She is writing a trip diary, and shared a little with us, to illustrate some of the universal values of international travel and language study that will be shared by students. There are foibles, and there are joys. Most importantly, there are insights into our common humanity and our surprising and often delightful differences.
Jane Werntz Ward
I’m about a week-and-a-half into my three-month stay in San Miguel. The sky is grey this morning, which is unusual, if a week-and-a-half is anything by which to measure what’s usual and what’s not. On other mornings the skies have been clear and breathe-it-in blue with Montana-like puffy cloud formations. And the daily temperature has been noticeably ideal. Something to talk about.
My earliest impression of San Miguel is that it is an open-armed city: accessible and permeable, and although I’m all-too aware that I’m not of this place, I don’t feel as though I’m out of place. I’ve felt warmly welcomed as a fellow human being sharing a wee space on a narrow sidewalk or in a crowded bus or marketplace. Despite the fact that of the approximately 140,000 residents, about 11,000 are expats, it retains an authentic Mexican culture, and the expats I’ve encountered seem to have an interest participating in and contributing to the local quality of life rather than simply being entitled consumers of a good time or cool art, of which there is a lot!
In addition to taking one-on-one formal Spanish classes, which will start in mid November, the two places I’ve been contributing my time as a volunteer are the Biblioteca Pública (the public library and hub of educational and cultural activities, as those of you have been here know) and an organization called CASA, the Centro Para Adolecentes de San Miguel, whose mission I’ve listed below in Spanish, the gist of which is to improve the conditions for the most vulnerable populations in San Miguel through the promotion of sexual health and education, sustainable development and human rights.
Contribuir con calidad y calidez a elevar las condiciones de vida de la población más vulnerable por medio de acciones en la salud y educación, promoviendo el desarrollo sustentable, la salud sexual y reproductiva, así también el respeto a los derechos humanos con una perspectiva de género
The CASA is located just over the wall from the casita where I’m living here in the Colonia Santa Julia part of the city. Yesterday there was a celebration welcoming a 70-year-old Canadian man who rode his bicycle from Toronto, Canada to San Miguel in order to raise money for the organization. Pretty impressive fella. A group of children sang and danced and made Canadian and Mexican flags.
I’ve started co-teaching an English class to a group of teenagers at the library twice a week. The main teacher is a tiny, elegant, and blind linguistics professor from Mexico City named Alicia. She moved to San Miguel from la ciudad about 15 years ago and shared with me that one of her ancestors is pictured on the 200 peso note. She's very proud of this fact!
Our teaching styles seem to be quite complimentary and I’m learning a lot from her.
Today is Tuesday the 3rd of November, and the Día de Muertos festivities have come to a close. Preparations have been going on ever since I arrived starting with tarpaulin-covered booths set up around town selling sugar skulls, candles, papel picado, pan de muerto, and so many gorgeous flowers – marigolds and cockscombs and these delicate white flowers that I don’t know the name of.
By Friday of last week, el jardin (the center of the city) had become a cacophony of colors...skeletons and ofrendas (altars) and music. I was all-a-gawk with the splendor of the surroundings. Giant puppets and people on the move, setting up ofrendas in the square or carrying bundles of flowers to the cemeteries. Oh . . . and the glorious food!
There’s also the preponderance of tourists milling about, adding to the already crowded sidewalks and streets, none of which have any kind of lights or signage saying when to stop and when to go. It all just kind of works itself out, and surprisingly well. It requires eye-contact, communication, and an uno por uno sensibility. (You go, then I’ll go...)
Lots of walking . . . lots of hills and lots of cobblestones. I’m thoroughly enjoying finding different routes to take every day since I’m living a ways from the center of things. Every now and again I'll come upon a group of women wearing stiletto heeled shoes walking on the cobblestone streets on their way to some event. For the life of me I don't know how they do it!
Roof dogs . . . This is new to me. I’ve always seen lots of dogs on the loose in Mexico and Central America, but have never seen so many tasked with the job of being 24-hour-a-day guard dogs from the roofs of homes and shops. Most are pit bulls and are quite growly and frightening, but many of the pit bulls are wiggly sweethearts that bark and bark while hardly able to contain themselves for all the tail-wagging and eagerness to come down and make contact. Although they seem better fed than many of the street dogs I've seen, they seem isolated and starved for affection. Pulls my heart strings!
P.S.: Attached are a few photos of the city, particularly Día de los Muertos.