always catching up

Happy Wednesday! What a week! I have tried to start this post on three separate Wednesdays, but that’s always been how I’ve tried to start this particular post.

My Spanish is improving and I can feel my confidence in the language boosting as I figure out how to better tell stories and express myself. One way that I have done this is by digging into world news and local news in only Spanish. It’s easy to see that our world is hurting and it’s a new experience for me to be so near to several natural disasters that happened so quickly, in a row. Besides for the earthquakes themselves, something I already know will be a take-home for me is the vocabulary I have learned from news reports, fellow students and faculty, and street acquaintances. I feel like I have learned so many words in such little time, and one reason is that I’ve been forced to figure out how to describe things.

Since I posted last time, a whole lot of things have taken place. I moved to a different house for security reasons almost a month ago today and it has been great getting to know my new host family and surroundings. I had a really hard time deciding to talk to my coordinator about the issues I’d been experiencing and I really didn’t want to leave after living with my other host family for more than a month. Even though it was uncomfortable, I am so, so glad that I decided to move. I feel safer, and I live much closer to my friends and the institute and things have been going a lot smoother. Our classes are going very well and I am still so happy to be in the classes that I chose because they also really add to my experience of understanding Oaxaca and Mexico better. In our literature class, we talk a lot about dimensions of Mexican hospitality and colonialism, and read a lot of letters and texts from before, during and after the conquest. I found it particularly interesting to read correspondence letters from conquistadors to Charles V. I also really enjoy my history course, which is being team-taught by two Oaxacan professors. It’s very quick-paced as we are going through 500+ years of history in about eight weeks, but I feel like I’m learning so much and am really able to connect our conversations to my literature course and to current happenings in Oaxaca.

We’ve had quite a few earthquakes here, but definitely not at the magnitude of the first two. I’m still not a big fan of the earth under me shaking, and I get scared pretty much every time they happen. The Saturday morning after the big 7.1 magnitude one in Mexico City we experienced a 6.1 earthquake that sent me out of my host home in my pajamas around seven in the morning before our excursion with Envia.

Envia is a small micro-loan business that offers small loans to women with businesses in small communities. Apparently, getting a loan in Mexico is relatively difficult, but when you’re a small business owner with little capital and have never had an affiliation with a bank before it’s nearly impossible. It was eye-opening to see how far a little bit of care can go, and they have a simple yet complex approach to how they serve and keep women in charge. On our tour, we visited three businesses: a salon, a tortilleria, and a weaving business.

We also had the chance to see two small Catholic churches: Iglesia San Sebastian Abasolo right outside of the city, and Iglesia de Sangre de Cristo in Teotitlan del Valle. That evening, a few friends and I were exploring and got caught up in the rain and found a very small restaurant with the best tlayudas and chocolate oaxaqueno that I’ve had here.

The following week we took the liberty to explore close to home. On September 28, most of our crew took a tour of the Ethnobotanical Gardens of Oaxaca which was extremely cool! Located directly next to Iglesia Santo Domingo in Centro, the gardens belonged to the convent that was established almost 500 years ago. The gardens were revamped in the eighties after the Mexican military moved out of the sixteenth-century convent because of a surge in the popularity of Oaxacan art and history, but much of it remains same or very similar to the original gardens, including some very, very tall and old cacti!

The next day we visited the Museum of Oaxacan Culture (located in the old convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman) for an assignment, and it was completely incredible! It is home to nearly 10,000 pre-hispanic artifacts, plus many interesting colonial pieces. I was blown away by the magnitude of the museum, I’d never been to such an interesting and full museum.

My knee-buckling moment in the museum was walking into a big room, to one of the most stunning ceilings I’d ever seen! My jaw dropped and I had to sit down just to take it in. Unfortunately, no picture I’ve seen does much justice!

Sorry, this took so long to post! I’m very glad to be here and be busy with activities though, too. I feel like the pictures tell a longer story, too!

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un, dos, tres, cuatro

If you didn’t get my title reference, get educated here:

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Welcome to my blog! I decided that it would be a real shame if I never had a blog in my life and there was a massive earthquake here or something. ***Spoilers!!*** Here are the past four weeks!!!

 

¡Saludos desde Oaxaca! This semester I am a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University studying away in Oaxaca, Mexico! As of today, we have been in the country for three weeks and two days. Studying abroad this semester was a great option for me because I am already pretty far along in the Hispanic Studies program at PLU and I can even finish my minor here (seriously thinking about majoring?!?) because of the credits I am receiving while taking courses here.

 

After departing from DFW during Hurricane Harvey (wow), I arrived in Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez in CDMX around 7 pm with a flight to Aeropuerto Internacional Xoxocotlán in OAX around 9 pm. I thought that would be a good enough layover. I WAS WRONG. After taxiing around for twenty minutes in the giant airport, going through customs, picking up my luggage, going through international baggage check, exchanging dollars for pesos, and walking around lost for a good ten minutes before finding some help and then finding the air tram to terminal 2 – I waited in line to check in my luggage again with and Aeroméxico stood in line for 50 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a flight before with or without my family and I did NOT want this to be my first time in one of the craziest international airports in the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. For some reason, that made me pretty nervous. Extremely grateful to Sam and my mom who walked me through that over iMessage and Messenger because my phone doesn’t work here while I was freaking out in line!!

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I finally got through checking in with 20 minutes to go through security. Luckily, the officers understood my plight and let me go through quickly, only asking why the heck I was carrying such a large container of granola bars and six pairs of shoes in my carry-on. Girls just wanna have fun, amirite? Once I got to my gate, I realized that there weren’t enough physical gates for us at the airport, which means we’d be delayed a bit and I felt like I could breathe! They just took us to a part of the runway by bus to where the plane was. This was familiar because it’s how we got from Brussels to Kigali in 2014! The plane to OAX was small, and I met some cool kids traveling together from NY. They had been traveling for a while (livin’ the lyfe) and Cancun was their ultimate destination but they were going to be in Oaxaca for a few days. Without knowing much, I told them about a few places I knew we would be checking out as a group and we chatted for a good amount of time. The director of the Wang Center also happened to be on that flight and it was comforting to have her there to talk about the crazy ride I’d had and all the weird things I ran into, and to have her there when I was picking up my luggage in Oaxaca and meeting my host family.

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We landed and I met my host parents, Pedro and Magda around 11:30pm. They had made a sweet sign for me and were very welcoming, helpful, and chatty all the way home. It was pretty late once we got to their home. Houses here are a lot different and kind of remind me of San Francisco or something. Most homes in the city have large gates in front as there aren’t garages and you can’t see the homes at all when they are closed. I live on the second floor of their home in a cute little room with a bathroom I share with other exchange students across the hall. They quickly gave me a tour, some “safe water”, (the tap water here isn’t the best, and I need to slowly let it into my body – not all at once!) and the schedule for the next day. I offered to go to church with them.

 

I kind of learned a lesson. Maybe transition a little bit slower with your host family, because they may be a little different than what you expected. My Mexican host family is Mormon, which is really interesting and honestly gives me a very intersectional and overall well-rounded experience here. That particular Sunday happened to be a Mission Sunday, which meant testimonies from new Mormons and missionaries just getting back from where they were stationed. This was a really interesting experience for me because this past semester I looked at Mormonism in depth and wrote two papers in my religion course about Mormonism and honestly, I’m glad I had it. But I probably won’t be going back for another conference.

 

Sunday included seeing el Centro, dining, and having my first beer with most of our group. I really love the kids I’m studying with and am so happy the thirteen of us are all in this together. Altogether there are three colleges represented: two from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, one from Kalamazoo College in MI, and the rest from PLU. Ashley and I are the babies of the group as sophomores, and there are ten girls and three boys which is quite uneven and was hard for Salsa classes, but otherwise has worked out pretty well.

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Monday, August 28th was orientation, placement and the first day of classes here. I really enjoyed the class I was placed in and felt really comfortable in it. I’ve taken two semesters of college Spanish (HISP 202 & 301) and took four years of Spanish in middle and high school (as much as my school would offer!) receiving a seal of biliteracy on my high school diploma. I feel like my comprehension, writing, and pronunciation skills are in a good place, but I struggle sometimes with stringing sentences together and conjugating verbs correctly in everyday speech (being here will hopefully really help that!) Our class met for four hours from 9 AM – 1 PM. Then four days a week, I met with a Oaxacan student studying English. Rubi was my partner, and I had a great time helping her with her English and I felt like I really learned how to explain things better and understood English better, too!

Four times a week we had salsa class for two hours a day with our teacher who I refer to as Professor Salsa. He was a smooth middle-aged Mexican man with a sick vocabulary and even sicker moves. I am a pretty bad dancer, as in I’ve been to two proms, two Zumba classes, and several Rainbow Trail dances where I just did line dances, moved my body and hoped for the best. I really enjoyed these classes and felt like I actually understood how to do everything. It was a fun time of moving and chatting with each other.

The following weekend was our first study tour and it was magnificent. We visited two Zapotec Ruins in the mountains that are very close to the city. Monteálban is a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site and was less than half an hour away, and it was incredible! The site was huge – home to probably 30,000 people from 500- 900 A.D. I couldn’t believe I was there with our group, climbing on top of those huge, solid, ancient constructs. In the afternoon, we visited Atzompa – another ruin located on a different mountain. Atzompa was far less crowded (it was discovered much later and is under restoration) and definitely smaller but just as interesting. Atzompa was a place for the socially elite. Its ball field- something very important in many ancient societies in Meso and South America – is larger than many of its kind

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The week of Sept. 4th was a big week, including our first test, essay, and a giant 8.1 magnitude earthquake. On September 7, just before midnight (and just after I got out of the shower), I was getting ready for bed when a huge earthquake hit. Looking back this story is hilarious but it was honestly one of the scariest moments in my life. September 7th had already been a big day. A lot of protests had been happening because there’s currently a lot of unrest between the government and teachers. Traffic in the city was insane because the president of Mexico was visiting to speak and later have dinner near where most of us go have dinner and study after school (not far from the school). More protests were sparked upon his arrival, as he is far from popular here and a riot was started and PLU and ICO commanded us to go nowhere south. Being the good students we are, after salsa class that day we decided to hang out at a local café about ten minutes north of the school. The meme “Honey, you got a big storm coming” was 100% literal on our walk. It was pouring and then it started storming like none of us have ever seen. Multiple umbrellas succumbed to the downpour and my nice, long Eddie Bauer chamarra had nothing to fight back with. I wouldn’t have gotten more wet walking into a swimming pool, and felt terrible for making puddles in the café- luckily, we’ve since become friends with the baristas and they joke about it often.

We’d already drank chocolate oaxaqueña, finished our essays, had enough at that point and joked about it when I went home for a chill evening. It was still raining a ton, and just like I said I decided to take a shower and get ready for bed when I noticed the floor shaking. And then everything in my room. And I was only wearing a shirt and I sure wasn’t going downstairs or dying half-naked in my Mexican Mormon host family’s house. My host parents were panicking to turn off the gas and screamed for us to come down while I slipped on a skirt in my laundry, grabbed my phone, yelled to the Japanese exchange student in the room beside me. Their backyard is safe from palm trees, posts, electric lines – the works and we all just stood together barefoot in the massive amount of mud the storms had created. We stood outside for a bit until everything was checked and stable. We came inside and I immediately contacted mom and a few friends. Just the day before we had an emergency training session with our group and professor which was lucky or something. All of us checked in with each other, expressed our concerns and talked until around 3 A.M. In the morning, school was canceled across much of Mexico. Ours was postponed but we later met to check in and have school at ICO after it was verified as stable. Many little aftershocks occurred in the days following but nothing to be hugely wary about. I often feel like my room is shaking when I’m up here alone and hopefully that will change soon!

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The following weekend I took the Saturday to do some school work, laundry and just chill. Ashley and I had a sleepover that evening and I met her super sweet family and host Mexican Scottie dog, Aly. Sunday morning included Mass at 7 A.M. with Siobhan and Ashley at Templo de Santo Tomas de Xochimilco, papaya and tamale de frijol for breakfast and a brisk walk to ICO where we met up with our group for our tour to Yagul, Mitla, and Templo de San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya. This was the most incredible tour yet. Yagul was first occupied around 500 B.C. but nearby archaeological evidence dates that people had been living in the area since 3000 B.C. Yagul was home to about 6,000 people up until the time of the conquest, and it was a place for the socially elite and governing. We took a short hike up one of the hills to an incredible view of the area and valley. Mitla was probably my favorite place we’ve visited so far. Mitla was a place for spiritual renewal, religious ceremony, and where many people were buried, and is unique because of the intricate mosaics and geometric designs that cover entire walls. Amid this site, vendors sell their crafts and handiwork very cheaply, and I definitely picked up a few Christmas gifts. Also amidst Mitla is a huge church, Templo San Pablo Apóstol en Mitla. Mitla was still used as the main religious center when the Spanish arrived in the 1520s and was definitely “conquested” – most of the buildings suffered destruction and sacking. I was shocked by how big and grand everything was and I’m so grateful to how what’s left has been preserved.

The week of September 11th was our final week of Salsa and the intensive. There was a lot to be done but it was overall a very fun week together because we did it together. It was a bummer to not be able to spend día de independencia in the city, but I kind of think PLU planned that purposely to get us out of the crowds and huge parties. That weekend was an eco-tour to Nevería in Sierra Norte. This region is high in altitude and extremely beautiful. When we arrived Friday after a very wild Indiana Jones type ride on a VERY windy, dirt road in a bus, it was cold outside – something a lot of us had not experienced for a long while. We had a candlelit pozole dinner because the power was out, and it’s one of my favorite memories here so far. Saturday was full of apple picking, visiting a small trout hatchery and taking a steep hike to a waterfall. After a very patriotic lunch, most of us rested or hung out around the beautiful campsite. Saturday night we enjoyed a ‘fogata’ together (campfire) and told ghost stories by which I was intrigued and SO SCARED WOW. La llorona means business. On Sunday, we took a seven-mile hike to a village where we enjoyed mole and guava juice for lunch and learned how to make pan dulce together in a traditional wood burning oven. That bread was so delicious.

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Monday marked the beginning of Term #2 – where I’ll take a Spanish literature course on hospitality and a History of Mexico class. I really am liking both classes so far, as I’m taking topics I really think are interesting and are helping me learn and form ideas, and I already admire our site director Prof. Ramos and am fond of our group. On Tuesday, September 19th after class we had a meeting with a woman who is helping us understand and pick our internships better. In the middle of our meeting around 1 P.M. she was in the middle of a sentence when she said, “… and that right there is the city’s emergency alarm which means we need to evacuate right now…” which TOTALLY caught us off guard, mostly because none of us realized what it was because the alarm nearest to us was out of service and couldn’t be heard almost at all.

As soon as we got to the grass, everything started shaking because a 7.1 earthquake hit a small town in Puebla, MX which is about three hours north of us and an hour south of Mexico City. Oaxaca often gets small earthquakes and it’s just a part of living here, and it’s something that is always considered by emergency personnel. But it’s unheard of to have two giant earthquakes so close together, this one on the 32nd anniversary of the giant 8+ magnitude one in CDMX that killed 9000 or more. The 1985 earthquake prompted alarms and stronger enforcement of earthquake codes in buildings, and this earthquake has claimed 300 lives as I write this three days later. It’s really been something to have both events happen so close to me and have the media showing what looks like war zones that aren’t even very far away. Many of us were pretty shaken up after this event even though it was technically smaller than the one two weeks prior because we had just let our guard down, “Okay, no more aftershocks? We should be good for a while.” HA nope. Prof. Ramos and Prof. Gerzso took all of us to lunch (thanks, Wang Center) and it really helped us think about something else and have a good time together.

My classes are two and a half hours each, and they occur twice a week on different days which leaves Fridays off. That’s something I haven’t experienced yet but is going to be beneficial because of the mountain of reading and writing required – also is the reason why I got the chance to finish all of this. Dang, this was massive and if you actually got here you’re probably my mom, godmother, dad, the Nelsons or possibly papa (but he doesn’t usually mess around with this) because I know that only they would actually read this long of a testimony from me. Or you’re my new best friend.

As always feel free to send me an email or message while I am here. I absolutely love being here and still can’t believe I’m here and I’m getting so much out of it but it can also get lonelier in the evenings occasionally and I miss the interaction with many of you. I can receive mail here through the school and I’ll put that on my contact page. I cannot receive normal phone calls or texts here because I have no phone service but have had great luck with things like iMessenger, Facetime, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype.

A few jokes from the past weeks:

What did the duck say to the bartender? Put in on my bill

How does St. Paul make his coffee? Hebrews it

How do you find Will Smith in a snowstorm? Just follow the fresh prints

What’s brown and rhymes with Snoop? Dr. Dre