Monday, November 29, 2010


Just three more weeks to go until my return to the US. At this point I’m counting down the days. Things have been going pretty well here the last couple of weeks. My work is wrapping up and will be finished on time. Excavations here at Oconahua are underway, which gives me a nice distraction during the day when I want to take a break and also gives me much more company. I’m still living in the house alone, but at least there are a few people around from time to time during the day, so I’m not completely in isolation anymore.

This weekend I had all sorts of adventures. On Friday I went with a friend to a small conference in Michoacan, a neighboring state about a 3-4 hour drive from here. It was nice to meet some archaeologists who are working on other projects and hear about what they are working on. Friday evening I got back to Guadalajara too late to get a bus to Oconahua, so I ended up spending the night at a hostel in the city. The last bus that will get me to Oconahua for the night leaves before 6pm. I had been thinking about returning to Guadalajara the next day anyway, so wasn’t too bad being stranded there. It saved me several hours of travel time and cost me about $10 extra.

The reason I was thinking of coming back was an annual event in Guadalajara called the Feria Internacional del Libro (International Book Festival). It is a huge event with publishers from all over the world setting up booths to show their books and try to make deals with book buyers. There are lots of people making big deals to buy many books, but it is also open to the public. For under $2 anyone can attend for the day and wander through aisle after aisle of booths to look at (and buy) books. There are also things like book signings, talks by authors/illustrators/publishers and cultural performances. There is even a huge room set aside as the kid’s zone where they have games and activities for kids (and bigger people as well). I like to go to the FIL to look for archaeology books that I can’t find easily in the US. Most of the schools in Mexico send books from their presses there to display and sell, so there is a good variety there of scholarly work. Sometimes they are even available at a good discount from list price. This year I didn’t end up getting too much—I got a packet of several older books for about $7.50 and got a few back issues of Arqueologia magazine. It was fun spending a few hours wandering around looking at all the booths and books, as well.

Getting to the festival and back home were an adventure. The central part of the city (where I was staying and where the bus station is) spent much of Saturday slowly closing down the streets for a parade of some “monos gigantes” which I never saw, but assume are some big walking doll costumes or something similar. I just missed what turned out to be the last bus from my area of downtown to the Expo center where the book festival was being held. After waiting nearly an hour for another to show up, I gave up and walked about a mile to another bus route. It turned out that the buses there didn’t exactly go where I wanted, but got within a few blocks. My bus driver was very nice and let me know the best place to get off the bus and gave me directions on how walk the rest of the way there. After the festival, I had to take that same bus route back since most of the other routes going downtown were using alternate routes or just skipping downtown. That left me walking a couple of miles to the bus station, where I thought I was quite fortunate to find out that the very next bus leaving was one of the few each day that go to my town (instead of going to the closest large town and requiring me to wait up to an hour for the next bus to my town). It turned out to not be so fortunate, perhaps. About half way into the trip home, we hit a solid wall of traffic from an accident that had closed the road. We happened to be near a turn-around that could take us to an alternate route. The driver attempted the turn, and the bus died in the middle of it and wouldn’t start again, even with the help of a passenger who was a mechanic. The bus that left Guadalajara 15 minutes after ours came by soon, and we all got on it. It was full before we got on and our bus was full, so we were all crammed in very tight as the bus had to drive backwards for a long time to get to the alternate route and the passengers then had to try to help the bus driver pull out into the road across a couple lanes of heavy traffic since the driver couldn’t see anything because of all the people. The alternate route was some pretty small, windy, and not always paved roads through the countryside. I would have enjoyed seeing the new route if I could have actually had a good view of a window through all the people. After another hour or so we’d finally gotten rid of enough people so that we could almost all have seats, when we met another bus that was disabled and had to take on all its passengers as well. Our poor bus driver (of the second bus) was supposed to end his route at about 6:30 in Etzatlan, but ended up having to take those of us from his first disabled bus pickup to Oconahua and those from the second disabled bus pickup to San Marcos, which I think is the first town in the neighboring state of Nayarit. He got us to Oconahua at about 7:30 and left us at the edge of town to walk the rest of the way. My day was filled with lots of bus delays and rerouting and lots of walking as a result, but I did have a nice time at the FIL and eventually made it home safe and sound.

One photo this week is from the book festival. It shows a tiny part of this huge event. Probably the funniest arrangement of booths was in the “religion” section. On one side of the aisle was a Catholic publisher selling things like calendars, book marks, prayer cards, and lots of books for Catholics. Across from it were Pentagram press with a variety of books about the occult. Next to that booth was one about “futbolismo” or “soccerism.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a photo to capture that fun juxtaposition, so the photo I’m sharing is a more generic one of some other publishers’ booths. My other photo is of some buses and people (including my parents) at the New Bus Station in Guadalajara. I almost always use the Old Bus Station, since it serves the areas and routes that I travel most often while I’m here. It is much more crowded and dirty than the New Bus Station.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greetings from warm and sunny Oconahua!
This time of year has beautiful weather here in Mexico. This week we’re having highs in the 80s and lows in the 40s and not a drop of rain. Weather-wise, this is probably the best time of year to be here. It will be quite a shock to my system a month from now when I suddenly land in Kentucky in the middle of December.

My work here is going pretty well. I’m nearly finished with the data collection that I came down here to do. Work has begun at the archaeological site that I’m living at, so I’ve been getting to go outside and play in the dirt some, as well. It has been nice to get outside to enjoy the great weather and to do some excavation rather than sitting indoors all day studying the ceramics.

For the last couple of months, I have been giving English lessons to some kids here. I have two students who come regularly—they show up a couple of times a week for lessons and sometimes come by on other days to chat or to have me practice flash cards with them. It has been a lot of fun for me, and they are really learning a lot of new English words and phrases. Their favorite lessons are colors and numbers. They never seem to tire of having me go over the number cards I made or naming the colors for me.

They are teaching me a lot about childhood and education here, as well. I’d never been able to figure out the school schedule here, since I would see kids going to or from school at all sorts of hours. I’d also wondered why it always seemed like half the kids in town weren’t in school on any given day. It turns out that they do half days for the elementary school here. The students (or their parents) get to choose between going to school in the morning or afternoon. So at any given time, at least half the kids in town really aren’t in school. They either attend from about 8:30 to noon or 2:30 to 6:00 five days a week. I was pretty surprised to hear that they go to school so few hours each day. I think when they get to high school age, they go for the full school day like we do in the US. At that age, quite a few of the kids, particularly ones who plan to go on to college, will go to a larger town to go to a prep school instead of attending the local secondary school.

My photos this week are of the kids I’m tutoring and the schools here in Oconahua. The school in the picture is the local elementary school. It is pretty typical of the elementary schools in this part of Mexico. The buildings tend to be one story with windows all along the walls of the classrooms and with doors opening out onto the school’s courtyard area rather than into a hallway as is more typical in the US. Like most buildings here, they don’t have heat or air conditioning. My other pictures are of the two girls I tutor most often. The older girl, Liz, appears at the food stand where we ate lunch the day I took her to Teuchitlan with me to visit the archaeological site there. The younger girl, Anahi, appears in a photo at today’s parade in town. She is the girl with a doll strapped on her back and holding up the banner.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Days of the Dead

Greetings from Etzatlan, where I'm spending a few days in the big city-- or at least the larger town.

Only about 7 weeks remain until my return home. My lab work is going well, and will probably be finished a couple weeks before my scheduled return home. It has turned out to be a very productive trip.

This week was one of the Mexican holidays that people always ask me about-- Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead isn't really just one day. It spans a couple of days at the beginning of November. The focus is on remembering friends and family members who have died. People build altars and put food, drinks, and other things on them for the dead people they want to honor. Some people believe that the souls of the dead come and consume the spiritual essence of the offerings. They also go to the cemeteries to fix up and decorate the graves. Gifts of flowers, alcohol (for the adults), toys (for the kids), and similar things are often left at the graves. In some towns, people even stay overnight in the cemetery and/or have a picnic at the grave.

I didn't really get out to see the Day of the Dead activities this year, so this week I'm sharing a couple of photos from the last time I was hear for the holiday. One photo is of some of the goodies that are available for sale for Day of the Dead. Included are some miniature altars (the little things with green cloth) with miniature offerings, candy skulls, and candy coffins. The other photo was taken at the cemetery in Teuchitlan when the graves were decorated and the families were arriving for the evening. It was really interesting to be in the cemetery when it was so beautifully decorated and when there were hundreds of people in it.