The first week: aqui en Mexico we like to facebookear

We learned some useful new Spanish words this week. They are as follows:

facebookear- to facebook

twittear- to tweet

googliar- to google

We’ve been in Mexico for a little over a week. The rest of the first week we had more Casa orientation, and a lot more sightseeing with Professor Krippner. On Wednesday Clay and Samantha, another full-time volunteer here, gave us an introduction to the Casa’s program on economic justice. The Casa has been working to support solidarity economies, which have as their focus the well-being and humanity of all people involved in transactions. A lot of people think immediately of free trade. According to some of the reading the Casa provided us with, free trade can be a component of solidarity economics, but it more works within the system, whereas solidarity economics really re-envisions economic exchanges. I hope I’ll be able to describe this better in future blog entries, once I start working more with the economic justice program and understand it better myself. One component is the use of Tlalocs, which is an alternate money valued in reference to the peso, which is used in certain communities in Mexico and helps to create the flow of money where cash is not prevalent and to keep the money circulating in the community, instead of flowing out of the hands of Mexican workers to big business owners. The Casa has just begun accepting Tlalocs. Samantha was excited that yesterday she bought worms (for the compost) with Tlalocs. Sustainability all around, Yay!

On Wednesday afternoon we went to the Zócalo with Professor Krippner, which is the Historic Center of Mexico City. Despite warnings from a number of people, I definitely didn’t appreciate how crowded the Metro is (the subway) until we were actually on it. We had to let one pass because we couldn’t even crowd on, and once we did, it was like sardines. In the Historic Center, we walked around the building of the Secretary of Education, which has three floors of Diego Rivera murals along its covered colonnades. They were fantastic. We also got a sense of Mexican time. Upon arriving, we were informed that we would not be allowed to see the murals without a tour guide, and that we would have to return at two (the tour guide was presumably at lunch). When we returned at 2, the tour guide was still at lunch, and about 15 minutes later we were allowed to go see the murals without a guide. Upon reaching the 3rd floor of murals, we ran into a supervisor of some kind, who absolutely insisted that we have a guide to narrate every single one of the murals we had just seen so we could understand what we were seeing, and said that a guide was on the way for us. The man was very well meaning, but really at that point all we wanted was to go eat lunch, and when the tour guide didn’t show after a few minutes, we were able to make our escape. After a lunch of comida corrida (what you call a common large midday meal that comes with 4 courses, a soup, a rice dish, a main course, and dessert and coffee) we went to the famous Catedral Metropolitano in the central plaza, and the Templo Mayor, the ruins of the most important temple of the Mexica Civilization. In the evening, we continued our nightly discussions with Professor Krippner.

On Thursday Nico, the director of the Casa, talked with us about Quakerism at the Casa. While the Casa is not formally Quaker, as it is now independent of the AFSC and the Mexico City Friends, it has a strong Quaker history and continues to operate based on Quaker principles. It also has a strong relationship with the Mexico City Monthly Meeting, which meets each week in the Casa’s library. Liv and I also got an introduction to working the reception at the Casa (so many details!). In the afternoon we went to the market for the first time. San Cosme Market is maybe 8-10 blocks from the Casa, and to get there you pass about 6 blocks of straight shoe stores (Zapaterías). One after the other, they just keep going. The market was rather overwhelming, an indoor market full of stand after stand of produce, meat, dried goods, or dairy. On Thursday night, we went to a talk about photography in the Mexican Revolution at la Universidad de California en México, which was a great opportunity to learn more about Mexican history and the use of images. After the talk, we went out with the professor who had given the talk (an old friend of Professor Krippner’s) and his family. We had a lot of fun with the professor’s daughter and her boyfriend, who are close to our age. They were incredibly friendly and promised to show us the city while we’re here.

Friday, we had more orientation and a discussion with Professor Krippner over lunch at Café Habana about the book he had assigned us to read about Mexico City, an engaging combination of Mexican history, culture, a tour-guide, and profiles of the diverse people the author had met. On Saturday we walked through the fairs in the neighborhood of San ángel, which had a lot of art for sale and many artisan craft stands, where you could be anything from little skeleton scenes and brightly painted wooden animals, to homemade bags and woven shirts, to every kind of jewelry or basket. We also got to go to Frieda Kahlo’s Casa Azul, where she lived for many years with Diego Rivera.

Sunday was the pyramids in Teotihuacán. Honestly, one of the most striking things was seeing the slums as we drove out of the City. Mexico City is at a high altitude, but it is in a valley surrounded by mountains. There were slums endlessly crowding the steep hillsides as you leave the city, row upon row of dingy, gray, dilapidated buildings. It was really sad.

The pyramids were enormous, and packed with people. They were also packed with vendors, many of whom really wanted to sell us whistles that sounded like a jaguar roaring. We climbed the two main pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, and walked along the Avenue of the Dead that connects them. The view from the Pyramid of the Sun was incredible! Sunday evening was the Comida Compartida (weekly community potluck at the Casa). We also said goodbye to Professor Krippner, who was headed back to the US. It was so wonderful to have him here to help us get oriented to Mexico City. He took us so many places, and we swear he knew everything. Sunday evening we went to the movies with one of the volunteers, Giovanni, and saw Prince of Persia (English, with Spanish subtitles). Many of the films here seem to be American Blockbusters that are either dubbed or have subtitles.

This week we are starting our work at the Casa in earnest! Joey and I have shadowed two shifts of the reception and learned how to take payments and handle receipts, check cards, and make sense of the reservation binder. I even answered the phone, and promptly forgot all the Spanish I know except “un momento, por favor.” I’m hoping this is a temporary phenomenon. We’re definitely using a lot more Spanish now, and I’m excited to become totally immersed in the language and life at the Casa. Joey and I had a successful market expedition solo today, so I think we’re on our way. We should also all be meeting our partner organizations at some point this week, and I’m eager to start at the Equilibrium Fund and see what that will be like.