First Days in Mexico City

Today was our second full day in Mexico City. Things have been such a whirlwind of orientation activities that I’ve hardly had to time sit down and write about it. The four of us (me, Lizzy, Liv, and Josephine) arrived Sunday evening and were greeted at the airport by Bart, the Volunteer Coordinator at the Casa, and Clay, the Peace Programs Coordinator at the Casa. After about a 20 minute cab ride from the airport to the neighborhood of Colonia Tabacalera we arrived at Casa de Los Amigos! Everyone has been so welcoming. It was wonderful to finally meet the co-directors of the Casa, Nico and Jill, after hearing about them for so long. Bart gave us a tour of the house, Clay had prepared a wonderful dinner, and at 8:30 pm we met (almost) all of the volunteers at the Casa over Mexican hot chocolate.

Our first full day in at the Casa begin with the community breakfast prepared each morning by one of the volunteers and served to guests and other volunteers. We then walked to Café Habana with Nico, Bart, and Professor Krippner, a professor of History at Haverford who is here with us until Sunday. Café Habana is allegedly where Che Guevara and Fidel Castro sat and planned the Cuban Revolution, and it’s where we sat to hear the history of the Casa de los Amigos.  Briefly, Casa de los Amigos, a Center for Peace and International Understanding, was founded in 1956, and run by Quakers in Mexico and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) until it became independent of the AFSC in the 1980s to be run locally. Since its founding, it’s been an organization devoted to working for social justice, and everyone involved in its work tries to live by the Quaker testimonies of peace, community, simplicity, equality, and integrity. The Casa was very active in providing support and services to refugees in the 1980s and 90s when many people in Latin America were fleeing violence, oppression, and civil war as political refugees. A variety of programs have arisen and evolved over time, and today the main programs are its Hospitality Program, hosting guests from all over the world, and its Peace Programs in Economic Solidarity and Migration and Refugees. If you’re interested, you can read more on their website, www.casadelosamigos.org (It comes up in Spanish but you can click to read in English). That afternoon, we had delicious tortas from a stand in the Casa’s neighborhood (Mexican sandwiches on a certain kind of bread that have layers of different ingredients, like beans, pineapple, guacamole, cheese, meat, etc.) and learned our way around the neighborhood with Bart: we saw the panadería, the chicken shop, recommended restaurants, ATM, pharmacy, corner market, and the stand where the Casa buys fresh orange juice. Monday night is the weekly staff and volunteers meeting, which was a wonderful opportunity to get a feel for how the Casa runs and the different events going on this month. In the evening, we had a discussion with Professor Krippner about Mexican culture and history based on some of our observations from the day.

Today, Clay and Liselot, one of the full-time volunteers, gave us a presentation on issues that migrants and refugees face in Mexico currently, and oriented us in the Casa’s Migration and Refugees Program specifically. In the afternoon, we walked to several museums with Professor Krippner—the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, which houses an absolutely enormous mural, “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park,” depicting dozens of significant figures from different periods in Mexican history; and el Museo Franz Mayer which contains the personal collection of paintings, furniture, and ceramics of Franz Mayer, a refugee who came to Mexico, became very wealthy, and began to collect art from Spain, Flanders, Italy, France, Mexico, you name it.  His collection was impressive and incredibly diverse. In the evening, a community dinner with Casa staff and volunteers, followed by another discussion with Professor Krippner. It’s been a wonderful first few days, and I’m excited to become more even more integrated into the Casa Community, and to begin working with our partner organizations next week.