Thursday, April 30, 2009


So I stopped by Las Juanitas again today, to confirm that I would be coming in to interview at 11 a.m. tomorrow. I walk in and Jaime and Joanie, the middle-aged man orginally from Las Zacatecas, Mexico, and his wife, a Kalamazoo-ian... are nowhere to be found. Actually, it was 4:30 p.m. and it was dead.

I walk towards the dining room, and I finally see an older Mexican couple sitting at a two-top. The man recognizes me; he was the old man I had attempted to speak to in my initial visit.

I re-introduced myself for the older woman, and then a tough-looking female chef came out. She started to act as a translator as I explained again, that I wanted to come in and interview. Instead of letting it go on like this though, I started speaking Spanish, and they all looked very surprised. I had to repeat myself a few times for the older accent is no good to being with, and its especially bad when I am nervous. But she seemed interested in me.. and I was obviously very interested in her... so of course I asked her if she would meet at Las Juanitas in the morning, too. She said si.

:D. Now I am SO excited for the interview tomorrow, and also very weary of messing it up. During our interviewing drill I felt pretty comfortable with all of Marin's advice... I was somewhat confident in my ability to follow through and find evocative details. Ususally, I don't write out all of my questions ahead of time... just the main ones, and then I let the interview take its course. However, this interview will be a little different ...I want to make sure I know how to phrase all of my questions. (An aside: I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish; but I'm the same curious, nosy person in both languages. But my Spanish grammar mistakes are frequent.)

Still, I'm eager to make the interview a comfortable dialogue. Brushing up on my restaurant vocab, and debating whether or not I should grab a recorder. I know it would be muy helpful, but it could also scare them away.

Oh, but my first "something evocative": they came to Kalamazoo first as migrant farmworkers.

Ironically, right after the interview tomorrow I have my Spanish midterm. Formulating interview questions tonight is a two-fold endeavor... oh the art of multi-tasking.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last Post

My last day in Sinaloa was spent exactly how it should have been--with my family.

We woke up early to go downtown to a political event in the theater, but because punctuality isn’t a strong point, we were late and the seats were sold out. Only my host dad, a VIP, was admitted. I was a little disappointed, since I had been pretty curious about the event and if there would be any public criticism of the Sinaloan state government for all of the recent drug war danger.

Anyhow, it turned out just as well because the Governor of Sinaloa isn’t big on punctuality either. Apparently, the event would not start until his arrival. Since he was about two hours late, everyone in the theatre was left waiting in their seats for that duration.

So instead, I walked around the city with my family, running errands and stopping by the bank and the mall. By the time we picked up my host dad we were starved and he treated us to a grand almuerzo.

Why was it so grand? For the first time since I had been in Mexico, my fish was cooked in garlic instead of lime juice. My stomach really appreciated this. As we finished up, my host dad announced that for dessert we would get raspados in Concordia.

Although I wasn’t sure what a raspado was, I knew a little bit about Concordia from other volunteers. It’s a little historic town about 45 minutes outside of Mazatlan, made famous by craftsmen who build traditional wooden furniture by hand. Actually, the town does smell like wood--very different from other towns I’ve been to. (Walamo has a barnyard-camping scent.)

Before we set out for Concordia, however, my family was anxious to pay a visit to Mazatlan’s first Home Depot. “Have you ever been to a Home Depot?” they asked in their excitement (and in Spanish, of course). Remembering the countless trips to Lowes that I used to dread as a kid, I grinned and assured them I had.

After they had gotten their jollies in Home Depot, we piled into the truck and set out. This will make my mom and dad wince, but I gave up my “inside-the-truck-seat” to my sister, and hopped in the bed of the truck. I figured I could never count my experience as truly Mexican unless I had ridden in the bed of a truck.

There was no better way to take it all in. The wind in my hair, the warm sun on my skin, the babies pounding on the back window of the truck, giggling at the funny faces their gringa visitor made. I smiled and squinted in the sun, enjoying new Sinaloan scenery. The farther we drove, the closer the beautiful, lush mountains that had always been in the distance became, until we were finally winding through them.

The whole experience was the icing on my pan dulce.

Concordia’s main square has a centuries-old church and a few cool statues and monuments. One of these monuments is an oversized, wooden chair on a platform. Regrettably, I never did understand the “meaning behind the chair,“ but I wholeheartedly believe that my host dad’s main intent of the whole Concordia trip was that he wanted me to have a picture of myself sitting in that chair. He was so excited as he gleefully snapped the picture that I did my best not to show how awkward I felt sitting up there by myself, (especially after he had chased other kids out of it to make room for me.)

Oh, and the second motivation for spontaneity, raspados, turned out to be glorified snow cones. Who knew? They had some interesting flavors--pime, duele, and guayaba--and which you could order with or without milk.

We got back late, and I was exhausted just thinking about all of the packing I had yet to do. Also, although I had loved the Concordia trip, I was disappointed to have missed out on my last night with my students in the stadium. When I found out from the neighbors that several students had visited during the day looking for me, I felt guilty to say the least.

And even in my exhaustion, the surprises weren‘t over. Apparently, my aunt explained, my abuelita wanted me to come by her house before I left. She had a gift. Although I didn’t know if I could handle more ridiculous generosity, I had to say goodbye.

Originally I was introduced to my abuelita with the understanding that I’d be moving in with her as soon as a few cousins moved out. When this never played out as planned, I had only come to her house in passing throughout the weeks. Sometimes I stopped in with cousins to say “Hola” and “Como estas,” and other times I came by to purchase school supplies in her small, front-room tienda. In any case, the few encounters I had had with this woman were so meaningful to me.

We waited for her to get out of the shower, and when she was ready, she scolded my aunt for not calling first. Supported by her walker, she made her way towards me with a big smile, holding a present. “Eres una buena nina,” she said (You are a good child), giving me a hug. At point I realized just how much I was going to miss seeing this adorable old woman‘s reassuring, knowing smile. Completely overwhelmed, I fought back tears and opened her present obligingly. It was a white, ceramic angel. Coming from her, it was perfect. I thanked her about a million and a half times before I could pull myself away and head back home to pack.

Thankfully, two students returned in the morning to say goodbye. My Rosita, who asked for my address, and my Antonio, who brought a gift--a bracelet with little miniature pictures of Catholic Saints. When he asked for a hug, I think I nearly knocked the wind out of him, squeezing so tight.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I don't know if I've mentioned her before, but my little Rosita deserves her own post.

She's 9 years old and sort of attached to me at the hip. Yet I hope she doesn't realize how attached I am to her, too.

Today at the Clausura, she bravely sang four lines of a Spanish nursery rhyme we had translated to English, all by herself. (The fact that she got out two lines and covered her face in shyness only contributes to her adorableness, and I was more than happy to coach her through the last two lines.)

Then she gave a surprise speech--a message that she had had Carlos translate to English. Although I couldn't make out her every word, I did hear an "I will miss you," and I almost cried.

While I run at the stadium in the evenings, she leads her friends and younger ninos in little games, delegating the rules and making sure that no one gets hurt. During breaks between games, she joins me for a lap around the field. And lately, when I finish running, I come join her and the other girls and help them work on their headstands, (although the other day we talked about secret boyfriends instead.)

Rosa's also the one who invited me to watch Beauty and the Beast. After the movie, she and her mom walked me home afterward. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up. "Una maestra or un modelo," she said.

When we finally reached my casa, she said timidly, "Maestra?"
"Si.." I replied, anticipating one of her always curious questions.
"Puedo tener Ud. numero de telefono celular?"

Yep, she has my heart.

A full day

I just had the best night of my entire Sinaloan adventure.

And it was spent in a student's living room, surrounded by some of my favorite students, watching la Bella y la Bestia and eating palomitas. (La Bella y la Bestia = my favorite Disney movie of all time, and palomitas = popcorn.)

I probably haven't seen Beauty and Beast all-the-way-through since I was 6, but somehow I still remember every word to every song, and watching it in Spanish was... well, sort of like Candyland for the language-learning mind?

Obviously my surroundings played a big role in my excitement, too. Eight anxious ninos and I sat on a couch and added chairs, making a semi-circle around the televison, while little lizards crawled across the walls and ceiling overhead. I could feel the little girls' eyes on me at every reaction I had to the movie, whereas the boys were far too dazed by the singing furniture to remember that their English teacher was in the room. All the while, the proud mother of the household kept bringing me pictures of her oldest daughter, who had recently won some sort of beauty pageant. I could tell that my response to every photo was taken to heart, mostly because whatever I said was repeated by the mother and followed by "dice la maestra." (says the teacher)

Actually the whole day has been very humbling and overwhelming at the same time. First thing this morning, my students came to help clean the basketball court for the Clausura. I never expected so many to show up--brooms in hand. And man these kids know how to sweep.. we knocked out the whole school in under an hour. My favorite part was when it was time to clean out my classroom, my kids fought over the English posters I had made throughout the past weeks. (And if I had known they liked them so much, I would have made more!)

When I got home, I helped my host mom cook an enormous pot of a marlin vegetable mix to be served on top of chips at the Clausura. It may sound disheartening that this was really the first time she had invited me to learn from her in the kitchen, but she admitted to me today that she is a bit of a control-freak when it comes to cooking, and that most of the time she just prefers to do things herself. Still, today I helped, and it was delicious. She told me I could substitute salmon when I get home, and I can't wait to try ...

Then came the Clausura, and we couldn't find the keys to the school. Obviously, I had been the last person to use them, but I insisted that I had hung them on the door when I got home, just like I had every other day.

While my family searched the house, I was nominated to go to the school to assure everyone waiting outside in the baking sun that my family would be there soon with the keys. About 20 minutes into waiting with sweaty students and parents, my host mom pulled up and admitted that they still hadn't found them. Then a lightbulb clicked... and I reached into my purse, pulled out the keys, and covered my face in shame.

Luckily, this is Mexico, and everyone present found this hilarious. The Clausura started a half hour late, and I still had students that arrived so late that they missed hearing their names called for their diplomas. My students sang the songs I had taught, and Bingo was definitely a hit. My host father gave another speech, and soon after he finished I realized that I had understood almost every word--a major improvement from the first speech he had given in my first week in Walamo. I realized that not only is his presence powerful, but so is his message.

Then it was time for my speech. Two lines in, I put down the squealing microphone and took a few extra steps towards my audience. Yes, I studdered a bit, and yes, I'm sure there were a few audience members that had to strain to get past whatever my accent sounds like. Still, I earned the simple round of applause, accompanied by heartful smiles from my students, that I had been hoping for.

Next came the unexpected: gifts. I don't want to go into this too much, but Mexicans are just crazy about giving. Let's just say I've worn out the words "Muchas Gracias," and my wrists and hands now sport 4 bracelets, and a butterfly ring.

Hugs, however-- I just can't get enough. [pictures sooner or later]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

truckin along

Finally have my speech written, so that calms my nerves a little. Now for the practice, which is much different than practicing any other speech I've ever had to give. My concentration is on pronounciation.

I really wonder what my accent sounds like--this morning I had trouble saying the word "cereal." It's spelled the same in both English and Spanish, but I had to repeat the word about 10 times until my host mom understood what I was getting at.

Today is my last day of classes, and the kids are practicing their songs, finishing making their "all about me" English booklets for their parents, and maybe playing a round of jeopardy if we get to it.

I have much to do, but I'm feeling a little queasy. Went to another town this morning to make copies of my students diplomas. Got a smoothie--orange/mango/banana, but they went heavy on the fresh-squeezed oranges... which should never really be a complaint... still, not feeling my best.

On another note--will be home a week from today. Craving family, friends, hugs, and something covered in garlic and olive oil.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

When it rains, it pours...

...and after it pours, my students come out and dance in their flooded basketball court.
Some of my favorite ninas, hard at work. I have to brag.. 2 p.m. is a race through the door of my classroom, and a battle for front-row seats. :D They were far too excited about the game with the blindfold.
I'll admit that at first I had planned on bringing in cookies, but then I realized that none of my students had ever experienced the delicious, healthy magic of a PB & J. So I whipped up a batch of on wheat, which was risky, I know, especially with the crust.
The result? I'm proud to say they got a round of approval, escpecially from a group of boys whom I gave the responsibility of finishing leftovers. Yep, my class take notes and still enjoys English. Well, at least when I bribe them with Bingo. Norma, in front, is super-outgoing and one of my faves. She's 13 years old, never listens to my directions the first time, and loves Shaggy. She also has a 15-year-old boyfriend--I know what you're thinking--what a scandal.

So, as I said, I'm making friends, and they took me into the city yesterday. Emma (left) and Alejandra (right--no idea how she can stand the warm clothes) are both 17 years old, and they love American music... but thankfully, more of The Fray and less of No Doubt. They've taken English in high school, but they're really hestitant to practice. As a result, all of our conversations have been in Spanish, and once in a while a few English words are thrown here and there. This meant lots of practice for me, but sometimes wears me out.

While in the city, we went for sushi. Yes, I was a bit skeptical as there is an there is an odd number of sushi restaurants in Mazatlan for a city with absolutely no Asian people. However, I was craving something that didn't come with tortillas. It hit the spot, and I even had it Mexican-twist, with BBQ sauce. (Don't knock it til you try it, right?)
Okay, so Fernando (again, the 17-year-old host brother) and I both look goofy in this one, but I just wanted to include Fernando because he's got my back. He may not know much English, but he's a smart guy. After high school he wants to be a teacher, like everyone else in the family. :)
I also went to the closing ceremony for the students of the other volunteers in Mazatlan (Kelly and Oscar, in the background). I ended up being recognized by the Mexico program director for my work.
Padre Carlos, me, Kelly, Oscar, Program Director Flora, and Prof.

My closing ceremony, or Clausura, for my students is Wednesday. Tons of planning and preparation to do, but what have I done so far this Sunday? Arrived home from a night in Mazatlan with amigas, folded my line-dried laundry, changed my sheets, ate shrimp tacos down the street with my family, and now I'm headed to Carlos' baseball game. Planning will have to wait until tommorrow--I think this means that now I'm on Mexican time.

(Actually, I'd like to think I'm relaxed enough to be on Mexican time, but in reality I'm still quite antsy. "Toni es impaciente," they say. It seems to be a quality I just can't drop.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I wish someone could have been there to witness the adorable group of girls I taught to do somersaults and headstands at the baseball diamond this evening. I think that's what I'd be if I could be anything... a professional somersault teacher. Their smiles were priceless, and they all promised to come to class tomorrow.

the morning routine

Some may know that at home, I get a little obsessive compulsive about my morning routine. I'm not exactly sure why, I just take some sort of weird comfort in starting the day off "just right" with my cereal, apple, and green tea. Here too, I've fallen into a morning routine, with a few adaptions of course.

I wake up sometime between 8 and 9 every morning, as the springs in my mattress wear me out throughout the night, and don't let me sleep in much later. I usually find my host parents in the kitchen, or dressing the babies, and I tell them "Buenos dias.. Voy a comprar un platano."

I grab a peso from my bookbag (equal to 10 cents), and I go for a short walk to the Fruteria, where the owner knows me and offers a warm smile. Then, I pick out the biggest banana I can find. I learned quickly not to go for the most perfect-looking fruit, as the bananas with a little brown taste SO much better.

As I walk back, my flip-flops flicking dirt on the back of my calves with every step, people wave and greet me with a friendly, "Adios!" Sometimes my students spot me from the front windows of their casas, or ride by on their bikes, usually yielding an enthusiatic "Hi Teacher!"

When I get back to the casa, I get out my raisin bran and make my soymilk from a powder. (The real milk I have tried, and it hurts my stomach.) I peel my banana and drop it into my cereal, topping it with PB. On the best days we also have papaya, and help myself a hearty slice as a side.

I ask if the periodico has come yet, and my host parents usually hnd over the front page of the newpaper, El Noreste. Newspaper and pocket-dictionary in hand, I head to the outdoor dining room to find a spot with the least flies.

The front page was interesting today. The storms two days ago caused crazy flooding (actually, I spent part of yesterday morning helping my parents sweep watch from the kitchen and living room out the front door). Anyhow, a nearby pueblo suffered even more severe flooding because trash from a dumpsite was clogging waterways, giving it no way to go but up. There was a small picture of small children making their way through through water past their waists, surrounded by floating garbage.

I don't know if the rest of my family was as angry as me about the front page, as there was also a huge article about the state making plans to extend "The Malecon," which is the beach strip in Mazatlan for tourists. It seems obvious to me that the money for the Malecon would be much better spent cleaning up the pueblos... but then again, the rich tourists generate more money for the city. A clear example of how the rich have too much power, I suppose.

Then I turn to the Internacional section to check up on things at home and around the world. It's a small section, and usually the main article is usually ether about immigration, natural disasters, or Obama. Yet their is a small briefing down the side about the rest of America.. (including both North and South America), which I've never seen in a US paper.

So, I try to absorb as much as I can, piecing together the sentences I don't understand with my little my worn dictionary, and downing my beloved breakfast.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

for my brother...

Just wanted to let me sorta-big, little-brother know that even if I'm not home to see him turn 17, I'm thinking of him. Oh, and so are my students. :) They may not be the Flowbots, but I think their pretty sweet.

(By the way, I fixed the settings on my comments and now anyone can comment--not just blogger users. Would love to hear from you!)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cumpleanos Feliz Carlitos

When they told me they were going to start getting ready for Carlitos' birthday party last weekend, of course I wanted to help. However, I'll admit I was completely oblivious as to what this meant, as failed to understand the part of their conversation that mentioned the magnitude of the party. I pictured a backyard birthday party with about 10 kids and some sort of pinata action.

Well, I misunderstood. I never would have predicted the afternoon in the market buying and loading the truck with kilos and kilos of carrots, cucumbers, fish, and limes, or the tying of balloons until my fingers were raw, or my work making countless BamBam party favors. I loved all of it, and I got to spend lots of time with my lively host sisters, but I couldn't help but wonder, "Why so much for a 2-year-old who's not going to remember it?"

At the actual fiesta, I ended up completely in my comfort zone, serving and bussing the tables of literally over 100 ninos and madres, all from Walamo. It was truly a sight--every nino laughed hysterically as they stepped up to the plate to try to knock out the giant pinatas--which were 3 times almost every child's size.

By the end, I totally understood. The fiesta was way more than child's party. My family made it a community event. Everyone was in a good mood, which I think, unfortunately, is a major rarity in the US. The children were high on sugar, and the families were happy to spend an evening in each other's company. The best part is that we pulled it off in 2 days completely stressfree, simply because everyone in the family worked together to contribute their time and skills. (Yes, very Building Block's-ish.)

Cutest BamBam ever, in mid-yawn. Madre Norma made the costume by hand.
Host sister Karen..surprised she could still stand after all the work she had done up to this point.
The giant Shrek pinata, later followed by the giant BamBam pinata.
And eventually, when we came home to help Carlitos open more presents than I've ever seen in my life, Juanito got in on the BamBam action.

Also, don't know what it was about the chocolate cake at the party..maybe just the familiar taste, but it tugged at my Estadounidense heart and I ate more than one person should ever consume, and I have no regrets.
During clean-up, I even let Jesus teach me to dance to "La Banda." I was completely goofy and awkward at first, but after a few tries I think I sort of got it... earning a round of applause from my family.. :D

Oh, and one more photo.. Fernando (left), Jesus (right), and I at the Quinceanera after my make-over (last post). Haha...