Thursday, September 30, 2010

Has Oaxaca turned me into a morning person?

My 30 minute commute to work in the morning first dueled as exercise and companionship for my host mom, Evila, then some solo walking observation time, then car rides with my host dad, Samuel, complaining about the abnormally lengthy rainy season, and most recently have converted to 15 minute bike rides. That's right, I'm the proud owner of a magenta mountain/rode bike covered in "Mundo Ceiba" stickers. Mundo Ceiba is the equivalent of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, except it is literally ONE person (Ruben). What work he has set out for him! Running a non profit promoting bicycle awareness in a driving culture with no respect for pedestrians, let alone cyclists.

And since the rains have stopped the last few days, Oaxaca has now welcomed me with sunny mornings, a chorus of barking dogs and those trucks that inch by with loudspeakers. They wake me up and say "Teresa, it's time to descend that metal spiral staircase outside, eat some beans and tortillas at the kitchen table, tell Evila about the weird dreams you had, and hop on your new magenta bike!"

After I zig zag my way through the neighborhood I arrive at Calle Abasolo which directs me straight down to the city center. On my right I pass on old cemetery that Samuel claims he doesn't like to drive by after dusk. Above the main gate, the phrase "La Eternidad Empieza Aqui" (Eternity Starts Here)is painted in black. Sometimes, old women sell flowers outside for visitors. Calla lilies are in season here, just like the ones in the Diego Rivera murals.

I always slow down and observe the mornings by the cemetery: the family member(s) entering with their fresh bouquets, so lively and colorful but in remembrance of such a somber occasion. I think about how people buy flowers for life and death and every thing in between. There is always a brown rusty bicycle locked up to a tree near the cemetery gate and I wonder if in my morning routine, I cross someone else's. Or maybe it's been neglected for a couple weeks, who knows.

Two blocks later, I pass my friend Maria's house on the right, always with an urge to ring her doorbell. But because of my somewhat ridiculous haste coupled with the fact that she doesn't even have a doorbell to ring, I have yet to do so. Another two blocks later the roads change- a sign that I've arrived closer to the center. Instead of uneven pavement, I'm crossing cobbled-like streets.

I'm awake now! If it wasn't the "exercise," it was the honking, the car exhausts, or the careful maneuvering of the uneven pathway below and traffic to the left. Soon I'll pass an old church with pastel yellow steeples, burnt red trim, and faintly sea foam green colored rocks, covered in old age and pollution- perfected with time, like my Spanish (NOT!!). Across is a long plaza with little booths being prepared for the day's market.

I've smelled the tamale stands, noticed the navy uniforms and passed by the students drinking their morning juice from a straw in a plastic bag, and now the hill up Calle Porfirio Diaz become my day's first challenge.

(This is when living in San Francisco comes in handy.)

And as I triumphantly shift gears and arrive to the top, there's an old Mexican man there with a smile to say "que dura que eres!"

I'll miss these bike rides when I move into a place of my own next week closer to work. But they've taught me an important lesson. Rather, they have REMINDED me, because I think everyone realizes this: mornings are so beautiful!

Maybe this realization has affected me physiologically. I've been getting up without an alarm which if you know me well means I'm either going to bed at 8 or have (finally) carved out for myself a normal sleeping pattern. (!!!!)

Either way, I think Oaxaca is starting to turn me into a morning person. I've already made plans to go to yoga on Saturday at 10 for the second weekend in a row. Will I ever return to the days of waking up just in time for a late lunch? (I think it's a definite possibility).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yes, they eat tamales for breakfast

Greetings readers, all-knowing and always tracking Google, and my future self who will one day (or tomorrow) nostalgically read this first entry! Today marks day seven. That's right, my one week anniversary of starting my new life in Oaxaca, Mexico. But Mexico!? Teresa, it's full of gangs and drug lords and uncertainty and ultimate kidnapping and death! Well friends, I hate to be the bearer of news that might not coincide with news you read (what a thought!) but there's not much of that here in Oaxaca. First a little geography lesson. Oaxaca is one of 31 states in Mexico, in the south- bordering the southern most state of Chiapas.
Most of what you read in the news happens up near the border in the north. And most of the violence has to do with people involved in drug trafficking. No doubt, it is a serious threat, but Oaxaca hasn't been affected by all that. I think I read that over 70% of Oaxaca's economy comes from tourism. A lot of people come to the city for the food, museums, arts, and surrounding archeological sites (both Mexicans and international tourists).
Second: to repeat, they do eat tamales for breakfast. If you don't know what tamales are, I'm sorry. Oaxaca is known as the culinary capital of Mexico, so I thought it only appropriate this blog had some homage to the glory of the city- its food and libations. Enchiladas, tacos, tlayudas, tamales, "moles" (which are sauces put on chicken or tacos, etc), anything with corn, Oaxacan cheese and chocolate, and never, ever a lack of tortillas. And the juices! Oh the fresh fruit juices! Last Friday I had a mango papaya juice from a market near work that cost me 15 pesos (a little over a dollar) and was made by a woman named Lupita who works at the stand with her husband "Jerry." He asked me "amiga, where are you from" and shook my hand.
If only Big Gulps in the states were filled with freshly pealed apples and pears thrown in a blender with water or milk to your liking, then served with a friendly smile of a local laughing at trying to guess your ethnicity (Must admit, there is some odd satisfaction in being asked if I'm Uruguayan) I mention food and beverage not only because they are what Oaxaca is most famous for (arguably), but also because I'm quickly beginning to associate my time here with my senses. The smells: the tamale stands on my morning walk to work. The meats and cheeses being prepared at the small mom and pop restaurants by my office. The coffee I make in the mornings. And the sounds: the pick up trucks that mosey through the neighborhoods with their loudspeakers selling who-knows-what. The markets on the weekends, busy with beautifully wrinkling ladies sitting gracefully with their long, dark braids and selling their flowers or clay pots or magazines with Justin Bieber on the cover.The sights: the daily menus written in chalk, always displayed out front. The juice stands with vats of I don't know what. The men sitting in plazas with cases of lollipops for sale. And the tastes!! Oaxaca you taste so "rico". And your food is a flavorful representation of your spicy atmosphere that houses your 250,000 inhabitants.

I don't have a digital camera, but I probably should work on that. The city is very picturesque. Every other shop or home or building is a different color. There is beauty in the dilapidation of the churches and the streets. There is familiarity in the painted brick- advertising the census thatjust passed in Mexico. (Did you fill out YOUR 2010 Census questionnaire?) There is a vibrancy in the Zocalo, or main plaza and the red and green Christmas lights that dangle through the downtown streets lighting up the nights that wait for more rain. There is a sadness in the young children that sell little gadgets and candies as they look up at you with their exotic eyes and tiny bodies before they run back to their moms.There is an aggravating normalcy to the dogs barking at night and that same truck with the loud speaker that drives by again in the evening.

On the weekends I here mariachi music coming from the neighbor's house. A birthday party, I'm told. I have arrived to a new place and it is apparent in everything I hear, I consume, I say, I learn.

Oaxaca, I may be a gringa, a guera, a "white girl" from California- but I'm here to stay and I like you. So allow me to drink your agua de jamaica for lunch and ride my bike through your puddles and potholes while you teach me to live more simply, speak less like an Argentine, and satisfy my love of chiles and avocados.