Oaxaca Weeks 5-6.
This post is a bit meandering, reflecting my days here in Oaxaca.
Six weeks into my Spanish classes I'm under no illusions: it's going to take me a long, long time to get fluent. I've undoubtedly kick-started the process by investing in daily lessons, but suspect I over-estimated how fast I'd improve. I now understand quite a bit of what I read and hear (provided I have some context), but I'm still talking like a two-year-old. And, I'm worried about what will happen when I have no-one to force me to talk or to correct my mistakes.
You'll recall I had one-to-one classes in weeks 1-4. Two of my three teachers were good, but I was frustrated (despite asking the school more than once for a framework) by the aimlessness of it all.
For weeks 5-8 I moved to a more traditional language school in the hope of a bit more structure and the energy of group classes. Unfortunately it's the low season, so for weeks 5-6 I've basically had more of the same: 1.5 hours of aimless one-to-one conversation followed by 1.5 hours of necessary (and more structured) grammar. I'm told I'll be joined by one more student for weeks 7-8, which might be great or might not I suppose.
Overall I'm surprised these schools, who've been teaching Spanish to adults for years, haven't wised up to the fact we're actually customers, and want to know roughly what we might realistically expect to 'get' for our investment of time and money.
I'm also surprised by the lack of variety in the teaching methods. Now, I may have been the first person in history to fail a TEFL course, but even I know that you can't just say to a beginner 'Today we're going to talk about employment and unemployment. How is it in England?' You need to pre-teach some bloody vocabulary, ffs.
Occasionally I'm given something to read out loud, then asked if there's any vocabulary I don't know. That is not how you teach reading comprehension! Ask me some bloody questions to see if I've understood the damn thing!
And several of my teachers have spent a lot of time talking to me (which certainly has value), but with apparently few strategies for assessing my comprehension or eliciting language from me in response.
I've just given a polite version of this feedback to my current school so it'll be interesting to see if the teachers are able to respond to it in weeks 7-8.
I've come to realise there are no shortcuts to learning grammar. I just have to do the exercises I'm given for homework. We spent the whole of last week on the subjunctive mood. It turns out the verb endings themselves aren't hard; what's hard is remembering all the incredibly specific situations in which you are and aren't required to use it. For example, if your sentence starts 'It is true that...' then the second half of your sentence doesn't require the subjunctive mood, but if your sentence starts 'It isn't true that...' then it does.
Having said all of the above, I'm also frustrated with ME. When I put more effort in, I do see improvement.
This evening I made a list of ways I could continue teaching myself in weeks 9-12 (and beyond) if I decide not to invest in another month of classes. Read books, study grammar, listen to podcasts, use Duolingo, etc. El problema es... I'm no self-starter. If I didn't have a class to go to every day, would I actually do anything at all? I doubt I'd do much speaking.
Actually doing some stuff
In weeks 1-4 I did very little except attend my classes, try to get home without falling off my bike into a gigantic puddle, and enjoy my space.
Since having a few days with less rain I've finally done a few things.
Last Friday night was Mexican Independence Eve. Typically a huge fiesta, this year - with the city flag flying at half-mast - it was a muted affair. I joined the weekly Friday-night bike ride around the central area, which was like a very small, nicely gender-balanced, semáforo-observing Critical Mass, complete with one trailer-mounted sound-system and one enthusiastic stray dog who stayed with us for the full 90-minutes. No-one talked much but I felt 'part of something' and had my first lump in throat moment since arriving in Oaxaca.
After the ride I found myself in El Zócalo just in time for the formalities and half-hearted singing of the national anthem.
Last Saturday I enjoyed a Baruchin double-bill and a quiet day at home before my second WarmShowers guest arrived at the crack of dawn on Sunday. Together we joined the weekly ride out to El Arbol del Tule, which is impressive, and where we had a quesadilla with flor de calabaza. If I were kinder I'd say that my guest is very extrovert; in fact I felt that - like so many of her U.S. countryfolk when they travel - she is quite oblivious to the disproportionate amount of space she takes up in the world. (I don't mean physical space.) Mexicans, by my observation, are more forbearing than I.
The last fortnight also saw an extraordinary (and free!) touring international film festival 'from the perspective of gender' pass through Oaxaca on its way to Argentina. I saw three short films with a trans/non-binary theme including this one about muxe people here in Oaxaca, as well as a terrific feature-length U.S. documentary called 'Best and Most Beautiful Things'.
I also made some friends during the festival! With my new friend R. I had 'dinner out' for the first time. As well as a delicious ceviche I got to try some local huitlacoche or corn fungus. I'm being very restrained considering Oaxaca is a foodie mecca, and saving most of my gastronomic exploring for when my lovelies arrive.
On Thursday I spent the afternoon at a café-bookshop where I bought a book about lesbian non-monogamies in Latin America. My ambition is to be able to read it! Afterwards I went to another free chamber concert and heard this lovely Albinoni oboe quintet before having to leave at the interval in order to throw-up for the first time since 2008. Boy was I glad to have my bike to get home so as not to have to take a bus or taxi. I felt dreadful and couldn't get to sleep fast enough. Three hours later I woke up for a wee and felt completely fine. Peculiar.
Today (Sunday) I'm pleased I got into town for the last performance of a well-done if esoteric play in a crypt of the stunning Centro Cultural Santo Domingo.
After the play I snuck into an exhibition of 'smiles in ancient art of the gulf of Mexico'.
“La risa sacude al universo, lo pone fuera de sí, revela sus entrañas. La risa terrible manifestación divina. Como el sacrificio, la risa niega al trabajo. Y no sólo porque es una interrupción de la tarea sino porque pone en tela de juicio su seriedad. La risa es una suspensión y, en ocasiones, una pérdida del juicio. Así, retira toda significación al trabajo y, en consecuencia, al mundo”. Octavio Paz, 1962
Next I biked through swathes of the city I hadn't seen before on my way back to my local Korean restaurant for another exquisite bibimbap.
On Tuesday I was with my grammar teacher when a plane overhead briefly masked the sound of the seismic alarm. When we felt what turned out to be the 7.1 earthquake that devastated the capital, a scared-looking M. ushered me out into the courtyard saying 'es muy fuerte'. Of course I have no way of judging whether these quakes are strong in the scheme of things, but they sure as hell are a surreal experience.
Then yesterday (Saturday) I inexplicably woke early and thus was up to hear for the first time my neighbourhood's seismic alarm (same scary sound) before feeling what turned out to be a 6.1 earthquake here within the state of Oaxaca. According to news reports two people in Mexico City died of heart-attacks as a result of this one. Afterwards I went back to sleep and apparently slept through four more smaller ones.
After the quakes my neighbour Alma came round with an apparently drunk architect to check for cracks. No sign of any in my apartment but they couldn't check the flat downstairs that's occupied by a US American guy I haven't met who apparently never says hello to them. Then Alma invited me in for a glass of mezcal (smoky cousin of tequila) and they taught me to pour a little on the floor in honour of mother earth, which seemed especially fitting in the circumstances.