Sunday, August 31, 2008

Orientation in MX City

Since the last time that I wrote, a lot has happened! The biggest news is that I’m no longer homeless in Querétaro. A week ago, I moved into the house where I’ll be renting a room for the next year. I haven’t had a chance to enjoy it yet because I was gone all last week at the Fulbright Orientation in Mexico City. Even though I haven’t spent much time at home yet, I’m really happy with the arrangement. I have two housemates who are also students, which is nice because we have similar lifestyles. They are from Chiapas in the South of Mexico, so they can give me recommendations for traveling. Our house reminds me of Eugene, with Mexican touches of course. The front gate opens onto a tiled patio with beautiful bushes and climbing plants that we don’t even have to water J Every Sunday night, neighborhood women set up taco, atole, and helote stands on the sidewalk across the street. Last week, I introduced myself to the taco ladies and the owner of the corner store. Every neighborhood has at least one corner store selling junk food, maybe fresh produce, lunch meat, and usually fresh sweet breads. Grabbing last minute groceries is easy, but I don’t understand how all these tiny stores stay in business. I promise that I’ll soon post some photos of the house and neighborhood . . . the house is a mess right now.

Most of the photos I’m posting now are from the Fulbright Orientation. In total, there are eighty students receiving funding to study and research in Mexico, more than any other year. The Fulbright staff treated all of us amazingly. I felt like I didn’t deserve the recognition because my project isn’t altruistic, but I nonetheless appreciated the chance to get to know the larger community of students in Mexico. One of the best aspects of the orientation was the opportunity to talk to other people about their projects and exchange contact information. I especially enjoyed getting professional, academic, and life advice from older participants. We range in age from twenty-one to eighty. Marty, the eighty-year-old woman, is a print-making artist who has already lived all over the world prior to coming to Mexico. I loved talking to her about her experiences and will definitely visit her in Veracruz. I also plan to go back to Mexico City and sit in on classes with another literature student. How often do you live in another place and have a built in network of travel contacts?!

From the photos, you can probably see that the experience in el Distrito Federal wasn’t the typical, hostel-style trip that I usually take. I felt quite spoiled but definitely enjoyed the hotel’s water pressure and comfy bed (an uncomfortable bed is my only complaint about my house here). When we weren’t listening to conferences on Mexican history and politics and Fulbright administration, we were eating really amazing meals. My favorite activity, however, was having dinner with two other students in the home of a past Mexican Fulbright participant and his wife. They treated us so graciously. After the formal presentations and lectures, it was refreshing to be in a host family situation again and to just chat casually.

Unfortunately, I came back from el D.F. sick, so I suppose I need to slow down a bit and make sure I’m sleeping enough. Back to homework and regular life this week!

Friday, August 22, 2008

First Weeks in Queretaro

These past two weeks in Queretaro have really been a whirlwind of figuring out logistical details like where to live and what classes to take. I enjoy the city's aesthetics as I walk to and from the university, but so far I haven't been taking photos to share daily scenes with you. Photographing, especially in a place where I already look different, has always made me feel self-conscious. I'll try, however, to become more brazen as I settle into life here and perhaps feel less like a tourist or an outsider. Even though I'm aware of not fitting in physically, I feel much more comfortable in the city than I did two years ago . . . the narrow, cobbled streets in the city center are familiar. My senses appreciate but are not startled by the smells of masa, elote, and rainstorms and the visual mosaic of colonial churches, elegantly dressed professionals, otomí women and children panhandling, and tiny shops selling every possible gadget, from nail polish to cell phone cases.

Living in a downtown hostel called la Jirafa Roja has allowed me plenty of time to absorb the city's daily comings and goings. The hostel is a temporary refuge while I wait for a room in house to become available. While staying in the hostel has postponed that comforting feeling of being settled, it has given me a reason to walk from one end of the city to the other each morning and has also introduced me to some great people who I hope will continue to be friends. The owner of the hostel has been taking me on night runs through the city, which gives me a different and beautiful perspective of Querétaro and stretches my legs. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to moving into my own room this weekend.

For those of you who are following the more academic aspects of this experience, I'm quickly learning about the Master's program and about my own interests. The literature courses I'm currently taking are considered preparation for a Master's in Latin American Literature, which begins in January. The preparation and the official program are both geared toward forming literary researchers, and they culminate in a thesis. Acquiring the bases of Latin American literature and literary theory will be up to me, but the prospect of getting to spend time researching a topic of my choice is exciting! I am thinking of comparing the different ways that Latin American literature represents utopia . . . so I'll have a lot to read! The people in the preparatory class come from all different professional and academic backgrounds, from philosophy to engineering. I am getting to know several of them better, and those of us who don't have degrees in Latin American literature are slowly forming a nice support group. In addition to the literature classes and studies, I'm taking a contemporary dance class just for fun. The group of theater students in the class have welcomed me kindly, and I look forward to beginning each day with reggaeton and salsa music!

I'm going to wrap this up. I'm realizing that I'm stuck in the mass-email mentality, and learning to use a blog as an interactive and more visual form of communication will take some practice. Now that I've made my first real entry, however, I think I'm ready to add more entries (probably smaller ones) on a more regular basis.

I wish all of you well!