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Mar. 4th, 2006 @ 06:43 pm (no subject)
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: hungryhungry
Lo que escucho:: "The Office" Valentine's Day episode
So I've been back in Oaxaca for a week now and have had a pretty normal week. I guess I never finished up with Mexico City so I'll try to recap some highlights. After four nights we checked out of the hotel and did a day of intense sight-seeing, beginning with the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Plaza of the Three Cultures). On one side there is a ruined Aztec building, on another side there is a church that was clearly built with stones from the ruins, and modern government-built apartment complexes. The Plaza was the site of a massacre of students in 1968 as they tried to disperse after an anti-government rally. Hundreds of students were killed, although the official government statistics never acknowledged more than a few dozen. There is a memorial there now.

It was also the site of the last battle between Cortés's forces and the Aztec troops. There is a memorial there that calls the battle neither a victory nor a defeat but the painful birth of a new people. It got me thinking about ... difficult and contradictory the Mexican identity is. The Spanish conquest was brutal and genocidal, but the vast majority of Mexicans are mestizo and their culture is a mix of indigenous and European traits. Cortés had an indigenous lover, Malintzín or Malinche, who bore him children and whom he then abandoned. She became known as La Malinche among her people, or La Chingada in Spanish, or the Fucked One in English, and she is considered the mother of the Mexican people. What an ambiguous origin ... Father the violent Spanish conquerer, mother the cast-off concubine. Hard to totally embrace or totally reject either side.

After the Plaza we went to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, another very emblematic figure in Mexican identity. There is a cloak there with her image on it, which supposedly appeared after she came to an indigenous man and told him that she wanted a church built on that spot. People save up all their money to make pilgrimages to the Basilica, and some people even walk up to the entrance on their knees to show reverence. There are many chapels on the grounds and a beautiful garden that holds a series of statues of indigenous people approaching the Virgin of Guadalupe with offerings of food.

After the Basilica we went to Teotihuacán, an ancient city that has lots of ruins and three impressive pyramids. The first pyramid is, I believed, dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl, and when you stand at the bottom of it and clap your hands it creates an echo that sounds like the call of the quetzal bird. You have to walk quite a bit, through the foundations of long-gone buildings, to get to the second pyramid, which is the largest one and dedicated to the Sun god. It looked like it would take forever to climb, but actually was quite manageable, if exhausting. It was at the top that they used to sacrifice people, who were too winded by the time they got there to struggle at all. Then we walked down the Avenue of the Dead, which still bears some frescoes painted on the walls, to the Moon Pyramid, which has the best view of all although it is not the tallest.

After all those adventures we drove to the working-class neighborhood of Santo Domingo, where we spent the next four nights. I'll give you the history of the neighborhood in another post.
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Feb. 23rd, 2006 @ 06:47 pm Mexico City, Part II
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: tiredtired
At some point (the days are starting to run together ... I think it was Sunday) we went to the National Museum of Anthropology, a place worth returning to many times. I only saw about a quarter of the museum before I was just too exhausted to keep standing up and reading things. You could spend two hours in the Mexica room alone. I spent the most time in the area that focused on the early history of humans. I also spent a lot of time in one part that focused on the indigenous cultures of Mexico, parts of which I had mixed feelings about. It was good that the museum did not treat indigenous cultures as something of the past, something that happened before the Spanish got to Mexico, because they are still very much alive (e.g. Oaxaca is over a third indigenous). On the other hand, it was odd to see big dioramas of indigenous people, complete with radios and Coca-Cola, going about their normal daily activities. It was almost like having a zoo of indigenous lifestyles so urban Mexicans and foreigners could come gawk.

Can you believe I'm getting credit for this? We have done stuff that is more directly related to the goals of the program. Organizations we have visited thus far: Sin Fronteras, a group that helps migrants within and too Mexico to know and exercise their rights; Letra S, a monthly supplement on sexuality, health, and AIDS in the national newspaper La Jornada; La Neta, a group that helps nonprofit organizations get connected to the Internet and have their own websites (I learned a ton about the importance of open-sources software); and the Escuelita Emiliano Zapata, which is more or less our host organization while we are staying in Santo Domingo.

More about the second half of the week later!
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Feb. 23rd, 2006 @ 06:09 pm Mexico City, Part I
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: cheerfulcheerful
Hi everyone!
I'm writing from the neighborhood of Santo Domingo in Mexico City, where we have spent the last week on an extended field trip. I will put up many pictures after we get back on Saturday.

The first four nights we spent in the very center of Mexico City, a dangerous and very dirty place, but cool, as you will see. On Saturday (?) we went to the excavated site of the Templo Mayor (Grand Temple) of the Mexica (Aztec). The Templo Mayor is located at the center of what was once Tenochtitlán, the Mexica capital. Of course, when the Spanish arrived they simply build the capital of New Spain right on top of the beautifully laid-out Tenochtitlán, so the Templo is located right smack in the middle of Mexico City, right next to the main square, the presidential palace, and the great cathedral, which was very clearly built with stone taken from the Temlpo Mayor. The temple wasn't rediscovered until the 1970 when they tried to build a parking lot on that spot. It is a very interesting building: successive generations of Mexicas built bigger temples over the original one, so there are now seven layers of walls. In some areas the original paint jobs on stone frescoes have lasted, so you can see red and yellow and blue warriors and gods.

The part I found most interesting was the stone figure of a dismembered woman that you can see at the bottom, a reference to the Mexica myth of the Sun God's birth (his name is something crazy like Hochizuitpol). When the mother of the Sun God conceived him, his sister the Moon convinced her other brothers that they must kill their mother for this treachery of getting pregnant again. The unborn sun god heard them and told his mother of the plot, and he was born a full-grown warrior who immediately slayed his sister. The temple was dedicated to him, so it is her body that lies at the foot.

Later that same day (I think) some of us went to the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Palace) to see the work of some of Mexico's famous muralists, such as Rivera and Orosco. My favorite was a giant Rivera mural that was originally comissioned by Rockefeller in the 1930s for the Rockefeller Center in NYC. The problem was, it glorified communism and criticized capitalism (this was during the height of the Great Depression) so Rockefeller wasn't too happy with it. Rivera refused to change a thing, so Rockfeller had the mural destroyed. Rivera recreated it for the opening of the Palacio in 1934, and called it 'Man as Controller of the Universe' or 'Man at the Crossroads.' It is an incredible work full of important and sometimes startling details. We spent a half hour just looking for more details and talking about their meaning. We met some Russian women who were also fascinated by it, and they asked me to translate some of the explanatory plaques by different paintings (from Spanish to English). Afterward we went to a museum devoted entirely to one Rivera mural, 'Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park', and it's a portrait of all of Mexican history. Very interesting.

I'm going to split this into two posts so y'all don't get fatigued.
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Feb. 15th, 2006 @ 07:47 pm Exciting ideas bouncing around in my head
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: excitedexcited
Excerpts from an email to Will, which includes lengthy excerpts from a conversation with Bucky

Today we get to follow a schedule more like that to which I am accustomed. We went to this amazing place today, Universidad de la Tierra ... I need you to be here with me. You'd be so incredibly turned on by the stuff we're being exposed to here, it's all stuff you've been trying to teach me for two years, and I realize how much of it I really already understood as I hear it rearticulated here. I'm going to copy part of the convo I just had with Bucky, because that's easier than me trying to resynthesize my thoughts, which are still really scattered:

Bucky: what's the best part of being there right now?
iobgg: hmmmm
iobgg: the weather is pretty damn sweet
iobgg: although it was quite hot when we were walking here ... we're on a different schedule today, where we didn't go home for comida, so we were walking here at the hottest part of the day
iobgg: i LOVE the group of people here
iobgg: the other SIT students
iobgg: and damn ... this place we went to today ...
iobgg: gah, i wish i could just TALK to you guys about it, it's hard to try to synthesize all the incredible thoughts i've been having today and write them down clearly
Bucky: whoa, good sigh tho :-)
iobgg: about ... development as different from western technology, and development as a myth and really about trying to make the whole world have one way of life, and how i really get it now that the best thing i can do to help the world is not go work for an international organization like the UN but to find my own way, create my own "other world" (as in, another world is possible) and be the model, and serve within my own community but never be so presumptuous as to think i could solve problems of people who i don't even know
iobgg: and ... and how education fits on that, how ridiculous education is, how people really should have the option to learn the way will is always talking about
iobgg: we went to Universidad de la Tierra, where the only entrance requirements are that you be 18 and know how to read and write in spanish
iobgg: and people learn whatever they want to learn, they go through an apprenticeship process, or workshops are organized as desired by the students, and it's all free
Bucky: cool frijoles
iobgg: and the idea of knowing how everyone should be educated and trying to impose that education on them is presumptuous and a fallacy, and people should simply have space to LEARN, not to be educated
iobgg: think about that ... 'learn' is an active verb, i learn, but 'educate' is passive, i am educated by someone or something else
Bucky: interesting point
iobgg: okay, now i'm just going to copy all that into my email to will

How does that sound? Oh my goodness, I'm totally serious, you and I must come back and visit this center again because you'd be so fascinated by the way they're living, by their philosophies and their efforts to make another way, to step away and live another life. There's an American girl there (SIT alum) who is working with a Canadian guy and some Mexicans as well and they have their own brand of chocolate. Tiaa asked her how she reconciled selling chocolate when she was trying to move beyond capitalism, and in a nutshell the girl answered that they don't make chocolate to make money, they make money so that they can keep making chocolate! She said she came back here after she graduated college because it was the only thing she could do. I think I'm starting to understand that.

More from my convo with Bucky:
iobgg: bucky, they don't want development, the Zapatistas and the intellectual club that goes along with them (represented in our education here by Gustavo Esteva) ... they don't want participatory dvlpmt, or sustainable dvlpmt ... they want something beyond dvelopment, beyond democracy
Bucky: are you getting concentration credit for this?
Bucky: 'cause that would be beautifully ironic
iobgg: yeah, 2 credits
iobgg: i know :-(
iobgg: *:-)
iobgg: and the program has 'development' in the name!
Bucky: haha
Bucky: but that's a really cool paradigm for them to have for looking at the future
Bucky: who do you mean by "they"?
iobgg: haha that is a very good question
iobgg: according to gustavo esteva, the 'de-professionalized intellectual' who gives some of our lectures and runs this UniTierra, "Mexico Profundo," deep Mexico, which seems to be a subset of people who are consciously stepping away from mainstream society, the Zapatistas but also people who work at UniTierra (there's a non-profit organic chocolate company that grew out of it), the students who go there ... etc.
iobgg: 'etc.' meaning i don't know who else
iobgg: Because he kept saying "we" and i finally asked who "we" was and his answer was "Mexico Profundo" without really explaining who that was
iobgg: this is the guy who extensively overused quotation marks in the book i was supposed to read before coming here

So there's a lot going on in my head. I feel like I am starting to get what it was I came here for, a clearer sense of how I see the world and what I want for my life and for other people. I sincerely want the two of us to come back here at some point. Did I already say that? I mean it. I feel so inspired.

Bucky: well i like the idea of the 'de-professionalized intellectual'
iobgg: yeah, his professional trajectory is very interesting
iobgg: he went from IBM exec to Proctor & Gamble exec to marxist to guerrilla to non-violentist to administrator of govt development projects to a grassroots development worker and then discovered when he abandoned intelletualism as a lens for understanding the work he was doing he was able to move beyond the idea of development
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Feb. 15th, 2006 @ 07:43 pm Week 2
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: awakeawake
More AIM convos, so fewer detailed emails!

Feb. 9

God, there's so much going on that I'd like to talk about, but it's hard to think of all at once ... My host family has a cute little white dog named Lucky who's like a little circus dog, she walks around on her hind legs to beg for food. Her trick is to give you a double high-five when you say "Chúpales!" (Hit them!). There are lots of street dogs, and it's pretty common for people to keep their dogs on their roofs, so when we walk by they bark and I'm always terrified that they're going to jump off onto my head.

Today we have no classes so we can go see Subcommandante Marcos speak. He's on his grand tour of the country, promoting "The Other Campaign" in the midst of the presidential campaign. Should be cool.

Feb. 13
Here buses seem almost like a franchise ... Drivers definitely decorate their buses according to their own taste (curtains, red lights, religions icons), play whatever music they want, and don't maintain them very well. Many buses have a "bus buddy" who stands at the front and shouts the route out to people as the bus pulls up to stuff and tries to get people to get on.

My address:
Ingrid O'Brien
AT: William Stone
Calle del Carmen 104
Frac. La Paz, Colonia Figueroa
Oaxaca, 68000, OAX
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Feb. 15th, 2006 @ 07:36 pm Feb. 3
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: happyhappy
Another Feb. 3 email.

We just had a cleansing ceremony with a curandera, an indigenous healer woman. It was really cool, although I confess I'm not sure if I feel purified. We sat in a circle and she scattered flowerpetals at our feet and in a cross across the center to mark the 4 cardinal directions. Then we all stood and held hands and she explained that in their tradition (Zapotec) they work with the mind, the point of the ceremony was to relax our bodies and cleanse our souls and give us a good pure start to our adventure. We were told to think of all the hopes and wishes we had for our stay in Oaxaca. Then we closed our eyes and she walked around with something that looked like a big stalk of sage and splattered herbal water on our heads and then on our feet. Then we turned to face outward and she walked around again, splattering water on our heads and feet. Then we turned around and she carried a smoking chalice around and blew smoke in our faces, then turned around again and she blew it at the back of our heads. Then we turned back around and she spoke to us a bit about what she hoped for us for our stay, how this is a purification that calls on the power of nature and the earth and is an offering to God (cool blending, eh?) and that it's a tradition that goes way way back, no one knows how long, and that will always continue because they will always teach it to their children.

Will's already got some info on my stay here which I imagine he's shared a bit. There are 16 of us (only 3 guys; one girl from Brown, who I'd met before) and we're still in the orientation stage, staying in a hotel. Very nearby are the SIT offices which are housed in a ground-floor apartment that has a very open feel. It also has free wireless Internet, which they failed to mention to us in the letters we received before coming here. We all have a set of keys and are allowed to come whenever we like (and after we leave our homestay families in 6 weeks and start going on trips, we're allowed to leave our extra luggage here.) We had the cleansing ceremony on the roof of the building, which is a beautiful place to go up and look around. There are mountains on all sides and you can see houses in all different states of disrepair, and many flowering trees. There was a beautiful, streaky sunset as the cleansing was going on.

Almost every part of the orientation has been in English so far, and apparently most of the coursework will be in English. Even our final projects are supposed to be written in English, although the oral presentations are to be in Spanish. We had our evaluations today for our language placement, and classes start Monday for that at Becari Language School (4 hours/day, 4 days/wk, 6 wks). That should be fun, that building is built almost like a figure-8 with two courtyards and a bright, bold paint job. Buildings in the States just don't have these colors.

They've been talking to us a lot about dangers and risks, so I'm starting to feel a bit of the burden of being in a foriegn place. We can't drink the water, we have to be careful about the food even in seemingly nice restaurants, because it may have been prepared with contaminated water, we have to be really careful about the signals we send to men, because things like going to get a beer with your host brother are interpreted much differently here than in the States (in short: don't be alone with one other guy unless you're interested in a romantic/sexual relationship). They threw a lot of scary information at us at once, so I think we're all feeling a little wary, but I'm sure we'll adjust.

Wow, this is the longest chance I've had to sit and write an email, I'm overwhelmed with all the things I could potentially tell you about! You'll have to forgive me if I end up copying and pasting some (all) of this into a big group email and you have to read it twice. We've been given lots of free time, like 3-hour lunch breaks, but I've spent most of that time wandering around with people from the group and having leisurely comidas (the term that I learned as simply meaning "food" but here means your big afternoon meal, the main meal of the day). There's a lot that we all feel like we weren't informed about before coming, like the free Internet and the fact that most of our food is already paid for, but of course those are good things and we're feeling more and more reassured that this really is an organized program and that these people know what they're doing. There are three main staff people, William, Antonio, and Aída, and they're all so friendly and helpful and nice. They've scheduled a lot of downtime into our academic semester so that we have time to reflect and process what we're doing, and the reading load ain't bad at all. Most days we do have a lot of class, 4 hours of Spanish (then a 3-hour lunch ... and siesta), then about 3 hours more of class at SIT, either the field study seminar or the seminar on grassroots development. That all starts Monday.

Now it's 7 and we're supposed to be having dinner at the Academic Director's house, so I'll need to start making my way over there soon. I miss you all terribly and I'll write more as soon as I can.
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Feb. 15th, 2006 @ 07:29 pm Extracts from emails Feb. 2 and 3
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: goodgood
Well, I guess two weeks is really too long to wait to finally being to update this journal, but better late than never. I won't be able to provide the detail I would have liked, but I'll try copying and pasting some emails I have written so far.

From Feb. 2:
I have had a really good day today. Turns out we have wireless access at the SIT office! It's in a really great location near this market and pretty close to the main square, the Zócalo. Our language school is also closeby. I'm going to be living on the north side of the city, so I'll have to take a bus to get to classes, but I like buses. We have a pretty laid-back schedule including many free days or free afternoons, which is really nice. The director said that's new, and it's because they want to give us more time to reflect and process and get to know the city better and whatnot. I'm really liking the group so far. I'm worried about getting sick from the food or the water ... They told us to just expect that we're going to get sick at some point, so oh well.

From Feb. 3:
Turns out we have free wireless Internet access at the SIT offices, but they don't recommend keeping our computers here, so I have to lug it over and I've been trying to do that when we've got a little time betwee things, but usually I've been out walking around with other people and get back to the office right when I'm supposed to. There are only 16 of us in the program! I really like everyone, and orientation has been fun. The city is really cool, much more like a European city than an American city, although it's a bit decrepit. I'm anxious about getting sick, but they say we might as well resign outselves to getting sick at some point.

Later continuation of that email on Feb. 3
Still in a hotel. We're meeting our families and moving in on Sunday. By sickness I mean getting poisoned by accidentally ingesting the water in any unpurified form, or eating unclean food. They say we might as well resign ourselves to getting sick, it's a question of if, not when. I'm trying to be careful. Orientation has included health info (just did that), info on sexual harrassment, an icebreaker, lots of wandering around in small groups during our three-hour lunch breaks, and next we're going to have a "cleansing" process done by a curandera (shaman, healer). Exciting. I had my language evaluation today and language classes start Monday, along with our field study seminar. Even once classes start we'll have a pretty open schedule with lots of free time.
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Dec. 12th, 2005 @ 01:20 am (no subject)
¿Cómo me siento hoy?: excitedexcited
Lo que escucho:: Something African
Welcome to my journal about my semester in Oaxaca! I'm excited to have this way of keeping all of you updated about my activities. Feel free to comment all you like.

Of course, I'm not going until February 1, so I'll try to think of something to put here in the meantime :-)

Love, Ingrid
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