It´s kind of bizarre to have someone pack you a lunch every day when you´re 23. The little ham and cheese sandwiches my host (grand)mom packs for me every day, wrapped tightly in a napkin, a sheet of waxpaper, and a plastic bag, are both comforting and infantilizing (if that´s a word). In fact, my whole week has been. By the time I wake up and pad downstairs, Maria Theresa is already hunched over the stove scrambling an egg with some ham, heating up refried beans, and toasted bread in her stove-top panini press. She either starts frying the egg when she hears me coming down the stairs, or just has a bizarre 6th sense to detect when hungry young people are in the vicinity. While I eat, she brings me hot water for my instant coffee, and starts making the sandwich that I´ll take with me to school. We chat over breakfast (I eat, she watches), and at some point after I leave for school, she sneaks into my room, makes my bed, and opens the windows. When I get back home, sometimes very late, I find a pot or frying pan of soup or pasta sitting on the stove, ready to be heated up.
As charming (and convenient) as this arragngment is for me, it didn´t come easily. After two or three scoldings, I stopped trying to wash my dishes, or even use any of the kitchen appliances to make my own food. After several days of steady progress, she now allows me to clear my place and bring the dirty dishes into the kitchen. Though she is still perplexed by the practice, she´s resigned herself to my taking off my shoes at the front door (she leaves hers on throughout the day). After I discovered she was cleaning my room every day, I started pre-emptively making my bed and opening the windows, but she still comes in to re-arrange the pillows and tuck the sheets even tighter around the corners (or so I suspect).
Maria Theresa is my new host family, although she lives by herself. She´s about 65, and spends most of her days in the house, cooking, cleaning, and watch TV. She has a big family, all of whom live in Guadalajara, so most afternoons I end up playing soccer with her 6 year-old grandson, Mauricio (they call him Mau, pronounced like Mao, which is a pretty bomber nickname in my opinion). Maria has been so friendly and generous since I moved in last Friday…a amicable curmudgeon who keeps a little smile tucked into the corner of her mouth when she shoes Mau away (he likes to play with his mini tennis racket and ball on the dining room table) or snorts skeptically at a newscaster on the TV. I´m not sure how, but we manage to communicate pretty well even though she speaks no english. We´ve talked about politics a bit (she´s pretty liberal), her past carreer as a seamstress, and especially about the telenovellas she dutifully watches every evening at 8:30. I usually join her when I´m around, with my notebook in hand in case a new word pops up. We both agree the central antagonist in La Muhare Comprado, the beautiful and manipulative mother of the adopted child of another character, is completely loca, and even a bit mala (sorry about my spelling for those of you who speak Spanish).
Being in school is a bit weird too…I can´t remember the last time I had homework that included matching pitctures to nouns, and filling in the blank. I intended to take 3 courses at first, but because I tested into the second level of spanish, I´m kind of trapped in between levels, and am only taking one at the moment (with a wonderful professor named Mercedes). The first level is mind-numbing and the professor seems pretty unengaged, so I decided to just buy the textbook and work through the elementary grammar on my own. I´m taking latin dance classes here, too…I´m one of two guys in our class, so we´re in pretty high demand as partners. We´re all going out friday night to practice our new moves at a salsa club nearby. I signed up to volunteer at an orphanage twice a week, and I´m on my school´s soccer team too. Our first game is next week, against a team of professors from the University of Guadalajara´s engineering school…should be a lot of fun!
I´m starting to settle in here and make some more lasting friends (pretty much all my buddies from the hostel have moved on), so the past few days have been socially fulfilling. There were a few toughs days in there, days where I remembered how emotionally tough, and even disconcerting, travelling alone can be. Having people to explore with makes all the difference!
I went back to the hostel to watch the soccer match between Mexico and Columbia last night, and had a great conversation with some brits who´ve been travelling around the U.S. and Mexico for the past few months, and were totally filled with wonder and delight at everything they´ve seen. That´s the attidude that I really want to cultivate in myself on this trip and beyond. Ultimately, I think that´s what travelling is all about…really feeling deeply the delights (and sometimes lonliness) of exploring new social and geographical terrain. My pact to myself is to suck the juice out of each day and moment, to put myself out there in every possible way and actively seek out new experiences, and to not be held back by self-doubts or by my language skills. Here, I have tons of opportunities to do that…even going to buy a SIM card is linguistically challenging, a bit nerve-wracking, but ultimately rewarding. Staying open and aggresively pursuing new experiences takes a lot of internal motivation and pep-talks, whether asking girls to dance at a club or going to a new part of the city on the somewhat hectic and irregular bus network. I think these milestones are what I´ll remember the most about this trip, more than beautiful beaches or ancient cathedrals. Ultimately, I´m here to learn about myself just as much as to learn Spanish, and the past two weeks have been a crash course in both!