Happy Sweet Fifteen

Happy Sweet Fifteen

Weekends often mean the city is host to quinceañeras and other special events. This afternoon I saw a young woman in a brilliant sea of a dress.

Posing for pictures, she often looked as if she was stuck inside a multilayered cake, young men orbiting around her sweetness. Being fifteen means that she is transitioning to womanhood, and it is no coincidence that her dress resembles a bridal gown. In fact, the whole event, on the church grounds, with a photographer and maids of honor as well as extended family present could be mistaken for a wedding (except for the color of the dress and the age of the birthday girl.

!Terremoto! (Earthquake!)

!Terremoto! (Earthquake!)

Everything was shaking in my small room, and I could see the building outside in motion. As soon as I recognized the emergency sirens, I leapt out of bed. I recognized the alarm only because on Wednesday there was a citywide test of the earthquake alert system. For the simulation, we left our classroom and went into the garden. So, half-asleep, I made sure I was decent and started bounding for the door.

Miguel, the night caretaker, stopped me as I was nearly out the door. ?Tienes miedo? (“Are you scared”), he asked me? I knew what he had asked, but words, especially Spanish ones, failed me. I couldn’t even think to part my lips to say, “No.” I mostly was acting out what I had been instructed to do.

Seeing my inability to form sentences, he asked, ?Cómo se dice no hay problema en Inglés? I said, “No problem.” He repeated, “No problem.” Then, he said, Heather, volver a soñar (“Heather, go back to dream”).

Bailando en la Oscuridad (Dancing in the Dark)

Bailando en la Oscuridad (Dancing in the Dark)

Heading home to the posada, I heard the sweet tune of a pennywhistle as someone guided a small group of ten or so dancers in the gloaming. “Form a circle,” he said, more polite suggestion than command, and the dancers began to flutter their arms and glide across the brick walk.

Part Renaissance Fair, part South African Kwela, the music lit something inside of me so that I thought (for a moment) I might dance in the dark, like this. Instead, I plopped down on the stairs and watched as these magnificent night birds took off and landed dozens of times. Two yellow flacos (dogs) joined me, and we watched until the dancers’ silhouettes became part of the darkness.

Ice Cream with a Tiny Business Man

Ice Cream with a Tiny Business Man

The Friendly Cab Driver

Ice Cream with a Business Man
Sitting at café on the corner of the Zocalo, I was approached by a miniature businessman. He demanded a peso: Dame un peso. He repeated this as incessantly as my gato (cat) demands queso (cheese). I asked him why. He said, “Dame un peso.” I asked him his name, he said, “Dame un peso.” I asked him if he wanted ice cream, he said, “Si.” Upon further questioning, I learned that he likes vanilla, so I asked him to sit and reserve our table as I purchased a double cone with sprinkles on the top of the cone.

He watched as I ordered it and was delighted to see such a large helping. I asked, “This is better than a peso, yes?” He had to agree. We sat together, talking a bit, but mostly we looked out onto the Zocalo’s beautiful lights and listened to the mariachi that had assembled on the sidewalk.

At one point, he began coughing. I politely suggested he cover his mouth when he coughed. He did. I thought, my Spanish is working a little.

A family of four was sitting at a table near us; they were watching him devour the cone. At one point, he nearly knocked the top scoop off and their worry was audible.

He wasn’t sure what to make of the sprinkles. He asked me what they were. I, fortunately, had learned the word “chispas” (sparks) which is used to describe sprinkles. He expressed excitement that they were not mere decoration.

Seeing his brother and sister (also aggressive business people) approaching, he let me know he needed to go, and so he headed off into the Zocolo, demanding pesos with one outstretched hand; his ice cream cone in the other.

Las Inteligentes v. Los Lobos Locos (The Intelligent Ones vs. The Crazy Wolves)

Las Inteligentes v. Los Lobos Locos (The Intelligent Ones vs. The Crazy Wolves)

Although 8300 to 190 was the score in the Jeopardyesque juego (game) we played in class today, we enjoyed a friendly team (chicas v. chicos) competition. And, we soon recognized that games are a fun way to review the month’s (for me, the week’s) lessons and our increasing knowledge of the customs and history of Oaxaca in addition to vocabulary and grammar.

I am convinced that playing games, in addition to conversation, is one of the best ways to connect all of the things we are learning. For example, a game like this insists we show our understanding of the imperativo (the command form) while also describing recipes or that we demonstrate understanding of the subjuntivo (subjunctive) as we consider places or events we desire to see in Oaxaca and beyond. It also is an excellent vehicle for helping us to learn new words and dichos (sayings). For example, by attempting trabajalenguas (tongue twisters), we are laughing and learning at same time. (I found the candy trabalenguas today; it is a sucker that resembles a toilet plunger.) One of the, dare I say, easier trabajalenguas was: Tu dijiste que el dijo que yo dije que el dijo lo que tu dijiste. ?Por que lo dijiste? Before I offer the translation, I want to explain that this was one of the easier ones because we easily recognized the words and the verb forms. At the same time, you’ll see it is full of twists: You said that he said that I said that he said what you said. Why did you say it?

What’s more, a friendly competition, where learning is the prize, is deeply satisfying.

Flacos (Skinny Dogs)

Flaco (Skinny) is the pet name I can be caught assigning to the countless dogs I stray into while wandering the streets of Oaxaca. These canines are all undeniably skinny, and they each seem to have their own, mostly mellow, manner of navigating the traffic and noise. This is why I was surprised when I saw a dog on a roof, roaring at a horse.

Of course, the horse was a surprise in the city, but so was the agitation it caused Flaco.

Teotitlan del Valle

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Teotitlan del Valle

I went to Teotitlan del Valle to teach English this afternoon. To arrive at the municipal building, I, along with four other maestros, had to take a bus. The bus stopped alongside the highway outside of town and the five of us, and a local with a large cardboard box, hopped into the back of a large white truck to convey us up the hill. At one point, the driver of the truck slammed on the brakes. And, the man with the box flew into me, nearly smashing me into the rear window of the cab. I screamed and he begged my pardon as we proceeded forward.

Once we reached the building, there were only a handful of students. Most others, as reported by Saul, a ten-year-old, were at the bull fight finals. He offered to show us the way. We made sure to practice English as we headed to the arena. We talked about horses and bulls and the weather.

When we arrived, we climbed to the highest point in the stands as the announcer, seeing us, began telling the crowd we were his long lost cousins. Nearly three-hundred and sixty degrees of a crowd eyed us. Red-faced, I waved.

As we waited for the show to start, we were offered a variety of snacks, including ice cream from a display box and, among many other things (for which I cannot recall the names), beer as a fundraiser for the local school.

The weather, it turns out, was an important topic. From the top of the stands, we could feel the wind pick up, and then the lluvia (rain) announced itself. It rained so intensely my paraguas (umbrella) appeared to be porous. The announcer continued his joking monologue, saying the rain had passed (although we could hardly hear him over the flood washing over us).

We had been in the stands for forty-five minutes. Most of the crowd had been there far longer; still there was no sign that the show would start anytime soon. Men began to whistle (as they did for the parade on Sunday) for the band to play and for the cowboys to enter the ring. A few cahuetes (fireworks with no color, mostly just sound and smoke) went off and a small boy sang earnestly. The bulls rolled up in the backs of various trailers; the cowboys hung on the fences. Still no show.

The last bus leaves Teotitlan for Centro at 6:30. Consequently, we tried to make our way down the sopping stands through a maze of umbrellas. (This is even more difficult than it sounds.) Unfortunately, the path to the stairs was impassable, so we had to jump off the side of the stands with a crowd of Mexicans watching and offering, “Cuidado (careful).”

No English classes, no bullfight, but an adventure nonetheless.