Friday, March 9, 2007

Week One! What an interesting title!

There's plenty to write, but I really hardly know where to start, so I suppose the beginning would be best.

I got into Mexico City last Saturday evening and was picked up by Ivan. He was a pequeno (someone raised at the orphanage) and drives for them on a regular basis. He's currently studying at a nearby college. I gave him the unenviable job of carrying a 50 lb duffel bag and he kindly took it to the car completely without complaint. At least I'm pretty sure, I don't really know because he doesn't speak much English and I don't speak much Spanish :)

He drove me to Jose Luis Guzman's house who is assistant to the National Director for NPH Mexico. Guzman's little boy was turning seven, so Ivan and I stayed for his birthday dinner which was raucous and fun. After that, we came to the orphanage in Cuernavaca and I settled into my apartment. I was absolutely exhausted, so I just went to bed.

On Sunday I went to Mass and met Father Phil. He's the main priest at NPH Mexico, but also the head of NPH. I caught phrases during the service here and there, generally followed along, but it certainly wasn't a Sunday at Wedgwood Community Church where I normally go. I have a lot of questions about Catholicism, it's not until I do something like go to mass that I realize how incredibly protestant my upbringing and general community is.

Sunday night my roommate moved in. Her name is Nelly, she's from Switzerland and has volunteered with NPH in the past. Her English is better than my German, but her Spanish is better than her english, so that's what we speak in the most. She's a grandmother and loves being with the kids.

Later that night Sabrina and Ashley stopped by. Sabrina has been here for about two months and is a social worker from Germany. Ashley had gotten there that day and was beginning 5 months of volunteer work with the older teenage girls. She is in between her job with Lehman Brothers on Wall Street and starting Stanford Law School in the fall. The other volunteers I've met but don't know very well are Melanie and Emily, both from the US.

On Monday I met with Ross, the person I've been working with on coming to NPH. He introduced Ashley and me to everyone at the NPH Mexico and NPH International offices. They're both located here at the Cuernavaca site. This campus houses about 170 kids from 15 to 18. There is another site about an hour south, Miacatlan, that houses about 600 kids from 0 to 14 years old.

On Tuesday morning Ashley and I took the Ruta 12 (a bus that looks kind of like a bakery truck with windows seats in various states of disrepair, repair, disrepair and rerepair) to our language school which is about 45 minutes away in southern Cuernavaca. We took an exam (which didn't take long for either one of us, and not because we knew all the answers!) and were put into different classes that had one other person each and a teacher.

My teacher (or maestro) is Luis, after our class he goes to a nearby primary school and teaches there in the afternoons. Jean, the other student, is from Montreal. French is his primary language, but he's absolutely fluent in English. He's an actor, some TV, mostly stage, freelancing writer, play translator. We're very close to the same ability in Spanish and our classes have all gone really well. Luis is a very good, creative teacher. We've had some interesting conversations while we practice speaking. Today started with an article on Xochicalco, a nearby pre-Colombian ceremonial site. It then went through a discussion on the evolution of cultures in Central America, Canada and the US and how they were affected by local climate and settlement patterns. None of the conversations, of course, sound quite the same when you have the vocabulary of a kindergartner.

After school we take the same bus back, I grab a bite to eat at the apartment and take the short walk from the apartments to the offices for work. I share a large office with Mark, the IT guy (he's from Holland, his wife is from Haiti and we have a lot of fun, sometimes we like to talk a lot, I'm doing my best not to bother him when he's working on important stuff). The other person in the office is Alejandro, the Project Manager for all construction project in all nine of NPH's countries and my boss. He's been wonderful, really wants to introduce me to all that is going on. His English isn't fluent, but between him trying English, me trying Spanish and the online dictionary, we're doing fine.

My first assignment from Father Phil is to work on the 5 year Capital Projects Plans for all nine countries. While I'm doing this, Alejandro and I are also getting ready to fly to Nicaragua for a few days to meet with the architect from Bolivia and the National Director in San Jorge.

The kids eat dinner at 8 every night and most nights I try to join them in the Comedor. It's rice and beans or potatoes and beans, bread and fruit every night and then there is usually something else (hot dogs in the beans or something like that). I've been practicing speaking Spanish with them, but if it comes to it, many of them know a fair amount of English. They go to school, come home, study, play sports, don't have much to say when you ask them what they've done that day, just really normal stuff for a teenager.

The area the orphanage is in seems a lot like what it would be to live in the Rainier Valley in Seattle to me. Some houses are really run down, some are really nice. There's a fair amount of noise at night between the dogs barking and the trucks braking as they go down a nearby hill. The kids go to bed pretty early during the week, but play music through the whole complex until midnight or so on the weekends (or so I hear, I've always been asleep before then so far). So both Nelly and I wear ear plugs because we'd rather keep the windows open and the air circulating.

I hasn't been that hot, I think in the afternoons it's in the 80's. In the mornings it can get a little chilly, but it warms up quickly with the sun. The air is pretty dry (even right now with a thunderstorm outside), so even when it's hot, it's not that uncomfortable. The buildings at the orphanage all stay pretty cool with their thick concrete walls anyway.

We were without water for about half hour today. It's no big deal, just a little bit of a surprise when I come from a run at the local track. They're also doing some repair on some waste water pipes that run under the orphanage's sports courts (the pipes were damaged when the ground settled because it hadn't been properly compacted and the water is going straight onto the neighbor's property below). The power also goes out about once a day. Generally it's for less than 10 minutes, but it's one of those things that surprised me at first, but is rapidly becoming completely commonplace (Mark and I are both working off of laptops, so it's not a big deal with our batteries, the others however, have a little while to save there stuff and then even the battery power is gone).

Every place I go, there are always lot's of people. Mexico City is nearby and has about 20 million people. Cuernavaca isn't nearly as big, and there's a lot of trees everywhere, but always houses and buildings too. One very nice perk of the apartment I'm living in, however, is that I can watch the closest volcano, Popocatepetl, steaming in the morning while I eat my breakfast. It looks about as far away as Mt Rainier. Sabrina, Ashley and I are planning on taking the girls on a hike next weekend to Tepoztlan. It's a nearby town and national park with some ruins as well. Sabrina and I were talking today about making sure the girls know to wear comfortable shoes or else we're sure there will be some trying to hike up in heels.

All in all, things aren't at all rustic, everyone has been very welcoming and I'm really enjoying the work. There are plenty of challenges (especially the language at this point), but I know that I'll get past them.... eventually :) It's hard to be patient, I want everything to come now, but this has been just the first week of many to come.

1 comment:

kneek said...

What a great summary of your first week! Thanks for sharing so many details. I can imagine it all as if I was there. The language will come, though everyone's facility with English will probably make it a little slower. You'll still catch on in a heartbeat. Make sure you give Mark a good punch in the arm for me. I sure miss that guy. He is a great colleague who treated me like an equal from the first day I met him, though I've always been intimidated by his braniac skill.