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!