The semester is now upon us, and we have finished the first week of classes here in Cuernavaca. All of us, including myself, are taking a Spanish course which is from 8 AM until 11 AM, Monday through Thursday, at the language school just up the street from Casa CEMAL. Our minds have been filled with new vocabulary, which forces each of us to practice our Spanish verbs, adjectives, and nouns. Some students have already had their first quiz, while others will have theirs this second week. The first (and for some, only) Spanish course will last four more weeks, and then students will enter into their second course that will last the remainder of the semester. Though it has only been a week, I can already sense the improvement that students have had in their Spanish speaking skills. Many are asking one another, “how do you say this?,” or, “did I say this right?” It is nice to see the students in support of one another, and to see their diligence to study, even when learning another language may seem frustrating or difficult.
We had a few outside trips this week, with one being a meeting with an economic and social empowerment organization, and another a trip to an ancient Olmec site two hours from Cuernavaca.
The students met at the Cuernavaca office of the organization, Atzin Desarrollo Comunitario, or Atzin Community Development. Atzin is a very poor community that has been plagued by alcoholism and drug use, and both have led to the perpetuation of poverty as well as widespread domestic violence and sexual assault within the community. This organization addresses the issues of health, education, the environment, and the empowerment of women in order to facilitate development within the community. We met with a woman named, Xochitl Ramirez, who gave us great insight into the community, the complex issues that exist within Atzin, and the work that the organization is doing to address those issues. It soon became evident that development work of this type may seem simple at face value, but quickly becomes very complex and multifaceted. It is hard to only concentrate on one issue of development, when each issue is interconnected with all others. This meeting shed light on development efforts that exist in the Cuernavaca area, and the economic disparity that exists here as well. Additionally, the group saw the role of women within a community, and learned of the oppression that the women of Atzin experience.
The other outside trip that students were able to engage in course themes and topics was the Art History course’s trip to Chalcatzingo, which is an ancient Olmec archaeological site. The site is still home to ruins of the temple, palace, sacrificial altars, and stone carvings that once characterized the Olmec society. Here, students were able to see the messages that the Olmecs engraved in stone for posterity and to pass on the stories from generation to generation. Guided by the Art History professor, Carlos, students learned of the organization of the society, with the temple and palace being the most important areas of the community, and the sacrificial altars being locations where the people of the society were able to provide offerings to the gods/goddesses that they worshiped. The ball court was still in tact, where students were able to learn of its role in conflict resolution for the society. Additionally, the court was built with channels for rain runoff, which shows the sophisticated engineering abilities that the Olmec had attained. Through this excursion, students were able to step back in time, and see life as it once was, thousands of years ago in what is today called Mexico. The storytelling through carvings, and societal organization of their community allowed the students to better understand the history of Mexico in Mesoamerica.
While this week seemed busy, this coming week may just be as busy. Spanish classes continue and there are a few other outside meetings and excursions to better connect the students to the concepts and theme that they are discussing in their classes.