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Reflections

Update

September 17, 2015

I realize is has been a very long time since I have updated my blog and lots of things have changed!  I successfully completed my Fulbright in Mexico City and returned to the U.S. on June 30th.  I was home for about three weeks and I am currently in Germany working remotely, and taking advantage of the opportunity to travel!  While here, I’ve been able to check out some amazing places in Europe!  Croatia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Amsterdam, Sweden and Denmark to name a few – blog posts coming soon.

I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what stage of life I’m in, I will never have it all planned out.  Before I entered college, I was always under the impression that I would “have my life figured out” when I graduated with my degree.  My favorite professor from college always mentioned a theme about shipwrecked sailors.  We’re all shipwrecked sailors in the sea of life just trying to get by, and this concept has really resonated with me the past few months.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
– Lao Tzu

Whatever stage of life we’re in, I hope we can all find some clarity and stability on this thing called life.

 

Food, Mexico, Reflections

A few of my favorite things…

March 21, 2015

Given the fact that Mexico City has been my home for several months now, I’ve been meaning to make a list of my favorite things.  Whether it be amazing street tacos from a lady by my work, Sunday bike strolls on Reforma or fun events with my co-workers, here’s a list of things (in no particular order) that always seem to put a smile on my face.

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1. Churros rellenos. These lovely things are churros that are fried and made right in front of you and are filled with nutella, chocolate sauce, cajeta, caramel, strawberry sauce, the list goes on! These are most popular in the Coyoacan neighborhood.

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2. Jardin del Centenario in Coyoacan neighborhood. The fountain with the two coyotes is symbolic of the Coyoacan neighborhood, as it used to be called the land of the coyotes. Go Yotes! Around this fountain is a gorgeous square with great restaurants, artesanal markets and a beautiful church.

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3. The said beautiful church in Jardin Centenario Coyoacan called the Temple and ex convent of San Juan Bautista. It’s my favorite church in all of Mexico City.

 

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4. Mercado Medellin. This is a huge building and inside is a giant public marketplace. I try to go once a week to local food vendors who have the best and freshest avocados, bananas, mangos, eggs, peppers, etc. All of the vendors are so nice, the prices are reasonable, and it’s way more enjoyable shopping for groceries in this environment where you can build real relationships with your food providers.

 

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5. The view from MásNegocio, my workplace! This is from the top floor of the building and is such a gorgeous view when the pollution doesn’t cloud the view of the mountains in the distance.

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6. Berry cheesecake ice cream for 15 pesos (1 dollar), sold from a guy who makes homemade ice cream and posts up at a corner by my work everyday. Probably the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

 

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7. One of the fountains 1 block away from my apartment in Condesa. There are usually food vendors selling coconuts and other fresh fruit.

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8. My running route on Paseo de Reforma. The reason I signed up for my half-marathon is because I discovered this lovely path at the beginning of January and I look forward to my runs due to this view!

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9. Nutrista frozen yogurt. It’s 2 for 1 on the weekdays and usually a wonderful snack my co-workers and I take advantage of every once in awhile.

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10. Friday lunches with co-workers, the best! Most of my favorite restaurants have been fund when dining with my co-workers. We have a few beers, really good food, and take about 3 hours mid-day to chat about weekend plans. Mexicans know how to do Fridays.

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11. Riding bikes on Reforma on Sundays! Sundays are my favorite day of the week in Mexico City for this reason. From 9-2pm ish, this whole street shuts down for runners, bikers, roller bladers, etc. to enjoy the day off and the beautiful weather. There is always something fun going on along this street whether it be free bike rentals, Zumba classes, kick-boxing or food.

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12. Amazing street tacos 20 steps from my work, sold by a woman who carries many taco flavors and transports them in white tub containers. We call her the tubito lady for this reason. My two personal favorites are shown here: chicken breast with her homemade guacamole and pork with green mole sauce.  30 pesos (2 ish dollars).

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13. CUPCAKES BY TOM. This gem of a place is located two blocks from my apartment so I’ve had to exhibit some pretty solid self control to only buy something here once a week. Usually I stop by for a muffin and a coffee for breakfast, but their cupcakes are so good as well.

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14. Comida Combi. This man drives his VW van to the same spot everyday and supplies a 3-course meal for 50 pesos (3 dollars).

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14. Comida Combi continued. Soup, rice, bean, tortillas, main dish, and a drink for 50 PESOS. Puts a smile on my face every time I buy his food.

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15. My fellow Binational Business Fulbrights! I don’t know where I would be today without them. Living in Mexico City has had its ups and downs, and the amount of support and kindness this group has shown me has gotten me through it all. I’m so thankful for them!

Mexico, Reflections

I Wish You Enough

January 14, 2015

You know that feeling when you get when you’ve just had a wonderful weekend, but can’t seem to place exactly why?  That’s the kind of weekend I had, and it’s just what I needed.  My first week back to D.F. had been a little overwhelming, just like it is for everyone after a long break:  back to work, back to classes, jet lag, etc.  A week full of “starts” can be both exciting and overwhelming.

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder”, that lovely, awfully cliché saying, could not have been more true about my feelings for D.F.  Coming back from Germany, I was able to look at D.F. through the lense of a long-lost friend.  I went to a Theory of Everything (highly recommended) with my roommate on Friday, and Mexican movie theaters have this special type of caramel popcorn that I’ve never seen sold anywhere else.  Yay, Mexico!

On Saturday I went to el Bazaar Sábado, located in San Ángel.  This special artesanal market is located in one of the oldest and most calm neighborhoods in D.F., and I’ve always been wanting to go.  One of the things I’ve grown to love about Mexico is that there is always something going on in the streets.  You never have to walk more than a block to find street food with everything ranging from cactus quesadillas to freshly sqeezed pineapple juice, or street vendors selling socks to cell phones to art easels.  You name it, they have it on a corner somewhere.  This market was very similar to Mexico’s bustling streets.  Besides a large building open only on Saturdays, many artists had swarmed the nearby park and plaza, posting up their art to potentials buyers.  The weather was gorgeous as we walked among the cobblestone streets of near the park and into the bazaar.  I ended up buying some organic coffee grown in Chiapas and a tapestry made of tree bark.

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San Angel Bazaar Sábado.

 

That night we went to an amazing restaurant called Butcher & Sons, located in Roma.  Known for it’s incredible hamburgers and specialty gin menu, they definitely didn’t disappoint.  I’m biased because I think my Dad makes the best burgers in the world, but this place came in at a close second.

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Cheeseburgers, cheese fries, gin out of mason jars, what more could a girl need?

 

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I’m always happy with chocolate cake in my hand.

 

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to run a half-marathon this year, so I went for a long run along Reforma, one of D.F.’s busiest main streets, with my roommate.  It was gorgeous weather, and once we hit Reforma, we realized that it is closed for runners and bikers every Sunday.  Such a great surprise!  We were in the midst of families teaching their children how to ride a bike, determined runners and bikers, and other families just enjoying the weather.  The energy coming off this space was so lively and cheery, it was impossible not to be in a great mood.  I look forward to training for this half-marathon if I’m able to run with all those people every Sunday.

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One of the many fountains about a 2-minute walk from my apartment.

This first weekend back really helped me appreciate Mexico for what it is.  The first trimester was difficult for me because I wanted D.F. to be something it wasn’t.  I wished the traffic weren’t so awful, my schedule weren’t so busy, the city weren’t so large and chaotic, etc.  In my mind, I felt like my time in Mexico wasn’t enough of what I was expecting it to be.  After returning from Germany, seeing the juxtaposition of cultures between the two countries has helped me appreciate Mexico more than ever.

I came across this poem written by Bob Perks:

I wish you enough

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.

I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”

As a girl who is happiest with a busy schedule to keep her hands and mind busy, I often struggle finding the fine balance between when my schedule is “just right” and when my plate is just too full.  In a world where businesses and organizations strive for innovation, efficiency, and always striving to be better, it’s easy for me to carry this concept over into my personal life.   “What more can I do?” and  “How can I make this better?” are awesome questions to tackle on the job or in the classroom, but are harder to answer in a personal setting.  The way for me to make my experience an amazing one in Mexico is to let this experience, this city, and my life, be enough.

Mexico, Reflections

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 28, 2014

Hola chicos!

Happy Thanksgiving from my heart to yours!  Being away from home during Thanksgiving is always a surreal feeling.  Two years ago when I was studying abroad in Spain I had to celebrate the holiday away from the homeland, and I find myself in the same situation this year.  I may not be in the US, but I’ve still been able to celebrate Thanksgiving with lots of food, friends, and technology and get in touch with loved ones back home.

A big group of Fulbrighters and friends in D.F. celebrated Friendsgiving last weekend.  It felt so great to connect with everyone and enjoy awesome food that we all pitched in to bring.  We even went around saying things we were thankful for, which is a typical tradition my family honors.

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Today for Thanksgiving I arrived to work with cupcakes from my favorite cupcake place conveniently located 2 blocks from my apartment (dangerous, I know) and shared them with my co-workers and explained how I usually celebrate Thanksgiving with family back home.  It was a great opportunity for me to share a part of my family traditions back home with my co-workers who have been so attentative and supportive to all of my random questions about Mexican culture.  It felt really good to return the favor for once!  I went home and skyped with my parents and extended family for awhile.  It was almost like I was there!

Tomorrow, COMEXUS (the Fulbright commission here in D.F.) will be putting on a thanksgiving celebration at their office.  Who knew that being away from home could still mean having a busy holiday schedule?

Being away from home for the holidays is always hard, but in a way it has made me feel even more appreciative of the wonderful things happening in my life.  I’m so thankful for my family being patient with me and taking the time to navigate FaceTime, Skype, and other video chatting services to that I can be in touch with them when I need them the most.  I’m thankful for friends, both here in D.F. and everywhere else, for allowing me to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and for tolerating the questionable food dishes I had brought to Friendsgiving last weekend.  I’m thankful for technology that allows me to communicate for free to all of my loved ones.  Finally, I’m thankful for this opportunity to be in Mexico City on a Fulbright for 10 months.  Yes, it’s had ups and downs, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here and I’m excited to see where I’m headed next thanks to Fulbright.

Mexico, Reflections

Día de los Muertos – Oaxaca

November 4, 2014

This past weekend a large group of us BBs ventured off to Oaxaca, Mexico, as we were told that Oaxaca was where some of the most traditional Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations and traditions are still honored.  In Oaxaca, the weekend of Día de los Muertos is split into three events.  October 31 is the day honoring the angelitos – little angels.  This day specifically honors the children whose lives were taken too early.  November 1st is the day honoring the adults.  Finally, November 2nd is the day that celebrates All Souls Day.  The whole weekend is a celebration of life, and it was incredible to witness first-hand!

We took a bus on Thursday night and arrived in Oaxaca early Friday morning to explore the city.  Oaxaca is known for having a strong prevalence of indigenous cultures, so we were really excited to see how those cultural traditions blended during Día de los Muertos.  One of the BBs, Lauren, had made Oaxaca her home a few years back, so we loved having her as a tour guide!  During the day, we were able to tour Oaxaca and view all of the beautiful ofrendas (offerings) that are made to honor the dead.  Families, businesses, all sorts of entities create ofrendas to respect loved ones no longer with us.  Here are a few photos of some of my favorite ofrendas.

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Ofrenda located in D.F. created by my co-workers at MásNegocio!

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Ofrenda in Oaxaca – created by sand.

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Ofrenda in Oaxaca honoring Benito Juarez – a past Mexican president, whose hometown resides in Oaxaca.

On Friday night, our group went to a village outside of Oaxaca called Xoxocatlan to experience the celebration of life in the cemeteries (panteones).  Traditionally, families go to the cemetery to create unique ofrendas over the tombstones of their lost loved ones.  For the remainder of the night (and into the morning) families and friends remain in the cemetery celebrating life.  The two cemeteries we toured were filled with so much life, vibrance, color, and respect as all of the families flocked to the cemeteries to decorate their loved ones’ tombstones.  We were able to walk around the busy cemetery and admire all of the gorgeous ofrendas.  As I walked through the files of the cemetery, the mood differed greatly from family to family.  As I walked past some ofrendas, I felt like I was intruding on a quiet, intimate moment among the families:  A family mourning the loss of a child taken too early, a man sleeping at the foot of his wife’s tombstone, a widow toasting to her husband, a woman in her 40s sitting with her brother who had passed when he was 7.  In these tender moments, I felt as though I were intruding on a moment that couldn’t be (or didn’t want to be) shared with outsiders.  On the other hand, other families were having quite the fiesta:  Bands with trumpets, guitars, etc. performing exuberant songs, families drinking their loved ones’ favorite liquors and toasting to a life well-lived, friends dancing to the band, enjoying favorite foods, etc.  Although there were some somber moments, the majority of the families were celebrating – celebrating – in cemeteries.  Such a beautiful sight to see.

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Tried to get a photo of the cemetery rows. Each grave was beautifully decorated with flowers and candles.

 

On Saturday night, we went to another village outside of Oaxaca called Etla to participate in a Comparsa.  Saturday was ALL fiesta in these villages.  These comparsas are similar to parades.  3 other local villages have bands come while village members dress in symbolic costumes and the whole community parades the streets from 11pm until noon the next day (talk about commitment).  Around 11am the next day, the 3 villages all meet in one of the village squares and the bands have a “battle of the bands”.  The whole night/day is a celebration of costumes, music, food, plays, etc.  So many people and so much life!

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One of the only photos I got of the comparsa.  Video coming soon!

Clearly the US and Mexico’s tradition of Halloween and Día de los Muertos are quite different.  How many times have you seen this concept of community and celebration of life in the US?  Communities relishing in life and death together by creating this beautiful understanding of passion – the mixture of joy and suffering of loving and losing.  In the US, mourning is understood to be felt or expressed solidarily.  In Mexico, the thought goes more like this: “I have lived, I have loved, I have experienced loss of a loved one.  Here I am exposing myself through vulnerability, grief, suffering and joy; but I do not feel exposed because everyone has lived, everyone has loved, everyone has experienced loss; so we’ll celebrate together, we’ll grief together, we’ll share in this moment together”.  Death is a part of life, and life is lived by all.  The concept of death clearly differs, and I think the main difference resides not in the day, not the celebrations, but the fact that this tradition is celebrated and shared within Mexico’s communities and cultures.  In the US, we feel that we can’t publicly mourn, we feel uncomfortable grieving in front of others, that we’re supposed to grief and then get on with our lives, that we can’t share these tender, vulnerable moments with others…but why can’t we?

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One last ofrenda made of colored sand and flowers. Each color is symbolic of a part of life.

As I walked among this beautiful exhibition of celebration, exuberance, grief, and suffering, so many questions filled my head.  I took a class in my undergrad called Justice and Compassion.  The point of the class was to study compassion based on radical displacement; a group of 12 willingly throwing ourselves into situations we had never been in before; situations of tenderness, hardship, joy, grief, passion.  Walking around the vibrant cemeteries reminded me of one of my Justice and Compassion outings.  How close can we get to someone else’s grief?  How close can we get to feeling their pain without experiencing it firsthand in that moment?  On the flip side, how close can we get to experiencing someone else’s joy and celebration of a life we had never met?  How close could we get to feeling like we were apart of those moments and cultural traditions having never experienced them before?  We can’t we in the US come together for a day once a year to celebrate, commemorate, and honor life together in such a way that Mexico does?

Cervantino helped my change my attitude and perspective about Mexico; Oaxaca left me feeling extremely grateful and profoundly appreciative for the opportunity to witness these beautiful traditions of community, honor, celebration of a life lived instead of a life lost.

Mexico, Reflections

Throw Yourself

September 25, 2014

Throw Yourself

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”

― C. JoyBell C.

 

Last Thursday marked one month from my arrival in Mexico City; it wasn’t different than any other day.  I went to work and got assigned a big project I’m very excited about, I had some awesome food (a cupcake, a 4- course meal for lunch from a van called “combi” for 50 pesos with Karen, and some awesome street tacos), and I spent time with some wonderful company.  Some of us Fulbrighters celebrated surviving one month here at Julie and mine’s apartment with a few friends over wine and watching Beyoncé music videos.  I’m finally feeling more settled at work (remembering names, getting used to the 2:30pm lunchtime, speaking more freely in Spanish without thinking in English first) and I’ll start my MBA courses next week Monday and Tuesday.

Now for the…

Bad News.  On Friday night, my phone and wallet were stolen from my purse.  My roommate Julie also got her phone stolen.

Better News.  5 minutes before leaving my apartment for the night, I remembered to take out my passport, immigration card, important credit cards, ID badge for work, and other documents I had needed that afternoon while I was opening a Mexican bank account.  I would be in much, MUCH worse shape had I forgotten to remove everything except my iPhone and 200 pesos.  I have insurance for my iPhone and will have a new one sent to me when I return to the US in October.

Best News.  I have the best support system, and I am feeling especially grateful for them after this whole debacle.  I Facetimed James right away and he was able to call my parents for me, aside from listening to my bickering.  My mom was gracious enough to stay on Facetime with me for a few hours the next morning as she made calls to the phone insurance company to send me a replacement.  My Fulbright BB family, whom I was with on Friday night, took me out for tacos immediately after we found out what had been stolen.  Aside from lending supportive hugs and words of reassurance, they also paid for my tacos con nopal y queso.  For those of you who know my love for cheese, it makes any bad day better.  The situation is crummy, but I’m so grateful for everyone who has been there for me the past few days.

Aside from me having a mini pity party, Friday night was also a learning experience for me.  Having my wallet and phone taken from right underneath my nose left me feeling exposed.  I thought I had been taking all of the precautionary steps – only taking what I needed in my purse for the night, always keeping a hand on my cross-body, keeping my iPhone in my purse, traveling with a group of people, etc. And yet, when I looked down and noticed my un-zipped purse with nothing in it, I felt like I had been careless and exposed.

Many of us Fulbrighters have been asking each other, “What do you want out of this experience?”, and I have yet to produce the right words to describe my goals and intentions.  Lately I have prided myself on not knowing A) what I want to do with my life, and B) what I want out of this experience, hoping that I’ll begin to find the answers here in Mexico.  But how can I truly find these answers if I’m not growing, changing, and exposing myself to new opportunities and ideas?  “Growing, changing and exposing” sounds easy and enlightening, but the truth is it´s not.  Instances like Friday night have left me feeling awfully crappy, but at the same time it gave me an opportunity to learn about myself: how I reacted, how I coped, how I might be a support to someone else who might face a similar situation in the future.  Instead of throwing myself out there, my things got thrown by someone else.

After reflecting about my first month here in D.F., C. JoyBell C’s quote is a great summary.  If I want to really live and throw myself I have to continue to move forward experiencing times of discomfort, times of exposure, and times of transition.  These times of removing myself from my comfort zone certainly aren’t what I would call fun or easy, but I think they are absolutely essential and inevitable during my stay in Mexico.

Here are a few other observations I’ve noticed during my first month here in D.F both personally and culturally….

1) My Spanish is improving…slowly.  I’m finally getting to the point where I can have a conversation with someone and not have to think in English first.  My next goal is to improve this darn midwestern accent!

2) A 40-minute commute now seems short.  My daily commute is about a 10-minute walk to the metrobus and then I take the metrobus 16 stops down to MásNegocio, which is considered a piece of cake here!  Quite different then the 10-15 minute car rides in good ol’ SD.

3) Mexicans are extremely friendly and patient people who value family, relationships, and sitting down together over wonderfully-cooked food (my kind of people).  The only main thing I’m still getting used to is that I stick out like a sore thumb, which leaves me victim of being charged a higher price for street food, market items, taxis, etc. However, as my Spanish improves and I get a better feel for the costs of things, I hope I will be able to combat over-priced items.

4) Many of the Mexicans and other Fulbrighters I’ve met have never met someone from South Dakota, and I always get a weird sense of pride as I attempt to explain little details about my home.  Apparently chislic, cheeseballs, and pickles in beer are only things us South Dakotans consume, but I have also talked about ice fishing, cruise control on the interstate, and my limited knowledge of agricultural products and yields (thanks, Dad), with anyone who cares to listen.

5) Tacky as it sounds, distance makes the heart grow fonder.  I miss being able to run in the open spaces back home, peace and quiet, bonfires, and sunsets unobstructed by buildings.  This probably goes without saying, but I miss my family, boyfriend, friends, but I am so thankful that they are only an email away for now.  On the flip side, I am growing to LOVE Mexico and the large metropolis that is D.F; it is certainly beginning to feel like home.  The juxtaposition of where I´m from and where I am now has helped me appreciate both locations equally, and I´m ooking forward to seeing what the next month brings.

Reflections

Food For Thought

August 18, 2014

One week from today I will be departing for Mexico City!  This summer has flown by and now I feel I’m scrambling to make final preparations to leave.  This week has produced feelings of anxiety, excitement, fear, and freshness as I anticipate to begin an entirely new experience.  Although anxiety and fear are the most dominant feelings in the mix right now, I look to this quote for solace…

It is the attitude we have at the start

That conditions the whole journey.

When we decide to go somewhere,

Regardless of the length of the trip and what it entails,

We go, we face it, because we decided to go with all our heart.

It is the attitude we have in this present moment

That determines our life to come.

 – Dharma

This has me thinking about a few specific instances in my life where I have been on a brand new journey outside the US.  The first was a 3-week service trip to Ecuador, and I approached this trip with so much excitement and enthusiasm about visiting another country.  During the trip I had my first taste of homesickness, culture shock, language barriers, and lack of communication with family and friends.  Experiences abroad are unforgettable, but they are also challenging.  I approached my next trip, 4 months in Granada, Spain, with a little more apprehension, preparation and equal amounts of enthusiasm.  My study abroad opportunity in Spain was incredible, but I had still underestimated the glorious discomfort of adjusting to a completely new culture and way of life.  I loved being pushed out of my comfort zone and seeing the personal growth and independence associated with living in another country, but it took some struggles and challenges to get there.  Now that I have had those two experiences, I was feeling rather gun-shy about the upcoming trip to Mexico.  Instead of excitement and adrenaline, I felt anxious and worried about adjusting to the language, finding a place to live, and worrying about future schoolwork; all of which I have very little control of right now.  “Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy”.  Worrying doesn’t give me any more control over these situations, but what I do have control over is my attitude right now and forever more.    I realize now that all I can do is to go and to face this experience with all of my heart.

Whether it be a new country, city, job, relationship, season, semester at school, or entree at a restaurant, I hope we can go and face each opportunity with an attitude as Dharma suggests.