Tag Archive: Sonora


My first Mexican carnival

I remember being told about how big ‘Guaymas Carnaval’ is. I was told about how many thousands of people attend over the four-day period, about the party atmosphere that ensues and about the concerts that take place at night. I was also very much looking forward to having some time-off from school. I. Was. Ready!

So my band of friends and I made our way down to downtown Guaymas, and this is just a glimpse of what we saw.

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It was cool to see the parade and to watch the different colourful floats pass by. We even caught a glimpse of a Cuban celebrity, although I still have no idea who she is.

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I think because everyone was hyping up the carnival so much, that it wasn’t as impressive as I had imagined it to be. I was expecting something on par with Nottinghill Carnival in London, or maybe even something as grandiose as Rio’s famous carnival. But it would be unfair to compare these carnivals, because they are so different and arise from different cultures and traditions. The Guaymas Carnival is distinctively Mexican; it boasts about its strong Sonoran traditions and its roots as a port town.

The Guaymas carnival is apparently one of the oldest and biggest in Mexico. It begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and ends at the beginning of Lent.

European immigrants and visitors passed through Guaymas’ port, and with them came the idea to organise a carnival similar to the festivals held in Europe. The first carnival in Guaymas took place in 1888 and was exclusively restricted to the upper classes. The lower classes could only watch the parades, while the main event took place at balls inside mansions.

This changed once the Mexican Revolution took place, and then over time it gradually turned into an event that could be enjoyed by the masses. The carnival is seen as an important cultural event, and in order to preserve this tradition kids have time off from school so that they can participate in, and enjoy, the carnival.

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Overall I had a great time. I danced, a lot, I ate, and I was merry. I met someone who has become a great friend and did I already mention that there was no school? So I really enjoyed my first Mexican carnival. Who knew that I’d actually be participating in the carnival the following year…

Protest

In my former flat, I used to live right on the main road. The increase of the noise outside alerted to me to events that were happening on the street. I would run outside with my camera, in the hope of trying to capture something, and I’d be pleasantly surprised to see various kinds of musical parades, if I got to the balcony fast enough.

On 5th November I saw my first protest in Mexico. I saw people with banners and pictures of faces, and I knew immediately what the march was about.

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On 26th September 2014 43 students from a teacher training college in the Mexican town of Ayotzinapa went missing. Their plan was to travel to the town of Iguala, 125 miles from Mexico City, to protest against alleged discriminatory and funding practices from the government.

According to reports, police intercepted the students allegedly on the orders of the local mayor, Jose Lusi Abarca, as he wanted to prevent the students from interrupting a speech that his wife was giving on that day.

A clash ensued and the police opened fire on the students just outside Iguala, killing three students and three people in other vehicles, with many more injured.

Police officers seized students who were trying to run away during the shootout. They were detained at a police station and were allegedly handed over to Guerreros Unidos, a local drug gang. According to Mexico’s Attorney General, gang members have confessed to taking the students to a landfill site, killing them, and then burning their bodies, in the belief that they belonged to a rival gang.

The remains that were found at the site have been sent to a lab in Austria for analysis. Only one of the 43 students has been identified from the badly burnt remains. The families of the remaining 42 students refuse to believe that their loved ones are dead until they have proof. However, earlier this year, Mexican investigators stated that all of the students were dead based on confessions and forensic evidence around the landfill site, since the lab is unable to identify any more remains.

Understandably, many in Mexico are angry about the connection between the police, the drug gangs and local authorities, and this anger sparked nationwide protests. Many are also angry about how the case has been handled and how slowly it has progressed.

Since the incident, many people have been arrested, including gang members, police officers and the mayor and his wife.

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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When you hear the word desert, what image comes to your mind? If you’ve not really been exposed to a desert in ‘real life’, then maybe one of these images below spring to mind…

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Well, these were the images that I had in my head, when I heard that I’d be riding a horse through the Sonoran Desert, and more specifically through Nacapule Canyon. I knew that I’d be living in a desert, but because I didn’t initially see much of it around me, I just forgot about that fact. That was until I arrived at the stables; I was really surprised to find myself in one of the greenest deserts I have ever laid eyes on. Ok, it was the only desert that I have personally seen, but that’s beside the point. I was surrounded by a lot of vegetation, and it quickly became apparent that this was the source of my allergies, or at least one source because I am so frail (apparently, I will never be able to survive the zombie apocalypse). Some ‘city dudes’ from nearby Hermosillo mocked me for making the assertion that the pollen was affecting me.

“How can you be sneezing because of the pollen? We are in the middle of a desert,” they playfully scoffed. But in the end, I was right, so they can put that in their pipes and smoke it!

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With even the least amount of rainfall, the desert just soaks up the water like a sponge, allowing plants to thrive. Even though the Sonoran Desert is apparently the hottest desert in North America, it is home to approximately 2,000 species of plants, such as legume trees and columnar cacti, as well as many species of mammals, reptiles, birds, bees and fish. The desert covers around 100,000 square miles and spans across parts of the U.S. and Mexico.

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A small section of the desert, Nacapule Canyon in San Carlos, is no exception to this rule of a diverse ecology and it too has its fair share of wildlife and plants… and caravans, much like Breaking Bad, but perhaps with more meth labs working collaboratively or in peaceful coexistence.

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And did I mention snakes and tarantulas? I saw a couple of tarantulas crawling along and it sent shivers down my spine, as if I wasn’t already apprehensive about riding a horse in the first place. Let’s just say that the last time I rode a horse was… eventful, and I was left with a souvenir of my experience in the form of ringworm. But the owner of the horses, who has now become a friend, looks after her horses really well and the horses are well behaved.

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Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread and fear. I mean there were flipping tarantulas and snakes – I mean, real ones! I heard that horses can get freaked out by them. What if it did, and I fell off and then they decided to crawl all over me?! I would die from fear alone!!

Well on my first ride on my second weekend in Mexico, my horse didn’t get spooked. Instead while I was trying to take photos, my lens cap dropped on the floor. I have to admit I started to panic, but Natalie, the owner, came to my rescue, and then everything turned out ok. Apart from the point towards the end when my horse decided that it really wanted to gallop, because it was bored. I could feel its muscles contract; that it was preparing itself to go faster. It was then that I truly understood the meaning of horsepower, and I was petrified! But nothing really happened in the end, this time. I’ll talk about my time horse riding on the beach at a later date.

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All in all, horse riding through the canyons was an awesome experience, and I liked it so much that I did it again at a later date.

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If you’re in the San Carlos area and you fancy riding a horse, then you can contact my friend, Natalie.

Rancho Nacapule Trail Rides.

Email: natenglish77@aol.com

+52 1 622 101 2208

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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…

My first weekend!

My first weekend in Mexico was pretty eventful. I met up with the school’s other English teachers, Martin and Sara, who were already there and we decided to go out. Someone who works at the school, Gloria, very kindly and warmly invited us to her house so that we could all go together to a beachside restaurant/club called La Salsa in San Carlos, Guaymas.

La Salsa, which is about a 20-30 minute drive from central Guaymas, is a very popular place to go out at the moment in the area; one Mexican described it to me as a “boom place”. I later discovered that there aren’t actually that many places to go out where I am, and that Friday nights are pretty low-key with the locals, but I don’t really like going out on Friday’s, so that actually suits me just fine.

“This place didn’t exist about 10 years ago or so,” muses Gloria’s husband, Adan. He told us that there was nothing on the beach front where La Salsa now stands, and that he went to that beach most weekends with a friend and there was hardly anyone on there. They started to invite people to come with them and have parties there, then those people invited other people, and then it just kind of snowballed from there.

What I quickly discovered once I arrived in Guaymas is how little information there is on the internet about events and activities that take place there. For example, I had been searching high and low online for a capoeira club in Guaymas, among other things, and had been coming up with absolutely nothing. All that kind of information is usually spread by word of mouth through your connections.

“What sports do you guys like to do?”Adan asked the three of us. For each activity, his response was, “ Well, I have a friend who…” and then bingo, the connection was made, for most of us.

The night out in La Salsa was so much fun and was a great way to celebrate my move to the country; Mexicans definitely know how to have a good time! And instead of having a kebab, or something similar, as post-club food, Gloria and Adan took us back to their house and gave us some homemade tacos, which were bloomin’ awesome!

       

The next day, we spent the day at the beach, which was bliss, despite the fact that there were quite a few rocks and shells on the beach. This was because a couple of weeks before, the area was affected by a hurricane. This was the same hurricane the my manager alerted me about before I came, which sent me into panic-mode before I arrived, but it had obviously impacted San Carlos more than it had central Guaymas.

      

      

On Sunday, we went snorkelling. I was nervous about going snorkeling anyway. What made it a thousand times worse was the fact that I read that there was a hurricane in the area. Being out on the open sea with the storm was definitely the last place I wanted to be.

We arrived at the boat rental shop, and the owner said that they would have to turn the boat around while we were out there if the storm got any closer to our location. I was petrified of the storm, I was terrified about swimming, I was anxious about snorkeling for the first time; it was just all too much for little old me and I began to have heart palpitations! However, upon hearing about the nearby storm, Sara squealed and said: “Cooool, a hurricane!!!!” Gulp!

“Does everyone know you can’t swim yet?” a friend so helpfully asked via WhatsApp. I can actually swim, I’m just not a strong swimmer, but I assured him that I had told them that and I thanked him for his encouragement.

I was panicking and I unintentionally made my friend worry by mentioning the storm through a WhatsApp message and then leaving my phone in my bag, without relaying a message back that everything was actually ok.

As it turned out, as with most of my fears, the storm didn’t come anywhere near us, thank God!! So that was one less thing to worry about. However, I was still apprehensive about swimming.

We arrived at our location and Sara and Martin effortless jumped into the water and began to happily swim around the cove. Even though I had a life jacket on, I was too paralysed by fear to jump into the water. In my head, there were too many things to remember: spit on the googles then wash them in the sea so that they didn’t fog up, jump into the water a certain way so that the flippers don’t come off, jump in without putting the mouth guzzle into my mouth and then position it into my mouth once I had surfaced – it was just all too much!! So I just stood on the edge of the boat for what must have been an eternity. The two crew members tried to count me in so many times that they just gave up in the end, laughed so hard at me and went about their boat duties. To be honest I really don’t blame them, I must have been a pathetic sight. I’m pretty sure I saw one of them get out his camera phone to take a picture of me, but he denied it when I asked him to send me the photo.

I eventually plucked up the courage to jump in. Ok, so I actually slid into the water from a seated position at the edge of the boat, but that was a proud moment for me, even if it didn’t look so graceful. I initially panicked with the whole breathing-through-the-snorkel malarkey, but once I calmed down I actually genuinely loved it, even though the picture of us in the water below, which was taken at the end, tells a different story. The water was so clear and I could see a variety of fish. The boat crew even had to call me a few times to swim back to the boat as I didn’t really want to leave. It was such a great experience and it was definitely something that I wanted to do again!

From that day, we made a pact to do something active every weekend… It hasn’t quite turned out the way that we hoped, though. Us English teachers aren’t quite paid enough to have that kind of luxurious lifestyle; but we initially gave it our best shot!

         

Let’s talk about Alba…

Hey guys!

So here’s my latest Vlog on my experience in Mexico. This episode is about my landlady, “la jefa/the boss”.

Enjoy! 🙂

First steps

My first day of school got off to a brilliant start on Monday morning. Either I was too jetlagged to hear my phone alarm, or it didn’t go off at all; maybe it was more the former rather than the latter. Either way, I woke up the time I was supposed to be there, so I was in panic mode.

I got washed and ready in record-breaking time and power walked all the way to the school. Well, almost all the way as I quickly discovered that it definitely was not power walking weather; I was sweating bucket loads!

Once at the school with my sweaty self, I was given some time to acquaint myself with my classroom. Now remember this; it was completely bare. No materials, no books, nada.

    

    

This was definitely in stark contrast to the neighbouring classrooms with their appealing, colourful and thoughtful displays and lay outs. I was given a while to read through a load of rules and regulations.

‘I really have a lot of work to do,’ I thought to myself.

Then entered Elsa with her beaming smile. She answered the many questions that I had.

“Right,” she said, “are you ready to start with your kids tomorrow?”

‘What?’ I screamed in my head. I did not feel comfortable teaching at all, not in the slightest and my classroom hardly encouraged the kids to want to learn English. That question was starting to become a regular occurrence. And I’d later find out that I would ask that question on at least a weekly basis.

In the end, I was given an extra day to decorate my classroom and to familiarize myself with the children’s syllabus. I can just about draw a stick man, much less make a variety of art displays for a classroom, so that was a huge challenge for me, but I was quite proud of my efforts in the end. Even though I was given an extra day, I still didn’t feel ready. Nevertheless, the next day was show time, regardless.

The first day with my first, second and third grade kids was quite nerve-racking, but it was a lot of fun. I was introduced to them in Spanish, I guess to make sure that they behaved. I distinctly remember their beaming faces and how quiet they were as they listened intently to Elsa’s every word. And I definitely remember how quickly that stillness disappeared by the end of the week!

Anyway, so I had them for one period instead of the timetabled two, so that we could get to know each other through games and activities. They loved the games – score! And they were angels, well in the first lesson anyway, but that declined a bit (ok, quite a bit) during the second week.

But anyway, as I was told not to follow any curriculum for the rest of my first week, it was a little difficult to just think of games and activities to keep them occupied for the time that I had them. It definitely is a lot harder than it seems, believe me, but I managed it in the end.

It was over the following week where I had to be a lot more creative with my activities and displays, because of a distinct lack of resources…

‘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 🙂