Sunday, January 10


Yesterday one of my female students (there are 19 females and 4 males in the program),we'll call her N, reported a disturbing but unfortunately somewhat common experience. She had been exploring her neighborhood in broad daylight when the man walking a few yards in front of her suddenly turned around and pulled down his pants. She continued walking by him, squishing herself as close to the wall of the house on the street, and as far away from him, as possible.

I saw her soon after the incident. I told her that she had reacted in an appropriate manner, since responding in any way (yelling, turning around and running away) would have given the man an opportunity to respond as well, and shown him that he had affected her in some way. Having had a similar experience myself last year, I had felt confused, shocked, and then just really angry afterward. I asked her how she felt about it, and she said she didn't know how she was supposed to feel. Another student, L, said her first reaction would have been to throw punches, but N and I sincerely doubt she would have actually done so, since in the moment you're just so surprised and taken aback.

Last year, another student had someone try to reach up her skirt, and others were groped in public places like subways and just walking down the street, or propositioned in a lewd and inappropriate manner. A friend studying in Italy also had similar experiences, so it seems that this isn't just an issue in Mexico. In most cases, the men did not seem crazy or emotionally disturbed. They just seem to think that they can get away with this behavior with foreign women. I doubt they would ever try it with someone from their own country.

As for preventing this kind of thing, it seems almost impossible, since the events happen during the day, when other people are around and in busy neighborhoods and public places, and they occur with almost no warning. I suggested that N not walk down that street again, but that's about as much advice as I can give her, aside from providing a sympathetic ear.

Mayonesa con limón

Since the tianguis (market) in the llano (plaza) down the street has moved (apparently it was damaging the paving), I was directed to a local market on Murgia and calzada República for my fresh produce needs. I bought some avocados* and tomatoes from a mustachioed guy who called me "güerita," and some mandarin oranges and bananas from a nice older woman who actually accepted my 100 peso bill to pay for 15 pesos worth of fruit, without any comment. I definitely felt slightly out of place, since I was the only non-mexican there. But it's closer and cheaper than the market on 20 de noviembre. And the "güerita" comment is meant in a friendly way.

After my trip, I decided that I really needed some mayonnaise in order to make tortas de quesillo (cheese sandwiches). Ordinarily I despise the stuff: the taste, the slimy texture, and the fact that it's over-used. A sandwich that squirts mayonnaise when you bite into it is probably one of the most revolting food items I can think of. And don't even mention potato or tuna salad to me. One of my former students, in an essay about what the world will be like in 100 years, wrote that mayonnaise would not exist in the world of the future. I gave him an A.

That said, I was willing to make an exception in this case. I had once unwittingly ordered a torta de quesillo that came with mayo, and discovered that it actually adds something to the sandwich as long as it's used in moderation. (Also I have to admit that esquites are really lacking something without mayo.) Anyway, I stopped at the Piticó to buy a very small jar of mayo and discovered that it all comes with limón. You literally cannot buy a bottle of plain mayo. Which is fine with me; it's much tastier this way.

I also purchased a stick of unsalted butter for my morning toast. Any guesses on the ingredients in a stick of "mantequilla pura de vaca sin sal"? Salt. Yes, salt. My unsalted butter has salt in it. Also, water. In fact, water is the second ingredient after milk fat.

*Aguacate (avocado) means testicle in Nahuatl.

Tuesday, January 5

'Tiny changes that hurt' *

Some brief observations of what has changed in Oaxaca since last year:

The thoroughly gelled faux-hawk hair style has morphed into a stegosaurus head strip.

My two favorite markets have moved. No longer are they a 2 minute and 5 minute walk from my house; one is a 20 minute bus ride away down south by the mall and movie theater, and the other is farther north.

The major street closest to my house is under construction, which means all its traffic had been redirected to pass by my house. Until yesterday night, that is, when they tore that road up as well. So, much quieter, but much harder for taxi drivers to drop me off.

Unrelated note: Yesterday I was sitting at a cafe outside and a bird shat on my computer. Luckily it missed the keyboard. But I didn't notice it and closed the computer, which mashed it all along the top edge of the screen.

*Extra points for anyone who can identify the band and song the title of this post comes from.

Sunday, January 3

De vuelta en Oaxaca

I'm back in Oaxaca again and will be periodically posting to this blog. Meanwhile, until something interesting enough to merit a post actually happens, I am going to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and 77 degrees.

Tuesday, March 10

Conspiracy Theory

On the long bus ride from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, I sat next to a chatty Mexican musician on his way to Huatulco to play a few gigs. The conversation went the usual route: where we were from, family, job, Mexico, and finally US politics. At which point, Jose Luis (that was his name) busted out with an insane conspiracy theory he read on the internet and swore was true because the daring journalist who reported it had been fired and black-listed by the government from working at any other news outlet. Here's the theory:

Beginning with the George W. Bush administration and continuing with Obama, the government has been planning to replace the dollar with a new currency called the "amero" or something like that. The plan is to replace US dollars (along with Canadian dollars and Mexican pesos) with the amero overnight, so that someone who has $1 million when they go to bed one night will wake up with effectively $250,000, or 1 million ameros. This is somehow supposed to help with the national deficit, make government officials rich, and also, of course, anger every single American with any money, not to mention the Canadians and Mexicans. Obviously there will be a giant uprising with rioting, looting, etc. And that's why Obama is planning to withdraw troops from Iraq: he needs them at home to quell any uprising.

Here's what wikipedia has to say on the topic.

Sunday, March 8

Break Dancing

On Wed night I went to see a free break dancing show near Santo Domingo (apparently March is dance month in the state of Oaxaca, and there are free and paid shows all over the city). For the break dancing, an outdoor stage complete with colored lights and strobes had been set up on the cobblestones, with folding chairs on 3 sides filled with tourists and Mexicans alike, lots of young kids, and a few grandmothers.

The show was exactly what you'd expect from a break dancing show. There were two groups, one from Oaxaca and one from Mexico City. They each went on and did a choreographed group performance and then their own individual stunts. Some of them were quite good, doing one-armed handstands, hopping and balancing on one hand, head spins, the whole deal. Then, after both groups had performed, they had a dance-off, complete with taunts and joking imitations of their competitors. I went with my student, L, and we had a great time. Of course, the pictures don't really capture the dancers' movements.

Puerto Escondido

For my last official weekend in Mexico, I went to Puerto Escondido with 6 students. Me and 2 others took the first class bus, while the rest took the second class bus, which is much cheaper and faster because it takes an alternate route, but also stops to pick up travelers on the side of the road. All this stopping and starting on windy mountain roads is too much for my motion sickness, so I always take first class, load up on dramamine, and sleep the whole way.

At 3:30 in the morning, when we should have been a little over halfway there, the bus stopped. And stayed stopped. At 4, the bus driver made the announcement that there had been an accident, traffic was blocked going both ways on the highway, and it would be hours before we could move again. A few people got off the bus and stood and chatted on the side of the road with the passengers from the other 20 or so buses that were in the same situation. Eventually they got back on the bus and dozed until it started to get light around 6:30 am.

In the light, we could see masses of people walking, or in the backs of trucks, riding to work in Tehuantepec, the nearest town down the road. We also began to see bus passengers hauling their luggage down the road, climbing in collective taxis when possible. After some discussion, P, A and I decided to try our luck walking down the road, since the driver thought it would be at least 5 or 6 hours before we'd be moving. Two German girls on our bus who spoke no Spanish requested to go along with us. So the 5 of us set off down the road, much to the surprise of the bus drivers and other Mexicans we passed, who obviously thought us 5 gueros would never make it.

After about 15 minutes of walking we happened upon the accident. The gas tanker was on its side spanning the entire road, and the gas was being pumped out. Surprisingly, there was only one ambulance, two tanker trucks waiting to receive the gas, and a few officials standing around. In the US there would have been about 3 fire trucks, 5 ambulances, and a troop of police officers. There was no sign that the wreck would be cleared away any time soon.

On the other side of the tanker, we could see cars taking a dirt road detour through the mountains (it was too narrow for buses). We luckily caught the first taxi we saw, and endured the 20 minute, 5 people crammed into an economy-car-ride to Tehuantepec. The driver, who spoke so quickly and mumbled so badly we could barely understand him, dropped us off on the side of the road on the outskirts of town with the instructions to catch the bus to Salina Cruz. We felt kind of lost, but the bus came right away, and we hopped on and rode it to the end of the line. The fare collector was nice enough to point us in the direction of the bus station, where we bought bus tickets from Salina to Puerto Escondido. And luckily, the bus was just leaving. We finally arrived in Puerto at 2 pm, only 7 hours behind schedule!

It was an interesting adventure. At the time we weren't scared that we were walking through the middle of nowhere, had no idea exactly where we were going or how to get there. We were just annoyed at losing time on the beach. But I feel like now that I've experienced that, I can pretty much survive anything in Mexico.

The beach was totally worth it. It was beautiful, the water was warm and clear, the waves were perfect for body boarding, the food was delicious, the weather was warm and sunny. Puerto was great because, at least at Playa Zicatela where we were, the coastline hasn't been overtaken by giant resorts. Instead, it's lined by cute little hotels, shops and restaurants. You can lie on the beach or on deck chairs (provided you buy food and drinks from the restaurants that own the chairs), and be served margaritas all day. And since it is off-season, it wasn't crowded, just pleasantly populated.

Our ride back, thankfully, was unevenful.