Thursday, March 14, 2013

La Frontera

As some of you know, a little over a month ago, the volunteers went on a border immersion retreat.  We spent 5 days on the Arizona U.S. and Sonora Mexico part of the border, spending a couple days in each country. My latest newsletter talks a lot about my experience on this retreat, but it was sure hard to try to fit everything into 3 pages!

I have been super intimidated the past month by trying to write about this experience.  Not only was it jammed packed with factual information from many presentations and various organization visits, but there were also the personal stories and the emotions felt...I want to share it all with you! As I continue to process, I will try to keep posting things about this experience.  But for now....

 To start off, here's a map that a fellow Mexican YAGM made to show exactly where we were, and what organizations we visited.  Thank God for techie friends that can put completely amazing things like this together...Lord knows I would not have the first clue how to do something like this.  There are pictures, a description of everything we visited, the map...it has it all! Big shout out and thank you to Casey Sweeney for putting this together! Enjoy!
https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=201866615827698687936.0004d5d997a8098699dfa&msa=0&ll=31.907873%2C-109.907227&spn=1.419886%2C2.469177
I wanted to share some highlights with you that aren't included in the newsletter, and also some photos that didn't make the cut (and that also aren't on my facebook because other people took them!)
An organization that I mention in the newsletter and is talked about briefly on the map is Cafe Justo (Just Coffee).  You may be familiar with "Fair Trade" coffee (and other products), but Cafe Justo takes fair trade coffee to another level.  Essentially, they cut out the middle man (the people that hike up the price of coffee for the consumer, pay very little to the growers, and keep the profit for themselves).  By cutting out the middle man, and keeping everything, the growing, the roasting, the packaging all in one organization, they are able to double, triple the amount that the families that grow the coffee get for their product.  This organization partners with churches, universities, and individuals in the U.S. to sell their coffee to.  And man is it gooooood coffee.  It comes from the south of Mexico, from the state of Chiapas, where there is a cooperative of families that grow it. Now one might think, "ok, but what does this have to do with immigration, with border issues?" Actually, these organizations have a very close link to immigration, because they are going back to the very beginning of the process and asking, "Why are people leaving Mexico in the first place?" The thing is, I'm sure you'd be hard-pressed to find a migrant (especially nowadays with how difficult and dangerous it has become to cross the border) who would tell you that they're just going to the U.S. for fun, or to make some money for a fancier car.  The vast majority are crossing because there simply aren't jobs in Mexico, and they have no money to feed themselves, much less have a nice car. Organizations are like Cafe Justo are working to give coffee grower families the amount of money for their product that they can actually live on. An amount that is fair, and that keeps the family together.   
Learning about coffee in Cafe Justo
 I also wanted to mention that some of the best moments for me on this retreat were the moments we had to just sit down and chat with migrants.  From a conversation with a couple from Puebla (I mention them in the newsletter), one of the things that has stuck with me, was this feeling I had about half-way through our conversation.  They had just finished telling me about their ordeal with walking through the Mexican side of the desert for a couple days before finally reaching the border and the wall.  They arrived at the kilometer marker where they were told was a good place to cross. They waited, all night, and in the early morning, they jumped. And were captured within 5 minutes. And then it was over. Days, weeks, months of saving, of planning. Gone in 5 minutes.  "So, what are you guys doing tonight?" they asked me.  I felt terribly embarrassed as I answered, "Well, we're going back across the border tonight to spend the night in Douglass Arizona."  I thought about what they had been through to get to where they were.  I thought about how easily we would cross back to the U.S. in a couple hours...drive across in our nice van, to a nice warm hotel room. No problem.  "I'm sorry" I told them. "It doesn't really seem fair does it?"  It was the only think I could think of to say.  This idea of privilege because of some papers I hold really hit me in the gut in that moment.  I have no idea where that couple is now...maybe home with their kids? Maybe in another attempt they made it across...who knows.  As we got up to leave, I wished them well in their lives...again, it was all I could think of to say. 
Now,  here are some photos:
 
Driving along the wall the first day, Mark from Frontera de Cristo pointing out various things (the double wall, the camera towers, etc)

Looking toward Douglass/Agua Prieta

Looking down the other direction
Riding with CREDDA to fill a water tank in the desert


Walking to the wall


Listening to the wise words of the man who runs CREDDA, once a drug addict himself

The metal mesh wall

The two types of wall.

Gathering what was left behind in the desert near Tucson

Holding an Ash Wednesday service in the desert with Gene, a man very involved with No More Deaths

Group shot with Gene

In rememberance.

At the University of Arizona. What was once a chunk of the wall is now art.

Invoking the presence of the migrants at our closing worship service
If you want to know more, I would HIGHLY recommend this book: The Devil's Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea.
Or check out these resources if you really want a Lutheran Pastor's perspective who serves on the Mexico/U.S. border: http://borderpastor.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/migration-resources/
And if you have a LOT of extra time, here are some more articles to blow your mind as to the complicatedness of these issues!
How long is the immigration line? As long as 24 years.  From the Washington Post    
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/31/how-long-is-the-immigration-line-as-long-as-24-years/
Obama could hit massive deportation toll. From the Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/31/obama-deportation_n_2594012.html?ir=Latino+Voices&ref=topbar
 The New — and Rich — Immigrants from Mexico: How Their Money is Changing Texas
http://nation.time.com/2013/01/14/the-new-and-rich-immigrants-from-mexico-how-their-money-is-changing-texas/ 
Arizona Border Region : Research Services : Economic and Business Research Center : Eller College of... 
 
 

   

Friday, November 9, 2012

Snapshots from Mexico


Some fun/interesting/perplexing/funny/humbling encounters or reminders I have experienced here in the last couple months...

Alice? or Alicia?

So here I thought I was traveling to a country where for the first time in my life, I wouldn't have to say at introductions, "No, it's not AleeSHA, it's actually Al-ee SEE-ah."  My name is Spanish for crying out loud! Of course Mexicans will call me Alicia, no problem!

Not so.

I had noticed that some people in my family, including the adorable little Angelina, who is one of my besties here, called me "Alice" a lot.  I thought, well, ok, right, to shorten Alicia...that makes sense.  Then I noticed that when I would meet kids and introduce myself, one of their first questions is always, "My name is Lupita, How do you say THAT in English??" They always want to know the English version of their names!  This is just to say that it is a well known fact here that some names, like Juan, Andres, and Pedro, have English language equivalents.  Well, add to that list, Alicia. The other thing I hear from kids when I introduce myself is, "Oh, like, Alicia en el pais de las maravillas!!" Like Alice in Wonderland!  Well, I put two and two together.  I'm not Alice to many because it's shorter, I'm Alice because they think that's my name, and Alicia is surely just what I'm calling myself in Mexico.
Me and my little bestie Angie hanging out. Typical thing to hear when I see her, "Alice Alice! Podemos jugar??"

The icing on the cake came the other day when I was talking to an adult friend of the family.  He was saying that, in many cases, he really likes the English pronunciation of the Spanish name better than the Spanish name! After listing a few names, his face lights up as he says, "Or like your name! Alicia...it is alright in Spanish I suppose..but Alice...that's really beautiful."

I didn't have the heart to tell him my real, live, actual, universal, not-just-here-in -Mexico name is Alicia.  Gotta love the irony....

Learning to cook...FAIL

When we have monthly volunteer meetings, we're all supposed to bring something to share.  Thus far, it's been a bit of a tradition to have guacamole, since everyone is obsessed with it (maybe not as obsessed as I am, but still).  Well for our October meeting at our coordinator Andrea's house, I decided I would be the one to uphold the tradition and bring the guac.  I was so excited because I had asked my host mom Socorro if she could help me make it, and show me the secrets of the absolutely fabulous guac that she makes.  

The day of the meeting arrived, and it turns out, Socorro helping me to make guacamole turned out more like, "Alicia, um, you can grab me a spoon...um, let's see, you can take the avacados out of their bag if you want."  The most important job I got was to juice two limes.  I couldn't even do that properly because for a while I couldn't understand what she was saying (note to self, exprimir = squeeze, juice something).  My moment to prove myself competent, and I failed.  At least I ended up with the most delicious guacamole EVER for our meeting!
The group at the October meeting/halloween party...about to enjoy the great food everyone brought!

Round two of cooking lessons came just the other day.  Socorro decided that she was going to explain to me how to make Mole Verde.  There were two bags of green powder sitting on the counter, and she had me try some from one bag, to show me what the seed tastes like, the seed that is essential for the mole.  In a pot she began stirring in the powder from one bag, then the other, all the while explaining things about consistency, color, etc.  Finally came time to try it...the face she made was priceless, and not in a good way.  She immediately took the pot to her daughter Liliana, saying something about how it tasted all wrong. Liliana tried it and made the same face...was the mole seed/powder old? What was the problem?? After some debate, the solution was found...one bag had indeed been the mole seed.  The other? Oregano. Oops! I tried it and put out the feeble suggestion of putting it with pasta....but well, a LOT of oregano was in there. 20 pesos gone.  This is still something we laugh over though...the first (and thus far only) time Socorro taught me how to make something, and we ended up with oregano soup.  


Our kitchen where the "lesson" took place.  A lot of magic happens here that's for sure

The other side of the kitchen.  Much of my home life is sitting at that table

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

One month in...

"Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free. More like the man you were made to be"


I've been listening to a lot of Mumford and Sons lately, what with their new album out, and these words just kind of seemed like an inspiring way to start a blog post. Plus I just listened to that song :)

I can't believe it's been a month since I arrived in Tepoztlan! A lot has happened since my last post, including Mexican Independence Day, Karaoke night with the other volunteers and our new Mexican friend Mariana, the start of my work, joining a celtic music group, and some interesting encounters with a dead cockroach under my bed, a live large spider on my wall, and a scorpion that Herme (a 17 year old boy that lives with us and is just like family) kindly brought into my room to show me. Yea, he definitely got a kick out of watching me squirm at that! I figured I'd break it down by topic!  (See the "Picture" section for some photos of these events! Well, not the bug stuff...but the other stuff. )
I figured I'd break it down by topic!

Acostumbrandome: 

I've come a long ways in terms of getting familiar with not only my surroundings but with the rhythm of my family.  I walk around the streets of Tepoztlan and I realize 'hey, I actually know where I'm going! I can even hop on a bus and get to a number of different neighborhoods!' (The bus part I am especially proud of considering that there is no such thing as a bus schedule, at times close to 20 people fit into a bus that is roughly the size of a 15 passenger van, and there really are no designated stops or routes).  Little by little I add more to family meal-time conversations, and am more and more able to laugh with my family instead of suspecting that they're really laughing at me for some nonsensical thing I said, or for responding in the incorrect way because I didn't understand.  People on the street are even starting to recognize me and understand that I'm not just a tourist passing by (Tepoztlan gets mannnnnny of those).  This was indicated to me by the way that the man that is always standing in front of one of the restaurants on the main street has finally stopped trying to shove their menu into my hands every time I walk by.  
One of my proudest moments though happened about a week ago as I passed by the tortilleria that my family always goes to to buy their tortillas (this happens at least once, if not twice every day, one or two dozen tortillas each time).  I have gone with a couple times to buy the tortillas, and as it is right by my house, I pass by there frequently.  I've noticed that when people on the street see someone they know, instead of saying 'Hello!' they say 'Adios!'  I was intrigued by this, but for a long time, I kept saying "hola" just because it is so ingrained in me to say "hello" to those you know.  This particular day however, I was walking by, and out same "Adios!" Everyone in the shop looked up, smiled and called back "Adios!"  Maybe kinda a silly thing, but as I walked the rest of the way home, I felt such a sense of pride and satisfaction.  Like when something just clicks and you feel content with yourself and your surroundings. What a good moment.     

Puedo acompanarte?:

The word "accompany" is one that was thrown around a lot in orientation, as it is basically the backbone of what ELCA global mission is all about.  That its missionaries would go out into the world and accompany those in the community that they are part of.  It is something that involves being in solidarity, and a mutual sharing of ideas with those in the community.  This word though, accompany, is an interesting one, because I probably heard it more in that orientation week than I had in my whole life.  Basically, it's not a super common word in English.  However, I hear it all the time here!  Just think of all the times you use, "I'll go with you" or "can I go with you" and in all those instances, they use the the literal phrase, "I will accompany you."  

It seems to me that Mexican culture in general better fits into the ELCA missionary model of accompaniment, and the idea of simply "being" with people, rather than always doing something with them.  My nights are consistently spent sitting in the small store in the front of my house that Socorro's daughter Liliana runs.  The neighbors will stop by, chat a while, and go on their way, other times other family that lives close will stop in and pull up chairs to chat. Coke will be bought, glasses passed around, as it is the season of corn on the cob, often we'll eat that, and for hours everyone will just sit, chatting about nothing in particular, greeting those that walk by.  Can you imagine something like that occurring on a nightly basis in the the US? Another example is that sometimes I don't have to go into work during the day.  I'm learning a lot of lessons in how to just BE in these moments when I'm home during the day.  When I find myself starting to panic about not having something to DO, I head downstairs, where usually 3 year old Angelina is more than happy to give me something to do.  So far we've danced a lot to the song "Dragostea din Tei," colored, played kitchen, and many games of loteria (Bingo).  Maybe not exactly up to the American standard of good productivity, but you know, I'm ok with that!  I'm learning to be ok with BEING.       

Mi trabajo!:

Well, after all that about the important lessons in Being, it does seem important to mention the flip side of that, what I've been Doing with my organization, La Jugarreta!  As I mentioned, I didn't get to do a site visit because I was sick, so my first encounter with work was a staff meeting.  The meeting was about 3 hours long, with a break in the middle during which we made and ate quesadillas. Definitely very different than any staff meeting I'd ever been to before!  La Jugarreta's mission is essentially to provide spaces for children and youth in the various communities of Tepoztlan to be active participants in their communities.  A lot of times, this simply involves allowing the children to gather on a regular basis and play and talk, and have their voices be heard about what they think of their own communities.  At any one time the 4 employees are involved in what seems like at least 10 different things, either directly related to La Jugarreta, or  in partnership with other non-profit organizations.  The project that I have been most involved in though has been helping to set up, and now helping to give, workshops in all the secondary schools in the area.  The workshops focus on team building, and the prevention of peer violence/bullying as well as what the role of teachers and parents is in all of this.  I did my first workshop on Monday with two other "facilitadores."  We did a teambuilding activity where teams of kids had to "cross the crocodile infested river" using the stones (pieces of paper) they were given.    Definitely brought me back to my camp counselor days where this activity was a standard!  It was really cool for me to do this activity in such a different context, and yet hear the same answers, some quite insightful, from the students when they were given time to reflect.  I'm super excited to continue with this workshop because with one particularly squirrely group, when asked if they ever work in groups, they said no.  I thought back on all my group projects of the past, and while sometimes dreaded, how much they taught me how to work with others, about compromise, and collaboration.  I think it will be exciting to introduce to the students, some for the first time, the idea of working together for a common goal, and how that can be manifested not only in school, but in life in general.

A bit unrelated, but a great story nonetheless, and one of my favorite moments thus far a work, happened a couple days ago.  Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday there's a kids club sort of meeting for children in three different neighborhoods.  On the one on Monday, some kids were playing a board game.  I had met them before, but hadn't seem them for 2 weeks.  I picked up the game, and read the box outloud, which was in English.  One of the boys looked up in surprise and said, "Hablas ingles???"  I was SO flattered! What a nice change from the usual, "So, do you speak any Spanish?"

And last, but farthest from the least...

For all those that generously gave financially/are giving financially in support of the work I am doing here in Mexico, and are reading this blog, and sending prayers/good vibes and thoughts my way, I want to say THANK YOU!!!  I am reminded every day how this year would not have happened if it wasn't for the support in all its forms that I have received.

Additionally, for those of you that graciously picked a special day to support me, I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOU!!   I've been bad about getting it up on here on the exact day, and I apologize for that, but I have them written down, and I have been praying for you and thinking of you on your day!  I would like to recognize the following people for their support of me on the following days:

MARGE SALSTROM--August 1st
LISA VANNELLI--September 9th, in honor of Christian Rykken's birthday.  Happy Birthday Christian!
LISA VANNELLI--September 21st, in honor of her birthday.  Happy Birthday Lisa!     

      


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Highlights, Lowlights, and Flashlights

Hello Everyone!  The first blog post from Mexico! Por Fin!  Don't worry, I'll keep it interesting with some pictures:)


I am so happy to say that after months of application processes, discerning, packing, and journeying, I have finally arrived safely in Mexico, and am here with my host family!  We had a lovely orientation in Chicago, during which all the YAGMs stayed together at the University of Chicago and attended sessions on Globalization, why we should wear sunglasses when we walk around a city for the first time, and just about everything in between.  These sessions were excellent ways to not only unite us socially as a group of YAGM volunteers, but also to unite us mentally and spiritually.  They prepared us not only for some of the cultural differences we might encounter,but also got us to think deeper about what it means to be a U.S. volunteer, coming into a new culture and being in relationship with the people of your new community.  The Chicago orientation was definitely a highlight.

That's Barack Obama's house behind there! Heavily guarded and quite hidden...
Doing touristy things in Chi Town...like being goofy by the Bean!
Our arrival into Mexico was blessedly uneventful, and everything went very smoothly...even eerily so....
Hopefully this is a trend though that keeps up!  We did the first half of our in country orientation at a convent in Cuernavaca where we were met by Andrea's (Mexico's country coordinator) husband and adorable daughter Olivia, as well as by the Sisters.  The welcome we received was so gracious and hospitable and created a tone of openness and comfort for the next few days.  Our safe, uneventful journey along with our days at the convent, were also a highlight.

Centro Guadalupe, the convent we were orientated at :)
One of the little units where our rooms were
 After the first few days, I arrived at my host family's house in Tepoztlan, where I would stay and commute to Cuernavaca every day to take a week of Spanish classes.  My house is really like a whole apartment complex with about 4 buildings surrounding a huge courtyard.  I am the 12th person I believe in the "house" so naturally there are always people coming and going, and lots of family fiestas to attend!  Some highlights with the family so far have included:
Bonding moments with my host sister, Dariana, who is 12, listening to music, talking about Twilight, going to a Zumba class laughing at our lack of booty-shaking skills, or the time she took me up to this hidden little waterfall in the mountains (she said it was "cerca"...ha. Well an hour and a half later, with dirt on our shoes, and the sweat dripping we did finally make it back from the waterfall. I guess our ideas of "cerca" are a little different...) 
There's definitely still a period of a adjustment that's going on with the family, but for the most part I feel very included and accepted into the family.  This feeling was reinforced when, at a party, some people were asking my host mother, Doña Socorro, how long I would be here, what I would be doing etc.  When she replied that I would be here for a year, they seemed surprised that it would be so long.  She responded by saying, "Si, por un año, es mi hija".  Yes, for one year, she is my daughter. :)
    
View from my roof
My room!

After a week of language class and living with our families came another week at the convent all together for our final week of orientation.  The purpose, two-fold.  One, allow everyone to tell their stories, get to know where everyone is coming from. Two, visit everyone's work sites.  Seeing everyone's worksites and getting to know what each volunteer would be doing, and seeing how excited each organization was to receive their volunteer was so uplifting!  But alas, here's where the lowlight comes in I'm afraid...
Since two volunteers live and work and Tepoztlan (myself and Casey), Wednesday was going to be Tepoz day, where we would all visit both of our worksites.  Well around 4:30am on Wednesday, it became quite clear that this wasn't going to work out so well for me, as I realized that some nasty thing had lodged itself in my intestines and I spent a good part of the morning in the bathroom or curled up in bed.  Definite lowlight. But don't worry, I won't put up any pictures : p  This meant that my site visit was cancelled, which was too bad, but I will find out allll about my work very soon as I will be officially starting my time at La Jugarreta tomorrow!!! Hooray!

As for flashlights....

By Friday I was feeling much better, which was lucky because the 7th and 8th of September are big festival days in Tepoztlan.  The festival celebrates the life, and specifically the conversion to Catholicism, of Tepozteco, the legendary founder of Tepoztlan, and for whom there is a pyramid built high on one of the nearby mountains (I can see it from my window!).  The fiesta includes reenactments of his baptism and conversion, a parade, and general merriment.  However for me, the highlight of the festival was the tradition where people climb up the mountain on the night of the 7th.  The 7th of September is the only day of the year that the hike is open at night, and the pyramid is all lit up.  Well myself and some YAGM friends decided we wanted to be part of this grand tradition so we donned our tennis shoes, grabbed some water and headed out.  Wow were we in for an adventure!  We were joined but what seemed like thousands of Mexicans, climbing up the mountain pass, single file, with only our little lamparas, our little flashlights, to guide us.  As it turned out, the flashlights were a completely necessary part of this venture.  Our collective earlier thoughts of, "why are they making us BUY stupid little flashlights! After all, we have lights on our phones, and 3 flashlights for our group of 6!" quite quickly turned to thankfulness for the intimidating policia at the entrance that had made us buy the flashlights, when it became apparent that that little light was our little lifeline.  As I reflect on this, all sorts of metaphors for my/our year in Mexico come to mind, but I'll leave it to you to come up with your own metaphor for this whole situation.  I will say though that I won't forget the image of looking up into inky blackness, and all you can see is this thin snaking line of light stretching up high in front of you...

The Monks--part of the parade

More of the parade

Tepozteco himself!

Our whole climbing group amongst the craziness at the lit up pyramid

Happy to have made it to the top! Overlooking Tepoz below