Friday, February 19, 2016

Walking the streets of Oaxaca

We have now been in Oaxaca for 19 days.  One of our favorite activities is simply walking the city streets.  Although this is endlessly entertaining and interesting it can also be a tricky... It demands full attention not only while crossing busy streets but also while taking each step.  These "sidewalk" pictures speak for themselves...

But the upside far outweighs these potential pitfalls. Here's some more pictures of street art we've seen this year.

It seems all walks end up sooner or later at the heart of the city...the zocalo.  Here's a short video taken about 7 PM this past Wednesday.  It will hopefully give you a sense of the vitality of this wonderful part of the city.

Next post  -- How much do things cost?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Intercambio y lecciones en espanol con Jacob

Hola lectores fieles,

Okay, I'll stop with the Spanish.  I realize it can be annoying to non-Spanish speakers.  The fact is I love to speak and write Spanish and it's one of the great joys of being in Oaxaca.  I'm not sure why it's so fun and satisfying but it is.

Each Saturday morning there is an "Intercambio" at the Oaxaca Lending Library which is next door to our hotel.   This is a two hour language practice event where Mexicans who want to improve their English are randomly paired with people learning Spanish.  The session involves one hour of English conversation and one hour of Spanish.  I've attended two of these so far and there have been about fifty or sixty people each time.

At my first Intercambio session  I was paired with a 29 y.o. woman from a village about an hour bus ride from the library.  (I'll call her Rosa.  I don't want to use her real name without her permission.) Rosa has a masters degree in business administration and teaches at a local university.  Her goal is to get a PhD at a university in the US.  She is the youngest in her family and all of her siblings, three brothers and three sisters are already in the states working.  Rosa was raised in a Zapotec speaking village and she heard very little Spanish as a child.  English is her third language and she's pretty good at it.  Rosa said she would only see her father about one month a year when she was growing up because he was working in California but now he has a US work permit and comes back home six months a year.  Rosa was bright, friendly, open and very focused on her goals.  I found an hour long intense conversation in Spanish to be exhausting but a great chance to improve my skills and get a chance to have some in-depth communication with a local resident.

This past Saturday I was paired with a young man I'll call Pedro.  Pedro was a twenty-one y.o.  university student whose goal is to teach Spanish to English speakers.  He currently is involved with his "national service."  As I understand it this is a six month to one year obligation for all young Mexicans.  Pedro's service involves work in an isolated Mixtec community in the Sierra mountains about three hours from Oaxaca. The primary language in the village is Mixtec.  Travel to the village involves a two hour bus ride,  then a half hour taxi ride and a twenty minute walk.   He says the road into the village is so primitive that the taxi will not take him the last several miles.  He spends five days a week in this community helping teen age students with their studies and comes back to his home in Oaxaca for the weekend.  A British woman joined us for this session because there were more English speakers than Spanish.   One of the most memorable moments for me was when the discussion turned to violence and gun control.  Pedro brought up the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook in Connecticut and he and the woman became very passionate about how strongly they felt about this outrage and how utterly astounded and bewildered they were by this and other acts of violence in the US.  I felt uncomfortable and ashamed.  My attempts to explain the political realities around gun control legislation only made me more conscious of how morally bankrupt our national response has been to these tragedies.

This session with Pedro (and the Brit), like my time with Rosa, was richly rewarding.  My biggest take away is a deeper appreciation and understanding of what is meant by the term "human family."
Maybe that's the core reason for my joy in learning Spanish.

Last week I started taking private language classes.  My first class with Jacob was two hours.  It was wonderful but way too long for a concentration challenged 68 year old. By the middle of the second hour my mind was shooting blanks.  Today's one hour session was a big improvement.   For our class together we meet in a cafe,  drink capuccino, and chat in Spanish.  When I make a mistake he writes it down but lets me finish my thought before offering me a correction.  A nice technique. Jacob is very  sincere, smart and open.  I'm enjoying these sessions tremendously.  Here's his picture.

Thanks for reading.