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Greetings from the Volweider sisters in sunny Cuernavaca!
The Social Development and Social Justice Class has been in Cuernavaca, Mexico for five days now. We started our journey last Tuesday morning after much excitement and anticipation! Our traveling went seamlessly with the exception of one of our ginger students passing out on the flight from Houston to Mexico City. Luckily, there were a couple of doctors on the plane and the flight attendants were helpful, so everything turned out all right.
We were greeted by the Quest program director Gerardo, (who was quickly nicknamed Gelato) and took a bus from Mexico City to our first destination of Cuernavaca. All of our eyes widened and smiles came to our faces when we caught our first glimpse of our new home for the next two weeks. It is located on a mountain in the outskirts of Cuernavaca. There are rolling hills, beautiful trees, fields of corn, and a colorfully painted house. The house has no door to enter and it is open to the flourishing outdoors. We also quickly discovered the stairs to the roof where we found a pool and the view of a lifetime overlooking trees, hills, and the city below. We also then had our first taste of the delicious traditional Mexican food that is prepared for us three times a day. Eating these meals is an activity that everyone in our group looks forward to!
That evening Dr. Ross Gandy came and spoke to our group about the history of Mexico. He was quite the dynamic speaker and had no trouble captivating all of us. He started in year 1910 and explained the events that occurred in Mexico to the present day. He was able to provide us a better understanding of what caused the problems that are found here and why they continue to persist. We were told that 70% of the people living in Mexico are marginalized and it is extremely difficult for them to move out of that poverty.
Wednesday brought a very interesting experience for the group. We split up into five groups of three to four people who were our “families” and were assigned to go on a “Quest.” We were given a map of Cuernavaca, the city’s bus route, an order of places to visit, a shopping list, and one days worth (8 hours) of minimum wage in Mexico which is 60 pesos (about $5.50 U.S.). We were then told to break off into our groups and we had about six hours to complete our quests and then catch the bus back to the house. This was a very effective exercise because we simultaneously were utilizing public transportation, finding our own way around without a leader, and being immersed in the culture of Mexico.
We observed many people trying to make a living by selling various things on the street. We found our way the central square of the city, a Chapel, the Cathedral, a supermarket, and the people’s market. The people’s market was where we were supposed to buy the five things on our grocery list with our one days worth of minimum wage. It was a huge market and there were hundreds of vendors selling vegetables, fruit, candy, toys, crafts, beans, meat, (there were pig heads and you could see their expressions!!!) and much more. We realized that our group could not afford the five things on our grocery list and have enough pesos for the bus fare back. And the prices of food at the people’s market were usually much cheaper than the prices we saw at the regular supermarket where the top 30% of the population shop. This really put things in perspective for us. It was interesting to hear Ross talk about how the minimum wage was not enough to live on, but actually putting yourself in their financial situation was very effective. The whole experience was eye opening and it was enjoyable to see many different sights of Cernavaca. Every group made it back with a different story tell!
Later that night we heard from a domestic worker named Ofelia. Her story was very interesting and it was a testament to how difficult many people’s lives are here, but also how most of them work extremely hard.
On Thursday we traveled to La Estacion Squatter Settlement which was appropriate after hear Ofelia’s story the night before. I had never walked through poverty to that degree. There are over 6,000 families that are living in this area by the old train station. However, the government still owns this area and the families don’t have the rights to the land.
To make our adventures through the Squatter Settlement even more interesting, it happened to be a very festive Mexican holiday called Three Kings Day. This is similar to an American Christmas because the Three Kings bring the children toys. One of the women at the settlement told us that some years parents can’t afford to buy their children anything, and so they just tell them they haven’t been quite good enough this year. One of the traditions is for the family or community to eat a special round cake that has at least four plastic babies baked within. If your slice contains a cute little baby then you have the duty and privilege of inviting everyone over for tamales on the second of February. To our great surprise Ada, Liz, Kyle, and Elizabeth almost swallowed a baby in each of their slices, so now they are the future tamale makers! So come one come all to their houses for tamales on that day!
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet with several of the families that lived in this community. It was incredible to see how excited and inviting these families were to our group. The houses that we visited varied slightly, but most of them were more like a shack with the various household items dirty and cluttered. There was very little space and everything was very run down. However, they were working extremely hard to get what little they had. Our hostesses were very kind and hospitable and answered all of the questions we asked about their life and experiences. These people were so unselfish, not materialistic, and always put their family first which made us take another look at our own culture. Material things can be very important for us, but when these material items are striped away (like it was for the people at La Estacion) you are left with the people and the power and worth of relationships.
Because it was Three Kings Day, we were able to go to the firework festival in town! Even though Amy (who we call Chinchilla) hates fireworks, all of us thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent display. Mostly because if you stand too close you get hit by fireworks! Every year there is a reported burn. After the main firework show, numerous men ran into the square holding constructed objects in the shape of animals above their heads which were shooting off fireworks in random directions. Shayne was brave enough to go into the square while they were running around! Also, Gelato shanked Caleb with a stick–but it’s no big deal.
On Friday morning we took a long bus ride to the ruins of Xochicalco. Getting the chance to hike was really awesome. Also, it’s 86 degrees during the day, so being outside is always wonderful. The ruins were great, although some got in trouble numerous times for climbing up areas that were prohibited! In any case, we were eventually able to get someone who spoke Spanish to tell us about the carvings on some of the ruins. The ruins were left behind by the Aztecs. Something that most people in the group found interesting is that they beheaded each other for sacrificial reasons. It was an honor to be killed for a sacrifice, and the winner of a game was usually picked.
After a morning full of hiking and site seeing, Gelato treated us to some real Mexican Gelato for the ride home. So that’s all for now from Margarita and Chinchilla, but stay tuned for more exciting adventures told from other students!
Amy (Chinchilla) and Sara (Margarita) VolweiderBuenos dias!
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