I am sitting here in a fantastic Mexican home in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Let me tell you how I got here, typing on a small German computer.
Last week, on Thursday, I had a Skype interview for the Bonderman Fellowship. They asked me lots of tough questions, and I did the best I could given the delayed connection and my incredible lack of travel experience. One of my College of Ed professors actually interviewed me, and his question really changed my experience in Mexico. He said, "So, Anna, when you get to all of these places, what will you do to get a feel for the culture?" I realized that I have not really yet done that here in Mexico....wait, WHAT?! That´s why I came here....well, I did see a lot of things of historical significance...I realized that my trip has been marvelous, but I haven´t learned a lick of Spanish OR immersed myself in the culture at all. I am comfortable here, now, it is easy for me to get around, but wait...isn´t that a safe spot?
So, my options for my last week were to spend it snorkeling on Caye Caulker in Belize or to come back to Chiapas for some real Mexico. As you already know the choice I made...well, I don´t need to explain why. But I do need to tell you why this is the best choice I have ever made:
1. Homecooked Mexican food, in Chiapas, is so excellent that I can´t even begin to tell you. A peek into it: my first meal was a stuffed poblano pepper, baked in cheese and covered in a homemade sauce. Paired with some kind of pear juice. For dessert? A fresh mango. This one did NOT give me diarrhea. Yet.
2. Being forced to use Spanish has already given me a fantastic insight into what I need to learn (VERBS and more than just the PRESENT tense). I am taking three hours of private Spanish classes per day, and I already have used the Spanish I learned this morning in the market, to barter prices with las artesenias.
3. Being outside of my comfort zone, which is why I am here. I have already thought "I want to go HOME" but it was fantastic because immediately after I thought "shut up you wussy and just enjoy the moments and days before they are gone and you dwell on missing Mexico!" And.....it worked. I have never before been able to quell homesickness like that, but it worked.
4. Getting out of party central, a.k.a. most hostels in Mexico that have lots of traveler traffic. While it´s easy to meet people who are looking for more than a party, it´s hard to get out of the scene. That was the problem with Isla Mujeres, and why I left so soon after returning for some easy living. I realized it was too much bum life and not enough experience.
So, I realize that when Gene (mi profesor) asked me how I would get to know cultures, he was really asking me if I was doing that here. The answer was no, and I think that it´s possible it could cost me the Bonderman (yikes), but the real growth here, and the real win is that now I know how I want to experience other countries and cultures. Hostels are great, and cheap, but families are welcome and knowledgeable, and FORCE you to accustom to their way of life. Hostels cater to travelers.
I love Chiapas, too, because in a way it reminds me of home. It poured today, freezing cold rain, and it is not humid or super arid here. It´s been relatively temperate, and I had to buy some sweaters because my trip originally planned only for the Yucatan. I love it. The people here are split between the indigenos (indigenous people) and the Ladinos (those of Spanish descent) and the split is pretty obvious. But nevertheless, the cultures exist, and I get to experience them. Ah....
I realize this is a long post, and I am sick of typing with the y and z switched places (German keyboard), so I will sign off. Bedtime, I think.
I love you all so much, and appreciate you all now more than ever, as I am such a stranger in this world over here....but I will come home soon, and probably spend too much time talking about Mexico as well as wear too many brightly colored pieces of clothing and jewelry. :) Can´t wait, but for now, it´s espanol classes and San Cristobal!