Well, I hit the two weeks in Oaxaca mark on Tuesday and finally felt somewhat acclimated. I was no longer completely exhausted at the end of a full day, and, instead of letting the Spanish all around wash over me like so many waves breaking, I have finally started tuning into the conversations around me in an effort to understand them, or at least key parts of them. There are still many, many, many words, phrases and sentences I don’t get, and accept as unknowns for now.

My trip is a bit unique from many of my classmates’, because my itinerary is so wide open and I live independently rather than with a host family. After about a week of wide-open wanderings, I decided that I would get a better education in Spanish and Oaxacan culture if I built more structure into my days. So I set about filling my time, and now my days are very busy. I basically run to keep up with my new life.

I get up between 6 and 7 a.m., put coffee on, eat yogurt/fruit/granola, toast with avocado or an egg, do any remaining homework assignments and haul myself to class. My walk to school takes about 7 or 8 minutes, and I have grown accustomed to cutting it pretty close to the start time of my class for leaving my little house.

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Flor

My class starts by about 5 minutes after 9 a.m., and carries on until 1 p.m., with two brief breaks. By the first break, I am really looking forward to my second cup of coffee. In the first two segments of class we focus more on grammar by way of Oaxaqueña culture, etiquette, and isms.

One day last week, my classmate Zach and I got in a heated discussion about immigration and the pursuit of the “American Dream.” The topic was initiated by our teacher Flor, who is young, well-educated, proud of her home and people and infinitely mischievous. The last segment of class is a more free-form conversation around a table in the yard outside our classroom. Our class is a small one, and our dynamic is a strange but amusing one. Zach, a Harvard grad from New Jersey, is bright, opinionated and interested in all what the world has to offer. He and I get along exceedingly well in English thanks to our shared interest in energy and the environment, and we have a tendency to bicker in Spanish –probably a reflection on our communication limitations in this new language. Flor, who loves to tease and thrives on drama, only eggs us on.

At 1 p.m., I meet with Daniela, my intercambio. The goal of these meetings, which usually unfold on a pleasant park bench a few blocks from school, is to assist me with my Spanish and help her with her English speaking by giving us both an informal opportunity to use the language.

Ita

Ita

At 2 p.m., I start making my way across town to work with a young woman who goes by Itandehui (pronounced ee-TAN-duh-way) — Ita for short. Ita is an 18-year old with aspirations to become a police investigator. She loves playing basketball, has many friends at the Centro de Esparanza Infantiles, and loves a good wisecrack. She also relishes a challenge, and often requests little tests in English grammar. Since receiving a few assignments focused on the environment in one of her classes, she has asked for me to come to her school and present on Klamath River issues. I have volunteered myself as her tutor and she has volunteered herself as a local guide for me, essentially. So far it has turned out to be a good trade, rewarding all parties, I think.

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Salsa class

At 3:30, I go directly back to the ICO for salsa classes that last until 6 p.m.. Thursday was the final day of two weeks of salsa class, which culminated in a stroke of luck with an annual parade through the streets celebrating all government employees. At the urging of our teacher, we all sprinted into the street corner to watch the people stream past. A band blared, candy rained down, and mezcal and tequila shots were suddenly thrust in front of us in a jubilant blur. All the while a light rain was falling. This coming week, we will begin a Día de Muertos mask-making workshop that will take the place of salsa workshops.

Desfila for government employees.

Desfila for government employees.

Somewhere in there I eat, usually a taco, tamale or empanada from a street vendor, or sometimes a comida corrida in a restaurant. I’m making an effort to eat only one meal a day out, most often lunch. I bought myself a Oaxacan cookbook. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s paying off. It has been invaluable in figuring out which ingredients are which, and prompting me with ideas and implementation guidance. Friday, for a potluck at the home of a Texas ex-pat friend, I cooked up a storm.

I made a second round of guanabana panna cotta, this time with cactus fruit, rum, lime and sugar in the sauce, in addition to a goat-cheese/beet/pecan salad and platanos fritos and rice with onions, garlic and hierba buena. As usual, I got an ambitious culinary vision, went to work and ended up in the kitchen for most of the day. I have bonded with a woman of similar age from Corvallis, Oregon named Lily, over a love for cooking, so she came over to help.

Banana bacon: how to go through a whole bottle of oil, make your house smoky and your belly happy. Also a good namesake for your next five or six runs!

Banana bacon: how to go through a whole bottle of oil, make your house smoky and your belly happy. Also a good namesake for your next five or six runs!

My kitchen is really TINY, and is teaching me to be a more efficient cook that moves with purpose, but without hurry. I do my dishes at least 10 times a day just so I don’t have to sleep with them. It’s like living on a boat, Susan – the host of the potluck – joked. It’s true. After mashing guannabana and whipping up panna cotta, cooking and straining the sauce, boiling and chopping beets and simmering the rice, I had to sit myself down for a pep talk before frying bananas. But Zach met us to help carry all the food, and each dish was devoured — gratification enough to make me do it all over again in a few days.

Sunday, Lily and I did our own chile rellenos. Handling the chile del agua and the subsequent burn on my hands for hours harkened back to stinging nettle therapy during my foot recovery process. O sea (that is), you have to push through the burning sensation to remember that this is probably good for some system in your body in some painfully cleansing way. Up next on the menu: rabbit with leeks, green beans and carrots (all readily available ingredients here).

My little backyard life here is a good exercise in living simply the majority of the time. You can do a lot with a little. Even though I guess I already knew that in my head, I’m learning it a little more in my body and my spirit each day here.

Saturday was a day of rest for me, mandated by my right foot, which has borne up extremely well with all I’ve asked of it. But dancing at a bar opening until the early hours of the morning Thursday night necessitates getting off of it for a day. Just as well; thunder was rumbling outside, and the rain was coming down in sheets.

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