Udoka in Taos

Udoka is a senior majoring in mathematics and philosophy in Dedman College, and engineering management, information and systems in the Lyle School of Engineering. In May 2010, the University and Engineering Scholar is studying at SMU-in-Taos, where she’s taking a course on North American environmental history.

Back in Big D

Dallas!! Oh, man. It feels so good! In the airplane, we lifted off and I said farewell to rustic-looking New Mexico. Its land is so distinctive. And so is Dallas’s. As we started to fly over North Texas, I was so happy to see miles and miles of green, green grass and trees. I don’t care if they were put there by professional landscapists! I miss it! Man, I never ever thought I’d be so happy to be in Dallas again. 98 degrees F.

But go to Taos. Or study abroad. Somewhere. You seriously won’t regret it. I highly recommend Professor Johnson if you get the chance. Remember to pack light and be resourceful. If you need something, just ask.

Bring things that will make your bed comfortable! Sure, buy the cheap 5-10 dollar mattress pad that’s the wrong size. It’s better than nothing!

Go visit El Rio Grande. Not just the Gorge, but if you do see the Gorge, look out for the hippy-mobile! Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it and you’ll want to check out some of what they’re selling.

Smile at everyone! You’ll make new friends and feel good in Taos. The cafeteria ladies LOVE to chat it up and meet you, as well. They’re super sweet!

Oh, and make sure to use Taos Shuttle, not the other one if you’re flying in. I also kind of wish I flew from Sante Fe instead of Albuquerque.

Make sure you hang out with some local people. If you actually find some your age (hehe), you’ll find them to be really chill people. It’s funny to think that every time I take a CF and travel, I gain a new crowd of Facebook friends. Diversify! Develop their mindset, and relax. 🙂 Having a car makes things better, too!

Okay, I think that’s all I’ve got. Thank you for taking this ride with me. I have some people missing me in Dallas, so I’ll see y’all later!

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Alone time

I met up with my professor for him to look at my outline. I tried to write about my initial response to his prompt and wrote the introductory sentences for each section I wanted to write about. He really liked it! He said that it seems like it’ll be a fun read, so now I feel motivated to write a good one. Our essay is due Thursday (Yeah…several days after the class is over, haha!), so I’ve got some time. Hopefully the ALEC back in Dallas will open up.

Speaking of Dallas, boy oh boy, I can’t wait to be back there! I just…as fun and interesting as this experience is, Taos just is not the place for me.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing alone in my casita. All my roommates had gone. I chatted with Cyndy, the Taos director, her friend, and the art professor. They all are IN LOVE with Taos and Cyndy is a great conversationalist, not to mention super sweet.

I washed Michelle’s (my professor’s wife’s) clothes and visited their cabin to return them. Whenever I see the Johnsons together, it just warms my heart. Professor held my hand goodbye and Michelle gave me a hug. Even baby Tobias wanted a hug. They’re all so sweet.

It’s getting really lonely in here, now! It’s dark. Quiet. No one else…I need to Skype with someone ASAP!

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Local flavor

I can’t believe this class is over! And I can’t believe I STILL have sand in my hair!

Honestly, blog-readers, this class is one of the best classes I’ve ever had at SMU. One of the best professors, as well! I highly recommend you take a class with him (Ben Johnson) in general. For the last day of class, he had us go around and talk about the highlights. Everyone basically agreed this class was great. The class set-up was interactive and discussion-based which made class time engaging and fly by.

The field trips were always great and helped us to see that the words in the text actually happened. It made understanding history and its implications for the future better. Meeting the author of our textbook was awesome. And we all love the fact that he didn’t make us take any kind of mid-term or exam. One of the reasons I hate history is because you had to memorize specific things that I felt didn’t matter in the big scheme. I think writing papers is much more beneficial for a history course than memorizing dates and names in a specific sequence.

One thing that I hope many other students did was meet or talk with locals. When we went to Taos Pueblo, where Tiwa Indians hold their rituals and heritage (and some still live there), I made sure I spoke with Indians, having real conversation and a look into their lives and point of view. And when I went into town, I loved chatting with them. If I hadn’t, I never would have gotten to learn how to fish and meditate in the Rio Grande. Or got to experience “Vanilla Pop” at Alley Cantinas. Plus, it never hurts to make new friends and connections in different places!

Don’t take a CF any other way. Study abroad or outside of Dallas for your CFs. They become so, so, so, so much more meaningful. Save up the money and go! I don’t know what my friends would say. Maybe I just like my professor that much or maybe some people find CFs very interesting without needing to be IN it. But this worked well for me. I think it captures the whole reason why SMU makes us take CFs in the first place.

And we got ribs for dinner. 🙂 Mmm.

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Lessons learned in the Land of Sand

Haha! The Sand Dunes related back to our class perfectly! Its so funny how that worked out. I’m really glad we decided to go to Colorado. Our presenter gave us some great information that the professor seemed to like and encourages us to use in our papers.

And it was a lot of fun! Except for the fact that I lost my camera in the sand. Big lesson learned here. My mom always told me that a lady must have a bag at all times. Besides the gender-role implications, I see the practicality of this. I could have spent more time sliding down the sand than digging it up.

The Great Sand Dunes of Colorado is an example of the government doing what it is meant to do. People found the Dunes, asked the government to help protect them, and they did. Whenever a company or some other group threatened the Dunes’ existence, people would gather information to convince the government to take action, either by buying land or redrawing boundaries. And it worked. The people had an issue, gave a good argument, and the government worked for them. That’s what I call a environmental success, and it’s going in my essay.

If you visit the Dunes, bring appropriate equipment. Its part “beach shore” (there’s a small river you must cross or just play in) and part sandy torture as winds pick up tiny pieces that scratch onto your skin mercilessly. And afterwards, it will take you forever to get the sand out of your hair. I STILL do not have the sand out of my hair or off my skin. But it was still awesome.

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Practice makes perfect

Professor Johnson is just awesome. So, he couldn’t decide what field trip to take us on tomorrow, so he let us vote and contribute. One of our classmates suggested the Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado. We kind of looked at each other like, “What does that have to do with this class?” (Later she told us, “Nothing, I just wanted to go see the Sand Dunes.”) Prof put it to a vote and it was decided, democratically, that we shall visit the land of sand. I have no clue what we will do there, but we’ll see.

Today was a rather lazy day. I met up with some locals to take a dip in El Rio Grande. We were hyped up because most of the time, there are hot springs. When we arrived, the river had already risen too high, pushing cold water over the would-be natural hot tubs. We decided to just relax and sit on the rocks. It was incredibly peaceful and a lot of fun when you include your imagination. And I wish I had photos to share with you.

One of the locals also taught me how to fish in the river. I have never fished before in my life, so it was great to finally experience what all the fuss is about. Its exciting when you get a nibble, but I couldn’t figure out how to not let it get away!

When I got back, I worked on my re-write. Prof allowed us to re-write the second paper for an even higher grade. I just wanted more practice on writing. It seems the more I write, the easier it gets. So, my tip for getting through loads of reading had been fine, but I discovered that taking good notes in class is essential. It helps put the readings into a better context and lets you have more ideas about the reading. So that’s been working well.

For paper writing, I feel that I need to have a good sense about the readings to come up with the story I want to tell. Once I know exactly what my general message is, I can then start filling in details from there. And fill in more details from there. And so on and so on. Maybe this technique will work for my 3rd paper.

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Climbing mountains

I rubbed my eyes this morning at 4:15 am and literally rolled myself out of bed. It was time to hike.

I was the first one at our meet-up point, the cafeteria. Alex, one of the RAs and one of my fellow classmates, followed soon after, along with a few other students. Anne Weil, one of the Wellness instructors, was the last to arrive and she was about 50 times more awake than anyone else was. It was cold. It was dark. And we were off!

DSC01445%202.jpg We walked walked our way toward the mountain, and then the real work began. At first, I was good. I was right behind our leader, Alex. After a while, though, it became real work. Even though I was feeling warm enough to remove my coat, every breath felt like I was inhaling ice cold razor blades. Anne Weil’s words of encouragement was “Remember, this is just as hard for everybody. Even the ones who are in front.”

An hour later, we arrived to the top. It was really magnificent. There was a sweep of accomplishment that flew over me, plus the great feeling that comes with sun-gazing at daybreak.

On the hike down, I got to talk more with Anne Weil. She’s great to talk to and I think we have many things in common! We all had breakfast at 7am and went back to our casitas, watching everyone else sleepily brush their teeth and prepare for the day that we’ve already started.

DSC01450%202.jpg My late morning was just as great as my early morning. I rode shotgun as my class spent the whole day on field trips. Our first stop was the famous church that artist Georgia O’Keeffe painted (left). She painted the rear of the church, so it has a very famous backside. We visited because we’re currently learning about how Northern New Mexico became an artists’ colony and a hippy commune. We visited a few other sites, including “the Gorge” where a bridge crosses over El Rio Grande. And boy is that rio grande!! I never knew how huge it was!

DSC01464-1.jpg The best thing of the day was the Earthships! They’re made from old car tires, cans, bottles, and adobe. They use solar and wind energy (so those necessary devices and batteries are attached to the house) and collect rainwater to be used within the house I think 3 times (for grooming, cleaning, automatically watering plants, etc). These houses are awesome and I’d totally love to live in one. Google it!

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An early start


The general feeling of well-being I had when I first arrived in Taos is starting to fade. I’m starting to go to bed at my normal bed time, 2 am. I’m starting to procrastinate on my assignments. And I’m just in general starting to not listen to my body. When I first arrived in Taos, I went to bed when I was tired and woke up when my body wanted. I ate the right amount of foods and the kind of foods I needed. I’m starting to fall into the bad habits I had in Dallas! I guess my body and my mind have finally made a full adjustment (except for my skin … nothing will keep it moisturized!).

I didn’t want this to happen, and I thought living with another health-nut would help prevent that, but no.

We did have a volleyball game today, which my class totally lost at, haha! The volleyball game and class discussion were about the highlights of my day. I hope they keep this volleyball tournament thing going at Taos because I think it helps bring the students together. Sports are just a powerful sociological force! I’ve been forced to watch NBA after NBA game because people throw a fit when the cafeteria TV set is not on ESPN. I’ve never watched so much basketball in my life (I typically avoid watching sports). Since being in Taos, I’ve gained an even greater appreciation for group physical activity. But other than the game and class, I did NOTHING!

I’m going to remedy this. I’m not going to regret my last week in Taos.

Tomorrow morning, I’m waking up at 4:15am. We’re taking a 45-60 minute hike up a steep mountain to watch the sunrise. Yes, it’s totally worth it to me. I love physical activity and fresh air before I get my day started or head to school. And I love sun-gazing at sunrise. Sun gazing is when you actually look directly at the sun. There’s different theories and techniques, but I think the general consensus is gazing at the sun at sunrise is safe and it feels amazing. I’m sure from the view we’ll have, it’ll be gorgeous.

So I meant to go to bed over an hour ago … Goodnight. Photos asap. 🙂

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Slow days

Taos%2014.36.31.jpg I really haven’t done much exciting. I’ve been into town to feel like a local. I’ve been hiking. I’ve been biking. I’ve been watching a lot of films (there are no Blockbusters, but check out Video Casa). Yah, I’ve never spent so much time watching movies before. I slept in quite a bit (which I’m finding actually makes me sleepier than when I just wake up at 7am like I normally do). I’m actually starting to get restless here. I feel like there isn’t much to do. Walking through brush and forest for no purpose other than walking through brush and forest can only entertain me for so long. A friend texted me “It must be great to be in the great outdoors!” and I texted back “There’s nothing so great about it.”

Ok, I will admit, it’s nice to drive into town and see mountains of Ponderosa pine in the skyline instead of concrete towers. The mountains against the sky always make interesting colors and shapes. And it is nice to be ok with the fact that you co-exist with ants, bugs, and animals that make poo droppings. This course I’m taking, especially, reminds me that we’re just really resourceful animals.

This place is really nice. I just miss … other young people (when you go into town, you’ll mainly see old folks). I miss high-speed internet (no offense, but “adobenet” is slower than AOL). I miss shopping and an array of fashion styles. I miss just a general sense of being surrounded by people. Now, maybe someone reading this is like “Duh, go to Santa Fe!” but I don’t have a car or a friend with a car who wants to go. Not having a car makes things difficult. My mom called today to ask if I went to church. No one with a car wanted to go, which means I didn’t go. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Jesus.

Before this weekend, my class did go on a trip to the Taos Pueblo. Taos Pueblo is one of the old “towns” Indians lived in. They come back to perform some traditional rituals and help keep their culture alive. It was great to go there because I got to speak with actual people instead of reading my textbook. Let me say something. The Taos Indian youth are GORGEOUS. They’re just stunning.

I met one boy named Winter Bear. I wanted to buy one of the beautiful necklaces his father made, but I had to leave them for the tour and I didn’t see them again. Plus, I forgot my wallet. I don’t have any photos because it cost $5 to have a camera permit. Sure, I guess I could have used my camera phone, but c’mon.

Vadito_New%20Mexico_US.jpg Then we went to visit William deBuys. He’s the author of our main textbook! He was really great. He took us on a hike through his land and explained the change of the ecology and how people influenced it. Afterward, I asked him to sign my textbook. I don’t know if I should sell it on e-bay or not. I’m for sure not selling it to the SMU bookstore, haha! But it was great. How often do you get to meet the person behind your torturous reading assignments?

He got into writing about environmental history because he worked in north New Mexico when he was younger. He was really terrible at this job and that somehow motivated him to make up for it. And as most success stories, it was by chance that many people enjoyed the story he tells in his text and the information he devulges.

Other than that, I haven’t done much. I’ve been less and less concerned with being social here as the days go on and people slowly become more comfortable with each other. I feel like my roommates are great friends and are always there when I want to do something. And I love how my professor enjoys conversing with his students. However, I’ve been spending a lot of time just contemplating. A lot of “interesting” moments, conversations and coincidences have happened every single day ever since I’ve arrived in Taos. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m beginning to wonder exactly why they call New Mexico the “Land of Enchantment.”

Ok! I’ve got a lot of work to do for my last week. Maybe I won’t have any more time for DVDs. I’ve got a lot of things planned, adventure-wise and academically.

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Old and new finds

Today was a gorgeous day! For once, it was not freezing. I put on a cute top and my favorite necklace. I got to breakfast a little late, but being friendly with the kitchen staff can get you a long way. It actually feels good to be able to really chat with anyone and everyone who’s working there. It’s also really nice to have breakfast with classmates and the professor.

Class today felt like pulling teeth, though. I was not able to finish my readings, so I wasn’t able to contribute as much nor take in as many ideas that I could use for my paper (that’s due in two days, by the way). However, I think I have developed a technique to get my through the reading! I’ve decided to read only the first and last sentences of each paragraph. Then, I’d skim the rest. Anything that seems relevant to my paper would be read in full detail. I can’t believe how much time this saved. I’m not done with my reading for tonight yet, but I believe for once, I will have it done! That’s kind of exciting, haha.

2010-05-17%2011.36.48.jpg After class, we looked into the “pot room,” where SMU keeps some very, very old pieces of jewelry and pottery found from excavation. Then, we went on a hike to Pot Creek Pueblo. This is a place that Taos executive director Mike Adler (in photo left) had been studying. Here, there used to be pueblos were Indians lived.

2010-05-17%2012.28.34_Ranchos%20de%20Taos_New%20Mexico_US.jpg He explained to us how finding remains, reading tree rings, listening to Native stories and using other analytical skills can help archaeologists know the story of a place. (In photo with Professor Johnson.) He also explained the struggle between archaeologists and native peoples, and how important it is to respect their wishes and do work that will benefit those people (legal rights, politics, etc). It seems like if you’re not careful, the scenario is something like: someone who’s not from the area got really curious, digs up some bones, and someone comes in like, “Wow, you weren’t supposed to find that. That’s ours and it’s sacred!”

2010-05-18%2000.30.53_Ranchos%20de%20Taos_New%20Mexico_US.jpg After class, I went to lunch, but unfortunately everything was gone. There was still cereal, fruit and sandwiches, but since when does that really count as lunch? So Jolene and I left campus to go into the city. It was so much fun! We ate at a delicious restaurant and visited some of the local boutiques. I even bought this really nice belt (left) from a place called Jewelz of Taos. And remember the rule “Ask, and you shall receive” because they gave me a discount simply because I asked for one!

2010-05-17%2016.34.12_Taos_New%20Mexico_US.jpg We went into a record store and I finally got to have a real conversation with some local people. They told me about how laid-back this small town is and how easy it is to talk to an authority figure. They told us that frisbee golf is a big hit here and this is very much an artists’ town. Then they advised us to visit a food store called Cid’s.

Jolene and I had heard of Cid’s – that it’s the Taos version of Whole Foods, so we had to go there! I found a tea I’ve been meaning to purchase and Royal Jelly (the stuff worker bees feed to the queen bee) in capsule form, which they don’t have at Whole Foods. It was nice to restock on some supplements and natural beauty products we forgot to bring with us.

Jolene was able to find her favorite brand of Kombucha and goat’s milk yogurt. Yah, I guess you can say we’re health nuts, but we love it. And I bought a local goose egg! I’ll ask one of the chefs to cook it up for me tomorrow morning. And they had no problem with letting Jolene keep her special yogurt in the fridge.

When we came back, the roommates and a few others gathered for a game of Monopoly while we watched “Center Stage.” I think Movie-and-a-Game is going to become a “thing.” The RAs also have some activities planned as well as professors inviting students to go to events with them. There is always something to do in the evening, so I think a good strategy is to finish all your work between end of class and dinnertime. Which I obviously didn’t do because I still need to finish this reading. See you next time!

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History and hiking lessons

Taos6.jpg It’s late night and I’m the only one awake, as usual! I don’t quite understand why my body insists on just not sleeping (last to bed, first to wake). I’m one of those people who thinks “sleep is for the dead,” so I’m not complaining, it’s just weird. In fact, my body is just behaving strangely in general. My skin is constantly dry. This happens in Dallas, but I found ways to remedy it. They’re no longer working. My breathing feels kind of awkward. I’m constantly thirsty. Constantly hungry. My body just is not predictable anymore. (In photo: Studying in the computer lab)

This was a fun-filled weekend of reading! Yah, I thought I’d go on some biking adventures or go into the city for whatever-college-students-do (which we did the other day and learned to never go with a group as large as 15 again), but I had no time. The amount of reading needed for the class would kill me if this were a normal semester. Ugh, I remember meeting a History Ph.D., and I told him that I would not touch a history degree with a 10-foot pole. He tried to convince me how similar history and philosophy are. Let me say, when I have to write a philosophy paper, I am never bogged down and confused with the sheer amount of verbiage every author feels he must put to paper.

The nice thing about Taos is that I run into my professor often at dinner (with his family, as well). I talk to him a lot about my worries and my ideas for my paper, and he’s always happy to chat, even though his adorable baby son interrupts every now and then. I am slowly trudging my way through the papers, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m just wasting my time. Surely, there is a more efficient way to go about this. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Ranchos%20de%20Taos.jpg But, this Sunday night was a good one. Every Sunday, the professors grill a cookout for everyone. And then a lot of us went out on a hike. Tip, when on a hike in the woods, wear good shoes and jeans! Don’t bring a heavy jacket, and bring your own water. I had fun, even though I got a lot of scratches. I wanted to enjoy nature and take it in by myself with some silence.

Taos_New%20Mexico_US.jpg Ever since I got into Taos, I’ve been getting messages from people I haven’t heard from in a while. So the one time I’m not in Dallas, they decide to contact me? What’s up with that! (In photo: the drive to Taos)

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