Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Morocco/Maroc/المغرب

I headed to Morocco with some questions and tried to keep my expectations to a minimum. I was surprised in so many wonderful ways by the culture (for example, the men were a lot less aggressive than I expected), the classes and classmates (I wasn't the oldest student, hurray!) and the landscape (The whole country isn't a desert!) and cannot wait to return, insha'allah (we'll get there).

As I sat down after my first (and only partial) day in Morocco, after having arrived, checked in at Qalam wa Lawh Arabic school, at home with my homestay mother and Sofia, my Italian housemate, I realized that my "mad lib hypothesis" was a generous one. I was lucky to get one word out of 15! I had never been so aware of my embarrassingly small Arabic vocabulary. I knew that my Arabic dictionary and Moroccan Arabic phrasebook would be my best friends for the following two weeks.

That night, I got my first exposure to the call to prayer. I knew that there were five daily calls to prayer and that each mosque had a prayer caller and, in modern times, a loudspeaker for all to hear the prayers, but I was surprised to see the prayer on TV! At sundown, a voice called out a recorded prayer and the text was displayed on the screen over images of mountains and other nature scenes. The next morning, the sunrise call to prayer made its way through my (closed) window and by the end of my two-week stay, I was sleeping through it.



Arabic in Morocco
The "darija" (read more here) spoken in Morocco is supposedly the furthest from Modern Standard Arabic ("fus-ha") that is taught in most Arabic classes. It includes French, Berber/Amazigh, and even Spanish words (read more here). I've been told that if you speak this dialect in the Middle East, they won't understand much, if anything, of what you say. It was virtually impossible to understand anyone who wasn't willing to speak formal Arabic. In Moroccan Arabic, there's a different word for "Who", "What", "Why", and basically every question word; there's even a different word for the number two (Ithnain in standard Arabic; jouj in Moroccan darija)! Needless to say, on the ride to my homestay with my host mother, I felt like an idiot when I didn't understand her when she said the number two.

I hope to return to take another level of semi-intensive (4 hours per day) Arabic classes and would like to add an hour per day of darija tutoring to be able to speak everyday Moroccan Arabic in the street and with taxi drivers.


French in Morocco
Other than its relative safety and political stability, a big reason of why I chose Morocco over another Arabic-speaking country was its relation with France and use of French. I wanted to see how the French language is used these days and how it (and the French) are perceived some 50 years post-independence.

The Arabic spoken semi-informally on TV includes a fair amount of French. For my non-French-speaking classmates, this was really frustrating; for me, this was often a beacon of hope in an otherwise difficult comprehension exercise. A non-scientific representation: "Arabic-arabic-arabic, et le pire, arabic-arabic."

My host mother also explained that only those who attend school will know French, and one's schooling reflects one's ability to pay and/or not work to help support the family, so there is a socioeconomic component there. We had an linguistically (and otherwise) interesting moment when our van, heading back from Marrakesh, backed into a small car (Fiat?) parked right behind it at a gas station. The car had European plates, the driver was dressed in European fashion, and, despite being moroccan, she wanted to speak French with the driver and guide of our group. Our guide, the fantastic teacher Taoufik, basically said, "Give me a break. We both speak Arabic [as a native language]. Cut the I-speak-French-better-than-Arabic act."

Al Hammam
There's nothing quite like entering a tiled steamroom with one's host mother and fellow guest sister, stripping down to one's skivvies, and having one's [practically] entire body scrubbed down by a middle-aged woman (who does this for a living) using an abrasive mitt and some kind of green soap/gel. What at first I thought was part of the soap turned out to be my own dead skin, visible as gray little rolls that were being sloughed off.

Shai time is my kind of time
At the school I attended, Qalam wa Lawh, mint tea was served twice a day (10am and 2pm, or halfway through morning and afternoon 4-hour classes). It was also frequently supplied by my host mother. A perfect blend of tea, mint, and copious amounts of sugar broke up the day, and my four-hour classes, very nicely.

Gratitude and Humility
As a language teacher, my peers and I are always trying to show our students that cultural perspectives and practices are reflected in a culture's language, and vice-versa. In Morocco and many Islam-dominated regions, this can be summed up by "Insha'allah" - God willing/If it pleases God - and "Alhumdoulilah/Alhumdilah" - Praise God.
Any future plans, including those as simple as saying "See you tomorrow" when parting ways at the end of the day, are followed with "Insha'allah", demonstating the believe that God, or Allah, is in charge of one's life and one's future, and that one can't be so presumptuous as to assume even to be alive and able to come back to work/school the next day. I suppose this concept could become dangerous if it causes an attitude of not working toward or against anything at all, but I haven't really seen that so far and appreciate the humility and graciousness of the expression.
Praise God/Allah accompanies the expression of many facts and states of being, including "I'm well", but even "I'm sick", and can serve as the answer to "How are you?" Gratitude is a good attitude, no?


This oversized entry is nowhere near complete, and I can't promise it ever will be. But it's a start and I hope you've enjoyed a few culture observations from Al Maghreb.



Friday, March 08, 2013

Maroc and Roll!

Tomorrow I set off for two weeks in Rabat, Morocco, where I will work on my Arabic and study how French is spoken there. I've taken the plunge and decided that, even at my ripe old age of "25", I'll give a home stay a try. If you know me, you know I really like my personal space and that living in someone else's home as a "guest" for two weeks plus not speaking their language (Arabic) very well equals a potentially itchy situation. But it also may provide the richest language immersion, so here we go!
I have had a few concerns enter my mind as I prepare for this stay in Morocco. I'd like to document them so I can come back to them and see if I was right about any of them.
- Just how strange will the Moroccans think I am when they see my five-finger barefoot running shoes? I almost made a five-year-old stranger in Argentina fall over as he stared at my alien appendages. What's in store for Morocco?
- [Discretion advised:] Will I be able to ...purge bodily waste standing up? "Turkish toilets," "squatty-potties," whatever you call them, are still common in Morocco from what I've read. Here's to hoping the host family will have a western toilet with a seat so that I suffer no intestinal blockages.
- Will my life become, for two weeks, a Mad Lib? Will I hear everything said to me as, "Do you [VERB] a [SINGLE NOUN]?" "I [PAST TENSE VERB] a [NOUN] because you [PRESENT TENSE VERB]. Let's [VERB] to the [NOUN]."
Despite these nagging questions, I am almost packed and ready to Ma-rock-o and Roll!

Friday, August 24, 2012

A snippet of Argentina

I must admit that I've been a terrible slacker when it comes to offering highlights of my time in Argentina. I hope to find the "ganas" to write a bit more now that I'm home, but the following story was pretty unexpected and memorable and I couldn't wait to write about it.

On the second-to-last day in Argentina, Robin and I were in Mendoza, the major wine region of Argentina, and had plans to visit a small family winery and have lunch there. We debated renting a car for the day, but driving stick shift in a country where a car might pass a fruit truck and fully expect the oncoming traffic to yield didn't win out in the end. So, with an "it'll work out" attitude, we just hopped on a bus that would take us to one of the downtowns near the target winery and planned to take a taxi the rest of the way.

"Downtown" was a bit of a stretch and led to us arbitrarily hopping off the bus after we decided, "That looks like a main road." Not a taxi to be had. Even in small towns in Mexico I could always find a taxi, so this was a bit of a surprise. We entered a kiosko, or convenience store, and asked if they had a phone number of a radio taxi or remise.

"My father will drive you in that blue car." I looked back outside and saw a car at least 20 years old (not rare in Argentina - I wish I could have an Argentinian mechanic!) as the woman explained that her father would be coming out from the back of the store and could be our taxi. The man, in his 60s, came out and asked where we were trying to go. He didn't know the vineyard but we could drive around looking for it. The signage is quite good, he explained. I asked him "en qué precio" and he said he'd have to ask his neighbor.

Upon returning, he quoted us 60 pesos (about 13 dollars), which seemed a little high, but we accepted, not knowing how far the winery was. He would slow down for every bodega (winery) sign to see if it was ours and which way we might go. I kept wondering if his car was going to make it. During the ride, he pointed out the Country Club (el Golf) and told us that we couldn't imagine the "lujo" (luxury) in there. I live in Greenwich, I thought, so I might have an idea. He told us that once he had to go there and they laughed at his car. He pointed out his friend's two-story house that he borrowed for his anniversary party. And he asked us if the US was like the movies.

We arrived at the winery and the drive was much shorter than anticipated, so our impromptu driver reduced our fare to 30 pesos. We gave him 40 for his trouble.

And that's how we met Tito.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rain in Guadalajara, Mexico

Currently I am doing grad work in Spanish in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city. Though bigger than Tuxtla (where I lived for a year, in Chiapas), this city of over 4 million feels like a giant suburb. The "Metro" has two lines and I doubt I'll be using it while I'm here as I live nowhere near it, but buses ("camiones"), taxis, and my own two feet serve as reliable transportation.
Since I've been studying Arabic, it is interesting to me that the name of the city comes from the Arabic wādi al-ḥijara وادي الحجارة, which means «Valle de la Piedra» or "Valley of Stone" (Thank you, Wikipedia).

I am here during rainy season, and have already lost a sandal to the flooded street-river that surges up when a downpour occurs. But I think I have learned a few things from the rain in Guadalajara:
- ALWAYS be prepared. Carry "chanclas" (flip-flops) or rainboots (I'd recommend the rain boots, as my right "chancla" got carried away last week) and an umbrella as it may rain at ANY time. In Tuxtla, the rainy season's storms were more predictable - usually between 2 and 5-6pm, lasting an hour or so and then clearing up. In Guadalajara, rain is possible at any point in the day or night (though night seems more common).
- When the sun shines, get out there. It may be hours or minutes until the next rain episode, but it WILL rain again and one must enjoy the sun while it lasts!
- If you can't beat it... laugh at it. No matter the havoc it is wreaking on your leather or suede sandals, there's not much you can do about the capillary action of the water working its way up your already-rolled up pantalones, oncoming traffic spraying mud puddles onto pedestrians - you -, or the 45-degree angle droplets slapping you in the face. You really just have to laugh.
video

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nostalgia

Getting psyched already to visit Europe in June, and I just booked the ticket yesterday! I'll be visiting Madrid (a first), Brussels (a first), Paris and Nice/Cote d'Azur. Having lived in Paris for a year, I have a ton of memories I can't wait to relive. Top 5 (no particular order):

1) le refuge des fondus - restaurant in Montmartre. Fondue, wine in a baby bottle... total tourist experience, so cheesy (pun intended), but I can't wait to do it again!

2) Vélib - Cheap bike rental system provided by the city. Coasting around the city, trying not to get killed by a taxi or bus. The best way to see Paris. Once biked by the Arc, down by the Seine, over to the Tour Eiffel, maybe through the Latin Quarter too... not the most direct path but very scenic!

3) PariRoller - 22h Friday night. Three-hour rollerblade trek around the city, about 25km. Insanity. First and last time I gave it a try, I ended with a head injury and a visit with the pompiers de Paris. Leaving the blades home this time.

4) Picnics on the bridges over the Seine - this may never be the same without the whole crew, but it is a very fond memory of mine!

5) Art! Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, not to mention all of the smaller ones... the monuments themselves are art!

Additionally, I can't wait to see any of my former Paris III classmates, and my babysitting trio! Sure, it was a lot of work bathing four people a day (including myself), getting everyone home from school, one leg of which on the metro with a toddler, and getting food in everyone's belly, but I can't wait to see the tots again, two years later!

On the right: something I hope has become a problem of the past - les crottes (dog droppings)!

I'm more than ready for this trip.

It's back!

Travel is my drug of choice. Planning the next trip is my addiction. I live in the moment, but live for my next trip...

So, the blog is back.

On a side note, to continue the analogy, I get a secondhand high from helping others plan their travel, so if you're lazy or unsure, I'd be happy to help you search for the best airfare, transportation, lodging, and itinerary for your needs and desires!

Welcome back!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mis vecinos

Well, I have two days left here, which really is one (tomorrow) since today is almost over and I leave Saturday early in the morning. I thought it'd be a good time to mention my neighbors, who have provided a source of entertainment and interest throughout my year here.
Let's start on the first floor. These are the neighbors, by the way, who were going to "call the fatherland/national heritage" when I almost tripped over a passed out drunk man at the bottom of the stairs a few weeks ago.

Let's start with their son, who I can never understand. I am hoping, actually, that this is a speech impediment of some sort because it's better to have a documented problem than to just be strange, it would seem. In addition to lacking articulation, he lacks coverage for his upper body! The guy is somewhere in his late teens, and for the first few months I lived here, I was convinced that he didn't so much as own a shirt, as every day he lacked one. Finally, once winter set in (the time when the temperature dips to the 70s and people here whip out their scarves and jackets), I finally saw him in a shirt. About three times. All year. He also parks his motorcycle IN their apartment. Mom, that's a lot worse than a backpack, no?

Sometime during this year, these neighbors put up a sign and opened an internet cafe-slash-copy and scanning center. It's part of their front room partitioned off with a couple of computers. This isn't unusual, though; the neighbors in the building across from me run a small grocery store out of their living room. Things got a little stranger, though, when I started coming home and hearing bad Mexican songs being sung in what seemed like... karaoke?? Yes, the neighbors were doing karaoke shamelessly with the door open, on more than one occasion, but it hasn't happened lately, or I might think it was part of the family business.

All in all, the first floor inhabitants are friendly entrepreneurs with a semi-nudist son. And a really ugly dog; did I mention the dog?

I don't know the second floor vecinos, so our tour moves to my next-door neighbors. It sort of seems like a clown car, except an apartment; the amount of people I see there in what would be a two-bedroom apartment exceeds my North American comfort levels, but living with one's extended family also is not uncommon here. Aside from getting mad at us for setting our supposedly fly-attracting trash outside the door once (for about five minutes!), the patriarch of the group is a nice guy who's always ready with a "Buenas tardes". They have at least two children. Their son, about high school age, is always looking directly into our door when he walks by. "What do Americans do at home?" I can only guess that this is what he's thinking. There is also a little girl whose growth has been marked during my time here! She was a little shy at first, but now she always comes to the door (often accompanied by the curious adolescent) and says "Hola!" with a wave.

Well, that's my neighborhood! Just add lots of noise and a peanut vendor, and you've got the complete picture.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Under two weeks

Since two weeks from today I will be home in upstate New York, it's a good time to reflect on my year in Mexico...


Things I will miss:
  • Nearby San Cristobal, with its indigenous culture, variety in international and Mexican cuisine, colorful buildings, and always fun market.
  • Cheap (2.50-4.50 USD) movies
  • MY STUDENTS!! I found out that a colleague is staying next year and teaching second grade, and I’m going overboard filling her in on them as a group, giving tips, and otherwise being glad to know whose hands they’ll be in!

  • The friends I’ve made among the staff

  • The weather. Sometimes the heat was almost unbearable, but I cannot STAND cold Northeast winters, and not having temperatures below 60 that I can remember was amazing.

  • Cheap, delicious food! Yes, you sometimes have to watch out for sketchiness in order to avoid parasites and GI infections (I had one of the latter and possibly one of the former), but I could eat and drink mole, agua de avena, jamaica, fried plantains, Juan and Yayci’s quesadillas and tescalate, and taquitos forever. Or at least for one savory year. (One of my favorite candies is pictured here: Glorias, made from goat's milk caramel!)

  • Tons of natural light! And very little rain.
Things I will NOT miss:
  • Tuxtla. I’ve had my fill of this hot, crowded city in the jungle.
  • Movie-goers who answer their cell phones and have full conversations and who laugh during the emotional parts of the film. I swear, some people have the emotional maturity of seventh graders as adults.
  • Disorganization and resistance to change at school. I’d actually think of coming back (to take my kids for third grade!) if the school were more organized.


  • THE MEN. I cannot wait until I don’t feel like a steak on legs. If I ever complain about blending in/being a Plain Jane/not getting attention again, just send me back here and I will instantly remember why no attention is better than being whistled/shouted/hissed at!

  • Living in a society with a strong class system. I mean, we’re not talking about a caste system or anything, but coming from a society that prides itself on social mobility and equality and not discrimination, living in such a class system has been challenging. I’ve come to resent wealth. I feel like at home we should help out more too, but sometimes we feel that sending our money to charities might not go where it should. That’s a crappy excuse, but here all you have to do is go out on garbage night and you’ll see someone impoverished picking through bags of trash hoping to find things to recycle (and be paid for) or reuse him or herself.
    With this class deal comes nepotism, and with nepotism often comes incompetence because, hey, a lot of people don’t have their jobs because they’re qualified for them, but because they or their family knows someone. My place of employment has its fair share of connections-based hiring, as well.

  • NOISE! I am almost certain that my hearing has worsened from living here. I kept saying, “Huh? HUH?” to Alex when she was here visiting because she speaks at an American-normal volume, and I am accustomed to cacophonous Mexico. I wish I had taken a hearing test before I came so that I could compare it to one I’d like to have after living here. Between loudspeakers (even at work), screaming children (even at work, albeit not in my classroom or you’re in trouble), chains signaling gas delivery, whistles and mouth noises to get people’s attention, honking cabs and combis, and blaring movie surround-sound, I know I’ve done some auditory damage in these eleven months.
  • Knocking. Many people knock here like they have a right to come in your house! They knock, knock, and knock some more until you give in or hide. Come on, logic says if the person doesn’t answer, they’re not there, or they don’t want to answer, so you’re doing no good and potentially just annoying them if you keep on knocking!
  • Disregard for the environment. There is litter everywhere, little or no recycling, and I once watched an eco-tourism guide throw a beer bottle into the Rio Grijalva. ‘Nough said.
The second list looks longer, but I think I just went into greater detail on the things that have been annoying. Please don't mistake that for total discontent with the whole year!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Don't worry, in a minute we'll call the fatherland

So, tonight I went out for some (overpriced and kind of blah tasting) Chinese food after an action-packed adieu to San Cristobal with Danna. Upon returning home, I paid my cab driver and walked toward the stairs. My path was interrupted by... a man sleeping in front of the stairs? Clearly he wasn't homeless, but he was passed out at the bottom of the stairs! I got over the surprise quickly, surmised that the man was breathing, and said, "Disculpe?" (Excuse me?) Nothing. "Disculpe?" Nothing. "Disculpe?" Still nothing. I tapped his shoulder; nothing. The door to my first floor neighbors' apartment was open, so I bid them good evening (We "Buenas Tardes/Noches" here more than we "Hola" each other) and asked them if they knew the man sleeping at the bottom of the stairs. "He's been drinking, I think," the daughter answered. Okay, that's probably true, but he is unconscious and alone lying on cement and his family has abandoned him. I look shocked at her calmness. "They'll come back and get him," she tells me. I'm still shocked. "Ahorrita llamamos a la patria." In a minute we'll call the fatherland?? My shock turns to confusion, I say ok, and walk upstairs as the situation is in their hands. If this wasn't a place with extemely corrupt cops, I would have already called them myself, but they might just make things worse, so I let those who are native to the culture figure out what to do with the grown man who is acting like a college Freshman.

I went up to my apartment and gave the neighbors about five minutes to... call the fatherland/national heritage?? Not sure if this means the police, or the guy's friends, or none of the above. Anyway, I went back downstairs and the guy was still passed out but sitting on the stairs, and the neighbor girl (about 18 years old or so) was talking through her cage door (we all have them). I said, "Did his friends come?" "No, se fueron." They left?? "Yes, they left him here." "Y el vive en este edificio?" No, he doesn't live here. I'm shocked again, but I see they are giving him water (or at least lemonade) and monitoring the situation, so I can with some peace of mind resubir to my apartment. Just when I thought living here couldn't get any more interesting.
Note: the picture has nothing to do with the situation, except for the fact that it was taken three stories above where the story above takes place, but I know an all-text entry can be boring! This picture is from the first or second week in Tuxtla, and is of me and my roommate.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Manna from Heaven? Not quite...

This is the second part of a note my principal, Michy, sent to the English teachers last week:

"On a different note, you'll soon be amused (or perhaps, jittery, elated, annoyed, or just plain curious!) to discover that very soon botanas [snacks] will be dropping from the sky to fill the streets (and nooks and crannies) of Tuxtla! They are called nucu, and they are fat and clumsy flying ant that are due to appear any day now (they appear shortly after the tiny. dainty, long-winged insects take to the sky...and I saw a couple in my bathroom already!) The dopey nucu are attracted to the light, so the Tuxlecos [people from Tuxtla] have learned that they can capture these yummy treats by setting up tubs of water under strategically placed lightbulbs. After the initial luminous attraction, the nucu plunge to their watery death, and the Tuxtlecos gather them, fry them up in lime and salt, and dig in for a crunchy, tangy, and somewhat pungent once-a-year feast! I wanted to let you know for two reasons: one, you may bravely wish to try out this cultural delicacy yourself; and two, your students will in all likelihood be a little distracted and excited on the day the nucu arrive."

One: I tried grasshoppers, that was enough, thank you.
Two: It's June. My kids are already distracted and excited! :)

At our Wednesday morning meeting, my counterpart (the Spanish first grade teacher) Estela (who I called Estrella, or Star, for months by accident without being corrected) called them "caviar Chiapaneco", Chiapan caviar, because people will charge 10 pesos for a small container.
They have definitely distracted my kids, who have brought tupperware to school to try to catch them, and who ask (and are denied) permission to get out of morning line-up to go chase one that they saw on the ground. "Yes, I'm sure the Principal and Coordinator would love it if I let you run off and catch bugs while she's talking," I feel like saying, but instead opt for, "Not right now."
Anyhow, I could have a picture of one of my cutie pie students and his nucu collecting efforts, but I brought my camera without batteries!! Que tonta soy.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Alex in Chiapas!


I'm keeping this short until I hear from Alex, who is planning on writing up her take on her visit down here to Chiapas. I can tell you, though, that it was a memorable one for her.


I knew that having Al come down would, as a secondary effect to having wonderful company, remind me of things I've forgotten about. More than doing this, though, her visit confirmed a lot of the things that have been driving me crazy, like having to bargain a price for a taxi or anything in the market, and being stared at constantly.

Alex's favorite part of the trip was Palenque, partly because it was the "least Mexican" part of the trip. That's not to say the food and the people aren't good here (other 99% 0f the men), but life here can be chaotic, noisy, and a bit unpredictable. Palenque sees a lot of tourists, so it offers more peace and stability than Tuxtla.

Another interesting commentary from Alex: would life here have its appeal if it weren't so cheap? "Would be pay 15 dollars for these belts at home?" She asked. No, probably not, I thought. But, they're cute and they're about two dollars here... I think she might be onto something.
I feel a little guilty that Alex had to come in essentially my last month here, when I'm getting a little tired of the noise, relative disorganization, and the gross pigmen. On the one hand, she saw what life, as opposed to vacation, is like here; but I hope she didn't see so much that the trip lost its ability to be enjoyable!

My two highlights from Alex's journey south of the border were:


1. Swimming in a waterfall! Alex discovered one of my remaining fears: walking over a waterfall tidepool on a wet log.


2. Being chased by a mystery animal in the Olmec park. Alex has a lovely video of this, and when she can access her photos I hope to get a copy.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Student Art

Today I'm featuring some artwork by one of my students, whose name, you may have already guessed, is Maria José. (Note: she is a female student; José Maria is a male. That was fun to work out at first.) One Friday we had a bad day being "good listeners" in the computer lab, so I told them we wouldn't be going the next time. Instead, we practiced lining up, walking, and sitting quietly. And then, I had them each draw a picture of what it should look like and sound like when we're in the computer room. This was my favorite. Here we have Maria José, Ixchel, and Gustavo in the computer room, and Maria José is telling Ixchel not to talk. I am in the picture as well, with my hair braided as I had been doing that week, and the vocabulary words (that are sometimes stupid, like skip and ill to ESL first graders) we practice drawing are on the board.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A plug for Chiapas


In June, Continental Airlines is running a deal out of Boston and some other Northeast US cities: $283 or so, round-trip, all fees and taxes, to Mexico City. Sooooo...

This is your last time to come visit me in Chiapas! Free accomodation, cheap food, natural wonders, built-in guide and translator. And I get an excuse to take a couple days off from work, company, and possibly a little room in someone's suitcase going back!

You see, everyone wins. Come visit! :)

Lluvia!!!!!


If you don't speak Spanish and you are just looking at that picture and wondering, "...Why?", it's because I haven't seen a full rain shower (other than in Colombia) since November!! I'm rejoicing in the cool it's bringing and how it is calming down the dust. Life is good.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Agua!

Coming home from Pilates tonight, a lady who lives downstairs and who seems to play a leadership role in the building stopped me and informed me that I hadn't paid my water bill, and that if I didn't rectify the situation by tomorrow, they were going to cut off the water (to me? to the building? No sé). I told her that every time I go, they tell me it's already paid. I guess this time it hasn't been! I had thought the landlord was prepaying it.
Not wanting my cold showers to become dry showers, I plan to rectify this situation before the Faculty/Staff volleyball game tomorrow.
Did I just say "Faculty/Staff volleyball game"?? Good gravy, I am getting old.
Did I just say "Good gravy"?

Being a gourmande in Oaxaca

In French, for the non-francophones, the word gourmande is a word to describe someone who knows food, enjoys food, loves food... I wouldn't translate it as "glutton" because I don't think gourmande has the negative connotation. Can you say that a person is a gourmet? Anyhow, I am a gourmande, and as such thoroughly enjoyed Oaxaca City and a return trip to the beaches of Huatulco.
My favorite Oaxacan specialty has to be, hands down, MOLE. I think I've talked about this sauce, pronounced mo-lay, before. It hails from Oaxaca and comes in several varieties (I read on Wikipedia that Oaxaca is also known as "The Land of the Seven Moles"), the most typical being mole negro (black mole). Get around the fact that that sounds like a warning sign for melanoma, and you're free to enjoy its richness. The sauce is usually paired with chicken and sometimes can be found in tamales or other dishes. Once, here in Chiapas, I saw it on pizza. Something that weirds people out a bit about mole is one of its main ingredients: cacao. "Chocolate and chicken?!" Give it a try, it's a lot tastier than it sounds. Below is pollo enmolada, or chicken wrapped in tortillas covered with mole, lettuce, and cheese. Being the picky eater, I picked off the lettuce and cheese, forgetting to first take the photo. Learn more about mole here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(sauce)
The mention of chocolate brings me to Oaxaca's other specialty. Though quite different from European chocolate, the Oaxacan variety is simple (usually just ground cacao, sugar, and sometimes cinnamon or vanilla) and (I find) addictive. More on that: http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/mexicanchocolate.htm
Oaxaca is also known for its quesillo, a stringy cheese. Wikipedia compares it to "an un-aged Monterey Jack". I know what I like in the world of cheese, but, like wine, I can't use concrete, conventional adjectives to describe it. I leave you with Wikipedia again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oaxaca_cheese
One might think I'd be sated after the chocolate, cheese, and chicken mole, but there was more to come. When I was in town, there was a sort of culinary LARAC (Upstate NY reference, sorry) festival going on, with everything from huaraches (fried and loaded tortilla disks) to GELATO (not a native specialty, but...quite nice) to mezcal (the tequilla-like beverage that hosts the worm).
When I wasn't eating, I wandered picturesque streets (wander, eat, repeat) and visited two museums. I also visited Monte Alban, an ancient Zapotec city outside Oaxaca City. I was reminded why I'm wary of "tours": I could have paid 150 pesos (about $14 US) to go on a "tour" of Monte Alban. I thought this seemed high, and I remembered reading about a hotel that offered transportation to Monte Alban, so I found the hotel. Lo and behold, it was 34 pesos (about $3 US) instead of 150. Neither included admission (free for Mexican teachers with ID anyway), so the only difference would be the guide with the former option. Not worth the difference, I decided. I only lasted two hours in the heat before I was in the cafe, so it was a good decision to forego the guide.
What caught my attention at Monte Alban more than the ruins (I would fail as an anthropologist or archaeologist: I just stare) were the noises coming from the trees. This happened to me at Palenque, where I was taken in by the sounds of the howler monkeys more so than the pyramids. At Monte Alban, the noises in the trees were coming from 3-inch insects with huge eyes and a rhythmic sound that was painful to listen to at times. I am not sure if they were cicadas. The pictures I've seen of cicadas feature clear wings, and these insects don't fit that description. Any help with a biology lesson here would be appreciated!
After two days in Oaxaca City, I was off to meet my friend/colleague Danna in Huatulco. It was nice to be welcomed into a private, air-conditioned room after my night at the Oaxaca City hostel. I got a free night at Hostel MezKalito because I had stayed three nights in their hostel in Mexico City. But, in Mexico City I had a room for four with a private bathroom, and my free night in Oaxaca was in a 14-bed dorm with communal bathroom. Oh, well. I got a random parade out of the deal. (See photo)
I snorkeled in Huatulco to my heart's content. Maybe more. All I know is that I couldn't keep the mask on my head more than an hour the third day, as I was getting a headache with a potential to make a migraine. I've always known how much I love being in water, but snorkeling made me feel like I was swimming in an aquarium! I sometimes forgot that my back was out of the water and felt like I was down with the fish. A dive is imminent in my future, I can just feel it. The second day, our waiter claimed also
to be a snorkel guide and offered to take us out and show us the "species" in the water for 25 pesos each (about $2) for as long as we wanted his service, so we agreed. I got to hold a sea urchin, a sea cucumber, and a crazy starfish with a circle body and lonnnnng spiny tentacles. He looked like something out of Men in Black. This last picture is a great one of Danna in her groovy sunglasses, hiding from the late afternoon sun under her beach towel as we tried to flag down a cab in the middle of the desert. My camera batteries were dying at the beach, but we attempted some shots with Danna's underwater camera and hopefully those will develop well.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Day of the Child?

When I was a kid, I'd often ask my parents around Mother's Day or Father's Day, "Why isn't there a Kids' Day?"
"Every day is kids' day," came the reply. I didn't think that was a good answer when I was little, but... I get it now.
In Mexico, we have Dia del Nino... Day of the Child. I would have LOVED this when I was a kid! But as an adult (at least in physical state, perhaps not always mentally), in a culture where kids have it pretty darn good, I wonder... why? Why "Day of the Child"?
Well, it just goes with how much people here seem to love to spoil children. So today, we celebrated the little guys, and my school pulled out all the stops, offering a bouncy-bounce (brincolin in Spanish), pools, slip and slides, and SNACKS. I managed to stay pretty dry during the water fights (I claimed needing to protect the beverages... right), but most people, kids and adults alike, were soaked!
The kinder teachers decided to give their students pet turtles as gifts for Day of the Child. Cultural bells and whistles were going off in my head when I thought about what my mom would have said if my school sent me home with a PET they didn't ask for! But, I can laugh, because I'm not the one going home with a turtle, nor are my (non-existent) offspring!
The pictures feature:
1. one my students, soaked, who isn't so excited about school but does enjoy soccer and drawing;
2. another student, who gets so excited about school that she was depressed the day before vacation;
3. Glenn, a colleague, also soaked, who told me he can't just smile for a picture, so I said to make a face and this is what I got;
4. A random picture of some students with their Valentine's Day cards back in February (and one who made a Rambo headpiece with his tissue paper).



Thursday, April 19, 2007

Current Tuxtla Weather

Walking home today, I thought it felt pretty hot out, and that the sun was hurting my arms. So, I thought I'd check and see what the temperature is.

According to weather.com, at 4:45pm in Tuxtla (out of peak sun hours), it is 99 degrees F/38 or so Celsius, and "feels like 125". And instead of a "partly cloudy" or "mostly sunny" image, the image is haze and below is written, "Smoke". UV index? 10 + or "extreme".

Welcome to the jungle.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mexico City! (or, "And I thought drivers in Tuxtla were scary!")

ARRIVAL
After I reluctantly left Colombia and Diana and her family, I headed for Mexico City, or la Ciudad de Mexico, or el D.F. (pronounced day effay, which stands for Distrito Federal).
I arrived back at the Mexico City airport around 11pm, which I have decided is a labyrinth both in terms of its halls and its lack of credible gate postings, and I called the hostel I had reservations with. I was told before that a reservation at this hostel entitled me to free airport pickup, which would save me over 100 pesos (more than 10 dollars). So, I found a payphone and called the 800 number.
"The car will be white with no markings, a Nissan. What color is your baggage? Are you wearing pants or a skirt?" I suppose I have experienced sketchier?
The car arrived with the driver and a sidekick, neither of whom spoke to me very much. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't think I spoke Spanish? They drove me to the Hostel/Hostal Moneda on Calle de la Moneda (where did they ever think of that name??), I checked in, and in my half-asleep daze I signed up for a trip to the Pyramids for the next day. At 9am. And I actually got up and was clean and on time, somehow.

DAY ONE: MISSED WORM OPPORTUNITIES, PYRAMID SCALING, AND AN EARTH-SHAKING EVENT
At 9am pretty sharp for Mexican time, we headed out in two vans to go to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, the Guadeloupe Shrine/Church, a Tequila/Mezcal/Pulque sampling, and the Pyramids. I sat in the front because I was solo, and the driver caught on that I spoke Spanish. I sometimes forget that intergender friendliness here almost inevitably leads men into mistakenly thinking the female is interested in them... maybe this is just with foreign women, I really don't know since I can't test it as a non-foreign woman... anyhow, my friendly conversation with the driver to practice Spanish and just chat ended with repeated invitations for personal dance lessons that I managed to nicely get out of.
The rundown of Day One: Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where some of the only remaining pre-Hispanic ruins in the actually city are, the Guadeloupe Shrine, where the supposed miracle image of Guadeloupe/the Virgin Mary can be found and where a church was built for her because of this miracle, and Tequila/Mezcal/Pulque sampling. All three of these alcoholic beverages are made from maguey, a cactus. I took a picture of the worm in the Mezcal, put it down, and then thought, "WAIT! I should drink it!!" only to turn around and see someone else on the trip ready to down the gusano. Next time.
Then we hit the pyramids. They are the Pyramide de la Luna (of the moon) and the Pyramide del Sol (of the sun). The Pyramid del Sol looks like the mountain range behind it, and the Pyramide de la Luna hides the mountain range behind it. If you follow the link at the bottom, you can see what I described. After hiking the mountains, I stopped into the restaurant/bar just outside the pyramid area with 2 British people I had climbed with, Jared and Jill. I was telling them never to pay over 20 pesos, maybe 25 for a beer in Mexico, when I found out our beers were 30 apiece.
I had dinner with Jared and Jill, and Jill tried my pollo en mole (chicken in MOH-LAY sauce). Her response? "If it looks like a mole, and tastes like a mole, don't eat it!" I happen to love the stuff. After this, we hit the hostel bar, where the bartender wasn't shy about pouring tequila down patrons' throats, and where I wasn't shy about asking the DJ to (attempt to) dance. Not sure what got into me. Oh yes I am: it comes from maguey.
Then, the room started moving, and my chair was rocking, and I thought, "I haven't had much to drink, but maybe I should stop, this doesn't feel right." The motion got stronger, and I told Jill I shouldn't drink anymore because things were moving and swaying, and she said they were for her too, and we realized what was the cause: an earthquake!! We weren't at the epicenter, where it was a 6 or so I was told, so it was only a 3 or 4 for us, but quite an experience to have and better than my first earthquake when we thought someone had driven a car into the building.

DAY TWO: DOWNTOWN, INSECT EATING, MUSEUMS, AND LUCHA LIBRE
The second day, I took the hostel's free walking tour of the downtown historical area. I saw the history of Mexico as painted by Diego Rivera, explored the National Cathedral, and entered the fanciest Post Office I've ever encountered. We also stopped at a market with food and Mezcal from Oaxaca, and one of the items available for sampling was fried grasshoppers. I'm not sure why, but I decided, Why not try? With lime, of course. An interesting thing to try, but they just crunch and don't taste like much.
I explored the Fine Arts museums and the National Museum of Anthropology by myself for the rest of the afternoon and early evening, and then at the last minute I decided to go to the Lucha Libre, or Mexican wrestling, even though I hate wrestling, because it might make for an interesting cultural experience. There were no tickets left at the hostel so I went anyway and bought a ticket from a guy selling them outside on the street. The most interesting thing for me was that when the bikini-clad women came out, the men didn't go much more crazy than they do when my female companions and I walk down the street... I expected them to fall over themselves because they're so rude to us, and we're clothed and not model-esque. They offered the bikini girls a few whistles and catcalls, but nothing too insane. Kind of a relief.

DAY THREE: MYO TOUR AND A FAIRY TALE EVENING
On Saturday, I wanted to go on the hostel's Frida Kahlo/Xochimilco tour or the market and Mexican cooking expedition, but they were both postponed till Sunday and I was leaving midday Sunday. So, I decided to make my own tour. I somehow made it the kilometer or so from the metro stop to Frida's house with a map and without getting lost once. There was a lot of interesting memorabilia, including the bed she died in and many letters between her and Diego.
The second stop was to be Xochimilco, a canal network just outside the city. I'd seen pictures of the colorful boats and really wanted to go, so I started to follow the directions in the Lonely Planet guide. It sounded painless: metro to Taxquena, light rail to Xochimilco, taxi or walk or bus it to the ports. As it turned out, the metro to Taxquena was closed and they were running extremely crowded bus transportation, and the light rail had 15 or so stops before Xochimilco. The whole trip took over an hour. I arrived and started asking around about prices for boat/gondola rides, only to realize that most people rent them as a family of 10 or so and that the public/colectivo boats weren't running (or no one was going to miss business telling me where they were). I finally struck a deal with one guy/company for a half-hour tour for 100 pesos. I hadn't hit an ATM and didn't know where to find one, it was late in the afternoon and I had ballet tickets, so the 30 minutes would have to do.
Families take these boats out and ride for the afternoon or the day, connecting with vendor boats to buy corn, snacks, meals, or mariachi services. They also stop in parks, garden shops, and ice cream stands. It was loud and chaotic, colorful and exciting, much like life in Mexico.
I took a colectivo bus and the subway back to my hostel, and I had to hustle because I had bought tickets to that night's ballet, La Bella Durmiente, or Sleeping Beauty, to be held in the Chapultepec Castle and performed by the National Dance Company. You can imagine why I couldn't pass this fairy tale up, and it seemed like a great first ballet. I didn't realize that the castle is actually a CASTLE, I think built by the Spanish during their days of Mexican occupation, and it is up on a hill offering an amazing view of Mexico City. I didn't bring my camera because if they weren't allowed in I would have nowhere to leave it, so I most unfortunately do not have pictures of the ballet or the castle and its view! Qué lastima.
I was pleasantly surprised by the view, and unpleasantly surprised at the attire. I came in capris, a sleeveless shirt, and tennis shoes because I hadn't brought anything formal for two weeks with one backpack. I'm 99% sure I was the worst dressed person there. But, it was an incredible show, with a real castle as the backdrop, and I got my program autographed by three of the lead dancers. I woke up the next day with the feeling that it had just been a dream, and had to think back on specific moments to convince myself that I really had been there.
On the subway home, I felt a bug in my hair and tried to swat it out. As it turned out, it was something with a stinger, and it sunk its sharpness into my index finger. I managed to remove the stinger and watched my finger redden and swell as I rode home. I would much rather be stung by five jellyfish than whatever got me in the subway.

LAST HURRAH
Sunday morning, I tried to go to the Casa de Francia (la Maison de la France, the French Embassy) before leaving the city, but it was closed. I looked again at the address in the Lonely Planet, and it said Monday-Saturday. My disappointment made it a little easier to leave the city.
Check out pictures here: http://bu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2135884&l=0d5bf&id=904160

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bebe!

In posting the picture of Diana's niece, I realized I didn't post this picture when it was taken. I love the look on Nathan (the baby)'s face, but I especially love Amy's! It's so her...

Colombian Food

Above: fried plantains, rice, white beans, potatoes, beef, and pork. Essentially, the staples of Colombian food. Accompanied by jugo de maracuya.

Here are some things I ate, rated on a scale of 1-10 by a fussy eater (yours truly).

AJIACO
A corn, potato, and chicken stew/soup, made with amor by Diana's mamita. Probably very good in cold weather. Pretty good in mild weather, too!
Rating: 7-8, and this coming from a non-soup/stew eater.

AGUA DE PANELA
Panela, a sugar cane product, dissolved in hot water... what's not to like?
Rating: 10 (Yo amo azucar)

PAN HOJALDRADA
Typical at breakfast. Like a croissant or pain au chocolate without chocolate, thus:
Rating: 10

CHICHA
Alcoholic beverage made from corn. Sort of tastes like a thick and corny version of champagne... sort of. An acquired taste.
Rating: 7

CHURRASCO
Basically a medium-rare steak.
Rating: 9-10

TAMALES
I prefer the Mexican ones. The Colombian ones have a different consistency and lack mole sauce.
Rating: 6

CHOCOLATE (CALIENTE)
I hate hot chocolate from the package. Nice improvement here.
Rating: 9

BOCADILLO
At first bite, strange. Made from guava (guayabana?). Grows on you.
Rating: 9-10

AREQUIPE
Variation on caramel. Taste varies from good to kickin'. I prefer dulce de leche, though.
Rating: 9
BREVAS CON AREQUIPE
Figs with arequipe (see above). I only like Figs in the Newtons.
Rating: 5 (in Mexico, 5 is failing)

COW MILK, STRAIGHT UP
Whoa.
Rating: 6
CREPES AND WAFFLES
Colombian chain (as far as I know) of restaurants offering dinner and dessert crepes, ice cream, and combos of the two.
Rating: Off the charts
Below: Banana split from Crepes and Waffles. I also had their Nutella crepe, three flavors of ice cream, and a chicken broccoli crepe, on other occasions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

COLOMBIA

Note: The colors yellow, blue, and red have been used to title sections of my Colombian adventures because they are the three colors of Colombia's flag. As it was explained to me, the yellow symbolizes gold/wealth, the blue is for the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and the red is for the blood shed for the nation.

Arrival
From the moment I arrived in Colombia until the moment I left, I was surrounded by hospitality from some of the friendliest and most welcoming people I've ever met. I am not just talking about Diana's mother, who was a more than amazing hostess! When I arrived at the Bogota El Dorado International Airport, Diana was nowhere to be found. I tried to stay awake, given that an hour on a table in the food court at the Mexico City airport was all the sleep I'd gotten the previous night. I had considered checking into the airport Hilton. Then I remembered I'm a poor teacher in Mexico.
Anyway, I did my best to put on the, "I know what I'm doing, I'm not lost" face.
"Are you lost? Are you waiting for someone?" The face is clearly flawed.
I turned my head and saw a girl about my age or a little older who looked concerned. I explained to her that I was waiting for a friend to pick me up, and she ended up letting me use her phone and offered to take me to her apartment, an offer which I declined even though she was probably harmless, and she asked me to call her once Diana came to get me so that she wouldn't worry! All this, from a stranger. I knew Diana was nice, but I hadn't yet realized she's pretty representative of Colombian people.

POLLO!
When Diana finally found me (she had been in another part of the airport), we had to look for her cunado (brother-in-law), and he was nowhere to be found. While waiting, I ran into what to my sleep-deprived mind was the COOLEST item ever: Chicken flavored Lays potato chips! Lays potato chips are called Sabritas in Mexico and come in lime and chile flavors, among other things, but not CHICKEN! Lays chips are also called Margaritas in Colombia, by the way. At the end of the trip I bought a package of 12 bags of chicken flavored chips, and I still have a good 6-8 of those if anyone wants to test them!

Lexical Differences
"Chido." "What?" "Cool." "We don't say that here." This was one of many times when my Mexican Spanish became a topic of conversation as Diana and I compared Mexican and Colombian vocabulary and slang. Below are a few differences. On the left, Mexican words; in the middle, their Colombian counterparts; on the right, rough English translations.
chido/padre -- chevere/bacano -- cool
wey -- marica -- dude
cuate -- socio -- friend/buddy
popote -- petillo -- straw
Que onda? -- Que hubo/Que mas? -- What's up/How's it going?
extranar -- hacer falta -- to miss something/someone
pilo/a --listo/a -- smart/clever/quick
Also, a backpack is a mochilla in Mexico but a maleta in Colombia, and a bolsa in Mexico (like a purse/handbag) is a mochilla in Colombia. I was a little confused.

Taking it to the street
Both Diana and her sister called me "pila", which means quick or smart, and they were referring to my streetsmarts, navigation skills, and common sense. I have to include that because my mom worries a whole lot about my safety abroad, partially because I have my fair share of blonde moments. So, Mom, I now know two people who think I manage pretty well out there in the big, bad world! :)
I tried telling Diana's sister that I wasn't so street saavy before living abroad, and that before I couldn't find my way out of a wet paper bag. The expression didn't translate so well.

Magic Passports
"Cuanto vale el pasaporte magico?" (How much does the magic passport cost?)
What?

On Tuesday, Diana took me to Salitre Magico, which roughly means Magic Forest, an amusement park in Bogota. The tickets to enter the park are called "magic passports," and I'm a cheeseball so I found that amusing. In short, we got rained on and then found out we hadn't bought rain insurance, AND that admission is more than half off on Wednesdays, the next day. But we still had fun, except when they wouldn't let us on the kiddie swings because we were over 1m45 tall. Looking at the seats, I don't know if it would have held my budonkudonk anyhow.
The photo: I thought it was an egg; it was a coffee bean.

Karaoke
One of my goals in life (and I'm not shy about it) is to do Karaoke on all six naturally inhabited continents. I've been told to do it on Antarctica too... I'll think about that after the first six are accomplished.
So when Diana asked me what I wanted to do when I came to Colombia, I told her, "Anything you plan is fine with me! But, I really want to do Karaoke!"
I can now say I have sung the Backstreet Boys on three continents.
Unfortunately, the song I practiced, Shakira's "Estoy Aqui", was not on the menu. Que lastima.

Salsa
If you've seen me dance -- okay, stop laughing now, -- if you've seen me dance, you can imagine how well it went when we went out dancing. Diana's sisters mistakenly thought I was bored when I didn't want to dance and tried very hard to convince me that I needed to dance. I wasn't bored; I was quite content watching. It was sort of like being in Germany where everyone speaks fluent German and all you can muster is Guten tag (Hello) or Wie schmecken die bonen? (How do the beans taste?) I've worked up to the point where my mind and my hips know the rhythm, but my *#$%* feet are still lost in translation. So I was content just observing until Andrés came along.
"Bailemos?" (Shall we dance?)
"No puedo bailar." (I can't dance.)
"Si, puedes." (Yes you can.)
"No, no sé bailar." (No, I don't know how to dance.)
"Te enseno." ("I'll teach you.")
I gave up and took the floor. Andrés was patient, but also a smooth talker and I may have found this charming in my younger years (not that I'm ancient, but you get the idea). Now, though, I had to stiffle laughter when he said, "My friend wants to go to another bar. But he's not dancing with a beautiful blonde girl." Right, Andres. Strap on your boots, the mierda's getting deep.
We danced a couple of songs, I assaulted Andres' feet, I went back to my friends, and he came and got me to dance again a little while later. Masochist.
Just before we were going to leave, a visibly drunk man came and sat at our table. I understood the words he was saying, but I had NO IDEA what in the world he was talking about. I started doubting my Spanish, till Diana told me she couldn't understand a thing he was saying, either.

Lovin' It
On Wednesday, Diana and I started calling the airport daily to try to change my flight. I was loving Colombia and didn't care if I ever left; but staying an extra few days would have to be enough. They didn't have availability until we called Saturday morning, hours before my departure, and found out that something opened up for Wednesday and that I could get four more days of Bogota.

Sights
In addition to the historical/downtown area, the bohemian Candelaria/Chorro area, many malls, and the artisan markets (see photo) of Bogota itself, we left the city Friday to go to the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) in Zipaquira. More info on it here: http://www.catedraldesal.gov.co/
On the way, we went to Panaca, a "Safari" that had rare animals such as cows, goats, and dogs. It was funny because I didn't grow up far from farms, and almost none of the animals there were new to me, but my Bogota-dwelling friends were impressed. There were two highlights: milking a cow (and then tasting the milk, blech) and holding a baby goat that had been born that morning! Oh, and the free snack that went with the milk. I love snacks.



Bebé!
If you know me, you know that I don't pass up the opportunity to hold a baby when it arises. So I really took to Diana's niece, Mariana, and she apparently took to me, falling asleep on my shoulder. I dozed myself for a bit, and Diana wanted a picture but I woke up.


Bittersweet Ending
I was really bummed to have to leave Colombia and Diana, who is a wonderful person and a great friend. I also knew that leaving Colombia meant my vacation was almost over. So because of that, coupled with Diana's mother's bear hug at the airport, I was teary-eyed as I left and headed for security. I rarely cry anymore, so I was really surprised that I got choked up leaving Colombia and Diana.
I had managed to supress the waterworks, kept it in, and then got my Colombian beer confiscated by security because it was over 100mL. Now THAT'S something worth crying over. I refrained, though.
As I mentioned, I felt incredibly welcomed by everyone I met in Colombia, right up to the travelers I met in the airport gate as I was leaving. They were a woman, her sister, and her husband, and they ended up giving me their address for when I come back to Colombia! Talk about hospitality.
I know I'll return to "Locombia", and hopefully soon. Di and I have plans to visit the Zona Cafetera (where they grow coffee), Las Amazonas (that should be self-explanatory), the coast, etc. etc. I liked it so much I could even see teaching there for a little while. Who knows.

I almost forgot...
There were two comical (after the fact) run-ins or would-be run-ins with the Colombian police. First, Diana's brother-in-law got locked in the ATM. We tried to flag cops down, and they weren't stopping. Finally Edwin got out, and we got back in the car and drove away. Diana's sister, Edwin's wife, said something about the cops not following us or not being able to know it was him trapped in the ATM, and I thought, it's not his fault he got stuck in the ATM. I found out later that he knew something about wiring and CUT two wires to make the alarm stop so he could get out. And that is why we dashed out of the area so fast.
The second interesting police incident happened during one of my last nights in Bogota. Diana's friend and her friend's brother were driving us home, and we randomly got pulled over by the cops. Apparently this isn't uncommon. They asked the brother (I can't remember his name) to get out, they patted him down, and then asked for all of our IDs and if we were all citizens. I only had my teacher ID and a wet copy of my passport on me. They told the cop that one of us was American and my stomach did a flip-flop. I was certain that my citizenship was going to cause a problem, but au contraire, once they heard this there were no further questions and we were sent on our way. Still can't explain it.

I believe you can see the rest of my Colombia pictures here...
http://bu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2132561&l=5812f&id=904160

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spanish words, and today's news

Before I post my recent new Spanish words, I would just like you to know what happened as I was sitting at the table at the staff meeting this morning at 7:30am. In my half-asleep-before-1oam state, I felt something crawling on my leg and somehow knew immediately what it was: COCKROACH!! I hate cucarachas. Becoming their playground was not in my contract...

And if I didn't already mention it, I was stung by jellyfish and confronted by a scorpion last weekend at the beach. I'm thinking after all my creature encounters this year, I could sit on a crocodile tomorrow and not bat an eye. But I don't plan on testing that.

New Spanish words:
chinga, chinga: a vulgar, not classy way to affirmatively respond
asuetos: days off/free day
sasco: gross
lloriquear: to whine
aniquilar(se): to annihilate
ceniza: Lent
empuesta: survey/poll
cotorrear: hang out/joke around? (help!)
coincidir (sp?): to coincide, have time free at the same time as someone else, etc.
sobredosis: overdose
orientador: counselor
ataud: coffin
huelga: strike (ex: a labor strike)
Crees en el amor a primera vista o vuelvo a pasar?
pecoro/a: sinner
cangrejo: crab
frasco: small bottle, flask
roble: oak tree
mecedora (sp?): rocking chair
tenue: blurry/fuzzy (like in images)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mi mundo

This map is painted on the wall of the entryway into a hotel in nearby San Cristobal, where I seem to find myself at least once or twice a month. I have a feeling when the temperature is 110 F and we have 90-something percent humidity, I may find myself up there in that mountain town more often.
Anyhow, I think this is a FABULOUS depiction of Chiapas and the surrounding areas. I definitely haven't seen a lot of it... but I have checked out Tuxtla, of course, San Cristobal, the Canon del Sumidero, Chiapa de Corzo, Chamula, Zinacantan, Puerto Arista, Tapachula.... okay, as I start the list I realize that I've seen a good amount of the places around me... here's to seeing more in the next three months!
June 30th I'm heading home! ...For a little while, anyway.