Thursday, November 3, 2011

3 Noviembre, 2011

I begin by offering my overarching lesson learned during these days of holiday for you to think about throughout this entry: the Day of the Dead is really all about what it means to be living.
With some other YAGM, I went last night to Ocotepec, a small municipality very close to Cuernavaca. It took a very long time to figure out where to park because Ocotepec is one of the last places in the country where families who have experienced a death in the family in the past year open their houses to friends, family, and strangers to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Each house welcomes the long line of people in with a path of marigold flower petals, lanterns, endless burning of incense and large arches of more marigolds and streamers. It is customary to present to a family member a candle as a sign of offering, and then each person can take in the beautiful and many times eerie (in my opinion) offering to the lost one. The long lines continue to curve around in the house area and traditional coffee, tea, punch, or atole are served along with tamales – unfortunately all containing meat... There was a tiny folding table outside one of the chapels with handmade signs asking people to purchase their ceramic mugs to use instead of the styrofoam cups that were being discarded everywhere from the rain gutters to the tops of cars. I believe we were the only ones at the table. Anyway, it was so amazing to see the HUGE pots where food and drink were warming over wood fires and observe the hundreds and hundreds of flowers bought to welcome people from near and far. We were welcomed with a smile each time that neither seemed to contain happiness nor sadness, rather a duty of carrying out tradition.
Children, many times carried by their mothers, were trick-or-treating in the streets going from small shop to small shop reciting Spanish sayings and wearing costumes (mostly of skulls, devils, and Chucky). Outside of the large municipality cathedral was a mariachi band singing and playing traditional songs, proudly welcoming everyone to enjoy the town's history. A news reporter suddenly appeared in front of us asking if we were extranjeros (foreigners) and if we would answer a few questions about being here in Mexico. We didn't really know what to say. Then the camera light came on and we decided to take a rain check.
I went with my host family and with a more than healthy dose of Montezuma’s Revenge to a pantiรณn – large and fancy cemetery – today. Such an interesting celebration. The extended family kept asking how our Day of the Dead is different than theirs. It was so difficult for me to explain that this celebration is like a combination of Halloween, Memorial Day, and game day football tailgating. Seriously. Countless families bring picnics and eat them at the site of their deceased one or in the backs of their cars. Kids and adults alike carry large buckets of water and brooms to clean the tombs and grave sites, decorating them with flowers and other offerings. Some are trying to vend food like churros at small stands in the streets. Others sell their cleaning services for the grave sites. Small bands of guitars and accordions wander around and people pull them over to play the favorite song of their lost loved one. Prayers and rosaries are recited. All this is happening at the same time.
One of the many prayers and songs my host family was singing/crying to their deceased mother included the words “We need death to know we are living.” Not sure how I feel about it – truthfully the words rock me and make me want to cry out in protest. But something inside me knows they're right.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

23 Octubre, 2011

23 Octubre 2011

A week in el Districto Federal (Mexico City). My eyes are red and ultra sensitive to light as I recover from a week in the worst smog I've ever experienced in my life. The poor, unaccustomed foreigner even needed eyedrops. That being said, what an amazing experience I had. Every day this past week the lady I worked with and I ate at the same cocina (restaurant/kitchen) for comida, and I was the memorable “guerrita” all the cooks grew to know and greet whenever I passed. It was some of the best food I've ever had – tortilla soup, different vegetables stuffed with cheese and covered with eggs and salsa, homemade tortillas, water flavored with different fresh fruits. My boss and I also had some amazing street breakfasts – we either walked to a street vendor who sold atole (a warm drink made of corn and rice or corn and oatmeal or corn and chocolate) and tamales (corn dough with different sauces) or we would go to a market and eat sopes and gorditas with beans or cheeses. Delicious. Mexico City is, of course, huge and prides itself on all the variety in restaurants. Personally, for a big city I still did not see much international food, but I'm sure it has the best Mexican food selection in the world.
I worked at the Diego Rivera museum as my main reason for being in the city, preparing for an art exhibit for the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) highlighting the beautiful culture of Morelos (the state in which I live). The woman who invited me to help her and observe her work this week is a journalist and has traveled all over Mexico, especially Morelos, studying culture preservation and expression. She told me a lot about her work, her philosophy of life, the relationship between Mexicans and US citizens, and the pride she has in the lifestyle of Mexicans. It was also fascinating to meet her son, who works in the corporate world, in many ways promoting ideas of globalization, but at the same time with a very realistic consciousness of the importance of his mother's work. We had some really interesting conversations about the different perspectives of globalization and what that means especially in Mexico. Priceless, especially from his viewpoint.
It was kind of embarrassing many times when I would comment on something I observed in Mexico City and attributed it to what I know from the lifestyles of people in small town Mexico. For example, when I asked one of the young guys if he goes to church on all his days off (always Sundays) he laughed and said no. When I commented on PDAs in some restaurants and chuckling that everyone lives at home with families and needs to show affection somewhere, my companions looked at me like I was psycho. These things are NOT true in la Ciudad, they said.
I really miss the young people I got to work with this week. By the end of one week, some of us went to a restaurant and had a great time together. They were all so patient with me and eager to listen and answer any questions I had about working in a museum, living as youth in Mexico City, learning other languages, and other topics. We listened to pop music all day while we worked on endless little projects including making and gluing thousands of paper tissue flowers to candle holders, archways, and boxes; putting countless painted skulls and bakery bread in creative arrangements around alters of Marys and Jesuses; and putting up ginormous pictures of different houses, highways, and churches in Morelos.
From this experience, I hope you ALL appreciate the work that goes into museum exhibits, because it is NOT easy and quick work. We were often working from 9:30am to 7:30pm, and as many of you can appreciate because this really says something - I was almost always too tired to even use the FREE INTERNET when I got home. Additionally, I hope that everyone in the world goes to as many culturally-informative events as possible because you can learn so much about the values of people. It struck me as odd that even one state over, cultural knowledge had to be obtained through a museum, not through firsthand knowledge about neighbors or people living within the same country. I admit there are many differences between small town Coatetelco and Mexico City, but they both exist right now, they both share a common country history, they both speak the same language, and they are interrelated in ways they don't even realize. Strange that a museum exhibit has to connect that for some people. Really makes me think about what I am not seeing right next to me all the time. One person told me something that was very interesting to think about – she said she was worried about my experience in Mexico because I am working and living in places that do not have access to a lot of resources, and it is not an accurate portrayal of all of Mexico. Of course she is right that even my experience in Mexico City was much more comfortable and similar to my lifestyle in the US, but does that mean that my placement in an area outside of this is any less of a representation of Mexico? At the same time, I know I get frustrated when people who know only the big cities of the US think they know how life is in Iowa. Does that mean I'm worried about their opinions? I don't know.
I was told by multiple people that I look more European (German when they found out I am German and Norwegian) than US American because of my height, the shape of my face, my clothes, and my serious manner. I was also told I am an intellect needing to find my life's goal so I can pass on all my brilliant observations to others, because right now I just have tons of insight and no way of expressing it.Never stop learning, do we?

Friday, October 14, 2011

12 Octubre 2011

A situation I've always imagined I would react to differently:

I sit on a ledge waiting for my coworkers to show up outside a recycling center in a somewhat-hidden side street. A woman walks up carrying bags ready to go to the market nearby. She asks if it is OK to put on her bra in front of me because it is the only place nearby where she won't be seen. I ask her to repeat partly because I don't really believe she is going to put her bra on in front of me but mainly because I don't catch everything she says. She realizes I am a foreigner. She asks me why I came here from the US. I never mentioned I was a US American. I tell her I am doing social service work and explain what I studied in college. She tells me that's interesting and she is a lawyer (though I believe she is out of work right now). She begins forwardly telling me: Mexico is a rich country with beautiful people, and my country would crash if it did not have Mexican workers picking its apples. How it so incredibly unjust that my people are refusing Mexican workers just prices. She asks me how old I am – seventeen, eighteen? Twenty-two. She nods as if that clarifies something and says she is thirty-four and has seen it all. She asks where my jeans were made as if testing me. I shrug and say, “Probably China.” She shakes her head and says it is due to Mexican labor that I am wearing these jeans. She asks why I (presumably as a US American) am in so much debt, yet can afford to control the world economy. Mexico, so rich in natural resources and so amazing in culture, if it had an infrastructure, could do the same. I reply, embarrassed but mostly angry and feeling totally affronted, “I don't know. I'm not America.” I tell her, “So clearly you're angry. What would you like me to do about it?” (for the books, I was not sassy externally – I made sure of that) She rapidly assures me it is not anger (though I still disagree that anger is entirely lacking), but something she can't exactly pinpoint. She smiles, thanks me for talking, gives me her number, and tells me we should have coffee sometime.
What do you think you would you do in this situation?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

6 Octubre, 2011

Worked at a recycling center today, which will most likely be my other work site for the remainder of the year. It was a good place – some awesome people who have already invited me to participate in activities with them and for me to eat at their houses with them in the future. I think I've found a different crowd in Cuernavaca. People who literally dedicate all their time to the environment. Though this program is not at all related to Grail, the women's organization I am supposed to be working for much of the rest of the time here, I feel like the holistic approach these people at the recycling center have fits almost perfectly with the ideals of Grail. For example, I was driving in one of the women's car to pick up some car parts for our 'delivery truck' and she was telling me how impressive it is and how much she approved that a young person was a vegetarian. (She told me she'd make chicken for me, instead, when I came to her house.... beside the point). She said people do not pay attention enough to what they consume, food-wise or material-wise. Another lady told me she's been doing meditation for many years and that it's so important to take care of your body and soul as well as your environment. She also told me she used to live in Mexico City in a community with 500+ people and only 8 people regularly participated in recycling. I am trying to figure out what to think about the fact that the employees seem to think Mexico is especially guilty in its lack of care, culturally, for the environment. Unfortunately, I'm not so sure it's that unique. The 5 employees at this center do SO MUCH work. They have so much tedious separation of products to do that they hardly have time for maintaining logistics of the organization. They also like to go to schools and, occasionally, to other states around Mexico to promote appropriate recycling separation practices (sidenote- I had no idea there were so many types of clear plastic bags). Anyway, I am out of shape for sure, because my back hurts and I had to take many breaks from sorting today. I would love to help them with the education piece. But there is literally so much tedious work to do that we have to wait to get things cleared out so we can even start to think about building an office from which to organize this work. We'll see which way the wind blows from here!

Monday, October 3, 2011

3 Octubre, 2011

It's interesting to observe the ways in which I feel I am experiencing globalization. Among countless other instances, I have seen many examples of cross-cultural marriage here that have taught me so much just by the small interactions I have with people here. This includes people from the US marrying people from Mexico, people from Mexico marrying people from the US, people from Kenya marrying people from Germany, living in Mexico, and more. It is really a beautiful thing. And it makes me laugh at myself because many of my insecurities here in the first few weeks have been trying to figure out how people from different countries view me. Surely, I am judged. Surely, I am foreign. Surely, I am measured. Surely, I am not able to speak all languages. But, when I watch people from all backgrounds embrace; when I hear stories of shared happiness; when I see a Kenyan buying German food in a Mexican grocery store (only made me miss German bakeries a little...), I absolutely laugh at my fears. Obviously, love exists across borders. Obviously, the fact that I literally see cross-cultural love and affection every day means I am not a foreigner of love. Maybe I'm just a person, like everybody else.