Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Get Thee to Una Escuela

Heather and Shelly have 'adopted' three kids who come to pick up their garbage. When these kids found out that they are teachers, the kids asked if Shelly and Heather could teach them. It turns out that their mother can't afford the 150 pesos per month for school and the cost of the uniforms. Altogether it seems that it will cost $100 USD to send all three kids to school. They have paid the fees and several of us have offered to help cover the costs. If this family knows other children who can't afford to go to school and you are interested in helping cover their costs, email me at Or just email me to say hi.

I will also post links on my blog to Shelly and Heather's blogs, so you can find out more (and so you don't think I am scamming you). You also get a different perspective from their blogs than mine. Or maybe you have a life and have better things to do. Nah.

These are the uniforms spread out on the couch for the kids. The kids just love Heather and Shelly. Although it occurred to me that once they find out what school is like, they might not be as excited. (kidding)

Some Details for Those of You Curious About My School (ASFC)

School starts at 8:00. Monday begins with a somewhat militaristic drill (Canadian perspective here) in which we salute the Mexican Flag, sing the Mexican anthem, sing the Chiapanecan anthem and sing the Star Spangled Banner (I am now more tempted than ever to sing “Jose can you see”). The other days we just have an announcement or two and go up to class. After the morning drill, we head up to my classroom and I teach Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and Computer. Trying to describe the logistics of teaching two classes of twenty children these subjects in English, particularly when the kids actually know almost no English, would overwhelm you. In fact that is more or less the effect it is having on me. But in general I have a book that contains a section for each subject and there is a CD for spelling words and vocabulary. I work through the book with the students and include as many games, hands-on experiments and activities as I can, given the time and language constraints. Except for the occasional spare, I have the students until 10:50 at which point it is lunch. I always at eat the cafeteria. It has delicious food that is very affordable. It also happens to be my favourite kind of food - Mexican (what a coincidence). Lunch is over at 11:20. In the afternoon I teach the same subjects to the other class of grade three students. My morning group is then with Miss Rocio, my Spanish counterpart. Besides the language and time constraints, I now have to deal with the fact that it is hotter and the kids are very tired. (The difficulty just increased by a factor of four). All this probably makes it sound like I am not enjoying the teaching, but I actually like it a lot. I like a challenge. The kids are really nice. They are very friendly and we have lots of fun. At 2:15, the kids come down and we herd them into the foyer of the school. Given how many kids are crammed into the foyer, the use of the word ‘HERD’ is sadly appropriate. The primary teachers supervise the kids until the parents pick them up or 2:30, whichever comes first (2:30).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

En Mi Vecindario IV

Just three blocks from where I live there is a fantastic restaurant called El Calle Jon de Las Delicias. There is nothing that says “classy restaurant” like a satellite dish sign. Sarcasm aside, it is actually quite nice. The lady who runs the restaurant is always very welcoming and it is clear by the presentation and the quality of the food that the cooks have professional training. One time three of us showed up for dinner 45 minutes after they closed and the lady who runs it made us dinner despite the fact that her cooks were all gone and she was the only person left.

The second most important selling point (after how delicious the food is) is the fact that the verandah is a mini-botanical garden. More and more I realize how important plants and nature in general are to me.

Exploring Tuxtla

Today I went exploring. I just looked at a map at home, chose a part of Tuxtla that I had never been to and headed over there. Tuxtla is too small to get lost in (only a million people). In Cairo I used to play mystery bus*, but unfortunately, transportation is too easy to use here to get really lost. One of the reasons I chose to come to Tuxtla is because Chiapas is known for its natural beauty. As you may know, I have not been disappointed.

I find Tuxtla to be a very nice city to live in, but Chiapanecans sometimes say that Tuxtla is “the ugliest city in Chiapas”. If San Cristobal de Los Casas and Chiapa de Corzo are any guide, that may be the case. Nevertheless, I still like it here a lot.

* Get on a bus with a number I didn’t recognize and see where it took me. This game always resulted in adventures in Cairo.


Although Mexican Independence Day is still almost three weeks away, preparations have begun and shops are beginning to decorate in green, white and red. Knowing how well Mexicans throw a party, I am excited to see what happens.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

La Fiesta en Mi Casa

Encouraged to make a toast at the party at our place, I ventured, "¡A una semana!" (To one week! - as we had just finshed one week of school) Not long after that there was another toast "¡A una semana y una hora!" (to one week and one hour) and so it went until our toasts became (theoretically) specific to the second calculated by using various teachers' cell phones - "¡A una semana y cinco horas y 37 minutos y 23 segundos!" I have a feeling that we may be measuring the rest of the year in toasts.

My goals for the party were to celebrate the first week and to give the Spanish teachers and the English teachers a chance to socialize together as we are usually too busy for this at school. I suppose that it is kind of 'teacherish' to set goals for a party. (You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the teacher.)

Actually the party is a memory that I think I will cherish for a long time. It is hard to believe that I have only been here for one month. The depth of the friendships I have already made and the number of inside jokes my friends and I have make it seem like I have been working at ASFC for a long time.

All is well that ends well.

La Fiesta en Ocozocoautla

I have reposted the blog about the fiesta in Ocozocoautla with the picture as I now have a scan of it. Here is a small pic of it, but a bigger shot is posted on the original blog entitled "¡Otra Fiesta en Ocozocoautla!"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Walk To and From School

One of my hopes before I left Canada was that the apartment the school found for me would be close enough to walk to school. Exercise is a priority for me and although I cycled everywhere in Victoria, I would not cycle on these roads with the “creative” drivers we have here in Tuxtla. My roommate, Kris, is planning to get a bike. His blood type is A positive. If you have this blood type, please donate a few pints and Fed Ex it to him. My prediction is that he will need it within three days of cycling Avenida Central. It was nice knowing him. But I digress once again. Actually, the walk is quite nice. Even though it is on a busy street, there are long stretches where I walk under veritable canopies of lush green trees that seem not to have suffered in this urban environment. It is quite calming to walk home, particularly after a day of active students and the pressure of teaching in a school that functions primarily in Spanish. Another benefit of the walk home is that I am beginning to know a lot of people in the shops and restaurants that are on my street. I often greet them and truly appreciate the genuine warmth they show me. I suspect we have lost this experience in all but the smallest towns in Canada. The 17 year old working at the convenience store in Victoria just doesn’t exude that same sense of community as the man that I see every day who is painting his pottery. I would guess he has been there every day for many, many years.

The Third Day of School

The experience continues to be intense, but also equally enjoyable. The kids seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that I won’t speak Spanish in the classroom, even when I know what to say. Initially I was telling them that I don’t know very much Spanish, but one of them heard me speaking in Spanish to the other grade three teacher and is convinced that I know more than I was admitting to. I informed her in Spanish that I don’t speak Spanish at all and apparently this did not help to convince her.

Monday, August 21, 2006

La Comida en Tuxtla

Those of you that know me, know that I am passionate about food. I am especially fond of Mexican cooking, of course. I haven’t written about the food yet because it is so good, I wouldn’t have the time to devote to describe it adequately.

I will describe a meal I have made a few times. It is based on tostadas I have had in a couple of different restaurants here.

Tostadas de Frijoles

I will describe what I made for dinner and then write a ‘dumbed down’ version as supermarkets outside Mexico (tragically) won’t have the selection that I have here.

* starting at the bottom and working my way up *
Tostada – the base is a tostada (fried corn tortilla)
Frijoles refritos con queso and chipotle – refried beans with cheese and chipotle
Queso Chiapanecan – Cheese from Chiapas (like drier, crumblier feta)
Cebollas – diced onions
Aguacate Chiapanecan – Slices of avocado (locally grown)
Limon – Freshly squeezed lime juice
Sel – a little salt
Herdez’ Cinco Chiles Salsa - 5 chiles salsa (try and guess if it is hot)
Crema – Cream (like sour cream, but creamier and not sour)
La Anita Habanero Salsa – hottest salsa I’ve had so far (bright green too)

** In a restaurant here this would have a layer of shredded chicken or beef too, but when I cook at home I rarely cook with meat. Tostadas often come with lettuce, too, but good lettuce is hard to find here. These are also great with cilantro.

So here is my advice on how to make this in Canada or the US.

Tostadas – If you can’t buy these, buy CORN tortillas and fry them until they are golden and crunchy. Drain well.
Frijoles Refritos – Buy or make refried beans. Add some grated cheese to heated refried beans and add some Chipotle vinegar (or diced chipotle peppers if you are brave). Spread the finished refried beans on the tostadas.
Queso – You will never find Chiapanecan cheese at home, so just put a little mozzarella or monterey jack on the refried beans (yes, as well as mixing it in). I used a microwave to heat these and it seemed to have the added benefit of making the tostadas less brittle. You could also use refried beans straight off the stove to melt the cheese.
Cebollas – Put some diced onions on top.
Aguacate y Sel – Some avocado slices are a must. Salt the tostadas.
Limon – Some freshly squeezed lime juice on top is a must.
Salsas – Most salsas in Canada are full or tomatoes and corn and peaches and whatnot else. Salsa means sauce in Spanish. Most salsas in restaurants are what we would call hot sauce. I mentioned the two I used above. For the most authentic flavour, try to find “salsa habanera”. Be brave. Put as much on as you can handle.
(¡If you use ketchup, I will come back, hunt you down and force feed you salsa habanera!)
Crema – Put a little daub of sour cream on top. It is close enough to crema to simulate the taste. It also helps you recover from the picante salsas.

Make lots. The first time I made these, I made five and I had to make a second batch (four more) because they were so good. (I had to wait an hour because I was afraid to type on a full stomach.)

By the way, I thought of an analogy that gives you an idea of how much better the food is here. Eating (Mexican food) in Chiapas is like listening to a symphony orchestra in a concert hall. Eating Mexican food in Canada (due to the smaller selection of ingredients) is like listening to the same orchestra from underneath the water of a nearby pool. In other words, I have died and gone to heaven.

The First Day of School

Today, August 21st, was the first day of school. It was very exciting to finally meet the students. The fact that my students speak almost no English was a bit of a shock. Actually I think it might just be the fact that they have not heard or spoken English since the last day of school. It did cause some serious last minute changes to my plans. The kids seem really nice and they have already responded very warmly to me. I look forward to spending the year with them and vastly improving their English. In all honesty, I couldn't be happier. The school is fantastic, the kids are a lot of fun, the food is outstanding and life is an adventure once again. Stay tuned.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home

I went into a small shop to buy produce (as they have better produce than the supermarket where I do most of my shopping). I was the third customer in a row to give the guy a large bill - 200 pesos ($20 or so). He didn't have change, so I offered to buy something at the shop next door. He thought this was a good idea, so I headed over there. Of course they didn't have very much change so they sent an assistant over to get change from the produce guy. Life is strange, sometimes.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

En Mi Vecindario III

My intent is that you become nearly as familiar with my neighborhood as I am. Today I have a few photos from one of the plant shops I pass on my way to and from school each day. These photos are taken at this plant shop. It is called Aprilis. I have purchased plants from them. I recall that the guy working there seemed surprised to see Kris and I shopping for plants as tourists probably don't buy plants and all foreigners are tourists here. By now he would have seen us walking to and from many times.

Although I have loved the outdoors for many years, I have realized only upon coming to Chiapas how important nature is to me. I think it may have been the time I spent volunteering at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary that had the most impact on me. If you are in Victoria and you are reading this, drop everything and head straight over to Swan Lake. Then email me when you get home and tell me about it.

If anyone knows the names of these plants, post a comment with the info. I would like to know.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

La Vida en Tuxtla II - Los Arboles

Although I haven't yet discovered anyone with a passion for environmentalism here in Tuxtla, trees seem to have a special place in the heart of Chiapanecans. The (paved) road leading up to the school has two trees growing out of the middle of it. Another seems to be growing out of a fence and one has been incorporated into a guard hut. This type of care taken of trees during construction may not be universal, but it certainly is much more common than at home.

You may not be able to see both of them, but there are two trees growing out of the middle of the road.

This is some kind of ditch that runs next to the main road. Diamond-shaped structures have been made in the ditch to protect the trees growing out of the middle of it.
I pass several of these on the walk to school.

La Clima en Tuxtla

As all Canadians are apparently obsessed with talking about the weather*, I feel it is my duty to report on the weather in Tuxtla. Now the weather report may say that it is 31 or 33 degrees, but don’t be fooled. That may not sound very hot, but the humidity is constant and makes it feel much hotter than it is. But I survived three years in Egypt. I can handle Tuxtla.

The most fascinating aspect of the weather here is that nearly every afternoon around five or six o’clock, the storm clouds move in rapidly, the winds pick up and you begin to hear thunder and see lightning. When it rains, the sky truly opens. In fact, it seems to go from sunny to flash flood in just ten or fifteen minutes. The other day I was walking around in my neighborhood and it looked like it was about to pour. I happened to be near my favorite restaurant so I headed in for dinner. As I enjoyed a delicious dinner on the veranda, small cars were being washed down the street. I chatted briefly with the owner, paid and by the time I stepped out, the sky was sunny again and there was little indication that it had just poured. I love the predictability of the weather and the intensity of the storms. I don’t even mind the humidity.

* How to Be A Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson

Monday, August 14, 2006

En Mi Vecindario II

Sometimes I find strange parallels between experiences I have had in other places and ones that I am presently having. Here is one. Three blocks from my apartment in Tuxtla is a Shisha Cafe/Restaurant.

Having spent three years in Cairo and feeling presently like I am as far removed from Cairo as I could possibly be, I was more than a little stunned to look up and see a sign using Latin letters for the Egyptian Arabic word for a water-pipe ( شيشه ). As expected, they indeed have shisha, but what turned this into a surreal experience for me was when the sight and smell of sheesha came together with the rhythm of a very Egyptian song, Habibi, Ya Nour Il Ayn. Were my heart not stronger, the shock of all my senses converging in such a way might have spelled the end for me.

La Vida en Tuxtla

Colectivos are mini-vans with the seats rearranged so there is a bench behind the front seats and one on each side of the van. There is a side door that opens and closes at the push of a button (although it may be thought control - I have never actually seen the button). The most important thing about the colectivo is that they are driven by drivers carefully screened to ensure that each and every one has a death-wish. I am certain the test to be a colectivo driver is given at 140 km/hr in heavy traffic. You must kill at least two pedestrians and injure three or four passengers to pass the test. OK, perhaps I am exaggerating. It may only be necessary to kill one pedestrian. You get the idea.

When you get on, you sit down and pass the money (4 pesos) to the driver who makes change and then it is passed back to you. Anyone who says that men can’t multitask has never seen a colectivo driver talk on a cell phone, make change for a 200 peso bill and weave his way through traffic at speeds approaching the speed of sound. One positive aspect of colectivos is that they eliminate the need for caffeine.

PS: La Vida en Tuxtla (Life in Tuxtla) will be a continuing column like En Mi Vecindario (In My Neighbourhood), Strange Things I Have Eaten So Far and Funny Signs. If I am using Spanish and you don't speak Spanish, go to Babel Fish, cut and paste the Spanish Text in, select Spanish to English and click on Translate. Here is the link:

Sunday, August 13, 2006

¡Otra Fiesta en Ocozocoautla!

Rafael picked me up and we headed to a town called Ocozocoautla (pronunciation guide - o€ak>!ÖzÆe-'ow¥¡! k^wow*t,l"æh) also known as Coita (pronunciation guide - coita).

If I’d had any doubts about the ability of Mexican people to put on a party, those would be laid to rest now.

Since I did not have a camera with me*, I will try to set the scene. Once we had picked up Thomás and Julio in Coita, we headed out of town to a ranch. Try to imagine a beautiful ranch set in a valley surrounded by verdant hills and imposing cliffs. Of course, for me the most dominant feature of the ranch was the five or six massive trees that dotted the property. Not only were they massive, but they spread out their branches so far as to seem as if they were embracing the whole crowd. But I digress. The eight thousand or so people also made an impression on you. The outskirts of the ranch had people riding horses and children riding ponies. There were tents or stalls everywhere and in these tents were food vendors selling a strange variety of foods, there were cerveza tents and strange Mexican forms of gambling (Loteria with dice, card games and games that involved marbles falling through a maze of nails and then into different slots). In the centre of the excitement was a stage with several different acts. Wandering through this teeming mass of humanity was any number of mariachi bands, other musicians, people selling candy, nuts, cotton candy, balloons, inflatable creatures and much more. Weaving their way through the crowd were young children picking up the discarded beer cans.

The first act on the stage was a singer and a keyboard player with two scantily clad dancers. Having learned many of the, shall we say, ‘ indelicate’ words in Spanish with the boys at the previous fiesta, I was rather surprised when the singer used all the ones I’d learned and a few others as well, judging by the crowd’s reactions. The dancing was a bit of a surprise too, as I guess I expected ‘ family entertainment’ and this seemed gear for a different demographic. To me the crude language and sexually suggestive dancing was the most obvious difference in our cultures I have yet seen. The second act was a huge group playing a type of music known here as Bandas. It has an incredibly fast tempo and sounds like a cross between big band music and ska with a Mexican flavour (yes, that flavour would be picante salsa). Bandas is also incredibly infectious and I find I love this genre of music already. I could probably even dance to it as it is so fast you don’t have time to be good.

It was amazing to me at one point to realize that I was almost certainly the only foreigner in that crowd of many thousands of people. I was thrilled to realize this actually.

* This photo was taken by a photographer Thomas knew. The guapos in the picture are (from the right) Thomas, me, Julio, Rafael (AKA, 'el Jefe') and Rafael's nephew whose name escapes me.

Strange Things I Have Eaten So Far II

Patas de Pollo - Chicken feet
I have always wondered why people eat chicken feet. Having tried them, I still wonder why people eat chicken feet.
Guasano - Caterpillars
These were fried, I think (as they were not squishy) and nicely seasoned. Coming soon to stores near you.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

¡La Fiesta!

If you have guessed that a fiesta at the school means a mariachi band, you have guessed correctly. After work on Friday, we all met in the covered area and partook of some amazing food and incredible music. There is nothing quite like a mariachi band playing and singing while they are right next to you and interacting with the group. I suppose the idea was to welcome all the teachers, although it just occurred to me that perhaps no one here feels a need to justify having a fiesta. Anyway, whatever the reason, I enjoyed the tender lamb used for the tacos and of course the various side dishes like black beans, rice with veggies and of course, the different salsas. A drink that is ubiquitous here is horchata. It is made from rice, sugar and there sometimes is cinnamon. It is strangely refreshing. I had copious amounts of it.

Of course, sometimes the best parties start when they finish. I had a bunch of the guys over to my place for cerveza afterwards and we talked and laughed for hours. My vocabulary in Spanish has swelled considerably, but since I was with the guys, it is safe to say that the words I learned probably aren't ones that I would be using around the school.

Here is an update on the excitement that took place a few days ago (Mucha Policia - Aug. 8). Apparently the overwhelming police presence was to arrest a guy who had been in a fight and when an officer came to arrest him, he had hit the policeman. Strangely, when Roberto told me this story, he used the same word the other guy had to describe the police presence - bastante. As far as I can tell it means sufficient. To describe 30 heavily armed policemen coming to arrest one guy and describe it as 'sufficient' seems absurdly inadequate to me. Of course, I am not even 20 feet away from a guy with a massive automatic rifle. He is probably guarding the bank that I am next to. He also looks like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I am not planning to find out if that is true.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Colores en Chiapas

The way colour is used in Chiapas is exhilarating. Walking around Tuxtla and other towns in Chiapas, I feel as if I am seeing for the first time. One thing is certain, if I ever own a house, it will be painted very bright colours.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mucha Policia

I thought my start to the day was exciting as I woke up and noticed a millipede crawling up the wall of my bedroom. He had apparently wandered into my room through the window. I love millipedes and decided to name him Emiliano (after the revolutionary hero, Emilano Zapata). I went outside in my shorts, t-shirt and bare feet to get some soil for Emiliano´s new home. Upon stepping out of the courtyard I noticed that heavily armed police were starting to file past me in the direction of the other building. They had some rather serious looking automatic weapons and handguns too. Two officers were parking trucks to block the exit (clearly to prevent the bandidos from escaping). None of them seemd surprised to see me or made any attempt to get me to go back in and still a little stunned from having just woken up, I continued to walk over to get soil from the garden around the pool. As I started back to the courtyard, I noticed that more police were filing in and a number of police in full riot gear were in formation blocking the exit from behind their shields. And I thought a millipede was exciting. Sadly the excitement ended without any shooting as they waited about an hour and left as quietly as they came. Later the guy who opens the gate told me "There was a problem in the other building." He added that there was "sufficient police present". Apparently he is a master of understatement. A gang of bandidos with rocket launchers and a tank would have had a tough go at escaping our apartment complex. Although I had Kris´camera ready, I did not take a picture as it is generally inadvisable to take pictures of police in foreign countries. I figured I would get a few photos if they started shooting as they would not notice me taking pictures. There were too many police everywhere to be able to take a picture from the balcony without being noticed. In fact the guy at the gate told me there had been thirty police.

Emilano buried himself in the soil and I have not seen him since this morning. It was just another day in Tuxtla Gutierrez.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mi Casa es Su Casa

In case you are interested, here are a few photos of my apartment in Tuxtla. My roomate Kris and I live in a very comfortable three bedroom apartment that is a twenty minute walk from school. We both feel quite spoiled as the apartment is close to everything and even has a pool. However the pool and the surrounding area was overwhelmed by a recent flash flood and we are reluctant to use it right now (still quite dirty and not draining). C'est la vie.

This is the front entrance of the apartment building.

This is our living room. Kris and I have no art or other decorations yet, but we are looking into various options. We will keep you posted. I bought some plants today and I think we will be going back for some more soon.

This is the last picture for today. It is not a great shot, but it is the view of the palm trees from our balcony. There is another kind of tree which may be related to a mango tree, but is somehow different. I never tire of looking out the windows at these trees. It is wonderfully peaceful sight.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Chiapa de Corzo

I made another trip to a town near Tuxtla, Chiapa de Corzo. As I expected, it was beautiful. Chiapa de Corzo is the oldest town in the state of Chiapas. It was founded in the early 1500’s by the Spanish conquerors, I have read that they didn’t stay very long because of the heat. This seems plausible after spending some time there. However I beat the heat by having a little siesta under a huge tree next to an ancient church. Apparently the Spanish immediately moved on and founded San Cristobal de Los Casas up in the mountains.

Every town or city I have ever visited in Mexico has a municipal market. They are always interesting and always different. Often they are the best places to eat as I look for the places where Mexicans eat, not where tourists go. Today I gave it a miss however as the restaurants were quite close to the places selling raw meat. I am not going to go out of my way to get sick.

Cobblestone roads, brightly painted homes and lush green hills surrounding the town combine to create a very picturesque place.

Friday, August 04, 2006

"My door is always open"

The American School Foundation of Chiapas is the lengthy name of my new school. The attached picture shows you the school, but what this aerial photo doesn´t capture is that from ground level, the school is surrounded by majestic trees and the natural beauty of the campus inspires you immediately upon arriving. More impressive however, is the welcoming attitude of the Mexican teachers. On our first day of work, every Mexican teacher made obviously sincere offers of help to the foreign teachers. "If there is anything I can do to help you . . .", If I can help in any way . . ." and "My door is always open" were some examples. At one point, the latter comment was even followed by, "Actually you don´t even have a door!" in the case of the secondary coordinator. Naturally this was met with gales of laughter. I am thrilled to say that after only four days with my new colleagues, there is nothing to indicate the welcome and offers were anything but completely serious. One other aspect of this staff is that jokes seem to be a constant part of our interactions as staff. One outburst of shouting and laughter in the cafeteria ended by a teacher getting water dumped on him. I have no idea how I will adapt to this jocular environment, but I will manage somehow.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

En Mi Vecindario

On the walk to school there is a fantastic, if slightly (OK, extremely) tacky pottery shop which consists of a massive yard with every manner of pottery animal yard and wall ornament one could conceive of as well as a number that almost no one could. To a photographer´s eye, (yes, I pretend to be a photographer) it is beautiful. I somehow find it much more appealing than most of the art I saw at the Louvre in Paris or the Met in New York. Perhaps individually it is tacky, but taken together it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. I am not exactly sure how. I love walking by the pottery shop and will surely purchase some crazy frog wall ornament or some kitschy bird to look out from our balcony.

When I first walked up to the man who was working away at an unglazed pottery sun and asked him in my polite, probably quaint Spanish if I could take pictures of his products, he grudgingly agreed. But now that we see him each day and greet him sometimes in the morning and afternoon, his face brightens. Perhaps he realizes that we were not simply tourists too cheap to purchase his art, but residents (too cheap to purchase his art - at least for now).

Flash Flood

After school today it rained like there is no tomorrow (avoid cliches like the plague!!!). I would not have been surpised to see cars washing down Avenida Central, the water was so deep on the roads. The wind which seemed as if it would knock down all the trees in our courtyard, was an added bonus, not to mention the hail. Our swimming pool is now under water. I was swimming just as the rain started and I suspect it may be a few days before I swim again. Oh the hardships of life in foreign countries! I suspect most of the cats in the neighborhood have washed most of the way to the Pacific by now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

El Cañon del Sumidera

Today all the teachers from ASFC went to the spectacular El Cañon del Sumidera, just outside of Tuxtla Gutierrez. As you can see, the canyon is amazing. Watching birds (seemingly) as small as mosquitoes fly majestically through the canyon emphasized the grand scale of the setting. Of course I kept dreaming of the day that I take a similiar trip by boat through the bottom of the canyon.

I had long known of the natural beauty of Chiapas, but nothing quite prepares you for it. The various birds, insects and an astonishing variety of plants added to the magical nature of the setting. We spotted three bizarre forms of grasshoppers that looked as if they belonged on another planet. One had such incredible camouflage that it did justice to the theory of natural selection. Anything that eats this particular type of grasshopper has little or no hope of ever spotting one. I am not sure how we did.

One other aspect of the day's outing that made it a perfect day was the challenge from our principal, Michy, for each of us to take turns sitting next to different teachers of the opposite language. The various Spanish teachers I spent time with taught me a lot of Spanish. One group of female teachers have taken it upon themselves to teach me all the double (and triple and quadruple) meanings of various words in Spanish. I am now afraid to speak.

Finishing off the event was a traditional Chiapanecan dinner of Antojitos (roughly translates to appetizers) and drinks. About twenty of us sat under a palapa trying various traditional drinks and with each round of drinks came baskets of tostadas and an astonishing assortment of antojitos. There must have been at least fifteen dishes and every last one of them was delicious. Some examples are pozole (a kind of soup made with corn), ceviche made with ground beef, black beans with cheese and a dish combining liver and heart (surprisingly good). I can't think of anywhere I have ever been that has such tasty and unique food. Fortunately I have spent years becoming used to fiery dishes. Nothing I have had yet has been too spicy. Twice lately cooks have brought out hotter salsas when they have seen how much salsa I put on my food.