Tag Archives: Oaxaca, Mexico

Conversation Club

Yesterday, three American girls and I ventured to a local school to help our host brother out by participating in his conversation club, or “intercambio” as the Mexicans would say (literally translates to “exchange”). The club consists of about 20 students, around 18-21 years old, who have been studying English for the past year. They haven’t had many chances to practice speaking English, especially not with someone who is a native English-speaker themselves.

We were all a little bit nervous because we didn’t know what it would be like. Each of us Americans sat with two groups of three students for about 30 minutes each. José, our host brother, told us to speak slowly and to stick to fairly simple vocabulary.

In the end, the intercambio was a really great experience for all of us, American and Mexicans alike. We may even go back on a regular basis to help the students with English and practice our Spanish at the same time. Some students were shy but most of them were excited and eager to ask tons of questions about myself and my experience here.

I think the most interesting and beneficial thing for me was seeing others push through challenges and succeed to speak English as a second language. The experience also emphasized the importance of practicing and speaking the language you are learning. It gets tough trying to speak Spanish everyday here but they were truly an inspiration. As they are going into their second year of learning English, they are each starting to learn yet another language (Italian or German). All in all, it was a great way to interact with and meet more locals. I can definitely see myself joining a Spanish conversation club when I get back to the U.S. to help maintain all I have learned.

Monte Albán

Yesterday, we went on our first excursion with ProWorld to Monte Albán. Only about a 20 minute bus ride to the mountains above the valley of Oaxaca,  Monte Albán is a beautiful ancient pre-Colombian Zapotec site. The views and the architecture, mostly temples that have been partially reconstructed, are amazing!

Things to look forward to

Although I get homesick and emotional very easily, I am staying positive by focusing on all the things I have to look forward to.

  • Tuesday ProWorld meet ups
  • Friday night bike ride this week (and every other week after that)
  • Saturdays with the women’s group
  • Thursday visits to ProWorld project sites
  • Our next excursion to Hierve el agua (petrified water falls and warm springs) in a few weeks
  • Dia de los muertos!
  • Trip to the beach (hopefully)
  • Visit from my mom?!?!
  • Trying new food like mole and grasshoppers
  • And much more…

Women’s group goes to Teotitlán

Today I had my first day of work with the women’s group at Centro de Aprendizaje (The Learning Center, where kids go for tutoring and more). The group, consisting of girls 14-21, focuses on the role of women in Oaxaca, stereotypes, sexual education, violence and more.

Today six of us took a trip to Teotitlán, which was a beautiful 40 minute drive out of the city. The group goes on a day trip every other week and the purpose is to learn while taking photos showing women in their daily roles and speak to them about their lives. Then next week we will discuss the trip and what we learned, and look at the photos we all took. The best photos from each visit will be put in an exhibition in December. It was a fun, interesting first day!

Teotitlán is full of weaving and artisans and I plan to go back with ProWorld to get a tour focusing on the women’s weaving collective, La Vida Nueva.

I took way too many photos so here are some highlights, click on the photos to see details…

Cheap Finds

Best finds of the day from yesterday:

Churros, less than 25 cents each…sooo good

Yarn for knitting, about $1

Beer, always cheap…less than $2 at Café Los Cuiles, about $1 for 16oz cans

Week One: Bus rides and Spanish classes

Over halfway through my first week here in Oaxaca.

Even though I am still tired all the time, I do have a pretty nice schedule. I am getting more and more comfortable here everyday. The ProWorld team here has been an amazing help. The project coordinators showed me how to take the buses to and from my projects. It seemed daunting at first but when I had to do it by myself it was much easier than I expected. Taking the buses helps me really feel like I am living the local lifestyle. The streets here are a bit crazy though, cars weaving through the streets and honking, not stopping for anything or anyone. “In Oaxaca, traffic lights are a suggestion.”

Besides general support, connecting me with my two projects, and introducing me to other volunteers, ProWorld is also giving me Spanish classes at Amigo del Sol 3 days a week for the first 4 weeks. It is the smallest class I have ever been in- just myself and my roommate, Katie. It’s a long class and I feel like I start to comprehend less and less after the first hour but it is definitely beneficial getting such close attention in an informal classroom setting.

Today in class we each gave a talk for about 45 minutes on a theme of our choice. I was not looking forward to standing up talking in Spanish for so long but it was easier than I thought. I chose to speak about the benefits of bicycles for Mexico since that is what I had been reading about all day for my project anyway. The teacher helped me with vocabulary and grammar throughout and soon enough I was all done!

New vocabulary:
embotellamiento = traffic jam, congestion
mordida = bribe
carril = lane
peatonal = pedestrian
estacionamiento = parking

Then the other Katie presented on her Semester at Sea trip she took a few years back where she got to visit 9 countries in 2 months. Oaxaca is rich with its own culture but there are also many well-traveled people with fascinating stories from around Latin America and the world.

Exploring

My orientation is tomorrow morning and my project at Munda Ceiba, the bicycle education and reforestation project, starts on Monday. (They are even going to lend me a bike for my stay, I believe.)

The description from the organization I am traveling with, ProWorld, of Mundo Ceiba: “The overall goal of this project is to contribute to social change through an environmental medium by developing and promoting programs that include the care, protection and conservation of the environment. Ultimately this organization aims to become a benchmark of social participation for sustainable development and environmental care. In order to achieve this goal, the organization has developed several programs such as planting trees, promoting solutions to reduce air pollution and human waste, supporting and organizing workshops on the benefits of bicycle riding as an alternative form of transportation and various other efforts. With the help of its staff and of course you, the volunteer, they are able to educate and encourage the people of Oaxaca to envision and develop an alternative view of the world they live in.”

Until then I am just spending time with the family, relaxing, reading, and walking around the neighborhood. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and awkward yesterday but once I sat down with Magda and Pedro, my host parents, we talked for hours (in Spanish!) and I felt a lot more comfortable.

Here are some pictures of my house from the outside:

Front door

Front gate from the inside

Backyard

Walkway on the side of the house

View of entry gate from the street

I took a walk around the streets by my house. The neighborhood is called Colonia Reforma. It is north of the center of the city of Oaxaca and also quieter. It seems to be a good mix of residential and restaurants, cafes, etc.

It means "Unite for Attention to Women Victims of Gender Violence" and it's purple and right by my house!

Seafood stand/restaurant directly across from my house

Pet store. They had birds, fish, guinea pigs, and a few dogs in cages. Everything seemed way more expensive than I thought it would be.

I went to a huge supermarket earlier in the day with Magda and again during a walk by myself. It was similar to grocery stores back home, just little differences. They also had clothes, electronics, toys, etc. similar to a Walmart/Target. I liked going there because it is a way to better understand the daily life and routine of the locals. I also went to a smaller market with Magda that just had fruits and veggies. It was kind of like a Farmers’ Market back home- small, outdoors.

Vino! Wanted to get myself something to drink since I don't think the family drinks. Less than $4.

Cerveza! I heard it is cheap here but at the larger supermarket where this was taken it was $5-7/six pack. At a smaller, very similar store I went to next six packs were around $1! I am going there next time.

Agaucates = avocados! less than $3 for over 6lbs! (I am still working on my kilo and peso conversions.)

Also, happy World Vegetarian Day!
My family seems very accommodating of my special food needs and I am very thankful. Many people in the U.S. don’t understand and I’m sure it is even more rare in Mexico.
Also related: This was posted on Ms. Magazine’s “Top 100 Feminist Non-Fiction Countdown” today, sounds super interesting!
“The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory” by Carol J. Adams
This thought-provoking work exposes a carnivorous patriarchy that equates meat-eating with manliness. Adams presents compelling reasons that feminists should care how–or rather, who–they eat. Find the 20th anniversary edition here.