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.

San Antonio Cuajimoloyas

Last week we went on an excursion to San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, a small Zapotec town in the mountains near Oaxaca de Juarez, knowing nothing about the excursion plans other than that it would take about an hour to get there via windy, mostly unpaved roads through the mountains. Bonine saved me from puking my guts out in the back of a 15 person conversion van. And the views were amazing.

When we got there, we learned that we would be spending the morning talking to the students, ages 13-15, of the local preparatory school. As we stood uncertainly in a clump in the middle of the giant cement basketball/volleyball court, the students timidly came out of their classrooms and formed a line behind their English teacher. After some insistent prodding by professors on both sides, we formed little groups with the students and started talking to them about their lives, answering questions about Chicago, the US, and exchanging jokes. At one point M and I sang our national anthem at the request of some Mexican students and in exchange for them singing theirs to us. M also jokingly introduced a female Mexican student to all 3 boys in our program after learning that she wanted to move to LA and was in search of an American boyfriend.

After a lunch break, we broke into informal games of soccer and volleyball, and then basketball. It was really fun playing against the students, even though they seriously kicked our butts. Height apparently does not make up for practice, age, and being used to the high altitude.

After the sports matches, we took a guided hike through the mountains. The town, which is still governed collectively according to Zapotec custom, had built cabins using citizens' collective labor and materials, in order to build up an ecotourism industry. So we hiked up to the cabins and then through the mountain pastures, meanwhile learning about a tree worm problem that was decimating the forest, local plants and animals, etc. Of course, we had no idea we would be enduring a vigorous hike, so many students were wearing extremely inappropriate outfits (flip-flops, shorts, etc.). But luckily no one broke an ankle.

At the end of the hike we were treated to a talk by Omar, a guy who runs an NGO called Ollin Tlahtoalli (Zapotec term for oral stories). He has been collecting and videotaping village elders from around Oaxaca, recording their oral histories. But his organization also offers courses on English, sports, literacy, etc. to help improve village life. It was a really inspiring presentation (even if his video editing skills needed serious work).