Bienven—Look at My House!

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Peace Corps, baby

DC became Qr and now porch time is patio time. It’s a beautiful day in Queretaro, dry and warm and sunny, just like every day here. This post is mostly going to be summary of what I’ve been up to, so I’ll start with the house. I’m living with a delightful lady named Natialia and her daughter Diana, who’s a couple years older than me. Her son Raúl is married and living about forty minutes away, and her older daughter Gaby was married last weekend. She’s settled across town. The homestead is stupid cush—we’ve been told we’ve got the nicest host families and houses in all of the Peace Corps. No doubt.

HAH

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This whole adventure started with Staging, a day of meet and greet and rudimentary training in the White House Holiday Inn in DC. At four in the morning the day following, we hopped a bus to Reagan, a plane to Mexico City, and another bus to an old plantation house cum retreat called Hacienda El Castillo. I’m gonna go ahead and let you take a look at the place.

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This not what any of us were expecting out of the Peace Corps. But we’re happy to have it. We spent three days at El Castillo eating great food, taking classes, and getting to know each other a little. Three surprises: 1) There are three Michiganders in our group, and with an Ohioan and some lucky randos, we’ve got some regular euchre going in about the last place I’d expect to find it; 2) Three folks came onto the program with zero Spanish and a couple more with nearly none. I’ve got to give it to them, because I am not that brave—I’ve enough trouble communicating with a fair grasp of the language; 3) There’s something to make up for my lingual advantage: I am the only trainee with zero prior environmental experience. There’s one other kid fresh out of school, and everyone else has either had a fair career working in the environmental field or a Masters or both. I don’t know how well a ten week mishmash of different trainings are going to bring me up to speed, but I’m trusting that better men than me have it figured.

As for the training ahead, it looks to be a slog. Every weekday, from 8am to 6pm ish we’re in class learning Spanish, absorbing the principles of Safety and Security, getting poked and prodded and immunized and lectured on how and what to eat, and letting the tenets of Peace Corps Core and Environmental Sector training osmose into our fried-out brains. Anybody who’s studied abroad or otherwise gone the full-immersion route on learning a language is familiar with the feeling. Once you’ve made the commitment, every moment spent with another person becomes a herculean lingual struggle. Even when you’re just talking to other expats in your new language—slowly and badly as a rule—even if you’re striving to speak simply, there’s a layer of effort that leaves you brainless and exhausted at the end of the day. It’s like the draining fatigue that hits you at the end of the SAT. You don’t want to sleep as much as stare at a wall for an hour.

In these early days there’s a physical component to go with it. Anyone who’s played a wind instrument knows that each horn as a specific mouth-position (embouchure)  that has to be maintained to get a good tone out. I only know the specifics on a saxophone, but if you try to put in two hours’ practice after not playing for awhile, you find your mouth sagging like a stroke victim while your buckles and air sneaks back down your throat in a way I’ve never understood. Here in Mexico it happens with my Rs. Words like ‘padre’ come out crisp and savvy in the morning but by midafternoon they’re a mushmouthed mumble that my family is hard-pressed to understand. Mentally, you find yourself trying to express simple thoughts like “When I was young I played baseball, but as I got older I didn’t have the dedication or the talent to make it in High School,” and you get so lost in circumlocutions and not-familiar-enough tense switches that two minutes later, your interlocutor’s hanging on the edge of his seat to hear the end of what’s become a Homerically trivial anti-story. Jesse and Danielle, as I understand, have the same problem in English.

Pictured here telling a story to a suitcase

Pictured here telling a story to a suitcase

I’ve been told that since my field is Environmental Education, chances are good that I’ll wind up in a pueblito of a thousand or so paisanos a hundred or so miles out of the way. Originally that was disconcerting because in the United States, that’s about the least receptive group of folks you could think of, environmental-wise. But here they’re plugged right into global warming and everything that’s happening and it makes sense. Try to tell a God-fearing American farmer about global warming and there’s a slew of political and economic obstacles to gaining his acceptance. Here it’s a different story. Mexico is a tiny producer of greenhouse gas and their real concern isn’t with prevention (a battle we’ve already lost) but with mitigation. It’s not about eliminating the micron of ocean rise coming out of my village but about helping them deal with the droughts and hurricanes that the ‘Western world’ and its co-conspirators in Asia will soon be visiting upon them,

Clara too

We know what you’ve been up to, Eric

It’s about conserving the scarce water that will soon be scarcer, the nuisance floods that will soon be deadly, preserving the fragile crops that about to enter a whole new world of hurt. If anybody knows my new politics, there’s nothing I’d rather be up to. Peace Corps has a whiff of the White Man’s Burden to it, just a smidge of Neoliberal Consensus, the ‘let us show you how we do it because we do it better.’ But this is something else and something smarter—my forebears and my contemporaries have damn near ruined this Earth, now let’s see what we can do, together, to fight against that trend, because they sure as shit aren’t doing it back home. My whole ‘the system’s broke and the solution’s going to have to start somewhere else’ schtick has found itself some fertile ground in PCMx-15 and I’m finally excited to get this thing going.

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