Three Jorges and the side of Cuernavaca you DON’T see

My School - CETLALIC: This is the courtyard entrance, a beautiful mansion behind a high wall.The language school that I am attending is called CETLALIC – I picked it from the 20 or so language schools in Cuernavaca because it is considered the most progressive one in Mexico, or should I say ONLY progressive one. The faculty is involved in social justice work, meaning that they take part in and expose students to projects that support poor people, environmental awareness, GLBT issues, etc.

I just missed by a few weeks their annual GLBT language program: three weeks of studying Spanish and meeting GLBT people who are working in HIV/AIDS, women’s health, equal rights…and going to fun clubs at night because if you haven’t seen Latino drag you are in for a spectacle! At age 52 I just didn’t want to re-enter the closet just to study Spanish. One woman at the school, a black lesbian from Portland named Elle, was discouraged by another school from attending because both she and her female partner wanted to attend. Add their two-year old son to the equation and that was just more than the conservative school could handle.

Right now there’s a group of medical people studying Spanish and learning about traditional and regular medicine. Next up is a program for missionaries and others involved in projects supported by churches. Very cool, eh, to meet people whose work is so different from my own.

So that’s the background of my school; there are three Georges/Jorges at my school: the director, his 5 year old son and me. Jorgito is the one who answers the bell at the school gate when you arrive (real bell, not a doorbell). He also rings a handbell to signal the beginning and ending of classes. After 50 minutes of thinking and speaking in Spanish I am VERY glad to hear him ringing the bell – I will take a picture of him so you can see just how adorable he is. Plus he speaks darn good English so if you need help he’s the one to ask…he helped me out trying to remember the word in Spanish for “bat” – murcialago – He didn’t understand “bat” but when I said “Batman y Robin” he knew exactly what I was talking about. Gotta love those Hollywood DVDs!

My Classroom: Sala 5 - Emiliano Zapata: My classroom is on the balcony and boy is it sweet to be sitting there in gorgeous weather.We meet for classes from 9-12 Monday to Friday – this is the grammar class so I am finally learning the past tense. Pretty soon I won’t have to say “I am going” and then point back over my shoulder trying to indicate that I really meant “I went.” From 12-2 we have a conversation class, watch a video or go on a field trip. We have different teachers for the two sessions: mornings Francisco is our teacher. He looks to be around 25-30, is a quiet person but has a pretty good sense of humor (from what I can figure out with my limited knowledge of what is funny in Spanish). Augustina is the female teacher we have had in the afternoons.

I guess I could write some stuff about what a beautiful, historic city Cuernavaca is, the weekend retreat for the wealthy of Mexico City. Their high-walled homes line most streets including my own. But I think I’ll get to that later. I need to get out of my head some seriously disturbing scenes of reality I experienced today. An afternoon that was about as far from the elegant restaurant of Las Mananitas that Jody and I ate at last October on our brief visit here as it is possible to get.

Polluted stream running through Sacatierra: The community has a project to clean the stream and is one of the first in Cuernavaca to adopt recycling.Yesterday we watched a video about a section of Cuernavaca that is seriously polluted – the city is built on many hillsides and in the ravines between them (think San Diego). Today we visited that area, which is called Sacatierra. We met a woman who lives there and is a potter. Sacatierra means “dry earth” and there used to be many potters who lived there and plied their trade. But now, there are few because so many houses have been built in the ravines that they can’t get the clay to make pottery so she has to have dirt brought in from outside town.

La Senora Potter: Working by hand, la Senora makes planters by hand to support her familyI have to tell you that it was both inspiring and upsetting to hear Senora Faustina tell her story. She earns about $50 a week making by hand and selling planters of various sorts. I took some pictures and videos so you can see them. This was not some tourist oriented stop by a pottery to see an artist making work. No, this was a ramshackle collection of cement and tin roofed buildings built directly over a creek into which pipes from houses empty untreated sewage. The stench from the creek waxed and waned as you walked along the narrow street at the bottom of the ravine. But, even as I write this I can still see the beautiful purple-flowered bushes here and there, with dozens of yellow and black butterflies fluttering about.

The senora and her husband (he’s a gardener) live in two rooms with her aged mother, some nieces and nephews, and their two mentally handicapped children – eight people in less space than my condo. She learned pottery-making from her mother in law and has been doing it for 22 years. She could make more money if she hired someone to help her but she doesn’t trust that she could have an outsider so close to her children. Recently, a man broke into their home at night and tried to assault her deaf, unspeaking daughter. She didn’t say this directly, rather saying he didn’t come to rob them, but to do something else. What just stunned us is that La Senora knows who the man is from the market but didn’t report him to the police. Out of fear that they would do nothing and that he would return to do worse.

As Elle, my new friend from Portland said, we are very fortunate people, we Americans, no matter what problems our lives bring us, compared to so many others, like this amazing woman. And, she told us all these stories while pushing the pottery wheel with her foot, never stopping, lifting molds onto it, filling them with clay, shaping and smoothing them. Using things like a dried corncob first on the rough clay then a rag from a pair of pants to soften the finish. In the half hour we spent with her she finished a large planter, big enough for a small tree, a couple of tall cylindrical pots, and even one handled basket (which in Spanish is called a canasta, just like the old 1940’s card game…who knew?)

Smart people - instead of crushing clay by hand, they spread it on the road and let the passing cars do the work!Here’s one cheerful bit of news about how our human minds adapt to new technology: La Senora used to have to crush the dirt by hand to get a fine enough, powdery material to make the pots. Now, they spread the dirt on the paved road and let cars driving by do all that hard work crushing it to bits. We have an endless potential for learning new things and new ways, and using the cars reminded me that she is a descendant of the Meso-American cultures that constructed exquisite pyramids and temples as fine as those of the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians.

So, the adventure has begun and it is EXACTLY what I was hoping for. This is the right place for me at the right time in my life. I still don’t know where this Mexican sojourn is leading me but I am trusting that the right path will reveal itself in time.

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