Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pedagogy and potential best friendships.

Hurray Hurray. So I left you all at the dining room table on the night of Monday the 27th, eating delicious chicken broth soup (with rice and garbanzo beans and a hint of lime juice... p.s. Mexico is making limes an absolute requirement for my life I think). This morning I awoke from some crazy dreams involving an attempt to get onto some sort of Haverford team that focused on being funny. But in like a really organized way. Whatever I was really stressed about it, which made me less funny and therefore hurt my chances, but then when I tearfully explained to the team that I was nervous and felt like they weren't listening to me, it evolved into this big tearful heart to heart between everyone, with like really big hugs from people I've never actually talked to at Haverford, but were totally in this club thing. Also, we then went to play around in one of those big pits full of plastic balls that they have at places like Chuck E. Cheese, and while lolling around in there I wrote no less than three really awesome songs, that of course I couldn't remember when I woke up. Slash I think this actually happened on Monday morning. But anyway. Isn't that weird? Slash just goes to show, open and honest communication is usually the best bet. HA.

Okay, so that was a digression. Whoops. So this morning I had several things on the table: 1) Finish blog entry #16. 2) Write post cards (still has totally not happened). 3) Work on my lesson plan for Barrio. 4) E-mail important people (whoops. failing). 5) Check-in with Hayley. 6) Meet William at the Museo de antropología a las 2. WOW. Okay, so I went downstairs and Sasha had exactly as many oatmeal pancakes left over as I wanted, which was great. I chatted with Hayley, picked up the key to the azotea (roof, my new favorite spot) and settled into lesson planning. So where I left off last time: general rules I try to tell the kids each time. Basically I spent some time today trying to create worksheets and think through how to make them both helpful and relevant. Señor Ramsey is totally my model, as the absolute best Spanish teacher I've ever had. In normal class I pretty much don't approve of worksheets as they can so easily devolve into busywork that the teacher hasn't thought through very carefully, but for learning Spanish they were totally the perfect learning tool for me. Señor Ramsey literally never spoke in English, but each time we learned a new rule, it was explained in English on the worksheet, and he had one of us read it aloud. Then we practiced the rule a million times, and in different ways, until it sunk in and became part of our body of Spanish knowledge. I'm also pretty sure that he introduced new verb tenses into his daily speech as we learned them - but not before. How ridiculous is that?

Anyway, so I'm trying to be him, in some ways, essentially. So that was really fun today - practicing numbers and colors and more vocabulario all in one. And these rules that are so important:

1)   En inglés, muchas letras tienen sonidos diferentes que en el español.
a.     Por ejemplo, en inglés la letra “i” suena como “ay,” no como la letra “i” en español.

2)   En inglés, las palabras no se pronuncian exactamente como se escriben.
a.     Por ejemplo, la palabra “nine” se pronuncia “n-ay-n,” NO “ni-ne.”

3)   En inglés, el adjetivo siempre viene antes del sustantivo.
a.     Un sustantivo es un lugar, una persona, o un objeto.
b.     Un adjetivo describe un sustantivo.
c.      En español, se dice “Hay un gato pequeño.” El sustantivo aparece ANTES del adjetivo. Pero en inglés, se dice “There is a small cat.” El sustantivo aparece DESPUÉS del adjetivo.

4)   Siempre tenemos que usar los pronombres en el inglés
a.     Un pronombre es: yo, tú, él, ella, usted, nosotros, ustedes, ellos o ellas.
b.     En español, no siempre tenemos que usarlos porque la forma del verbo nos dice quien está haciendo la acción. Si yo digo, “Quiero aprender,” ustedes saben que YO quiero aprender.
c.      En inglés, la forma del verbo NO nos dice quien está haciendo la acción. Si yo digo, “Walks home,” no sabemos QUIEN está caminando. Tenemos que decir, “He walks home” para saber quien está haciendo la acción.

5)   En inglés, usamos el verbo “to be” (estar o ser) mucho. Solo usamos “have” (tener) con OBJETOS.
a.     Por ejemplo, en español decimos cosas como “Tengo calor,” “Tienes suerte,” o “Tiene razón.” Pero en inglés decimos, “I am hot,” “You are lucky,” o “She is right.” Usamos TO BE, no TO HAVE.

I'm pretty sure they make sense. They somehow sounded less complicated when I said them out loud than when I wrote them down. Basically (for you non-Spanish speakers out there), these are things like you always have to use pronouns in English - you don't have to in Spanish, because the form of the verb indicates who is doing the action. If you say quiero, I know you mean yo quiero (I want). Various cosas así. So that was what I had fun thinking about today. Tomorrow we're going to do a lot - review the alphabet and numbers, learn the structure of numbers 20-100, review our adjectives and colors that we have so far, through in a few new nouns, and some verbs so that we can add "I like to..." to our introductions that we will also practice during class. I'm thinking alphabet song, I'm thinking some fill-in-the-blanks on the board, I'm thinking some pictionary. I want to think of ways to move them around and get them doing different kinds of thinking - sometimes copying things down, sometimes answering questions I ask (with one-word responses, not the best, I know, but I think just word repetition is helpful), sometimes producing full sentences on their own. Hm. And yay. And I love them, and want to ask Erick and Edgar if there's any way we can continue during the curso de verano.

So lovely lesson-planning time on the azotea. Then check-in with Hayley (a jugo and a walk to the monument, some friendly reminders and a lot of affirmation from her. Aw geeze). Then off to the Museo to meet up with William. What a great day that was! (Picking this up now on Thursday evening.) Wow, tons of cool old Aztec stuff, and two very knowledgeable and awesome people to tell me all the cool stories behind each piece. My nerdy senses were tingling off the hook. William (have I explained who he is?) is a PhD student here at the Casa for 3 more weeks, in Mexico to find his dissertation topic, and to generally be awesome and also my new best friend. We made the trek back to the Casa on foot after our explorations in the the murky history of the Aztec empire. Took about an hour, perfect amount of time for getting-to-know-each-other talks, and for me to decide not to say anything as he smoked two cigarettes. Got back to find out that dinner would be an hour later than I thought it would be, so I took a jaunt upstairs to knock on the men's dorm (first time) to alert William that we did indeed have time for a taco. Whatever, he's just great to talk to. Super kind and value-oriented, but also funsies and hilurious. We are, in essence, besties. And he is super good at giving me a hard time, which is good, because I appreciate when someone can hold their own against my incredibly sharp wit. Anyway, community dinner, more funsies hanging out in the guest lounge. Linet and Gilbert pretty evenly matched (kind of... slash Linet has the edge) in a game of chess, William and I shared some music with the people around, whatever, great times. Generally a fantastic day.

So then Wednesday (yesterday) got up to finish lesson planning for Barrio, had a monthly planning meeting with the whole Casa team, and headed out to la Pastora con Brenda (Joey's friend who's going to teach dance classes there) for my third English class. It went alright. The coolest part was that I think it's what real school feels like. It was rainy, and the kids seemed pretty tired/distracted/bored, the three girls in the corner kept talking to each other in loud whispers, I didn't have as many jokes as before. I think it went alright though. I'm trying to develop a sense of where each student is, and I think I have rough outlines. Anyway, the best part was when I decided to stick around for Brenda's dance class. I hung out with Erick for a while, then Lessly got there and we practiced her English. It was cool, and I found out Erick actually understands pretty much everything I say in English unless I'm talking super super fast. Whatttt. But okay, so a bunch of the moms stuck around to hang out and watch the dance class happen (in a teeny tiny space, mind you). It was just so awesome to witness the community happening all around me. Around me, and TO me. People asked me questions and I made jokes with the moms about Erick's dancing. I feel so privileged, or lucky or something. It feels like i get to see a secret world that no one else knows about. And really, no one else in my world (except Olivia and Joey and now Brenda) has witnessed this place or these people, at least not to my knowledge. And that's pretty cool - that I get to be a part of it. So wow. On the way home, I noticed people passing their bus money from the back to the front, "Lo pases al señor, por favor?"

Last night I spent more quality time in the guest lounge, getting to know Crystal, who is super awesome. She's here to coordinate the IVCF (Inter-Varisty Christian Fellowship) group of college students who are at sites throughout Mexico, and is the coolest. Super great hanging out, getting caldo and a sope, talking Quakerism and music and spiritual challenge and exploration. I am super stoked for that friendship to continue. Today has been pretty mellow. Slash it started off pretty rough - breakfast, which I had not really prepared for and therefore some elements were stretched pretty thin (huevos and fruta, for example). Also wasn't really prepared for this discussion Medio Ambiente had about articles we were supposed to read. I got through parts, but hadn't read them as thoroughly as I wanted, and just generally felt like I was failing at life and everyone was going to hate me. But whatever, I got through it, and it was actually a cool discussion. We talked a lot about action growing out of faith/spirituality/listening to the way of the Spirit, and as action being a necessary component to demonstrating true alignment with the Spirit. Insert your own vocabulary where needed. Anyway, it felt like I was back at Pendle Hill, and it was really nice to realize that a space that has felt pretty secular so far can also hold spiritual talk like that. Something Quaker House never really became last semester.

Lounged around the rest of the day. Had a great time connecting with Linet and Lydia, then a lot of time with Joey. Looking forward to SLEEP tonight, mostly, before I can even think about everything happening tomorrow. It's been raining all day, so I'd like it to stop seeing as I can't cuddle with certain people, and go back to being sunny Mexico summer as opposed to Philadelphia spring. Nom. Can't wait for Mom to get here in exactly a week! Lots of hurrays about that one.

More soon, and love to errbody,

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Absurdly disorganized catch-up. Huzzah.

**Majority of this entry written on the azotea, in the sun, on Monday, June 27.

WOW I cannot believe it has accidentally been so long since my last post. I feel like I've sort of gotten into a groove here, and at the end of each day it doesn't necessarily feel like there's tons of news to report, so I thought I'd save up a few days. Now it has magically been almost a week. Whoops! I guess also, having gotten more comfortable here, a lot of the day-to-day news is interpersonal relationship-oriented, still with fun new exploring and revelations sprinkled in here and there, and more general feelings of contentment.

So let's see, last Wednesday I taught my first English workshop at Barrio, Thursday I helped Alejandro with breakfast and went to the Medio Ambiente meeting and then pretty much lolled around all day trying to recover from multiple early mornings, and Friday I worked the first shift and headed back to Barrio Activo. The weekend was good, too, kind of chill, but also a lot of being out and about which I liked. We stayed in Friday night as we were all super exhausted (and lame, I know, I'm sorry), but it was actually super great hanging out with Linet and Joey. Saturday I went to the tiangis with Hayley to buy breakfast eggs, tortillas, cheese, and also some delicious aguas and cornbread for our breakfast. A little later we headed back out to go to Pride, which was my first one, and therefore pretty great. There were some moments where I was pretty caught up in the complete, unbridled joy being expressed, and also moments that gave me goosebumps with their sadness and profundity. A group chanting, "Queremos ser papás. Queremos ser mamás." A lot about respect and love and non-discrimination, inclusiveness.

Next Hayley and I made our way to the metro to get to a park where the Day of the Refugee was being celebrated with lots of different kinds of performances. We got there in time to see some capoera, which was super cool, and then for the play put on by the refugees who take spanish classes at the Casa. So that was cool. We got back in time for me to make some quick dinner and grab a shower before it was my turn to work the third shift. Third shifts are generally boring and/or include a lot of creepers going in and out of the Casa, either for the English chat on Fridays or just in general because they like to harass white girls working at the desk when no one else is around. Lucky for me though, mine only had one creeper who I successfully got rid of pretty quickly (I am a huge a badass), and lots of friends coming to hang out with me. So the time passed pretty quickly, but I still really really prefer first shift. It sucks getting out of bed, but then I really like being in the center of the action, feeling like there's a reason I'm behind the desk, welcoming people, getting to see my friends go off to work, exchanging good-morning greetings and besos with the cleaning ladies and with my favorite guests. Ugh it's so sad when long-term guests leave. Even when someone's just here for a week or so, you get used to having them around, and it feels weird when you can't see them anymore.

Anyway, Saturday night Linet and Gilbert (Lydia's bro) went out on our own to try and find this random party Liselot was going to. We actually found it pretty easily, although it didn't really feel like the safest place in town. By the time we got in, it was still pretty lame. The night got a little more exciting though when a couple of the guys who seemed to be hosting decided that Gilbert looked to young or too white or too male (or all three) and asked him for ID. Basically, it was okay for a while, but then he came back and asked Linet and me if we spoke Spanish (G-money doesn't), and started giving us all this bullshit about a photocopied ID not being good enough (which is completely ridiculous - lots of Americans don't carry around their real ID in case you get robbed). I thought it best to bring Liselot over (being the most fluent and the most adult and grown-up looking of the three of us), and whatever, the guys were just worried that if they got raided by the cops and it looked like they were serving alcohol to an underage white American guy they would get in trouble. It sounded like a bunch of bullshit to me, and I was actually pretty pissed because it was clear that, even though I think Linet and I look pretty young, too, they weren't giving us any trouble because they apparently see young white women as an asset to the party, while young white guys are not. 

Anyway, it really wasn't that big of a deal, and they were finally satisfied when they realized that G-money's birthday was on his ID, and whatever. We stayed and hung out for a little while longer, and it was actually really great in a way. Linet and Gilberto and I found ourselves having a big conversation about our siblings. There seem to be some similarities between the relationship between Gilbert and Lydia and the one between Ryland and me. Two very different siblings, who have had a close relationship but are still in the process of figuring out how to relate to each other as young adults who aren't quite ready to be friends, but still have a long history together. Anyway, so that was cool. We soon decided to leave because, whatever, it was just kind of lame, and embarked on the adventure of hailing a cab that would be the right kind of cab - ID on the window, meter in the front. We must have flagged down eight or nine before G-money found one to his satisfaction, which I was totally fine with. He pretty much handled the hailing and the waving away when it didn't meet his/our requirements, but we finally all piled into the back of one that would take us safely to la Condeza, a more European and middle to upper-middle class part of town with a lot of bars and cafés. 

Oh my gosh, so I'm just realizing that I've accidentally gotten really deep into describing the details of this night, which ironic because it's not even that interesting or important. So ANYWAY, trying to wrap up, we hung out for another couple of hours at a pretty cool bar, and it was funsies. We got home safely, exchanged some goodnight hugs, and went to bed for some much-needed sleep. Sunday I woke up to go to an artisan market called something like la Ciudadela with Lydia, G-money, and Linetskies, and that was pretty cool. We walked around for a while looking at awesome brightly colored stuff, then headed back to the Casa before going back out for lunch in the Roma. Lydia and Gilberto and I made the adventure in the rain, achieving some success at sharing one umbrella between the three of us. HA. We got home around 5:30 and I was beat, so I lounged around with Linet for a while, avoiding the overwhelming potluck that I seem to not participate in super often. Had a really great conversation with William, a grad student who's with us for 5 weeks to find a topic for his dissertation in art history at COLUMBIA (no big deal). He's just the nicest guy ever, really buena honda (which just means like, you get a really good vibe from someone, you can tell they're legit). Ooo, and this takes me back to filling you all in on the really more interesting Wednesday through Friday of my week last week.

So Wednesday, like I said, I worked the first shift, then grabbed some lunch before heading out to Barrio Activo. I will also share that I received a super nice mensaje from a friend wishing me lots of suerte in my first English class there. Yum. Anyway, so I was pretty nervous beforehand, just feeling like I hadn't planned enough. But also feeling like I really couldn't ever plan perfectly because I had no idea the proficiency level I would encounter when I got there. So 8 or 9 kids came, and we started off introducing ourselves, first in English, then in Spanish. Over the course of the lesson, I learned that all except one of the students (my friend Lessli) really needed and wanted to start at the very beginning with letters and numbers. So we worked on the alphabet song and things like that. It ended pretty well, I think, and Pati and Erick said it was great, and I was just excited that I got through the whole lesson in Spanish (I'm introducing more English phrases as we go on).

Got home to find Linet working reception. This is always a fun surprise, because I super do not keep track of anyone else's schedule. So we hung out for a while, and William and some friends came back from the pyramids, and he stuck around to hang out. Which was awesome, because it was the first time we had really talked to him, and he's awesome. It turned out he'd been looking for a guitar, and couldn't find either of the two that the Casa has because a) the Christians had left one in the sala de conferencias, and b) I had stolen one and was keeping it in my room. WHOOPS. I found him a little later in the guest lounge, and brought out the guitar to him saying, "I'm so sorry! Is there any way I can make it up to you?" He replied that I could by playing him a song, to which I finally agreed after enjoying him playing for a while. This was pretty cool, and also the fastest I've ever played for somebody after meeting them. He was really positive and affirming, and it was generally an awesome experience. A bunch of us hung out for a while, before Molly and Linet and I decided we needed to make french fries, then watch TV, then go to bed.

Thursday really not much happened during the day, although around midnight or so I saw one of my favorite guests for the first time in what seemed like a while, so it was super great to see him and catch up a little bit. Friday was pretty pretty great. I worked first turn, which was inSANE but awesome. My Columbian friend came to hang out with me a little bit before he headed off to search out a place to stay (Sin Fronteras was paying for him to stay at the Casa until Friday morning), so that was super nice. A little while after my shift ended, Joey and Brenda and I went to get the microbus to la Pastora (the neighborhood where BA is). I was honestly still planning out my lesson (I have to get better at thinking ahead), but it actually went SO WELL. Here's the thing. I was nervous that a ton of new people ere going to show up, because they announced the English classes at the basketball game on Wednesday and a ton of kids swarmed around me asking how to say random words and their names in English. ("Como se dice Cristofer?" "Christopher." "Como se dice Raúl?" "Um, Raul" and lots of other cute things. That was actually super fun on Wednesday, I forgot to say that - we went to see basketball after my English class, and introduced ourselves at the end, and I ended up hanging out with a bunch of different kids who all came over to me asking questions about EVERYTHING. Oh, I loved it and them.)

Anyway, the same 6 kids showed up from before, plus a new student who I knew from the guitar workshop. Lessli was busy doing other summer planning, which was actually good I think. I felt bad for her on Wednesday because she really does already know all the stuff that the other kids need to start with, so I told her we could meet before or after the class to just have a conversation in English to help her practice. Yay. Anyway, the the kids all showed up early! Which was scary at first, but then we just hung out while I got the space ready for our lesson. We started off introducing ourselves again (I think we'll do that every class - provides a practical purpose for the English they're learning, and I think they need it to be comfortable. Then we reviewed the alphabet - I asked people to tell me it line by line (about 5 letters at a time). I just keep thinking about my Ed class last semester, and how I'm sure I'm not integrating enough things all at once, or I'm missing something... but honestly I feel like I'm doing pretty well for my first run through. I know pretty much which students are struggling the most, and I tried to integrate them into the lesson - although by the end I really just had to let one little boy slide. He's the youngest, and I think was just overwhelmed by all the info.

Anyway, I was really excited because I made the kids laugh with jokes and here and there. AND even better, I told them pretty early on in the lesson to correct me if I made mistakes in Spanish, explaining that I was still learning the language. At this, my twelve-year-old friend named Alexha said in Spanish, "It will be like you're teaching us and we're teaching you!" Exactly. I'm really happy about this, because I don't ever want them to feel like I'm telling them that English is more valuable than their native language, or that I'm in any way better than them because I'm American and speak English. So I felt really good that they seemed to get that. Yay. So we continued with singing the alphabet song a few times through, practicing the English "arrrrr" sound (we pretend to be pirates) and the weird "thhh" sound necessary for some of them to say that they are thhhhirteen years old. We moved on to numbers, and I was delighted to find that they wanted to move beyond the 1 through 10 we learned last time, and go all the way to 20. Next time I think I'm going to explain about the pattern for 20 through 100, so we'll get all the way to 100. WOW. After we all took notes on the how to spell the numbers (I remembered to be clearer this time that they should write down what I write on the board), I asked them to tell me how many there were of a given object in the room. My favorite moment was when I put a handful of markers on the table, and they all dived to count them in rapid Spanish before looking up at the board to figure out how to say that number in English. 

I try to integrate other rules of thumb around this basic material. I worry though, because I don't want to be throwing out random information. I'm the kind of learner who needs things to be organized and presented in a logical way, so I'm really sensitive about not trying to jump around too much.

Speaking of not jumping around, this entry totally got interrupted (in the most pleasant way, of course) by my fave Hayley. We ended up talking for a while, then she headed off to the gym while I went dowstairs to check in with Linet (who had had a great day at CAM and had bought an extra muffin, just in case I wanted one. Which was good, because I did. And I love her) and play around in reception for a while. Then I headed back upstairs to get a sunburn and play some tunes on the roofy roof. Came down in time to Skype my mom and my Cope before running off to our weekly meeting in like a pretty gross state. Ran for a shower (I feel like I’m always saying that) before I got a big group together to get din dins out. Gorditas (literally means little fat things, likely because this dish is based on fried dough and meat and cheese) and caldo and a sope (split between me and my roomie), and cozy post-rain noms in the dining room with a bunch of the volunteers and our new best friend William.

Anyway, I’ma post this, and write the next entry about today and further thoughts on pedagogy (YAY) in the attempt to keep this all in some sort of order. Hurray and love to all,


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Things things things.

Frienddddssss. I am having the best summer. Not to exaggerate or anything but... yeah. Okay, so not a ton of interesting things have happened to me since I last wrote, so I will just share some anecdotes, and then also some thoughts I've been saving up. More general reflections about cosas aquí. And also, I promised fun Quaker facts about the history of the Casa pretty much a really long time ago, so I'll get on that right now, too.

First, some anecdotes. 1) Sunday was pretty relejado. Recovering from the baile. Monday was also pretty chill, because I had no obligations until our weekly meeting at 6. So that was great. I lumped around and played a ton of music and ya. Our meeting was less boring the usual, I think because I could understand the spanish more, hurray! 2) Linet is the most hilarious and awesome person ever. I really hope she's doing okay, because she is often in great mood, but sometimes seems homesick or is just not having it. Obviously we're all going to have ups and downs, and I just want to make sure she knows she has support here, as well as from her fam bam at homesies. 3) Yesterday was a día larrrrrrrgo, but I always feel pretty much great and satisfied after a legit day's work. So I worked the first shift at reception, which I totally love. It's, yeah, a little painful getting out of bed al principio, but then I really love knowing what's going on and seeing everyone and cuidar-ing for the Casa. Also, I seem to be friends with Giovanni now, which I can tell because he pretty consistently was just messing with me all day, which obviously was SO much fun so. Hurray new frienddddd. 

4) Excerpt from an e-mail to my mommers: "Edgar and Erick visited yesterday to talk with Joey and Brenda about their roles this summer, and it was soooo great to see them. They were waiting in reception, and I went in with a big grin and said, "Hola, amigos!!" I still can't understand them all the time, but now I don't feel the slightest bit embarassed about asking, "Como?" which means "What?" and they also know means, "Sorry, I totally did not understand that. Slower please?" It was just so comfortable seeing them, giving them besos and abrazos (Mexican greetings seem to work as follows: men always shake hands; when women and men meet, they clasp hands and give one beso; when women and men see each other and already know each other, they give a beso and then a little or a big hug. YAY), and talking with them in a casual and fun and happy way. They are, in short, the best."

5) Went to a mercado with Molly to buy supplied for the dinner that Linet and I cooked (Molly served as total support and did little cosas here and there). It was really great to spend some more time with her, and play in the mercado, and talk to people in Spanish, and find all the thingggsss we needed to make minestrone and salad and Linet's mango deliciousness. Got back just in time to start making everything, which was only a little stressful once we realized that way more people were coming to din dins than we thought. But in retrospect, I feel pretty good about it. Yummy yummy foods. Linet and I cleaned up the mountain of dishes, which was also satisfying, then a group of us went out for a beer because Greta (awesome awesome long-term guest) is leaving tomorrow :/ But whatever, that was funsies. Got back to hang out with a new friend for a whiiiillleee. Which was pretty pretty cool.

6) Today I'm going to teach my first English class-type deal at Barrio. I'm  little nervous, but I think I'm prepared-ish. Just hard to know because I think there's a pretty wide range of proficiency, but we'll just see who shows up and how it goes. Yay.

And some thoughts I've been saving:

1) I realized at least one reason that the Spanish was so overwhelming there for a minute. Like my dad pointed out, I'm speaking mostly English in the Casa. The little Spanish I do speak I still get nervous about and do pretty clumsily. But so the biggest different between Spain and here is the kind of spaces in which I used/am using Spanish. There, the scary/vulnerable-making experience of trying to communicate in a language I'm not fluent in happened primarily in the safety of my Spanish home, or in the structured timeframe of IES classes with professors I genuinely loved and trusted. Here, English happens in what is already a safe space, the Casa, and Spanish happens rapidly and out in the world where people don't know who I am or my level of proficiency. So it's just that this inredibly vulnerable-making experence was happening so intensely in spaces that didn't feel as safe as the lunch-time table in 13 Cochera de Santa Paula. But it's okay, because those spaces are rapidly becoming not only safe, but beloved.

2) Excerpt from a conversation a couple of nights ago: "I feel like if I've learned anything from the past year, it's that sometimes (always?) the things that are the hardest and scariest before you do them end up being the moments you grow, and hopefully love, the most. And once you take the plunge you'll be so glad you did, and you'll realize that you were perfect for the job all along."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Um, excuse me. Did I just fall in love with Mexico, or did I just fall in love with Mexico?

Because I think I might have. Like a pretty hard fall. DAMN Barrio Activo, what you tryna do to me? I LOVE your ass, girl! (I will love every person who gets that reference).

The obra de teátro.
Anyway, so, what is all this gushing about you ask? Well, I will tell your ass, girl. Here's the thing, Barrio hosted this big event in this plazita near the center on Saturday. Basically the plan was for Erick to come pick up me, Molly, and Linet at 3:30, and of course I casually woke up at 2:42 after sleeping for about 11 hours. But hey, plenty of time to shower up and snarf some ramen and veggie concoction. And the best part is that Barrio people are usually about 20 minutes late, which makes me on time, relatively speaking. ANYWAY so the three of us headed out with Erick, who is crazy and therefore had just come from a big meeting and THE GYM. What? Whatever. So we all went to get on the bus, and we spent some of the ride resting up, and some of it making fun of each other about our music tastes (LINET), and some of it talking about the mariposas I had en mi estómago about the prospect of the baile that was about to happen at me. AGH. Happy mariposas, though, as I tried to explain.

So we get there, I introduce Molly and Linet to everybody, we go to help set up. After about an hour and multiple scalings of walls and telephone poles by Erick in order to secure a big tarp over the space in case of rain, the obra de teatro began. It was pretty cool, just one person being this character, and I didn't understand all of it but it was a lot about gender roles and the dangers of human trafficking, which are apparently related. It seemed cool and informative and the kids related to it (age-appropriate, that is). So okay, then I had to go to the bathroom before the impending obligation of two hours of dancing in front of people, and by the time I got back everyone was like THERE you are they've been CALLING YOUR NAME aaahhhh!!! So okay, so Erick tried to get me to come out and start dancing before things were even really completely ready to start, which was absolutely ridiculous and hilarious. Oh my goodness, I was pretty nervous and embarassed, because legitimately I cannot do dances with steps. I can hold my own in dark and alcohol-influenced Founders dances and Spanish discotecas, but no one wants to see that shit sober and in broad daylight - if I'm being perfectly frank. Which I am.

Ya amigas.
Best pareja ever.
So whatever, I was excited by nervous and WHAT. Thank God a few more of my friends (the chavos and chavas) joined in. Bah. But okay, so the thing started for real, and Erick pulled me out first on the dance flo (a cement plaza that Pati and Sandra had cleared of trash in preparation for the event). He showed me a basic step to something, and before I knew it he was spinning me around like whoa, and apparently I was able to look like I at least sort of knew what I was doing (according to Casa friends who may or may not have been being overly nice to me). Whatever, it was super fun, I was just grinning the whole entire time. And the hour just went by in a blur, slash I was like whoa out of shape slash at super high altitude with all the exercise, and there was a mix of fancy dancing and songs to which I could whatever American dance, and we had tons of fun whirling around and joking around and whatever. At half time the mc got each of the parejas to dance in the center for a little bit so the crowd could choose their favorites to continue in the "competition." Pareja 3 (that's us) got enough cheers to continue. P.S. I was definitely the only white person on the dance flo, and the other Casa ladies were the only guerras in the crowd. We drew quite a few stares from the little kids, which I answered with a big smile and a friendly Hola.

El maratón de baile.
Un@s chav@s (gender inclusive).
My man Edgar.
Sandra, mí, and Pati.
Erick y yo.

The next thing I remember the sun had set, and I had a moment of self-awareness like the one that hit me as I laid on the floor of the hammam in Rabat, being scrubbed down by a huge, old, topless Moroccan lady. Only this time, it was, Wow. I'm just little ol Annie Bee, white girl from central PA, and I am somehow dancing with the nicest Mexican man ever (and potentially the nicest man anywhere ever), in the middle of this plaza, in the middle of a poor neighborhood in Mexico City, surrounded by happy people who look different from me and have grown up so far away from a lot of what I know. But somehow, despite all the seeming differences and gaps in culture, I am here. And it felt incredible, unbelievable even, and perfectly normal at the same time. As dad said, that's just it - it's not incredible at all. It's totally real and possible and weirdly natural.

Anyway, so the thing ended at we got third place, and it was just the most fun ever. The girls wanted tons of pictures, and I wanted tons of pictures, and I just sort of kept dancing in place while we waited to figure out how to get home. Without wanting to assume anything, I felt like I was as much a part of the community as a gringa who has only been there for two weeks possibly can be. I talked to more new people, and they are just impossibly nice. Just the sweetest people you'll ever meet, doing the work of spreading love and care and awareness in a place that really needs those things. I am so in love with Barrio it's absolutely absurd. And it was the best day ever. And now I never want to leave.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Michael Jackson is the only way to cook breakfast.


As those of you who know me best might have guessed, I don't really have much of a cruising altitude when it comes to emotions. When I'm at my lowest, you can pretty much assume that the next thing I will feel will not be a carefully measured step partway up, but will likely place me back on top of the world, at least for the time being. I feel pretty secure right now. Not so giddy that we need to worry about the cycle going around again too quickly, but just back in a secure place.

Now that I write that out, I'm questioning it. This week has been really great because I was sort of hazed out in a weird fog of apathy and wanting to go home-ness at the end of last weekend. So I have consistently noticed how much better the busy-ness as opposed to not. But then I guess I got unexpectedly overwhelmed with the content of the things I was doing. Anyway, today was just so super solid you don't even know. Cook breakfast with Linet, which was basically a riot. The key is obviously my glorious taste in music, which I think Linet doesn't quite appreciate yet. But we're working on it. Kind of. Slash I think she's stuck in her ways, but we can still be friends. Probably. ANYWAY, so it was a little painful to get out of bed, and she seemed sort of stressed before we got everything in place. But once we did everything went like clockwork, which is just the way I like things to go. We had things set up into stations, without even talking about it. It was great, it's like we both just have the same standards or needs for organization or something, so that made it easier. Add in my very special *Kelsey is a Babe playlist, and you have me dancing for Linet in the kitchen while she makes eggs. Slash we shared egg-making responsibility. Whatever, it just felt great to care for the house and the community, and connect with individuals and we greeted them and asked them if they would like queso with their huevos. We cleaned up with the height of efficiency, which left us spare time to make fun of Giovanni, one of our new favorite things to do. We also decided that we like doing breakfast, so we're going to see if we can switch things around to do it at least once a week.

THEN we set out on a long and hot and más o menos satisfying adventure to this particular market. I'm happy because I have food now, enough to actually make things with, and TOFU which I realize has become an important part of my life (thank you, Quaker House). Oh my goodness, I was so so tired when we got back though, and it took a little while for me to cook myself some lunch, so shewwww I did not reallllly want to go to Barrio by the time 3:30 rolled around. But here's the thing. This has also been a very music-filled day, another thing I realized is actually super important and good for me. Just listening to it and finding it and getting it - things I have a bad habit of never making time for ever. So Sasha told me about this thing which is currently in the process of changing my life (which apparently EVERYONE ELSE already knew about) where you can transform a youtube video into an mp3 file. I mean, whatever. That plus my Tiny Desk Concert podcasts, and my life just got better like whoa. The Avett Brothers and I officially have like a pretty serious relationship going on. At least for the 15 minutes they made music in the NPR offices. Like seriously, it's kind of a big deal. Anyway, so they took the bus with me to Barrio Activo. And I just felt so contenta once I got on that bus. It was my first time going by myself, and I just knew exactly what I was doing, and I changed my seat to sit next to a lady because I remembered that the left side of the bus is going to be super hot the whole ride because the sun comes in that side. And whatever, I knew exactly where I was going, and I wasn't scared about anything about the journey in the least, and the Avett Brothers put my soul into words so. Whatever it kicked ass.

Pati was waiting for me at the stop in la Pastora (the name of the neighborhood Barrio Activo is in), and she is just so darn motherly and caring it was great to see her. She calls me bonita, and we walked will our arms around each other for a little while, and she asked me all about my day yesterday since I had last seen her. And you know something? I told her in Spanish, it fue pretty bien. We got to their house, I greeted Edgar with a happy cheek-beso and a little hug (they do that here: the first time you meet, it's handshake + beso, the second time it's beso+ abrazito) and I made myself comfy on the comfiest chair. Then Pati, Edgar, and I each worked on our own stuff in different places in the room. Just like at home! It just felt familiar, and I felt the most comfortable I've ever felt. I journaled and said hi to kids as they trickled in.

So today I was there for Academia Barrial (adjective form of Barrio). Basically, Edgar does lesson slash team-building type stuff on values. Today was how to deal with conflict. It wasn't quite the same focus obviously as I've experienced before, but it was just so incredible, and obviously a lot better suited to where these kids are coming from. What is conflict about? How does it get resolved? What's at stake? Causes: interests (lo que se quiere), derechos (rights), values, and communication. Edgar said a lot of conflict happens because of mad communication. Ugh he is so great. And it was just incredible to listen to him talk to these kids, AND great to understand really most of what he said. And I understood the sentido of it, and I liked a LOT how it sounded in Spanish. I'm sort of floored by myself - just a week and a half ago I literally could not understand a word he said, and today I really got a lot of it. Plus, let me just say that what he said was way more nuanced, insightful, and INTERESTING than anything anyone else has said in a Spanish-language presentation, UGR classes absolutely included. And you know what? I absolutely adore being intellectually engaged in the content of something said in Spanish. Incredible.

So we did a few other activities which I might add more detail about later, but the point is that it was great being with the group. I felt pretty readily accepted, which is kind of amazing. Plus it was cool because at one point we were supposed to work on a big drawing addressing what we'd talked about, and the kids were kind of either standing around awkwardly or fucking around with each other, and so after much prodding from Edgar I kind of tried to make a few suggestions to get us started. I felt pretty good, because it worked! I took the first step, but then I backed off so that the project would really be theirs, which I felt like was important. Yay first teaching-ish experience :)

So after we wrapped up Academia, we talked about the event tomorrow. This is was fun for lots of reasons. A) I got to hear them talk about welcoming new volunteers who are coming today, and they're just so thoughtful about everything: the fact that we're coming from a different country, making them feel like part of the comunidad... these were things that Edgar said explicitly to the group. B) Edgar decided that I will be dancing in the Maratón de baile tomorrow, and the whole group decided that Erick would be my partner. Just to clarify, Erick is super married with his first baby on the way. But so he was super cool about it, he was like listen, we're going to be the best partners ever. And I was like listen, I feel really bad for you, because I super cannot dance. The group said, no no it's okay, what's you're lucky number? So now I have a little number 3 to pin to my dress tomorrow HA. Plus Erick and I totally practiced before I left, and of course he's a great dancer, so whatever. And Linet and Molly are coming, so I'm stoked.

It was just a purely great day there. It definitely helped that my Spanish already seems to have caught on a little bit more, that I know basically everyone who was there, and that I was only there for a few hours. But whatever, I just was sitting there the whole time like wow, this is the most fantastic place that has ever happened, and this is so where I should be. It's really, really special, and full of incredible people. Easy bus ride home, then upstairs to try and figure out the tabs to Laundry Room (dear lord, we'll just see about that one), then out with Linet for ice cream before we snuggled in to watch Hercules and then the Social Network (which, wow. just, wow). So yeah. Good good day everyone. High fives all around.

Friday, June 17, 2011

In Mexico they serve mezcal at cultural events.

Absurdities in the plaza of Bellas Artes.

Hey friends.

First off, a big thanks and a hug of gratitude to all of you who have responded in really tangible, caring ways to the distress you perceived in these entries and other communications. I really appreciate it, and I don't want you all to worry too much. The struggles of being here are nothing to those that plagued Spring 2011, and they are much healthier, really productive struggles. And I'm reaching out for reassurance here in the Casa, too. So today ended up being just a really great day. I felt a lot better when I woke up, though still aware of how I had felt yesterday and the day before. I treated myself to donuts for breakfast (definitely a healthy move), and went to the Medio Ambiente meeting. It was cool to just hang out in a green space (one of the Casa's patios that I haven't spent much time in yet) with Sasha and Hayley.

Searching through literal mountains of furniture.
Anyway, so then Hayley told me that she and Jill (Nico's partner slash the recently ex-co-director of the Casa) were going to this furniture market thing and I was welcome to come. I had the day off essentially today, so I was looking to fill it up with Casa-y things such as this. Perfect. This place was ridiculous. Like Goodwill exploded all over the place. But it was really cool hanging out with Hayley and Jill. And on our way home from finding cool old dressers and chairs and plaid shirts, Jill asked me how Barrio was going. A few people had asked me that in the 24 hours or so since I started feeling really overwhelmed by it, and for once I hadn't said much. I said something about, well, I think Nico really loves it, and is living vicariously through me, so he's not totally in touch with how much I can do. Hayley said my job wasn't to do anything, but just to absorb stuff. And I said, well okay, he's overestimating how much I can absorb at one time. Jill asked me to talk about that more, so I basically told them both about my totally overwhelmed-ness, and being super hard on myself about Spanish, and how Nico just keeps raising the bar about how awesome I have to be at Barrio because it's so awesome and the interns last year were so awesome. Basically Hayley and Jill made me a feel a lot better. They both said, listen, Nico is really good at talking about how awesome people are, but he never tells them to their face. Jill was super sweet, and said that Nico has said that he thinks I'm really awesome, and really perfect for Barrio Activo. Hayley said they all thought I would be perfect there, and that Nico is just trying to get me excited about how awesome Barrio is, and doesn't realize that he's totally intimidating me. Whatever, they kept saying really nice and reassuring things about my Spanish and my awesomeness, so by the time we got home I just wanted to give them the biggest abrazos ever. I hadn't meant to start this whole flattering-Annie-festival, and I just was really appreciative of all the stuff they said. So we got home with me feeling just a lot better, though still pretty tired.

The important activist is on the left.
We got home and hung out with Lydia (who is awesome) in reception for a little while, until I suddenly realized that I had the room to myself and essentially ran upstairs for really a great hour of tocar-ing la guitarra. I am so so so so so happy that there are not one, but TWO guitars here for me to play with, and my notebook and everything. So glad I brought it. So whatever, it was totally great. And I put on a dress for the first time really here, because I was feeling defiant about the heat, and I went out in it later and felt a little funny but didn't get any unwanted attention or anything, so YAY MEXICO. Pretty soon Liselot got me to come with her to this event where apparently the most important human rights activist in Mexico was speaking. It was cool to get to meet him in everything, slash Hayley told me afterwards (she met us there) that she totally could not understand anything people were saying and that she was super bored. So I felt okay about having the exact same experience. Ha.

Hayley and Liselot being the cutest.
And the most ridiculous.
THEN we were served bocadillos (!!!) and vino and mezcal (tequila but not). I really couldn't believe it. Right, there's usually wine at art shows or whatever, but there were just these little shot-sized plastic cups of mezcal going around. I enjoyed my vino tinto though, and we lolled around talking for a bit before we heading out to the plaza enfrente de Bellas Artes to wait for Hector, of friend of the Casa and of Hayley and Liselot. After a while we changed tactics and walked to our final destination (he met us there), and it was sooooo great. Just had great conversations with Hayley, then she and Liselot left to make me talk to Hector, and he was just super great. We talked about traveling and the thrill of being able to communicate in a different language, and all this really cool stuff. He's just such a solid guy, and I could totally understand him and I pulled off my Spanish pretty well, and it was just a really great night. Hurray hurray metro ride back home, popcorn and girl time with Molly and Linet, harassing Copeland on facebook, nerding out with Jon William Sweitzer Lamme, making myself go to sleep so I can do breakfast with Linet tomorrow. Huzzah huzzah. Back to my world-conquering slash -loving self, at least for the moment. What an experience. Thanks to all for the love and concern, really. Also, I hope you can all enjoy this, because it totally just made me laugh:

Lots of love,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spanish-spoken love stories and the challenge of a growing self.

Actually today now. Let’s see. My first thing was just meeting Edgar here at noon to go back to Barrio with him to what I thought was a meeting about planning this big event they’re having on Saturday. What really happened was that he and Hayley and Nico and I met and hung out for a while, placticando de mi horario allí con ellos, and then I went with Edgar to a meeting at the police station. Sounds scary, but really Barrio is working with the policia to do events that get them into contact with the comunidad. It’s really incredible how many angles Barrio attacks social problems from. And they’re getting bigger all the time, which is really good, but they are super intentional about not letting stuff like having to meet with important people take away from the time they actually spend working with the población. They coordinate everything, and DEFINITELY lead actividades también. Edgar leads basketball every Wednesday and Erick does capoera (spelling) twice a week. AND they meet with the mayor of Mexico City. And teach values and nonviolence and responsibilidad. Jesus. Anyway, the policia are donating some stuff to the event on Saturday, so we were picking it up. They seem to kind of often fall through on what they promise, so from what I gathered Edgar is pretty good and trying to keep the pressure on in like a super friendly way. He’s really good at explaining context to me after we talk to somebody. Even though I was super out of it today and really unable to talk, I mean it obviously was really cool going places with him like an assistant (who couldn’t understand most of the meeting) or something.

Later we finally made our way to Barrio, again way before the actividad that I was allegedly there for was supposed to start. Here’s the thing – it’s great, it really is. I’m so grateful for this experience and these connections and the fact that I recognize the gas station I’m supposed to turn at to get to my bus stop from Barrio Activo. It’s just that the whole thing leaves me so profoundly exhausted. And I LOVE it, I do. Pati is officially like my mamá Mexicana, we talked for like an hour today and she is absolutely the sweetest, most caring person. She likes me to call when I get home to the Casa safe. All of them are so concerned for my safety. I don’t find it smothering at all. Erick asked me when he was walking me back to the bus stop at the end of the day, if I felt a lot of pressure from everyone making sure I was safe all the time. I told him it makes me feel loved, like I have these two Mexican dads and a Mexican mom, and a family and a community. I am really so grateful. It’s just that there is also an undeniable element of it being really hard – to understand, to speak, to be on and alert for hours on end without really knowing what’s going on. Yeah, it’s just trying really really hard to be present for six hours straight. When the plan was for me to be there for an hour, I thought. So I love it. I’m so happy I’m there. It was just a little tough for parts of today. I started out tired, and then realized that the class that I was there to see a) was not actually a class, but just a time when kids could come over to watch a movie, and b) started not at 3:30 but at 5. So okay. Super long. But I mean I am so glad I got to talk to Pati and play with their little almost-two-year-old son. I understood so much more of what she said, and I was able to tell her really a lot in Spanish without thinking about it that much. That was really awesome in and of itself, in addition to connecting with her. So yeah. That was important.

Got home though just so so wiped. Erick and Edgar walked me to the stop (well, Edgar most of the way), and I really feel so warm and fuzzy about the immediacy of their care and concern for me. Touched, that’s what I am. Moved, even. Because I didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it. But, ugh, just I misunderstood the question Erick asked me, and I started talking about this whole other thing which is sort of a charged topic. Which I’m fine with that – had that been what he was actually asking about, I feel totally comfortable being honest about the fact that I feel different here. I just thought he was asking if I felt strange here, “Te sientas extraña?” I finally figured out that he was asking if I felt weird, or strange, about how concerned he and Edgar and Pati are about my safety, asking me to call, and sort of physically guiding me through the street, pulling my arm and stuff. Once I understood him I explained that I actually love all of that, that it makes me feel so good and safe and cared for. But I couldn’t figure out fast enough how to say that I hadn’t understood his question before, so I just really hope that he doesn’t think I meant any of that about my experience with Barrio Activo. I’m sure it’s fine, it’s just the kind of thing you can mull over a lot on an hour-long busride home. The stress and the exhaustion and the embarrassment I was feeling made me pretty touchy when I was starting to make dinner and tell Linet and Molly how my day went. At a certain point I just lost it, said, “Fuck it, you guys, fuck it. I can’t fucking do this,” and honestly pretty much stormed out of the kitchen and out of the Casa, and just turned around and said, “No” when Linet came after me. I just needed to walk, so I did. I walked and walked to this nearby park. And then just sat there for a while. I realized it was the first time I’d just had time and space really and truly to myself, and how hard this whole thing has been, in spite of it’s simultaneous really incredible-ness.

I told someone yesterday that I’m really not doing service work here. Honestly, the person who’s going to benefit the most from my time here is me. I felt weird about that when I first realized it writing the application (isn’t that selfish or something?). But I realized today that just because I’m not actually saving the world by being here doesn’t mean there’s anything easy about it. Just because I’m the only one benefitting doesn’t mean that it’s all fun and games. It’s amazing, yes, but a fucking legitimate challenge, too. So if you’re going to be impressed by me and the “work” I’m doing here, be impressed by that. I’m not saving anybody. I’m just putting myself through the wringer, and managing a genuine smile la mayoridad of the time.

Catch-up, un columbiano, and my new friends Edgar and Erick.

Hey errybody.

So it's already been a couple of days since I wrote WHOOPS. I'm gonna have a go at summarizing last week actually briefly, then fill you all in on the last couple of days which have been super full. Okay, I left you all at last Wednesday night. Thursday morning Patricia and Sandra, two women from Barrio Activo (Patricia is Edgar's wife) picked me up to take me to a workshop on confronting violence. Sounds cool, was honestly really boring and in a hot room and I got home five hours later overwhelmed and exhausted and bah. I was disappointed because I had been so excited about Barrio the day before. But what can you do. That evening there was a presentation at the Casa about the Red Tlaloc, which was crazy boring and I continued to be overwhelmed by Spanish and the heat. I'm pretty sure something happened that night to make me feel better, but I just asked Linet and we can't remember. I think I took a shower and hung out with her and that made things fun again.

Friday I was super looking forward to sleeping in, and I did, and it was glorious.We at a meeting at noon to go over reception stuff, then the three of us went out to a café for lunch and delicious sugary coffee drinks with Hayley. We talked for like an hour and a half while the Casa was being fumigated (bedbugs). Got back and I worked the third shift with Allison, which was cool except she kept trying to do everything for me and I kept having to say, "Let me do that. I have to learn!" Ugh. BUT a bunch of us went out Friday night and that was super fun so. Hurray. Saturday and Sunday I totally lumped around and recuperated from not sleeping all week, but also was sick again so boo. But whatever.

MONDAY. Was awesome!! You all saw that I was not feeling so great at the beginning. I had been pretty antisocial and homesick-ish (sick of being out of my comfort zone, really), and was ambivalent about having to re-engage. I worked the second turn and it was pretty great. Hectic, and a little nerve-wracking at times, but Hayley was there for backup and it was great to actually be doing things and learning stuff. We had our weekly meeting at 6, which was super boring but it's chill, and I actually contributed in Spanish and it was cool to feel all brave and more comoda at the table. An excerpt from an e-mail to my mom will do a better job of talking about that day than I can right now: 

"Um yeah. Today: shift was crazy but good. I thought I was going to have to work it alone, but Hayley was there for support. Then weekly meeting (boring), then clarifying with Nico my Barrio Activo schedule for the rest of the week (busy), then cooking dinner with Linet (hilarious), then sharing dinner with a bunch of guests (awesome - our friend from Pakistan made the most most delicious comida), then hanging clean clothes (YAY) out to dry on the clotheslines on the roof with Linet and Hayley (great great bonding girl time). Back here to brush my teeth with Linet and a cool guest (honestly I'm excited because there's a bunch of Americans here for the week. At least I know how to deal with American weirdness), and then have a great conversation with Linet. I read her a few lines from your e-mail (about poetry), and she said, "I think she's right. You really sell yourself short and you shouldn't." She means about playing the guitar and about my Spanish. She thinks it's good. I talked to her mom and stepdad on skype today, and Linet keeps saying how her mom can't believe how good my Spanish is and that I just learned it in school. She also said that she thinks I'm Hayley's favorite, which I totally do not think is true (I think Linet and I are tied), but it made me feel good all the same, because I sometimes feel a little silly around her (only because she's so cool). Anyway, so going to bed full and tired and productive and content... Today ended up being more packed than I thought it'd be. Hurray :)" It was great to spend some more time in the guest lounge and talking to people besides my wifey (don't worry, I love her, but it's always good to have variety).

TUESDAY. Yesterday. Ay, it hurt to get up so early to work the first shift, but then it was kind of cool. I made a new Columbian friend, who I think is a migrant because when he first left the Casa he explained where he was going and asked if that was okay. That happens sometimes, because people have been held in this migration centers - i.e. prisons - and it takes a little while to sink in that they can treat the Casa like a home. Hmm... Anyway, when he came back a little while later he came over and just started talking to me, which was awesome. Just asking me about myself in a non-creepy way, and I asked about him, and it was all in Spanish which was less stressful than I thought it what be. He's 23, he's super cute, I mean whatever. It was cool. It's weird, yesterday feels like a really long time ago. Maybe it's because I was just trying to remember stuff that happened like a week ago, and now the days are all blurry, but stuff that was so vibrant just 24 hours ago feels fuzzy now, and all that feels really present is today. The point is, I really do prefer writing every night, just so I can even remember what happened. Because I feel like I'm forgetting all the fun details that make a day an experience. Anyway. 

After my shift (during which I'm sure more cool stuff happened, I just can't remember... oh yeah! Hayley made me a poached egg which I was scared of but turned out to be delicious, I gave two tours, and a really cool girl came who's going to be a long-term guest. Excited to get to know her) I thought I had a couple of hours to shower and maybe nap and things, but as it turned out there had been a miscommunication, and Edgar arrived to pick me up just moments after I grabbed my clothes of line. Aaaahhh!!! Ran to grab my things and put on real shoes, then walked out into the world with one of the nicest people ever. I was really nervous before we went because I had such trouble understanding him before, but he was soooo sweet. It took us absolutely forever to get to Barrio, because we walked to this far bus stop, then there was crazy traffic because of protests, and then we had to change buses because we were trying to meet up with Erick who was in a meeting with some people to get a grant.

Anyway, Edgar was/is soooooo nice. He asked me all about myself, and told me a ton about Barrio’s history and about things we saw around the city, and I really felt like he got to know me in important ways. Just like the kind of person that I am. Which doesn’t even matter really because he’s so busy with things that are so much more important than silly little me. I honestly just feel lucky that I had the chance to talk with him. So it was great to spend like a couple of hours with him. I really stumbled with my Spanish at first, but I really could understand most of what he said, and I said some things too, so cool. I got all nervous again when we finally met up with Erick, but he also happens to be tied with Edgar for nicest person in the world, so after a few minutes of sitting next to him on the bus he had me trying to explain Quakerism in Spanish. Again, I just felt really flattered that he was even interested in hearing what I had to say, because he’s such an incredible person doing such great things in the world. I was stumbling over my Spanish, and trying to explain about this tiny religious community of Friends, which sure is important to me but in the context of Mexico City poverty and violence, who really cares – and I was just so struck that he was interested in what I was trying to say. He thinks about a million details a day, but there he was asking me about myself. Anyway. Crazy. I guess it makes sense, now that I write it out – Quaker values, the kind of work they’re doing… it’s totally kindred business. But still.

So we got to Barrio way early for the taller de guitarra that I was there to see, but I just chilled out and helped Pati make some signs to decorate the Barrio’s space. AMISTAD. AMOR. ARMONIA. COMUNICACIÓN. COMUNIDAD. LIDERAZGO. My friend Leslie (finally learned/remembered her name!) teaches the guitar classes, and she is only FIFTEEN but way more mature than me. Or at least calmer or something. Anyway, it was awesome. She seems classically trained or something, and was teaching all this theory and technique that I obviously don’t know, so I was obviously super impressed. It was fun understanding all the English words for things too. I was like HA I understand what you just because you’re teaching them how do a slide. Score. Anyway, as the lesson wound down she asked the kids to play what they’d been practicing, and I wasn’t surprised when she asked me to play something. I busted out my Tallest Man on Earth, and the kids were really sweet, shushing each other while I was playing and cheering when I was finished. Oh geeze. But Nico tells me I have a lot to live up to – apparently Liv could be on TV. Linet tried to come to my defense and dinner, saying that I’m pretty good too, and Nico was just like NO. Not like Liv. So we’ll see. He’s so supportive.

ANYWAY, so it was exhausting but great to be at Barrio, and Leslie and her novio walked me to the bus stop afterwards. I was really glad to just sit down and zone out on the way home, and I knew immediately when I got off at my stop that it was ice cream time. Honestly, Edgar getting here early and running out of the house and not having been able to shower and then just heat and Spanish had all been thoroughly tiring and a little stressful, but I was definitely definitely super contenta when I got home. Contenta with my connections with people and my communication. And with my ice cream. Got home in time for community dinner that I forgot was happening, had a really cool conversation with Jill who I haven’t gotten to talk to that much, tried not to take Nico too seriously as he insisted that I would fail to live up to the legacy of Liv and Joey at Barrio Activo, and ate deliciously tasty something that Greta made. We had Seguridad y Emergencias orientation after dinner, then went out with Hayley and Lydia for (yes, my second) ice cream. I wasn’t going to get anything obviously, but the chocolate was calling so whatever. It was super fun hanging out with them. I am huge fans of theirs. Got back super worn out, starting watching Hercules with Linet (we finally actually snuggled in her bed, after all this time of making jokes), and ended the whole long incredible day with a really delicious Skype date with my favorite Oregon-type man. Seriously, seriously good day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nostalgia, capo needs, and Barrio "The Shit" Activo.

Hello friends, near and far. Near as the bed about a foot away from me (hello, roomie), and far as, well, far-flung parts of the U.S. and potentially Europe. Hi.

Oh dear goodness gracious but it has accidentally been nearly a solid week since I last wrote. That is due to a fatal combination of super busy-ness and then chronic laziness in the process of recovering from the super-busy-ness. Disculpame. So okay, so I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I had a pretty great week last week. The bad news is that I crashed pretty hard this weekend and have yet to fully pull myself out of a weird headspace. It's not quite homesickness, but I think it's the closest I've ever gotten, except for probably when I was at Westtown. It's really surprising, and confusing, because I thought I liked being in the world. But for the last 24 hours or so I just have been... I don't know. Okay, but I'll back up and go over the good stuff first maybe, to give a more balanced perspective.

So last Wednesday was my first day for a lot of things. I woke up super early to help with breakfast, which actually turned out to be great. Lydia showed me ho to do everything, and I mostly helped cut up fruit and bread while we hung out. I didn't think I was ready to handle to whole egg-making job. Because, right, I can cook eggs for myself, but with the added pressure of them being for someone else I would totally mess them up? Probably. Like, pretty likely. Either way, I was intimidated, and Lydia was super reassuring and great but also handled all the egg-making. Basically, she is super cool. I felt like there was a good balance of each person asking about the other, which is sometimes falta-ing in a conversation. For example, I appreciate the chance to process things with my friends, but once I realize I've been talking more than they have I really feel bad about that and want to know how they are, too. Also, I love hearing people's stories, but if they go the entire conversation without asking anything about you, especially at the beginning of a friendship, it's like, oh, okay, this is super one-sided. So I like balance, and I like Lydia.That was great.

In the break I had between breakfast and going to my first day at Barrio Activo, Linet and I went exploring. Mission: find and buy a capo. Map: looked at one in the Casa, but obviously didn't bring one. Mexico City: big. But obviously everything went pretty much fine. It was cool because we basically had to go back exactly through nearby streets that we'd been to with Jim, so I got my bearings (barings? no. bearings) pretty quickly, although Linet said she basically didn't know where we were. I'll make her lead next time. It's the only way she'll learn. Slash it's the only way I learn, so no big deal. Anyway, Sasha told us that things were organized kind of by subject: there's the blocks with stores that sell art supplies, then clothes, then music stuff, then whatever. Tonnnns of things. Of course we took a wrong turn right at the beginning of this section of streets, so we wandered through every single type of thing you could want to buy (vacuum cleaner repairs, anyone?) until we finally found music stores. I had pretty much given up, but Linet was determined. So we ran into the first one we saw and I bought an 11 dollar (well, 110 peso) capo from a cool-looking guy. We then realized over the next several minutes that there were tonnnnnns more to choose from, and I probably could have found a cheaper one. But whatever, I am totally fine with it.

We got back tired and hot but with ice cream, and I had just enough time to grab a quick shower before meeting up with Nico, who was going to come with me to Barrio Activo.So yay. It was pretty simple, we got on a bus for about 45 minutes, and it was cool to hang out with him some slash watch the city go buy. I got really excited when I realized that Barrio Activo is in one of the essentially mountain-top neighborhoods that we drove by on the way to the pyramids - now I get to learn who lives there and why and what the deal is. So okay, we got off the bus and the foot of this essentially vertical neighborhood, and Nico sat me down on a curb to show me on a map where we had gone on the bus. He is way too cool. He's potentially the busiest person I know (and I go to Haverford), but he still takes the time to do things like teach us how the Reservation book is organized and show me where we are on a map. Yay. So Edgar and Eric are the people who founded and are mas o menos in charge of Barrio Activo. Nico told me that they used to work for a different nonprofit that worked with kids, and they were good enough at what they did that they could have gotten jobs with the government (that runs essentially summer schools that most Mexicans send their kids to), but their dream was to start their own organization. So they did, and Barrio does a ton of things. They have lots of actividades or clases, ranging from basketball to dancing to guitar and martial arts. They have caravanas which I don't totally understand yet, but I think are like big outdoor events where you share music and stuff, and they run a big summer-camp-type thing in the summer.

We went to meet Edgar at the basketball court - which is under and overpass on a median between two pretty-to-very busy streets. I can already see myself spending the summer freaking out every time a ten-to-twelve year old boy runs out into the street after a runaway basketball. Ay. But it's okay. We met Edgar and another volunteer, introducing ourselves to the kids, and essentially watching them play basketball for a while. I obviously felt relatively awkward at first, but after a while I settled in. It's cool - kids seem to the the same in any language. I felt like I recognized them. Even though I mostly couldn't understand what they were saying, the tones and everything felt familiar. The one thing really different from my memories of State College Friends School, though, was that there was never any trace of conflict for the entire hour or so. That was sort of crazy. Even though they were competitive and shouting a lot and everything, they were grinning the whole time.

So okay, I have a lot of ground to cover, so I need to get to the point. We all walked back to Barrio's centro and sat down to talk. I realized a few minutes in that there appeared to be a big sign on the wall with my name on it. Then I realized there were streamers. Then Edgar gathered everyone together and welcomed us to what appeared to be something a fiesta for the nueva voluntaria - me. Whatttt??? Um yes. Apparently they knew I was coming for the day, and this was like a celebratory get-to-know you type-deal. I could not have been more flattered and slightly intimidated about my Spanish. But mostly flattered and happy and wow. So but it was great!! Edgar asked them if they had any questions for me, and I got everything ranging from, "Que edad tienes?" to "Que comen en los EE. UU.?" to "Tocas un instrumento?" Though I stumbled at first and sometimes had to look to Nico for help understanding a question (oh yeah - people talk super fast and with some sort of accident that places me solidly on the struggle autobus), I actually did pretty well. I started to feel comfortable pretty quickly, and succeeded in making the group laugh a couple of times (on purpose, not like they were laughing at me for being silly). So it was GREAT. After things kind of broke up, I went to mix it up and talk to people on the other side of the room. I ended up connecting with a super cool girl, whose name I of course cannot remember, but we talked for a while. I could understand her more easily than others, and yeah. It was great. I talked to some parents, too, and after a while went to the room where all the kids had disappeared. We read a book out loud about a fat princess (?), then they proceeded in asking me tons more questions all at once. I sat down on the floor (in the way that Americans do, apparently. or at least Americans who went to Friends schools), and tried to respond to everybody. It was great. I was like oh yeah, I forgot I'm kind of good with kids, apparently. And these kids were really easy to be good with - super talkative and curious and great. They gave me a regalo before I left (a mug of candy and a statue of some sort of fairy or something), and we exchanged besos and Edgar and Nico and I set off for the bus stop.

Edgar is super sweet, and clearly an awesome person, but I have to say that I can't understand a damn thing he says. I really felt pretty bad about it - he would talk directly to me, looking me in the eye and everything, and all I could really do was say, "Si" and smile, or sometimes be more honest and just shake my head and apologize that I couldn't understand him. It really was frustrating, because I felt almost elitist or something. Nico had said the Spanish would be rough or something in the barrio, but it's so clearly my fault that I can't understand, I just hated indicating that it was somehow something wrong with the way he was talking. Anyway, Nico said that Liv and Joey had troubles understanding him last summer, and their Spanish is way better than mine, so I'm trying to be okay with it. It does make me nervous though. I was so spoiled in Granada with my host fam speaking more slowly for me and stuff. I don't know how to ask for that from this group of people, and I'm nervous about not being able to communicate.

I was thinking about that on the ride home, but I was also just thinking about how incredible the past few hours had been. I spoke more Spanish that I ever had in Mexico, and communicated and connected with tons of awesome folks in a place super different than the one I come from. That's why I'm here. That's what this is all about, and that's why I love being in the world. So that was pretty flipping cool.

Got home that night exhausted but also elated, maybe, or exuberant? Something positive and energetic and starting with an "e." Sat down at started telling Sasha at reception all all all about my day, and I was just so comfortable it felt like talking to Kelsey or my mom or something. I let myself wander a little bit, and when I realized it and apologized and tried to explain why I was rambling, she just smiled and was so nice and said she wanted to hear about everything. So that was so so cool. Hayley and Linet and Molly soon got back from buying groceries for breakfast the next morning, and they set me up with some kickass lentil soup Hayley had made. We all went out a little while later for a mezcal and a beer and some interesting conversation, then got home an absolutely crashed. It was a pretty epic day, my friends.

And now I have taken so long recounting last Wednesday that it is time for me to go and get ready for second turn. More later today though, I promise.

Lots of love,