It only takes one night of hugging the toilet to really appreciate the simple things in life that are so easily taken for granted, like clean water, effective sewage systems and trash collection, to name but a few. I am aware that what we consider necessary rights, are luxurious privileges that only a small percentage of the world enjoys. I consider myself well travelled and conscientious of this fact, however, one has to be reminded of it firsthand once in a while for sympathy to become empathy. I can really only say I have had a small taste of what most of Mexico (and Africa, Asia, S. America, etc…) swallows every day, and is used to. If traveling is good for anything, it is to open our eyes to the manner in which others live and see the world, to give us a perspective on our own strengths and weaknesses, and not only to be grateful for what we have, but to give something back for what we have received, in order to make the world a little bit sweeter for everybody.
After about six weeks of being super careful about what and where I was eating, I guess I got a little lax about it, and the ubiquitous tummy bug caught up with me. Or, maybe it was just a matter of time. It is not just foreigners unaccustomed to local bacteria that get it, gastrointestinal issues just a part of life here. In fact, the average Mexican is used to taking a heavy anti-parasite medication every six months! San Cristobal is one of the cleaner cities in Mexico, but like everywhere, the population is outgrowing the infrastructure and that does not help the sanitary issues we face. Anyway, I managed to escape with an herbal remedy from a local plant, without having to take antibiotics. Within a couple of days my symptoms were gone and within a week I my digestion was back to normal.
I am almost recovered from the exam I had to take last week too. As you can imagine, academic Spanish is an entirely different animal than casual conversation, or light reading. It takes me about an hour to read (and really understand) 5-10 pages of text, and I usually have about 50 pages of reading to do each night. It also takes quite a long time to write an intelligent response to what I read—and that is with help from my Spanish Word program and Google translate. So, when I had to answer several lengthy essay questions in class, within a restricted time frame, my stomach started doing somersaults again. I have two more exams coming up this week, but have I been studying this weekend? No.
I took the opportunity to join my Czech neighbor and her visitors from the Czech Republic on a rainy-day adventure to some lakes and Mayan ruins a couple of hours away.
It was a day of Czech immersion within the Spanish, a smattering of Tsotsil, a Mayan language, vicariously through the driver of the van, and a little bit of English to fill some gaps. Despite the rain, we had a great day exploring the small archeological site and the turquoise lakes, and eating fried bananas, quesadillas with tortillas de mano and frijoles de olla, fresh salsa and a warm chocolate drink that tasted like the fire it was cooked on.
Chocolate. Yum. I have become mildly obsessed with chocolate since I have been here. Not the candy, the hot drink made from the local harvest. Here they often make it with water and then add a little milk afterward, which is the method I prefer. I started to wonder if it was healthy to drink it every day so I began to investigate it further. There is actually a chocolate museum here. Chocolate has its origin in this area: southern Mexico, Central and parts of South America. It, of course, was considered a ritual beverage and divine offering. Cacao beans were also used as currency at one time. It is an energy food, but it does not contain caffeine, and the oils in it are a non-saturated fat. With all that in mind, I feel great about drinking chocolate everyday (as long as it is fair trade chocolate, as the labor practices in its harvest are otherwise basically child slavery)! If you are at all interested, this website has a plethora of chocolate info: http://www.xocoatl.org/harvest.htm#fair
Chocolate makes no claims as a youth serum though. Not that I have ever been concerned with that, but being in a classroom full of twenty something-year olds does make me a little bit more aware of my wrinkles and graying hair! Sometimes I feel like I am in a science fiction movie playing someone who has the vocabulary of an eight year old, trapped in the body of a señora at a frat party! It is a fun party though, and one of the best movies ever. There are a few students in my classes who are probably in their late twenties to early thirties, and really, the age factor doesn’t matter at all. Everybody is very friendly and open, and I am happy to have my life experience to bring to my learning, and to share with others. I am also learning a lot from my class mates who are from various parts of Mexico, including many indigenous communities (Ch’ol, Tseltal, Tsotsil, and even a Kuna from Panama), some of whom also have Spanish as their second language, although have long since mastered it.
Of the friends I have made here, my two closest are Alba from Oaxaca and Lucia, my Czech neighbor. Alba has Cella’s birthday, and Lucia has, of course, Lucia’s name. It is something to take note of that I gravitated towards these ladies with resemblances to my two favorite girls! Speaking of my two favorite girls, their lucky dad, my rad husband, David, is on his way to visit me! I am counting the days until our Mexico honeymoon in April.
I hear the marimba music now, coming from the neighborhood plaza. It must be Saturday evening. Despite the lack of the aforementioned services, there is a richness here that can hardly be described with words. Thanks for hearing me out. Here is a link to my latest favorite song and video. Please enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkFJE8ZdeG8&feature=share
With Gratitude and Light,
I have had a chance to visit Zinacantan and Tenejapa, two of the autonomous indigenous communities nearby. In an attempt to give a briefing of those trips, I’ve decided they deserve their own posts. So, if you have any more reading left in you, and are interested, see the previous two posts.