Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ciudad Juárez as a bowl of alphabet soup (A-G)

On Tuesday, Oct. 18th, I celebrated my first full month in the country of Mexico—though technically only 3 weeks in Cd. Juárez. These 20-some days have been filled with encounters with many fascinating people, places and gastronomy, as well as glimpses and introductions to surprising and/or less-than-savory aspects of life in this city of 1.5 million along the Rio Bravo. I’ve been delinquent on posting about life here in Juárez since I returned from Mexico City; I’m sorry. There’s a lot to share, and I promise I’ll share it. Meanwhile, here’s an alphabet-soup run-down on my impressions and experiences (some regular, some extraordinary) of Ciudad Juárez, to date. Bon appetit! Wait, French?! I don’t speak French. ¡Buen provecho! Just read on…

A - Amable (ah-MAH-blay—adj: kind, caring, loving…hospitable)
98% of the people I have met here have been wonderfully kind and hospitable and respectful; people love hearing about Minnesota after getting over their puzzlement about why in the world I chose to come to Juárez. It’s fitting that amable fits the first letter of the alphabet—sobretodo-above everything about this adventure so far—people’s capacity to open their personal and professional lives to a relative stranger fills me with joy and thanksgiving and humility every single day. If you ask me what stands out most to me so far about living here, it’s the gente (people) amable whom I meet and relate with every day.

B - Barbacoa (bar-bah-CO-ah—noun: barbeque meat)
Barbacoa is a cognate—barbeque. The barbeque tacos here are AMAZING. Small wheat tortillas heaped with shredded barbeque beef, to be topped al gusto (personal taste) with salt, lime juice, onion, and cilantro. “Barbacoa guera” (guera means “white”-“without color”), a street-side restaurant a number of blocks down Lago de Patzcuaro (my street) is sooooooooooo good! It’s a favorite of the locals, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine!

C - Chiles (CHEE-lehs—noun: chile peppers)
Probably self-explanatory. Chiles are a pretty big deal here. Fresh chiles, boiled chiles, stuffed chiles, chiles en nogados (one of the primary dishes for Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day) because the final dish displays the colors of the flag: green chiles, stuffed with various meats and fruits; white-unsweetened cream; red pomegranates sprinkled on top. Soooooooo tasty!!!!), dried chiles, spicy chiles, mild chiles, chiles californias, chiles serranos, chiles marranos…
- ¡CALOR! (CAH-LORE—noun: the heat!)
It’s pretty dang hot here. Desert hot, merciless sun. Thankfully it’s cooled off some. But dang, it was HOT in August and early Septemeber!
- ¡Celebraciones! (say-lay-bra-see-OHN-ace—noun: celebrations)
Do we actually work here? End of August-early September turns out to be the IDEAL time to join the COLEF family. There’s a party almost every week—first to celebrate the 25th anniversary of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte; the following week to celebrate the acceptance of one of our researchers to Mexico’s prestigious National Academy for Distinguished Researchers. Then it was Fiestas Patrias, then it’s the celebration of Mexico’s Revolution…
- Casa Amiga (CAH-sa a-MEE-gah—noun: The House of Friends Center)
Wow! What a powerhouse organization this is! As you may have already read in my blog profile, Casa Amiga Centro de Crisis is the local non-profit organization where I carry out my field research. A more detailed post about Casa Amiga is forthcoming; for the time being, it suffices to say that each moment I spend at Casa Amiga and with its staff—in the office and in the community—my passion for my current work is renewed, and I am inspired anew by the commitment and unquenchable thirst for justice that characterizes the staff and volunteers.

D - Deportes (day-PORT-ace—noun: sports and athletics)
One Friday night, Boris (a neighbor friend of ours) mentioned an annual 10k race coming up and suggested I think about running it, as I enjoy being active. Sure! I registered on Monday, ran each day that week to get warmed up, and Saturday trotted along the Paseo del Triunfo de la República at sunset and successfully arrived at the finish inside the baseball stadium, under the bright lights and crowds of cheering fans…okay, I embellished just a touch on that last note. Carrera Internacional de la Amistad (Race of International Friendship; before 9/11 the race went from Juárez to El Paso and back, but there’s no border crossing anymore), check. I didn’t when the raffle for the car, though. Bummer. Without ample time to train, I think the annual 100k Chupacabras mountainous bike ride will have to wait for another year.

E - Estudiar (a-STEW-dee-ar; verb: to study)
El COLEF (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte) is a gem in Ciudad Juárez! This research institute was created by the Mexican government 25 years ago, to support high-level research about any and all issues relating to Mexico’s northern border with the United Status. Our office, where I spend about 75% of my work and research time to date, is home to about 10 full-time researchers, and an additional 15 or so statisticians, research assistants, and administrative staff. During these first few weeks, my favorite part of the day has been lunch (and not just because I like to eat!), because everyone actually leaves their cubicle to eat in the presence of others, and it’s been a great opportunity for me to get to know my co-workers and understand a little more about Cd. Juárez life every day, from immigration, to the crossing the bridge to El Paso (average wait: 2 hours), to learning about important research projects like an unprecedented zoning and land-use study, to trying out new foods (99% of which include chiles and tortillas). My colleagues have been wonderfully supportive of me thus far, in my work and in my personal life—from introductions to important folks in the city, to offering me rides home after work. It’s an incredible community of inspiring and committed researchers and administrators, and I am blest to be included in the group!

F - Fruta (FRU-tah—noun: fruit)
The fresh fruit available in Cd. Juárez runs the gamut from apples and bananas, to exotic fruits uncommon-to-rare in Minnesota, including papaya, honey pineapple, pomegranate (called granado), guayaba (a small, round, pear-colored thing with a sugary tropical pear flavor that knocks your socks off!), and tunas. Tunas (pronounced like the fish, but with zero physical or biological resemblance) are the fruit produced by cacti called nopal, and have just come into season. The fruit comes in three colors: red, green, and white (really yellow), and the reward for successfully removing the hundreds of little spines and successfully peeling the fruit is a mouth-watering-good meaty fruit whose flavor I can’t find words to describe. I guess you’ll just have to visit me to have a taste!

G - Género (HAY-nay-row—noun: gender )(platicar sobre ello; observaciones)
The focal point about which all of my research revolves; a powerful and often unrecognized force that directs and governs much of family, economic, social, and religious life in Ciudad Juárez. Some people are very conscious of the notion of gender, of gender roles, and of gender discrimination, while many are oblivious or purposely ignorant of this great force. While I don’t have many concrete remarks about gender as it exists in Ciudad Juárez at the momento, I arrived to the city with my gender-lens fastened firmly before my eyes, and that’s where it will stay for my entire time here.
- Gobierno (go-bee-AIR-no—noun: the government)
Always on your mind—or at least, that’s where the government wants to be. Posters, billboards, radio announcements, tv commercial spots…and it’s a half a year after elections! The local, state, and federal government organization offers a dizzyingly complex structure sporting, unfortunately, questionable and oftentimes blatantly ineffective leadership on issues of guaranteeing the basic needs and rights of its citizens… but with glowing press-conferences just the same. Critical, cynical, and hopeful are words I would use to characterize the people’s response to and engagement in politics. Overwhelming is my initial response.

(see next post for the next spoonful of letters...)

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