Then, I realized it was alive. Next, I noted three more prowling the patio in front of my posada. Searching for the word, I asked a passing lady as she smiled at my curiosity: “Is this what is before a butterfly?”
I am working as an English teacher with a micro lending group, EnVia (http://www.envia.org). This week, I am visiting the two pueblos (towns) that offer English classes. Tomorrow I will go to Teotitlan del Valle, a weaving town I have visited several times in the past. Today, I went to Tlacochahuaya, a town known for its garlic (ajo) and other agricultural products. About a twenty-minute ride out of Centro Oaxaca, Tlacochahuaya (which means in the wet land) is an attractive farming community.
The English classes are offered in an old elementary school building, near a market that closes before we arrive in the late afternoon. We need to wait for someone to come and unlock the doors, and he comes when he comes. As we sit waiting in the light rain, we chat with the students. I introduce myself to as many as I can and carefully pronounce the unfortunate “H” my name begins with, a problem for most Spanish speakers. (This afternoon, I even consider making a new name for myself for Mexico; I could choose something that is clearer, easier — for all of us, but it is too late. I am already Heather.)
There are three levels of classes most of the time, and, though I initially went to observe, I had the fortune to work with Jane (the maestra/teacher) and the youngest students (eight to eleven, or so). The students were full of energy and enjoyed hearing us sing out the ABCs in English. As we wrote the alphabet on the board, some thought we forgot the n with the tilde, so we had to explain that there are fewer letters in the English alphabet (no ll, no n with the tilde, no rr, and no ch). One student counted the letters a couple of times, incredulous that letters could be missing from an alphabet.
Rambunctious, they wanted to play with the language, take it outside and have some fun with it, so we headed outdoors to play a game they call Captain (a version of a game called Captain’s Coming, I think). A mix between Simon Says and Marco Polo (without a pool), Captain involves the nouns: fish and shark; the verbs: run, walk, salute, swim, jump; and the directions: left and right (as directions one runs). If the captain, the person pointing to and yelling out the words, says “fish,” everyone crouches near the ground as rapidly as possible; the last one is out. If the captain says, “shark,” some squeal as all players still in the game run to the left side and up a step out of the play area. Again, the slowest is out. The game progresses until there is only one player remaining; he or she becomes the next captain.
It only took me one semester to learn not to ask students in my college composition courses why they are taking the class. The nearly unanimous answer is: Because I HAVE to. Of course, we all make the best of the experience, but it is refreshing to see that people here in Oaxaca (by the hordes) want to spend their free time learning English (I know it isn’t exactly writing essays).
As I am exploring the streets, people sometimes stop me, wanting to speak English and offering to help me navigate Spanish better. I am grateful for these opportunities to practice and to share, and I am plotting a way to have larger intercambios (language exchanges); perhaps they can be enjoyed over a meal or while doing something fun (and affordable).
Tonight in cooking class we made champurrado, a drink made from boiling corn, straining it, and mixing in chocolate (Oaxacan chocolate from Mayordomo, a chocolate store as omnipresent in the Zocalo as Starbucks in other places). We first tried the corn milk (atole). No sugar, no canela (cinnamon), just hot corn and water. It was okay, but add some cinnamon and chocolate, and create foam on top and you have a rich and delicious beverage, better than cocoa ever dreamed of being.
When I was a child, we would occasionally have what my dad called cocoa and dippers for dinner: toast, buttered and cut into strips of four, and cocoa. I had the equivalent tonight, but it was the luxury version, no Swiss Miss and Wonder Bread. We had our handmade (again, there was a lot of actual hands in this) champurrado and pan de yema (egg yolk bread). Delicious.
I went to the Oaxaca Lending Library this evening and paid 400 pesos for a one-year membership to this wonderful place where I can find books, magazines, DVDs, and more in English and Spanish. It also seems to be a real hub for activities and information sharing. I am a proud member and have all kinds of ideas for using these resources in my teaching in the pueblo.
It is raining here. It starts around six nearly every evening. (The wet season is reportedly from June to October.)
First, a few drops fall. Then, the next thing I know the streets are empty and there is a tremendous silence. I can feel it. People huddled under awnings and in tiendas (stores) smile at me as I stroll by, my shoes–and the rest of me–soaking in the city.
Today was my first day of Spanish classes. It is a small group; there are only five of us, including Flor, our maestra (teacher). Flor is a hilarious taskmaster. When the chicos (young men in our class, about twenty-four years old) are trying to get answers from us, she calls them tramposos (cheaters). I envy her frankness.
During the lesson on participles and gerunds, she used an example with the beverage tejate (not Tecate). She gave us the tarea (homework) of going to one of the big markets (Viente de Noviembre, November 20th is one market) to try it. Only in Oaxaca would homework be to hit the streets in search of a drink and information about it.
According to the people I asked, tejate is a water-based drink made from corn and cacao. The top of the drink has foam (espuma) like a latte, but thicker due to the fat from the cacao.
It sort of tasted like a weak hot chocolate (but it was cold) with oatmeal and extra sugar in it. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it.
My homework was easy to complete because for the first day of cooking class we went to the market to sample: bread (pan), chocolate, cheese (quesillo), grasshoppers (chapulines), mezcal, and tejate. Take a look at this handmade (and I mean literally with her hands) drink.