Monday, August 6, 2012

Standing out, fitting in

We end each day exhausted here, whether we've worked hard or not. It's a strange and somewhat disconcerting feeling to come home from work in the early evening, as we have countless times this year, collapse on the couch, and believe that we could easily nod off until the next morning.

It's only recently that I've begun to realize that our chronic lethargy is due in large part to the intense, near-constant energy we put to the task of simply fitting in - of minimizing, in whatever way possible, in every moment we spend in the presence of others, the extent to which we stick out like sore thumbs, attract curious stares, prompt giggling, cause confusion, provoke frustration, or rouse pity. In public, we keep our profiles as low as possible, trying our best to dress as the locals do and prevent our nasal English from reaching beyond each others' ears. Our heavily accented Spanish is laced, as best as we can muster, with elaborate politeness, in the attempt to convey just how grateful we are for the listener's patience. With our local friends and acquaintances, the pressure is a little lighter, but not by much. Though it's now more or less habit to announce our entrance into a room with a hearty "¡Buenos días!" or "¡Buen provecho!", it's still a bit of a mystery, for me at least, where to put my hands as I'm circling a room and kissing each woman on the cheek, and I can't say how many times I've almost gone in to kiss a man on the cheek when I'm in a rhythm. I know it would make a great story for someone someday, which makes it almost worth it, but it would also make me the paragon of foreignness (and, inevitably, the butt of jokes till kingdom come), which is exactly what I'm trying to avoid. All by way of saying, of course, that cultural norms are complicated, and attempting to follow them is energy-sapping.

But in these last few months, it's finally felt as though all that energy has started to pay off. We're much more confident to share a story, no matter how halting, while at the breakfast table with staff. If the restaurant where we do karaoke nearly every week had a punch card for free sopa azteca or conventos after buying 10 or 20, we certainly would have earned several by now. Every time we go there, we meet our boss Naty's wonderful family: her two kids, two grandkids, her brother and sister-in-law, often her parents as well - four generations at the same table. Sure, we'll miss the food, the language, the culture, and our lifestyle in general when we leave in a month, but it's the people we'll miss the most, people we've worked very hard to fit in with - and largely succeeded - despite all of the barriers.

Like so many US middle class individualists, we've spent so much of our formative years trying to distinguish ourselves in a variety of ways - how we dress, the sports we play, the musical instruments we learn, the grades we strive for, the music we listen to, our sense of humor. Though beards are certainly not at all uncommon among men my age, I know that mine, on some subconscious level, is an assertion of my identity, another way to stand out.

In a few short weeks, we'll be heading back to the US, where the norm is the attempt to stand out, not to fit in. Maybe one of the things we love most about living here (and one of the reasons that we're bound and determined to move back) is the enormous challenge of integrating into a new culture and the rewards that come with it. That challenge won't be there when we get back to the States - it will be easy to communicate with everyone, and we'll know what to do (more or less) in every situation. We'll have all the comfort foods we grew up with, beautiful autumn weather, and the same families we've always loved and adored. But we won't have sopa azteca, awkward moments interacting with street vendors, or weekly karaoke marathons. Knowing that our wonderful family and friends will continue putting up with our urge to stay abroad, we'll be coming back for more in January. And, if all goes well, we'll have many more nights of disconcerting exhaustion, but we'll sleep well knowing that our challenge here is worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

He was the joke of the country. He went to the Guadalajara International Book Fair, Latin America's largest literary event, to campaign for his Presidency. When asked to name an important book in his life, it took him several extremely awkward seconds to realize that he, in fact, could not think of a single book. So his reponse was, "Uhhhh . . . well . ..  uhhhh . . . passages . . . passages of the Bible?" When asked to share one his favorite passages of the Bible, his response was, "Some passages of it."

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

"The truth is, when I read a book, I often don't fully register the title." 

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

His daughter responded to this debacle by sending out an angry Tweet calling those who criticized her father as being envious, proletariat wimps. 

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

When asked what the minimum wage is in Mexico, he confidently responded that it was 900 pesos per day. It is actually 60 pesos per day. When asked how much a kilo of tortillas costs, he said, "I am not the housewife."

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

He fathered two children from two different women all while being married to another woman. This woman died suddenly and mysteriously. Now he is married to a soap opera star. 

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

He became the face of a billboard campaign promoting adultery. The billboard looks like this: 
 (Unfaithful to his family. Faithful and committed to his country.)
¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

A story was released by the Guardian in May outing the Presidential Candidate and his ties with the media super-giant, Televisa. Turns out, the polls that had him 20 points ahead for the entire year leading up to the elections were all fabricated, and that they had promised to give him only favorable coverage. Televisa is the largest media corporation in Latin America, and controls two-thirds of the programming on Mexican television. 

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

When he was governor of the state of Mexico, he ordered one of the most horrific and repressive policies that the country has ever witnessed. 3 people were killed. 206 people were tortured. 26 women were raped. 10 human rights were violated: arbitrary detention, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, burglary, false imprisonment, lack of communication, torture, sexual abuse and rape, right to life, rights of minors, and rights to legality and legal certainty.

He specifically ordered the rape of women as a tactic to break down the will of the people. In May of this year, when he was asked if he felt regret about this decision, his response was "I decided to use the police to maintain order and peace ... the incidents were enacted ... the action was legitimate right to use the police to restore peace and order."

And all because the government wanted the people's land to build an airport.

¡Ay, que Peña Nieto!

Despite all of this, and the countless other tremendously immature, sexist, racist, classist and idiotic things that he has said and done, he is the next President of Mexico. 

Why? Because he looks like this: 

And has this:

And is besties with these people:

. . . Ay, que Peña Nieto . . . 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Feria de San Antón

Last Friday, our sweet little Colonia San Antón transformed from a typical Mexican neighborhood with storefront bakeries, mechanic shops and fruit stands to a booming, bustling festival of carnival games, fried foods and double-layered trampolines. This week was the festival of San Antonio, the patron saint and namesake of our neighborhood. Each year in each neighborhood or small town in Mexico, celebrations take place to honor the Patron Saint of that neighborhood or town - but mostly it's an excuse to stay up late, walk in the street and eat as much elote as your body can handle.

Everyone who lives on the street has a love/hate relationship with the feria. For the most part, I love it. I love sitting in my apartment hearing children squeal with delight as they bounce up and down on a trampoline that is 15 feet in the air. The smell of elote and tacos floating in through the windows is something that has become so comforting and sweet and delicious. Greeting the umbrella seller and the chamoyada stand that have a temporary home two feet from my doorway make me feel like we've got a nice, little community here. And the best part is the hour long parade of the Morelos-born Chinelos, traditional dancers dressed up to make fun of the Spanish conquistadors, who walk and dance and jump and blast their trumpets twice a day for ten days in a row, never hinting that they are hot or tired or have done this 20 times before. 

The down-side to the festival is the fireworks (not the pretty kind, but the loud kind) that blast from our next-door lot at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, 5 am and then about 100 to 150 at 6 am. Also, throughout the day. Always when you least expect it. 

It's not my favorite. And as they continually go off tonight and as I smell the smoke and see the residue, I'm a little anxious for the end of this fest. But until then, here's a little snippet of the fair:

That's our house! (the green one)
Daily Chinelo Parade

Sunday, May 27, 2012

To the Moon!

This weekend we went on day-trip to climb pyramids near Mexico City. These pyramids were build centuries ago by the ancient Olmec civilization in Mexico. Fact: Usually the Olmecs are known for constructing images with huge heads, but we didn't see any huge heads on this trip. Unless you count Ryan's.

There are two enormous pyramids - bigger than some of the pyramids in Egypt! The pyramids of the Sun and Moon, as they are called, were completed in 200 A.D. and 250 A.D. respectively in the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan, the largest city in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, means "the place of the gods."

With some of the summer students on top of the Pyramid of the Moon! 

We went on this one-day excursion with the new summer students and their host-families. Over the past year, we've gotten to know and spend a lot of time with these families.
They're amazing, and we love each other.
Students, host-families and us - ready to climb some piramides!

Walking toward the Pyramid of the Moon

Celebrating our first climb

Ryan in front of the Pyramid of the Sun

On top of the Pyramid of the Sun, overlooking the Pyramid of the Moon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Weddings are the #1 Killers of Relationships

For some reason today, people are feeling the need to tell me how detrimental planning weddings can be on relationships. According to one advisor, it shares the number one spot with "buying a house." Since buying a house isn't going to happen for say, a decade or so, let's focus on its partner - "planning a wedding."

I'd like to think I've been a pretty easy bride thus far. Up until last weekend when Ryan and I jumped the gun and decided that Oklahoma was going to be too expensive and doing a small ceremony in Mexico was the perfect choice for us, we had had very little go wrong with the planning process. And then our gourmet pizza place accidentally booked an OU-Texas football game on our wedding date. Niiiiice. We appreciate the fact that you appreciate men ramming into each other in order to earn arbitrary points over two people who love each other more than life itself and have decided to publicly commit themselves to each other in front of their friends and family. Thanks, Pizza People. And then our freebie photographer, my brother-in-law-in-law, got a real job and can't promise that he'd make it for the event. 

Commence the freaking out. Commence the frantic emails to loved ones with an SOS-style message. Commence the changing of everything we had originally planned to something completely different and very Mexican.

Our boss Antonio's partner, Eduardo, just so happens to be the heir of an old sugar plantation which so happens to be one of the prettiest places I've traveled to in Mexico. They're super sweet and Antonio's our sugar daddy (so many saccharine references!). They said we could get married there and have a mariachi band and eat mole and swim by the pool on our wedding day. Who wouldn't want that? Crazies like us, that's who.

We're travelers and adventurers, yes. But it doesn't define who we are. At our core, we're homebodies. I'm an Okie. Ryan's a Nebraskan. I rarely say, "Soy de Los Estados Unidos!" with pride - actually never do I say that with pride - but I always say, "Soy del estado de Oklahoma." with as much pride as Carrie Underwood can sing about.

As wonderful as it would be to have all of our Mexican friends and co-workers join us for the wedding, we'd like our grandparents to be there, too. And some friends. And our $5,000 budget wouldn't quite fit into such an extravagant event as this. 

So here we are, one week later, with exactly the same plans. The wedding planning has become slightly more realistic which inevitably means slightly more stressful. But we bounced back into our "Si se puede!" moods and very little was lost.

Pöint being: Advice about how planning weddings can break up relationships doesn't apply in this situation. I'd like to think we're better than that. And we are.

This post was written about a month or two ago .We were too embarrassed of how quickly we decided all our former plans needed to be uprooted and thrown out. But now we're over it. It was a funny little hiccup in our normally calm planning process. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sing, Sing Aloud

The first time I did it, I was 21. I only did it once. It was exhilarating and freeing - and slightly uncomfortable, as one might expect. It was with a friend who I trusted and who had experience and who really pushed me to step outside my comfort zone. I didn't care what other people might think when they found out, because they were bound to find out. It was a small, tight-knit school that loved to talk. It was a snap decision, and in the end, I was glad I did it. Everyone says that college is for experimenting. So I did. And then there was a two-year dry spell. And I did it again with a friend during my senior year of college at a Howard Johnson by the Kansas City airport. 


Fast forward to May 2012. Our co-worker Naty is a huge, enthusiastic, spirited karaoke-lover. She and her family karaoke on the regular. And by "the regular," I mean at least twice a week. We got invited over for Ryan's initiation into the world of Karaoke (pronounded "Kah-reh-oh-keh"). Naty's family is made up of what one might call professionals, so when her daughter got up to sing an Adele song and sounded better than the singer herself, we got a little nervous that might not fit in. So we downed some Cuba Libres and held our breath.

In the end, we each sang five songs - solo - and danced in the living room and hooted and hollered at the other participants and ended up catching the karaoke bug. So Friday night after a few margaritas and a fancy dinner at the most expensive restaurant in Cuernavaca paid for by a retiree friend of ours, Naty, Ryan and I left to sing karaoke at a bar "just for a couple minutes." We were there for hours. We were also the only ones in the bar for the first hour. And the DJ is Naty's brother who is now our karaoke supplier. 

We've caught the bug, we caught the bug real bad. 

Watch and enjoy:

"I want to do it all the time now." - Ryan 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rock the Vote!

Everyone vote for Molly in the annual CGE photo contest! Follow the link, "Like" the window photo and repost! You're the best!

If you really love us, you'll also repost it and message all of your friends individually, since that seems to work the best. Some dude took a picture of a topless white guy in Africa, and it's winning somehow. We can't let this stand.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photo Contest within a Photo Contest

Molly is applying for a photo contest! The Center for Global Education, the organization where we are currently working, has an annual photo contest for alums from the semester programs and travel seminars. The winner gets a $150 Fair Trade gift certificate, and even though we work for the organization, Molly can still apply since she is a graduate of the Central America program. We're pretty sure the voting will be slightly biased against Molly - because who wants to give the first place prize to someone who is an insider? There could be a riot! So, we need YOU to vote on which photo could be so irresistibly beautiful that they couldn't not give at least one of the prizes to Miss Molly Bryant. Leave your vote in the comments section!

Favricio, my host brother, in Miraflor, Nicaragua
Window in Chichicastenango, Guatemala

View from the bell tower in Granada, Nicaragua 
Woman at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Bird's eye view of Granada, Nicaragua

My host dad and Mayan priest performing a ceremony in Cantel, Guatemala
Please leave a comment with your vote for the winning photo! Thank you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Blog Post About Nothing

I'll be frank.

As a sometime fan of popular culture, it's a real black eye for me that, as of a year and a half ago, I had seen only the occasional rerun of Seinfeld on late night TV. I always enjoyed the show when it was on, though it always seemed as though I only half-understood and could only half-laugh at it, like I was on the outside of some huge decade-long inside joke.

But then came the woman that changed my life, in oh so many ways. She took me to Ecuador, then Mexico, but most of all, she led me to this wonderful show about nothing, a show that had been staring me in the face for most of my life. Before we moved to Ecuador, we downloaded seasons six and seven and watched them, over and over and over - watched them to death, really, or what surely would be death for any other series.

It's a little pathetic, I realize, that having steady access to the internet was one of the major pluses of us coming here to Mexico, and even a little more pathetic that being able to watch the remaining seven seasons of the show was one of the major pluses of having steady access to the internet. Seinfeld was our refuge after a long day of work, a distraction from the stress, our release from the complaints of a bunch of childish college kids. The irony, of course, is that the entire show is comprised of the complaints of four childish thirtysomethings.

In a very real way, the world makes more sense now: "No soup for you!", "Yada yada yada," low talkers, sidlers, high talkers, shrinkage, the puffy shirt, cigar store Indians, Bosco, Jon Voight, the Bro, man hands, jimmy legs, Festivus, "Hello . . . Newman," "Hellooooooo! La la la," the urban sombrero. I'm sure I've encountered thousands of references to Seinfeld up until the past few months, but I'm determined never to miss one again.

The show is so funny, it almost makes me wish for a life of meaningless relationships, wisecracks, superficiality, and pettiness. Almost.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

People Can Be Surprising: An Exercise in Cooperative Creative Speaking

An Exercise in Cooperative Creative Speaking Where One Person Knows That It Is Happening And The Other Does Not: Round One, A Glimpse Into A Saturday Night In The Bryant-Gentzler Household

"What should we write about?" - Molly
"I think it should start, 'People can be surprising!'" - Ryan
"What does that mean?" - Molly
"It just means that something interesting is coming." - Ryan

"People can be surprising . . . " - Molly
"When you least expect it . . ." - Ryan
"They will reach out and touch you. . . " - Molly
"Often when you are least expecting it . . ." - Ryan
"They will reach out and touch you . . . " - Molly

"Puppies make the world go 'round . . . " - Molly
"In both a literal and figurative sense . . .  The paws of millions of puppies stepping in unison - wait, scratch that - everyone knows that the paws of millions of puppies stepping in unison in the same direction create the revolutions . . . " - Ryan
"Of our time. Their perseverance and generosity and even their aerodynamic, waggly tails bring forth the magnetism and hope of future generations . . . " - Molly
"But did you also know that puppies are cute? and cuddly? Both in the USA and outside of it. In other countries that you haven't even been to, yet. Did you?" - Ryan
"Did you?" - Molly

Monday, February 20, 2012

Honeycake & Co.

My amazingly talented and creative sister, Bethanie, has finally started her own business on Etsy! It's called Honeycake & Co. For years she has been making felt animal portraits, felt dolls and stuffed animals, and many other awesomely beautiful creations. She hand-stitches all of her products and uses felt made out of recycled plastic bottles. She can make just about anything you could ever want. Check it out!

Also, take a look at her Facebook page if you get chance and "like" it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nacho Typical Wedding

This is not, nor will ever be, a "wedding blog." It's not who I am - and clearly not who Ryan is. Although, I have to admit that I sometimes think about how awesome of a wedding blogger I could be. I love crafts and I love writing and I love sharing ideas about how to do things cheaply and beautifully. The pull may not be very strong, but embarrassingly enough, it is there . . . even if it is just a slight tug. Mostly I just want to talk crafts.

Ryan and I have been engaged since June and won't be walking down the aisle, so to speak, until October. Our engagement is long, but since we are strapped for cash, it gives us plenty of time to make our wedding. And with that long period of time to mull over ideas, decide on them, change them, search for deals and tediously make every detail of the wedding, we have become quite the creative ones. Even if  we had $10,000 to spend (waste?) on a wedding, there is not a chance in hell that we would. It's the principle, man.

So we are planning the cheapest, most personal, most Ryan and Molly wedding of all time. Get ready.

We are currently in the midst of several projects aimed at keeping these nuptials within the parameters that we decided on- 1) Very "Us." 2) As inexpensive as possible without eloping. 3) Not hipster. Therefore, our apartment is cluttered with scraps of book pages, paints, crayons, scissors, glue, thread, and other materials that may or may not make their way to Oklahoma in the fall. I'm teaching myself to knit in the hopes of making Ryan and my brother-in-laws' autumnal colored, handmade, knit ties. We'll see. I have my doubts, but I could surprise myself. My amazingly talented sister and brother-in-law are our very own graphic designers who are making the invitations of the century. My Mom and grandma are growing the flowers.

The engagement ring - meaning the second ring, not the first ring which was $8 from a market in Cuenca - is made of recycled material from a local jeweler in Maine with a gorgeous pearl in the middle and cost about one-twentieth or less than the normal price of an engagement ring. The band may be my next-door-neighbor-growing-up's kickass Western Swing band - check out The Hot Club of Cowtown!

Oh, and our favorite author is writing us something specifically for the wedding.

And there will be pizza and salads with homemade dressing. And Weber's root beer bottled for us. And dark beer. And pumpkin beer. AND PIES. So many pies.

I don't get to dish these details to my besties back in the States, and it feels a little sad to be so far away from my girls (woop! woop!) who I would normally be telling all the annoying details to. So, if this is too much like every other 20-something who is getting married and acts like she's the only one on earth who is planning a wedding, then please, please, I beg of you, tell me, and I will never speak of this again on Our Vagrant Life.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Catching Up and Falling Down

Ryan and I haven't written in a very long time. And the longer we put off writing, the more daunting the task seems. It also seems ridiculous to write about ourselves all the time, especially when I feel like I have to come up with some really clever story or anecdote to entertain the 30 followers whose faces stare at me expectantly each time I think about writing a new post and then log on for 2 minutes only to quickly escape the increasingly difficult chore of talking about myself (or himself or ourselves). So I'm going to break the writing drought right now. I've given myself 5 minutes to write a blog post without the internal scrutiny of whether or not it's interesting enough for the interwebs. And go . . .

Last week Ryan and I went to the grocery store to buy s'mores supplies for a campfire we were planning. We had to buy pink marshmallows, pseudo-graham crackers called "Honey Crack" or something like that and "Carlos VI" milk chocolate bars. It wasn't what you'd call "classic s'mores," but that was expected. What was not expected, however, was the 60 pound bag of oranges that fell on my foot as I casually turned around to eye an extremely short family. You have to realize that we are tall in Mexico. I'm 5'6'' and sometimes I feel like a giant (which I might be if Ryan and I combined last names - the Giants!). Ryan, as you might assume, is even more akin to Gulliver than I. So I glanced back to see at what point of his body the tops of their heads would reach. Serves me right. I continued walking as this massive, mesh bag of naranjas falls to the ground directly at my feet. I trip, almost catch myself, and then bam! Right onto the floor I fall. All the way to the ground in the produce aisle of a Mexican grocery store. Two horrified producemen rush to my aid as I laugh - still a little confused - and repeat "No! Estoy bien! Estoy bien!" 

Also, we visited the United States twice since we last wrote on this blog. Here are some visuals:

Granny and the babes
Asher Frank

Besties cerca 1986
Grandma and Ash

Noa Violet

Mama and Baby

Grammy and Noa Bug 
The Bryant-Nerren Clan getting cozy at the park

Uncle Ryan