Category: learning


Homesickness

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The first time I consciously felt homesick was on New Year’s Day in 2015. This was since I’d been working in Mexico for about three months. I remember it so vividly because I felt so low. I was alone in my hotel room for the first time during my travels in Guadalajara, an unfamiliar city in Mexico, a foreign country on a different side of the world to where I’m from. A friend from home, whom I had been travelling with during the Christmas holiday period, had left earlier that morning.

I distinctly remember thinking that the city was so big and that I was all by myself. And then I thought about all my family being together at that time, as New Year’s Day with my grandma and most of my extended family is traditionally a big deal for us. I was being attacked by the pangs of homesickness, and it was preventing me from enjoying my travelling experience. I have no idea what came over me; I just felt so anxious for some reason, when only a few hours ago I was having a blast, welcoming in the New Year. I just cried. I just sat in my room for about an hour and refused to leave, just spiralling into despair.

That was until I kicked myself into action. I thought that if I didn’t leave then, then I would never leave. I thought about using the opportunity that I had to just roam around on my own, to explore, to immerse myself in my surroundings and take photos. I’d be free to stop whenever I wanted, and to move around at a moment’s notice, because I’m sure my friend was annoyed by my constant stopping all over the place and just dragging her around left, right and centre. I also arranged to meet up with some people that I’d met, since I’d been in Guadalajara, in the evening. So thankfully, this change in perspective pushed me to leave my hotel room, and I ended up having a fantastic time, alone and with other people!

I thank God that I haven’t felt as low as how I felt that New Year’s morning. But that doesn’t mean that that horrible feeling doesn’t rear its ugly head from time-to-time, even if it is just to a lesser extent. I feel it whenever I hear about a friend’s engagement. It pops up whenever I think about the numerous weddings that I won’t be able to attend in England. It amplifies itself whenever I hear about the death of a neighbour, a companion, or a loved one. It returns when it’s a family member’s birthday, or when it’s Father’s or Mother’s day.  I’ve even felt it when I reminisce about eating certain foods or doing certain activities that I can’t really do in Mexico. Heck, I’ve even felt it when I’ve watched flipping Misfits, for crying out loud, because of the familiar settings and accents (shout out to all my UK people, haha! Ok). And I’ve realised that the Christmas holiday is still one of the worst periods to be away from my family, even if I’m not alone and I’m surrounded by people who care about me.

It’s constant, it’s never ending; it never really disappears. It’s always just kind of hidden, just out of your consciousness until some news or an event brings it to the forefront of your mind. And that’s the downside of living so far away from home, sometimes. But having said all this, most of my time is filled with building happy memories of new adventures, new experiences and new opportunities, and for now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life is for living, not for being immobilised by fear, isolation and despair.

Hi! Welcome back, guys and Happy New Year! In this episode, I talk about my experience with Mexican flirting rituals that I’ve experienced… before I met my boyfriend ;-D. This is episode is actually entitled, ‘Mexican Men, part 1: So do you have a Mexican boyfriend?’ But that’s a rather long title, wouldn’t you say? Even so, in this vlog, I’m just mainly recounting some stories about some things that my friend and I have experienced in Mexico, so this pretty much specifically relates to me. However, if you’ve been in this situation in Mexico, then you may recognise some of the phrases.

More general information about Mexican flirting/dating rituals will be given at a later date, in Mexican Men, part 2. Enjoy, folks! 😉

 

Hi – welcome back to my blog! I’ve posted a vlog about some pre-Hispanic Mexican traditions that I came across during my travels, which were pretty interesting to see. Enjoy! 🙂

“We are Americans, too” is a phrase that I have heard many Mexicans defiantly say; and they are absolutely right.

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Before I came to Mexico I always thought that the term “I’m an American” was synonymous with somebody who is a citizen of the United States of America. And that is true to an extent as well. It is a term that was adopted by Europeans who had settled in what is now called the U.S.A. to differentiate themselves from Europe. And this concept has successfully been reproduced and reinforced around the world through various forms of popular culture.

However, what I totally disregarded until I came here was that as well as being a country, America is also a continent, regardless of how it is divided up into and labelled as (and how this is done would depend on the ideas that you have been socialised into). So whether a country is located in North America, South America or Central America (which is not considered a separate continent), people who live in countries that are on the American continent are Americans. Just as I am British, but I’m also European (although not many people in Britain would like to admit that), or somebody from Nigeria is African, or a Chinese person is also Asian (or East Asian).

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“The U.S. doesn’t even have a proper name,” an influential Mexican told my friends and I in a bar one afternoon. “It’s called the United States of America. It’s simply named after the continent; its name is not very imaginative.” I’d never thought about it like that before until he said that. To be fair though, although the word ‘Mexico’ can be traced back to the Aztecs, Mexico’s official name, United Mexican States, was inspired by the American independence movement and the fact that the country’s territory was also made up of a union of states. But I digress.

As I’ve already mentioned, depending on where you live in the world, you may be taught about the various continents around the world differently. For example, in the UK we are taught that there are seven continents in the world: Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia and Antarctica. Whereas I found out from my discussions with some Mexicans that they are taught that there are six continents in the world; America is not split into two, and the other continent is Oceania, not Australia. Or a few Mexicans would proudly proclaim that they are North Americans. And I admit, I wrongly associated Mexico with Central America instead of North America because its culture was ‘different’. And I’m not the only one to think like that. Speaking to other Europeans they had the same idea as me or a couple even thought that Mexico was part of South America. Even the United Nations geoscheme apparently officially classifies Mexico as Central America, and some geographers include some Mexican states as being part of Central America.

This whole debate surrounding one’s identity is merely political. As well as categorising and distinguishing one group from another, it serves to divide. Terms such as ‘Americans’ (white/European decent), Latin Americans, Afro-Americans, etc., just create a sense of ‘otherness’; it separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. I’ve seen heated debates online of U.S. citizens fiercely defending their right to be called Americans, while I have also seen aggressive arguments from the other side as well.

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Nevertheless, while I’ve been in Mexico, I’ve quickly learnt to adapt to this ‘new way of thinking’ for myself.

“I’ve never been to America before,” I once said.

“But you’re in America now,” replied a friend. Doh!

So now I correct myself and I try my best to refer to the U.S. if I’m talking about USA territory. However, saying U.S. citizen all the time is rather long-winded. I’ve seen some alternatives offered online, such as Usonian or United-Statesian, but they seem very odd. And just as you call people from United Mexican States (Mexico), Mexicans, I think it makes sense to call people from the U.S. Americans as it’s a shorter form of its official name. As already stated, it’s a country and a continent, so problems arise when the term is used as a tool for exclusion.

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Home

‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello! I have yet another vlog for you. This time, it’s about the first time I felt at home in Mexico, and it includes a short video from Viva Mexico. Just click on my picture to watch it. Enjoy! 🙂

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Re-introduction

“Ok, so guess which one is the lie,” I excitedly told all of my soon-to-be new kids after I quickly introduced myself.

“My first fact is that I have danced in front of millions. My second fact is that I am in a Hollywood movie, which you will be able to see in cinemas in two years’ time. My third fact is that I have three sisters,” I said, as I stood in front of the class, three different times, for three different grades.

“The first one!” said one girl.

“No!! The second one!” said another.

Others chimed in, and it was amusing to hear their reasons for why they thought their selected ‘fact’ was a lie.

“She can’t be in a movie – come on!” shouted a boy.

“But she has not danced in front of so many people!”

Once I told them that the lie was in fact the third one, that I had three sisters, their mouths dropped and their eyes popped out of their heads.

“You Teacher Miss Monique???!!! What film are you in? Where have you danced in front of millions?” and their questions abounded along those lines. In particular, there was one kid from that day onwards, who persistently asked to see photos and videos of my performances during every. Single. Lesson.

This was the second time that I had to introduce myself to some school children within the space of about two weeks. But this was the first time that I said this to anyone at the school, mainly because my younger kids wouldn’t have really been able to understand the activity.

As mentioned in a previous post, I agreed to teach the 4th, 5th and 6th Grades because a teacher had gone AWOL. And although I was excited about the opportunity to teach older, and hopefully better behaved, kids, I was genuinely sad about abandoning ‘my babies’. I even took photos of their nametags and everything just before I left, like a reminiscent parent who was about to release their ‘child’ into the big, wide world. Or like a sad lonely person; whichever simile you prefer.

I had about an hour to introduce myself and to get to know the kids. I was free to just play games with them, so that’s what I did, and they loved it! I warned them that my classes wouldn’t always be like that. In fact, they would hardly ever be like that. They said that they understood, but I’m not sure if they took heed.

From the time that I introduced myself, I could tell that I would have a lot more fun with the older grades, mainly because I would be able to do more activities with them. And I also thought this, because they seemed “less wild” than the younger kids.

I did have fun with the younger kids though, and as I have already said in an earlier post, I bonded with them in such a short space of time. But because I only taught them for a short time, I thought they would’ve pretty much forgotten about me. But to my surprise, for a good long while at least, most of them, in particular the more ‘challenging’ kids in the class, would run up to me, to greet me with the biggest smile they could put on their face, or with a hug, or with the words, “I love you, Miss Monique”. And although that doesn’t happen so much now, every now and again, a couple of them still run up to hug me, just because.

The notion of non-English school kids being disciplined and well-behaved is a myth; whoever came up with that idea is a liar and should be punished! In fact, it probably came from some schoolteacher in a desperate bid to try and install some discipline in the classroom.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the picture-perfect image of smiling kids, who eagerly cling on to a teacher’s every word, quickly dissipated. To be fair, my 1st, 2nd and 3rd Graders weren’t children from hell, but they definitely were challenging, particularly the 3rd Graders.

I learnt so much while teaching them during that first full week. I learnt how to think quickly on my feet. For example, if an activity wasn’t working, then I had to change it up a bit on the spot. And who knew that the ABC song would have a pied-piper effect on the 1st Graders? Whenever they heard the song, no matter what activity they were doing at that point in time, or how noisy they were, they would stop immediately without fail, and chime in at the top of their lungs, as if the song triggered some kind of hypnosis.

I’ve already explained in a previous blog post that I don’t have the best memory when it comes to names. During the previous week, I got them to write their names on the board, write their name cards for their cubby holes, and then I wrote their names on a piece of paper. I learnt the names of, shall we say, some of the more disruptive kids in the class first, because of the amount of times I had to say their names. But by the end of the week, I had learnt the names of all 37 of my students, which really was an amazing feat for me as it usually takes me an age to learn just one name. So to learn people’s names in the future, I now know that I not only have to see it written down, I also need to repeat it several times for it to be etched into my brain.

      

I learnt that I’m not actually as bad at drawing as I thought I was. I was pretty much forced to be more creative with my hands, as most of the learning aids that accompanied the course books had apparently been destroyed by a hurricane around five years ago.

   

                                        

I learnt that despite my preconceived idea that younger kids are ‘harder to handle’, the youngest grades weren’t actually that badly behaved; it was the older kids who posed the biggest problem.

I learnt that I apparently only really became a teacher when I was inundated with so much work that I had to stay behind after-hours just to try and catch up with everything. One late afternoon as I was stuck behind my desk, I heard a cackle outside.

“You’re a real teacher now,” Yudith, the 2nd Grade teacher, playfully said with a cheeky grin on her face as she made her way home, because I was still working.

Yudith is quite a character; she makes me laugh and I know that her comment wasn’t malicious. She was one of the first “Spanish teachers” to start talking to me, and she let me borrow her paint so that I could decorate the windows in my classroom, but anyway, I digress.

I learnt about how loving, thoughtful and generous kids could be. I received love from them in the form of a gift, such as a sweet, a flower or even ‘just’ a hug. Teenagers tend to be ‘too cool’ to show this kind of affection and appreciation, but I discovered how unashamed ‘my kids’ were to express these feelings. I learnt about their capacity to ‘forgive’. I would tell someone off for doing something and they would huff and puff about getting into trouble, but the very next day they would act as if nothing happened and that everything in their world was bright and rosy, until they got into trouble again.

And finally, I discovered that I could bond with the kids so much so, that I felt as though I was their parent. I genuinely felt proud and happy for the children once I could see that ‘aha moment’ in their eyes and their expressions – the moment that they understood what I was teaching them. I had to stop arguments and then get them to ‘make up’ or at least tolerate each other. I saw them at their most vulnerable points, such as when I consoled them as they cried; I had to do all sorts. And even though at times they got on my last nerve, they were my kids. And I didn’t fully realise that I had this feeling until I had to think really hard about leaving them, when I was offered to teach the older grades, as an opening suddenly arose…

‘Ello, ‘ello!

I thought I should start doing some Vlogging while I’m out in Mexico as well, so here’s the first of what I hope to be quite a few.

Enjoy!

Monique 🙂

 

My epic journey

Phew! So after a very hectic and action-packed few weeks, I finally have enough time to pen my thoughts and to let you know that I’ve arrived safely in Mexico – huzzah!!

For those of you who know the story, I stupidly thought it would be a brilliant idea to finish work, including having work leaving drinks, on Friday 26th September and to fly to Mexico the very next day. Considering all the things that were going on in the background with my visa etc., I thought it would be best not to delay since I should have been in Mexico about a month beforehand.

Even though I packed my suitcases a week early (that was a huge feat for me, so I’m patting myself on the back right now) I didn’t quite factor in how much of my life I would be able to pack into two suitcases weighing no more than 23kg each. As you can probably guess, I didn’t quite manage to do that despite my best efforts even up until the airport car park, and I had to pay an extra £60-odd British whole pounds for the pleasure of having 7kg worth of overweight bags.

After saying my goodbyes to my family and friends, I jetted off on my 20-odd hour journey to Mexico. At around £800 (not including paying for extra luggage and for my overweight bags), I chose to fly with AeroMéxico – the cheapest flight I could get. Since I was expecting it to be the Ryanair of international flights, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I had my own TV, which compared to Air Europa when I went to Cuba, was a luxury! … That was pretty much it, to be fair; I had a window seat, which was ‘ideally’ situated right above the wing, and a TV, so I was fairly content.

Besides having to pay extra for my bags at the check-in desk, in cash, everything went by fairly smoothly. Well, somehow I spent a lot of time in the shops looking for headphones as my sister conveniently took mine, but then I had to run for the plane and I managed to lose my travel pillow along the way. Oh, and at the security check point at both airports, they wanted me to fit all of my nail varnishes into a ’little’ transparent, resealable plastic bag, as the litre bag that I provided was apparently too big. I was expecting everything to be more problematic to be honest, because I worry, a lot. Do not tell me facts that will potentially scare me into thinking about the worst possible outcome, because I will take on board everything that you say and then multiply that by a thousand. Such as the morning my manager told me a couple of weeks before I was due to fly that there was a hurricane in Mexico. After a quick Google search, I found out that the hurricane passed by my region and that it was preceded by earthquakes – plural!! Although I must say that ‘my town’, Guaymas, was not really affected by it. On that same day, I read about how some Americans were scared about ISIS terrorists entering the USA through Mexico, and I was particularly worried because my request for a halal meal on the plane was rejected and my mind raced through all kinds of terrible scenarios. But my fears proved to be just that – a product of thoughts I had created.

I arrived safely in D.F. (Mexico City) at stupid o’clock in the morning on a Sunday. I walked around and found somewhere where I could nap for four hours until my next flight. The odd thing about that experience was that even though I had a connecting flight, I had to take my luggage from the conveyor belt, go through customs, then go to a connecting flights conveyor belt to drop off my suitcases. Very strange. It was at this airport where I encountered my first language barrier, when I had to ask where my terminal was.

My journey continued on a flight to Hermosillo, where I quickly found out that AeroMéxico domestic flights were more like the vision of a budget airline flight that I had in my head. But the good thing was that the flight was not full, so I didn’t have to sit next to anyone, and it only lasted a few hours.

I arrived at a small airport at around 7:30am, then I had to take a taxi to the coach station. This was straight forward enough, I guess. Apart from the fact that my ‘Latino’ friend said I should never get into a taxi with a stranger. Well, the driver was lugging my luggage into a van full of strangers. I panicked and was slightly unnerved. But then I realised that everyone else was going to the same bus station, so it was fine.

Once there, I had to get the coach to Guaymas. I had been practicing my line for this in Spanish during the flight to Hermosillo; I was ready. The lady at the ticket office seemed to understand me, up until I got to the name of my destination, “Guy-yam-as”!

“¿Qué,? she asked, with baffled look on her face.

“Guy-yam-as,” I replied even louder, making sure to pronounce every syllable.

“¿Quéééééé?”

I showed her the spelling of the place on a sheet of paper that I had.

“Ohhhh… Gwhy-mas,” she said. I had been pronouncing it the wrong way for months, and even now, I’m not sure if I’m actually saying it properly.

Anyway, a worker who spoke English came to the rescue and sorted out everything for me, and I was comfortably sat behind the driver in seat number one.

As we drove through Guaymas at around 10am, my first impression was that it didn’t seem like much at all; it just seemed quite run-down and bland.

As soon as I sat down at the bus station, a hustler came over to me and tried to sell me something. “Ah, Monica…” he would always exclaim and he kept hovering around me.

I was instructed to call someone called Elsa, whom I later found out was the coordinator for the primary school and the director’s wife.

“I’ll be wearing jeans and a blue top,” she said on the phone.

A lady walked into the station with that description, and I was about to get up and greet her, until I realised that she wasn’t actually looking for anyone, so I sat back down, deflated.

Elsa finally arrived to pick me up and drop me off to my new home, arriving with her signature smile that I have come to know. She really is the embodiment of happiness, but I can also imagine that if you cross her, she would destroy you.

We arrived in a matter of minutes, but we had to recruit some guy to carry my heavy luggage up some stairs to my apartment above some shops.

I walked in and it was really dark and dusty. To my left was a room with bunk beds in it. Then as you walk through, the kitchen is located on your left. If you take a couple more steps, then the bathroom is on the left. Taking a few more steps forward, I saw another bedroom, this time with a double bed, and I immediately claimed it for myself even though I had no one else to compete with. In hindsight that room was a good choice, because the flat is located on the main road and the traffic is quite loud and can even be heard from my room at the back.

Once I dropped off my bags, Elsa took me out to eat and she offered me some options. I’m ashamed to say it, but I wanted something that was familiar to me, especially as I was super hungry after my epic journey, so I opted for Burger King. It was so strange to see that the price for the food started from about $70, but it’s about $20 to £1, so it’s not as bad as it seems. What’s even more confusing is that the sign for Mexican pesos and the sign for American dollars is exactly the same, and some shops, particularly in touristy areas, show their prices in dollars rather than pesos. Confused.com

So, once I received the food, we sat down in a booth and talked business. We discussed what was expected of me in the role, blah, blah, blah and then my ears pricked up with the words “start tomorrow”.

‘What!!!!?????’

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I performed at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony in front of millions. Since then, I’ve made a video of my section’s routine in the actual performance, as you wouldn’t have seen the intricate movements on the screen that we’d spent months preparing for. I’ve also given you a blow-by-blow account of our secret rehearsals that we weren’t allowed to talk about at the time.

I don’t really have a ‘one year on’ story. Instead, my story takes place around five months after the momentous event, because… I was too ashamed to write it at the time. Ok, I actually just couldn’t be bothered to write about it, until now.

So my story goes simply like this:

I was still buzzing from my 17-minute performance months after the event. I was itching to carry on dancing somehow and my love for contemporary dance was rekindled by Akram Kahn’s haunting piece that was performed after the ‘Thanks Tim’ section when Emeli Sandé sang. So from then, I wanted to be a contemporary dancer.

After testing the water at the infamous Pineapple Studios in August, where I tried a taster burlesque class (I know, it’s not quite contemporary but that was the only class that had spaces left, unsurprisingly), I thought that I could ‘fit in’ with the dance crowd there.

I read the description of their contemporary classes and it sounded right up my street. The only ‘problem’ was that I couldn’t make any of the beginners’ classes, I could only attend the intermediate classes.

‘Puh’, I thought, ‘I can handle that class, I’m an Olympic dancer now, don’t you know AND I danced at Sadlers Wells as part of a Rambert Dance Company project. I can handle it.’

Ha – in my dreams! Those words came back to haunt me, big time – with a little reverb and everything.

Anyway, so on one dark, miserable December’s day I decided to go to the class. The weather didn’t have an effect on me – I was super excited, I was hyped up, I was glowing.

While we were waiting for another class to finish, I stood outside the room and watched a hip hop/ jazz funk class. The routine was quick and sharp, and all of the dancers were goooood! I started to become a little nervous. I would never have been able to pick up those moves so quickly, but it didn’t matter, because I would be in my comfort zone in the class I signed up to.

When we finally walked in and put our bags against the wall, it was time for our warm up.

Everything was going well, for about two minutes. Then the teacher did some abnormal stretches. Everyone pretty much struggled, to be fair, except I struggled visibly more than everybody else. Luckily I was at the back, although there were mirrors, I was partially hidden by limbs. We were told we should practice that exercise everyday. I told myself that things would get better in the class – it was only for 1 hour and 30 minutes, how much could we possibly do in that space of time?

Oh boy, how wrong was I? The routine became harder and more complicated with each passing minute, and I was having less and less time to pick it up. Every time I finally managed to learn a move, I forgot it again in an instant in an effort to retain something new – moving backwards and forwards, tumbling, rolling on the floor, a back bend here, a twirl there. The dancers picked it up flawlessly, but I just could. Not. Keep. Up!

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‘Never mind,’ I thought, ‘at least I’m in the comfort of a group where no one is really paying attention to me.’

My heart suddenly sank into my stomach when I heard the teacher speak. To my absolute horror she announced that we would be ‘travelling’ across the room from one side to the next while we do the routine. In pairs. There was no hiding. I broke out into a sweat.

As each dancer elegantly graced the floor with their fluid moves to the other side of the room, I felt my heart beat faster and harder in my chest. I thought I was going to explode.

Then it was my turn *gulp*. I tried my very best to remember the routine. I must have looked as awkward as a dancing giraffe. I had a smile etched onto my face. And I laughed – a lot. But in my head I screamed: ‘Oh my dayyysssss. Oh my gosh. Help!!!! Oh no – that wasn’t right! Verdammt es! Lord, Jesus!’

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Did I mention that there was a window where people could watch the entire class and everyone in it? Well, now you know. I was flapping around like an idiot for all to see. Perfect. ‘Hide me,’ I screamed in my head, ‘hide meeeeeee!!!’

To be fair, I marginally improved each time I repeated a move. But then this achievement was wiped out whenever I had to learn something else very quickly.

Towards the end of the class we had to put it all together. ‘Whaaaaaatttttt?!!!!’ I did the best I could but I have to be honest – my attempt was pathetic. I had to laugh at myself, and I did, in abundance. It was bad enough that the dancers didn’t laugh at me, because I knew they were smug about it deep inside. What’s worse were the looks of pity they gave me – PITY! As if I was a sick animal in pain and was about to be put down.

When the class finished, the teacher said: “Those who struggled today should think about going to the beginners’ class.” (i.e. ME – ouch!)

On my way out after bolting out of the class I saw some girls and the receptionist speaking excitedly and laughing about something. But as soon as they saw me, they stopped their conversation abruptly and stared at me in silence until I walked out of the studio doors. I’ll give you a penny for figuring out who they were talking about. It very much felt like a walk of shame! Time actually stopped as I walked past – oh the agony!

Well, it’s been one year on since I was re-inspired to do contemporary dance. This isn’t really a ‘look-at-me-and-see-how-much-I’ve-improved’ kind of story. I obviously haven’t been back to Pineapple Studios since. Well, at least, not yet.

I checked the Pineapple Studios website again and it’s the same situation as it was last time. Except this time, I can only make the intermediate or the advance classes – puh, yeah right! Maybe I’ll wait a little while longer.

Note to self: Take heed lest I fall – ain’t that the truth!