Friday, May 27, 2011

A Learning (this should be the title of every post)

It’s been so long since I’ve taken time to write for myself. I’ve been so involved in everyone else’s lives and my own daily moments that I haven’t taken a moment to process it all. I think that’s why my leg hurts, why I have been waking up at night with stomach aches, and why I slept all day on Wednesday. It’s been so long that I can hardly remember the details that I wanted to share with you. I wanted to share the irony of being chased by a gang of vicious dogs, then immediately listening to the police driving by announcing over the loudspeaker the pet parade that would take place at the town square. I wanted to mention the Frisbee tournament that I went to last weekend not to play but to make a complete scene – a white girl screaming at the men’s team in broken Spanish about how to orient themselves in their space. How they smoked a bit of weed on the way back home and discussed the need to change Mexico in such a way that we see success as not by climbing onto the back of your neighbor but by helping him up as well. Revolution, or subtle changes in the nucleus of society? Can they be one in the same? How we went out for a beer on a rooftop bar with Julián and discussed the expectations of Mexican women in relationships, or how we met a woman on the bus who gave us peaches and started a conversation about racism and capitalism in the United States. Or even further back, how we gave in completely to this scam artist, lost about $800 USD collectively and spent the next week trying to trudge through the bureaucratic system to protect my identity and offer a declaration so that he could be caught. OR the following weekend, how Cecilia saw him on the streets and chased him down, called the cops riding around in their pickup trucks with their boots up to their knees and their important machine guns. How they asked her to get in and all of the women in the crowd now surrounding her screamed “No! Never get in their truck!” And how the cops sped off when they realized that the beautiful blonde wouldn’t ride with them and the rest of the crowd offered up every means of support and care that they could.

And while all of these details have occupied much of my time, they have not occupied the majority of my attention. I’ve been reading The Zahir by Paulo Coelho, and it’s all about love. We try to put love into rules created by society - I should feel this way, I should act this way, I should only see this person at this time, etc. When in reality, love, romantically or otherwise, is the driving force that moves us to act and as such, how can we possibly try to contain and control it? Coelho is so much more eloquent than I, so rather than word-vomit all of his beautifully explicated philosophies, I will instead highly recommend that you read it.

Everyone around me has been coming to me to talk about love and work and passion, and I don’t have the answers, but I’ve been internalizing a lot of that negative energy. How do you love unconditionally and be there for someone without incorporating their emotions and issues into your own? This week was all about self-exploration, and taking the next step forward in the face of great personal challenges (or for me, how to deal with these challenges from an external perspective both to help my friends and to learn for myself). And a bit of compunction for not “working as I should be” (as defined by my American values…and my Jewish guilt). But then I realized, a) I am NOT in the United States, b) this is MY life, so who else but me is telling me to feel guilty for which rules and structures I should follow and c) this IS work. As I sit here sipping on my delicious coffee, listening to Ina and her friend Erika work through the challenges of both romantic and self-love, ego, the patience of learning life’s hardest lessons (repeatedly), and listening, truly listening, to what the world around you is telling you, I realize that I am indeed working. 

Fuck the capitalist, American definitions of success, the Mexican tendencies of pushing yourself to the front of the line and working every day without rest. This is work. This is progress. But I have miles to go before I sleep because that little minion sitting on my shoulder still whispers “you’re not doing enough” “look again at your standards - are you really as good as you could be?” In one sense, of course not – we could always be improving. But with humility and love, not with ego and society’s superficial values. In another sense, yes. My mom and Oprah, two women who I highly respect, told me that I AM good enough. And to realize that does not bring you to your goal – it provides your foundation.

Now all of this sounds beautiful and flowery and “oh, Rachel, how much you’re growing and learning.” But saying these things, writing love on my wrist, or saying ok, this time I’ve actually learned how to let go, is the theory. Now the world’s gonna throw you some tests and examples. Oh, yeah? Really? You get how to love unconditionally? How to love yourself? Here’s a scam artist. Here’s another 3 hour delay. Here’s another night of disappointment. Boo-yah, silly human. How much have you learned? Yeah. That’s what I thought. Talk to me again when you’re 36, 58, 92 or a slave in Egypt (reference to Many Lives, Many Masters - another must read).  So, I think I’m going to let all this settle a little more – the coffee was definitely not decaf, and I have Zumba class in about 45 minutes, and then we have friends visiting from Mexico City. It’s going to be a very full weekend, but I hope to give myself this opportunity to reflect again very soon. I had forgotten in these past couple weeks how critical it is for me to do so. And I thank each of you for being part of this opportunity to share. Much love. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Semana Santa Part 2

I suppose that if your stomach is going to crap out on you and the only comfortable position you can entertain is a fetal one, than there is no better place than a hammock on the Mexican coast. Cecilia has escaped for Zipolite beach with our friends. In the meantime, I let the waves breaking and the scittered clatter of the palm frawns amongst themselves calm my entire being. This morning I toughened up and actually ate breakfast, but I think I over-indulged: scrambled eggs, toast, fruit with yoghurt and honey, fresh OJ and coffee. Only small portions but still enough to keep me sick and satisfied til 5pm when I’d be able to stomach a banana (which I’d later regret). 

We met up with an older couple from Rhode Island and brought them with us to La Ventanilla to take a tour of the lagoons. We walked along the beach for about 10 minutes. I laid in the sand as we waited for our boat to fill, and then slid into the last spot, trying to slither as low to the floor as they’d allow me. We slipped into the water and glided along the mangroves as the guide explained their restoration cooperative. The sounds were more incredible than the sights – white birds with woodpecker features on their brows made sounds like this little toy I used to have a as a kid. It was also a bird and when you jiggled it, it would go “oyoyoyoy.” There were scores of them in the trees. Huge ospreys (or maybe egrets?) and little black birds shared the webs of leaves with the others and also made peculiar sounds. There were also grey toucans with bills like platypuses. A croc or two nosed its way into the fingers of the mangroves, completely unphased by our presence. We docked at a small island where we would spend most of our time, and I would spend most of it doubled over. I took interest in some animal whose name I can’t pronounce and the friendly spider monkey named Yupi. But I hardly glanced at the deer or the crocodiles and by the time we stopped to get a drink I was a goner. I threw dignity to the winds and laid myself in the black hard earth, gently trying to expel all of my pain without drawing too many glances. Cecilia suggested water, but I had visions of my intestines bursting. Still, through it all, I continue to be grateful that I’m continuing on this trip rather than dripping in self-pity on an uncomfortable couch in Cholula.

That night we left for Oaxaca. Never again will I sit in front of a mega bus. It was a real life roller coaster, twisting and winding us through the dark desert mountains, slowing at the last moment near the switchbacks as the reflective arrows whizzed into our past. We skirted bunnies and tire shreds without so much as a wince from the agile beast that was carrying our loads and our lives. It was a fluid ride, but on a few occasions I submissively reminded God that I had much of His work to continue.
We arrived at 7am in Oaxaca where it was surprisingly brisk outside. I was actually hungry for the first time in a while, so after we found our hostel we immediately hit the market. The markets in every city in Mexico are the hub of the culture and the flavor. Oaxaca is the epitome of this and our original plan had been to eat our way all the way through all day long. I tasted everything but didn’t actually consume anything: We kicked off with chocolate atole (the corn drink) and bread (both of which Oaxaca is known for), so it was a good start. 

We ordered a chile relleno next – fried egg (like egg foo young) with a pepper stuffed with cheese; beans and tortillas. Devil’s food. Cecilia had another drink of pure cacao and corn with pure milk fat on top – it’s her favorite, but I wasn’t super impressed. The agua de horchata (sweet rice milk with spices and fruit) was pretty great though. Cecilia bought $800 pesos worth of leather purses and I considered a $6 USD hat but decided against it. My stomach was fierce again, so we bailed and went to a contemporary painting museum. We had some great conversations about art and artists and I was surprised at how much I remembered from senior year of high school. We later met up with our friends we’d met at the beach for supper. I managed to choke down a salad and some bread, but I must say that the company was far superior to the food – we laughed the entire time. The entire city was on the zócalo celebrating Semana Santa when we exited the restaurant and strolled into town.

Last night I dreamt that I was in band class/simultaneously orchestrating a group therapy session. When I woke up around 6am I realized that the tuba was not in my band class but actually at the church across the street. Now I’m sitting up on the hostel’s terrace noticing all of the purple (thank you Alice Walker via Lauren), and listening to the monastic-style chanting. The lower parts of the tree immediately buffering the church and the terrace have fat raindrop leaves and fuzzy fuchsia flowers like the top of a troll pen I used to have. Some of the flowers even look like they have 2 white eyes to observe all of the worshipers below. The empty branches towards the top all reach outward and upward – like they too are acknowledging this holy day. There are huge lavender tapestries and plain wooden crosses hung on each edifice and flags of white and purple strung above the vendors on the streets. 

Here are my observations from the bus ride from Oaxaca back to Puebla at the very end of our trip (sorry it's kind of stream of consciousness):
Jade green rocks. Goats butting heads. Dr. Seuss’s wonderland. Comically awful movie on a gently rocking bus. Mossy mauve slopes into an empty neverland. Spherical palms like an exploding star. Small home of stones and concrete on top of a canyon – needing nothing from soap or necklace vendors, nothing we could offer. Layers. Rich overlooked colors of the desert. Rock waterfall. Campesino in an orange t-shirt walking towards nowhere. Cows scavenging spiny greens by the roadside. Freestyling policemen and topiaries at the checkpoint. Moon mountains. Lolipop tree with yellow mushroom branches. Leafy shrub popping from the bare cliff face like a stripper from a cake. Green. Orange. White. Who knew there would be so many shades of grey? Squat umbrella trees. Some are crying. Rusty car the color of the earth. White flowers in an old stream pass. A mask of concrete over a fence frame pegs the mountain to itself. Hope that I never forget the contrast of the mountains, but certain that I will. Vertical fields of cacti. Neon flowers surround a bored soldier’s station. Bustling city. Hectic bus station. Home.

Semana Santa Part 1

We left for the beach Friday night. We asked two separate door men about our bus, and each told us that the bus hadn’t arrived yet. Only when they called “last call seats 5 & 6” did we bolt from waiting space, diving over families and luggage to almost get on the wrong bus that also said Puerto Escondido to get directed to the write bus with a very exasperated looking driver. How to make a scene: #18. Fifteen hours later we rolled into the beach town.

Climbing hundreds of stairs down the cliff face, we entered a small and quiet beach where you can rent an adirondack chair for the price of a coconut drink and a few quesadillas. The tide was strong and tepid and the sand burned our toes. After a few hours of sun and vendors circling their foreign pray had beaten our energy level back a bit, we packed up and went to the market in search of ice cream. Instead, we found fruit that looked like something Dr. Seuss would have pulled up from a scuba excursion. We also got some hibiscus juice and eventually decided to grab some grub. Cecilia had fish tacos and I ordered a michelada: a Corona rimmed with salt and lime wedges and infused with a mildly picante salsa. Sounds like a case of the shits for 30 pesos right? Just save yourself the tongue twister and go straight for the PBR? But no – it’s actually delicious. I would end up ordering some fish tacos as well so I didn’t have to stagger out of there.

I’m always struggling with the idea of spending my money and trying so hard to let go and allow myself the opportunity to spend just a fraction of what I’ve saved. Then I think about the Australians in our hostel who are backpacking for 4-8 months at a time, going out every night, and I think – OK I can learn to splurge for one week. Cecilia has promised to help me with this, and I can hear my dad’s rational, calming voice in my head as well. One purchase at a time…So this morning I am enjoying a FABULOUS breakfast at the Buena Vida Sports Bar where Ceci and I each ordered a “Michael Phelps” – fried tortilla with a thin layer of refried beans under two sunnyside up eggs with a garnish of fried plantains and glazed with an unspicy salsa that’s the color of a sunset.  Holy cow. We read, wrote, took pictures and looked pensively off in the direction of the neon flowers and the occasional taxi going by.  And Mr. Marley serenaded us while I sipped on one of the best lattes I’ve ever had.

The Sound of the ocean never gets old. I think I’ll read…I think I’ll write…maybe I should go out. But then the waves crash back into my awareness and I decide to let them play another set before getting proactive about nothing of major consequence. Cecilia left for Mizunte today with a group of friendly and good natured kids we met on yesterday’s little squatter beach (Ezacahuite?). (We’d wind up spending a good portion of our vacation with them, and we’re going to visit them in Mexico City in May.) But I, for the third time since my arrival in Mexico, was on my back with my hands in a triangle over my core willing my navel to  ease the cramps out of my digestive tract. Either the magic or the pill that Lalo and Iiana bought me when they came to retrieve Cecilia released the tension enough for me to take a nap for 3 hours. Only then, moving quite slowly, did I feel well enough to head down to the beach of Puerto Ángel.

Puerto Ángel is the small fisher town that my dear friend Joyce recommended – it’s far less crowded and touristy than Puerto Escondido (about an hour away – we stayed in each place for 2 days).  I walked across the street and out onto the sand where rows of fishing boats named Lupita and Kelly were parked on the shore. I watched some of the fishermen return to port: they would rip through the crowds playing in the surf and not consider slowing down until halfway across the moist sand. I took a a small rock path that hugs the cliff-face to bridge the fishing beach and the tourist beach. The beach was lined with thatch huts and plastic tables with aderondack chairs that occasionally had to be chased down by the patrons when they got caught in the surf. Little babies wore diapers of sand on their bare butts. Teams of boys kicked the soccer ball onto a terracotta roof of an alcove where drummers and old men perched. Kids stayed in the water for hours and hours – the water was a perfect welcoming cool.

 A girl in a red swuimsuit’s eyes widened behind me as she pulled her brother out of the water. She knew before I did that another remolino was coming. I turned to see the waves explode against the rocks on the opposite side of the bay. Then it reached us and the earth pulled at my heels while the water pushed at my back. Most of the kids would ride it out (literally) but I preferred to let it suck me back and then spit me onto the shore to take a breather on the sand.
The salvavidas wandered by with his little floatie and whistle. “ What’s your name, beautiful? And what? Married? Divorced? Boyfriend? Single? From the moment I saw you I wanted to talk to you.” I have many Mexican boyfriends, I told him. 47 to be exact. “Ah, then surely you have room for one more. Do they each have a special space? Can I have this corner of your ear, so that every morning I can wake up and whisper, ‘Good morning, Raquel. I’m here, ready to serve.” Damn. Salvavida was smooth. Yet, so very old and hairy. I told him that I’d have to check with all of my boyfriends…

The trumpet of the mariachis and the drums of the hippies lulled me into a Jimmy Buffet stupor. I was only to be jolted by the occasional wafting of animal shit or the threat of a dog fight. Once a rooster strutted out from behind a fishing boat, but decided that even he didn’t have the huevos to take on all the ruckus that awaited him on the beach. My lollipop purchase from a short woman with very unfortunate dental care seemed to be the highlight of her day. She stopped me 2 or 3 more times: Hey guera, you reading? Umm. Yeah. Yeah I am; to ask me about my work, repeat the details of each beach and their safety levels and finally to speculate on the moral nature of the tourist culture. Sigh.