Greetings from Chiapas! Yes, Chiapas…home of the infamous 1994 Zapatista uprising. Sounds scarier than it is, though: Today, Chiapas (or at least San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas) is more of a gringo-filled tourist pit stop than any place yet that we have been in Mexico. This town is seething with Brits, Aussies, Frenchies, Danes, Americans, Canadians, even Israelis. All are in town ostensibly to take in the colonial architecture, the surrounding indigenous villages, the Mayan textiles, and the cool mountain air. But I think that the Zapatistas are the real draw. They’re everywhere! On t-shirts, on windows, on little woven horse tchatchkes. Even in bars…
Buenas tardes from the tropics! Or the rainy tropics, I should say. At over 7000ft, in July Mexico City is a rainy, thunderstorming megalopolis. Like clockwork, at 8pm the drizzle, then the thunder, then the downpour arrives. It miraculously misses rush hour every day, although it tends to interrupt the nightly excursion for dinner and cerveza. Our best Mexican purchase so far—a ginormous paragua, an umbrella perfect for protecting both of us from the rain, but also sending little old ladies off the sidewalk in fear of its stadium shadow.
The Goddess of Fortune visited me on a South Indian beach that has since been washed away.
She was not quite thirteen, with Pippi Longstocking braids and a sprightly yellow smock dress to match. Lakshmi (the name of the Hindu Goddess of Fortune) spent her days smiling spryly at European tourists while peddling shells, pens, and other trinkets to the sunburned visitors. Her father, a local fisherman, would send her out among the tourists, knowing full well that his daughter’s charms were irresistible.
Dear Future Chicago Teachers,
Congratulations on your acceptance to Teach For America’s Chicago corps! Now that the application and waiting process is over, you are about to make a life-changing decision. Being a teacher is simultaneously exhausting and awe-inspiring, and teaching in Chicago—the country’s third largest school district and once deemed “the worst in the nation”—is rife with its own particular struggles and successes. But I am writing to tell you: the decision to join our movement is absolutely worth it. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
It’s Takeima and Larry that worry me. Larry worries me because of his exhaustion. When it’s my turn to teach, Larry puts his head on his desk and declares that it’s naptime. Takeima also shuts down…she sits there, stony-faced, unwilling to speak to me or her classmates. They worry me, but mostly because they are the two students who make me visibly frustrated. I try all that I can with Takeima and Larry—I use positive reinforcement, I encourage them, I give them choices. I am also stern and dole out consequences and stop their behaviors in their incipient moments. I try everything I can think of, but nothing seems to work with Takeima or Larry. I am worried because they do not respond to me, and by the end of every period I am flush with frustration and helplessness.
There is truly power in numbers, I’ve learned this past week.
With only two weeks left on the Subcontinent, I’m starting to dread our imminent departure. After the shock of the first week, I quickly fell into the rhythms of India: I am asalwar-kameeze-wearing, jasmine-beflowered, toe-ringed, namaste-greeting, puja-attending, tanned begum. Sometimes I don’t even need raita to cool down my food. and Kingfisher…Budweiser will never taste the same again. I am still puzzling over much of Indian existence (still I wonder: Why no garbage collection? Lack of traffic laws, however, I have no problem with), but for the most part I feel settled.
I’ve been in India a little over a week, but I’m not sure…we’ve lost all track of Western time and Western luxuries and Western garbage collection. We’ve finally left Delhi, and have now ventured into what Sally, our group leader, calls “down home” India: After a quick stay in Agra to see the Taj Mahal, we’re now in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. There are no tourists, no white people, no blondes. I’m getting a lot of stares. Even in agra, perhaps the most visited city in India, Indian families were coming up wanting to take their picture with me. One family even did a series of photos of each family member and me. Sally thought it was the American t-shirt; I think it’s my movie star sunglasses. Surely I must be Julia Roberts?!
So I have safely–if sweatily–been in India for four days now, and I am overwhelmed.
Of course, there is the heat. Or rather the humidity. Our arrival brought the monsoons, which are refreshing once they fall, but for the day-long build-up, it is sweltering. I try not to think about it too much (or the multiple ice cold showers I crave, but alas, Delhi is in a severe water crisis), but it definitely defines our experience. What’s remarkable is that Delhites don’t sweat. Ever. Well, that’s not true. Today was record humidity, and a Kashmiri woman who runs a school we visited was whining about the heat. But I’m not sure she counts…after all, she’s from the Himalayas. This is all brutal to her.
Our last day in Cape Town and I’m left noticing all the things I will miss about this city,this country, this experience: the smells of African spices; the musical welcomes everywhere we go; all of the South African children who are eager to talk to and hug us; finding an excuse to say “yebo” as much as possible each day; the animals who pop up in unexpected places (cows wandering the townships, geckos falling on me in the shower, wildebeest roaming a field in the middle of Cape Town); Table Mountain magnificently orienting us to infinite bays and neighborhoods; our own students finding song mid-way through the trip and then peppering each day with selections from The Lion King and The Prince of BelAir. Just about the only thing Iwon’t miss is pap, a cornmeal mush that’s been served to us a few too many times.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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