Kate in Mexico

Kate, a senior psychology major, is participating in SMU-in-Oaxaca during Winter Term. The group will spend two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, and then travel to the Sierra Madre mountains for a week. While in Oaxaca, the group will take classes on ceramics, weaving and painting with talented craftsmen. The students also will engage in a service learning project, will enjoy Mexican traditions related to the holiday season and will collect oral histories.

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Home from Oaxaca

k-CuicatlanDance.jpgOur last few days in the mountains taught each of us a bit of a lesson on fame and the eerie feelings that accompany it. We traveled to the small town of Cuicatlan and were greeted with an entourage of people, including the mayor (and a dance, left).

The town had been planning our arrival for four months and prepared lunch, special tea and a dance performance for us to see. We were never alone. Each member of the town community was trying to “one up” the other citizens and show us the newest things or things otherwise unseen to the public. Many of the members of our group were a little intimidated and found the situation a bit much. However, we managed to survive and learn a lot about life in a very rural area of Mexico.

k-EdibleCactus.jpg We were lucky to get to tour a botanical garden, which was full of many cacti native to the area. We also learned that many flowers on the cacti were edible and got to try them. One tasted a bit like strawberry but had an oozy consistency to it. At the gardens, the mayor showed up with a lunch he had prepared for us to eat. Many of his fellow political figures joined us for lunch.

k-BirdHike.jpg During our time in the mountains we did a lot of hiking. Our last night was in an even more rural town and we got to go on a hike through ruins that are currently being excavated. We were amazed at the size and distance many of the ruins spread.

k-HikeMountans2.jpg Our tour leader explained the ancient cities were built strategically at the top of the hill to prevent invasion and also allow communication from area to area. Much of the site was unexcavated, and we were all certain we hiked over some fairly significant infrastructure. When we arrived at the top of the mountain, it was exceptionally windy. The breeze felt great.

We returned to town for dinner, but as this is not a tourist destination, there are no places to dine. A local lady prepared food for us to eat in her house. She had made tables for us to sit and dine, and only a small shower curtain separated where we were from one of the bedrooms in the house. The house was also very in touch with nature. A small creek ran through part of the backyard, which was home to many chickens, dogs and even a donkey!

The rest of the day was spent at the cabins resting, relaxing and getting ready to return to Oaxaca. Late that evening, two people from the town of Cuicatlan decided to visit us and bring us gifts and some snack food. We were all shocked these people drove over an hour to visit and did not want to be rude. However, many of us were tired, so we politely sat and thanked them for everything they had done.

It was hard for a lot of us to grasp our apparent celebrity status. However, towns like Cuicatlan do not get many visitors, and rarely ever are the visitors concerned with the culture. These towns are also home to many people who will never leave the city, much less the country, so having Americans visit was significant.

We returned to Oaxaca on Thursday and had one last afternoon in the city. We went to one of our favorite places for lunch and to enjoy some vegetables we all felt we had been deprived of. Later, a few girls walked around to spend our last pesos and pick up any last-minute gifts.

Walking around Oaxaca after being gone for so long gave many of us a different feeling. We left right after the holiday season was over, so many people were still in the city. However, we returned to what felt like a ghost town. The markets we walked through were disassembled. The crowded streets were vacant and it appeared there were many, many more American and European tourists than we had witnessed before. In some ways, the city was very comforting after roughing it in the mountains.

After showering and packing, we left the hotel for our farewell dinner. We chose to eat at a dinner on the Zocalo to get to be in the atmosphere one last time. Our Mexican guide, Ester, her assistants and drivers all joined our group for the celebratory dinner.

Two of us decided to be adventurous and order a “Botana Oaxacana,” which is a Oaxacan meal for two. We did not realize the meal came out in two courses. Our first plate was full of food we could not exactly identify but we ate and enjoyed. We were both discussing how full we were when out comes the second plate. This plate was the “meat and cheese” portion of the meal and had everything we encountered for the past three weeks, including a large serving of the grasshoppers. What a fitting way to end our evening!

Our flight to America was fairly uneventful. The Oaxaca airport is very small, so it took quite a while to get checked in for our flight. The airport was a large room with three doors, which were considered the gates. Upon arrival in Mexico City, two of us had to change terminals for our flight to Houston instead of the group one to Dallas. As we were on the airport tram we saw a gas-station under an apparent attack of sorts as there were over 100 federal police swarming a large truck parked beside it. We were both a little nervous and quite glad to be heading home. The airport in Mexico City was our first exposure to reality and the comforts we had grown to live without during our time in Oaxaca.

After having a day to relax and think about my adventure, it is still amazing to me – everything we did in those three short weeks. I learned so much about a rich, diverse and historical culture that will stay with me for the rest of my life. People in the whole state opened their arms and their homes to us, and it is ironic to think if they were to visit America they would not stand out or receive any special treatment.

k-MountainSunset.jpgIt also made me thankful to be born in a country with as many opportunities as we have. Things I had never taken for granted – fresh water, clean, running bathrooms and my education were foreign to several families we visited. I had a great time on the trip and know it will impact me for the rest of my life.

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