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