Monday, October 29, 2012

"There's an Angry Birds piñata in my living room."

My cousin Humberto's 8th birthday was last weekend, so we celebrated in style!  However, we were very Mexican about it.  In other words, I didn't have any idea of what was going to happen.  On the Friday before, I was told to invite my friends over for the fiesta at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon, which was the first concrete knowledge I had about this fiesta.  On Sunday my parents disappeared in the preparations (literally, as in, I didn't know where they went), and then people started showing up after 2.  This is kind of how things work in Mexico.

We took over the empty house next door (still not really sure why we have a key) to set up tables and all the food.  Lots of refrescos: Coca, Coca Light, and Manzana Lift.  Mole and chicken salad served on crossaint-like rolls.  Popcorn and chicarrones and other snacks.  I enjoyed chatting with some of my family's relatives, although it got a little overwhelming once 20 people were crammed into a small living room, all speaking rapid Spanish.  

Although this was Humberto's party, he and most of the other kids were in Maury's room playing video games all day.  But they all appeared when it was time for the piñata!
Maury with the unharmed piñata

Humberto mid-swing

the aftermath!

poor, discarded piñata
 So much candy!  I ended up getting to raid Olivia's candy bag as she ended up with quite the haul.  Then it was time for cake!  And by cake I mean strawberry tarts and brownies, which is actually better than cake in my opinion!

All in all, it made for a great party!

Fundraising Note: Many thanks to Dorothy Holman, who sponsored today in my YAGM year!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

time for some tacos!

Saturday night, my family took me out to eat tacos al pastor.  It was quite possibly the most delicious food I have eaten so far in Mexico, which is saying something given the sheer amount of delicious food I have eaten in the past two months. 

This adventure started out the way most adventures here do: my family told me to get in the car.  In other words, I usually have no idea of what I'm getting myself into, but I try to just go with the flow.  As we spend 25 minutes driving through downtown Cuernavaca at 8:30 Saturday night, I wonder why we aren't stopping at any of the numerous taquerías we're driving past.  After all, this is Mexico, there are delicious tacos on almost every street corner!  Well, this long-ish drive was totally worth it. 

We eventually pull up to a brightly lit taquería a couple of blocks down a dark street.  Immediately, I notice the man carving meat from the spit into small corn tortillas before lopping off a chunk of pineapple.  No matter where that pinapple flew, he managed to gracefully catch it in the taco.  Over and over and over again like a piece of choreography.  As we sit down my family greets one of the workers that they know.  My mom asks me what I want.  When I turn to her with a confused expression on my face, she orders me three tacos al pastor with everything.  Waiting for the food, the atmosphere of this little taquería overwhelms me.  The fuzzy little tv in the corner with a soccer game.  The sizzle of meat as it's cooked behind me.  Smelling the overall goodness of Mexican food. 

And then the food comes.  My tacos, loaded up with meat, pineapple, cilantro, and onion.  I try the different salsas on the table, and then wish I hadn't as my mouth starts to burn, my face turns bright red, and I start sweating from the spice.  But it is some of the most delicious food I've ever eaten.  The sweet tang of the pineapple as I take a bite, cilantro and onion falling in my lap.  Needing to finish every last bite.  Washing it all down with the ever present Coca (aka Coca Cola).

I am in heaven.

I hope to return some day soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Learning Spanish

My trusty Spanish tools: pocket dictionary and a notebook for new words!  My notebook has pages for food, for my two worksites, for getting my hair cut, for sickness.  I can pretty much guarantee that this notebook with new vocabulary will become a record of my new experiences for the year and my attempts to explain these experiences in Spanish.
The thing I was probably the most worried about in my YAGM assignment in Mexico was the language.  I studied Spanish for two years in high school and then for another two semesters at PLU, but I in no way felt prepared to live for a year in Mexico or to function at a conversational level.  During orientation I attended Spanish school in Cuernavaca, which definitely helped my confidence level.  But it's been a struggle.  At work I'm bombarded with brand new vocabulary: destornillador plano (flat head screwdriver), destornillador de cuadro (Phillips head screwdriver), tornillo (screw), coser (to sew), ciego (blind), sordo (deaf), aflojar (to loosen), picadura (mosquito bite), freno (brake), apretar (to tighten), género (gender). 

After spending a day at work learning new skills and trying to name them in Spanish, or observing an entirely new workshop, I return home to a household where English is only spoken when my brother is working on his English homework.  Instead of collapsing after a long day of work, I still have to function in Spanish.  I have to try to construct grammatically correct sentences, when all I want to do is give my brain a break. 

Since my arrival in Mexico almost 8 weeks ago, my Spanish has progressed immensely.  My vocabulary has expanded exponentially, and I feel so much more comfortable speaking.  I can use verb tenses I struggled with in my classes at PLU, and I can function on at least a basic level in Mexican society.  That being said, I am nowhere near being fluent, and don't expect to get to that level in my year in Cuernavaca.  I still don't talk very much at family meal times because I get frustrated with my lack of vocabulary on any given topic, and I regularly have to ask for sentences to be repeated (but I maybe only need something repeated once, instead of two or three times!). 

I am so in awe of my fellow YAGMs around the world who are learning and using completely new languages.  Even with their language school during orientation, I can't even imagine starting in a brand new country with a brand new language.  Can you imagine moving to Madagascar, being given three weeks of Malagasy training, and then starting a new life there?  What about learning Hungarian or Malay or Arabic or Xhosa or Afrikaans?  And then there are the stories I hear of my fellow volunteers using multiple languages.  Of Kaia, who uses her Mandarin skills in Malaysia while trying to learn Malay.  Of Kristen, who speaks Spanish with her program director in Hungary.  Of Kelly, who helps the girls at her work site in Malaysia with Spanish.  I'm sure there are countless other stories of people trying to use multiple languages in their communication all around the world. 

I am thankful that I am not starting a brand new language here.  I am thankful that I only struggle with one new language here.  I am thankful for everyone who patiently listens to my (sometimes awful) Spanish and corrects me without making me feel like a fool.  I am thankful for work supervisors who speak in English when I get confused.  I am thankful for the woman at the CEDISH workshop last week who came up to me and told me she wants to talk in English with me because she wants to keep practicing.  I am thankful that I can help my brother Maury with his English homework, and that he can help me with my Spanish vocabulary.  I am thankful for dictionaries and Google translate.  I am thankful for the opportunity to learn a new language, and I am hopeful that I will continue to improve in the weeks and months ahead.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How do I explain Lutheranism to a Mexican?

This weekend we celebrated the feast day of Saint Michael (San Miguel).  On Saturday a parade from the nearby Catholic church went through my neighborhood, and the bishop came to St. Michael's Anglican church yesterday to help celebrate.  As part of this celebration, flower crosses are made and handed out.  If you put it on your door, it's supposed to keep the devil away!

my front door, safely protected from the devil!
When I came home from church with my cross yesterday, my mom asked me if I knew why the crosses were popular, and then explained the story of St. Michael stomping on the devil's head to me.  Needless to say, my Lutheran upbringing has not made me all that knowledgeable about the saints!

After hearing this story, I commented that the Lutheran church doesn't have saints.  Only the virgin?  Nope, not even the Virgin Mary.  Then I tried to clarify.  Lutherans believe in a community of saints, that we are all saints (but I don't know the word for sinner, so I didn't even try to get into the theology of simultaneously being saint and sinner).

It's not hard to see why my host mom was confused.  There are largely two denominations of Christianity in Mexico: la iglesia católica, and la iglesia christiana.  La iglesia católica is the Roman Catholic church, whereas la iglesia christiana tends to be the more conservative, evangelical churches.  This distinction is maintained throughout the culture.  A Catholic isn't considered a "Christian", because the "Christian church" is completely separate.  Most people here don't know anything about the Lutheran church.  Andrea told us during orientation that it would probably be easier to explain the history of the Reformation and Martin Luther, or else to explain that Lutherans "are like Catholics, but without the saints," than it would be to actually explain what makes Lutherans different.

The church I have been attending in Cuernavaca is St. Michael's and All Angels Anglican Church.  It is an English speaking congregation, made up largely of foreigners living in Cuernavaca.  The community is great, the food at coffee hour is delicious, I receive communion by name because the pastor knows me already, and the entire service is in English!  Because there are no Lutheran churches in Cuernavaca, this Anglican congregation is probably the most similar to a Lutheran one, and many parts of the service are familiar to me.  But my host mom was still confused about WHY I attend St. Michaels.  I tell her it is the most similar to a Lutheran church, and it's in English.  While she accepts that explanation, it is one more example of me being frustrated with not possessing the language to explain myself.  How do I tell her that the Anglican church is similar to the Episcopal church in the U.S., and that I grew up with an Episcopal church in my parish?  How do I explain that, in the U.S., the ELCA and the Episcopal Church commune with each other? 

Most importantly, how do I explain my Lutheran faith, my Lutheran community, my Lutheran church, to my Mexican family who has no context for this discussion?  How do I share this part of my identity when I don't have the language to do so?