Today marks my one week anniversary with Mexico! We’re celebrating by napping and raining, respectively.
The seven days that I’ve been here feel much, much longer. I’m unsure if it’s because of the insane number of things that I have learned and experienced in so little time or if it’s because each day is structured into two mini-days, in which I wake up early, nap mid-day, and go to sleep late. Whatever the reason, last Thursday feels like ages ago.
Here are some things I have accomplished and/or adjusted to in the last week:
- I went to three museums
- I took a bus tour of the city
- I went out to the Centro twice at night
- I finally remember to throw my toiletpaper in the trash instead of the toilet
- I have a somewhat competent understanding of how the streets and buses here work
- I bought a cheap cell phone
- I’ve acquired at least two mosquito bites within every five inches of my body
- I’ve spent a lot more time with my family here
- I found a gym near my house
- I took my first week of classes
I’m not going to be able to write about everything right now because I still want to get a decent amount of homework done before I go to sleep, but I will elaborate a bit on a few things. And photos! I took more photos.
First, a brief background on Mérida and the Yucatán Peninsula. The Yucatán is in the southeast of Mexico between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, above Belize and Guatemala. It was home to a thriving Maya civilization until the mid-16th century when Spain invaded and conquered the area, putting many natives to work as indentured servants. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, most of the state was used to create huge plantations on which the Maya were forced to work. In 1847 there was a revolution that lasted 50 years until an agreement was reached and the Maya received rights.
To this day there are many Maya ruins and elaborate homes from the Spaniards’ reign throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, and Mérida has the highest percentage of indigenous people of all cities in Mexico. Because of its diversity and somewhat secluded location, the Yucatán largely has its own culture separate from the rest of Mexico and is the only state with zero involvement in the Narco Wars. According to our program director, Mérida is one of the top ten safest cities in the world (source not found).
All this to say that there are an unbelievable number of things to do and see here. So far, I’ve been to the Museo del Mundo Maya, the Museo del Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán, la Catedral, la Palacia del Gobierno, and the Museo Casa Montejo.
The bar scene here is wonderful. I went out my first Saturday with a group from the program and then again last night for one of the girl’s cumpleaños! I tried mezcal, a native Mexican tequila-like drink made from agave, the first night out but no me gustó so last night I just danced instead. The bar scene here is wonderful because of the dancing. Somehow, everyone here knows how to do all of the different types of dances and are super willing to teach. It’s not at all a sleazy and there’s an incredibly open and alegre atmosphere. At the bar we went to last night, there was a grupera band playing cumbia y salsa on a tiny stage right on top of everyone, smiling at todo el mundo dancing to their music.
The streets here are all numbers, with odds going in one direction and evens in another. Outside of the Centro, most of the little streets don’t go all the way through, so it’s common to skip 4 or 6 numbers each block. For example, I’m on Calle 19, entre Calle 54 y Calle 50. The buses that go to UADY and to town stop at the Arcos, which are a few blocks away and a very helpful (and beautiful) landmark.
For all those of you who were worried about me getting kidnapped or killed in a cartel fight, worry not: if I am going to die in Mexico, it’ll be on those buses. The bus that I take to and from UADY is siempre packed with people in the seats, in the aisles, leaning against the cracked front window, standing in the open flapping doorway, watching the grey sidewalk whiz by, holding onto a pole as other people push against their backs for more room and the bus leaps unsteadily over speed bumps. The driver holds the large thin steering wheel in one hand while the other hand organizes a bowl of coins into their appropriate slots and changes gears. Where a maximum occupancy sign would be on a New York bus, there are three different colored pictures of Jesus.
Class sign-ups here put Wesleyan’s system to shame. There is a two-week shopping period after which you enter online which courses you want to take. And that’s it. No pre-reg, no adjustment period, no add-drop, no frantic pleading emails to teachers. You try out your classes and then you take the ones you like. (This would be a lot simpler, of course, if it weren’t all in Spanish. Never again will I take for granted how easy it is to take classes in a language I am fluent in.) As of today, I am almost 100% decided on my class schedule. At UADY I am taking three classes: Psicología de la Comunicación (Mon Wed 10-2), Psicopatología (Tues 12-2 Thurs 8-10), and either Comunicación-Educativa or Historia de la Sexualidad y Perspectiva de Género (both Tues Thurs 10-12). We had to take a placement exam for the IFSA-Butler program’s Spanish classes and I was placed in the higher of the two levels (a slight disappointment after the prospect of one easy class) which is Tues Thurs 4-6. And last but not least I’m in a Community Engagement program through IFSA-Butler Thurs 6-8.
So many exciting things! With one week behind me, I feel like I have a better sense of what the next seventeen weeks may hold. And while my main objective is to remain open-minded to all the possibilities that may arise and not get tied down with too many goals, I really like lists so por fin…
A flexible list of things that I would love to do and places that I would love to go while I am abroad:
- Go to Oaxaca (beautiful, cultural city with lots of sights and crafts and foods)
- Take Salsa classes
- Teach English
- Go to at least five different beaches
- Go to Chichén Itzá (huge Maya site, one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”)
- Learn to cook at least a full day’s worth of Yucatecan meals
- Go to a cenote
(Find the iguana)