Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Because it is a gift

My grandma handed me a shell keychain today at comida (the late lunchtime meal). She simply said that it was from Acapulco and that I could hear the ocean in it. So I put it up to my ear, and listened and then was about to give it back to her and she said no, it is for you. I asked her why and she gave me this look as if I should never ask why when I get handed something, and said, "because it is a gift."

I share this story not because I want you all to know that I have this wonderful little shell keychain from Acapulco, but because it made me think a lot for the rest of the day. My host grandma has given me many gifts so far already, many that are not tangible. She has made me countless cups of coffee, cut up fruit for me in the morning, and sat with me for many hours while talking about anything from her family to my family and the school system in Mexico. But this is the first time she has handed me something and told me it is a gift for me. And, the thing that I enjoyed most was her reason for the shell, "because it is a gift." How often do we think, shoot- it is someone's birthday and we need to buy them a gift, or it is their anniversary or a baby/wedding shower? Or how often do we give a gift knowing it is the right thing to do and expect one back again sometime in the future? My grandma gave me this keychain with no strings attached, and completely out of love, not regulations.

I started thinking on my bus ride to Las Palomas after comida about all the gifts that I have already been given here, whether tangible or not, and how they differ from a lot of the other gifts I've gotten in the past. When I first arrived to my host families' house, my little sister, Lilian, was so excited to hand me a note. The note said something along the lines that she was really happy to have me staying with them and to have a sister. The cutest thing about the note was that she wrote it in Spanish first, and then used Google translate (so it wasn't completely perfect, but still made sense) to translate it into English for me. That was my first gift, and one that I know I will be keep forever. She just wanted to do something to show her excitement and probably make me feel comfortable and happy, and that definitely was effective.

When I think about 10 de Abril, I can for sure see all the gifts we've already exchanged. I admit that I am no professional cook or professional dish washer, but the time that I volunteer at 10 de Abril is truly effective. We can get things done a whole lot quicker, and get to the extra things like sweeping everyday and making sure the kitchen and workspaces are completely clean. Even though it has been nice to have an extra set of hands, I know that all of the workers and people that attend 10 de Abril have given me more than I can even begin to reflect on. Tangibly, I have learned so much about Mexican cuisine from Vero, who I work with in the kitchen. I have made enchiladas, chilaquiles, tortas de papa, ensalada, lentils, salsa, and so much more. She is teaching me how to cook in general, how to cook for a large group of people, and how to cook using specific Mexican flavors and ingredients. Also, with my embroidery project, everyone who comes to 10 de Abril has been chipping in to get me all the material I need to complete my project. They have given me the material, one person gave me an extra needle, someone gave me pink yarn, another brown, another green, and even the ones who haven't given me their yarn have given me their time and watch what I am doing and help me when I am making a mistake with a stitch. Even the words of encouragement, either telling me that they were proud when I made the rice and it turned out okay or that my project is looking beautiful so far, have been gifts that I keep in my heart.

Every story that gets shared at Las Palomas is truly an irreplaceable gift, even when it comes from someone who doesn't quite know everything that is going on around them. I am doing my best to get to know all 29 people that are living there right now, and get to know their stories, even if it is just a little detail. I spend a good amount of time talking to a woman named Juana, and try to at least say hello to her everyday. She is an absolute joy, but does not remember a lot of our conversations, so about every 5-10 minutes, she will ask me the same questions over and over again. Also, she likes to talk about my family and friends, and feels sad when I tell her they are all in the United States, and she always tells me to make sure I send her "saludos" (basically hello and that she is thinking about them) to everyone--> so this is my way of sending the Saludos of Juana to you all! :) Also, she enjoys talking to me about tortillas and how to make them. I just found this out today that she used to make tortillas and sell them to people when she lived on a ranch, so that is why the whole process of making tortillas has stuck with her, and she loves to tell me and show me exactly how to pat down the dough and then put it on the stove and fry it. I'm thinking that I might be becoming a somewhat familiar face to her, but that just might be in my head, but everyday she says that we have amistad (friendship) and smiles and laughs a lot with me. She tries to tell me that she is old, and I tell her no, you are beautiful and young and she replies saying that she is not young because she has no teeth (she then proceeds to open her mouth and sure enough, shows me that she has no teeth, hehe), but then we laugh about that too. She says I have teeth that are good for biting tortillas, and then we usually end up back on the topic of how to make tortillas. I really enjoy all my time with Juana :)

Another woman that I spend some time talking to is Maria. She knows everything that is going on, and we have had some really great conversations. She helps me practice everyone's names, and tells me a little bit about each person, at least from what she knows, so that helps me understand where everyone is coming from. Also, she used to be a cook in a restaurant, so her and I always talk about food, especially the food that I am learning to cook at 10 de Abril, and she gives me more pointers and tips on what I should do next time and what else I should try to do. Maria had a stroke about 4 years ago, so she has a difficult time moving her whole right side of her body. She has been living in Las Palomas for 3 years now, and she enjoys having people around, even if a lot of them don't quite have all their wits about them. We talk about how great it is to have people to live with, and have all things such as food and laundry provided for, especially since the people who live there cannot take care of themselves on their own.

One more story comes from a man named Arturo. He, like everyone else there, is wonderful. He spends a lot of his day walking from room to room, sitting for about 15 minutes each time he enters a new room, and then goes somewhere else. Every time he leaves a room, he usually annonces that he will be back soon after he walks for a bit. I enjoy that he walks, even if it is a short distance, because I see that as better than sitting the whole day. He always says hello, and generally says "buenos noches" to me at any time of the day, when generally "buenos noches" is simply for the nighttime, but it doesn't bother me. Once again, I found out some more about him today, and was presented with a lovely gift from him. Arturo sang to me for 20 minutes. He is 88 years old and did a real good job remembering most of the words to a lot of his songs. His songs were so cute, and we would repeat them a lot, but they were songs he used to sing when he worked in the mines when he was younger. I guess he used to sing a lot when he first got to Las Palomas, but it's been real hard now for him to remember all the words so he doesn't sing often anymore, and usually just for short times. He also used to play the guitar, but says that he cannot play it anymore. I guess I was lucky to hear him sing for that long. It was really cute though. I could continue to tell stories of every individual person there, but those are three people that have really stood out to me.

Gifts. They generally end up getting used for a short time until they are slowly forgotten, outworn, or possibly even re-gifted to someone else. However, that doesn't mean that we should stop giving gifts in any way possible, tangible or not, and I guess I am learning to accept gifts more easily here too. When someone gives you a gift, accept it, because it truly is a gift, a gift they were willing to give you, and that is like having a piece of them in your heart. So I guess I am attempting to "re-gift" some of the gifts I have been given by sharing my stories with you all, and I'm giving it to you because well, it is a gift :D

Love freely!

Peace, Lisa

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I think I have the wrong shoe glue

I really do think that I have the wrong shoe glue here, or maybe I just don't have any shoe glue and that is the problem. Also, on the same page, I think my shirt is not sticky enough. I comment on the idea that I am lacking shoe glue because of the bus rides here. Everyone seems so composed as we are flying down the roads, hitting speed bumps, and struggling through the switching gears on an unstable bus, while I clearly stick out as my feet slide, I move back and forth in my seat, and barely can stand up when it is my stop without literally falling onto a person nearby me. Lets just say the bus system here is really nice and efficient to get around to places, but I try to only take the buses when I need to, which is still for sure 16 times a week if I only go to work and back, ha. But, I am becoming a master at flagging down a bus (because the first day I accidentally let 2 pass before someone else flagged down the bus I needed as well so I quickly got on it before it drove away) and I can tell the person where I am going without having to repeat it more than once (10 de Abril, puente del pollo, al mechor ocampo, puente del pollo), and I am kind of getting the hang out letting the bus driver know when I need to stop, but most of the time they just see me stand up and assume that I probably want to get off at the next stop. Also, I am apparently a trustworthy-looking person because yesterday morning I was on my bus to 10 de Abril and somehow it wasn't crowded and I ended up on the bus alone for a second, and the bus driver stopped, put the bus in park, and got off to get something to drink and something to eat from a small shop that was on the side of the road. I could have gotten up and driven the bus away (not that I honestly would have known how to drive a bus) but I could have, and I was trusted not to because apparently the bus driver was more worried about being thirsty and hungry than getting me to my stop on time. But, ha, this is Mexico :)

On a different note, I had a good day at Las Palomas today. A lot of my day at this place is spent sitting and talking to the people who live there. They are real nice, but sometimes it is a struggle to get them to talk to me without falling asleep or repeating too much. But, I have definitely had some great conversations in these past two weeks. Another nice thing about Las Palomas is that occasionally people come in for an hour or so each week and bring a snack or sing a couple of songs for the people who live there, which is a nice change of pace from what they are used to. Well, today, we had a very special visitor at Las Palomas--> it was Dr. Simi! Now, this is coming from someone who doesn't enjoy people dressed up in masks or outfits, and especially someone who doesn't like clowns, Dr. Simi scared the bejeezes out of me. However, I kept a smile on my face and watched as the people really enjoyed his presence. They put on some music and a couple of the women got up and started dancing with Dr. Simi and smiling and laughing. I even got up and danced with one of the ladies a little bit (nope, I did not dance with Dr. Simi, haha, that would have been really scary for me). I really enjoyed that Dr. Simi was there because there is one lady who carries around a notebook with Dr. Simi's face on it, and she LOVES him, so I watched her eyes light up when she saw him in person, and believe me, she was first in line to dance with him, and went back a couple more times. :) At the end of the dance session, Dr. Simi and friends passed out slippers to all the residents there, and people enjoyed getting the gift like it was Christmas. A lot of them tucked them away in their sweaters so that no one would take it, even though everyone had their own pair. Even though I was slightly afraid of Dr. Simi, it was a great visit, and definitely put a smile on all the people's faces for the rest of the day.

here is a picture of Dr. Simi (just so you all can picture what I saw) and he isn't all that scary, but still, definitely a person dressed up in a costume and not the most comfortable thing for me to see

Those were just some thoughts until next time :D

paz y amor,

Monday, September 5, 2011


I am not the best blogger, but at least I have a little bit of an excuse for not updating for so long because we were without internet for our Mexico orientation. We stayed in a convent in Cuernavaca, Mexico for most of the 10 days, with a long weekend in Mexico City in the middle. Most of the orientation was to spend time getting to know the whole group who ended up in Mexico (there are 9 of us out of the 50 young adults who went to other countries including South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Jerusalem, Malaysia and the United Kingdom) and also get to know where we were all going to be doing our volunteer work. It was amazing to visit all the worksites, even ones that I know I will not spend much if any time there. We got to see where everyone would be working and learn about the organizations and what was behind them. It is very interesting to see the differences in the worksites and how each of us will be working in our own ways to help others.

Last Saturday afternoon the 9 of us split up. Most of us got picked up by our families from where we had been staying for orientation, put our stuff in the cars, and headed to what would be our new homes for the next 11 months. It is almost unreal to think that I had two suitcases and a backpack and went into a new home with a new family for where I'll be a little less than a year. My family is absolutely wonderful, and completely patient with me when we have a bunch of language barriers. I didn't realize how little Spanish I did know until I actually got here and have to use it every second of every day. But, through descriptions, struggles, and even Google translate sometimes, I am able to have some conversation with my family. I know the language is rough right now, but that is something that will only get better with time and practice. Even watching tv in Spanish helps because that is more practice listening to the language, and listening to it being spoke very quickly. Two of my favorite phrases are "Mande?" which means "What" (as in repeat again please) and "mas despacio por favor" which means "a little slower please." I also tend to say "no entiendo" which is "I don't understand" but usually the person beats me to it because the look on my face is that I don't understand so they try to repeat it or say it in other ways so I can understand it. Everyone that I have met so far really does have patience with me, which is so great, and that will only help me pick up the language quicker.

I titled this blog post "adjustments" because there has been quite some adjustments into a new culture both on my part, but also for my family. For example, the first night that I moved into my new house, my host mom (Norma) offered me a cup of coffee. I of course said yes :) because coffee is always something to say yes to in my book. But, how they make coffee here is by boiling some water on the stove, adding in some milk, and then a scoop of instant coffee. It is not quite the same as the coffee I am used to, but I am fine adjusting to that. However, they gave me the coffee in this really pretty blue and white designed very small mug. Yes, it was smaller than what I was used to for drinking coffee, but I wasn't going to say anything. My host dad (Felix) looked at me when I was done and asked me if the cup was smaller than what I was used to, so I responded with yes but that it was okay. He looked at Norma and said "ok, tenemos una taza grande, ella necesita eso." (which means, we have a big cup, she needs that one) So, when everyone in the family drinks from the small matching blue mugs, I have this almost obnoxiously large yellow cup that definitely sticks out from the others, but hey, I won't complain because I am getting more coffee then :)

Another interesting adjustment is the schedule of eating here in this culture. Usually we eat desayuno (breakfast) around 8am, and that has been a lot of fruit and yogurt, occasionally oatmeal or eggs and bacon and beans, and of course my large yellow cup of coffee. But, then no one eats again until comida (which literally means food, but that is what they call lunch here) and comida isn't until 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon, sometimes even later. I am used to eating on a different schedule coming off being in college, so it hasn't been that hard to adjust to, but still it has been interesting. Then, cena (dinner) doesn't actually take place. A lot of times cena consists of coffee and bread, or something small, and usually around 8pm, or possibly even later. Last night my family and I were driving around picking up a few things, and we stopped on the side of the road and picked up "elote." My family asked me if I wanted "elote" and I couldn't understand what it was, so I just said yeah and went with it, haha :) It ended up being really good and it was an ear of corn (but the corn here is very large) and they put a little mayonaise on it, and then coated it in shredded cheese. They would have put chili powder on it too, but my family does know that I don't care for super spicy food, so they left that off for me. Overall, I would definitely recommend you all try elote sometime if you ever get the chance! That was my dinner for the evening, along with a cup of coffee and a galleta (cookie) when we got back to the house.

A couple more adjustments include wearing shoes all the time in the house. Since the floor is considered really dirty here (it isn't that bad to me, just more dusty) and your feet touch the floor, your feet are considered dirty. So, you always have to have shoes of some sort on, or slippers work okay, but being barefoot or just socks is not an option. Coming from someone who LOVES to be barefoot, this is a challenge, but I'm doing my best to adjust (and sometimes going barefoot when I am in my room because I figure it's okay cause I'm just in my room). Also, the buses here... they are rough rides. Stop signs, stop lights, speed limits, lines in the middle of the road...they are all just optional or suggestions, so people do drive however they want. And, buses will stop in the middle of the street to talk to one another, even if it is packed with people wanting to go somewhere. Other than those couple of things, the adjustment hasn't been too rough. I am very tired, but that is just because I am really paying attention to the language and the bus routes to start to become more adjusted to the world around me.

Today was my first long day at Las Palomas (which is my site that is like a nursing home) and my instructions for the day, the whole day (9am-4pm) were to sit and talk, that's all. Obviously some great stories came from that.. :)

-First I sat with a lady for an hour, she talked, and I didn't understand one word she said because she mumbled so much, not even her name, so I smiled a lot and said si (yes), a lot.
-Another lady, I don't know her name (she'd never answer when i asked, ha) repeated 40 times that I need to wear something to cover my arms because it is too cold (mind you, it's not. It hasn't been overly warm here, but even jeans and a t shirt ends up being warm in the afternoon, and that is what I was wearing today.)
- The next lady named Louisa (yay I finally got a name) asked me how old I was, I said 22, and she said ohh 2 anos (2 years old), mas joven (so young)...I tried to correct her, but she may still think that I am only 2 years old.
-Also Louisa: She was staring at her three stretchy bracelets on her wrist and looking at my wrists and finally she took on of hers off and put it on my wrist and said something about how it was for me. She told me that I was pretty, the bracelet was pretty, and that it was mine now, and that was okay because she had 2 others on her wrists.
-I ended the afternoon watching tv with a few of the residents, most of them were napping and not paying attention, but it was a talk show that had a lot going on that I didn't completely understand, but the few that were awake seemed to enjoy it.

So, that was my first long day of work, and overall, it didn't go too bad. My main job at Las Palomas is to sit and talk to people, which is an interesting adjustment coming from a culture where sitting and talking is anything but work. I'm excited to find a place in Las Palomas and start to become a familiar face for the residents.

My work schedule for the week consists of a place called 10 de Abril (which is similar to a senior center in the United States) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9am-1pm. While at 10 de Abril I will be helping prepare food, but also working on crafts and talking with the people who come. Yesterday I peeled probably over 200 peapods to get the peas out of them for the meal that they get before they leave. They are working on something that is like embroidery right now, so hopefully tomorrow morning I will get started on that project! I am excited to learn more crafty things. Then, I will be at Las Palomas from 3:30/4-6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday, and at Las Palomas from 9am-4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My hours might change around a little bit once the schedule falls into place, but it sounds like that is what I will be doing for the moment.

I do have internet in my house because it is shared with the family members that live in this community (my host mom's mother, two brothers, and lots of nieces and nephews live next door in a couple of houses) and also Norma is taking a class online, so she needs to have internet in the house. I know that I am lucky to have internet because it is not the norm, but it does help keep in touch with my family. I have been able to talk to my parents and my brother once, and for that I am truly grateful. But, since I do have internet, I will be able to update hopefully more frequently with how things are going and what I am up and probably even more stories of language confusions and stories from my worksites.

This is just the beginning of a great and long learning experience for me, and after a lot of orientation, I am so glad that I finally am starting it.

con paz, lisa