Sunday, September 10, 2006

One month in Mexico

Well, I think this past week I hit the one-month mark here in Mexico. And after three weeks of classes I finally have my schedule worked out. I'm taking two classes for astronomy/physics in the math/physics facultad: Mathematical Methods for Physics 1 and Multivariable Differential Calculus. I'm also taking the folkloric dance class and an anthropology class called Race and Racism. I'm pretty happy with the schedule. Only the anthropology class is heavy on reading. I have one active class, dance, and two math classes. The math classes are structured differently as well, which helps. One has a lot of homework problems and no exams and the other doesn't seem to have anything to turn in and has lots of little exams, as well as, I assume, the regular ol' large exams.

In addition to my four classes for credit, I've signed up for classic guitar lessons. I have them once a week for an hour and the program is paying for them. What a deal!!! I'm running track as well, or rather, right now I'm jogging, but I hope to be running soon. :) Two other girls from the program are also doing track. It's great because the trainers are available from 7 am to 3:30 pm every day of the week and you go to train when you have time. There is usually at least one other team member there training at the same time, but it's pretty much like having a personal trainer. I have yet to meet the whole team, but all the people I've met so far are super nice. It's nice to be a part of a team!

On Friday I went to watch two of our program girls in their first game of futbol rápido, which is basically indoor soccer, without a roof. They hadn't met their team yet because they're playing in the intramural tournament at the BUAP and they just signed up for a team. The teams don't seem to practice between games. Anyway, "our" team won and it was a lot of fun to watch. I may play with them for their next game; it depends on when I run that day and how tired I am. On Friday it was super hot and I'd just finished my workout so was too exhausted to join the fun. The tournament is relaxed enough though that as long as you're not on another team in the tournament, you can play with a team. The girls seemed really nice and were willing to let me play, especially if I played goalie. We'll see if that happens.

Another exciting thing that happened this week was that I had to go to the doctor. Well, I don't really know if I'd call it exciting, it wasn't an emergency or anything, but I'd been having stomach troubles for a couple weeks so I thought it time to go get it checked out. Fortunately Dr. Compton, my regular US doctor, had given me antibiotics for just this occasion and they were what I needed to take, so I didn't have to buy any medicines. Not yet anyway. I had to take samples into the lab and they're going to check for parasites. Oh boy! I hope I don't have any!! But as we in the group always say when these sorts of things happen, "Welcome to Mexico." I guess it's part of the package and in some ways, part of what makes living here so interesting.

On that note, I have just a brief reflection to offer about the life here before I go on to talk more about the events of this week. Sometimes, living here in Puebla, the third richest and most important city, economically, in the country, it's easy to forget that Mexico ranks somewhere between a second and third world country. Though the wide variety of smells, the painted store fronts, and the crazy driving of the buses reminds me daily I'm not in Northampton or even in Kentucky, people are still dressed in stylish cloths, there are shopping malls, bus routes that take you where you need to go, running water, etc. Puebla feels more or less like a modern city. However, even in the city I am sometimes suddenly reminded of where I am. For example, when it rains and the streets turn into lakes or rushing rivers because there isn't drainage to remove the water, or when we're driving along in the city and then I realize we are no longer on pavement, but are bumping along a gravel road with HUGE potholes. And leaving the city reminds me even more quickly that this is not the US. Houses are still sometimes made of sheet metal, or seem to have been half constructed years ago and never finished, yet people live there. There are tons of stray dogs, children with dirty faces and old clothing that doesn't quite fit. Horses, chickens, and dogs live among the drying laundry, crumbling patio walls, and piles of brush and other discarded building materials. People ride bicycles with huge baskets on either side of the back wheel, full of all sorts of items to sell. It's interesting to live here among some of the richest of Mexico and at the same time see the poverty that still haunts so many. It is a country of extremes and I think sometimes, as a foreigner, we see these differences more than those who live here and are accustomed to them. I don't know what that means as far as our role in Mexico's future, or if we have one, but I do know that I'm observing and learning more about the country each day I'm here.

Ok, now back to the events of the week, which hopefully won't sound to trivial after the reflective aside. On Friday, the BUAP sponsored a fiesta for our program to welcome us. It was called a Noche Mexicana. La Noche Mexicana here is actually this coming Friday, which is Mexico's Independence Day, but many people have other events that night so the BUAP gave us a party this past Friday. All of us in the group dressed up in traditional Mexican costumes from various parts of the country. I had a lot of fun getting ready and seeing how we all looked in our garb (see the photos below).

At the fiesta, the BUAP Ballet Folklórico danced quite a few dances, my favorite of which was the dance of los viejitos, or the little old men. It is supposed to imitate little old men dancing with all their jitters, shakes, and weariness of old age. The four guys who danced it did a fabulous job. It's a comical dance and the men wear these masks that are caricatures of old men's faces.

There was also a mariachi band at the fiesta, and a live band to play dance music. They were really good. I was talking to someone and didn't realize that we were listening to live music until I was done because they sounded so much like a recorded group.

Last night, Saturday, I went out with some of the girls in my program to eat at the Beer Factory because one of the girls loves the restaurant. A friend and I ordered the beer sampler and had fun trying all different flavors of fruit beers in cute little cups. Afterwards we all went out to a disco where one of our host brothers was with his friends. It was great because he was there with a bunch of guy friends and a girl in our group, who was here last semester, brought a guy friend as well. The ratio of guys to girls was decent and most of us got to dance with someone for a good bit of the night! I got home at 4 am which I think makes last night my latest night yet. I think it was also the most fun night out on the town so far!

I'm excited to start this next week with only four classes and four that I know I'm going to take. I've also got a few people in each class that I count as potential friends, so that helps make the week look brighter. Next weekend, for our three-day weekend due to Independence Day, several of us from the program are planning to go to Veracruz, on the Gulf shore. The beaches are supposed to be decent and the atmosphere of Veracruz is said to be quite active and festive. Oh boy!

1. One of the girls in the Ballet Folklórico fixing the braids for my costume.

2. From left to right, name and origin of the dress: Cassandra, Veracruz. Lauren, Oaxaca. Me, Colima. Katie, Jalisco. The photos a bit blurry, but you get the idea of the dresses.

3. Sarah in china poblana dress from Puebla. I don't know why it's called that. China means "chinese" and poblana means "from Puebla."

4. Max, the only guy in our group.

5. My friend, Claudia, from my math methods class, and me at the Noche Mexicana.

6. Ballet Folklórico dancing one of the oldest dances in Mexico. I forget where it's from.

7. Ballet Folklórico, a dance from, I think, Veracruz.

8. One of the viejitos from the Ballet Folklórico.

9. My host parents, Rosa and Adolfo, dancing at the Noche Mexicana.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Week two of classes

This week I think I hit a little bit of the adaptation blues. Nothing was bad, but I just felt tired all week, despite the fact that I was sleeping about 8 hours a night. I was feeling the usual tiredness that comes from being in a new country with everything new around you. A combination of the new country and customs, the language, not having close friends yet, changing from a summer schedule to a school schedule, having my first homework, etc, etc, added up to making me more tired than my sleep indicated I should be. Oh well, it's all part of the process of studying abroad.

Oh the brighter side, I almost know what classes I'm taking. I've decided three of the four: Math methods for physics 1, multivariable differential calculus, and folkloric dance. For the last class I'm deciding between a literature class on the novels of Jose Revueltas (a Mexican author) and an anthropology class called "Race and Racism" which is going to look at the affect of race and racism through the history of many countries (Mexico, other latin american countries, South Africa, US, etc.).

I also went to talk to the track coaches about the possibility of running with the team. It sounds like it's going to work out. They have a much more laid back system here than in the US. The coaches are available between 7 am and 4 pm and you can go whenever you have time. Students go for different lengths of time too, depending on their schedules; some go for an hour and a half and others for two. You don't have to be super competitive to be on the team. The coaches said the level here in Mexico is much lower than in the US. Also, most of the students arrive with no background in track and hardly any physical fitness. It won't be a problem that we aren't accustomed to the altitude here or that we haven't run in a while (or at all in the case of some of the other girls that are thinking of doing it with me). When I went to talk to the coaches there were two coaches and three students. It was like having your own personal trainer. The setup seems ideal!

I'm also going to go talk to the guitar instructor this next week to see if I can arrange beginning guitar lessons with him. I lugged my guitar all the way here and now I want to use it! Also, the program will pay for the lessons, so it's a much better deal than at Smith!

Last night we had a meeting for the program and afterwards one of our monitors (a student at the university who helps us with anything related to Puebla or the uni.) taught a class on how to make earrings out of wire and beads. I already had an idea, but she had lots of pretty additions to make to my knowledge. After we had done crafts to our hearts' content, we all stayed at Patricia's house (the director here from Smith) and watched a movie. It was great because we were all tired but wanted to do something. It's hard to get together as a group here in our houses because they are small and many don't have VCRs in the common spaces. We also don't want to bombard our host families with 8+ giggling girls. It worked out because Patricia's house here is enormous and beautiful! It really is like an old Spanish colonial house complete with the patio, the internal balconies all the way around the patio, the tall ceilings, and the tile floors and beautiful funiture. It probably is an old colonial house and is now being decorated with American money which is probably more abundant in a US professor's salary than Mexican money is in the salary of a Mexican professor.

Tonight I am going to meet another host brother and his wife. They live in Cuernavaca, about 2 hours from here. They are apparently coming to visit, though they have yet to arrive. Oh boy!

Photo: About half our group at Patricia's house getting ready to watch the movie.