Viajando, trabajando, capacitacion, etc

19 04 2011

Another busy month, I wish it hadn’t been so long since I’m finally sitting down to write a bit! But things still going well down here. Some progress with the job, more on that in a minute. But have been pretty busy, until last weekend, I was away every weekend the previous month. First, visited Pachuca and El Chico national park, where a few vols live, and as it happened, a bunch more were visiting for the weekend. So we had kind of a camping weekend, courtesy of Lindsey, Becca, and Mindy. We stayed in some cabins up in the park, did some hiking, had a campfire, smores, the whole bit. And oh yeah some wine and a beer or two. Actually, along with PCV Debbie I discovered my new favorite beer in Mexico- Jaguar, made up in state of Hidalgo I believe. They call it a pale ale and it really is- not quite as hoppy as an IPA but damn good. Especially compared to the alternatives down here. Other than getting sick as a dog on the tail end of the trip it was really a lot of fun and great to also see Jai-Jean and Ana, Cole and Jason.

And then Puerta Vallarta. Hard to describe that weekend. Just terrific. Chason came down with Andrea and were staying at his parent’s place there for a week, and he invited me to come out. I was only able to spend 3 days there but was well worth the 11 hours it takes to get there! I took an overnight bus Fri night which arrived early Sat morning, which was surprisingly pleasant. I sprung for the ETN bus, which is a step above my usual Primera Plus- ETN has wifi and most important, only 3 seats per row and only 8 rows. So the seats really recline and you get a lot more space than on the other buses down here. So I managed to sleep most of the trip and when I rolled into PV Sat a.m, I was pretty well rested. Then spent the next few days with Chason, his folks and Andrea, in their condo that is really nothing short of breathtaking. Just a beautiful 2 story penthouse with huge windows, its own roof deck and private pool. I’ve stayed in nice places before, but especially in my current life as a PCV, it was just bomb. We hung out by the pool, ate, played poker, hit the beach etc. A great weekend with some great friends from back home.

The following weekend, did a quick band trip down to Toluca, a small town near DF for a reggae festival. The van broke down on the way but amazingly, some dude stopped and after about an hour, managed to get us back on the road. We set up and played in a pretty cool amphitheater type place, which included cows in a paddock behind the stage. Who knows if they were reggae fans, not surprisingly they seemed pretty oblivious to the whole thing. But it was a fun crowd and show.

That same weekend I went up to Leon with Charlie and Juliet, some PCVs here in Qro. Let’s just say its reputation as Mexico’s leather capital is well-earned. In a couple of malls right near the bus station there is an interesting collection of little leather shops and stalls. Everything from $500 cowboy boots to $10 Puma knockoffs. Leon has historically been the center of Mexico’s shoe industry – people down here are worried about what happens when the final tariffs on Chinese shoes are dropped, I think next year. It’s probably not going to be pretty.

The following weekend we played an indigenous culture festival in Lago de Chapala- the largest lake in Mexico. Its really a beautiful place, will have to go back. From Qro its about 4-5 hours, on the way up to GDL.  We were in Ajijic which is super gringo- kind of a funny place for a culture festival I thought. But a sweet stage set-up, pretty good sound and good fun. Fortunately since it was quite a hike we stayed overnight- the first time for me with the band, definitely a good idea and some good times.

Then a couple weekends back in Qro, which was really nice, especially since this past weekend we were traveling again. We were in Cholula on Thursday, back in Qro for work on Fri and up to Leon on Sat.  Both shows were a lot of fun- and it was great to see Jason and Cole up in Cholula! But getting back to Qro at 6:30am on Fri and having to be at work for the taller at 8:30 was not pretty.  Then on Sat we went up to Leon for another gig- and got back again at about 6:30a. It was a little tough to say yes to Julieta’s unexpected invite to go up to Bernal for Mariano’s birthday at noon. But of course it was a lot of fun hanging out with the old anfitriona familia (along with their new PCT Emil, who’s an interesting and fun guy.) The traditional blue corn gorditas up there made me happy, as did our stop at the Cavas Freixnet for some bubbly on the way back. I’ve now been up there twice, and both times it poured! Totally dry all weekend in Qro of course..

Also had an entertaining week a couple weeks back- we were back at the PC office for the week, for our first week of training since we swore in. It was fine and fun to see everyone for a few days but I am sure glad to be out of training, a week back was enough to remind me of that. We also spent a couple days with the new trainees who seem like an interesting bunch- they’re all Tech Transfer so there’s kind of a different and more mature vibe than our mixed up group.

And work has been going pretty well- we have continued on with the taller and its even being extended a couple weeks. Over the last couple weeks I’ve had some good conversations with Hilda workwise and felt like we were communicating pretty well, in spanish no less. Always a good thing with one’s boss. Its funny how some people I feel like I can understand pretty well, while with some people they might as well be talking Russian or Klingon. Mas tiempo yo supongo. We also had a meeting with the new director general, who is the former head of research at the big appliance maker down here Mabe. Along with a lot of other folks I’ve talked with here at Ciateq, I think they made the right choice in bringing in an outsider. Thus far I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve heard from him- I think he recognizes that more of the same isn’t going to work in getting Ciateq to become the kind of innovative research center they want it to be. We’ve got another meeting with him in a couple weeks to present the final results of the taller and hopefully he will be give us the go-ahead for the next phase. I am contemplating that a next step for me may be developing a taller on vigilancia/mkt intelligence and analysis. Its definitely one of my takeaways from the sessions of something that, done right, could be very useful.

And this week is Semana Santa, so I’m planning to meet a few PCVs in DF for a few days. I can’t say I’ve exactly been going stir-crazy in Qro with all the traveling, but I’m looking forward to it!

Rastafari en DF

23 02 2011

Just had a really amazing weekend. We played a show in DF on Sunday that was something else, don’t really know how to describe it. We went down in the morning and came back that night, a pretty long day- Sunday was the 3rd and final day of a free reggae festival, and we were the last band. Awesome crowd and energy and almost certainly the biggest show I’ve ever played- consensus was around 1000 people at least. The event was under a tent and altogether it covered about a city block, with space for vendors plus the stage. We got there several hours early and checked out a bunch of the earlier bands- there’s a very cool overlap here between indigenous Mexican and rasta culture that feels very authentic- and as with the indigenous culture generally, which is much more prevelent here than in the states, a lot of people down here dig this stuff. Our own Chiquis usually starts our sets with incense and conchero dance.  And the incense down here is very different than what I’ve come across in the states and is much, much cooler- more like a forest fire than pungent pachouli stink.

Anyway, in a building adjacent to the stage, they also had a nice backstage area – gotta say they treat bands down here right! The last couple shows I’ve played with these guys have had a decent place to hang out plus free food, drinks etc. Rarely saw that with TSC!  They even had a big jug of pulque, a fermented maguey drink that I’ve been wanting to try and finally got to! Kind of a sour flavor which I thought was pretty tasty, although an unusual, syrupy consistency- I dug the flavor right away but as is I think its an acquired taste. Since I first heard about it I’ve been toying with this idea to try and start bottling it- I’ve never seen it in the states, maybe the hipsters would dig it… Anyway, by the time we played, it was dark and the crowd had a really good vibe- people dancing, singing etc. And it wasn’t just the usual kind of crowd I’ve played for – lots of families there too, with young kids. They even had proper monitors, so we could hear pretty well and I was told it sounded great in the crowd. And thankfully bassist Ariel’s novia took a bunch of photos for me! Just a terrific show, one of the best times I’ve had since I got down here. Only downer was I left my glasses in the van during the day and at some point they got smushed! Hence my sunglasses in the photos- trying to be a proper PC volunteer so I’ve glued them back together, so far so good…

Also, along with a few people from work, last week we went to a classical music concert. It was up at the local campus of UNAM, which is the largest university in Mexico. Not surprisingly, its mostly in DF, and it has something like 250k-300k students! Easily 2-3x the biggest schools in the states. But here in Qro there is a campus in Juriquilla (a nearby suburb) with a beautiful, brand new campus. The buildings would look at home anywhere in the states. There’s even a strip mall off the exit from the highway with a Carls Jr and an IHOP.  Anyway, we saw this trio who played music from the early renaissance. It was a flautist – or what I would call a recorder player – who is from Mexico, another Mexican dude who played the harpsichord, and an Israeli on viola da gamba. They were quite good, but what was really far out was the outfit of the flautist, Horacio Franco, who was the star of the show.  Pictures don’t really do him justice- tight black leather pants, cowboy boots and a red silk shirt open to practically his waist. Quite a sight. He would have been borderline ridiculous, but fortunately the dude had the skills to back it up. Good times all in all. Thanks to Tere for taking us up to get tix, and driving to the show!

I also reconnected at a party in town Saturday night with some folks I initially met during training, who run a local manufacturing business. After the party, a few of us went and checked out some cuban music at a little club in the centro. There really is a lot of stuff like that going on in this town. Great to bump into them and going to try to stay in touch.

Anyway, that’s about it- got some more shows coming up in the next few weeks, starting this Thurs here in Qro. And I found out I may get to play with Chopper at the stadium for an upcoming Gallos Blancos game- they’re the local football team- should be a fun month!

Valor, toros y mas

14 02 2011

All manner of developments since my last post. First off, my work these days has been mostly on a seminar that we are leading for a group of about 10 engineers from several of the business units at my center. It is really an experience – 8 hours every Friday for almost 3 months. In Spanish. Holy crap. We just had the 4th one this past Friday. The overall point of the seminar is to help the participants develop action plans for reaching their individual business units’ goals- over the long term, these mostly include migrating from being a producer of prototypes and various kinds of technical equipment to being a more value-added partner to help their clients solve bigger technical challenges. But we realized pretty quickly that there were some gaps in understanding business value and the value chain generally, and how our solutions contribute to the client’s business at a high level. So we kind of started there, and that’s a lot of what I’ve developed and presented material on. Not difficult to talk about in English of course, but a pretty different matter to do so in a language you don’t really speak. I have led several parts of the seminars and have actually felt reasonably good about getting across what I’m trying to say – but understanding the comments, questions, etc from the participants is another story. So it is a good challenge..

This idea of market understanding is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It really reminds me that Americans for better or worse have raised marketing to an art form. In terms of getting people to buy stuff they don’t necessarily want, but are compelled by the message, or the circumstances or something. Here, it seems like a lot of people in business think about the product first, and how or whether their customers want it, later- certainly there’s a lot of this in the states too.  But I think here its one reason you see people in the centro walking around trying to sell a really random assortment of products – ‘Would you like to buy a change purse’ – ‘Would you like to buy a bonsai tree’ (I took the guy up on that one) ‘Would you like to buy a bedside table’, ‘Would you like to buy a yellow rubber chicken’ no kidding- I took him up on that one too. There are a lot of issues of basic economics wrapped up in this – lack of immediate access to any better retail environment etc. Of course some people get together and have little stalls at the mercado, the alameda, etc. Its interesting what people will do to make money. A different but I think related phenomenon is the similar clusters of stores you see. This certainly happens in the states to some degree (ie NYC the garmet district, the flower district, the former electronics district, but it seems to be going away and I think is pretty rare in other cities.) But here I can’t figure out why the districts have formed the way they have. Like there’s a street with nothing but stores selling used electronic parts – chargers, batteries, cables etc. Or the area with a bunch of musical instrument stores, or auto parts. Why couldn’t those stores be more spread out so they weren’t totally competing with each other? Its interesting.

Last night, I went to a party here in town and met some interesting folks. One Mexican dude who actually lived in Atlanta for 7 years, and just moved back here a couple years ago. Kinda fun comparing Atlanta stories – we agreed we’re both pretty happy to be here in Qro.. Also met an American who is teaching English here who is RPCV Cameroon. He had some good stories about living there, taking monthly trips into the capital 2 hours away for money, supplies, etc. Different from my experience to say the least. He said they had 12 people drop out during training! Including a couple of vegans who apparently thought serving in Africa would be some kind of earth-mother granola eating paradise. Which surprisingly it wasn’t. We didn’t have anyone drop out except Nancy of course, who had a family emergency back home. We do have some PCVs here living in pretty rural, basic situations for sure. But as far as I know, we still haven’t had anyone leave. Anyway, more evidence that there are lots and lots of different PC experiences.

The band is still going well. Finally figured out how to get to practice on the bus, it took 2 buses actually. We’re supposed to have a couple shows next weekend- one near Guadalajara and one in DF. And it looks like we may have some more interesting stuff coming up, maybe a couple tours. Also apparently Amnesty Int’l or somebody is trying to put on a big show up in Bernal with 1000+ people. I think we’ll probably play it if it happens.

Also, a couple weeks ago I went to the bull fights. I went with a few friends and it was quite an experience. At the time, I actually kind of enjoyed it, but have thought about it a lot since and am no longer so bullish on it (sorry.) It is kind of exciting – first, they put up a sign that gives a bit of info about the bull: its name, weight, etc. These things were mostly in the 420-470kg vicinity, about 1000 lbs. So they are big. Then one comes out and tears around the ring. There’s a few guys on foot with little capes who try to attract and rile up the bull, and then they duck behind little barriers when the bull gets close. After a few minutes of this, the bullfighter on horseback comes out to much applause, and he acknowledges the crowd, waves his hat etc. At this event, there were 3 bullfighters and they took turns in the ring. Each one had a different but equally ridiculous outfit on. A couple of them looked like they were refugees from the court of Louis XVI. They all followed the same pattern – they would have a sword which seemed to have a detachable handle. They would then ride their horse close to the bull, stick their sword in its back, and break the handle off. Usually the sword would stay in its back, sometimes it would fall out. They would repeat this about a half dozen times, all while trying to rile up (and hence tire out) the bull, by getting their horse almost within range of the bull’s horns. Of course, these horses can move a heckuva lot faster than any bull, so I don’t think the horses are really in much danger, much less the bullfighters. I can imagine there are accidents where the horses get hurt, but hey, when you’re killing 15 bulls in a day for fun, what’s a couple injured horses? Anyway, after getting a few swords in their back, the bulls are really bleeding and getting tired. The bullfighters then start doing things that seem more and more daring to get the crowd excited. Like circling really close to the bull, stabbing it over their shoulder, putting their elbows on the bull’s nose – no kidding. Finally, they get to their last sword. It seems that one of the tricks is to know when the bull is about to fall over. One guy timed it quite amazingly – stuck in his last sword and jumped off his horse, faced the bull and kind of dared it to attack. But instead it fell over. The bullfighter of course went crazy like it was the most skillful performance ever- it did look a little like he did the jedi mind trick on this bull. But of course the bull was exhausted and bleeding like crazy from half a dozen swords stuck in its back. I guess I sound a bit cynical about the whole thing. At first I kind of liked it, but the more I watched the more lame I found it. First of all, its kind of boring – each of the 3 bullfighters do almost exactly the same thing, over and over again- rile up a bull, stab it, tire it out, kill it. It would have been somewhat better if there was a timer or something that would have made it a competition between the bullfighters or something- like who can kill their bull the fastest, to give them a motivation to take some risks. Or maybe put a couple bulls in the ring at the same time. That might be interesting. But as is, its certainly nothing like a sport – really its a barbaric circus. Unlike fishing or hunting, there is no doubt about the outcome- at the end there will be a dead bull and a showboating bullfighter. It gets old.

The crowd was kind of interesting – definitely a lot of rich folks getting all dolled up. Lots of cigar smoking, gold chains and chest hair. And cowboy hats. I have no data to back this up but I imagined there could have been a lot of narcos in the crowd- it seemed like the kind of spectacle they might go for.

All in all, I thought it was pretty terrible. Boring and brutal- a lot of the worst of humanity in one convenient event. I think it was actually the first element of Mexican culture that has really turned me off. I can’t blame it completely on Mexico as of course its originally Spanish. And some of my Mexican friends have told me how much they dislike it. But its advertised like crazy here and the place was packed (and I don’t think with Spaniards), so Mexicans have definitely seemed to make it their own. I don’t expect I’ll be back.

Finally, here’s a post I wrote a couple weeks ago but never posted, mostly about the holidays- unfortunately without internet at home, I don’t get as many opportunities to post as I would like. But I think this may be good too- it forces me out of the house when I might be inclined to sit home and surf;)

I realize the last time I wrote I was about to head out for Xmas holiday, which was a lot of fun. Went to Guadalajara for a few days, which is Mexico’s second biggest city after DF. Definitely a busy place- the day before Xmas the centro was packed. Stayed with a friend of Rob’s named Memo- a former PCV who decided to stay in GDL and buy a place after he finished his service. He’s got a massive place not far from the centro- probably 7 bedrooms, plus a couple extra, one with ping-pong- I was happy. Anyway, on Xmas eve we bummed around the centro and saw the sights, then had a great Xmas night dinner- the Dyes live right around the corner, and Brian S is not far away either. So it was a big PCV dinner, including the Dyes’ kids who had come down from the states. Played the requisite party games and had a great time. On the way back to Qro, I stopped in Leon and spent the day with Rox and Fa, a couple girls I had met with Ryan and Jake at the Cervantino fest a couple months ago. They were great hostesses for the day and showed me around Leon. Its a town that’s known for its leather products, but unfortunately most all the stores were closed the couple days after Xmas that I was there.

Then spent a pretty chill NYE in Qro with Mel and Manny- the roof of Sumeria (which is seeing some major improvements lately) is a great place for fireworks and tequila…

Other interesting news over the holidays was that I played a couple shows with the new band AC/LN. Had a ton of fun- the first was close to Qro in a little pueblito called La Canada. It was at a sort of community center called El Aquacate (the Avocado) and when all was said and done, there probably were 100 kids of so. Really a lot of fun- before our set I also sat in with the preceding band- a kind of ska/blues thing. Also a good bunch of musicos. A couple weeks later we had another show, back up in the farm town of La Griega- I don’t know how its happened but I’ve now played 2 barns in that town. Probably a couple hundred or so kids and a fun set.

Also a few weeks ago, Sarah, Rob and I cruised down to DF and had a very worthwhile trip. Met with some folks at the US Commerce Dept and got some good ideas about networking within the Mexican govt and companies, and helping the Ciateq crew do the same. Also went out for happy hour with a bunch of folks from the embassy- a nice bunch, who were very friendly to us hippy PCVs! I’m sure I’ll see some of them again when next I’m down in DF. And I learned a bit more about the whole state dept scene- not sure, but could be an interesting next project…

And work has been interesting and busy. Rob managed to get his Performance Improvement Project approved, which started last Friday. Its basically a course for about 12 of Ciateq’s top engineers – officially we’re helping them identify high value technology to commercialize, but at the end of the day its really a course on how to to identify and pursue market opportunities. Last Fri was about 5 hours, and I led about a 90 minute activity on identifying personal and professional successes – in Spanish. Despite a few speedbumps, everything got done and I think it was actually pretty successful. From here on, the course will be 8 hours every Friday for the next 9 weeks- will be interesting to see how it unfolds but so far I think its a good project, and I think I have a few things to say on the subject.

And last weekend a bunch of us went out for Zulema’s bday – she had a big crew over to Wings Army, and then to a Nortena club called La Yunta- a lot more dancing than I really expected but it was some good times. Thanks to Z I think I learned a few things- will have to keep practicing. And there were a few PCVs in town last weekend so it was fun to catch up.

So that’s the latest – hasta la proxima vez..

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.