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.

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