Oaxaca Weeks 3-4.
This post is about my second fortnight in Oaxaca, in which there was an 8.2 magnitude earthquake. (You can read about my first impressions here.)
Since starting this blog I've written very few standard 'what I've been up to' posts. While I have more desk time I'm going to try to write one every fortnight - straight through - to see how that feels.
I've completed my first four weeks of one-to-one Spanish classes and moved on to a different school where (after this week) I hope to experience the different energy of small-group classes. I'm finding the language-learning process interesting in itself, and want to try a few different teachers and approaches.
My teachers have said that my listening comprehension seems pretty good, but speaking still feels excruciating. I've had some 'conversations' with my teachers (three so far, I, Y, and J) about super-interesting topics ranging from Oaxaca's refuse problem and rural resistance to cartel extortion to non-binary gender and the relationship escalator, but I don't feel the accuracy of my side of these conversations is getting anywhere fast. Perhaps I'm underestimating the impact of trying to express myself and having a teacher correct my wrong tenses, word order etc. They rarely seem to correct my pronunciation, so that's something I guess, though there are certain sounds ('r' and 'rr' in particular) I just can't do, and for some reason I really struggle with the ae diphthong in 'maestra' (teacher).
Having learned French for seven years I don't find concepts like verb conjugations or gendered adjectives difficult to grasp (though there are a helluvalot of the former to memorise). What I'm finding especially difficult so far is word order especially in sentences with direct and indirect object pronouns. Take these examples:
In order to say 'He gave the apple to the teacher' you've actually got to say something like 'To her he gave the apple to the teacher'. To say 'He gave it to her' you've got to say 'To her it he gave'. To say 'The President forgot the quote' you'd have to say 'He it forgot the quote the President'. Yeah.
Apart from telling my rather straight-laced teacher I love her ('me encantas'), my funniest mistake so far was probably saying 'It's important to check first, because some people don't like to receive rabbits' (conejos) when what I meant to say was 'consejos' (advice).
Today I started at one of the longer-standing language schools where my 2x2 hour classes are more clearly delineated as 'conversation' and 'grammar'. I enjoyed much about the flexibility of my one-to-one lessons in libraries, squares and cafes, but - despite asking more than once - never received an overall framework for the month against which I could track my progress.
My new teachers L and M have both already told me they love food, so that's good. M is rather camp and refers to grammar as 'señora grammatica'. L spent a good chunk of today's lesson giving me directions to the 'Taco Friday' market and to another market where you buy meat by weight and they cook it for you. I'm saving most of my culinary exploring until my peeps get here but it sounds like it wouldn't kill me to undertake one or two reconnaissance missions...
I get slightly tired of being asked questions about my family before just about anything else, but I understand there are 'cultural' reasons for this. Today however I called L's bluff when she told that in Mexico it's all about the family. I asked 'What happens if you don't like your parents or siblings much?' She then had to admit that her parents are divorced and half the kids don't speak to mum while the other half don't speak to dad! Probably shouldn't laugh.
Overall I was exceedingly reclusive (OK lazy) during my first four weeks, what with revelling in my new privacy, torrential rain every evening, fatigue from using my brain, feeling under the weather a couple of times and the circular problem of wanting to socialise only in Spanish but not being able to speak Spanish yet...
Sightseeing-wise I've really only been up to Monte Alban. I figure I will get to all the other treasures in time, preferably when it isn't pouring with rain. I did manage to take myself to a talk (which I didn't understand) about abductions of women and girls, a chamber concert (which I enjoyed) and a rather esoteric Argentinian film (all in exquisite buildings).
I continued getting my lunch from the sweet family most days. One day my teacher I. got chatting to them and discovered they thought I was her teacher. She said many locals she meets are surprised to find English-speakers want to learn Spanish and come to Oaxaca to do it, which made me melancholy.
Sadly I did not make it to Oaxaca Chica Tomboy 2017. It was pouring with rain and riding my bike through pedal-deep torrents in the dark (as I've had to do most weekdays) is just a bit too hair-raising to be fun.
Instead I wrote my two-year vagabondaversary review. Several folks seemed to like this part of my answer to a question about loneliness:
The thing that makes me feel loneliest is feeling misunderstood/unseen (in a relationship with someone). If that happens, regardless of whether I'm alone, I feel lonely. In those situations I've learned to reach out as a matter of urgency to other people who do get/see me. For me, knowing that I can do this is a very distinct advantage of not having all my emotional eggs in one basket.
This is something I've actually needed to do recently. I'm very grateful for the thoughtful witnessing and support I have received.
My intentions for this second four-week period in Oaxaca are:
- Work harder at my Spanish. Specifically, read 'Como Agua Para Chocolate' (in my hammock), listen to podcasts, and slog away at grammar exercises.
- Do a few more things in the city, and force myself to start more conversations.
- Stop staying up so f*cking late.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the earthquake. The following morning I wrote on Facebook:
Thanks everyone. I went to bed before ten as I wasn't feeling great. Just before midnight (according to the timing of this post!) I woke up to what felt and sounded like someone in the building had a washing machine on full spin x30. I figured it must be an earthquake and didn't know whether to be fascinated or scared*. The sound was probably the scariest bit. I guess it must have been parts of the building moving. I'm on the first-floor (i.e. the one above the ground floor). After perhaps two minutes it stopped, I looked out from my front balcony, and all the local dogs were barking. Then I went back to sleep for nine hours.
This morning I'm reading all the news :-( Crikey.
*For those of you still getting to know me, this is how my brain works: 'Hmm, this is interesting, what ought I to be feeling now?'
That lunchtime my teacher I. was concerned about her family who live near the coast and had lost power. She said the sea had receded leading to fears of a tsunami, which thankfully did not materialise. During my lesson the city's seismic alarm sounded and we were asked to evacuate the library for a short period. Apparently there have been aftershocks but I haven't felt any. (I've sure learned some unexpected vocabulary this past week!) In my later lesson J showed me a video about what to do incase of another earthquake, some videos of the serious damage caused in Juchitán in the 'isthmus' region of the state of Oaxaca (where most of the earthquake's 96 victims died), and a video about the 'muxe' gender for which that area is also known.
Some other distressing news just in. The other day my landlord's wife or girlfriend (who lives above me) asked me to send him a message under some pretext or other as she hadn't heard from him. Feeling slightly like I might be about to find myself embroiled in the plot of one of Mexico's popular telenovelas I did as she asked but heard nothing. Minutes ago I asked if she had a key for my bedroom (whose door slammed shut on Saturday with all my clothes behind it). She seemed so very upset as she unlocked the door I asked what was wrong and she told me she learned today that he died in an accident. Fortunately I know how to say 'lo sciento' and 'me dices si yo puedo ayudar' but SHIT.