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 Sinclairification by Grant Sinclair

Santa Cruz, 23 May 1999

23 May 2009

It was my first extended time out of the country.  Go easy on me.

Santa Cruz, 23 May 1999

Another evening in the Zocalo.  Before I get into the detail of the surrounding area, I wold like to talk about my Sunday trip to Santa Cruz.
This excursion immediately followed the trip to the market place (where I witnessed a two year old boy openly uriniating in an open sewer – without parental supervision) to the host father’s hometown.  The ride there was interesting enough, and I was proud to have tought my host siblings and Mariana yhow to play the card game Hearts in the back of a pickup truck bouncing down the road with an upside down bucket as a table and basic Spanish to get the rules and my point across. 

This was, without a doubt, the poorest town I have ever been in in my life.  I’m from a middle class New Jersey suburb, with New york as my window on the world. I have been from Sydney to Madrid, from Buffalo to Tangiers.  Santa Cruz, Oaxaca, Mexico is a town that will not soon escape my memory.

The streets were paved with dirt.  People don’t have shoes, there are few bicycles and even fewer automobiles.  The houses are run down, and people literally live in huts and walk miles to work.  There is something present here, however, probably not immediatley apparent to an outsider.  It wasn’t apparent to me.
This thing is indifference.  These people (at least the ones I talked to) are Zapotec, and speak the language along with bits and pieces of Spanish and very little, if any English.

There seems to be a feeling of “Ignorance is Bliss”.  These people don’t have anything to compare their lifestyles with, so they are happy with their lives.  A reminder that everything is relative, including happiness.

Weath is also measured differently.  For example, the gentleman I met at his farm was eager to show off his cattle and bulls.  Behind them was a crude plowing device, presumalbly for the crops in the field.  For this man, and these people, this was wealth.

My host sister and I went to this place to buy hand made tortillas that were cooked on the fire in a thatched hut, right in front of us.  It was a small hut, with a lot of flies and is presumably very unhealthy.  It’s a good thing we got our dinner there.

While we were waiting for the tortillas, one of the men that lived there approached me about my camera, watching me snap away like a Japanese tourist.  He explainedto me in broken Spanglish that his brother in Californiahad sent him a camera which he proudly got out to show me.

He couldn’t exaclty figure out how to work the camera or what to do with the film after he had used it.  This was evident because he showed me a roll of exposed film.  My guess is that he shot the roll and then didn’t rewind it, he just opened the film door and yanked it out.  I don’t think he knew he had to bring the film to Oaxaca to be developed, but my host sister and I explained that to him.

I donated a roll of my film loaded a couple new batteries, did a review of the camera and how it works, wiched him good luck and we were on our way.  Even though we had an interpreter, I still think there may be some basic misunderstandings if only in the mechanics of how things really work.  I hope he learns how to use it correctly and I would like to return one day and see the photographs.

After dinner I enjoyed the privelege of playing soccer with my host family, Mariana, and a neighbor from Santa Cruz.  It was incredibly fun, and I was happy that I could hold my own in a soccer game with a bunch of Mexicans.  Granted, they weren’t exactly the World Cup team, but hey, it’s probably the only time I’ll play while I’m here.  I noticed a lot of the plays we used were similar to the ones I learned in high school.

The last thing I noticed as I was getting in the car to leave Santa Cruz was the inscription written above the door, which seemed to sum up the entire experience for me: “Asi es la vida”, roughly translated means “That’s Life”.

On Monday morning we started school.  Spanish class, I can already tell, is going to be very, very interesting.  There are only four people in the class (Jodi, Starla, Catrina and myself), so there is a lot of individual scrutiny.  Basically, a person can’t get away with much.

That fact, coupled with the fact that the teachers will only speak Spanish make this a very interesting --  and potentially volitale – situation.  I’m just waiting for someone to explode and start spouting expletives in English.  I’m sure the frustration will build to that point, but weather that event occurs or not is a matter of pure self control.  I would like to see it happen, I just hope it’s not me.

The constant walking to and from the house can get monotonous and boring.  I don’t particularly enjoy the walk or the consequences if I don’t take it.  I don’t want to not show up and insult the family that has put me up for a month and has basically traeated me as one of their own.

Something I have neglected to discuss that is horribly apparent that adds to the inconvenience of the siesta shuffle is the colorful labrynith of tents and tarps that flood the streets of Oaxaca erected by the striking teachers.  The cumbersome strings and wires make it difficult to manuever from one end to the other, and it gets really annoying really quickly.  I enjoy watching people get closelined by their own creations.  I also get a kick out of seeing the balloon vendors get their merchandise caught like dolphins in a tuna net.

The teacher’s strike, as awkward and intrusive as it is, is noble.  These people leave their warm, soft beds and indoor plumbing to sleep on the street to make a statement.  There is speculation that these people have been asked by the unions to do this or lose their jobs, and while that would certainly encourage someone to do this, it certainly can’t make it easier.

Nobility, in this case, seems to be overrated.  There must be an awful lot of peer pressure to join the crusade, judging strictly by the number of people and demographics represented here.  I admire their persistance, but question their strategies. 

The marching, for example.  I understand the concept behind it, but why at 12:30 AM?  Andrea thoughtfully pointed out , “They must be practicing.”  Good point.  Why else would you march when the streets are empty?  I can see some really excited leader waking up people, getting them ready for rehersal.  What must it sound like?

 “Ready?  One!  Two!  Four!  Thre…woah, woah, woah.  Okay, everyone stop.  Try to get it right this time, folks.  And you guys, in the back, get rid of the gum.  You don’t think I see you, but I do.  Keep this up, folks, and I’m going to have to send you home, back to your warm beds and indoor plumbing.  You don’t want that, now do you?  Listen, the sooner we get this right, the sooner we can get back to sleeping in our own feeces.  Okay, from the top!…”

This trip is all about understanding different cultures, and I’m learning to accept them.  I don’t want to appear like I’m complaining about this strike, I just think it’s very interesting and kind of funny.

I Monday, I also started Dr. Blick’s Anthropology class, the class I am writing this paper for.  One page a day journal assingments are a lot more than they sound, particularly when I’m so tired at the end of a day I can barely keep my eyes open.

There is one event that is definetly worth staying up late to write about and that would be the fried chapolinas I tried at my first Anthropology class.  Dr. Blick told the class that we need to expand our horizons, try new and different things, to which I replied, “What are we going to do now, eat bugs?”  “Yes, we are,” was the response, as the professor produced a small plastic bag from somewhere beneath the table.
He passed the bag around offered everyone a chance to try some.  Fried chapolinas, by the way, are small grasshoppers, about the sise of your fingernail on your pinky finger, and that’s a really big one.  They have no real taste (yes, I tried some), but instead adopt the taste of the spices they are prepared in.  To really, accurately make this judegement, I would have had to try both seasoned and unseasoned chapolinas, and I did not.  I only ate what was presented to me at the table during class.  I kind of liked it, but had a little trouble getting past the fact that I had just dropped about two dozen insects in my mouth – on purpose.  My reaction was as follows:

 “I ate bugs!” I beamed with a sense of pride, looking around the table at my fellow students who only exchanged my excitement with looks of disgust and curiosity. 
“I can’t believe you did that.”  “What does it taste like?”  “Try it, it’s good,” were some of the comments I heard around the table.  Then, slowly, it hit me.

“I ate bugs!”  “I  ate bugs!”

The pride slipped into disbelief and partial disgust.

“I ate bugs!”  I kept repeating, as if I needed some sort of reminder other than the slightly spicy stray antennae and legs that were now wedged between my teeth.  I picked up my water bottle and swished.  Not long after that I began to appreciate the experience for what it was, and my bug-eating sense of pride returned.
The nice thing about this Anthropology class is it augments the entire Oaxacan experience by learning about Mexico’s past.  As one Mexican commented to me “You’re going to know more about my country than me when you leave.”  I feel the same way about immigrants entering the United States, having to take the tests and all.  Funny, don’t you think?

As strange as this may sound, the days seem to be similar after the first day of classes, and sometimes not enough things happen in a day that are worth writing a full page about.  Any attempt at such would be a waste of time and literally making a big deal out of nothing.

I only want to report things that are interesting, educational, or memorable, and if I don’t fulfill the page requirement because of those standards, then fine.  I can only hope the purpose of this assingment is content, and not length, and I don’t believe my grade wil suffer as a result of this decision.  IN OTHER WORDS, if nothing interesting happened that day, I’m not going to write much.  That’s all.

However, I would like to address other issues, more personal than you might expect, but not so much that it makes the reader or author uncomfortable.  Some of these things may not be immediately pleasant, but this paper is about my experience in Oaxaca, Mexico, and that is what I am going to write about.
The first issue I would like to address is TRUST.  This is a strong word and an assumed chacteristic upon meeting people.  They want you to trust them, and you want them to trust you, but in most cases you really don’t trust each other.  Trust, in my experience, falls along the same lines as respect, as trust, distrust, respect, and disrespect are all earned qualities.  They are not automatically assigned upon introduction.  As Nicholas Cage said in Con Air “I only trust two men.  One of them is me, and you ain’t the other one.”

When I decided to come on this trip, I knew I was going to be basically alone meet people I haven’t met before, and enjoy new experiences.  Fine.  I personally believe that every single person in this group is every one else’s (or at least my) responsibility.

Responsibility, at least to the degree that everyone gets back to their host family’s houses safely at night.  Responsibility that includes walking as far as it takes in the middle of the night with a fellow student to see them get through the door.  Responsibility that means listening to someone – even if you don’t want to – when they have a story, problem, or experience.  What it all boils down to is we’re all in this together and if we don’t look out for each other, I can pretty much bet no one else will.

So far, I have sen a lot of that attitude with these people.  I think they do it because they like each other, but as long as they are doing it, I don’t care what the reason is.  Since we are on the topic of vocabulary and responsibility, here are a few more abused words and their common (but not actual) meanings: HOME – Where ever you are sleeping that night.  FRIEND – Someone you just met, and like. 
LOVE – God only knows.

For most of the people on this trip, they have never been away from their friends and family for this long.  I haven’t.  This is the perfect time to introduce, both in the paper and to the group, the three best words to hear anyone say:
“I MISS YOU”.  It holds less responsibility than “I love you;” you can say it to your family, friends of either gender, and it basically means “I wish you were here” without using that over used cliché.

Another thing I find worth mentioning along these lines are things I miss.  An assumed statement or thought here would be things I miss about Georgia.  That would be incorrect.  These are things I miss about the United States.

• Movie Popcorn
• “Subway” Subs
• Ice Water
• Clean Air
• Pizza (only from New York)
• Buffalo Wings (only from Buffalo, New York)
• Fruit Juice
• 7 Eleven Cherry Slurpees
• Hot Dogs
• Waffle House/Steak and Shake
• My Car

“What?  Your car?”  you may ask.  Yes, I miss my car, and I figured out why.  Every day from when I wake up to the time I go to bed, I’m surrounded by people.  What does that have to do with my car?  I’m getting to that.  You see, down here there is very little or no “Bill time,” time is usally spend alone playing on my computer, practicing my guitar skills, reading, writing, whatever.  This is neccesary time for a person’s sanity, time I use for cleaning out and arranging my thoughts, basically making sense of my world.

I have about a half hour drive from Roswell to Kennesaw.  I enjoy that half hour because it’s about 30 minutes in which I have almost total control over the music, temperature, my singing voice, sterring wheel drumming talents, speed of my car, whatever.  Basically, for 1/48th of a day, I have control over my little universe, not including the additional 30 minutes at the end of the night back to the house.
I unintentionally made that sacrifice, among others, when I came down here.  If I had known then what I know now, I would have done it anyway.  Life is about being uncomfortable every now and then, changing your lifestyle, learning and moving on.
Speaking of moving on, it’s getting late in the evening and I have class tomorrow morning at 9:00.  I had better get to bed so I can be ready to face all the people again tomorrow.

No Worries!

23 May 1999
Oaxaca, Mexico


© 2009

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