So, what is she actually doing in Mexico?

If you are a regular reader of my blog – and you should be! – you might think that my time is occupied entirely by:

  • Attending community events and parties
  • Struggling with learning Spanish
  • Finding housing and getting settled
  • Hiking
  • Getting lost
  • Taking cool photos

While all of these things are true, they are all technically a part of my job right now. I have been working! My task: community integration. The idea is to get to know the language, culture, people, sites, sounds, safety techniques, and traditions before jumping into what we might consider “traditional work.” By doing this, I can start to build trust among the people, get to know in what ways they are interested in developing, and map out the resources I will have to work with. Only after three or more months of living here will I be ready to start churning out work projects. Long-term sustainability is the name of the game, and that takes some serious time, patience, listening, and learning.

Here are some of the lessons that I have learned through my work so far. In my Mexico, there is almost always:

  • Jello. It is everywhere
  • Several kilograms of warm tortillas on the table
  • Something in the oven…but not baking. Ovens are used as kitchen cabinets and cooking is 100% stovetop
  • Stovetops covered with pots and pans, all day
  • Nescafe and/or hot milk with baked goods
  • Sugar and/or chili in everything. On Thanksgiving, I was asked why the meal that I had prepared was lacking in the chili-department because one meal without chili is strange
  • Peer-pressure to eat more than you would like; the reason that I have gained about five pounds?
  • The squeaking sound of metal churning out new tortillas at the tortilla shops
  • Soups with almost every meal followed by tea and cookies or pastries
  • An interesting mix of highly processed, unhealthy foods alongside local fresh milk, eggs, produce, and handmade tortillas
  • Giant pots
Handmade tortillas are the best

Handmade tortillas are the best

Told you the pans were big!

Told you the pots were big!

  • 20 or more people crammed into the public transportation vans
  • Speed-bumps on the road, even the highways. There are 35 on my 25 minute commute into the city!
  • Holes in the sidewalk. Don’t text and walk!
  • Near-misses with cars; right-of-way is not the pedestrian’s
  • Steep slopes to walk up and down. People give directions by saying that something is either “up there,” or “farther down”
  • Bends and switchbacks in the road, literally and metaphorically
  • Images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary and shortened public transit schedules on Sunday
  • Great hikes and trail runs that test my lung capacity
Sidewalk sombreros

Sidewalk sombreros

  • Sidewalks covered in things to buy
  • Bars on windows
  • Bright, lively colors
  • Concrete and rebar
Mexico is always showing a colorful side

Mexico is always showing a colorful side

  • People making small-talk about how cold it is
  • Invitations to parties at the last second:  it’s totally fine to show up to parties uninvited
  • About 30 greetings done per day with kisses and handshakes
  • Children staring at me
  • Women with long hair pulled back in a ponytail or braid
  • People sharing stories with me about their years in the United States
  • Young couples being amorous in public
  • People improvising or being extraordinarily resourceful with what they have
  • Mariachis on street corners
  • Formal recognitions with certificates given for attending short training courses or giving presentations. Applause for everyone of course
  • Reminders that I am on “Mexican time” for better or worse
  • People asking me when I will get married and how many children I want to have
  • People being absolutely shocked at my age. They usually place me about ten years younger
  • People thinking that I am strange for: wanting a cat, living alone, choosing to volunteer rather than being paid more, living far from family, not eating as much meat as them, enjoying exercise, not adding sugar to my coffee/tea, preferring water over soda, choosing to live in a small community
  • Reminders on why I am so fortunate to be here
Showed up uninvited to this party! Notice the cups of green jello...

Showed up uninvited to this party! Notice the cups of green jello…

Typical hair style of the working women

Typical hair style of the working women

My traditional work projects look like they might start soon. Soon is a relative term in Mexico though. For the nerdy among you, here’s a quick summary of what might happen in the coming months:

My primary project will be a collaboration with Park staff to complete a forest inventory with a specific focus on bark beetle management. I will train and lead a brigade of community members in collecting data that we will later used to design and write a Forest Management Plan for sustainable use of natural resources. Other topics that we will include in the plan are methods of protection, restoration, and conservation including reforestation and fire management. I plan to use this opportunity to train staff on GIS data collection methods and mapping techniques so that we can visually represent changes in forest cover, soil use and vegetation types in the management plan. I also hope to use the inventory data to establish baseline data on the quantity of carbon sequestered within the National Park. Secondary project ideas include establishing an environmental education program in an Elementary School to better link the National Park with the surrounding community, and partnering with a group of hiking tour guides to build upon their knowledge of English and ecology.

My face is hiding my nervousness while I talk on the phone in Spanish for the first time

My face is hiding my nervousness while I talk on the phone in Spanish for the first time

On an exciting note, I have finally started regularly answering my phone when it rings. I usually understand what people say, more or less. This shows that my Spanish confidence has grown in spades. Check out this photo: it was my first phone call entirely in Spanish. My landlady tried to talk slow for me. That lasted for about 15 seconds until she launched into a full-speed account of what she hopes for from her tenants.

Always ready for new challenges!


Making me smile

  • Long Skype chats
  • A borrowed hammock sized to fit two
  • Avocado soup
  • An upcoming visit from someone special
  • Weekend plans to finally see Mexico City
  • Stressing between learning to play the banjo or the mandolin here
  • Beautiful trees peeking through the mist and fog
  • Giggling for hours with my neighbor over a cup of tea and cookies several times per week
  • Plotting to make a molten chocolate hazelnut birthday cake…first step: find an oven

2 responses to “So, what is she actually doing in Mexico?

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