehabilitation center. We
got a tour of the facility and told us a little bit of their story and
how their business got where it is today. Their facility consists of a
room with a mat for physical therapy exercises, a room for
occupational therapy, and two different rooms with beds and ultrasound
machines and machines for electrode therapy. All the people that work
at the rehab center used to all work in a larger facility with a
different boss. In the previous business, the boss wasn’t making his
payments to the government and the business was shut down. The boss
also didn’t pay the employees their liquidation when the company was
shut down so they decided to go on their own and start a new
rehabilitation center. They are currently working out of the lower
level of a house that was donated to them since they are not able to
rent a proper facility. This is also one of the places where we can do
our internships for the last couple weeks of the trip so I think it
will be interesting to see the differences in their form of treatment
and that of the US.

Tuesday we got to learn about the many uses for corn in Mexico. What
we think of as tacos is really not a taco in Mexico and a tortilla is
not simply a tortilla. There are quesadilla, tortillas, tortas, tacos,
tomalis, sope, pozole and there are so many foods made from corn than
we could have ever imagined.  Food is something that differs with
every culture and it is a great way to bring people together and learn
about others traditions. That night we did the Global Awareness
Project at the Quest Center. We were split up into groups and each
group had a giant world map and a pile of game pieces that we used to
demonstrate where the percentage of the population is throughout the
world. Then we had to divide up a percentage of poverty among the
world as well as the world’s wealth, debt, and amount of money spent
on military weapons.

Wednesday we experienced the many different Mexican drinks made from
tequila. We learned about the plant that is used to make tequila and
the different types of tequila that can be made based on how long the
alcohol has been aged. We also got to taste tequila and learned about
some common drinks that are made in Mexico as part of the culture. We
also learned about Mescal, which is a type of tequila that is
fermented and bottled with worms.

Thursday we had quite the entertaining dance lesson. There was a dance
instructor that came to the school to give everyone a lesson on Latin
American dancing. We started by learning some of the basic steps. For
some of us it was pretty easy to catch on to but there were others who
needed a little more time to warm up to it. After we learned some of
the basic moves, each girl partnered up with one of the guys at the
school and we had a chance to test the waters salsa dancing with our
partners. Some of the guys surprisingly had pretty good moves, but
there were definitely those that struggled. Many of us enjoyed being
able to learn a style of dancing that is so rare to find people doing
in the states. Sometimes I wish that our country had a native style
that was beautiful, graceful and fun to learn. It was an amazing
experience and there were lots of laughs throughout the lesson.
That night we watched a movie about the School of the Americas (SOA).
SOA is a school where men are sent from Central and South American
countries in order to receive military training. The school in based
in Fort Benning, Georgia and the soldiers receive education about
democracy and other military tactics in order to be able to properly
defend their country.  Historically some of the worst Latin American
dictators have received training at SOA. Many soliders have returned
back to their native country and violated the civil rights of their
own people, even killing many of their own people. One of the
countries that the movie focused on was El Salvador. There was a
dictator in El Salvador that came back from SOA and not long after he
returned, he started ordering mass murders on the citizens. Every year
there are protests to shut down the school outside the gate of SOA and
each person carries a cross with the name on it of someone who was
killed in a Latin American country by someone who trained at SOA. Our
group has been having a debate about SOA because we think that there
are good and bad things that come from the school. We want to know
more statistics and find more information that explains both sides of
the argument. What is the basis of the curriculum? Just because some
of the soldiers violate civil rights, does that mean that the school
is to blame and that it should be shut down? Every year there is a
group of CSS students and teachers that go to Fort Benning to take
part in the protest. If you are interested in learning more about the
protest or want to get involved just stop by the Center for Just
Living and you can find more information.

After we watched the movie we went to the house of an El Salvadorian
woman named Gloria.  She told us the story of how the military invaded
her village and how her entire family got separated in the midst of
trying to flee.  Her family was in hiding for a while so they wouldn’t
be taken by the government. One time she got taken to be interrogated
by the government and it was a miracle in itself that they let her
walk out. She was able to leave the country with her husband and
children and has lived in Mexico ever since. Their family started off
with 11 children and 2 parents, her after all that happened, she lost
4 siblings and both of her parents. After she finished her story we
helped make pupusas.  A pupusa is a fried tortilla that has cheese
stuffed in the middle. We struggled with not having the tortillas
falling apart so we decided to just let the ladies do the work so they
wouldn’t keep falling apart.

Friday we sang along to traditional Latin American music. We learned
some traditional Latin American songs as well as the Spanish versions
of songs we grew up with.Friday night we went to the LGBT church here
in Cuernavaca. The church is located right near the covered market,
the location of the church always changes because of the
discrimination towards the LGBT community here in Cuernavaca. We met
with the leader of the church, his name is Alfonso and he is an
ordained bishop for the LGBT church. The church was also recently
registered with the government.

Alfonso talked to us all about the discrimination and prosecution
that the LGBT community deals with today and what the past had been
like for them. Alfonso told us that when he saw what was happening to
the people who were suffering from HIV and AIDS within Cuernavaca, and
specifically within the LGBT community he decided he had to do
something about it. His answer was opening the church to those in
need, half of the church building was for worship and the other part
was a hospital/hospice center for those who needed aid.

The church does some great things for the whole community in
Cuernavaca. This church is the only one in Cuernavaca that performs
marriages between two men or two women, they also have these workshops
to help LGBT people and their families. One activity that we got to
participate in is going to the public hospital with them. Every week
they go as a group and pass out coffee and bread to those who are
waiting outside of the hospital. With the hospital system in Mexico,
many people come from very rural areas and usually the whole family
comes. These people struggle to have enough food and water so they end
up staying outside of the hospital while their family member is being
taken care of. We got to hand out coffee and bread to those who were
waiting and it was great seeing the smiles and being able to give
something back to the community that we have been in.

Saturday morning we woke up for a semi-early breakfast and then
headed of to the indigenous mountain village of Tlamacazapa in the
state of Guerrero. We were told that when the Spanish conquistadores
came to bring christianity it made the indigenous people run into the
mountains. It turns out that the word for baptism and beheading were
very similar in the two languages. The only difference between the
words was an accent. Naturally, the indigenous people were afraid for
their lives and went into the mountains, their descendants have been
their ever since. They stayed in the mountains for years before a man
left the village to see what life was like. After the man came back
safe, more people have been going down into the city and selling
baskets to support their families, but the majority of the village
stays in the mountains.

We were told that this village only has five wells for water and that
is supposed to last them a whole year. and in order to get to the well
you have to climb this 34 stairs down to get the water when it is the
dry season. Each person only get about 1.5 liters a day to clean,
cook, wash, and drink. But the water is slowing poisoning them, all
the wells contain arsenic from the minerals in the mountains and they
can’t fix it. I had this picture in my head of huts made from twigs
and grass for roofs with people wearing hand made clothes, when
someone would tell me indigenous village that is what I thought. So
when the car stopped in front a church with a store across the street
selling coke, I was surprised. I thought it was just a place that was
in-between our home and the village. But no, it was the village, with
stores that were made of concrete and selling coke, with music playing
in the church from guitars, with people wearing shirts that had
printed designs on them, with no grass roofs in sight.

We went into the church and saw a group of people playing songs for
mass, the church was very small but full of character and life. That
is a really common occurrence here in Mexico, the people might be poor
financially, but they are rich spiritually. In this church the Virgin
of Guadalupe was in the front behind the alter and an African-American
Jesus on the cross was off to the side. That has been the case in a
lot of other churches we have been to as well. After we spent some
time listening to the music we started to go to the first house of the
day. The roads are crazy in this town. They are at about a 50 degree
incline. It is crazy to see these old little grandmas just walking up
this hill with a bucket of water in one hand and food in the other.

The first house we went to had about 20 kids in it and about a living
room a little bit bigger than a dorm at CSS. This lady had around
seven kids with kids of their one and for the most part all lived in
one house. They make their living by selling baskets that they weave
and one of the grandkids makes bracelets with names on them. When they
have enough money they buy coke and drink that instead of the water.
But sometimes they don’t have enough money to even buy corn for their
tortillas they eat everyday. One of the grandchildren was named
Sophia. In their culture it is bad luck for anyone outside of the
family to see a child under the age of one year old. This most likely
came of trying to find blame for children dying from malnourishment.
When we asked how old Sophia was we were told seven months old. When
asked why we were being allowed to see her, we were told that we are
considered family. People I never even knew existed welcomed me into
their home, feed me tortillas, made me a bracelet, gave me a basket,
and considered me family. It was a very humbling experience.

We went to a house of a girl who was 19 years old and she was in
charge of all her brothers and sisters because her parents had died.
She had been going to school but had to quit in order to keep her
family home and keep food on the table. We also went to a different
house where the family gave us gifts and welcomed us into their home
and showed us a baby who had been born two weeks ago. Even though this
people don’t have much in terms of physical belongings, they are very
happy and content with their lives and are concerned with giving to
others. I left the village wondering how a city full of 6,000 people
not have access to clean water? How can people drink water that is
slowly killing them?

After we were done visiting in Tlamacazapa we headed to Taxco or the
“city of silver.” In Taxco they have these silver mines and jewelry is
super in-expensive there. It is a very cute little tourist town that
has a bunch of shops and restaurants. Many of the people spoke enough
english to try and sell you things. There is church there that has the
only picture of Jesus being circumcised. We all split up to do some
shopping and all met up at this pizza restaurant. It was a very
relaxing afternoon just exploring the city and the shops.

Sunday we headed off to the ruins of Xochicalco. It is an
archeological site in the western part of Morelos. It was created
around 600-800 common time. At the peak time for the city it might
have had around 20,000 people. The area was founded by a Mayan group
of traders. A really cool part of the ruins is the astronomical
observatory. It this giant cave that had been modified to follow and
study the movement of the sun. Apparently when the Sun is strong
enough you can see an x-ray of you hand if you put in the ray a
certain way. It was super cool learning about the culture and seeing
some of the ancient artifacts that were found.
        After the ruins we headed back and watched a movie about the
Zapatista movement and had Efraim Rojas Bruschetta come and talk to us
about the Zapatista movement today and what it was all about. He was
super nice because he talked in English and in Spanish for us. He
started off his talk by showing us a picture of the world upside down.
He told us that Latin American citizens go through schooling seeing
their country and their history as insignificant to other parts of the
world and Central and South America do look very small compared to the
other countries and regions on a map. He talk about how the Zapatistas
are fighting for equality and are fighting for justice. Later on he
even played us some revolutionary songs which were super cool to hear
and find the meaning to.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Segunda Semana

Blog entry: Week 2 (May 18-24 2015)

We started language school this week. İQué divertido! The language school we go to is called Instituto de Idioma y Cultura en Cuernevaca. The only groups of students in school at this time are us and a group of men in seminary school who are here for six weeks learning the Spanish language as well. It has been fun so far getting to converse with them and get to know them better. One day we even attended their afternoon church service. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we have gotten up to eat breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and depart to catch the city bus(“la ruta”) to school. An extra 13 people on the morning bus route has left many regulars squeezed extra tightly together and staring at us foreigners who are having way too much fun laughing at this new experience out on our own. 

At the school, we have five 50 minute classes with 10 minute breaks which have unanimously proven to be a great time length to focus and learn without getting bored or distracted compared to our standard hour and forty minute classes back in the U.S. Class sizes are small (3-4 people per teacher) which is an easy way to have personal interactions with the teachers and have lots of practice and attention while speaking Spanish. Signs decorate the school saying “sólo se habla español aquí” so it is an environment where everything is in Spanish and we are to speak Spanish all the time, the best way to learn!
After our third class of the day, we have a snack break with coffee and a small portion of authentic food. Some people eat and converse in the sunny courtyard while others sit on at the tables in the shade. After our five classes are over for the day, everyone gets together in a big group for more of a fun activity or class that applies to everyone. So far we have learned about herbal plants, how to make salsa, and phonetics (along with some funny examples of bad words in English and Spanish). On Wednesday, our classes ended early for the day and we went on a field trip to a botanical garden and saw many of the plant remedies we had talked about earlier as well as other beautiful plants and scenery.

Here is a picture of one of the teachers, Elvia, giving an afternoon talk about natural medicine:

Besides language school, we also did other activities during this week. Monday after our first day of classes we went to the hospital and waited outside for forty minutes until the Oncologist doctors came and got us. As our group of 14 Americans walked through the overly crowded waiting room, everyone glared unappreciatively at us.  This made us feel quite uncomfortable because prior to this situation, we had not yet had any encounters like this. It seemed like those in the waiting room thought we had the “American privilege” of just walking right up to the front of the line to see the doctor, when this really wasn’t the case as we were only there to have a short chat with him.   The doctor brought us into his office and told us about himself and his practice. It was interesting to see and hear the differences between hospital visits in the US compared to Mexico.   On our way out of the hospital there was a board with the pictures of 43 missing students that disappeared about 6 months ago.  The students were on their way to protest about the education system in Mexico when it is believed that the government had something to do with their disappearance.  This made us think about how corrupt the government here really is…How could it ever be okay for the government to do nothing to find out what happened to these missing students? Many feel that it is because they are responsible for it and are trying to drag things on as long as possible until concerned citizens forget about the incidents.  We simply don’t understand how the Mexican government is able to get away with this.  

From the hospital, half of the group went to WalMart. Backpacks are supposed to be left at the entrance, but a few from our group walked right by and carried their bags around the store. When we left the store the security alarm went off, but the guard told us to continue on our way. Gerardo told us that we are treated this way because it is believed that white people don’t steal, but at the same time, this security officer could lose his job for letting us walk out without checking for stolen merchandise.  

Wednesday after our ICC class field trip to the botanical garden, our Quest group went to the Palace of Cortez, which is a historical museum. We were each given a significant person from Mexican history to find information about while we were there. Thursday after dinner, we went to a woman named Maggie’s house and she told us her story about immigrating to the US and later back to her home country. She was born in Cuernavaca Mexico, then her mom moved to the U.S. and Maggie and her sister lived with her grandparents.  When Maggie was 12, her mom came back to Mexico and planned to take Maggie and her sister and bring them to US with her. During their first attempt at crossing, a helicopter boarder control spotted them and flashed their lights on them, so they ran back toward Mexico. During their second attempt as the pack was about to cross members from the group were robbed. After this incident, Maggie’s mom decided she would bring Maggie and her sister back to Cuernavaca and try to get back to the U.S. without them. Maggie told her, “No, we already came this far and we deserve to stay together as a family.” On their third attempt, they finally made it across the border without any issues.

Their family lived in a small apartment until they had enough money to make the second half of the payment to the coyote.  Maggie’s family didn’t have the payment within a week, but the coyote had much grace on them and allowed them to stay for a month.  After a month the family moved to Chicago, Maggie’s mom worked sewing and her step-dad worked in a car parts factory. Maggie and her sister attended a bilingual school, regardless of their disinterest in the English language. Their family lived in the U.S. together for two and a half years until things started to go down hill. With Maggie’s mom always working and her step father in jail for drunk driving, the girls had little to no supervision.  Social services became involved after a neighbor noticed Maggie and her sister home alone during the days.    With social services questioning them and the fact that they no longer felt like a family, Maggie’s mom decided it was time to send the girls back to Cuernavaca to live with their grandparents. Maggie’s mother later moved back to Mexico after financial struggles and ending the relationship with her significant other. 
After Maggie shared her story, she showed us some of her beautiful artwork and her Grandpa played the guitar and sang for us.  Maggie’s family then invited us to one of their family members birthday parties.  They welcomed us into their home with open arms where we ate cake, socialized, and learned how to dance like the locals. After a long week of school and other activities, we left Cuernevaca Friday morning for a trip to El Districto Federal, better known as Mexico City. Many of us had preconceived notions as to what Mexico City would be like; the majority of us pictured it as a dangerous, overpopulated area and didn’t think about the historical and religious aspects that the city had to offer. We had the opportunity to see and explore numerous sites with our entire group and on our own in small groups. On Friday, we visited the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe which is a Roman Catholic church just north of Mexico City. We learned the story of Juan Diego and how the Virgin Guadalupe appeared to him one day and asked him for a church to be built in her honor. Juan Diego then brought this request to the Archbishop of Mexico City who told Juan to go back to where she appeared to him and ask for a sign to prove that the vision he had was real. The Virgin told Juan to gather flowers and when Juan wrapped the flowers in a cloak and brought them to the archbishop, they fell open and revealed the Virgin Guadalupe’s image. The original cloak from this story remains in the Basilica today. After checking out the Basilica, we walked through the other churches admiring the beauty and multitude of them. 

On Saturday, we woke up feeling well rested and ready to see the Chapultepec Castle, a national museum of history. This castle was full of murals and artwork that depicted the history of Mexico from colonial periods all the way through independence and thereafter. We all appreciated this different style of learning history because instead of reading out of a textbook or listening to a lecture, we were able to see the artwork, objects, decorations, and clothes of different time periods that told the story of Mexico’s history. It was an eye-opening privilege to be able to walk through the halls where past Mexican leaders have resided.
After visiting the museum we returned to the area where our hotel was located and broke up into small groups to check out a few places on our own. The first place we visited was the Metropolitan Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in all of Latin America. We were amazed at its size and intricate adornments.

After the cathedral, we had a few more places to see before we all reconvened for dinner…Diego Rivera’s murals in the National Palace of Mexico, El Templo Mayor, and the Zócolo.  We all came to the conclusion that being out on our own in Mexico City wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. The jam packed streets, persistent vendors, and our directionally challenged selves made for a true test of our resourcefulness and Spanish skills. Some people we asked for directions were extremely helpful and sent us the right direction, others sent us on a wild goose chase (either that, or we botched the Spanish/English translation), but thankfully we all made it back in time for dinner!  One of the groups had an app that calculated the distanced they walked that day, 10 miles!  Can you believe it?! A stroll through Mexico City turned into a half marathon across town.  We also had quite the experience on the metro Saturday afternoon.  Gerardo and Pflug had warned us that the metro trains get pretty packed, but none of us expected to be face to face and back to back with complete strangers…talk about some cultural experiences! 

To wrap up our trip to Mexico City, we visited the spacious home of Frida Kahlo, also known as the “Blue House”.  Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist remembered for depicting her emotions though her artwork. She created powerful self-portraits and paintings that stemmed from the pain and suffering she felt following tragedies that occurred though out her lifetime.  Frida and her artist husband, Diego Rivera, resided in this house together for many years.  Their home has now been turned into a museum with Frida’s artwork on full display and the exhibit also shows her living spaces, wardrobe collection, and significant articles from her past. Many of us knew of or had at least heard the name “Frida Kahlo” prior to visiting her home, but we left with an entirely different level of respect and admiration for Frida after viewing her artwork in person.  It was incredible to have the opportunity to walk through her home and see where she spent her time spilling out her emotions into artwork.

Overall, the second week here in Mexico was full of new cultural learning experiences.  We have all grown so close (maybe too close sometimes) over the past couple weeks, and together we are adapting to the busy schedule and life in Mexico.  We’re thankful that we have been welcomed into Gerardo and Sophia’s house with such hospitality. Even with busy schedules and a little bit of stress adapting to everything new, we have had a ton of great times together, and can’t wait to see what next week brings!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

La Primera Semana

Hola todos! This is the 2015 St. Scholastica Cuernavaca Quest Service-Learning trip to Mexico.
We began our travels by meeting at the Minneapolis airport at 3:00am Wednesday the 13th of May. We took a couple flights and a bus to arrive at the Quest Center in Cuernavaca at around 6:00pm that same day. Since our arrival we have had the opportunity to eat some amazing food and meet some amazing people. While we have already talked with many enlightening folks, there are a couple of experiences that have really stood out and have allowed us to challenge our world views.

One of these enriching experiences was when we had the privilege of speaking with some ladies involved in “La estación proyecto.” This is a group of women who have organized themselves in order to benefit the lives of their children and women in the community. They are living in an abandoned train station that was supposed to be temporary housing.
The Cuernavaca group with Berna, who graciously showed us her home and told us about her life in “La Estación.”
 The Mexican government took the land that these people were living on and told them to stay at the abandoned train station while they built them new housing. Unfortunately, the government did not follow through with its promise, so they ended up staying at the station, building makeshift homes while not owning the land that they live on. The women involved in the project have shown tremendous strength in the work that they do. They have resolved to advocate for themselves and have persevered to overcome many obstacles in their way. Some examples of what they do involve making breakfast for the children, as we all know it is hard to learn with an empty stomach and providing activities for children when they have breaks to keep them off the streets. During our talk with Silvia, one of the women at la estación, she emphasized that what each individual does is temporary and is a cycle. As they work to better the lives and further the education of their children, it is important to remember that it is a stepping stone and is not a permanent position. As one woman’s child graduates, her position as a worker at the project will be filled by a new mother whose children are just entering school. The women were also all very thankful for the donations from outside sources that make their project possible. The funding that they receive goes toward purchasing items that they need to cook, adding on to their building, and buying everyday items that help their children keep up with their schooling. The power and perseverance of these women through such adversity has challenged our perspectives on what the strength of women can really accomplish.
    It has also been an eye-opening experience to learn about the economic situation in Mexico. In a talk with a professor at the university in Mexico City, we learned that 70% of Mexicans live in poverty, and minimum wage is only 70 pesos a day for a 9 hour day of work, which comes out to about 50 cents per hour
A view of “el Mercado” where 
people go to sell their goods.
in U.S. dollars. This explains why the families living in la estación are unable to move on to better living situation. On the second morning of our trip, we went on the “quest” in which groups of 3-4, our families for the day, were given 70 pesos (an average day’s pay)  and went down to the central market to buy a day’s work of groceries. While it was incredible to visit the center of the city and see the market, the cathedral, and the various plazas, it also showed us the reality for many Mexican families, as we were unable to purchase our groceries and take the bus to and from the market with only 70 pesos. This shows why in many families, both parents and some children must work in order to feed the family on a daily basis and also in order to pay for schooling. In Mexico, the constitution states that primary schooling is free. However, due to governmental corruption, we learned that parents must pay for books, uniforms, registration fees, and classroom maintenance, which are quite expensive for a family with minimum wage incomes. Therefore, many students do not even finish the 6th grade and find it hard to overcome the poverty in their lives. While it is saddening to see the state of poverty of many families in Mexico, as we are so accustomed to our comfortable lifestyles in the US, it is encouraging to hear that people are joining together to try and make a change, whether it be the women of la estación, protests in the universities, or the program here at Cuernavaca Quest, educating people about the problems is the first step for finding the solutions.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The College of St. Scholastica 2015 Cuernavaca Quest Service-Learning Abroad Program

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Our first day in Moscow was a whirlwind. We rolled into Moscow around 9:30 am, after a 12 hour train ride from Petrazovodsk.

Immediately after exiting the train, we hopped into a tour van and were driven all over Moscow, stopping to visit some impressive touristy spots. Our first stop was the Kremlin and the infamous Red Square, which is not actually red. We then visited Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where Pussy Riot staged their infamous protest song. On the whirlwind bus tour we also stopped at Novodevichy Cemetery, which was attached to a convent. It was a beautiful cemetery, with many famous people buried within its walls. It was one of my favorite stops in Moscow.

Our hotel was something else. The Космос had been built for the 1980 Olympic games, and showed it. A gigantic structure, it had around 15 floors, restaurants, bars, shops selling all sorts of strange and overpriced goods, and lots of security. Our first evening in Moscow was spent exploring вднх, a Soviet era amusement park, with buildings that represented each republic in the Soviet Union, and an old Soviet rocket on display. Some of the group broke off to visit the aerospace museum, which was mysteriously closed, in true Russian style. They were fortunately able to return the next day and visit.

Not wanting to end the night yet, our group ventured into the Moscow metro system, which was much more intimidating than the Saint Petersburg system. We rode the metro to the Arbat, a pedestrian only street with lots of restaurants, street performers, and other tourist attractions. We stopped at the Viktor Tsoi wall, took pictures, and saw some Russian style pictures being taken.

It was around this time that we found out our plans for Moscow had changed. Originally we were supposed to spend two days in Moscow and overnight at the airport there. However, an error had been made on our visas, allowing us one less day in Russia than we planned. To our surprise we were to fly to Paris a day early and spend a night there. But that experience is another story, for a different time.

The next day in Moscow was spent seeing as much as we could in our abridged time there. We all rallied for a great buffet breakfast at our hotel that morning. I know I was happy to see such normal and diverse food options at the hotel, as food in Russia had often been much different than in the US.
We took a really neat metro line to Red Square. The metro line was filled with beautiful Soviet era statues and decoration. It was really quite something, and it seemed like most people thought the same, as many pictures were being taken there, and many lucky statues were rubbed for good luck.

We had a surprisingly short wait in line for Lenin's tomb, which was free and a must see if you go to Moscow. While in line an argumentative, drunk beggar asked our group for money. I can only assume he thought we were only clueless tourists who didn't understand Russian and would give him money out of fear. I think he was quite surprised when Jamie, our group leader, told him in perfect Russian to go away! This only further angered the man and a nearby police woman was called over. She had to tell him to leave us alone several times, and finally two police dragged him away. I'm sure he was back the next day to bother some more tourists.

 Outside of Lenin's tomb there were signs that admission was 3 rubles and cameras were prohibited. However, like so much signage in Russia, that was all bark and no bite. We were not charged, nor were our cameras confiscated. Though we did have to walk through a very unintimidating  metal detector on our way in.

Which brings me to an observation. There was a surprising lack of panhandlers and beggars that we ran into in Russia. I had pictured there being a lot, since we visited many tourist areas. It was also observed that many people who asked for money were polite at best and went away rather easily. Maybe it's truly a cultural difference, or just a coincidence.

After our trip into Lenin's tomb, we went our different ways. Some went to St Basil's, a group went to a beekeeping museum, and some took walks around Moscow to see what could be found on foot.
Since I was running low on cash, and discovered that Moscow is perhaps the most expensive city I've ever been in, my time was spent walking around downtown, enjoying the (free) sights. It was truly interesting to see just how ritzy and expensive the downtown area was. Being a cheapskate, I was mostly repulsed and a little fascinated by the business people I saw lunching and shopping there. How do they afford to live in such an expensive area, and how can a place like Moscow exist in a country like Russia? I know there can be extreme income differences in one country, but for someone like me who'd never been in such a large city, it was rather mind blowing.

We finally found a coffee shop called OMG!Coffee, and enjoyed the coffee and atmosphere there for a while. Then we were back to walking the streets of Moscow, and observing life in such a big city.
We decided to backtrack and walked to a neighborhood near the university. This neighborhood was slightly more typical of what you'd see in a smaller city. There were a lot of small shops, cafes, and coffee chains. Finally we found the cafe we'd sought out, a tiny place, with fairly priced food, and university student patrons. A guy sitting next to us kindly made sure we understood the ordering process there, and we enjoyed a great meal, and some journaling time.

The rest of the evening was spent packing for our flight to Paris the next day, and enjoying the view of Moscow from our hotel.

by Liz Brown