Monday, June 14, 2010

Settling In

June 13: We left the hotel this morning and headed north. Or possibly west. I've never had much of a head for directions and I was perfectly content to follow the crowd, which consisted of me, Jackie, Kelly, Amelia and Brent, one of the students from the Arizona program. At any rate, we wound our way through the grid of Oaxaca's streets for two hours, so I'm sure we were facing both north and west at some point on the journey.

The avenues are wide, lined on either side by the concrete faces of houses, hotels, restaurants and other local businesses. We made our way to the main plaza, ducking to avoid the white and blue tarps that cut across many of the streets, providing protection from the sun and the afternoon rains (above). The plaza was full of busy tents where vendors sold fruit and scarves and wallets and DVDs—everything bright and loud. Some of the tents were festooned with political slogans, and we decided that they probably belonged to activists, arriving early in the city to claim space for the upcoming teachers' protests.

We wandered out of the market onto streets that were pale and hot in the late morning sun. Brent ducked into a covered market and the rest of us followed, happy to be in the shade again. Several stalls in front of us, somebody was killing a rat on the floor. This was about twenty yards beyond the entrance we'd just come in, and we were surrounded on either side by meat vendors. Flies buzzed around the yellow bodies of plucked chickens and slack-jawed fish gaped at us in bemusement. I can't really do justice to the smell, but there are very few things in this world that could make me wish I were closer to a rodent assassination—and the aroma of the meat stalls was propelling me forward at a rapid pace.

Fortunately, we soon found ourselves in happier territory, surrounded by fruits and jewelry and eerie Disney-inspired piƱatas. We also found ourselves by a friendly chocolate vendor who insisted we sample the organic chocolate-almond bites, which I was more than happy to do.

After a long break for the afternoon siesta, I set out with a smaller group in search of chocolate. The square was still bustling. This time of year is always big for teacher protests, and June 14 is the anniversary of the protests that turned violent in 2006, so there was a lot of activity. All in all, it was a pretty busy day. (At right, K & J enjoy some chocolate sin churros.)

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