Sunday, August 28, 2011

Surprises Beneath the Surface

Yes, Oaxaca continues to surprise me the longer I stay here, as I begin to understand the language and culture little by little. But it's the fruit and veggies I want to talk about today. This came up on my Facebook page recently, when a friend pointed out that I post rather frequently about a seemingly mundane topic--fruits and vegetables I buy.

To me, in Oaxaca, this is the least mundane of topics! Yeah, I'm vegetarian, sometimes vegan, even a certain percentage raw, but even if I was only getting my requisite 5-7 servings per day, my produce would be an object of scrutiny. Because Oaxaca has funky produce.

Take the humble ruby grapefruit, one of my daughter Geni's favorite breakfast options. Slicing it open releases lots of juice and pulp. The sections are of different widths, rather than equally divided. The taste may be intensely graprefruity or sour or watery, depending upon the season. None of this seems particularly stunning until I visit the United States in the summer and cut open a grapefruit. No mess. Little juice, little pulp. Every section equidistant. The flavor--less grapefruity, but terribly consistent. Consistent produce--unmessy, unvarying in appearance, nearly always the same flavor--does not happen in Oaxaca.

Bananas are a mystery here. Why do they turn brown so much more quickly? Why do seemingly unscathed bananas sometimes reveal themselves to be squishy with bruises once peeled? Why are bananas tiny and huge, starchy and juicy, stringy and stinky, sometimes varying within the same bunch?

You cannot eat a mango without juice spilling all over your face. It's nearly disgusting in its gorgeousness and sweetness. Green tuna fruit--how to munch through those giant seeds? Red tuna fruit staining everything. This fruit is just not practical!

There is some magic to knowing when jicama will burst in your mouth with watery sweetness as opposed to tasting like sawdust. But I do not possess that magic, not yet. My friends know which wild mushrooms make the best broth, and which others are primed for pasta sauce. I just eat and eat them, though they can be dense and kind of meaty and other times slimy and smelling like an underground tunnel where you might find Totoro.

The markets can be captivating or they can be an overpowering, overstimulating blur. Yes I want coconuts but do I have the cajones to machete them open once I get home? How to handle the free samples of lichee fruit, when the peel and the seeds just create something else for me to hold? It's all too decadent, too beautiful, too heartbreaking--how could fruit and vegetables be so different from their northern counterparts, what have these first world countries done to these treasures to homogenize them? But that's another blog post. Until then, slice it, juice it, toss it in Tajin.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hacienda Hospital

Here we sit at the brink of our fifth year in Oaxaca. It was the place I dreamed of moving to, assumed it was impossible to make a living in, and now has become home.

But I don't want everyone to think living here is all wine and roses (or mezcal and bougainvillea, to make that cliche local). I tend toward the sunny in most aspects of life, and living in Oaxaca is no different. But yesterday was a litmus test. Steve had hernia surgery at a private clinic here. When you decide to go under the knife in Mexico, you know you've made the commitment. I was nervous, even though I know that the health system has been far more personalized and accessible here. It's a cultural leap, seeing how other countries deal with medical care.

The first surprise--they said I had to spend the night in the clinic with Steve. I asked everyone I knew why this was so. They said there are no nurses, that I'm the one to judge when Steve will need painkillers or use the bathroom or whatnot.

It shocked me. And then it turned out that was wrong. There are so many nurses, and they are so attentive (keep in mind we were in a private clinic, albeit an extremely cheap one, so I cannot compare the care we had to that of patients in the IMSS public care system). We hardly got a chance to rest or sleep with their constant checking.

But there was one key thing missing at the clinic, which I came to think of as a hacienda/hotel for sick people. No nurse call button, and no phone. That was my role--to take the few steps to the nurse office (this clinic had all of five rooms, each one for one patient and a sleepover buddy) to ask for anything Steve might need.

Another interesting contrast: You have to beg to leave. There is none of the HMO-induced pushing your out of your room, or bed, though Steve really really wanted to get out of there. Again, this might have to do with being in a private clinic, though my Oaxaca friends have had long stays in the IMSS hospitals as well.

The system also tends toward over-care. They kept Steve IV tube in much longer than necessary, saying "Why not? This way he doesn't have to swallow the pain medication." I told the staff he wanted the IV out, that he'd rather swallow pills, but no go.

One last surprise--when the doctor came in to consult Steve, he first came over and kissed my cheek. Maybe because Steve knows him socially, but still such a surprise to get a full Oaxaca greeting from a doctor.

For those wondering about clinics and options in Oaxaca, I'll close with one final bit of gossip that tantalized my imagination, for no clear reason. Story has it that our clinic, which was spotless and plain, is the cheap-but-nice option, and that there is another elegant, super high-care hospital in Oaxaca where many of the fresas (yuppies) and retirees go. It would have cost us 35,000 pesos for the surgery and hospital stay rather than the 20,000 we spent (about $1,600 to $1,700). You have to wonder what the extra $15,000 buys you.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Taller Colibri Redux

We're preparing for another year at Taller Colibri!

We went out with such a bang last year, with the children building a towering Lego ramp and exploring the phenomena of force and motion.

For the upcoming year, the plans will mostly rise from the children's interests, but we have some interesting challenges up our sleeves:

* Maestra Suzanna has ordered both of the excellent math books from Marilyn Burns. She is the math guru that guided my math teaching when I worked in Oakland Public Schools. I had a curriculum, but her philosophies always spoke to me. She values integrating math with writing, reading, games, group work, and deeper critical thinking puzzles.

* We have purchased some cooperative games that will have the students working together to solve problems.

* Some students from a couple different countries plan to visit us and enroll for part of the year.

* Maestra Aerin will join us for part of the time. She is a genius at using found objects and recyclables to create sculptures and installations. This may merge with last year's unit on building labyrinths and fun houses.

* I really wanted to buy the Book of Gnomes for our gnome-hut and fairy house-building themes, but it just does not fit in my luggage! However, Suzanna is tucking a beautiful guide to children's gardening into her backpack, which will hold us until I can haul over this hefty tome.

* Back by popular demand: Our rocking field trip to the Oaxaca coast! We go in low season and often have gorgeous beaches to ourselves. We snorkel the coves of Estacahuite, swim to a hidden cave off Playa Panteon, boat the lagoons of Ventanilla, jump waves in San Agustinillo, and visit the beautiful turtles in Mazunte. For the parents, we prioritize pizza and margaritas on the beach at La Termita. Isn't school grand?

Onto another year of surprising adventures. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Sound of Silence

You could think that the title of this post referred to my seeming indifference to this blog of late, but that is not the case. First, allow me to defend myself by saying that I have spent the last months creating an old school print version of my "Have You Seen the Dog Lately?" zine, just like the lovely days of olde when Megan Tucker, Jenny Makofsky and, if we made him, Steve Lafler and I did our cut-and-paste-a-thons. The difference this time was doing the bulk of the writing, the layout, the assembling (lots of paste-ins) and the prepping-to-mail-it on my own (except when Steve helped, thanks be to holy bejeezus hallowed be his name). I'm still working on the doggie, actually.

But, no, the sound of silence refers to my visit al norte. I'm in cul-de-sac land in Santa Rosa and the silence is deafening. I guess this is what people want? I don't remember this from growing up around here, though we mostly lived in apartments back then. And a few times, I've heard people complain when they happen to hear the barest snippet of noise, of life, leaking from someone's car or backyard or whatnot. My NIA teacher, who plays world music as we spin around the room, got busted by neighbors who called the police over her noise, and she's playing mellow world music from 6pm to 7pm. Do people really not want to hear a little music floating from a dance studio?

Walking around here feels a little like zombieland, but perhaps I'm the only one who finds silence more threatening than noise. It points to a good decision we made to move to Mexico, where a little neighborhood party, processional down the street, live band in the garden, dog barking never resulted in police calls and legal threats.

What I want to know is, once you've won your 24/7 silence by raging at and alienating everybody, what are you doing with it?