Friday, March 30, 2012

Small Steps (Not Sure What Direction)

Made the trip to Rayon today – a 20-peso bus from the Dominos on the highway. When I got to the to the cruzero where the bus stops then continues on to Cd Valles, there was a 5-truck military checkpoint right in front of the Fondo Pame office on the side of the highway– young masked guys waving weapons around. Not sure whether to be scared or assured.  The senior with his mechanic shop along mud track leading down to Cecilio’s office told me:  no problema, checking for armas, holiday coming up, lots of movement, es necessario.  

It’s become the status quo here. But it gives me the chills. I walk briskly along the mud track with my eyes on my path to reach the cinder block office without incident.

Meeting with Cecilio and Sandra is always strange.  There’s this busy agitation about the place – she taps away on her laptop while he attends to an old composino, and I take advantage of the time to review their 1-page project budget.  It’s taken them 2 months to produce this?

Their office is hot and dirty and austere – a converted garage – no running water – I have to bucket water out of a tub to flush the toilet. There’s decade-old dust on the Steelcase filing cabinets.  They have a tiny display in the entryway of Santa Maria palm jewelery – but it’s dusty too, and discolored from the sun –and the wires a tiny bit rusty.  They throw wads of Kleenex and candy wrappers on the ground at their entrance – as though the earth will simply eat them up.  How can they be serious in preserving the life of the indigenous when they have so little respect for the planet?

They do have flipcharts covering the walls, many of them fallen to the floor, listing communities where they’ve scored funding – name, amount, and some scrawled notes.  I (want to) think they are doing good things. But what percentage to they get to keep?

Their 1-page budget from CDI, the government agency for the protection of the indigenous totals $160k pesos for Paso’s Vivero de Plantas Exoticas.  Most of the money is designated for jornales – day labor payments that will go to the people to continue to maintain and grow the vivero.  The problem is:  it’s only a loan.  I have to keep asking to get a clear answer.  

And how long do they get to pay the loan back?  

18 to 24 months, Cecilio replies.

Well, that could be rough – since the chamales take three years to get to a marketable size.

That long?  he replies with the Mexican ni modo, so it goes, tone.

Yes, sorry to say – it’s confirmed by the plant biologists from IPICYT – Dra. Laura wrote the book on cycades.  I show it to them.  Why should I hide this information?  But, I tell them, she's willing to come out and do an assessment and make recommendation to speed-up the process – is there money in the budget for this?  She can’t promise anything.  But she’ll check the water and soil and light – and recommend plants to diversify the production.  

The simple truth is the chamal is a sustainable plant – it’s been around for 250 million years – it outlived the dinosaurs - and its slow growth process may be part of the reason it’s survived this long. 
I have a lot to learn from that plant.  It’s a long-term investment for this community – no flash in the pan.  It takes time.  And in my opinion, all the more reason to focus on the community capacity-building – so the group has the staying power to tend to the plant and to the business details that will position them to sell it in 2014! 

Without my help I’m not sure that Cecilio and Sandra will get their money back.  I think they know that – that’s why they’re bothering to meet with me – after two postponements.

Their biggest concern is the Registro. But I tell them that’s the easy part – simply red tape – and I’ve got Procurdaria Agraria helping. The hard part is the market, the transportation, the commitment of the vivero team – their ability to shift their mindset – from government handouts to generating income.  I tell them frankly.  What do I have to hide?

I think they know that by now.  I think I know that by now.

We set a meeting for 15 days ahead to review and integrate our plans. I tell them I don’t want to be duplicating effort – or conflicting our messages.  If so, I’ll spend my time elsewhere and leave Paso to them.

No, no, they assure me. They’ll pay for the biologists to come – whatever it takes.

I’m worried about this loan: I payoff my credit cards monthly in full – and I’ve paid for every car I’ve owned, all used, in cash.  I don’t believe in loans. But I decide it’s out of my hands, it’s a done deal – my job now is to do what I can to position the community to pay it back.  Though I have this thought enter my sick brain:  maybe they’re not really expected to repay the loan.  What are the ramifications of defaulting? 

Judging on how other rules are enforced in Mexico, the answer may be:  none.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Virtual vs. The Real

En Casa Diaz eating tuna. Not just any ol’ tuna: a scrumptious homemade tuna salad with celery (apio), hard-boiled egg (huevo cozido), chopped onion (cebolla), capers (¿?), slices of Santa Rita campari tomato – lime, balsamic vinegar, a touch of olive oil and mayo. 

I mean delicious.  I can’t get over it.  I could can it and sell it.  But nope, I’m eating it all.  And washing it down with chilled Mexican vino tinto, my house red, Valle Marquis, $56 pesitos a bottle at the Bodega Aurrera (gracias, Walmart).

I was thinking this: thank DOG for my 6-pack Abs class I teach at Gim Atletica every Tues and Thurs at 7 pm.  Without that – and my Monday evening English Salon – I would have nothing. No structure, no real responsibility, nothing I HAVE to DO to pull me off my computer and bring me back here, here, to the real world.

It’s such a dangerous zombie-land, that Internet.  I’ve been toying lately with the idea of getting telmex infinitum wired into my apartment – but honestly, my Diaz Rincon would no longer be this sanctuary – away from everything – other than the plegming, Banda-belting neighbor down below.   

I get away from everything but him here – both Mexico and America.  Diaz is the neutral zone.

And after a day like today, completely sucked into things out of my reach, like a kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, grasping for the blueberry bubble, enticed to take a dip in the chocolate river, invitations to parties, showers, gallery openings and closings –  job postings, discussion groups, book launches…

Geeeze, I’m falling behind it all.  I can’t keep up.  No, thanks, there in Spirit is my Evite response, if I muster the energy to reach beyond virtual gawking to virtual participation.

But besides the spiritual connection, I can have none of it. 

Then I get an email from an ex, out of the blue – Come Home!  That’s all it says.  Like he knows I’m having one of those teetering days, on the edge of the chocolate river, about to FALL IN – hoping maybe someone will push me.

Help!  So yes, tanks god for abs class, for pulling me back – time to shutdown, unplug, plug-in, re-orient: Clarity, courage, creativity, commitment…CLOSURE.

I actually think this last one is the most important. I must CLOSE before I can open.  It’s not fair to me or to others – opening doors in Mexico and in the US – in the pueblo, in the capital – the Viva Viveros project, my teaching at UPSLP, my extracurricular gym and English classes…and now this idea about Sustainable Biz Aliance of Rioverde…our first meeting in two weeks.  Not to mention I now have friends here – Rita wants to write a book together on Chisme!  How amazing that could be.  How to shift from gossip to ….anything…contemplation, action, activism, kindness.  Quit letting the negative energy rule your work, your life, your family relationships!

Sick, it really is.  It seems so simple – but Rita says everyone would buy it – with a title like that.  I love this idea – and the orange products idea too – marmalades, soaps, oils and perfumes.  And the sustainability alliance – connecting people, going local – selling their products in sites like Ed Drago’s!  

How can I possibly juggle these REAL things with the crap back home?! The bathroom ceiling fell in; the roof is leaking; the fridge died. 

I cannot.  That’s the truth. 

And it’s not all crap back home – it’s just too far (though seemingly so close at times) to be meaningful.  

I have sauce to make, essays to write, recipes to learn…there’s Rose in Magdelenas – I saw her at the combi station a couple weeks back, and she had a crooked mouth.  She had a stroke poor Rose.  She never got her trash bottle health center.

I have realized this much in my time in Rioverde, MX:  the government is NOT there for them.  Was it ever there for me?  In Montgomery County, MD – decent roads and schools, but lately most of the money wasted on war. 

No, you have to go it on your own – don’t wait, don’t rely, you can die waiting for things here. What Mexico needs is more civil society organizations, more social entrepreneurs and sustainable innovators who are thinking about more than just themselves and their pocketbooks. 

Ideas flowing. It’s not totally clear yet – but something is flowing out of this chocolate river – Green River – Rio Verde.

The next 8 months I’m going to find out – I am going to make the connections, understand the system…test the ideas…help a few good people…

I’m not doing this to build a resume – I’m doing this to DO this. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Impermanence & Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

Nothing is permanent:  neither the dry spells which have seemed like I’m crossing the endless Altiplano desert, nor the downpours when love seems to rain down like hail and bonks me on the head. 

So I can’t get caught in either of them – thinking I’m nothing, thinking I’m everything.  I am neither, I am both.

Tonight at Amore Café with my English Salon group I felt a soft, warm rain.

I’d been resistant to starting this group.  The locals had been hounding me ever since I arrived in Rioverde:  Why am I not teaching English?  And I always reacted poorly:  Because that’s not why I came to Mexico!  For one thing, I had little free time between my two SEMARNAT Viva Viveros sustainability projects in the distant indigenous communities.  For another, and since the beginning, I’ve had this slight moral dilemma:  Isn’t teaching English sending a message that we are better, that you Mexicans must assimilate, versus taking pride in your local customs, language, culture?  

But more and more I’d been meeting Rioverdenses that already spoke English – it’s just that they didn’t speak it well and didn’t have much of a chance to practice.  And maybe learning English would not really decimate their sense of pride – just add to their toolbox of options – allow them to be a more effective part of the global economy which, admittedly, was being dominated by English.

Okay, so I’ve given in a little.  I’m not teaching formally – I refuse to prepare lesson plans. I want this to be fun and spontaneous and not a huge burden on me or the participants. So I’ve started leading this English conversation group on Monday nights – an early session for teens and a late one for adults – just conversation among people who already speak.  They had to be able to read and understand the flyer in order to participate.  Are you out of practice, have a limited vocabulary, or lousy pronunciation?  We will work on those things – as well as increase you confidence to converse with others.

At the first meeting we went around the circle:  where did you learn your English, I asked.  Some of them, wetbacks who’d worked on El Otro Lado, learned in the restaurants and on construction sites; others took intensive classes in one of the Easy or Fast English schools here in town; one fellow, Hector, learned by reading Hillary Clinton speeches!  The kids learned from TV, Internet and video games.

After a month of Mondays, I’ve found myself looking forward to these salons – they give me a chance to practice my English too!

Tonight we played Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.  How did I dredge that game up from my past? 
The idea just popped into my mind as I was organizing my backpack this morning and brainstorming internally about what to do with the group tonight.  Such rich words in and of themselves – animal, vegetable, mineral - categories within which to fit other words – and the chance to practice questioning.  

And it was a real hit – not just with the teens but the adults too.  I had chile gumball prizes leftover from my burro piñata for the winning team.  Patty and Mau were the powerhouse with only four guesses both times – once for turtle (animal), the other time for gold (mineral).  The hardest one was ant – David and Eric could not zero in – they were fixated on a furry animal and were not thinking of the insect world.  Omar and Carlos took a totally different path, skipping the first basic categorizing questions:   Is it an animal? Is it a vegetable?  And it took them 11 guesses to get to pumpkin. They got the boobie prize.

Some of the new words we posted on the flip-chart during the course of the night (yes, my facilitator flip-charting skills coming in very handy in this workshop) were:
·         Guess – guesser
·        Yummy =delicious
·        Zucchini = squash
·        Pickles ~ cucumbers (cukes)
·        Path
·        Clue  = hint
·        Capable
·        Cheater
·        Alley
·        Fur – different from fear
·        Feathers
·        Beak
·        Bee
·        Cockroach
·        Ant =/ Aunt
·        Octopus – octa (8 =ocho)

We wrapped up close to 10 pm. I felt the exhaustion settling into my bones, but a satisfying kind after a long, productive day, envisioning more check marks on my PCV Trimester report. 

Patty the owner was trying to get the chairs on the tables and the floor mopped; I was trying to get my backpack packed and zipped up.  Her little son Nicholas was insisting I read his train book with him. And when Nicholas wants your attention he gets he. He gently touching your cheek and guides your head where he wants you to look. Look, he says in English, the salon lessons rubbing off on him too.

Meanwhile, Hector was chatting away in my other ear about photography. He’s so serious about his Engleeesh – his accent is so strong, but he's determined to master this language and take advantage of every second he has to practice.  

Finally ready to head out, I'm stopped by Patty who's paused her mopping to tell me in very nice English that I am so funny and the class is very funny and thanks so much for being our teacher. 

This was a surprise, a slap out of the trance of checklists and the long desert stretches of striving to get where I am going, and underneath the unworthiness.  

AM I funny? I ask.  Yeeez, she answers.

When people are learning, connecting, conversing, having fun themselves, then I am having fun, and I am funny.  I feel worthy and the desert is not dry.

When they are sad, bored, walking dead, or worse, passive aggressive, manipulative, dishonest…then I get disappointed, exasperated, and disillusioned – and this camino across the semi-arid lands of Central Mexico feels endless.  

Maybe beneath it, I do fault myself:  I could be doing more, better. When maybe…that’s just the way it is.

Note to self:  for the next class I need to teach them the difference between fun (divertida) and funny (chistosa).  Maybe I'm both!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Real Plaza Blues

Looking down over concrete blocks from the 9th floor, this San Luis skyline is one of hard, monotonous angles. But purple bursts like gifts adorn the cobblestone streets, peek out over protective walls, soften the sharp corners of the city. The jacarandas are in bloom - their contorted grey trunks can barely support the canopies laden with lavender. They remind me it's Spring in this desert place that seems to be in eternal Spring - no definition between seasons, warm, warmer, hot, hotter, and cool nights like autumns in Washington.

I miss Washington today. There the cherry blossoms are blooming. Pink, playful canopies like parasols ring the tidal basin, line the lucky streets. My friends are having their traditional champagne picnic under their blooms by the Jeff Memorial this week. The wind tosses confetti into the air and children dive to catch it.  I almost ache to be part of that scene – always still a little chilly in March, so we shiver on our blankets, before optimistic picnic spreads, peeling shrimp with frozen fingers.
And Sunday mornings, Chantelle’s yoga class meets at 11:30, her opening inspirational readings and graceful routines and lavender oil ending.  I miss.

I even miss my Sundays after class, all relaxed, in the lonely Van Ness Starbucks doing my writing, the smell of coffee hanging in the air, the whoosh of the latte machine, and the movement of tourists going down under, embarking on the Metro for a day of sightseeing.

I miss my Sunday Washington loneliness, knowing I will have dinner with my friends that night.
I miss a life of connections – and I know I romanticize it from a distance – from up here on the 9th floor of the Real Plaza where they put me up on weekends so I can teach classes at the university. 

But saudades is a kind of missing that I love. I learned in Brazil to celebrate the missing with a bossa nova beat. The feeling is warm inside my belly.  It’s a form of grasping, I know.  Be in the here and now, the Buddha says.  But at least I know it – I see it – I am putting my curious attention on this feeling and recognizing that it’s something that I create.  

I need not cling to those visions, but simply appreciate them as …joy, mudita.  Can we have joy for the past happiness of ourselves? And our potential happiness, appreciation, for going back to that life we left behind?  

I think the Buddha would be okay with that.