Friday, August 27, 2010

August 27, 2010

I’ve now been in Mexico for about a month. The time has gone by pretty quickly and I have just under 4 months left in this trip. Four months seems like forever looking at it from this direction, but it doesn’t seem so much if I can just think of it as repeating the last month four more times. it is funny how time is like that. I’ve been getting a lot of work done here in Oconahua. I am busy collecting data like crazy for my dissertation. During the daylight hours, I mostly work at that. Once the light gets too dim, I switch tasks and do data entry and read/take notes/write things that I need to incorporate into my dissertation. Doing this 7 days a week is starting to make my eyes sore, so I think I’m due for a break sometime soon. Hopefully an opportunity to get away for a day or two presents itself soon.

I spend most of my time alone here in the house, but I do have visitors from time to time. There are a couple of guards (a father and son) who keep an eye on the archaeological site and the house that I’m living in. One of them likes to stop by nearly every day for a little while to chat. Other people come to the house from time to time to tend to the deer or the garden growing here, but they usually don’t talk to me when they are here. Today, however, I had a couple of visitors. I was taking a break in the afternoon when I heard some tapping outside. I looked out the window and saw that there were 2 young girls knocking at my door. It turns out that they were daughters of the guards. The older girl, who is 10, came by for a social call and brought her niece, who is 3, along to visit as well. It was so cute how they just came over and knocked on the door and struck up a conversation. It was also nice to get to talk to children. It is so much easier than talking to adults because kids tend to understand me even when I don’t speak properly and to use words that are more likely to be in my vocabulary. After we discussed our families, our pets, the people that she knows who live in the US, her schooling, and a festival that is coming up next month, I had to send them on their way so I could return to work. The visit was a very nice change in my routine and a great break from my isolation, as well.

This week’s photo is taken from the top of one of the mounds at the archaeological site. It shows the house next to where these girls live, which is nearly identical to theirs from the outside. In the photo, the house is just to the right of the electric pole in the center of the photo. The house is very close to mine, but is very different from the modern cement structure I live in. Their house is the traditional adobe house that I mentioned before is still pretty common in this town. I’m not sure how many rooms they have in their house or how many people live there, but I’m willing to bet that the ratio of people to rooms is greater than what I am used to! The photo also shows you some of the landscape around the town. It really is a beautiful setting during the rainy season when it is all lush and green. It will be interesting to see how it changes as things start to dry up here in another month.

Friday, August 20, 2010

It is a chilly, rainy evening as I sit here to write this blog entry, although when I post it a couple of days from now it will probably be a warm afternoon. We are in the middle of the rainy season here and it rains nearly every night. This keeps the temperatures down. I would guess that the high temperatures reach the high 70s and low 80s most days, with overcast days sometimes staying in the 60s or low 70s. The evenings are starting to get a bit of chill to them, as well. The hottest temperatures of the year come in the late spring months just before the rainy season starts. At that time of year the temperatures can easily top 100 and the lush landscape I am enjoying now turns nearly desert-like. The summer months are usually the downtime for archaeologists around here. With the frequent torrential rains, it becomes difficult and even unsafe to excavate. The lovely walls of dirt that we leave in the afternoon may be a collapsed pile of mush by the time morning arrives. Instead, the archaeologists usually turn to paperwork, writing, and lab work this time of year, all of which can be done from the relative comfort of their houses or labs. The project here at Oconahua isn’t having a lab season this year, so I am all alone in the “lab” (what would be the family room of the house we are using) while doing my work. Assuming the permits from the government and the money arrive on time, there will probably be other archaeologists moving back into the house after the rains stop sometime around early October.
This week I wanted to share a photo with you of something surprising that is in my back yard here—a deer. When I first arrived at the house, I saw what I thought was a statue of a deer standing up in the back yard, but then it disappeared. I thought perhaps it was something that the guards had put up for some sort of joke or target practice and that they had taken it down when they realized someone was going to be living in the house. But then it reappeared later that evening and walked around. It turns out that they captured it somehow and have it tied up to a long rope and living in the yard. It is very cute and is pretty friendly. It appears to have had a cut behind one of its front legs, which may be how it ended up being captured and living in my yard. Several times a day, family members of the guards will stop by to give it food, and it will come out then to greet them. Sadly, I doubt that it is going to be a long-term pet. I imagine that someday soon it will vanish from the yard, and I may be offered a nice meal that includes my friend the deer in it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Greetings from Oconahua!
I’ve lived in this town for over a week now and am slowly getting used to it and life here. It is a much smaller town than Teuchitlan and has much less going on. There are very few shops or places to eat here and the archaeological site gets only a handful of visitors a week while the site in Teuchitlan now often gets hundreds or even thousands a day.

My work is now well under way, with me spending many hours a day staring at broken pieces of pottery and recording information about them. The pottery is anywhere from about 600-2000 years old, depending on which particular piece I’m examining at the time. It sounds like it could be interesting, but I assure you that it is not—at least not after the first hour or so. But this work is what I am here to do and will be occupying the majority of my waking hours until just before Christmas.
My photos this week are both from the town I am now living in. The first is a helpful map of the town. It is painted on the side of the first building that you encounter when entering the town from the highway. As I mentioned before, the town is quite hilly and all the streets are cobblestone. The house I am living in is in the bottom right hand corner of the map. If you look at the map closely, you can see 2 red and black shapes (they are supposed to be pyramids) . The street to the left of them is the one I live on. Follow it to the bottom of the map, and there I am waving at you. The two blue things that look like large rivers are in fact arroyos and are both dry except for during and just after a downpour. There are a few other points of interest on the map. One is the black line to the left of town. That is the highway that connects us to the outside world and is where I go running since it is pretty much the only flat and even surface around. On the far right side of the map there are a couple of rectangles that denote the location of the soccer fields. The map has one labeled as belonging to Oconahua and the other to a neighboring town. The bottom left area of the map has a large rectangular area with little marks in it. Those are crosses and that is the town cemetery. I’ve not made it there for a visit yet, although it is only a couple of blocks from the house. In another 2 months it will be all decorated for the Day of the Dead, so I’ll probably take lots of photos of it then. It was a rather noisy location this weekend because of a funeral. Much like the jazz funerals of New Orleans, the funeral processions here include a live (and noisy) band that accompany the procession to the church and then to the cemetery.

The second photo is looking down the street I live on from the center of town. I live way down at the bottom of the hill. You may have noticed that the house on the right side of the picture is made of adobe. There are quite a few adobe houses here in Oconahua. They are almost completely all gone now in Teuchitlan, but are still pretty common here. A fair number of people here live in small houses with only 1 or 2 rooms and use the yard for activities like cooking, doing laundry, and raising livestock. When I return to the house from my morning run, I can often see women out under a tin roof connected to the back of their house cooking breakfast. The house I’m staying in is pretty basic, but it is a modern mansion compared with what seems to be the typical house here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I’m now in my 2nd week of my trip. I think I have about 21 weeks left to go. It seems like such a distant time when I’ll be returning home, but there is so much work to be done before then that hopefully it will fly by and be productive. I’ve had a busy week. As I mentioned last week, there was no house for me in Teuchitlán and my only prospect was a pretty miserable one. Since my budget wouldn’t allow me to stay for an extended period in a hotel, I moved into the lab. The workers dug out a cot for me, so I was able to sleep much more comfortably after the first night in the lab, when I slept on a broken loveseat. There was a bathroom and I was able to use a coffee maker to heat water to bathe and wash my hair. Big issues were going to arise soon, though, from the lack of cooking facilities and the lack of a place to wash my clothes. I got to escape the lab and Teuchi for the weekend when I went with a friend to stay at his house in Guadalajara. He and his wife took me around all sorts of place, but unfortunately I was horribly sunburned from a trip to the new museum (that I will discuss in detail below) and I think also a bit sick from the altitude change. These combined to make me pretty ill for part of the weekend. I’m feeling much better now, although I’m starting to lose my poor burnt skin on my neck. If that’s the worst of my illnesses while I’m here, I’ll be thankful and glad that I got it over with early!
I’m happy to report that my living situation seems to have improved as well. As of today (Tuesday), I’m now living in a real house. Yay! It is in a town called Oconahua and located about 30 minutes west of Teuchitlán. There is a major late archaeological site here that some of my friends have been working at. Part of the town has expanded onto the site, so the state bought much of the main area of the site and the houses located on it. One of the houses, located right on one of the main structures at the site is a large and recently constructed house and is the home and lab for the archaeologists when they are working here. Right now it is the rainy season and the house is unused, so I was offered the opportunity to use it to live and work in. Once I figure out how to work the hot water heater, I’ll have nearly everything I need to survive here—including the kitchen and hot water that I was missing in the lab. The town is in a beautiful setting and is quite a bit less developed than Teuchitlán. I’ll be posting some photos from here sometime soon, after I make it through the photos of Teuchitlán that I already have taken to share with you. I’m sort of on the edge of town, but there are two guards who live a few yards away and are very friendly and helpful. It is their job to watch over the site and the house, and they’ve already told me that all I need to do if I need any help is just yell out the window or tap on my gate (that’s the usual way to knock on someone’s door around here—you tap on their gate with your keys). One of them offered his daughters to accompany me when I asked him about where to go shopping in town for the things I need for the house, which I thought was very nice.
Now for my real topic of the week—the site museum. There have been plans in the works for quite a while for there to be a museum constructed for the Guachimontones site. There are already a couple of museums in Teuchitlán. One is at the local government’s Casa de Cultura and contains what I think are mostly artifacts donated by people in town and some copies of things that are in museums in the US but originally came from this area. The other is more of a town history sort of museum with things from the more recent past. This new museum is one that will display artifacts actually uncovered by archaeologists at the site. When I was here 2 years ago they were excavating the land that would be the eventual location of the museum. This winter, there were announcements that the museum would open this spring or summer. Now the plan is for it to open in early December. It is supposed to open sometime this year as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations, so it has to open sometime this year if it is to make that goal. Right now it is still an empty shell perched on the hillside about halfway between the town and the site. The entire side of it that faces the town is constructed of glass and gives an amazing view of the town, the lake, and the countryside. It also includes things like a classroom and a theater. The lab will be moved here as well and has a giant window looking in on it so that people will be able to observe archaeologists working in their natural habitat. I’m not sure how thrilling watching someone count pieces of pottery will be, but people seem to enjoy that sort of thing. I always enjoy sharing our work with the public and am really excited about the museum and even about people getting to look in on us working.
We were at the museum on Friday with some folks who were there to help with planning some of the areas of the museum and its grounds as well as developing some flow to tours of the site. It was really interesting stuff, but I didn’t realize we were going to be outside for about FOUR hours, so I got a terrible sunburn on pretty much all exposed skin. My photos this week are not of my spectacularly burnt self, but of the museum. One photo is the museum up close-ish. The other is it as seen from the base of the hill leading up to it and the site. Since we are now about 3 months into the rainy season, the landscape is beautifully lush. I think the museum contrasts nicely with all the greenery and looks nice perched up there on the hillside. In the dry months, when the greenery fades and the area turns into a more desert-like environment, it won’t be as noticeable, I think.