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,


  1. Bee, I hope that capo leads to guitar playing, soul replenishing playing on the lovely nylon strings. I wonder about your Spanish. Are you being too hard on yourself? I might see how the language in the barrio might be more challenging then, say, in the Casa, but I also wonder if you are speaking more English in the Casa than you did in your host family's home in Granada? I imagine going back and forth is very hard...and then there is the version in Mexico which maybe different from Spain. But, I am wondering how immersed you's the schoolteacher in me :-) Looking forward to more posts...and some more photos!!!!!

  2. Bee nut--just got home from Bloomsburg and read this great post. It's the same story you told me on the skype machine, but your take is a little more positive. Maybe that's just my perception of the story in writing vs. in person. Anyway,I was talking with my friend Drue last night about you and your current experiences... and I had a revelation about you and COMMUNICATION. I mean, it's just that you LOVE to be able to communicate, you always have, and you have been frustrated with anything that limits you since you were a baby and your limitation was being 9 months old! :-) So, now I get it a little better. This current frustration along with the frustrations you sometimes feel with special people in your life--you are just FED by a communication connection. Everywhere!! and with everyone. I love knowing that about you. And if I'm right and communication is like an instinctual need with you, the fact that you have placed yourself in countries where you do not speak the language fluently is astonishing, amazing, impressive, huge. I think you might be presenting yourself with a core life challenge (whether or not you are consciously aware of it) because you care so much about connecting with the whole wide world.
    I couldn't be more proud. Hugs,