It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for four weeks!
The past 4 weeks have been full of transitions…transitioning to new food (and a new eating schedule), to living in a city, to taking public transportation, to leaving my room an hour before class (instead of 10 minutes before like I do at ND), to living with a family again, and to speaking Spanish all the time.
The past 4 weeks have also been challenging and, quite often, frustrating. Frustration at buses that have no apparent schedule, websites that are minimally helpful or nonexistent (church websites, African Safari website, La Malinche websites…), university websites that my password won’t log me into, syllabi that never get distributed, wifi that is too slow for Erica and I to simultaneously use Pinterest (did I say that? I mean to do homework…). And especially, especially, frustration when I am unable to adequately express myself in Spanish. I have been speaking, reading, and writing in English for my entire life, and I like to think that I am well-spoken, with a relatively robust vocabulary that allows me to express myself very precisely. While my vocabulary has expanded hugely over the past month, and I am able to converse with native speakers much more eloquently that I could before, I still have moments when I get stuck on one or two essential words and can’t say what I want to. For example, today Rocio was talking about how one part of the sidewalk is overgrown and has rats, and I tried to tell her a story of my mom and I finding rats in the pile of grass we used to have in our backyard from the lawn clippings. However, because I couldn’t say the word pile, or explain what I meant by lawn clippings, the story was lost. I tried describing it to Rocio multiple times, getting suggestions such as bag, trash can, box, and ground, before giving up.
That being said, the past 4 weeks have also been full of surprises, and I am surprising myself with how well I converse with native speakers (other than the few moments when I get 100% stuck and frustrated). I am surprised by how willing I am to participate in a class full of Mexican students, with how well I can keep up with lectures, with how much easier reading papers in Spanish is becoming for me. I surprise myself when I use the subjunctive without even thinking about it, or when I use a new saying enough that it becomes natural to me. I surprise myself when I remember a new vocabulary word, and remembering it allows me to tell a story that I would otherwise have a hard time telling.
Not only have I surprised myself, but Mexico has surprised me equally. It has surprised me with it’s magical little downtown, full of colorful buildings and cute little cafes and street musicians and artisan stands. It has surprised me with the beauty that took my breath away at 14,000 feet above sea level (literally…try breathing at that altitude!). It has surprised me with the kindness of the people I meet…my neighbors who always say hi or joke with me as I walk home soaking wet after a rainstorm, my professors and students who are patient as I stumble over my words and help me with my Spanish, peers who tell me about all the places I need to travel or the places in the city I need to visit, host families who open their homes and their hearts for us. Mexico has surprised me with the deep faith in God I find around every corner…in stunning churches and charming little chapels, in pictures and statues and figurines of Jesus, Mary, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the prayers they say and in the places where people find God. For example, as we were distributing food at the orphanage yesterday, Erica heard someone yell out, “and who do we have to thank this food for?” to which everyone replied “Dios! Gracias a Dios!” It is little moments like these that ground me, that show me a pure pure faith in God, and that surprise me (although they shouldn’t) because, honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen people truly appreciate God’s hand in every aspect of their lives. I tend to pray to God about “bigger” things, like school, my future, the safety and health of my family, and the important relationships in my life; however, living in Mexico has reminded to thank God–and truly mean it–for the little things too, like the food on my plate and the roof over my head. For so many people here, these “little things” that I take for granted are what they spend their lives trying to secure. Food is not a given; a sturdy home and a clean bed are not a given; and, when they can’t provide all that they need, they trust that God will come up with the rest. As I am in a time of my life where it is so easy to get caught up in the “bigger” things (especially junior year…MCATs and medical school applications!), I think God brought me to Mexico because I needed to be reminded to see Him in every part of my life, and to appreciate the beautiful life He has given me. Thank you, Mexico, for showing me this after only 4 weeks. I cannot wait for what the next 3 months will teach me.
Yes, 4 weeks here have been quite a ride, full of transitions, challenges, frustrations, and surprises. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that after 4 weeks, Mexico is finally beginning to feel like home. While my first week was exciting and new, my second and third weeks were full of homesickness, especially as my friends moved back to ND. I missed the US, the ease of living in a country I knew so well; I missed my family; I missed ND, with my Ryan sisters, classes with my best friends, and dinners and late nights with Chris; I missed the hype of football games and the calm of the grotto and the feeling of home. However, sometime between classes and dinners and late-night tacos and morning runs and weekend trips, I settled into my life in Mexico. While I still missed home, it was no longer accompanied by a longing to be out of this noisy, crowded, hot, unfamiliar country and back in the States. I discovered my new home here, where the hype of football games is replaced by the hype of our Thursday nights in Cholula, where the calm of the grotto is replaced by the calm I finally found in church (after 3 weeks of feeling lost, confused, and overwhelmed in a huge cathedral with a terrible sound system, and finding a smaller, more intimate, and beautifully peaceful little iglesia), where I have an established schedule and have figured out how to use my breaks for working out, doing homework, and just enjoying my time with friends. And, while I still would prefer buses with a schedule, teachers that tell you your homework more than a day in advance, and websites that work, these daily frustrations are no longer causing me to become angry at Mexico and wish I was in the US. Nope, Mexico isn’t perfect, but I think I’m beginning to like it here. And I think I’m finally starting to find my home away from home, other than my home under the Dome.