What I’m Into: October 2013

So, where did October go?  I can’t believe it’s already time to review another month of What I’m Into (inspired by Leigh Kramer).  In the past month, I finished a level of Spanish school, said goodbye to new yet dear friends, went on a three day clinic trip to the mountains, started a new level of Spanish, met new friends, and continued to enjoy life here in Mexico! October was also the month that reliable internet returned!  Everything is better now that I can communicate, get new ebooks, and do other internetly things without taking a taxi to  the next town. Here’s hoping it doesn’t leave again!

Dusk at the Beach
Dusk at the Beach

Spanish Learning

For the first part of October, my classmates and I hurtled toward the end of Level 2. In mid-October we took finals, and good news: we passed! I may or may not have cried for at least 10 minutes in the middle of my final because a good friend left to start a journey home in the middle of finals taking, but don’t worry, I was able to finish. After finals, we had a week off, but most of us students who remained went on a three day clinic trip to the mountains. It was a great trip, but it deserves its own post.

But, vacation can’t last forever. The last week of October, the new session of Spanish School began. Everything is different for me now in Level 3. Besides the changes in the students here at Spanish School, I embarked on a new adventure: I am now the only student in my level. Every other level here has so many students that each is split into two sections. We make many jokes about also splitting Level 3, but I can only be in one place at a time. Being the only student in my class is great for Spanish learning—I’m just exhausted by the end of the school day! Even in just a week of class, I can see a significant difference in my ability to speak and understand Spanish because I spend so much more time conversing in and listening to Spanish in class.

Cassie, Me, Jenna, and Moriah at the beach
Cassie, Me, Jenna, and Moriah at the beach

Books

At the beginning of the year, I set myself a goal of reading 50 books in 2013. I use the Goodreads Reading Challenge to keep track of how many I have read and see how many I have left. As of now, I have read 38 books and I have 12 left. According to my Goodreads tracker, I’m 4 books behind the pace, but I have read 12 books in my time here in Mexico so far, so I think I should be able to manage 12 more by the end of the year. I’m in the middle of at least 12 books right now (check out my currently reading list—it is real. Try not to look too long at my to-read list because it’s ridiculous and I love it).

I want to write a love letter to ebooks. It is thanks to the wonder of ebooks I have been able to read so many books here in Mexico. Some really great new books have been published in my time here, and I’ve been able to download them IMMEDIATELY, which has been magical. I had about $40 worth of credit card points that I have been using to feed my ebook habit—I’ve used about $30 so far, so I’m running out! Thank goodness for the Tulsa library and its vast ebook lending library.

I had a lot to say about each of these books, so I’m going to allow them their own future post(s). I’m trying to be better at actually reviewing these books I read. My favorites of the month, though, were When We Were on Fire and Allegiant. Here are my favorites of the books I read this month:

TV ReWatching with Subtitles

With each show I rewatch, I learn a whole new set of Spanish vocabulary. With Chuck, I learn words about spies and nerdery. However, sometimes the Chuck subtitles seem a little lazy, so I don’t count on its accuracy 100%. On my lone season of Parks and Rec, there are some fun words about small town politics as well as quite a few silly and joke-y vocabulary. Also, the subtitles for P&R are much more creative and accurate, trying to find the best way to translate the jokes. I’ve also watched a few episodes of Bones, where there are a number of complex scientific words. It’s great to use TV watching as an excuse for gaining new vocabulary.

A View on my Walk to School
A View on my Walk to School

Spanish Movies

When I was last at the Super Che (supermarket) in Puerto Escondido, I happened to glance at the large pile of DVDS. Lo and behold, they had Orgullo y Prejuicio (Pride and Prejudice) and Mas Barato por Docena (Cheaper By the Dozen) for less than $10 for both DVDs! And, they were made to be watched in Region 1 (US) as well as Region 4 (Mexico). Watching the movies with Spanish voices is so much more beneficial than just watching with subtitles. I promptly spent the weekend watching both movies with my family, which was great fun!

El Fin

As I publish this story, I have less than 5 weeks left here in Mexico. My sister and I return home the first week of December, one week before the last day of school. Tickets were $300 more apiece to return the second week of December, so home a week early it was. I’m looking forward to Christmas at home and to seeing my friends and family while I’m home for a month! But before then, I can’t wait to see what November will bring.

Me at the Beach
Me at the Beach

Tututepec

At my language school, they hope to teach us about more than just Spanish grammar and vocabulary. When you learn a language, you need to learn about the culture and history, too. One way to better understand the people you are talking and listening to is to learn about their past. Because there are many indigenous people groups here in southern Oaxaca, there is a lot of different history to learn.

One of those indigenous people groups is the Mixtecs. From around 800 to 1522, the Mixtecs were an empire at the same time as the Aztecs and Mayans. Their empire was vast and their power was great, but for some reason this people group was always left out of the story when I learned about the Aztec and Mayan Empires and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.

The capital of the Mixtec Empire was Tututepec, which still exists as a sleepy little pueblo up in the mountains. No longer the capital city of a great empire, it is now the county seat, with a town square, a Catholic church built in the 1500s and a small museum about the history of the Mixtec people. I was able to take pictures of the town center and the Catholic church, but the museum prohibited pictures.

Catholic Church in Tututepec
Catholic Church in Tututepec

The museum in Tututepec is small, but it has significant artifacts, including a large stone idol depicting a fertility goddess from the religion of the Mixtec Empire. Few artifacts still exist from that time: almost anything relating to the Mixtec religion (and by extension anything relating to Mixtec Empire history) was destroyed by Spanish priests who came with the conquistadors. While I understand the impulse to get rid of false idols, the destruction of hundreds of years of history of a people is a loss for those of us learning today. There is so much we don’t know about this 700+ year empire, but the Tututepec museum displays the artifacts and facts that have been discovered about the Mixtec Empire.

Inside the Catholic Church in Tututepec
Inside the Catholic Church in Tututepec

One of the things that struck me about the art and artifacts of the Mixtec people was how similar it looked to Chinese art I have seen. I thought that I was just seeing things, but in the museum, they have statuettes uncovered in archaeological digs that appear to depict people with Chinese features, as well as people with African features. Perhaps people from China and Africa made their way to Mexico many hundreds of years ago?

View of the Area from the Church
View of the Area from the Church

The funny thing about history? As we learned about the beginning of the Mixtec Empire around 800, I thought of when I traveled to Iona, an island of the coast of Scotland. The saint Columba landed on Iona in the late 500s and started a monastery there. Monks were trained there and the famous Book of Kells was started there in the 700s, but by around 800, the Vikings came and destroyed the monastery. Iona and Mexico are thousands of miles apart, but it’s crazy to think about how such monumental historical events happened around the same time.

Mixtec Art in the Town Office Buildings
Mixtec Art in the Town Office Buildings

When the conquistadors came to Mexico in 1522, they didn’t exactly conquer the Mixtecs. As I was told the story, the way the Spanish took over land was by striking deals with smaller people groups already subjugated by the Mixtec Empire. That way, the Spanish had a built-in army of sorts when they approached the Mixtecs. Apparently, the king of the Mixtec Empire offered to make a deal with the Spaniards, but his overtures were rebuffed, and then, as this sort of thing almost always goes, battles broke out. Instead of being conquered, though, the Mixtecs fled high into the mountains where the Spaniards couldn’t reach them. With the people scattered, the Mixtec Empire as it was vanished and the Spaniards took over the area.

Cassie and Me
Cassie and Me

Those Mixtecs that fled to the mountains are the ancestors of the Mixtecos of today, of my friends here who have Mixtec heritage. In many of those high mountain villages, there are many people who still only speak Mixteco, not Spanish. In Tututepec we had the unique opportunity to attend a Mixtecan celebration honoring their Mixtec heritage, complete with their own style of music and dancing (and had we been able to stay longer, also food). At this little celebration, tiny Mixteco women taught some of us how to dance, sharing a part of their ancient culture with us.

Tiny Mixteco Woman Teaching Cassie and Elaine to Dance
A Tiny Mixteco Woman Teaches Cassie and Elaine to Dance
A Tiny Mixteco Woman Teaches Cassie and Elaine to Dance (sorry for the blurry picture–iPhones are not great for capturing motion!)

Learning about the Mixtec Empire at the museum and being able to experience a taste of Mixteco culture at the fiesta were great additions to my Spanish School experience. I’m thankful to be studying Spanish at a school that values the history and culture of the local area. My studies of the Spanish are richer with this background knowledge of some of the people I meet and talk to every day.

City Offices in Tututepec
City Offices in Tututepec
View of the Mountains on the Drive Home from Tututepec
View of the Mountains on the Drive Home from Tututepec

Spanish School Family

Yesterday, I wrote about the school side of Spanish School. Now that school is explained, I want to talk about the more entertaining part: the people! I am one of 23 Spanish School students in this session. We range in age from 18 to 71, and we are a lively bunch. The group divides fairly neatly into two categories: the young people and the couples. There are four older couples (as in, they have children and grandchildren older), the middle-aged couple, the youngish newlywed couple, and 13 young people. We also have seven teachers, including my sister Emily (who is an additional member of “the young people.”

I am the oldest (by only a few months) of the young people, but I appear to be the youngest. In fact, one of the young gentlemen here asked me, upon my arrival, “So, have you graduated high school?” Because he was already friends with Emily from earlier in the year, I knew how old he was, and I had to restrain myself from saying, “Oh honey, I’m two years older than you.” (Ah the trials of appearing 16. People keep telling me I’ll appreciate it when I’m older, but I keep getting older and I still don’t appreciate it.)

Essentially, as a group we’re a funny little Spanish School family, made up of older, wiser people who are responsible and study a lot and go to bed on time (and I mean this as a sincere compliment), as well as we younger people who like to run around and be silly and study occasionally and go to bed late. We young people have a lot of fun together attempting to experience all the interesting things our area of Mexico has to offer.

Taco Tuesday
Taco Tuesday

I liken the Spanish School family to a large family vacation or reunion. At a family reunion, you’re with many people you like and love, but you can move around and hang out with lots of different people. There’s almost always something entertaining and/or cultural happening, as well as plenty of people with whom you can enjoy that cultural entertainment.

Spanish school family (among the young people) includes, but is not limited to:

  • sharing food, sometimes by literally taking food off of other people’s plates, while other times it just means giving what you don’t want to eat to the hungry young man sitting next to you
  • getting lost in the city and not having a meeting point planned but finding each other anyway because Emily and I were in separate groups and sometimes we can read each others’ minds
  • having a group Bible study in English but going to Bible study mostly because the newlyweds bake cookies and have fresh fruit (FELLOWSHIP and fruit)
  • throwing impromptu late night swing dance parties
  • having a bonfire birthday party on the beach
  • and more and more

Whenever you’re in such a close environment, studying, living, eating, celebrating together, you become close quickly. We plan each others’ birthday parties, throw impromptu swing dance parties, discover new restaurants and revisit old favorites, explore cities, study the Bible in English and try to read it in Spanish, learn about each others’ lives before now and where we want them to go. It’s messy and great and awkward and wonderful all at the same time.

The sad thing about Spanish School Family is that every 7-8 weeks, the family changes. Today, many of my new friends leave and move on to other adventures. The lone Level 4 is moving on to a new job in the states, the Level 3 who is my housemate (we live in the same house and share a Mexican family) is returning home (and both these people have become dear friends—today is awful because they’re going; I’ve been crying all day), and all of the older couples are going on to other adventures.

The trouble with becoming close to people, with becoming friends, with becoming family is that it hurts when you have to say goodbye. And this weekend is just the first round of my goodbyes here—I have two more sessions of Spanish to learn and new friends to make! The joys of friendship, community, and family, though, are well worth the pain of saying goodbye.

Cassie, Emily, Sarah, Jenny, Joey, Peter (front row) Nathan, Mark, Dylan, Rob (back row)
Cassie, Emily, Sarah, Jenny, Joey, Peter (front row) Nathan, Mark, Dylan, Rob (back row)

Spanish School Life

Now that I’ve been in Mexico for seven weeks, it’s more than past time to answer the question: So, what am I doing here in southern Mexico? Since the beginning of September, I have been attending Roca Blanca Spanish Language School in the state of Oaxaca. The goal by the end of my time here at the school is (obviously) to become fluent in Spanish. I want to give you a little glimpse into how I’m trying to accomplish that goal.

Spanish School is in session every day Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 1:00 PM with an hour break for almuerzo (breakfast/brunch/first lunch). On “A” days, I have gramatica (grammar), fonetica (phonetics), vocabulario (vocabulary), and laboratorio (laboratory—basically practicing speaking Spanish). On “B” days, I have gramatica, verbos (verbs), patrones (patterns), and traducción (translation). After a couple of alternating ABABAB days, we have “C”days, which just means it’s time for a test. This goes on for 7 weeks, then there is a week break before the next session starts.

Currently, I am finishing Level 2 out of 4. I was able to begin in this level because I knew enough Spanish to skip Level 1. Most of Level 2, though, has been review for me. Nearly all my grammar lessons have had concepts I’ve learned before, but had forgotten. It’s been a great way to ease back in to learning Spanish.

Next session, I will complete Level 3, then when I return to Mexico in January I will complete Level 4. I plan to stay an extra month past Level 4 to keep practicing my Spanish in this “immersion” setting. If I’m putting this much time into learning the language, I want to make sure I know it and can use it!

The hardest part, of course, of language learning, is understanding what people say and then being able to speak back. You know, having conversations? For Level 3, I will be the only student in my level, because my current classmates are moving on to other adventures and no one new is entering into Level 3. Being the only student in my class will challenge me in my language learning because I will be the only one responsible for knowing the answers. I will miss my current classmates, but I’m excited for this new part of my adventure.

Me with my Nivel Dos classmates and our vocabulary teacher
Me with my Level 2 classmates and our vocabulary teacher

Comida

One of the most important parts of any new living situation is the comida (food).  There are a lot of things I like about the food here, and there are things I really really dislike. Here, though, are a few of my thoughts on comida.

The Mexican eating schedule is very different from the American schedule. You eat a little desayuno (breakfast), like oatmeal, before school, then almuerzo (lunch/brunch) is at 10:00 AM. Comida (lunch/dinner) is at 3:00 PM, then cena (dinner) is at 8:00 PM. I eat almuerzo and comida on the base in the comedor (dining room), which is served cafeteria style to everyone who works and learns at the base. Some days the food is better than others—Mondays are the worst because there aren’t many people on the base so sometimes they just serve leftover tortillas covered in watery beans, which is not my favorite meal. Then, there are days where they serve shrimp soup, with a rich and delicious stock that might convince you that you’re at a fancy restaurant. That makes up for hot dog soup days.  Yes, hot dog soup.

The best restaurant in Cacalote is Maria’s taco stand. The tacos are simple: just barbacoa (“barbecued”meat) and tortilla, fried. Each taco is only 6 pesos, and an order of tacos comes with a roasted cebolla (onion). The salsa verde is delicious and insanely spicy, to the point where the comment was made, “Hey Sarah, did you know that your lips get bright red when you eat spicy food?” Well, if I didn’t know before, I know now! Also, when I say it’s the best restaurant in Cacalote, it’s the only restaurant that isn’t a bar that is open every night. There’s a family who makes tlayudas (Oaxacan quesadillas) some weekends, but that’s about the only other option. Fortunately, Maria’s tacos are the best.

Those who know me well know I don’t like milk. I can’t remember ever drinking a glass, because I find it disgusting. The texture, the taste, everything. Chocolate milk on the other hand, is delicious. And I can get chocolate milk in a box anytime I want. It’s delicious, but there’s never enough in the box.

ChocoMilk
ChocoMilk

Another great Mexican snacky is galletas (cookies). Sharing a package of galletas around the lunch table is a common pastime. Triki-Trakes, Empreadors, Maravillas, and Marias are just a few of the tasty options.  Healthy? Not at all. Tasty and delicious? Yes.

A great thing about living near the Pacific Ocean, as I do, is that there are a lot of dishes that include seafood.  One of my favorites dishes when I’m out at a restaurant in a nearby town, is shrimp cocktail. Yes, it is as delicious as it looks.

Shrimp Cocktail
Shrimp Cocktail

Watchers of PBS may know of a show called Mexico One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless. Last season, he traveled throughout the state of Oaxaca, enjoying plates of Mexican cuisine and then showing viewers how to make similar dishes. One episode is set in Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, Puerto being the closest “big city” to little Cacalote. This spring in America, my family watched this episode and I was enamored with a dish called encamoranadas (shrimped things), which are basically shrimp tacos. So, when I found myself at Playa Carrizalillo I had to try these shrimp tacos. I split them with my roommate Cassie (in Spanish, her name sounds like the word “casi,” which means almost, so sometimes we call her Almost) AND THEY WERE AMAZING. They were Mexican expensive (100 pesos, which is about $9) because we were at a tourist beach, but it was worth every peso.

Encamaronadas
Encamaronadas

I’m excited to see what else I will eat in my next two months here in southern Mexico!

Whoa

November, really?

I look at a calendar and talk about the day with small children every day.  Still, November is a surprise. My life seems to always move at breakneck speed, never slowing down.

I made an important decision in October. Sharing this decision with others has led to entertaining conversations.  One example:

Friend: “So, how’s school treating you?” [expecting the answer of, fine, busy, etc]

Me: “I hate it, I’m quitting.”

Friend’s Face: Disbelief

It’s getting past my bedtime so I don’t particularly feel like writing much about my decision to go a different direction in my graduate education.  I’m pretty excited about it, though.  Mostly, though, I’m excited about having a few months to find a life, make friends with people my own age, and look for a different [and most certainly more expensive] graduate program.

Every month of this year, my life has completely changed in some way or another.  I decided in October to completely change the direction of my life. That’s kind of a big deal. But, it somehow seems like just a natural progression.  Like I had to start a program I won’t finish in order to learn that it wasn’t what I wanted. It’s going to be weird not finishing something I’ve started.  And liberating.

So November, what craziness will you bring?  If it could involve a group of friends where I live, a man, or really, just a social life, that would be fabulous. Most likely, November will be like every other month this year: unexpected.

Unexpected November is unexpected!

Oh, and I think I’m going to attempt something resembling NaNoWriMo. With no plan except a vague story idea. We’ll see how this goes. It will probably never see the light of day.

[why am I giving myself a new project in the midst of the insane busyness that is my life? probably because I don’t want to do the homework for the classes I have to finish for the degree I won’t be continuing….]

Hello There October

I spent the first two days of October in class for grad school.  I’m never doing a weekend class again–I hate sitting for that long. I also hate having no weekend.

So, where did September go? It passed in a blur of preschool, grad school, and trying to figure out my new life. Preschool is going fabulously.  I love my job. The childrens, all nine of my students, they exhaust me. But oh, they are hilarious.

Grad school is not my favorite thing in the world. It takes up time I’d rather be spending working on stuff for my students or trying to develop a social life or sleeping.  However, grad school is the means to becoming a special education teacher someday.  Right now, being an assistant is fabulous.  But I don’t want to be an assistant forever.

I have had limited success in finding a social life.  Where are all the people my age and at my stage of life?  Surely there are people in my area who are recently graduated from college and working full-time.  I haven’t met them, though.

I did find ultimate pick-up in September.  Fear didn’t want me to go–but I went anyway and I had great fun. I still suck at Ultimate. I can never get in the right place at the right time.  I rarely touch the frisbee. But, it’s good for me. I forgot, though, that I was really blessed this summer to play on a summer league team with guys who would throw to me. In this pick-up, guys don’t seem to throw much to girls and the few girls view me as competition. HA.  Life is funny.

So the blur of September charged on to the present experience of October.  September was BUSY. October will also be BUSY. Every day is filled with things to do. I love it. I just wish I had extra time to sleep…

Bring it October.