In a tank top with the overhead fan on and a floor fan set to high and pointed directly at my face, the temperature is actually quite pleasant. It’s not that I’m not used to weather in the high nineties (or thirties – what?), it’s that I’m not used to the kind of humidity that clings to every surface and makes the air feel heavy on my skin. My first night here when I asked my señora about biking, she laughed and said everyone would be soaking wet and dehydrated before they traveled two blocks. Even just walking around and being inside, I have to remember to drink a lot of water, especially because with meals there’s mainly just jugo or leche. Other than sitting by fans when I’m home and drinking a lot of water, the only other remedy for the heat I’ve found is cold showers. Apparently it’s common here to take three showers a day – one in the morning, one after the afternoon siesta, and one before bed. So far, I’ve only been taking one shower each day because it’s only a matter of minutes after I’ve dried off before my skin is sticky again. I actually have no idea whether or not my shower has hot water because I’ve only ever turned on the cold faucet, which produces a warmish and very meager trickle of water. Still, if the worst part of my abroad experience is the fact that I’m going to be perpetually moist for four months, that’s hardly cause for complaint.
Here are some things of note other than my sweat:
The IFSA-Butler program in Mérida consists of eleven students total – ten girls and one boy. Three of them are from the University of Denver, one is from Barnard, one from Kenyon, one from Wesleyan (hi), and the rest I don’t remember or hadn’t heard of. The vast majority of them are either majoring or minoring in Spanish or International Studies. I am the only student not in the anthropology school here, which I don’t mind because I want to meet and make friends with the Mexican students here and I will be with the IFSA-Butler students twice a week for our Spanish classes. The problem is that because so few extranjeros study psychology at UADY (La Universidad Autónoma De Yucatán), the program advisors have very little information on classes and when I met with them today, were under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to take any classes in the psychology department at all. I talked with them about it and did some research myself and they are trying to work it out so that I can take the psychology classes as planned (porque si no, tenemos un gran problema) and will let me know on Monday what the deal is. I’m going through the classes in the anthropology department now to see if I can figure something else out just in case. Very stressful but either way something will work out!
The program director is from Ecuador and loves to tell story after story of all of the mistakes students have made and problems they have encountered in the past – the Amish girl who drank for the first time and was almost arrested because she passed out on the sidewalk, the boy who fractured his finger his first night in Mexico on the overhead fan, the girl who took in a stray cat and hid it under her bed, the boy who kept getting STDs…. Possibly more difficult than dealing with psychology course sign-ups has been listening to the program director talk about sex and dating. My Wesleyan-self squirmed listening to a sex talk that at times alarmingly resembled Robin Thicke’s song lyrics: Here there is a game that people play, where the girl if she is decent first has to say “no no no” but even so the boy knows there is something there and so he has to be determined…. Do whatever you want! If you want to date someone, date them! If you don’t, don’t! Just make sure you don’t tell them one thing and then change your mind later because then they will still think you’re together and not want to let go…. Here, it doesn’t really matter what you say happened after the fact. To the police or to the people that you talk to, it doesn’t matter if the person put something in your drink or if you wanted something different at the end of a night, to them if you’re on a date with them, you’re on a date with them and the rest doesn’t matter. Suffice it to say, it was all I could do to keep myself from spewing liberal, anti-slut-shamey, no-means-no, sex-positive feminism all over the classroom.
I’m living in a neighborhood called Colonia Jardines de Mérida with an older woman named Señora Rebeca and her 23-year-old daughter Mariana. Señora Rebeca has another daughter and many young grandchildren who visit a lot, which I’m very excited about. Señora Rebeca is really nice and friendly and for some reason loves that I have a boyfriend at home. She’s incredibly accommodating in terms of food, which is a huge relief since our Señoras are supposed to provide us with three meals a day and I can be nearly impossible to feed. She’s hosted many vegetarian students before, and has been asking a lot about which ingredients are gluten-free. Today she somehow managed to find galletas sin gluten!
Food in general is very good and mostly all naturally gluten-free since everything is corn and rice based. I’m still not at all used to the eating schedule which is generally a big breakfast as soon as you wake up, a big lunch around 2:00, and a small dinner after 8:00. So far I have been really full after meals and really hungry before the next meal. Snacking is uncommon and leaving food unfinished is rude.
I haven’t been able to see much of Mérida itself since orientation has been so intense and time-consuming but tonight a group of students from the program and I are going to the Centro so more on that to come. My house is close to the IFSA-Butler office where most of our orientation is so I’ve been walking there and back and getting a bit of a feel for the neighborhood. The houses are one or two stories high and painted different colors. They’re pressed together in a line along each street, their boundaries set by each color’s perimeter; 613 to 615 is marked by beige to blue. There are iron gates, also painted, in front of each house, then a small courtyard or garage if the family owns a car, then the casa. The sidewalks along each street seem to serve less for people than for the trees and bushes that grow copiously through the cracked cement and adamant dirt ground.
¿Qué otra cosa…? Speaking Spanish is good most of the time. I think I’m in the middle in terms of Spanish abilities compared to the rest of the students in the program, including the two native Spanish speakers. Somehow, when I imagined learning Spanish abroad, I always saw myself totally immersed and speaking Spanish all the time and never thought about the fact that it’s actually really hard work. But the accent here isn’t nearly as difficult to understand as I read it would be and I’m learning different regional sayings (everything great or cool here is padre – oh qué padre, wow es padre). Even though it can be really exhausting, it’s so neat being able to just hear another language and then know the things being said without it ever having to pass through English. Occasionally I still feel like what the hell am I doing here when I could be at home with everyone I love… but that feeling passes and I should give myself more than 48 hours to adjust.
That’s all for now! I’m meeting up with two girls who live near here to go in to town in a few minutes. I’ll try to remember to take photos of things other than the sidewalk before my next post.