Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Fell in Love Today

It’s exactly 6 months to the day into this thing, my arrival, education, adaptation to Rioverde; and I'm suddenly, Today, tonight, one hour ago, getting it, finding it. IT! Shit. Not possible, that I finished my lata of Corona Light, my chilada beer on ice with lots of lime and a pinch of salt. It’s a hot night, air still, sweating standing. Possible.

Possible too that I'm experiencing a cambio rumbo – a sea change in Mexico - coming at this very 6-month mark. I’m changing my direction – I feel it – a sudden shift in the wind. I started taking the alt route to the office this week, out the backside of my edificio, past the Visa shops, men in sombreros lined up to go to the otro lado. Then it's a right onto Absolo, across the shady plazita, through the bird shit to Madero, right, then right again on Martinez, and I have to pass Esperanza, I have to face her with a wave of my Mexican NO finger. Then up the stairs though the salmon-colored hall to my office.

Just that small change changes everything. I get so angry walking down Monteczuma everyday, choking on exhaust, weaving by and through la gente on the narrow walks, stepping down into the busy street to get past people, worrying about my toes, the 4x4s, Explorers, Rovers brushing by on the cobblestone streets made for donkey-carts, stereos blasting Banda. (Immigration has done wonders - has bought, brought SUVs into this small, quiet town.)

Now this new route ain’t no walk in Rock Creek Park, but it’s…better. It’s different. My head gets to map out a new path, and my feet follow.

But it’s not just that.

I fell in love today. I really think so. Okay, it was a first meeting – and first impressions can be misleading. But the energy and the connection… it was… you know… alive. The conversation didn’t stop from the beginning, as if we’d know each other for years. And we like the same things – travel and cooking and trying to change the world. Open, kind, compassionate – called me a taxi home, kiss on the cheek, I’ll pick you up on Tuesday at 4. Such manners – and next steps, commitments. A good sign.

The mujeres of Puente del Carmen are my new love.

We met tonight in Parque Revolution, aptly named, because I felt the energy of their own small revolution rising in the air. They gathered in small groups with flipchart paper and markers and created images of the past, present, and probable future of their community – if they don’t step up and take action.

They’re going backwards, they lamented. The fountains and street games and family gardens of their youth, the clear streams and intact families and scent of orange blossoms in the air have been replaced by dependence on everything – television, drugs, food out of bags, government dispenses – and acceptance – of family violence, lack of education, the smell of black water, the status quo.

But they pictured a future too…a vision of something bigger than them. Here are their names, their ages, and their hopes…

· Delores, 42, crear un empresa (create a business)
· Adoracion, 45, convivir (get together)
· Lugar, 78, abrir una puerta, ayudar la gente (open a door, help the people)
· Joanna, 18, algo nuveo (something new)
· Janette, 18, futuro mejor por las jóvenes (better future for the youts)
· Wendy Gabriela, 19, mujeres necesita una vida rica (women need a rich life)
· Osmara, 21, arreglar toda aquí, contra violencia (fix everthing here, end the violence)
· Francesca, 49, ensena trabajo/empresar (teach work/business)
· Magdelena, 47, Trabajo (work)
· Carmen, 48, Aprender (learn)
· Juliana, 24, Aprender, trabajar (learn, work)
· Dora Maria, 54, trabajo para mujeres (work for women)
· Carmen, 54, aprender, compartir (learn, share)
· Nicolasa, 51, esperanza (hope)
· Paula, 47, trabajo mejor para jóvenes (better work for the youth)
· Simona, 44, como podemos ayudar encientes (how can we help the old people)
· Bartola, 57, trabajo, jóvenes (work, youth)
· Maria Jesus Flores (she said her name so proudly I had to write down the whole thing), 68, compartir herramientas (share our skills)
· Amalia, 62, Muchas cosas, lugar para mayors, clinica de dialasis (many things, a place for the old folks, a dialysis clinic)
· Yolanda, 50, Salva lugares abandonadas - la pl
anta, nuestra pasada (save our abondoned places - the plant, our past)
· Nereyda, 47, empezar cambios, creer en nosotros (start to make change, believe in ourselves)
· Maria Luz, 38, aprender nuevas cosas junto (learn new things together)
· Estefana, 47, oportunidades (opportunities)
· Jenny, 15, trabajo (work)
· Maria de Jesus, 20, trabajo (work)· Ahnai, 23, trabajo (work)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Truth about Cinco de Mayo & Acquiescing to the Tortilla

I've been poking around my pueblo for a good Cinco de Mayo fiesta - but all's quiet in Rioerde today. No bands parading in the streets or fireworks blasting in the air like on Dia de Independencia. Not even a corner bar teaming with gente and a screechy Mariachi band. The municipal government is closed – the garage door portals of the shops below my Jimenez Hovel are shut tight. Families are behind closed doors enjoying commemorative comidas of Mole Poblano. Even the dogs seem to be taking a blessed break from their barking fits.

It’s certainly not the Jose Cuervo holiday it is in DC, where every bar in Adams Morgan offers 2x1 tequilas shot and buckets of Corona, and colleg
e kids wobble and weave along 18th Street wearing sombreros the size of café tables.

No, today in Mexico they are quietly honoring their 1862 defeat over the French at the Battle of Puebla, a proud and surprising victory for the Mexicans who were outnumbered 2-to-1 by Napoleon’s troops. Interestingly, this win had repercussions to the north, in the US of A which, at the time, was enmeshed in our Civil War (and unable to pay much attention to the struggles of our southern neighbor). With the Mexican pushback, Napoleon was obstructed from further arms sales to the Confederates; and a year later the Union was victorious at Gettysburg, leading to eventual victory in the overall war and salvation of the Union. (Maybe we North Americans do having something to celebrate today.)

Unfortunately, the win was not enough to fully rid Mexico of the French. A year later they came back with 30,000 troops, captured Mexico City, and established Emperor Maximilian as ruler of Mexico. It would take three more years, and the help of the US (once our Civil War was over) to expel the French for good, execute Maximilian, and put Juarez back into power.

As for a leftover presence of French culture in Mexico, I’ve noticed very little except this: all the barber shops and salons in SLP city seem to be named La Parisian, Jaques, Salon Eiffel, Mimi’s. It’s a lucky thing; imagine a Mexico in which the baguette had overtaken the tortilla as the primary carb and vehicle for moving food around the plate!

Ah, the tortilla. After 8 months here in Mexico, I’m happy to report: I’m finally giving-in to its power over the knife and fork. (I've always been sold on the culinary value, especially the ones hand-pressed and cooked on leña.)

But I've been resisting the tortilla as a tool, determined to uphold ‘proper table etiquette’ – at least as defined our British forefathers, knife in the left hand, fork in the right. * In restaurants here, I’m always bugging the poor waiters for a knife; oftentimes they have to embark on a mission to hunt one down – worst case scenario they arrive back at my table, when I'm halfway through my meal, with a cutting knife from the kitchen – though always delivered with a smile. Besides the basket of hot tortillas wrapped with an embroidered cloth, there’s always a holder of napkins in the middle of the table (I’ll go through most of them in a taco sitting), plus tiny bowls of salsas of various colors, textures and degrees of heat, to please an array of pallets.

I’ve been instructed and cajoled by many a Mexican guia on the proper and varied uses of the tortilla. There’s the basic scooping method, where you tear off a piece of tortilla and use it like a shovel. There’s the tortilla roll, which is quite versatile: rolling it between your palms into a little carpet, you then use it use it to push food onto your fork or simply dip the roll into your sauce. Then there’s the so-called wrapping and grabbing method, which is quite crude. I learned it very early, during Pre-service Training, on a trip to the Matauala campo, where a family had killed their best calf to celebrate our Peace Corps visit. But there was a shortage of plastic forks, 35 hungry volunteers cramped in this tiny adobe house; so the only way to pick-up very runny cabrito mole chunks was with tortillas, using the grabbing method, followed-by the wiping method to clean our Styrofoam plates.

Despite these lessons, this Cinco de Mayo morning I lay my Jiménez breakfast bar with the proper set of flatware, and a place folded napkin beneath my fork. I've cooked up some scrambled eggs with peppers and onions and a side of refried beans, and I’ve got the obligatory array condiments lined up - fresh cilantro, salsita de ajo, a bit of leftover guac, and slices of lime. (I do love the Mexican flair for condiments.) But halfway through my meal, I catch myself using nothing but two shards of corn Charras to mix the eggs and beans on my plate and shovel piled bits of tostada into my mouth – crunchy, salty, spicy, creamy and sweet all in one bite. Not only my knife, but my fork has also been relegated to the side of my plate. I had aspirations for toast with butter and jam, but somehow the slabs of uninteresting bread just sit there on my side dish and eventually wind-up in the waste basket.

So on Cinco de Mayo in my Jiménez Hovel I honor the victory of the Mexicans over the French, and the victory of the tortilla over me. Viva Mexico!

*Given that the Brits wiped out our North American indigenous population, we really have no idea what our eating customs might have been. The tortilla most certainly comes from the maize of land of Quezacotl, and managed to maintain its prominent place on the table of Mexicans, despite Indian assimilation by the Spanish.