Monday, November 22, 2010

End of Week 15 - What's Going On?

Over the last few weeks I have often found myself chuckling within and wondering "What the hell's going on?" We are less than two weeks into our actual service as volunteers, yet so far from Queretaro and the swearing-in ceremony that made us official Peace Corps volunteers.

Puebla is a huge city, one with a large historic center and massive sprawling suburbs. It is surrounded volcanoes, and is famous for its food; chocolate mole (mole poblano), ant roe, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. We live with a new host family in Puebla, but it's no typical Mexican family. They have a nice suburban house. One son went to NYU and studied fine arts, another went to a university in San Antonio on a Fulbright scholarship, and another was the starting quarterback for UDLAP, a university in Puebla that just won the national championship in Futbol Americano.

Puebla government building.

Cathedral on the zocalo.

At work I have tried to let everyone know that I enjoy getting out of the office, going on field trips or whatever the option is. One day last week I was invited to go to a new city park inauguration and took the opportunity gladly. I wasn't sure what to expect and didn't really know why we were going to the inauguration. When we arrived, the Mexican military was guarding the park's perimeter, automatic machine guns ready. The state's governor was arriving by helicopter, and for some reason we were sitting on the stage with the most prominent Poblano officials, everyone dressed in an expensive suit and tie except for me (I was wearing a dirty fleece jacket, a bright orange backpack, and my Buffalo tourist baseball hat). Before the governor arrived, my co-worker from the office decided he needed to take some photos of the park, so we left the stage and commenced inspections of every bathroom in the park, taking photos of both men's and women's restrooms. We never went back to the stage and I missed the inauguration. Why did we need photos of the bathrooms? Why was I there at all? I don't really know yet.

Later that week we had a theft at the office. Someone's cell phone was taken. The entire 40-person office was told to go to the central courtyard and stay there while they did a search of everyone’s workspace. For me it was like crossing the border into Canada; I know I wasn't doing anything wrong but I couldn't help feeling guilty anyways. I kept hoping that they wouldn't find the cell phone in my desk, hoping that the thief wouldn't stash it in my backpack. And when they finally got around to searching my work area, there it was, in the plant pot next to my desk. Great, now I'm the thief from the US!

We had a meeting today at the office; everyone from the planning team was there. We discussed the cell phone incident - I'm pretty sure they don't think it was me - and a few other things. Most of the discussion was directed to the group and away from me, but that changed suddenly; the boss was looking at me and talking. I kept looking back to make sure he knew I was paying attention. I realized everyone else was looking at me too. Great, I hate being the center of attention, especially when I don't understand anything being said. He stopped talking and everyone started laughing. Oh, it must have been a joke! Just smile and laugh, they will all think you get it. Wait, they stopped laughing and they're still looking at me... It wasn't a joke it was a question! Oh please change the subject. Just shrug and nod your head in agreement. You can hold out longer than they can!.... This happens pretty regularly and I don't always figure out what happened later.

It’s been interesting here. My Spanish is considered mid-advanced, but there are some people that just seem to be speaking an entirely different language than Spanish. Ours is definitely a different cultural immersion experience than the new volunteer without much Spanish who is living in a community of 24 people on top of a remote mountain in the campo. If she had access to the internet, or electricity, she would probably be writing a similar story, but would likely be using stronger four-letter words than "hell".

Mexico - what's with the overuse of "ecologico" in the naming of everything? Parks can be ecological parks, but city parks that are just soccer fields are not ecological. Periferico Ecologico (ecological highway) ...? Parque Industrial Ecologico (ecological industrial park)....really?

It continues....
So last Friday I went to to grab something to eat for lunch. When I returned, everyone was gone except for Alicia, the co-worker that I go to small communities with. She was locking the office and leaving in a hurry. When she saw me she seemed startled and asked me a question (in Spanish), that was something like this: I thought you went with Francisco (my boss) to a community? I told her "no, I'm working in the office today." I didn't know anyone was going to a community visit and I was a little disappointed that Francisco didn't bring me with him. She repeated the question and I responded with the same, "no, I am staying here." So she left...

Ana came back from lunch soon after, and to her surprise, I was still in the office. She asked why I hadn't gone with Alicia to the community. Diego, Ana's boss, returned and asked me the same. Then Francisco returned and asked me too. Apparently, Alicia had been waiting for me to return from lunch to take me to a dinner in a small community south of the city. I really did want to go. I found out that Alicia, who had been waiting for me to return from lunch, had actually asked me if I was ready to go with her to the community. And I had responded "no, I am staying here." I told her later that if I ever say anything stupid, just shake me!

And Again...
We were preparing for our trip to Oaxaca and the Arqi (my boss' nickname, short for Arquitecto, or Architect) asked me if Ana wanted to go with us. I asked Ana and she said no.

I told the Arqi that "Ana no va a ir", which means Ana is not going to go.

The Arqi responded "no ayer, mañana", which means not yesterday, tomorrow. He thought I was saying "ayer" instead of "a ir".

I repeated myself "no, Ana no va a ir."

So did he - "no ayer, mañana." Then, in broken English, "Ayer mean yesterday, mañana tomorrow." Of course I knew that and I knew what he was saying and why he was confused. But, even in Spanish, he couldn't understand me.

I smiled, and so did he. I had to let this one go. Since they don't think I speak Spanish, they can't understand me when I am speaking just fine. It is what it is I guess.


  1. I feel your pain, well written !

  2. I know what you mean about the Spanish. I realize now that I'm not nearly as advanced as I thought I was. It's somewhat shocking.