Saturday, April 28, 2007


People often wonder why I keep going off to live in foreign countries. That is because they have never tasted the mangoes in mango season. Mangoes are truly a magnificent fruit. Besides being delicious, they are healthy and often free. The school has tons of mango trees and mangoes are all over the playground.

In this photo, I have five different kinds, but I can't tell you their names even though my friends Antonio and Francisco keep teaching me the names. My brain files words like this into the circular file for some reason (names of types of mangoes not being necessary for survival perhaps). What amazes me is that each type of mango is different in some subtle way. I would try to describe them, but my vocabulary is insufficient to describe the differences. Suffice it to say they are food for the gods, so to speak. When my father came, I introduced him to mangoes and my parents are now regularly buying mangoes for their breakfasts.

PS: Did I mention that I just got hired for a position at the Mango Marketing Board?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

En Mi Vecindario V

It has been a long while since I blogged about my neighborhood. A new candy shop just opened in my neighborhood. Those of the four of you (there are four readers now!) that know me, know I have a sweet tooth. Much to my chagrin, dulce mania, opened not far from my place. Although I have a sweet tooth, I have been cutting down on sugar and candy due to the many stories I have heard about people I know getting adult onset diabetes. So it was with mixed feelings (joy and trepidation, to be precise) that I entered dulce mania, determined to not buy anything. The powers that be didn't equip me with enough resistance and I left with a box of my favorite, watermelon taffy. 9 pesos ($0.90 cdn) for 25 pieces of taffy. I was also taken up with the excitement of loud music and a clown (who wouldn't be), so I started taking pictures.

Two of the kids wanted me to take their pictures and so I obliged them. They were thrilled when I was able to show them their picture on the screen of my digital camera. I vaguely recall the pre-instant gratification days of film cameras, or was that a dream I had. I am no longer sure.

PS: I finished the 25 pieces of taffy in three days. In case you are not encouraged, this is an improvement over the first time I bought taffy. I ate the whole box the first evening and proceeded to finish the other two boxes in the next three days.

In other news, I am practicing my Spanish for two Bubble Shows I am doing at an orphanage tomorrow. I have been doing 'science shows' since 1990 and the Bubble Show travels well, so I often find excuses to fit a show or two into my busy schedule.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Father's Visit

Besides being very busy with my Dad's visit, I haven't posted for a while because my camera refuses to communicate with my computer. I circumvented the problem by purchasing a card reader. Thanks for the advice, Kai.

On the evening of the 30th of March, my father's visit got off to an inauspicious start. Besides having a lot of difficulties finding the right gate and having a boarding pass in his actual name, my Dad's difficulties were not over when he was on the plane to Tuxtla. The plane had to ascend at the last minute (20 metres above the airstrip) as the airport's power went out during landing. I watched the plane pull up sharply from the pitch blackness of Tuxtla's modern airport. Thankfully that was the last major problem he had during the trip.

Having spent close to seven years of my life overseas (at times quite literally 'overseas'), I can't emphasize enough how incredible it was to be able to introduce my father to various aspects of my life in Chiapas, as well as some of the more interesting aspects of the culture here. Having never visited a foreign country before, I wasn't sure how well he would do with a barrage of changes . I actually thought that we would be eating at Appleby's after about three days of Mexican food. Much to my relief, I was dead wrong.

Since I am catching up on about ten days and want to avoid turning this entry into a boring list of activities, I will describe a few highlights.

El Zoologico
Just two days after I took my forty-two grade three students to the zoo, I returned with my father. Although I am philosophically opposed to the idea of animals in captivity, I realize it is not a black and white issue. Zoomat in Tuxtla has animals that only come from the state of Chiapas, is well run, is well designed and seems to treat the animals properly. The enclosures are an appropriate size and the animals seem to be fed the kinds of food they would normally eat. Zoomat is also the most beautiful site I have seen in Tuxtla.

First Communion
One of my students, Gabriela, had her first communion during the vacation. I felt honored to be invited when her mother informed me that Gabriela wanted me to be there. My father and I delayed our travels a little to be present. Finding the tiny church was a chore as it was actually on the site of a golf course (I didn't expect that). We were expecting Bishop Samuel Ruiz to perform the service and as he is thought to be the head of the Zapatista* movement, I was looking forward to meeting him. (*Garth if you are reading this, yes, I was ready to sign up.) The Bishop was unavailable, but it was a very interesting service anyway. My Spanish was sufficient to understand what was going on as the priest strove to speak at a level the kids would understand. The party at Gabriela's house afterwards was fantastic. To be able to spend time with the parents outside of the school setting and be introduced to traditional foods in their homes is my idea of a perfect evening. I think I also managed to steer my father's conversation away from embarrassing stories of me when I was young. He did inform Gabriela that she was to contact him if "Glenn isn't behaving himself" which got a huge laugh out of normally shy Gabriela.

Bus Travel
I was unsure of how my father would deal with so much bus travel as he is used to driving, not being a passenger. As it is a favorite pastime of mine, I was delighted that my father was enthralled to watch out the windows for countless hours on end. My dad took this great picture out the window of the bus. I love the look on the woman's face. You can't beat candid photography for capturing the atmosphere of a place. I remember the moment when he snapped the picture. Ironically, I was thinking it wasn't anything I would take a picture of. It's good to be humbled once in a while.

San Cristobal
Tuxtla and San Cristobal have very different weather to say the least. After about four days, my father was having a tough time with the heat in Tuxtla and wanted to make sure that our hotel in San Cristobal had air conditioning. I tried to tell him that it probably wouldn't be necessary. In the end not only did we choose a hotel without AC, but our room had a heater and we had it cranked the whole time. In fact my father was so cold at one point that he went to bed with his clothes on. I am sure he appreciated my suggestion just then that we should have found a room with AC.

A trip to Chiapas would be incomplete
(unthinkable!) without a visit to Palenque.
To be within five or six hours of 3000 years of history is an incredible opportunity, not to be wasted. True to this spirit, my father showed incredible pluck climbing up the slippery, wildly varying stairs of the palace despite having a few too many years and football injuries behind him for such strenuous activities.

Agua Azul
A few times on the trip I had to 'encourage' my father to go somewhere he would have given a miss had I not strongly encouraged him. Agua Azul (blue water) was one of those places. It did not take him long to realize that he would have missed a spectacular place had we stayed back.

We met Cesar, a great guy from Cuernavaca, on the afternoon trip to Agua Azul. He later sent me this photo of the three of us* posing at Agua Azul. Despite cooler than usual temperatures, Cesar and I got out and swam in the falls. Had to happen.

* By the way, my Dad is wearing a neck brace as he had some severe pain after sleeping funny. When I took my father in to see a doctor in San Cristobal, she conducted the entire appointment in Spanish and I translated unaware that she spoke English. At the end of the appointment, she wrote him the instructions for the medication in English. Luckily for me I don't try to fake it when I don't understand as she would have busted me. She told my Dad that I translated what she said correctly.

Sumidero Canyon
Although we only saw one crocodile*, I was thrilled. I love the element of danger that crocodiles add to any boat trip. The idea of falling out of the boat and instantly being devoured by hungry crocodiles makes any trip seem much more exotic. Anyway it is better than getting smushed by a bus which I how I have long imagined that I will meet my end. My father made a comment about my falling out of the boat after the trip since I kept getting up to take pictures. It hadn't occurred to me that this was dangerous. Actually I still don't think it was, but he is my father so he must be correct.
* Sadly although I have zoomed in and captured the crocodile in a natural setting, he was actually looking out over a vast pile of floating garbage. Everyone in Chiapas talks about how beautiful and precious the natural beauty of Chiapas is, but nearly everyone I know throws their garbage on the ground without a second thought. Tragic!