ASB2010 in Mexico

Students are traveling to Xalapa, Mexico, as part of Alternative Spring Break 2010 to work at an orphanage, serve food and help at a clinic with the nonprofit organization Caritas.

Down three waterfalls

An update from Bernardo:

ASBMexico3.jpg Imagine a day when you have to wake up at the crack of dawn, drive down to a secluded piece of mosquito-infested jungle, walk for two hours with a backpack that weighs about the same as a full-grown African elephant, and then go through the psychological trauma of knowing that you have to rappel down three waterfalls (one of which is more than 50 meters tall). Any sane person would ask himself, “Who did I run over the day before to deserve this?”

Well, the truth is that you haven’t killed anyone. You have actually been doing volunteer work for the past week. As ridiculous as it seems, this is how Jose, Sanaz, Jessica, Jenna, Katrina, and I enjoyed our last Saturday in Mexico. We rappelled down three waterfalls and then walked back to our cars in the dark and with our clothes soaked. I was shaking so bad that I could not even hold a camera straight. Yet, I can tell you right now though that I would not trade the experience for anything.

The whole day, from the hike to the drive back, was incredible. Knowing that I got through it alive is great. However, the fact that I got to share the whole experience with such an incredible and unique group of people is something that I will always cherish.

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Goodbye to Caritas

An update from Sarah:

It’s a rainy day in Xalapa, and as I sit here drinking my coconut atole and eating my vegetarian tamale, I am longing for warmer days … and it’s funny because I’m in Mexico and it’s supposed to be sunny. Which, to be fair, it has been every other day except today.

ASBMexico.jpg Today was our last day at Caritas. It doesn’t seem real to me – I was expecting more closure, more ceremony. Instead, we finished washing dishes after serving lunch and said goodbye to the kids in the nursery, just like any other day. I wonder if they know we’re leaving forever, and I wonder if they’ll remember us.

Just like any other day, we made it to Caritas around 9:45 this morning – a good 15 minutes late since we always underestimate how long it takes us to walk there. Today I helped chop lettuce, cucumbers, and beets for the kitchen before going on our daily ice cream run. Today was different, though, because we brought popsicles (called paletas) back for the nursery employees. I wish we had done that every other day this week – it’s just a nice thing to do, plus it couldn’t hurt our reputation for the employees that were still a little wary of us.

After a busy lunch hour (Fridays are usually busy, we were told, because Caritas doesn’t serve on Saturdays and Sundays), we went out to lunch with some of the nuns. I wish I could have spoken with them more than I did – stupid language barrier!

We didn’t return to Caritas after lunch and instead spent some time wandering around an alleyway littered with street vendors. As much as I wanted to buy something, I didn’t. I felt embarrassed about not speaking Spanish, and I was afraid of getting ripped off, even for little dollar-store trinkets. I have a list of people to buy gifts for though, so maybe I should suck it up and blow my pesos in style.

Tomorrow, our group plans to go repelling. I’m a big baby about the cold though, so if it turns out that tomorrow the weather is gross, I won’t go with them.

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Last day volunteering

An update from Katrina:

Today was our last day volunteering at Caritas. I was able to sleep in the bed upstairs again because Jenna and Sarah are feeling way better (yay!). I woke up twenty minutes late because the sunshine was warm and glorious and made me feel great while I was sleeping. We all woke up, ate breakfast (leftover tamales and atole from yesterday’s breakfast) and headed to Caritas. We walked fast today since we wanted to be there on time and got there at about 9:35.

We split up into the usual groups – quatro con los ninos, tres en la concina y tres en la bazaar. Jenna, Jose, Jessica and I went with the kids; Bernardo and Tomas went to the bazaar; and Sarah, Saira, and Shnider went to the kitchen. It was nice to be with the kids again, and although I was feeling exhausted it was still fun. We eventually all migrated to the playground, and that was pretty great. The kids have a lot of fun there. I also got to go on the seesaw with Jose, which was something I haven’t done since I was a kid. Daniel got really excited when he was able to go on the seesaw, and I made him laugh a bunch of times. Making kids laugh is so great.

ASBMexico4.jpg When we got back inside, Jose, Jessica, Jenna and I got large group photos with the kids. Josabe and Daniel both took turns in my lap. After that it was naptime (which is the best time ever.) I think we wore the kids out on the jungle gym, so when it came time for naps they fell asleep quickly. Jenna and I apparently fell asleep before Pepe even fell asleep, and then about twenty minutes later Sarah came in and asked if we wanted to get ice cream. Jenna and I said no, we’re just going to stay here and sleep, but then we decided to go anyways. The ice cream here is SO GOOD. We decided to get some for the ladies in the daycare as well.

The whole group left for ice cream, and we were sad to see that since we were early today the ice cream store wasn’t open yet. So we went on an adventure one block to the right of where we usually are, and several blocks UP (and by up I really mean up … the incline and decline here are really intense). We got new kinds of ice cream – I tried strawberries and cream with chocolate, coconut and sprinkles on the outside, with one strawberry for one of the ladies at Caritas.

When we got back to Caritas, we gave the ice cream (paletas, they’re called, like popsicles) to the ladies there, and then Jose, Bernardo, Shnide and Sanaz played basketball. It was fun to watch, and Sanaz was really tearin’ it up. She showed those boys who’s boss! (She does that a lot, which is why I think they tease her so much. I really respect Sanaz a lot.) Eventually it was time to go in to serve lunch, and that’s where the day really got great.

I love serving lunch because it’s the one time of the day that I feel instant gratification for the work that we do. I mean, it’s a chaotic hour (most of the time an hour and a half) but I really love being able to see people eat and be happy. And it’s the same crowd of people every day- it’s not a sea of new, scary faces. These people don’t interact with each other a lot, but they are really all nice people.

Today lunch was especially awesome because everyone got the normal food PLUS cake PLUS bread. Hooray! Everyone ate really well. The cake looked good and I’m still craving some, but whatevs.

About forty-five minutes into lunch, this guy that I’ve seen every day came up to me and asked en espanol if we are going to be back tomorrow. When I told him no, we’re going back to the US on Sunday and won’t be back to Caritas, he stepped away and I started helping with other stuff. He came up to me a minute later with a necklace off of his own neck and gave it to me. He told me that it is made out of coral from Veracruz (the state of Mexico that Xalapa is the capital of) and that he got it from the ocean.

He said that he hopes we would meet again and that his name is Antonio. He looks to be about 18 to 20 years old. Then we hugged lightly, he kissed me on the cheek, and he left. It was raining outside at this point, and he just walked into it and away. I couldn’t believe that someone I didn’t know that I would ever see again would give me something so precious to him. It was just absolutely incredible. I showed it to Saira and when I showed it to Jessica I started crying. I mean, what a beautiful person to give away something like that. It’s so … so nice.

One of my favorite people whose name I didn’t know until today is this guy who is really tall and somewhat hunchbacked and very quiet. He has really kind eyes, and you can tell he’s a good person. He wore a shirt earlier this week that was black and said on the back, “I’m a friend you don’t see,” or something like that, and read on the front, “Make your voice heard.”

Anyway, he was there today and was very polite as usual. Before he left, he gave me a gift as well. It’s a postcard with artwork on it that he designed in school. One side of the postcard says “imagen de leyenda” with a beautiful graphic design of a church. Even the sky is detailed with thin black lines and stuff like that. It’s so pretty! On the back is a description of the church and it has his name. It says Illustracion: Carlos Garibay Millan with his email following it. So wow, I got two gifts today from total strangers, just because they are wonderful people. How about that?

After the feeding frenzy was over, Jair came to Caritas and we got ready to say goodbye to the kids. For some reason this wasn’t very emotional for me, because I feel like the kids have a positive future ahead of them. The women at Caritas are doing so much to make sure that the kids here will be smart and make smart choices. I’m happy we got to know them for the time that we did.

Together with Jair and the nuns of Caritas (the “madres”) we all went to the lunch place from Wednesday. Jair was really sweet and took the nuns’ umbrella and shook it out for them and then made sure we all had a place to sit. He poured me my drink again and we sat next to each other. Making conversation is much more difficult than I wish it was because I only know a few key phrases en espanol and he only knows a few key phrases in English. Haha. Way to go us!

Anyway, lunch was good. I had this thin meat called cercaras or something like that, and it was yummy. I’m ready to go back to some light food like sandwiches and soup for lunch when we get en estados unidos, but I’m not going to complain because the food here is cheap and tastes good.

After lunch they didn’t need us at Caritas anymore, so we walked to the alley by La Sopa that we visited before. On the way Jenna wanted to get money out of the bank, and since we’re paying for dinner by ourselves tonight Jessica and I decided to get money out as well. After that was said and done, Jenna needed change so Jair took us to his work office and exchanged some of his cash for one of Jenna’s large bills. He works in a museum dedicated to a Mexican saint. He writes for the newspaper called Alegro or something like that.. Ugh, can’t believe I forgot.

So anyways, after that we went to the alley and shopped around. I got some new bracelets, a necklace, and a pair of earrings. What a consumer, eh? Oh well, I want to support people and I love jewelry.

ASB6.png Jair and I walked on, in the freezing rain, and I bought a couple more bracelets. He bought us friendship bracelets – the brown one I have on my left wrist is the same type as the brown one on his right wrist. Then he got me a black bracelet with little white stitching and a silver star charm on it, because last night I told him that I love estrellas. He is really a sweet guy.

After that, the group split into two and Tomas, Bernardo, Sarah y yo walked home. We said goodbye to Jair after the alley and said that we would see him tomorrow (he’s coming repelling with us!). Now we are all home, relaxing and doing nothing for the first time since we’ve been here.

Tonight we are going to see Rodrigo perform again, this time with the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra. They are going to perform Obertura Cosi Fan Tutte (5th) by Mozart, Sinfonai #94 en sol mayor Sorpresa by Haydn, and Sinfonia No. 4 en mi menor, Op. 98 by Brahms. Can’t wait! Time to try to remember the past three days to blog about ….

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Night of salsa dancing

An update from Katrina (written on March 15):

I remember waking up on Wednesday and feeling glorious. I was completely back to normal and it felt GREAT! Unfortunately, Jenna and Sarah did not wake up feeling so hot. They had felt bad the day before too, but at this point they were really not feeling well at all.

We had breakfast and walked to Caritas, where Jose got an appointment for both of them with the doctor. At some point during the day both of them were able to see the doctor, and they got medicine that would actually help them (as opposed to the medicine they had gotten the night before, which was not doing any good).

ASB3.png Around lunchtime, Aurora showed up with a guy who wanted to interview us for a newspaper that he worked for. He asked us lots of questions in Spanish, and Jose and Bernardo translated our answers into Spanish for us. He took pictures of us for the paper as well (see the photos right). The guy, whose name was Jair, ended up wanting to show us a cool place to eat lunch. So all of us got behind him and his friend Gemma and they led us into town … waaaaay into town … way farther than we had time to travel …

We ended up in a really nice restaurant where we could all relax and cool down and chill and eat. The food was good – the menu was just like La Sopa, where you order soup, then a small dish, then a main dish, then get a little tiny thing of Jell-O or yogurt for dessert. Jair shared a lot of his music with me. I mentioned something about really wanting French fries, and when we all got our orders Jair shared the French fries that he ordered with me. It was really sweet! It was hard to talk because we didn’t have much to talk about, but eh. It’s all good. He was nice.

We walked back to Caritas and worked for the hour that we had left. Aurora came and picked Jenna and Sarah up so that they could go home and get better. I think this was the day that I worked in the bazaar with Tomas. We literally just sat there while people shopped for clothes.

There was a really gratifying moment where this guy came up to us and spoke in broken English, and he ended up staying for a while and we had a really great conversation with him. Tomas taught him how to make the “th” sound because it doesn’t exist in Spanish. He got so SO excited when he was able to count from one THousand all the way up to ten THousand. THree THousand was by far the greatest thing he said. It was truly a moment where I realized how gratifying it’s going to be to be a teacher.

That night we went SALSA DANCING!!! It was the first night in five days that we were able to get dressed up and look good. Rodrigo brought two friends with him, Anna and one of her friends, and we went to a club. At first I think we were all a little nervous about it because it was something that we had never done before, but it ended up being a blast. It was SO much fun to dance with Tomas and Bernardo – I think they are the only two from our group that I danced with.

Rodrigo suggested that we dance with other people who aren’t in our group, that we go up to someone and just ask them to teach us a little bit. So I found the guy who looked the safest and asked him to dance with me. He ended up being the guy who apparently TEACHES salsa there, so he was super flexible and easy to dance with. I had SO. MUCH. FUN.

I just realized how I keep reusing certain words and that they are probably losing their effect, but it doesn’t matter. There’s no other way to say how epic it was to dance with people, in Mexico, for three and a half hours, who REALLY knew what they were doing. I danced with that main guy (his name starts with an O and I can’t for the life of me remember what it is …) Anyway, I danced with him and then with one of his friends, and their styles were COMPLETELY different because his friend was much more suave and fancy and quick, and then I danced with this older guy who I guess owns the place or something, and I also danced with a random guy who came up to me and asked me to dance. Twice. How epic did I feel? Really epic. Wow. My life in Mexico was really great.

So all in all I danced for approximately three hours without stopping. I literally couldn’t sit for a single song because I was having so much fun. Highlights included dancing with Tomas, being energized by the incredible LIVE Cuban band playing, dancing with O, and absolutely not being able to dance with Rodrigo. And to be fair, Rodrigo is one of the greatest people I have ever met. He’s intelligent, talented, kind, and handsome, and he makes me downright NERVOUS. So I couldn’t dance with him at all. That being said, it was still fun to attempt to dance with him. We all got home at about 1:30 in the morning. So worth it. SO WORTH IT.

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Sun, kids, frisbee: the perfect day

An update from Katrina:

Once again I’m being serenaded by Rodrigo’s quintet. The members of the quintet are Ricardo, Ricardo, Francisco y Heraldo. I remembered their names this time!!

I woke up this morning with a black tongue again. Day two of a black tongue. I didn’t care much yesterday because I figured it meant that I had eaten something black and that it was no big deal. When I woke up with it again today I was like SOMETHING IS WRONG. So I Googled “wake up with black tongue” and the first entry there said something about Mexico, and then read that Pepto Bismol will do that to ya. Gee, glad to know. Anyways.

I was definitely hungry for breakfast so I crammed some juevos con queso y frijoles down my throat. We walked to Caritas this morning, and it was a beautiful walk. We got to Caritas and had designated jobs today. Jose y Shnide trabajan en la farmacia; Bernardo y Sanaz trabajen en la oficina; Saira, Tomas y Sarah trabajen en la concina; y Jessica, Jenna y yo trabajamos en la infirmacia (?) con los ninos. That was a great time … They have SO MUCH ENERGY!

Today was really warm too so it was a bit of a chore to work outside. When I say a bit of a chore, I mean that it was just EXHAUSTING to have perfect weather, a light breeze, and sol shining down upon as as screaming, happy children played and we smiled and laughed with them. It was basically perfect. … Now I have to go to bed.

ASB2.png (… Continued on March 15) I don’t remember much else from the day on Tuesday, oddly enough. I think that on Tuesday we went back to La Sopa for lunch, and we looked around in the alley a bit more.

That night we stopped in el parque again, where the protest only lasted for a few minutes (they were dancing again!) and this time Tomas brought a frisbee! At first only Bernardo, Jose, and Tomas were playing, and then the rest of us decided to get involved. We definitely hit a few people with the frisbee since there were a lot of benches around us and we weren’t very good to begin with, but eh, it was all in good fun.

I invited this big soccer team to come and play with us, but they just sat down on the side and watched us.. It was the day that frisbee became a spectator sport! Whoo hooooo! A few guys from elsewhere eventually joined us, and we had a nice game of frisbee. That’s about all I remember from Tuesday. Yay!

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Sharing lunch and friendship

An update from Katrina:

Right now I’m sitting in Rodrigo’s studio, content on the floor, with Pepto Bismol running through my system, listening to Rodrigo’s five-man percussion ensemble rehearse a piece written by John Wyre in 1999. It’s a very eclectic piece, and wonderful to listen to. It’s the perfect way to end another beautiful day in Mexico.

This day started out kind of rough – I didn’t sleep much last night because of the insanity going on in my body. At breakfast we once again had fresh fruit and fresh orange juice and those little flat pizza-looking taco things, but I just ate a little piece of bread with some water. My body was really unhappy for the duration of the day, so I just ate lightly.

We rode in the truck to Caritas – I got to ride in the back! Sitting on the edge of a truck and being in such a beautiful place and getting to soak up all the scenery without a window or door or car in between me and everything was pretty great. Of course it didn’t feel so good on the tummy, but it was so worth it.

We arrived at Caritas a little before 9:30. We unloaded the boxes of donations that we had brought, and received really no response to that. It was kind of strange. The director of Xalapa’s Caritas is in Norway on business, so the assistant director gave us a tour of everything.

In the very front room when you enter, hay es una recepcion, farmacia y consultorio. Further to the back through a hallway hay es el bano. Beyond that es el cocina, where 100 people per day are fed. Beyond that is something really strange – a coffin! People donate coffins so that when someone dies, the coffin can be used at their funeral before the body is cremated. I thought that was odd and sad.

Near there are the places where men and women stay – the rooms look like large dorm rooms with bunk beds. When we arrived there were no men or women in there; they were out doing laundry and working and doing whatever it is that they do during the day. Further back and upstairs is where los ninos are, and that was just something else.

The minute we walked into the room where the children play there was a ton of excitement in the air from both us and them. Some children ran right up to us with their little square blocks with pride, others stayed away because they were shy. Either way, almost every kid warmed up to us immediately. One nino whose name I can’t remember for the life of me has these crazy little eyes and ran around everywhere showing everyone everything he could get his little hands on. Lots of the kids were really fond of Tomas y Jose y Bernardo, pero ellos hablan mejor espanol.

Eventually though, all of the kids kind of loved all of us, and we formed great connections with them all. First we played a lot with their little cubes and toys, and then it was time for cake. The kids all had to sit down on the mat in the room before they were allowed to get any cake, and they did so without much difficulty. A couple kids crawled off the mat and toward us with mischievous little eyes, which was adorable but not allowed.

After cake it was time for a nap, so we led them all to a different room that with two large mats. The bigger kids slept on one mat and the little ninos slept on the other. We rubbed their backs while they fell asleep, and it happened rather quickly. One of the little boys I was with, Raymundo, was the last to fall asleep. He kept touching the faces of the two next to him: Daniel y Erick. He wouldn’t leave them alone, and he kept tossing from side to side, touching their faces, touching their arms. He fell asleep holding Daniel’s hands. It was adorable.

After this we had an hour and a half break, in which we walked around and explored the surrounding area a bit. Everyone got some delicious-looking popsicles (Shnide and Saira got pistachio, Tomas got peaches and cream, Jenna got strawberries and cream) while I kind of, well, DIDN’T, because my stomach was angry. After that we traveled along the streets and found a movie rental place, but decided after about twenty minutes not to rent anything at all. At this point Tomas had plantain chips, which were yummy, and the first thing with flavor that I had eaten at all at that point.

We returned to Caritas a bit early and hung out en la cocina. I think I fell asleep for a couple minutes with my head on the table before we got ready for the huge lunch rush from 1 to 2. The food that the cook made smelled delicious. Each plate had half white rice and half of the spinach stew, which had ham and other random delicious-smelling things in it. There were also to be four corn tortillas on top of every plate. There were multiple bowls spread out on the table with iceburg lettuce inside so that tacos could be made. The table was filled with almost 100 percent men (because it is really not part of the Mexican culture for women to be homeless, I was told today), and many of those men reportedly are alcoholics and/or drug addicts.

People would request frijoles while eating, at which point we would take their plate and put frijoles negros inside. Everyone there pretty much knew the drill. When the frijoles ran out, we put sopa o vegetables (vejegas?) into their bowls. Many men professed their love to me, which was really not as weird as it would sound. One man in particular said, “I love you, lady” to me four times.

When people were done eating, they took their bowls and cups up to the front de la cocina and handed their bowl and spoon to whoever was cleaning dishes. Every single person said thank you. Then they had their cups filled with yogurt, which they drank and then handed to the people washing dishes again. Everyone was so grateful. It was just really nice.

I was refilling a lettuce bowl at one point when a guy with a ponytail and a guitar came up to hand me his dishes. I said, “Tu tocas la guitarra?” He said yes, and then we started talking (en ingles) about our favorite bands. He likes Dream Theater as well! He told me about his favorite band from Argentina, and we had a nice little conversation. I felt really sad after he left when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to look him up on Facebook so we could talk again.

Funny story is, he came back with the name of his favorite band written on a piece of paper and then came back a second time half an hour after the kitchen was closed to give me a piece of paper with his name and email address on it so I can send him musica de estados unidos that he may not be familiar with. Hooray! I was later told that by accepting that and giving him my email, I am probably leading him on, so if I see him again I’m just going to lie and say that I have a boyfriend so that he doesn’t get any ideas.

After we were done working in the kitchen, Aurora took us to a restaurant called La Sopa approximamente tres bloques away from Caritas. In order to get there, we had to go down an alley that was FILLED with people selling goods. I can’t wait to go back with more time so that I can get some brightly-colored clothing and earrings!! I want to give those people money. I have to exchange my 500 pesos bill for smaller bills though because I can’t exactly buy anything with that.

Lunch was great but I couldn’t eat much. I picked at some rice after my delicious lentil soup. I sat by Tomas y Sarah and we had good conversation. I got to sit at the head of the table and witness all of the wonderful people on this trip interacting and getting along and sharing food and sharing stories, and it was a time when I realized how fortunate I am to be living this life and to be in this place right now. It was a great

When we got back to Caritas, we played with los ninos some more until they all got picked up to go home. The walk back to la casa de Rodrigo was intersante por que nostros got lost (kind of). OH! But we definitely participated in a peaceful protest!

The people in Xalapa are angry at their governor because he’s taking away their land, or won’t give them more (or something along those lines), so they set up a huge DANCE PROTEST in front of the chapel that we went to yesterday. From what I gather this is the most popular part of town because EVERYONE gathers here, and el parque is quite filled with people all the time.

asb1.png We danced in the protest after visiting in the park and seeing the beautiful landscape. It was so great! (to the right is a picture of Tomas and I dancing – I’m the bright blue shirt and he’s in the beige shirt) Sanaz was the most fun to watch dancing; she pulled some moves that I had never thought she would be capable of because she’s normally pretty reserved.

We got home and kind of all parted ways, and I’ve been working on this blog ever since. I’m still surrounded by la musica de Rodrigo y sus amigos. It’s quite wonderful. I love this place. I can’t wait to see if I feel better tomorrow and to go back to los ninos and to feed more people. I really could do this all day. Xalapa is a wonderful place and I feel really grateful to be here. Really, I can’t complain about anything except:

• lack of toilet paper in bathrooms
• my upset stomach
… Yep, that’s about it. A mi me encanta Mexico!

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Meeting mountains

An update from Sanaz:

Today is Sunday, and our first day of work is tomorrow. We woke up bright and early to attend a Catholic Mass, my first Mass in Mexico and second Mass in my life. The service was entirely in Spanish, but that does not mean that the people’s depth of faith was lost on me. The packed cathedral, long line for confession and ornate decor amid more simple designs throughout the rest of the city are a testament to how important religion is to the people of Xalapa.

And not only is Catholicism important, it seems to be interwoven into all aspects of life; the spheres for God and daily life are not separate as they seem to be in the United States. Children feel completely at home in the church, most people wear crosses around their necks, and Caritas (the organization for which we will be working) is affiliated with the Catholic Church.

ASBMexico2.jpg Later we visited Xalapa’s anthropology museum. I was impressed by the great Olmec stone heads and perhaps even more impressed with the way the history and culture of the indigenous people had been preserved and celebrated. It was a reminder of my own tiny role in our culture, a culture that to us seems ordinary and inevitable but that will one day pass and be gawked at in the same way we marvel at the Olmecs.

But nothing prepared me for the insignificance I was about to feel when we visited the waterfalls and lush, mountainous landscape of Coatepec. After all, it is one thing to identify my small role in the long line of human history. It is quite another to be reminded that the long lines of human history are just shadows on the constant that is the majesty of nature.

I can’t describe with words the beauty I saw quite unexpectedly when we stumbled upon a viewing balcony, but I can try to explain what I felt. Some of the trees are so gigantic that I wonder how many generations they have grown. It does not seem unreasonable to think that they could have been there at the time of the Olmecs. It is even surer that they will continue to live and grow long after I have passed. Like the everlasting sound of the waterfall, they seem inevitable.

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Exploring religion, food and nature

An update from Katrina:

Today we had breakfast at 9. Breakfast consisted of tons of fresh fruit (papayas, bananas and a jello-type thing that tasted like mango) along with coffee, FRESH ORANGE JUICE, and more of the flat taco-type things that I can’t recall the name of. We left the house at 10 to go to Catholic Mass, as we wanted to experience the culture here and Catholicism is such a central part of Mexican culture.

ASB3.png Church was interesting. It was in a huge chapel smack in the center of downtown and there were people filling up all the pews. Here’s what I wrote during Mass (just my personal thoughts):

I’m sitting in Catholic Mass. All of the chandeliers are lit except for the one dangling in front of Jesus Christ, above the altar. A young woman just finished reading from the Bible, and now a little girl is singing the liturgy. It sounds more like the Quran than the Bible. The little girl just switched to the relative minor of the key she was originally in. Ah, the flat-screen TVs just switched from a view in front of the girl to a view from behind the altar. There are eight-flat screen TVs here. Why does the Church have money enough for eight flat-screen TVs, 12 chandeliers, and so many statues outlined in gold? Especially when its people are hungry and cold? The church was built basilica-style, not in the shape of a crucifix. So the priest is standing in the focal point of the arch behind him, sending out a sound wave straight at us. The two thin, rectangular speakers under every flat-screen TV are making a huge echo here.

There is a line of people to the left of the church. This line is waiting to confess. There is an open confessional during Mass. The priest, robed in purple for Lent, is speaking with lots of inflection. Tunks informs me that this is where the chant came from. But I can’t really pay attention to him because:

1. The doors all around the chapel are open, so I can hear the crazy sounds of traffic all around.
2. The severe crucifix hanging above the altar is so … awful. It’s so devastating and powerful. If I had grown up here going to this church, of course I’d believe in Jesus Christ because the image of that crucifix would haunt me.

That’s all I wrote when I was in Mass. I got communion because I figured that if I was there I should just go all the way, so yay. When Mass was over, I walked around to glance at all the statues. I thought back to when someone criticized the Catholic church for worshiping idols, but for some reason it didn’t affect me. I mean, there are so many ways that organized religion is good, and so many ways that it is bad and just plain manipulative, but I don’t care to count the ways and figure out if I like it all or not. Either way, it was nice to have a perspective into that part of culture and to experience Mass again.

When we left church there was a man at the entrance with a leg that was completely useless, begging for money, and another next to him on the other side of the entrance selling crucifixes and candles with images of the Virgin Mary on them. We met Rodrigo’s friend Ana, who stayed with us for the duration of the day. We walked across the street and some of us bought items from the vendors there. I really want some bright, insanely-colored dresses or shirts and a couple new pairs of earrings from a small vendor here. I didn’t get anything there but am DETERMINED TO EVENTUALLY!

ASB4.png After the vendors, Rodrigo, Aurora, and Ana took our posse to the Museo de Anthropologia. It was sooo fascinating. We got to see tons of old statues and pieces of artwork and pottery and the most interesting part of all: the Olmec heads. They were these giant heads that were found in the Olmec region, and they were just fabulously fascinating. Tunks (now referred to as Tomas) was the most fascinated with them, I think.

Anyway, the museum was architecturally beautiful and its inhabitants were all wonderful. The outside portion of the museum was, as Tomas put it, “tranquil.” It was a peaceful, beautiful place to be, and I probably could have spent all day there.

We left the museum to travel to Coatepec, a small city with a restaurant that Ana and Rodrigo and Aurora wanted to show us. We took the “new route” to get there, which according to Aurora is not as nice as the “old route,” but it only took half the time so that’s the way we went!

When we got to the restaurant, people had some troubles with their orders. There was no chicken breast, no this, no that. So almost everyone ended up getting empanadas. I, however, decided to be really adventurous and order something off the menu … that I couldn’t read, couldn’t identify, didn’t know what it was. When I told Rodrigo and Ana what I ordered (rather, I showed them, because I couldn’t pronounce it) they both had VERY concerned looks on their faces. Bernardo, who is from Mexico, told me that I’m the bravest person he’s ever met. Ana wished me luck.

When I got my dish, it didn’t look that bad. A piece of bistec (beefsteak, aka steak) covered in habanero peppers and a thick red spicy sauce, with frijoles negros y arroz. Can’t hurt that much, right? Well at this point I was pretty darn hungry, so along with my fiery meal I was drinking a lot of horchata. I guess that wasn’t a good idea. I started to get a thunderstorm in my stomach about ten minutes into the meal, but hey, it’s spicy food, so that’s okay, right? No. No, that is just not okay. Lightly put: that thunderstorm lasted for the rest of the day, and by the night I was sick sick sick.

We left the restaurant after about an hour and traveled to Xico, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Rodrigo wanted to show us a waterfall that he’d been to before, and we got SO much more than that out of it. The drive there was fabulous; we drove through beautiful JUNGLE where coffee is grown. Tomas and Aurora taught me that coffee grows on little red berries that have to be opened up before the actual coffee bean can be taken out, then those coffee beans are laid out in the sun to dry.

ASB5.png We finally arrived in this hugely humid place not knowing what to expect, and BAM! We saw waterfalls that were about 300 ft high – it was spectacular! I found a mama and baby dog, and fell in love with them (mi pero y mi perito!) and I carried mi perito around everywhere – until I crossed a somewhat shaky bridge over 250 ft of air above rushing water. THAT was an experience.

Rodrigo led us on paths through the jungle until we got to a second waterfall. This one was much shorter – he in fact has repelled it at least once. The waterfall crashes into dark green water that is approximately 24 ft deep and then flows rapidly into water filled with huge rocks. This all eventually feeds that giant 300-ft waterfall I mentioned earlier. This place though, really, is heaven on earth. There’s nothing else like it in the deepest parts of my imagination; it was just magical. Words can’t describe, and pictures don’t suffice. It was beautiful.

I broke off from the group and did some exploring of my own; when everyone else went on an impromptu hike, I stayed behind and tried to cross the river. I didn’t fall in (except for one foot) and I got to talk to Rodrigo a bit more. I was on this rock that leans out over the rushing water, with my hands in the air soaking up the rain that was falling from the sky to the trees and from the trees to me, and he said, “You’re kind of a … of a dreamer?”

It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. He said he can tell I’m a musician because I do these things. Coming from quite an accomplished musician himself, it meant a lot to me. I asked him if he can adopt me, and we decided that when I graduate from college I’m going to move to Xalapa and we are going to play music together forever and then travel the world. Sounds great to me!

When all was said and done in the jungle, we crossed the scary bridge back to civilization-ish again. I found mi perito y su mama in the rain, cold, shivering, and starving, just like I had found them before. Ugh, I loved that little puppy!!!!!! Rodrigo and I eventually gave some of the men working in stands there 70 pesos to take care of mi perito y su mama. The mama dog kept licking me and followed me until the minute I got in Rodrigo’s truck to come home. Awwww, I miss mi perito!!!!

I also got to try coconut milk and coconut meat soaked in lemon with chili powder. Both were mas a menos – just okay. I could go without ’em. At this point my thunderstorm in my stomach had turned into a ravishing tornado, so nothing really felt good there.

On the way back to Xalapa we stopped in Coatepec again to get pan (bread) from a bakery there. Tomas and I shared a bread plate and got one of almost everything. I ate two bread rolls on the way home, and also sort of dozed in and out of consciousness. At this point everyone was wet and tired.

We got back to the house and ate bread for dinner because most of us were full. We had a great reflection time and talked about nearly everything under the sun until about 11 at night. Rodrigo was really great to me and went out and got me some Pepto Bismol because at this point I was about to die. haha! The night ended on a positive note, and day two in Mexico was complete. Everyone was anxious to begin day three, when we would finally meet our friends at Caritas.

Posted in ASB2010 in Mexico | Comments Off on Exploring religion, food and nature

Xalapa: Day one

An update from Katrina:

I went to bed this morning at 2 a.m. after packing for my first trip to Mexico. I viewed the whole “sleeping thing” as a nap, since I was going to have to get up at 3:30, only an hour and a half later. I woke up at 3:37 (pressed snooze once) and hurried to the flagpole to meet the rest of the people I’m traveling with.
People I’m with: Jessica, Jenna, Sarah, Dr. Tunks, Bernardo, Sanaz, D. Shide, Saira, and Jose.

ASB1.png We arrived in Mexico City at 9, 30 minutes earlier than expected. Upon our landing, we discovered that, oh my, there is a LOT of pollution in the air there. It was a beautiful city to look at from above, as all the buildings are different colors and the roofs are all red, but the pollution made it smell like a giant sewer pipe. We had a five-hour wait there in the airport, so we got used to the smell eventually. But, my oh my, that was weird. (All the snooty passengers onboard headed to Cabo and Cancun were very displeased, hahaha!)

Jose, one of the students on our trip, has family in Mexico City. His grandfather’s brother (I think that was the relation) and sister met us in the airport. We had lunch at Wings (Ihop: America:: Wings: Mexico). I ordered tres enchiladas con queso y salsa verde, and it was SO GOOD! I had way too much salsa and therefore had tons of gas for literally the rest of the day until I fell asleep, but hey. It was delicious nonetheless.

At this point, because I was running off only an hour and a half of sleep during the night and a sporadic two hours of sleep on the plane, I fell asleep in the booth a couple of times. When we decided we were done at the restaurant, we rode the tram around the airport and looked around at the city. It was quite pleasant.

After that, we crashed in the airport hotel lobby and most of us fell asleep. I’m not quite sure how long we were there because time started to turn into kind a of circle – that’s what exhaustion will do to ya! – and eventually Tunks, Saira, Aurora (Jose’s uncle’s mom) and I made our way to the place where we were to wait for our bus. The rest of the group went out to get food and got back to the bus two minutes before we had to leave.

ASB2.png The bus ride was awesome! Almost everyone took the opportunity to sleep, which I had originally planned on doing as well, but I didn’t for two reasons: the scenery was absolutely beautiful everywhere I looked, and Tom Tunks and I were sharing iPods. He had headphone splitters, so for the entire five-hour length of the journey, we listened to jazz and various other types of music. (I’ll have to look up the artists later, but he showed me this one woman whose voice was as smooth as melting brown sugar. No lie. It was FABULOUS.)

On the bus ride I saw taller mountains than I’ve ever seen before, including one that is pronounced Mount Po-po-tip-ee-tl. It’s REALLY hard to pronounce, and it was hilarious to try. Anyway, there were rolling hills and valleys, and the sunset was probably the most gorgeous one I’ve ever seen. The sun set, red and fiery, behind a triangular-shaped mountain that could have easily been a volcano if we lived in a cartoon, and it was just glorious.

The combination of great music and great scenery gave me a sense of optimism that I haven’t felt in a long time, and made me feel really great about what we’re here to do. I really can’t wait to meet the people we are going to work with!!

One epic moment on the bus ride was when we were on the top of a freeway in Mexico City. It was the first time I was able to actually grasp how HUGE the city is. There are people living in Mexico City, so many in poverty, so many in these tiny little houses that we just passed by, so many working literally on the streets selling ice cream to passing cars, so many children following their parents to work, so much culture and tradition.

It was unbelievable to realize how many people there are in the world that I haven’t seen and will never see and who live such a different life from me. It really puts things in perspective. And I haven’t even gotten to MEET the people here yet. I wonder that will be like … ?

Something else that I saw for the first time were a lot of “homeless” dogs. That was really sad. They were in ditches on the side of the road, picking for food. It was really sad.

We arrived in Xalapa just as scheduled, five hours after our bus left, at 8:30 pm. (At one point we passed a sign that said “Xalapa 10” and then ten minutes later passed a sign that read “Xalapa 12.” That was funny.) Jose’s uncle, Rodrigo, met us at the bus station. We took two cabs and one car (Rodrigo’s) to the house. On the way (I was in the car with Rodrigo) we learned a word for “little rain,” which I’ve already forgotten.

Upon our arrival at the house, we got a grand tour! The house has three stories. At the entrance is a room where we put our shoes, Rodrigo’s studio (he is a percussionist and his studio is filled with all instruments percussion and five(?) marimbas) and the entrance onto the next two levels. There are various percussive instruments hanging from the railings on the stairways, which is just .. cool.

On the third level is Rodrigo’s room, the room where three of us girls are staying (Jenna, Sarah, and myself), and a bathroom that – not surprisingly – is filled with percussive instruments.

On the bottom level is where everyone else except for Tomas is staying, and the rooms there are the a big common area and the kitchen. Connected to the house are two additional bedrooms and another bathroom and a courtyard. The house looks like a castle on the outside.

After exploring the house and unpacking we had dinner – empanadas and something else I can’t remember the name of. There were cheese, beans, and chicken empanadas. We ate dinner, then sat downstairs and talked and reflected for a while on the day. It was a relaxing night, and when we went to bed everyone was exhausted but happy.

One thing to note is the extreme hospitality of the people here. Aurora and Rodrigo are so kind to us, as was Aurora’s brother whom we spent so much time with in the airport in Mexico City. They are related to Jose, but they don’t know the rest of us and don’t have any direct ties to us. They are SO NICE!!!! Everyone makes sure that we feel comfortable, and they are just so sweet. It’s that way with everyone here; even though the driving is CRAZY, it’s respectful. Nobody is rude to anyone else, everyone is polite and … I don’t know. It’s a culture shock but a GREAT one.

Posted in ASB2010 in Mexico | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Xalapa: Day one