El primer mes real

23 12 2010

I write this a couple days before Christmas, having just had another busy month- settling into work, my apartment etc… and again, not much time to blog… But I’ve realized so many times during the past weeks just how happy I am to be here doing this! I know I’ve barely begun, but it is so cool and different here, and there are so many new things to learn about. I also somehow feel like I really have the potential to make an impact. I was sitting in a meeting the other day about market entry strategies thinking that I used to do this sort of thing back in the states, and I had become so uninterested in it, although I find the subject pretty cool. But here, it just strikes me that people can really use my help and it seems a much more useful a place for me to be right now, than working with some Fortune500 type company which can find tons of smart consultants in the states. I’m sure I will have more to say about all this in the future, and while it is hard to be far away from home, family and friends during the holiday season, suffice it to say I am feeling really good about being here.

First of all, below are a few photos from our last few days of training and swearing-in (sorry it took so long Mom…) While I think we were all excited to get started in our sites and projects, it was also emotional saying goodbye to so many good new friends. We had spent so much time together the last 3 months of training, it was hard to believe that we were really saying goodbye. But as I have learned over the last month, PC is really very different than training. I have had a few chances to reconnect with some PCVs in the last month and I really look forward to seeing my fellow classmates at our reconnect in a couple months.

I’ve made a bunch of new friends here in town, and feeling like I’m getting into a good rhythm with a good crew. Where to begin… for one, I found a new band that I’m playing with! They are a really good group- been together for several years and have a few records. Interesting, they actually have 2 names: one is Atletas Camposinos, which is the name they use for ska stuff- and it more or less means Country Athletes. The other is Leones Negros, which was a side project that got bigger- its the name they’ve used for their reggae stuff and it means Black Lions. They’re a nice bunch of guys and very good musicians with a lot of experience. I hooked up with them in a really bizarre way: along with PCV Sarah I was asked to help judge the final student presentations for an engineering/industrial design class at the main university here in Qro. I was chatting with one of the student team leaders during a break and he tells me that in addition to studying industrial design, he’s also a musician.. in a ska and reggae band. And of course the rest is history- just proves how you never know who you might meet or how you might meet them.

I’ve also discovered a pretty snazzy cafe here in town called Sumeria. Its just opened and is owned by an American woman who’s trying to get an international vibe going, with language classes (in both English and Spanish), and a free lending library among things. And the coffee and food are freaking awesome. Like really surprisingly good. I’ve become an especially big fan of Ana’s mamey/banana smoothie. They also have an awesome roof deck. Something tells me I may be playing some tunes up there in the not-too-distant future… Its already attracting an interesting crowd of Americans, Germans, Canadians, and others. And Mexicans who speak English. So its a comfortable place to hang out and meet new people, but not the best place to practice Spanish!

I also had my first party at the apartment, a couple weeks ago! I decided it was a combined housewarming and holiday party, and I wanted to figure out how many folks I could have over in the apartment at once. Without spilling into Senora Aguillar’s terrace (which they happened to be having a party on) I could do about 12-15. But its pretty tight. I had a great time and I think guests did too. While I invited a number of PC people, I was very happy to have a bunch of non-PC folks there, including new friends from around town. Next time (thinking Thomas Edison’s / Lincoln’s bdays in Feb will be a good excuse) I will plan a little further ahead so I am not chopping crudite after guests arrive and trying to chat at the same time (sorry Rob.)

For better or worse, I have also gotten back into my late night rhythm, at least on weekends. I have discovered on various occasions that Qro’s famous late night taco stand at the mercado, se llama Garibaldi’s (like the pizza in Brooklyn) actually closes at 4:30a. Once this past week I made it in time, once I did not. There is another late night place, called Taco Loco on Avenida Consituyentes, which I thought was 24hrs, but no, it was closed too when we wound up there the other night. But fortunately there is a little side street at an intersection near me where the taco / gringa stands stay open way past bedtime. I will not forget.

I also may have a lead on playing some classical music here in town. I saw an ad for a free concert by a brass quintet in the Jardin del Arte – yes that really is its name – and of course went. I chatted with Fidel, the tuba player, before their show about the scene here in Qro for folks like me. I’ll talk to him again soon. But the show was really impressive – they’ll all from the conservatory here in town and know what they’re doing. We’ll see what comes out of it.

I also managed to go out with a bunch of work folks- there were a lot of department comidas for Christmas, which were a good way to meet people outside of work. Also wound up going out one night over the weekend with a couple new work friends, who don’t speak much english. Despite the fact that I had really bad info and we were unable to get to the concerts I wanted to hit, we had a lot of fun- and it was probably a solid 7 hours of Spanish chat!

So that’s latest- after a last-minute change in plans, I’m going to head to Guadalajara – Mexico’s 2nd biggest city, after DF – for Xmas for a few days.  I am planning to see the Dyes and Rob (PCVs), an exPCV and some others. Then plan to host PCVs Arpan and Jill back here for a couple days too. And may make it up to their site, called Xichu, where there is some kind of indigenous Huapango battle of the bands over new years going on. Sounds pretty awesome- its a bit far tho, so I may or may not make it – since I may have a show on 12/30 with the new band, back up in the farm town of La Griega. We’ll see what unfolds but it should be an interesting couple weeks!

Que semana

25 11 2010

Wrote this last week actually, but it was a big week and finally getting decent internet at my place. Will write again soon… Happy Thanksgiving from Mexico! I’ll be joining a bunch of PCVs for dinner, and bringing an apple pie from a bakery downtown run by a guy from Maine!

For starters I write this having just eaten an omelette with salsa verde and queso chihuahua that I made here in my apartment! So lots of news, but I’ll start at the beginning.

For starters, this week was definitely one of those big transitions in PC I’ve heard about- among other things, of course, I became an official PC Volunteer! Wednesday was the swearing-in ceremony and it was actually really, how shall I say, satisfying, rewarding, completing, perhaps? There were a bunch of speakers, both PC people and representatives from the Mexican agencies we’ll be working with. Both Madhu and Betty from our group talked and gave really impressive speeches (at least what I could understand of Betty’s which was all in spanish.) I was very happy about the speeches, because I had talked to both of them when they were each on the fence a bit about speaking, about why I thought they would terrific people to represent our group. I like to think I had some small influence;)

Also, the #2 guy from the US Embassy in DF, John Feeley, spoke and gave an impressive talk also. He is clearly a diplomat and I have to say I was pretty happy that people like him are representing the US around the world. This is a guy who is quite charismatic and charming, and also very intelligent. Clearly could be making some bank in the States doing sales or something in business. But obviously committed to doing something different with his life.
I also moved into my new place! It was very sad leaving my host family, Julieta, Mariano, Mariano2, y Lalo, but I’m sure I will see them again soon. I must say I was quite delighted with how things worked out – they were really great and I’m sure I will stay in touch with them. I also have them to thank for hooking me up with Eugenio! I spent a lot of time (and money) the last few days getting things sorted out, and I think its in pretty good shape. I made 4 or 5 trips to the local super-grocery store, called Mega, and have now gotten most of what I need- dishes, glasses, basic cooking needs, and basic food. I also walked to the WalMart today (about 45 mins away) and was wildly whelmed. Not only did they have a crappy selection, things are much more expensive than in the states. The rumors about how disappointing it is are definitely true- I think they must assume they can get away with it because of some sense its ‘cool’ to shop in an American store. I doubt I’ll be going back. I also swung by the mall thats up that way- its really quite fancy, with prices to match. Not sure when/why I’ll be back- not exactly the PC style I don’t think.
Since getting the place set up, I’ve even made a couple meals – and had pal Sarah over for a last-minute dinner tonight- my first official dinner guest.
And tomorrow, I start my new job! After all the training and planning, its hard to believe its actually here. I’m a bit nervous, but I think it will be good. More to report soon – and with photos – soon.

Otro gran dia

10 11 2010

Encontre un departemento hoy! Y tambien, voy a estar un voluntario en Cuerpo de Paz manana!

The last few days have been big ones- got back from our great trip to DF, had our counterpart workshop yesterday and today, and tonight, the day before we swear-in as Peace Corps Volunteers, I finally found an apartment! Assuming it passes PC muster, I am good to go. Thanks to fellow PCT John who hooked me up- its a separate unit connected to his host family’s house.  I’m psyched to move in! More pics of DF etc to follow…


5 11 2010

It’s been a long time, and there’s lots to report on. First of all, I’m writing this in Mexico City!  After hearing so much about el DF (short for Distrito Federal) for the last three months, we finally made it back for a proper visit – the bus trip from the airport didn’t really count. We’re here for some meetings and sightseeing. And today was, in a sense, our final day of training – we met with a few people at the agency we’ll be working for – CONACYT – and gave brief introductions of ourselves, our backgrounds and our projects here, in spanish. Not super hard, but our trainers wanted to make sure we made a good impression. It’s amazing how far we’ve all come since our first presentations 3 months ago.

We also met with some Americans at the US trade mission today, and learned about what the US govt is doing (beyond PC of course) to help both Mexican and US companies. It was very eye-opening and I look forward to being in touch with some of the impressive folks we met.  They are really up to some important work, like trying to improve the transparency and general governance approach to business here, and for the first time, I could imagine potentially working in some capacity like that down the road. Fittingly I thought, it was at the US trade center which also houses the Biblioteca Benjamin Franklin!

Also, this weekend was Halloween and then Dia de Muertos, a really important holiday down here. DDM is actually quite amazing – a major tradition is to build altars for family members who have died. But it is far from a somber occasion – in addition to photos, candles, crosses and other symbols, the altars traditionally also have bottles of beer and tequila, cigarettes and even skulls. It is really an amazingly endearing combination of the heartfelt and the kitsch. These altars are built over a series of days and then shown off in homes, offices and public squares. Then on the day itself, many (if not most) families go to the cemetery where they clean the graves of their loved ones, and spend the day eating meals, enjoying mariachi bands, and generally remembering their loved ones. I have never ever seen so much going on in a cemetery, with children, older people, musicians and vendors everywhere. It seemed like an amazingly appropriate way to put cemeteries to good use and to really reminisce about one’s loved ones, and I wonder why more cultures (like ours) don’t do something like it!

Other big news is that I had my first show with this new band I’m in! I met Eugenio and the other guys through Ana, my tia anfitriona – my host aunt really, since she’s the sister of my host mom, Julieta. It all started with an invitation to go to a quince anos fiesta out in a pueblito called Tlacote. I told Ana that I played trombone and had been in a ska band in NYC. She told me about her friend Eugenio, who plays trumpet in a couple ska bands here! This was all in spanish of course. Later that week Eugenio and I got together, played a little bit, and he invited me to practice with his new band, called Raskason. They’ve only been at it a couple months, but already had a show scheduled for the Fri before Halloween. The show itself was hilarious- we all dressed up as clowns (the scary kind) and drove about an hour to this little farm town called La Griega. The show was in a barn and there were at least a couple hundred kids there. Except for the cows which were outside next to the banos, it was pretty much just like a ska show in the city- a bunch of bands, beer and of course skanking. And of course, other than a couple words here and there, everyone spoke entirely in spanish.  Good practice, and quite a cultural immersion!

And the other weekend, a few of us (trainees and PCVs) met in a city nearby called Guanajuato, which I had heard a lot about. We went for a big international arts and music festival in memory of Cervantes, called the Cervantino festival. It was absolutely amazing. The town itself is incredible – an old city that feels almost medieval, it has narrow winding streets, houses that climb the surrounding hills, and tunnels underneath where a series of rivers used to flow when the city was a hub of silver mining. It almost feels like a real-life Disneyland, and fittingly was extremely touristy! We saw shows, hung out in plazas among the thousands of other visitors, ate street meat, played some pool and generally had a terrific time.

Of course the last month hasn’t been all fun and travel- we have had lots of training – mostly Spanish – and some interesting trips and info regarding our future work and sites. But there has also been time to have fun with fellow trainees during Monday Night Football and on weekends. It’s hard to believe training is coming to end: we swear-in as volunteers this coming Wednesday, and then we will be actually be in the Peace Corps! Training has been a lot of long days, homework, and some frustrations, but I am quite delighted to be doing this – after all we have seen and learned about the challenges and opportunities here in Mexico, I am quite convinced that it’s really where I should be and what I should be doing now.

The X Factor of Economics – NYTimes.com

25 10 2010

Not about Mexico (another update coming soon) but my kind of thinking about econ:

The X Factor of Economics – People – NYTimes.com.

La fin de semana pasada

6 10 2010

Aqui son los fotos que describi. Some interesting ones of the desfile in San Miguel. Unfortunately since my camera isn’t waterproof, I didn’t risk taking any at the hot springs but maybe I can steal some from others…

Situation at home is still working out well. Big day tomorrow when I visit CIATEQ, the research center here in Qro that I will be working at for the next 2 years. I’ve heard lots of good things about it and hoping they’re true!

Un dia grande

4 10 2010

Had a big day Friday- moved houses and finally got my phone working! My new familia anfitriona is really cool and I can already tell I’m going to learn a lot more Spanish practicing with them. It was sad, because my old host family was really nice, but I just wasn’t getting much practice talking with them. I’ve already spoken more Spanish with Julieta and Mariano in my first weekend here than I think I ever did with Esther, Alejandro and Roberto. It was a bit sad but for the best.
Also had a terrific day today visiting San Miguel de Allende- not because its such a great town (the rumors are true: its extremely touristy and filled with gringos) but because there was a fun festejo going on, and because we visited some aguas termales nearby! Super relaxing hanging out in the hot springs… I’ll get some pics of it all up soon!

Un cumpleano divertido

26 09 2010

Another fun week down here- first of all, last weekend, a few of us went to a town nearby called Bernal, which seems to be notable for 2 things: it is a cute, sort of touristy town with interesting shops etc. It is also dominated by an enormous monolith, not unlike Devils Tower! It is really dramatic. We did the relatively easy hike to the base of the rock, although since it was a bit rainy, the clay/sandstone was pretty slippery. To go any further, you need to be ready for some serious technical climbing – ropes, carabiners etc. There were some climbers there and the practically vertical face looked like a pretty serious project to me.  Some people we saw on the trail took it all quite a bit less seriously, and were literally just wearing slippers or heels!

Afterwards, we went to a place I was really excited to check out – a Freixenet vineyard! Before getting down here, I hadn’t known Freixenet did anything outside of Spain, and I was shocked to find they’re actually really close to Qro! Given that Freixenet is pretty much my go-to cava in the states, I was pretty excited. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) they don’t do cordon negro here- only a few other lower brands that I hadn’t heard of. But it was still a really cool place to visit. We took a tour of the cave (in spanish) and then bought a few bottles, some cheese and chilled out and listened to the mariachi band. Would have been even better if it hadn’t been raining, but it was still a lot of fun! Will definitely have to go back.
And Monday was my birthday! Since we all get together first thing Mon mornings for general weekly announcements, our training manager Regina led a rendition of Happy Birthday in spanish and english. I was very touched by the card that Brian and Kelly gave me, signed by a lot of fellow trainees and staff. Then that night, a bunch of us went to College Bar for some post class drinks and of course Mon Night Football. I had been discussing my love of pudding w/fellow southerner Blake not long ago and she actually created a banana/chocolate pudding/vanilla wafer concoction for everyone to share for the occasion, in true southern style. Surprisingly, given the popularity of jello down here, pudding is hard to find, and I think the waitstaff was a little confused, but we all enjoyed it. She and Caitlin also baked some cookies which were delish. Later that night, Christian, Anne, Becca and I went to a nearby bar (one of 2 unrelated Selva Taurinas in Qro) and hung out with the owner and ‘enjoyed’ the house specialty: mezcal, not soaking with the traditional worm, but with a 4 foot rattlesnake! Quite a birthday and I even felt fine the next day!

Viva Mexico!

19 09 2010

Another busy couple weeks down here… lots of stuff going on in Qro for the bicentenario. Its really pretty incredible that we happened to be here for it! We saw some incredible traditional dancers – los concheros, I think – by the Templo de la Cruz. And the first of a couple days of pretty insane fireworks. Mexicans seem to love their juegos pirotechnicos- even more than Americans!Attached are a couple pics but I don’t think they do them justice. At the templo, there was this big tower that was loaded with fireworks on all sides, and a dude climbed up it to light the different bits off. Lots of spinning contraptions- which would spin flaming bits into the crowd. But all in good fun. The climax was when the top thing spun around and finally launched itself about 100 feet up! And then of course it fell into the crowd too.  We have way too many liability lawyers in the states to allow such fun to occur there. And on the bicentenario itself, there were of course much bigger fireworks. A bunch of us were at the Plaza des Armas which is where the traditional ‘grito’ takes place. El Grito is an annual tradition in every big town in Mexico- where the alcalde, or mayor, repeats the historic shout that Father Hidalgo made during the fight for independence. Its something like ‘Viva independencia! Vive libertad! Vive Mexico!’ Now they also mention a few historic people: Viva Allende! Vive Hidalgo etc. And then the crazy fireworks go off- like right over the crowd!

Overall the festivities were really, really cool, muy chido. Also, got to meet a bunch of PCVs who were in town for Country Director Byron’s ‘retirement’ party and passing thru on their way to Mexico DF. One thing that a couple of you have asked about is security. I guess its not surprising but it seems the US media is only interested in the border area. Down here in Qro (and in most of the country I’m told) security is just not a big issue. The border is very far away… there are cops around, fewer than NYC but to me it feels at least as safe.

I also managed to get to lucho libre. Not that I’m an expert, but it seemed like the farm team for the WWF. And just as cheesy. It was at the Qro Arena, which looked like high school gym built in the 70s. Except between the cheap seats (~US$6) and the VIP seats (~US$12) there was barbed wire! We sat in the cheap seats.

Also went with a bunch of fellow PCTs and watched the Chiefs spank the Chargers last Monday night- American football is somewhat popular down here. Finally, we finished up our trip to Puebla last weekend, which was a lot of fun. I’ll try to get some more pics from there up, but here’s a batch from the last week or so…

Una fiesta muy ruida

12 09 2010

I’m writing this at about 1:30 am because there’s salsa music blaring from the church next door. Supposedly its some festival. Probably has something to do with the bicentenario too, which people are really excited about here- its next Thursday!
Its been a busy couple weeks since the last post so I’m going to break this into 2 posts.
I’ll let the pics do most of the talking but here are some highlights from the rest of the viaje last week:
– we finished our sector trip with a visit to San Luis Potosi, a good sized city about 4 hours from Qro where we visited a polytechnic university that’s only 10 years old but is very impressive and is already becoming a big draw for science students around the country.

– I visited some touristic highlights in Qro last weekend, both for our ‘rallye’- sort of a scavenger hunt around Qro- and cruising around on Sun trying to check off items for our ‘passaporte cultural’, a collection of about 30 things we’re encouraged to experience- its all kinds of things, like going to a soccer match, a bullfight (yes they have them in Qro), a lucho libre wrestling match (I think I’m going to one tomorrow!), seeing a local play, attending a quincineria party etc. We’re supposed to check off about 2/3 of the list and I think its a good way to make sure we’re getting out and experiencing things.

– celebrated fellow PCT Jason’s birthday at a sports bar that is pretty much a dead ringer for an American Applebees or something. Its imaginatively named ‘College Bar.’ I was planning on having my own cumpleanos in a couple weeks somewhere a bit cooler, so I hate to say I think I’ll do it there after all: they have some serious birthday specials, which is nice for poor PC trainees like us.

Captions coming soon…