Every eight days

Narrowly brushing by on the crowded sidewalk, a woman grips a cardboard box awkwardly in her arms. I squeeze against the wall to give her space. As she passes, the box chirps at me.  No longer surprised at such occurrences, I continue walking, hardly noting the chirping box.

To my left is a fruit stall, sandwiched between a mountainous pile of dried chilies on one side and stacks of plastic buckets on the other. A little farther along I spot the source of the chirping box: there is a pickup truck stacked with plastic crates. Inside the crates are thousands of chicks, ready for sale. Stretching more than 50 meters from the tailgate is a line of interested customers. Everyone in line is holding an empty cardboard box. The chicken salesman stands at the front of the line, busily filling box after box with fluffy yellow/brown chirping critters.

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This market must not be a daily occurrence, given the length of the chicken line. I must be at a tianguis. To confirm my suspicion, I ask a man how often this market comes to town: “Cada ocho dias,” was his matter-of-fact response. Every eight days.

The first time I heard someone say “every eight days,” I wondered how people kept track of such an odd schedule. If something happens on Monday this week, then next week it is scheduled for Tuesday? How confusing!

But that is not how the phrase cada ocho dias is meant in Mexico. Instead, it means every week. I remember when I asked a friend how many days are in a week. She matter-of-factly replied: eight.

This tianguis is on Monday. It will come next Monday too, as well as each following Monday.

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 They say that time is a cultural construct, or at least our perception of time. After living in Mexico for more than half a year now, I can agree. Time is perceived differently here. Consequently, it is expressed differently in the language. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Spanish

Literal Translation

Meaning

Ahora Now Now
Ahorita Little now Never, or in a few minutes
Luego Later Later
Luego luego Later later Immediately
Un rato A moment A moment
Un ratito A tiny moment At least 5-10 hours
Menudo Meat from cow stomach Meat from cow stomach
A menudo To meat from cow stomach Often

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When I was taking Spanish classes, I remember being confused to the point of being upset about certain linguistic representations of time. To illustrate my point, I present to you this chart:

Spanish Meaning
El pasado The past
Mañana Morning
Mañana Tomorrow
Pasado mañana The day after tomorrow
Pasado mañana por la mañana The day after tomorrow in the morning

See what I mean? When my teacher taught me pasado mañana, I translated it in my head as “the past morning,” or yesterday.

Turns out, it is translated as “past tomorrow,” which makes a lot more sense.

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I recently returned from a week-long training at the Peace Corps headquarters. All of my fellow volunteers were there to talk about our lessons learned, our plans for the future, and the challenges that we have faced while living and working in Mexico. One challenge was reiterated by almost every person: working on Mexican time. Coming from our American perspective, it can be hard to plan ahead. Here is one story that represents a common experience:

I come into the office, planning on writing a grant proposal. However, when I arrive my boss tells me to hop into the work truck. Apparently we are going to a meeting. I don’t know what the meeting is about, where it will be, if I should be prepared somehow, what I should bring, or when we will come back. Part of the problem is the language barrier, of course. But most of it is not.  This seems to be how my boss operates. When I ask how long we will be gone, the response always seems to be a hesitated, “pues…esteeeee…un rato, nada más.” Well…uh…just for a little bit and nothing more. Nevertheless, sometimes we are gone for hours. One time we didn’t return for twelve hours!

Anyone who has worked in a different culture has experienced this process: first, you learn how time is perceived, and then you redefine your perceptions accordingly.

And while I am still learning to work within this different system, at least now I have some of the language down. I am sure that I will be fully adjusted to Mexican time … ahorita

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Making me smile, donkey edition:

  • Family birthday parties where all 15 siblings are present, where the father rides in on a donkey and an itchy wool pancho, and where all party-goers drink home-brewed pulque and dance cumbia until 4 in the morning
  • Hearing stories about destructive and wild street-donkeys
  • Waking up to the donkey bray
  • Listening to friends write songs about donkeys as I write this post
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2 responses to “Every eight days

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