It’s some small irony that when you hit Mid-Service Training it means you’re more than halfway through. The timing varies by post and by class and by year, but at the end of MST, we of PCM-15 were only eleven months out, ten if you want to take the standing offer to leave thirty days early.

It’s a cliché to say that the time has flown, and it wouldn’t be right, either, not all the way. The days haven’t gone inasmuch as my perception of time has grown confused—I can barely account for the last thirteen months and definitely not for their order.

The ten weeks of training back in September and October 2013 seemed to stretch on forever, longer than all the months that have passed since June lumped together. I keep thinking that we celebrated Mexican independence in late July instead of September, and I can’t make anything that’s happened since stick in my mind apart from the All-Volunteer Conference, Día de Muertos, and Thanksgiving. All one-hundred-twenty odd days apart from those? Can’t account for them.

Maybe I just blocked it all out after this

Maybe I just blocked it all out after this

Continue reading

Fiat Lengua

Approaching fluency in a second language is magical. Not the Buzzfeed, Tumblr sense of the word, where learning to put an egg in ramen is ‘magical,’ but something extra-human, something out-of-the-ordinary, something that leaves you feeling powerful as you navigate what used to be an impenetrable country, people, culture. And it’s crushing to have that taken away from you.

I walked into a store the other day and rattled off the standard Buenos días, ¿cómo está usted? And was met with Merhaba and a string of nonsense syllables, and the shock was acute. I knew in some part of me that I was in Turkey, but after a year living in Mexico, the assumption that I could speak with foreigners was so integral to my day-to-day that losing it was like having an arm torn off.

Plus Turks look angrier than Mexicans when they're confused

Plus Turks look angrier than Mexicans when they’re confused

As a traveler and as a Volunteer, I can go anywhere and do anything in Mexico. Today I went down to the river and asked homeowners to let me paint murals on their walls and strolled into the offices of the National Teachers’ Union and of the Municipal Presidency to do the same—I’m not fluent and a I’ll probably never be able to breeze through Marquez, but I speak with fluency and I can understand anybody in this country without a serious speech impediment. Being unable to intuit that I couldn’t afford both juice and gum and being unable to tell the clerk that I’d just take the juice, that was crippling.

For a while, that feeling almost dominated my time in Istanbul. My deficit left me painfully reliant on Alex Guyton. Ever action, every simmit purchase, drink order, direction, metro ticket, whatever, I had to have her do it, and I got to be scared, petrified of going out without her.

Honestly I'm afraid every moment I'm not with Alex

Honestly I’m afraid every moment I’m not with Alex

Continue reading

Edward Said and Defining Mexico

The Mexican is lazy, is hardworking, is prone to violence, is hospitable. He is dirty, clean, like to other hispanics, unlike other latinos, shares racial strengths with the indians, has inherited cultural decadence from the Spanish. He lives in an old country with old values, he finds it hard to adapt to new ways of life, he is itinerant, moving to new locales to leech off other peoples. “The Mexican” and “Mexicans” are a lot of bullshit.

When I sit down and slam out a blog, beer in hand, I take on a responsibility. All Peace Corps volunteers and all the expats like us do the same. When we write about our host countries and peoples, we define them, to ourselves and to our audience.

There’s a book about it.

This book

This book

Said describes the way that “Orientalists,” scholars of the nearer and farther Easts, created a body of ideas, papers, art, and literature, that took on more reality than the physical East. When making policy or business decisions, Westerners responded to this constructed pseudo-Orient rather than the real. I’m simplifying. A lot. But I’ll use Mexico as an example of the same.

The parts of this country that I have seen—massive pine woods, cloud-forests, alpine streamlets and freezing waterfalls, the chic-as-fuck city of Querétaro and its eco-cafes and burgeoning urban-hippy scene—none of it has anything to do with the impression I had of Mexico before shipping out.

If you think of all these things when I say Mexico, you're Mexican and/or a liar

If you think of all these things when I say Mexico, you’re Mexican and/or a liar

Where did my previous impression of Mexico come from? From the great American collective unconscious. Flashes of Speedy Gonzales combine with lectures on the Mexican Revolution and vague images from a trip to the Alamo. Cormac McCarthy novels blend into the Man with No Name and The Magnificent Seven. It’s a powerful mental image of white linens and sombreros, now overlaid with narcos and beheadings.


We think of this

Almost none of that conception has anything to do with the “Real Mexico,” just like the way the rest of the world literally thinks we only eat hamburgers and hot dogs in the States has the tiniest bit of truth (we eat hamburgers sometimes) while missing everything else about us. “Mexicans eat tacos right?” “Well yea, but they’re different than ours and that’s not the point.”

The image, the pseudo-Mexico of The Three Amigos and shitty restaurants, it is the Mexico that we respond to, as voters, vacationers, businesspeople, and politicians. You have to go somewhere to start to know it. I don’t know Mexico. I don’t even know Querétaro, or Jalpan. But I’m a sight further along than I was beforehand, enough to know that what I thought I knew, I didn’t. What you have to realize is that the false American idea of Mexico is all the Mexico there is for the majority of Americans.

Perfect, right


Continue reading

Bienven—Look at My House!


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.




Continue reading

There’s a Gif at the End of the Tunnel

Gloomy and post-precipital on the deck today. DC has been unseasonably cool, and I’m far from hating it, even though it makes chilling on the deck chillier than it ought to be.

Truly a noble subject

It’s boring out, so here’s an artsy shot I’m working on

It’s getting down to it, folks. In twenty-two days, I’ll be flying out of DC and into the sun, stumbling around Mexico City International, hopping a bus with “carry-on snacks provided by Peace Corps Mexico staff,” and heading to Querétaro. Emails about PST, Pre-Service Training, have been flying thicker and faster, and the number of acronyms has skyrocketed. COTE, for example, is the Calendar of Training Events, although I like to think I’ll call it the ‘calendar.’ Ditto my TAP, or Training Advisory Packet. Maybe I’m being too hasty.

I know I’ve described this whole ramp-up to many of you like camp. I idolised my saxophone teacher in high school, and when he said I ought to go to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp (the very same band camp they spoofed in American Pie), I informed my parents that I’d be going. When the week before arrived, I was nervous and desperate to finagle a way out of the commitment (both times). But after the awful site-read madness of auditions, I always had a great time. While my anxiety is piling up along with the emails, I know things will settle out once I get there.

I miss band camp

Like I did when I was here

What’s helpful is that all of the orientation materials read like they did before I shipped to Spain, and the process feels familiar. Today I had my moment, the one where I realize it’s going to happen and soon. I was smoking and speaking Spanish to myself, because that’s what I do when I’m alone and about to go to Mexico, and I got done and was chuckling to myself, and I said: ‘Well bud, looks like we’re going to Mexico.’ It would be hard to overstate how important that dumb admission was. I’m pumped, I’m excited, I want to know what my Adult Experiential Education Spanish Interview Proficiency Level is, and more than that, I want to start using it. We’re going to Mexico.

Continue reading