Sunday, September 9, 2012

Highlights, Lowlights, and Flashlights

Hello Everyone!  The first blog post from Mexico! Por Fin!  Don't worry, I'll keep it interesting with some pictures:)

I am so happy to say that after months of application processes, discerning, packing, and journeying, I have finally arrived safely in Mexico, and am here with my host family!  We had a lovely orientation in Chicago, during which all the YAGMs stayed together at the University of Chicago and attended sessions on Globalization, why we should wear sunglasses when we walk around a city for the first time, and just about everything in between.  These sessions were excellent ways to not only unite us socially as a group of YAGM volunteers, but also to unite us mentally and spiritually.  They prepared us not only for some of the cultural differences we might encounter,but also got us to think deeper about what it means to be a U.S. volunteer, coming into a new culture and being in relationship with the people of your new community.  The Chicago orientation was definitely a highlight.

That's Barack Obama's house behind there! Heavily guarded and quite hidden...
Doing touristy things in Chi being goofy by the Bean!
Our arrival into Mexico was blessedly uneventful, and everything went very smoothly...even eerily so....
Hopefully this is a trend though that keeps up!  We did the first half of our in country orientation at a convent in Cuernavaca where we were met by Andrea's (Mexico's country coordinator) husband and adorable daughter Olivia, as well as by the Sisters.  The welcome we received was so gracious and hospitable and created a tone of openness and comfort for the next few days.  Our safe, uneventful journey along with our days at the convent, were also a highlight.

Centro Guadalupe, the convent we were orientated at :)
One of the little units where our rooms were
 After the first few days, I arrived at my host family's house in Tepoztlan, where I would stay and commute to Cuernavaca every day to take a week of Spanish classes.  My house is really like a whole apartment complex with about 4 buildings surrounding a huge courtyard.  I am the 12th person I believe in the "house" so naturally there are always people coming and going, and lots of family fiestas to attend!  Some highlights with the family so far have included:
Bonding moments with my host sister, Dariana, who is 12, listening to music, talking about Twilight, going to a Zumba class laughing at our lack of booty-shaking skills, or the time she took me up to this hidden little waterfall in the mountains (she said it was "cerca"...ha. Well an hour and a half later, with dirt on our shoes, and the sweat dripping we did finally make it back from the waterfall. I guess our ideas of "cerca" are a little different...) 
There's definitely still a period of a adjustment that's going on with the family, but for the most part I feel very included and accepted into the family.  This feeling was reinforced when, at a party, some people were asking my host mother, Doña Socorro, how long I would be here, what I would be doing etc.  When she replied that I would be here for a year, they seemed surprised that it would be so long.  She responded by saying, "Si, por un año, es mi hija".  Yes, for one year, she is my daughter. :)
View from my roof
My room!

After a week of language class and living with our families came another week at the convent all together for our final week of orientation.  The purpose, two-fold.  One, allow everyone to tell their stories, get to know where everyone is coming from. Two, visit everyone's work sites.  Seeing everyone's worksites and getting to know what each volunteer would be doing, and seeing how excited each organization was to receive their volunteer was so uplifting!  But alas, here's where the lowlight comes in I'm afraid...
Since two volunteers live and work and Tepoztlan (myself and Casey), Wednesday was going to be Tepoz day, where we would all visit both of our worksites.  Well around 4:30am on Wednesday, it became quite clear that this wasn't going to work out so well for me, as I realized that some nasty thing had lodged itself in my intestines and I spent a good part of the morning in the bathroom or curled up in bed.  Definite lowlight. But don't worry, I won't put up any pictures : p  This meant that my site visit was cancelled, which was too bad, but I will find out allll about my work very soon as I will be officially starting my time at La Jugarreta tomorrow!!! Hooray!

As for flashlights....

By Friday I was feeling much better, which was lucky because the 7th and 8th of September are big festival days in Tepoztlan.  The festival celebrates the life, and specifically the conversion to Catholicism, of Tepozteco, the legendary founder of Tepoztlan, and for whom there is a pyramid built high on one of the nearby mountains (I can see it from my window!).  The fiesta includes reenactments of his baptism and conversion, a parade, and general merriment.  However for me, the highlight of the festival was the tradition where people climb up the mountain on the night of the 7th.  The 7th of September is the only day of the year that the hike is open at night, and the pyramid is all lit up.  Well myself and some YAGM friends decided we wanted to be part of this grand tradition so we donned our tennis shoes, grabbed some water and headed out.  Wow were we in for an adventure!  We were joined but what seemed like thousands of Mexicans, climbing up the mountain pass, single file, with only our little lamparas, our little flashlights, to guide us.  As it turned out, the flashlights were a completely necessary part of this venture.  Our collective earlier thoughts of, "why are they making us BUY stupid little flashlights! After all, we have lights on our phones, and 3 flashlights for our group of 6!" quite quickly turned to thankfulness for the intimidating policia at the entrance that had made us buy the flashlights, when it became apparent that that little light was our little lifeline.  As I reflect on this, all sorts of metaphors for my/our year in Mexico come to mind, but I'll leave it to you to come up with your own metaphor for this whole situation.  I will say though that I won't forget the image of looking up into inky blackness, and all you can see is this thin snaking line of light stretching up high in front of you...

The Monks--part of the parade

More of the parade

Tepozteco himself!

Our whole climbing group amongst the craziness at the lit up pyramid

Happy to have made it to the top! Overlooking Tepoz below

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