On Saturday night, the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca (ICO) will host a quinceanera for a family that has rented the premises for their celebration. We know the young woman’s dress will be purple because there are many purple decorations beginning to appear on the canopy and other items being constructed for the event. This tremendous canopy and construction of a dance floor led to our discussion of some of the traditions of the quinceanera here in Oaxaca.
The father of the fifteen-year-old will give his daughter a doll that looks similar to her and that is wearing the same dress. This doll is called the “última muñeca” (last doll), and she must return it to him to show that she is no longer a girl.
Her father will also present her with her first ramo de rosas (bouquet of roses). And, if she is the last daughter in the family, she also receives a corona (crown).
Vickie swears by the power of mezcal to clear up skin, stomach problems, gripa (flu with high fever), and any other ill you have. She even explained that she has used it with her two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter. She told the story of a seventy-year-old who had no cholesterol because she takes a small swig of mezcal before every meal (and after). One of the students brought in crema de mezcal ( a ceamy, super sweet version of the drink) to enjoy with the chilaquiles this afternoon, and tshe and her friend taught us a new toast. Typically, we just say, “!Salud!” (To health!) Here goes: “!Arriba. Abajo. Al centro. Dentro!” (Up high, down low, to the center, inside you.)
Another way of “toasting” is for the person presenting a plate of food to say, “Provecho” or “Buen provecho.” It is the equivalent of the French: “bon appétit.”
Tonight we made chilaquiles verdes. They are made by tearing a tortilla into approximate triangles and frying the pieces until they are crisp, drying the oil from them and then dipping them into this heavenly salsa made of tomatillos, chiles, chicken stock, and elpazote, and herb. Although I burned myself (of course) when the lid flew off the liquadora and sprayed me with boiling tomatillo and chile juice, the scalding was quite worth the delicious result. Typically, this dish is topped with onions (cebollas) and queso fresco. Sometimes they are served for brunch with eggs. Have I mentioned that this dish is delicious?
Vickie, our teacher, takes a spoon and drips a bit of the salsa on her thumb and each of ours to test the spiciness and salinity. As I put out my palm and then wrist, she explained that it tastes better on the thumb. (It also probably burns less than on the sensitive skin of the wrist). As I sampled the mix, I suggested that I didn’t even need the chips. I could just have mine in a coffee cup. I was mostly serious.
The most delicious part of cooking class is the time we have in between the salsa being done and the frying of the tortillas, for example. During this time, we sit around the table telling stories about our lives, practicing the language. Vickie is a widow, but she has a boyfriend named Manuel. She showed me a picture of him tonight. When I showed her M’s photo she said she had seen it on my phone, but she thought he was a screensaver, some celebrity or something. She said, “El es muy guapo” (He is very handsome.)
She also told us a story about a cousin she had with the unique name “Caro.” Caro in Spanish means expensive. I couldn’t resist and immediately asked, “?Y el tiene un hermano que se llama Barato?” (And he has a bother named Cheap?) My table mates laughed at my little chiste (joke). When people ask me why I am learning Spanish, I often say I want to make people laugh in another language. Little by little, I can make others laugh.
This evening in Tlacochahuaya, I had the intermediate English students. We were wrapping up a section on time. I had a clock and posed it at a particular time, asking: What time is it? The students would say the time: “It is seven-thirty or half-past seven.” They have been practicing this for more than a week and are good at their numbers in English and understand the clock (for the most part), so we moved on to midnight and mid day. This was a bit more difficult, especially because of the word “night.” This word comes out of their mouths more like their word for “neither” which is “ni” and sounds somewhat like “knee” in English. Some of the reasons for this are that the “I” sounds like our long “E” and because the “H” is silent.
However, once we got “night” right, I would give them a time and ask them which greeting they’d say to me at that time of day. I reminded them of the (mostly) corresponding greetings in Spanish, but I also introduced “Good Evening.” It was a fun way to get them to learn the salutations and time together.
We also reviewed colors and months. Using a mix of this knowledge, we played a game where I’d ask them? How do you say Enero (January) in English? It is 8 a.m., how do you greet me? What color is this? (Green was extraordinarily difficult.) What is “Good night” in Spanish? We played for chicle (gum). They immediately wanted to know the word “gum,” and Gerardo, one of the students, even tried to use his notebook to get an edge over the others (I confiscated it). In the end, they were delighted to leave with a stash of gum, and this sweet incentive brought out even the very timid Magdalena. She wanted purple pieces and even nearly mastered the word green to earn one.
I was fortunate to have the gum in my bag as La Fiesta de la Sangre Preciosa de Jesus (The Celebration of the Precious Blood of Christ) has been taking place all week but really gets going the 27-30. There are carnival rides being assembled right outside the classroom. These ingenious kids have figured out how to make the teacup rides spin with their own might when the people putting them together are not around. Class time, before the gum appeared, was taking away from their opportunity to “ride” the rides for free.
Last night we had homework to research one of the eight regions of Oaxaca. We were advised to come in and demonstrate our knowledge of our region to the class. Flor offered us the opportunity to use the wipe board to present, but our reports were more reading out facts and plagiarized sentences from our notebooks. Not at all what we were supposed to do.
Therefore, we had time in class to read more about our region and one more and to produce a REAL presentation with three follow-up questions. This is a challenging task because:
We don’t know the regions very well (and therefore need to read a little from notes).
We don’t have overheads or A/V to show some of the material. (This would have been very helpful because I know my colleagues had no idea, for example, when I was using the word “ajonjoli” that I was referring to the agricultural production of sesame in my regions: El Istmo (Isthmus) and La Costa (Coast).)
We don’t have a firm grasp of the language (clearly, not yet firm enough to make a complex presentation beyond offering bullet points).
But that’s the point. We need to learn to practice using connecting words and a variety of verb forms all in the same paragraphs and even sentences. The next section in the book has us practice this.
Of course, we need to speak mas elegante (more elegantly). Of course, this was an exercise we would not complete beautifully. And, it is exciting to see how our textbook clearly predicts our failure and immediately offers a remedy. I just need to read ahead! I also know that reading ahead is not the answer. This advancing and correcting requires patience and information to be infused when needed. It is a painstaking path to elegance and eloquence.
I don’t have a picture of her. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to get one. But there’s a lady on the corner near the school who sells waters and other drinks and a variety of snacks. I often say, “Buenas Tardes” to her as I pass by. However, she has a habit of announcing me especially when her sons are present (I think they’re her sons). She says loudly, in Spanish: The güera is walking (güera = white woman). The güera has a smile (sonrisa). Today, I had a sandwich (torta) in my hand, and she announced: La güera tiene una torta.
If she is not announcing me, she is sleeping in her booth or has a customer and does not see me.
Her proclivity to point me out makes me wonder if she is being friendly or having fun at my expense. Both are equally interesting and entertaining for both of us. In fact, I am almost inspired to do more provocative things to test what she’ll announce or not and when. What if I come by with a friend? What if I wear a large hat? What if I introduce myself?
When I asked the man teaching his wife to ride a bicycle (training wheels and all) in Conzatti Park why there were fireworks on a drizzly Tuesday night, he did not know, but said, in English, “Watch out!” as his wife and her bike wobbled along the sidewalk. She said, “Gracias,” with embarrassment, as I scrambled out of the way.
Why shouldn’t there be fuegos artificials (fireworks) filling the heavens? After all, it was another happy Tuesday.