(November 12 – written by Dave)
One week of Spanish class done – and it seems to be sticking a little. There are times when I look at a word, say it 20 times, cover it up, say it 20 more times, feel good about it and not 3 minutes later I can’t remember even first letter of the word, let alone the word. I don’t know if its old age or something else. Nancy and I clearly remember things differently. I’m a lot more visual and need to write it and see it – and that doesn’t even work sometime. Nancy uses her natural organizational skills, making lists and seemingly never having this “read 20 times” problem.
Having said all that, it is really going well. We are having more conversations in Spanish with people on the street every day. And mostly, people seem to get what we are saying. We no longer hold a pile of money out and tell the sales clerk to “take what you need”.
Our days are filled with 3 hours of class Monday to Friday mornings, followed by lunch somewhere, then more practice. We practice in our apartment but also spend a good bit of time at the cafe near our house – Dolce Romero. We are getting to know all the waitstaff and baristas at Dolce. They are all Mexican (of course) and all speak bit of English. They all know that we are studying Spanish and offer help, including going slowly with us and correcting our frequent mis-steps.
I’m not sure what I expected of Mexican people in terms of culture. You get a certain view of people through the US press and US politicians. Regardless, we tried to come here with open minds. The two characteristics that jump out at us after 6 weeks are very warm and hard working. The warm part comes at the start of every interaction. Everyone says “hola” and “buenas dias/tardes/noches” when you first meet. And by everyone, I mean everyone, from the guys sweeping the street (with handmade brooms) to store clerks to people just walking down the street. It may be an “automatic” greeting but it feels warm and genuine. And equally important, it gets everyone off on friendly terms – it is hard not to smile from that point in the interaction.
The second characteristic of hardworking is all around us. There are some road works going on down on the malecon (boardwalk). They start early and finish well after dark, including working late into both Saturday and Sunday nights. Their tools may not be the best (i.e. handmade brooms) but they put in the hours. Another example is the staff at our cafe. Most of them work 6 days per week, 9 hour days, finishing at 4PM – and some even have second jobs that they go to after finishing at the cafe. Of course, this is all done with a smile.
Infrastructure is another area that we’ve found interesting. There are lots of buildings with rebar sticking out here and there. At some point that addition will be started/completed. And the sidewalks – wow, you really have to be on your toes. Sidewalks are filled with holes, plants, poles, ridiculously steep steps and/or random work projects from last week or years ago. You can’t stroll the neighbourhood and look around. You have to literally watch every step. Roads are like sidewalks. Some are really bumpy. There is lots of bone rattling chipseal. At least here in La Paz, all the streets we travel are paved/sealed. On the ride down here, we saw more un-paved/dirt side roads, only adding to the overall feeling of things not being finished. Don’t look up while walking…. See below.
Just around the corner from our place there is a building with a side screen wall that fell over. The fall was broken by a tree and the wall didn’t completely stop working as intended. Mexican ingenuity is highlighted in two photos below. The first shows the wall falling. The second shows how they dealt with the problem. Maybe not the best engineered solution, but a solution that’s good enough to get onto the next, bigger problem.
We are only two blocks from the La Paz waterfront. If we can get motivated, a daily stroll there for sunset is worth the effort. The boardwalk is being demolished and rebuilt, so you have to watch where you walk, but really, that’s pretty much every walkway here anyway. They are working very hard on the boardwalk but you have to question the thought process that started this project right at the start of tourist season down here. The boardwalk is guaranteed to be very chewed up this coming weekend – which happens to correspond with the La Paz finish of the 50th annual Baja 1000 road race.
But really, that last whole story really is Mexico in a nutshell. Maybe not think through things all the way to completion, no matter, put your head down and work hard at the task at hand. And don’t forget to look up, smile and say hola when the tourists walk past. Everything will work out and no one will be overly stressed if the wall is a little crooked. We just need to keep the OSHA guys from crossing the border.