Dedicated to all my fellow CEMAL students and staff who shared this intense semester in Mexico and Guatemala with me. I know that sometimes I have not been able to put enough feeling into these journal entries, and if any of you have any suggested changes or any words of your own to add, please send them to me.



Sun, 8/25, 1:57 pm

So here I am, somewhat past noon on the last day before I leave for Mexico. Everything is packed. Mom and Dad are out biking. I have taken a shower, had lunch, done laundry, cleaned the laundry room, and checked my email and my newsgroups. I am now bored. I would finish reading the murder mystery I started last night but I am saving that for the boring moments of my trip.


Mon, 8/26, 9:00 am Phoenix time

I am on a plane that is so fast that it leaves Mpls at 9:31, travels for three hours and gets to Arizona at 10:45. Good old relativity (ha ha).

When I land in Tucson I will hang around the airport for a few more hours and then meet the global ed people at the hertz desk. We will hang around the border area for a few days learning about the border area, and then go to Cuernavaca.

Well, I have made it this far. Hope things continue to go smoothly.


Wed, 8/28, 8:57 am

Wow, so much has happened.

We have been staying at the Borderlinks house (a kind of hostel in Tucson) since monday evening. Activities and guest speakers and discussions all the time.

Our group is very diverse, except that it is all female except for one guy named Josh. Everyone is very nice. Cecilia and Abby are the Borderlinks people and Ann is the Center for Global Ed person– she will be with us when we go to Cuernavaca. Abby has a fabulous house.

The desert is amazing. Cacti grow like trees. There are saguaros and palm trees and trees with green bark, and plants with several big stems growing up out of the ground and little leaves all over the stems, and some people grow them as hedges and bind the stems so that they work as fence posts. But it is really dry and hot.


8:27 pm

We have left the borderlinks house and driven to the Tohono O’odham reservation where we are spending the night. At 4:30 or 5 we sat down to listen to a speaker and he just finished minutes ago. But that was ok because he was fascinating. The only trouble was that we have not yet had dinner. Some of the students are cooking it now.


Thu, 8/28, 9:55 am

Spent the night at the res. We’re about to leave. Ok, the van has started, we’re leaving.

This is such a neat place, out in the desert. I saw a lizard this morning. It was the color of tree bark but its underside was bright blue. It crawled on its belly like most lizards, but when it saw me it stood up on its four feet so I could see its blue belly. Maybe it thought I would find that threatening.


2:07 pm

We have gotten to a place called La Casa de la Misericordia , in Nogales, Mexico. We’ll be staying here until monday. Crossing the border was no trouble at all– we just drove across. (They don’t stop and search all the cars that cross the border, only some of them.) This city looks poor but beautiful. I will have to go explore the area around here at some point.


Sat 8/31, 5:21 pm

Yesterday we went back across the border and toured a border patrol office. It was a hugely emotional experience for many of the people in my group because there seemed to be so little compassion for immigrants and it made us angry. I didn’t feel as much as others did, though. I guess I never feel a lot when I should.

Anyway, later we went back to Mexico and to a place that provides deported emigrants with jobs and food. We talked with a lot of people who had tried to cross the border. They seemed a lot nicer than the border patrol officers.


9:50 pm

When I wrote the last entry, I had just finished about an hour of shopping in downtown Nogales with the group. I had bought a little bag to carry my water bottle in, and a very sexy red dress that I can’t really think of any place to wear. Earlier this morning we had eaten breakfast at Cecilia’s house and talked about various economic and social issues with her and her friend Maricruz.

Anyway, after shopping, we went to dinner at Maricruz’s house. It is sort of a squatter house, built of scrap material and with no floor except the ground. Also no running water– the toilet is a ramshackle latrine in the yard. They have somehow gotten electricity, but many people in their situation haven’t.

Maricruz makes little embroidered cloths and sells them for a living. I bought one: a very pretty one with pictures of strawberries. I think I will give it to Aunt Martha, who I’m sure has some little end table or something that could use a covering.

Rats, when I left home I had over $50 in cash on me, now I have $3. Where did it all go? But I have travelers’ checks and a credit card, and Mom and Dad can get me more money if I ever run out. I have no business worrying about my finances right after visiting someone who can’t afford a floor.

Wow, I am seeing situations that I have never seen before, and I can’t believe I have been here in the border area almost a week. Time flies when every moment is occupied with some activity.


Mon, 9/2

Have gotten to Cuernavaca where we will spend most of the semester. The house is fabulous. It has a garden in the front, pretty little steps in back, a big central area with couches inside, and nice bedrooms.

I am too tired to write. See you later.


Wed, 9/4, 7:35 pm

I just answered the phone here for the first time. It was someone named Eileen calling for Alejandra. She said it was important. I will have to tell Alejandra when she gets back. She and most of the other students are out for dinner. I am here with Jennifer.

Wow, I learned the names of the people in this group faster than I ever learned the names of a group of people before. There are 13 of us and I learned them all almost immediately. I guess I am getting better at names.

I am getting along well with the people too. We have gone to an internet cafe down the street, and last night we went out “clubbing.” This is not a very fun activity if you don’t drink. But I enjoyed parts of it, like the dancing and music (although the music was louder than I’m used to). I kept getting tired and then getting a second wind. But one a.m. is pretty late for me to be out.

We spent almost all of today in a sharing-past-experiences activity, and I fell asleep a few times. Tomorrow I want to go exchange what’s left of my money for pesos, and cash a traveler’s check.


Fri, 9/6, 10:44 am

Yesterday we went to the market and found out the prices of various necessary items, then calculated their US equivalents in terms of how many hours a person would have to work to get enough money to buy them. It was amazing. The amount they have to work to buy a newspaper, it would be like a US American buying one for eight dollars. And then I went downtown with Carmen and Cecilia (not Cecilia from Borderlinks– she didn’t come with us here– I mean the student named Cecilia) and got $50 worth of pesos just as easily as changing a traveler’s check. I feel so privileged and out of place.

At least I’m good at Spanish. We took our placement exam this morning and I think I did very well.

The school where we are taking our Spanish classes is just down the street; it is called Universal and it has beautiful gardens and a pool out in back . The teachers have a sense of humor; they do things like putting up a sign that threatens excommunication for anyone who steals a book. I think I am going to like it here.


7:00 pm

This afternoon we visited some Olmec pyramids. There were lots of lizards there. I think I even saw an iguana, but I didn’t see it for long enough to be sure.


Sun, 9/8, 9:44 am

Wow, yesterday was eventful. Carmen and Cecilia and Tascia and Josh and I took the bus to Mexico City because Carmen had to pick up a friend at the airport. We are still here, having spent the night at the Hotel Cuba. I hope some stores are open today because I want to shop. There are also many wonderful things being sold on the streets.

The streets are some of the most crowded I have ever seen. But not at night. (Last night we went out but nothing was open and we got lost and it was raining and we kept hearing gunshots and we didn’t get back until past one and we were wet & scared & tired & hungry & miserable. But it was a learning experience.)

Mexico City has churches with wonderful architecture inside and out, but it’s hard to look at all that decadence and not think about the poor people that money and effort could be helping.


8:13 pm: post to newsgroups

Hi guys!

I have gotten over whatever bug I had, and now I am suffering very few health problems beyond a stuffy nose.

Yesterday we took our placement exams. I am having a few conflicts with the group because they want to take me out to nightclubs and I just want to look at lizards. And other interesting critters, like the scorpion I saw in the yard this morning. But on the whole, it’s a great group, and I know they are just trying to make things fun for me.

See, we went out one night, and I did have some fun dancing and talking and stuff. But other parts were uncomfortable, like when I got tired of being somewhere before anyone else had gotten tired of it and I had to wait for them to be ready to leave. The parts they remembered, though, were the parts where I had fun, and so they had the idea that going out clubbing was an altogether agreeable experience for me and they keep encouraging me to do it again. Sigh.

Otherwise, I am having a great time with these 12 other people. We have gotten to know each other very well in a short time, although I didn’t know any of them when we met (I’m the only one from my college, and only one other is from my state). I know all their names already! We find a lot of silly stuff to talk about, and they admire me and think I am delightfully funny and weird (they loved my photo album of my family & pets).

By the way, we are 12 females and 1 male. Every college Spanish class I’ve taken was mostly female, too. Weird.

Oh, and classes have started. I’m having some trouble, perhaps related to the change of environment–my attention span has decreased greatly. I can’t concentrate in class, and I am trying to read the assignments but they bore the heck out of me. I hope this will improve as I get used to being here.

By the way, I have found out how Cuernavaca got its name. It actually has nothing to do with cow horns, even though “cuerna” means horn and “vaca” means cow. The natives had their own name for this place, and it was pronounced ‘cuau-nau-wac’ or something like that (I don’t know what that name means, sorry) but when the Europeans came, they couldn’t say ‘cuau-nau-wac’ and the closest they could get was ‘cuernavaca.’ Interesting, huh?

Love, Erika

Mon, 9/9

I’m back. 2 more classes have started. I got a swimsuit but it turns transparent when it’s wet. I can’t return it because it’s a swimsuit. Have to get another or wear my undies under it.


Tue, 9/10

Today we went to the indigenous community of Amatlan, a beautiful place out in the forest. Zoe thinks I’m flirting with her. Yanett thinks I stole one & a half cents from Nacho. Life is full of misunderstandings.


Sat, 9/14

Oaxaca this weekend. Fun, but I’m feeling sick. Slept 4 hrs.


Tue, 9/17 2:14 pm

Got back from Oaxaca last night. I kept getting sicker the whole time I was there– nausea and weakness. Couldn’t stay up for the big night-before-independence-day celebration. I just slept in our room in the youth hostel . Hardly ate anything.

This morning I couldn’t go to class. Feeling better now, though. I think it was a side effect of some pills I’m taking.

I actually did have some fun in Oaxaca. We went to Mazatlan and I got to see an ancient ball court and a millipede as long as my hand.


Sat, 9/21, 7:56 pm

My mood swings and everything are worse than ever! I want to SMASH things I am so angry all the time. And I am always crying and complaining and having problems and saying I can’t do things and panicking. I can hardly believe it that anyone still likes me. How am I ever going to live through this semester? I am scared of this place. I am getting sick all the time, I can’t go out by myself, I can’t drink the water, I can’t talk to Mexicans without making mistakes, and I can’t concentrate on my homework either. Wouldn’t it stink if I spent my whole semester suffering here and then got failing grades in all my classes and had to do it over again?


Sun, 3/22, 7:11 pm

I’ve calmed down somewhat. I have gotten some things I needed, like pens and pencils and a sexy 2piece swimsuit that is NOT see-thru. I also went out to a cafe with Becky and Lindsay to study, and actually got a lot of reading done.

My biggest problem now is that there are bedbugs in my bed, and bedbugs bite a lot, and it itches like crazy. But I’m not panicking over it, which says a lot for my state of mind.


Wed, 9/25, 1:44 pm: post to newsgroups

Does anyone mind these off-topic crossposts? I don’t want to cause trouble. If I’m bothering anybody, please email me and I’ll quit and only send them to people who ask me to.

It is bright and sunny here, and has been for the past few days. I certainly don’t want a hurricane. I hope Isidore stays where it is. Or better, that it goes away completely.

I am having fun… little things still get me upset, but I have gotten over the being-really-depressed stage of living here.

I’m a little more caught up on my homework than I was. I’ve been sleeping a lot. We haven’t been going anywhere much lately, just staying around Casa Cemal taking classes. I didn’t go anywhere last weekend. I had fun the first week when I accompanied a group to Mexico City, but I was a little scared off of weekend trips by my experience the second week in Oaxaca. Travel and nausea do not mix well.

I am, however, feeling better now, except that I have somehow contracted a rash of little bumps all over my arms and neck that itch like mosquito bites. Someone suggested that they might be from bedbugs, but I think it’s probably an allergic reaction to something. I’m taking antihistamines and it feels a little better, although it still itches some.

Now I will talk about lizards, because that is what interests me.

Lizards… I have seen many kinds. Many are dark-colored and about as long as my hand, with the tail included. The first one of these that I saw (in Arizona) had a blue belly and did little push-ups to display it, thinking it would scare me, I suppose.

When we went to the ruins at Xochicalco, I saw many lizards from the van as we drove by. One was as big as a squirrel, and I actually thought it was some kind of mammal at first, because I only got a brief look at its tail as it crawled down the hillside. But it was clearly a lizard tail, long and pointy and scaly. I think it was an iguana, maybe.

Once we got out of the van, most of the lizards ran away, although we saw a few little dark ones in the ruins. Near the end there was something big and yellow-stripey, like a skink, that zig-zagged down the path in front of us. It was weird– it would run a little ways down the path diagonally, as if to run off the edge of it, but when it got to the edge it would turn and run diagonally the other way. It was funny because we had just learned that the priests of Quetzalcoatl walked that way when going up and down the sides of the pyramids.

I have not seen any lizards in the garden at Casa Cemal– too moist for them, I suppose. But I saw one in Oaxaca the weekend we went there. It was on the doorstep of our youth hostel. This was a special lizard because it was a light tan color and no bigger than a good-size Minnesota house centipede. In fact I thought it was a centipede at first. One of my companions stepped right on it by accident, but it was so tiny that it just settled into a crack in the pavement and wasn’t hurt at all. Wow!

Time flies. Must hurry up and send this.

love, Erika

Thu, 9/26, 10:07 pm

Things have been quiet lately at Cemal, just classes and a few speakers. I am still having fairly frequent mood swings & panic attacks. The rash I have may not be from bugs, it may be an allergic reaction to something. It seems to be responding to antihistamines. Time is passing quickly. It has been 1 month now since I left home. Somehow it seems both longer and shorter than that.


Sat, 9/28, 1:54 pm

I have started learning my way around our area of Cuernavaca. I have seen some beautiful parts of the area, such as the ravine and a big walled park with a church in it. Maybe I do have a sense of direction after all– when a gut feeling tells me to go a certain way, it is usually the right way.

In any case, I like the place we are living and the things you can see & buy here. I have begun to buy gifts to bring home to family & friends. Music CDs are really cheap in Mexico– yesterday I got some for the Ecklund kids & Carly. Also a blouse for Alice. Today I was down at the Plaza de Artesania & was approached by a man selling paintings of areas in Cuernavaca. I bought one for uncle Steve & one for Mariah. Now I only need a gift for Grandma & one for Martha (I decided to give the embroidered cloth to Aunt Carol instead of Martha).

I also want to buy candy for several people, but that can wait until shortly before I go home. I am sure they don’t want 3-month-old candy. It’s bad enough that I promised to buy Sonja a candy skull at Day of the Dead, over a month before I go home. But I think a candy skull will keep.


Sun, 9/29, 8:40 pm

I heard from Mom today that Grandpa Shadow died. I am still kind of in shock. I hadn’t been expecting it. It would be difficult to go home for the funeral, & I think Grandpa wouldn’t want me to. And I can handle staying here. I’m just shocked right now. I went on a long walk & distracted myself by trying to find material for making a lizard mask.

I am going to be a lizard for Halloween. I don’t know how much Halloween is celebrated here– the main thing is Day of the Dead– but I’ve seen costumes in stores so I know people do dress up. I bought some tight green pants & a tight green shirt that my friends say make me look sexy, & two lacy green scarves. I can make a tail out of the scarves, but I need a lizard face. Maybe a green visor or baseball cap. And I can wear the outfit just for its looks, without a lizard head, when Halloween is over.


Tue, 10/1, 2:09 pm

We drove out to visit a base christian community group in Civac today. We’re still there. The lunch they gave us was excellent.


Wed, 10/2, 7:49 pm

I am pretty caught up on my work. We have an exam tomorrow. Next week we will begin our family stay in another neighborhood. I must decide which of my things to take with me.


Sat, 10/5, 8:18 pm

I began my family stay today. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I am nervous & uncomfortable all the time.

The problem isn’t the house; it’s beautiful, with a comfortable bedroom , a nice living room and dining room , and a cozy little terrace and upper terrace with a great view and a dog named Tigre who lives on them. The problem also isn’t the lady I’m staying with– she is so sweet and kind that it hurts me to be made uncomfortable by her.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m only staying with one person (and her husband who is only home in the evenings). That makes the contact a bit more intense. I think the language barrier is part of it too– I can speak Spanish, but I guess speech is so important to me that I’m not completely at ease unless I can use my native language some of the time. And I’m still afraid of speaking Spanish to strangers, who include Dona Marta because I have only known her for part of a day.

But I shouldn’t judge a family stay by the first day, anyway. Let’s hope things improve.


Tue, 10/8, 7:17 pm

Things have improved. I am much more comfortable and I have finished the assignment I couldn’t do on Sunday because I was so stressed. I have had many good conversations with Marta and some with her husband Jesus. I still don’t always know what to say but it’s getting better.

I went to a birthday party for a neighborhood child and had some fun. And I have gotten a chance to talk with my mom on the phone, and a chance to go to an internet cafe in the neighborhood. Things are cool.


Wed, 10/9, 5:20 pm

What a day. I tried to take the bus back from class at Cemal this afternoon, but I got on the wrong bus and went to the street called Plan de Ayala instead of the neighborhood called Plan de Ayala. Then I had to get on another bus to go to the right place, but it was really slow traffic, and I got off at the wrong place because I mistook one landmark for another. Then I took a third bus and the driver said he would tell me when to get off, so I waited as he passed some places I would have known how to get home from, in hopes he would take me to a closer place, but he didn’t, and it wasn’t until some blocks later (when I told him it didn’t look like we were getting closer) that he admitted he had no idea where the place was. So I got off to take a taxi, and the first driver who stopped also had no idea where the place was, even though it turned out to be only a few blocks away when I found a driver who could take me there. When I finally got back, I was two hours late and crying because I was afraid Marta would be worried sick about me. But it turned out I was more worried than she was. She seems to have had this kind of thing happen a lot with students. Anyway, after this, finding my way around Minneapolis will seem like nothing.


Sat, 10/12, 3:21 pm

Quiet today. Went out last night with friends. Today I have been doing laundry, and also took a shower. I would like to go into town and get some things and check my email this afternoon.


Wed, 10/16, 4:27 pm

Nothing much has been going on. Some friends & I saw a horrible movie. I still have the diarrhea I had when I began the family stay. I have gotten several chances to send email & post to my newsgroups, but there are big fights going on in my groups so no one has paid attention to my posts. I have been sleeping a lot.


Sat, 10/19, 5:40 pm

I seem to have run out of things to talk about with Marta. I just hide in my room, worrying about the big assignment that is due in 2 weeks. A group assignment, and I’m no good at working in groups. But I have brainstormed some ideas with one of the girls I’m supposed to work with, so that’s something.


Mon, 10/21, 3:11 pm

Yesterday my family took me to several places up in the mountains, including a restaurant where I saw lizards and a fuschia tree, and a park called Los Columpios , with lots of trees with swings hanging from them. You can pull a swing up the hill and get on it, and by the time you’ve swung to the other end of the arc, you’re over the bottom of the hill and you feel really, really high up. It would probably be illegal in the US, but it’s very fun.

Later we went to a baby shower. In Mexico, baby showers are weird! You have to wear a name tag with some baby-related word on it– mine was Zapatito (a baby shoe)– and everyone has to call you by that name. No one is allowed to cross her legs. There are wacky games, people dress up like babies, it’s crazy. I loved it. What a weekend. Now I am at Cemal, waiting for today’s “group session” to start.


Wed, 10/23, 7:34 pm

Hard day today. Lots of stresses. Feeling somewhat better now though.


Sun, 10/27, 7:31 pm

Yesterday a bunch of the students went to Las Estacas, a water park built from a beautifully clear river. The banks were deepened so that they drop off vertically, edged with paved paths like sidewalks set a few inches below the water, but there are still fish and plants in the river itself.

It was wonderful while I was there, but afterwards I had to live with the sunburn I got despite my lotion, and a night of vicious diarrhea that might have come from the water I swallowed while swimming. I am feeling better now, though. Marta gave me tea that helped my stomach, and I have gotten some work done on my big project.


Tue, 10/29, 1:46 pm

Still trying to get my project done. It is a group project with 3 others and we cannot agree on anything. Am tired. Not much to say. We went to the Embassy in Mexico City yesterday and got some useful info.


Wed, 10/30, 8:26 pm

Project all but completely prepared! We had very successful study sessions last night & tonight. Tomorrow we just have to present it to the rest of the students. I also have to turn in papers for 2 classes. Good thing I finished them. Plus, tomorrow is the day the family stay ends & the day Josh, Jennifer and I leave to spend Day of the Dead Weekend in Oaxaca. I have a lot of scheduling to do for that day.


Fri, 11/1, 9:43 am

Presentation went beautifully, papers are turned in, and we are in Oaxaca. We got to the hotel last night. It is costing a lot more than our last Oaxaca trip cost, but I really want to see the Day of the Dead stuff. I hope it isn’t over– our cab driver gave us the impression that it happened yesterday, but that doesn’t make sense because Day of the Dead is tomorrow.


Sat, 11/2, 1:25 pm

Last night we went to a fabulous Day of the Dead celebration! We started out at a sort of hotel or restaurant or something with a beautiful courtyard and an altar and tame pigeons , but then went on to some kind of plaza. There were wild costumes and acting and dancing and more dancing and food and all sorts of cool stuff. I have bought gifts for all the cousins and a few for myself. We are going out now.


2:00 pm

We are in a restaurant waiting for our food. There is an altar in the corner. Food takes a long time to show up in Mexico. At 3 we are going to Tule to see a famous tree.


8:10 pm

The tree was big. I want the internet.


Su 11/3 2:36 pm

Still have not gotten chance to go online. Josh has some kind of prejudice against it. I bet my yahoo mailbox is so full it has started auto deleting.

This morning we went to some ruins I already saw the last time I was in Oaxaca. Tomorrow we go back to Cemal. Can’t wait. I’ve had fun, but one gets a bit tired of Josh after sharing close quarters with him for a few days.


Mon, 11/4, 10:46 am

Today we leave. I am waiting for Josh & Jen to wake up. I finally got online this morning at the net cafe down the street, and I didn’t have as much mail as I thought I would, so that didn’t kill much time. We leave at 2 and they’ll probably wake up at the last possible moment and hurry like crazy to get all their stuff ready. My things are already packed.

Sigh. I guess I shouldn’t complain about them when they have been so nice arranging this trip & stuff. They are just being normal college students & it’s not their fault I am a weirdo & go to bed at 8 & get up at 7. It’s boring waiting for them to sleep when I have nothing to do. But they have done so many nice things for me. We got to see several different ruins and some fabulous art .


Tue, 11/5, 3:08 pm

I am back at Casa Cemal. Things are good. Tomorrow I will mail some postcards.


8:42 pm

This evening a sort of priest came & discussed liberation theology and how he applies it to the gay community. He said fascinating things about the original Greek version of the Bible.

For example, we don’t really know whether Paul was talking about homosexuals in the passages people cite. He used two words, one of which no one can find uses of in any other books, so no one knows its meaning. The other was translated in the King James version as “effeminate” but its meaning is closer to “womanizer” (which is what “effeminate” meant in the time of King James). Then there is the story of Jesus curing the servant of a centurion, but the Greek word that is used for the servant is one that specifically refers to a male sexual companion for a soldier. And not only did Jesus tolerate this gay centurion & cure his sex servant, but he praised the centurion’s faith & said he wished more people could be so faithful. The words people say at their first communion are a direct quote from that centurion: “I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

I had never known where that came from & I was fascinated– it was one of the best talks we have had. Afterwards we all had our picture taken with him.


Sat, 11/9, 12:08 pm

We are wrapping up our studies here at Cemal. I am not well prepared. For Gender Health & Development class we have an essay exam due on Thursday that the teacher has not told us anything about yet, and in Conversation & Composition we have to do something but I have forgotten what, and for Lit class we have a presentation on Monday that I am only marginally ready for. I will try to find out what I need to do, and get it done in time.

After this coming week, we go to Guatemala, and after a week there we go to Chiapas. I have to make sure my clothes get washed right before we leave next Sunday, because I will need all of them for this trip.


Tue, 11/12, 6:04 pm

Monday presentation went great, I am now prepared for the Conv & Comp presentation on Friday, and I have written my paper for Judy’s class and a proposal for the integrative project that I have to do for the end of the semester. There is still a take-home exam for Lejeune’s class that she hasn’t given us yet (that’s what the “essay exam” is) but I figure I can do that in the time she gives me, now that I’m done with the other things.


Th 11/14 11:27 am

Done with essay exam. Finished it yesterday. Almost all my clothes are being laundered so I am wearing a dress. I brought my clothes to the laundry place today because I was afraid that if I brought them on Friday or Saturday they might not get done in time, but the lady told me they will be done by tonight.


Fri, 11/15, 12:47 pm

My stuff is washed & mostly packed. I did my presentation for Conv & Comp and I did my test for Lit. I think they both went well. I am now done with classes for this section of the semester. Guatemala is the day after tomorrow!


Mon, 11/18, 8:35 am

We arrived in Guatemala city yesterday afternoon after a long early morning bus ride, a stressful midmorning at the Mexico city airport and a plane ride that I mostly slept through. The hotel where we are staying is a beautiful place but the nights are COLD.

Our schedule is very full for the coming week, with lots of moving around and many visits with activists. I am a little nervous but looking forward to it. We have a nice little bus and a bus driver to take us around in Guatemala; we will be traveling a lot.


Wed, 11/20, 9:25 am

We have visited several people, including a government representative, a liberation theologian and a weaving cooperative . Now we are staying in Chichicastenango and are currently on the way to an exhumation site where bodies of people killed by the government are dug up and identified so their families can give them proper burials.

It is going to be an intense experience, but the ride up here has been nice. Beautiful scenery, and all the little kids wave at us. Guatemalans really do wear those colorful woven textiles and carry baskets on their heads, a lot of them at least. There is a wonderful beauty in this country and its people.


Fri, 11/22, 11:45 am

We went shopping in Chichicastenango yesterday morning. I bought a necklace and a box shaped like an apple and, completely on impulse, a live chicken.

Walking around seeing people selling chickens & turkeys, I thought, “wouldn’t it be outrageous if I bought one. Everybody would laugh.” And I came to a guy with a box full of young chickens, still yellow and fuzzy but starting to grow feathers on their wings, two for 15 quetzales or one for 7.50– and I bought one. For about 10 minutes I owned a chicken. A couple of the other students got to see it before I gave it to some random kid on the street. (I came up to him and said in Spanish, “Want a chicken?” He looked at me funny and said, “What?” I repeated, “Want a chicken?” He considered for a moment, then said “Sure!” and took it. I feel kind of sorry now. His parents will chew him out when they find out he has a chicken and doesn’t have a believable explanation for how he got it.)

Everyone thought it was hilariously funny, of course. I wish I had kept it longer, shown it to the whole group and taken a picture.

Anyway, now we have moved into a hotel in another town called Quetzaltenango (like all Latin American hotels, it has a beautiful courtyard) and at the moment we are listening to a boring talk. But we had an interesting talk before this one, and afterwards we will get to go shopping. I need index cards for my final project.


Sat, 11/23, 8:20 am

We are in yet another part of Guatemala now: Huehuetenango. Must find out what “tenango” means.

On the bus I pretty much did my entire final project: a card game somewhat similar to Go Fish, but involving questions and answers about language. Now everyone hates me because they have not started their final projects. But I am not done with all my work– I still have to do something called the Box Assignment.



We went to a site of ancient ruins and did a ceremony with a Mayan priestess.

It was fascinating. We made a circular design on the ground out of sugar and seeds and herbs and candles and cakes of incense, and started it on fire in the center and watched it burn out to the edge while we talked about Mayan spirituality. There were wonderful smells from the burnt sugar and incense and everything, and sometimes seeds were thrown in that crackled and jumped like popcorn.

When we were asked to sit silently for a while and pray in our own tradition, I didn’t know what to do because I don’t really have a religion. I ended up thinking about the universe and my place in it, and how everything is connected and, in some way or another, I affect everything else and everything affects me, and how every particle in my body was once a piece of some other part of the world, like soil or trees or birds or my ancestors, or many different things over time, and every particle in me will be part of many, many more things in the future, and how I am related to each living thing I can see, even trees and grass, because billions of generations back we had the same life forms as ancestors. And I looked at a tree and thought about it being my eighty billionth cousin, five million times removed, and felt a connectedness that I feel very rarely, and for a moment there was so much emotion that my eyes watered.

Perhaps I am finding my own way to see meaning in the world.


Mon, 11/25, 8:07 pm

We are in Chiapas now. I have finally gotten a chance to use the internet. Today we spoke with a bishop and an activist. We are spending this week all in the same hotel, but we have more meetings than last week.

Chiapas is a very historic place. Marcos and the Zapatistas had their uprising here. They were at the cathedral and the mayoral building that we have visited.

We will talk about that with almost all our speakers. (Marcos is a highly charismatic leader and everyone in my group is in love with him. We will probably not meet him but everyone wants to.)


Wed, 11/27, 11:42 am

I was very sleepy this morning so I am missing the first talk. We are at Cideci, a community of workshops and training facilities to help people become prepared to get jobs.

Yesterday was a foggy day and we drove up into the mountains to meet some guerrillas in the mist: a Zapatista community built of little stores and houses and meeting rooms and a basketball court and murals upon murals about the revolution.

We also visited a church in the area of a military base, and then we spent time in the area of Acteal, talking with survivors of the infamous massacre. We saw the church where these people had been quietly praying and fasting for peace when military men broke in and killed 45 or 50 of them. We saw the building under which the bodies are buried. We saw the sculpture built in memory of the disaster.

Later we have even more talks. My mind has become so full of details about politics and atrocities and revolutions that I can hardly focus on any of them.


Thu, 11/28, 8:40 am

I miss Minnesota. I am sick of tortillas. To eat a tortilla now, I have to put butter and sugar on it and convince myself that it is lefse.

I have been traveling long enough. I need a bath and a thorough brushing of my teeth. There are too many boring talks and I can no longer pay attention.

I want to give my friends & family all the things I have bought for them. I want to have a crazy conversation with my brother. The Topcities version of my personal website got taken down because it wasn’t visited enough or I didn’t edit it enough or something, and I want to get back to my own computer where I have it backed up and put it all up again.

I want to update my site, add a page about my trip and a page about my jewelry-making hobby and a page of weird insights about life. I want to spend a day on the internet, reading all the newsgroup posts I’ve missed. I don’t care about Thanksgiving. Holidays aren’t any fun when I am exhausted & wanting all sorts of things I have to wait for. I love all my friends here, but I miss my home so much.


Fri, 11/29, 6:41 pm

The special meal last night actually turned out to be pretty fun. We got to eat with Heike, an activist who had been working with us since the first night in Chiapas (we all got together at her house the other day for her lecture on the SIPAZ organization).

Today we visited a coffee plantation. We saw coffee trees and the people who harvest coffee, and we learned about the way they carry bags of beans from a strap on their heads.

All our talks tomorrow got canceled so we have a free day. Then on Sunday we spend the morning rafting or something, and then go to the airport. After that we have a week at Casa Cemal and then go home.

I can’t believe this trip has lasted four months. It went so quickly. I am both excited to get home and sad that I will have to leave one of the best groups of friends I’ve ever spent time with.


Sun, 12/1, 10:59 pm

The boat ride this morning was amazing. I took more pictures than at any other event the whole semester.

We saw crocodiles, which I had never seen in the wild before. Actually they might have been alligators– the tour guide said “cocodrilo,” but I don’t know just how often the two are called by separate names in Spanish.

We also saw several grottos in the mountains around us, one of which had a shrine to the virgin of Guadalupe built into it. We also got to see a mossy rock formation called The Christmas Tree, and the view of mountains that forms the state seal of Chiapas. My hat blew off in the wind and was lost in the river.

The time at the airport, the plane ride, and the drive back to Cemal were uneventful. I have finished the first draft of The Box Assignment and now must work on The Chiapas & Guatemala Analysis Paper. And pack.


Tue, 12/3, 7:20 pm

I have finished all my assignments. The Analysis Paper sucks like crazy because I could hardly think of anything to write, but it’s better than not doing it at all, which was the other option I considered.

Now I don’t have anything to do because all my work and almost all my packing are done and everyone else is busy. Sometimes I wish I didn’t do everything so early.


Wed, 12/4, 5:55 pm

I actually had a pretty good time today. I had two jobs to do: firstly, compiling and printing the email addresses of all the students in the group, and secondly, helping Audra build on the list of recommended books, movies and music she has been collecting. Now there is a copy of the address list for each student, and I have made some contributions to the recommendations list and emailed it to everyone with a request to add to it and pass it on to others, “especially Audra.”

I hope she gets a lot of good reading, watching and listening experiences out of it. My own recommendations were the books “Borgel” by Daniel Pinkwater and “Azazel” by Isaac Asimov, the movies “Fierce Creatures” and “Short Circuit,” and the music of Weird Al Yankovich, The Austin Lounge Lizards and Antje Duvekot. Yes, I am a person of eccentric and diverse tastes.

Anyway, afterwards I went into town with Cecilia, Tasscia, Lyndsey and Audra to buy a plain T-shirt, because we are having a design for the group printed on T-shirts tomorrow. It has quotes from all of us– mine is “I Left my Chicken in Chichicastenango.”


Thu, 12/5, 11:32 am

I am going to get so lost at the airport on Saturday. I hate connection flights. Why do I have to stop in Detroit and get on another plane?

I think I’ll hijack the flight from Mexico City to Detroit. I’ll go up to the cockpit and say, “If you don’t fly directly to Minneapolis, I will turn on my cell phone and mess up your navigation computer!”

But then, my cell phone is in Minneapolis. Rats.


5:44 pm

This afternoon was fun. I went to the market with Zoe because she wanted to buy a hat. We looked all over the market and couldn’t find just the right hat. I remembered a store in the center called Sombreros de Tierra Caliente, and we wandered all over the center looking for it. When we finally found it, the right hat wasn’t there either, but Zoe told me she was glad I had taken her there because if I hadn’t, she would have wondered forever whether it might have had the right hat.

At one point in all this, we stopped at a milkshake place and got milkshakes, which were a disappointment. You know how some drinks, like hot chocolate, have a little froth on the surface? These shakes were PURE froth. We couldn’t drink them, we had to have them put in disposable cups and take them with us. Once they’d been carried in the cups a while, they settled down and weren’t so foamy, and we could drink them, although we had to drink ice water too.

But we had some great conversations and we’re glad we went. I’m going to miss Zoe! I’m going to miss everyone!


9:32 pm

This evening Lindsay Morris and I went to the Plazuela, a little path pretty much lined with restaurants and bars that have live music. Lindsay had made friends with a guitar player in one of the places, and we sat there a while listening to him play.

Lindsay got a cappuccino and I got a sangriita, because it was the cheapest thing on the Non-Alcoholic Drinks list and I thought it would be similar to a sangria, which is a fruit wine. However, it turned out to be a fiery hot chili-and-tomato drink with salt on the rim of the glass, and I didn’t end up drinking more than a sip. I am not having great luck with drinks today.

We had a great time, though. Lindsay gave me some paper and I drew some pictures, and some little girls came up to us and asked for some of Lindsay’s paper, which she gave them, and then they came back with drawings they had made and tried to sell them to us. I bought them, just for the heck of it, because I had a lot of money on me and it was kind of cute.

Later I bought flashing electric earrings from another little girl. They are really neat earrings– kind of big & bulky, but they are magnetic so you don’t need pierced ears, and you can change the batteries. I will wear them with my green outfit when we all go out tomorrow night.

Tomorrow is a big day… our last day together, and the day we present our final projects. We will really need to party together in the evening, because we are all going to miss each other a whole lot.


Fri, 12/6, 7:11 pm

Wow, presenting the projects took a lot of time. Mine went well, but it wasn’t strong and emotional, and almost everyone else’s was. There was lots of crying and laughing and applauding, and we all had our last group photo taken.

It was an intense experience. Like this whole trip. I can’t believe it’s almost over, and that all my work is done. Everyone’s taking a nap or doing last-minute homework now except me. We’ll go out around nine o’clock. I will probably be too tired to write when we get back.


Sat, 12/7, 8:29 am

Last night I dressed up in my green outfit and flashing earrings and went out with my friends for our last meal together. It was a bittersweet experience.

I said goodbye to everyone early this morning and caught a taxi to the bus station. I bought a ticket for a bus that leaves at 9:05. I am here waiting.

This is such a big transition. I’m still in shock, maybe. Or maybe I just don’t feel as much as I should, but it feels like shock. Last night as I tried to sleep, my mind was beginning to try to wrap itself around what I am losing and what I am going back to, but I don’t think it quite managed. What I felt was mostly a sense of incredulity, of “I can’t believe this is the last night here.”

My daily life has changed so much in this program and it will feel like a greater change when it changes back, because my integration into the life of Cemal was gradual, and this will be sudden. I hope I can keep some of the changes that have happened in my life once I am back in my old life. I really don’t know where to go from here.


5:03 pm

I spent the morning riding on the bus and waiting at the airport. A nice old guy who was also going to Detroit helped me with some things and took me to lunch. He is now up in the business class at the front of the plane, and I am kind of towards the back.

It is getting dark and lights are starting to show up down on the ground in little clusters of civilization. The sunset is dark orange-red and seems to stretch forever horizontally.

I don’t know just what part of the country we’re over, but I am sure we are in the US now, because the pilot said hours ago that we were just approaching Texas. What I can still see of the ground is mostly grayish-tan– we don’t seem to be in any really moist area yet.

We are supposed to get to Detroit after seven, so I must have more than two hours left of flying. I kind of ache. My watch went off telling me to take my pills, but I don’t want to yet because my pills make me sleepy and I want to have my wits about me in the Detroit airport.



The pilot just said we will land in 26 minutes. I guess I forgot about time zones. Maybe the light-colored ground was snow. Have to figure out what time it is here & change my watch.



I am finally on the flight to Minneapolis. I think Mexicans use English better than Americans. “Fasten seat belt while seated.” Well, obviously. One can’t fasten one’s seat belt while standing. Would it have been so hard to say “Keep seat belt fastened while seated”?

Oh, no. I am complaining about my country already. Wasn’t there supposed to be a “honeymoon” period of the re-entry process, when everything seems wonderful? I think it never happened to me. Will it?




At the end of December, I am still trying to sort out my feelings. So are the other members of the group. Some of them have put their own reactions into very eloquent words. For example:



Poems by Carmen Carrillo (Note: Strong language.)



This is a grievance

This an ailment

Los Latinos no me quieren

They say I’m too white

The blue in my short hair

Is a little too bright.


They say I speak white

They say I’m trying to be white.

Los Latinos no me quieren

Dicen que soy muy fina

Que mi ingles es major que

Mi español.


Los Latinos me quieren

Porque creen que soy diferente

Aunque no sea asi



Los Latinos me quieren

Because when we walk

Next to each other

They don’t recognize me.

I only become one of them

When in Spanish we talk.


Los Latinos no me quieren

Because they don’t know my story.

They don’t love me because

They don’t know my heart

No conocen lo que existe

En mi alma.

No saben que la salsa

Mueve mi cuerpo

De la misma manera.

They don’t know that I

Eat arroz con habichuelas.


They think that because I

Say "dude" instead of "yo"

I’m not who I say I am.

Los Latinos no me quieren

But I know who I am

No, I don’t have and accent

And yes, I have white friends.


But, in my blood

I have blood of Los Mayas

Y mi español es mio.

Mi nombre es Carmen

Naci en Guatemala, I live in the Bronx

And I’m Latina

Digan lo que Digan!







Mine is the story of industrialization

That led us to immigration.

Yes it was because of subordination

And when we come back

There ain’t gonna be reconciliation.


Mine is the story of industrialization

It’s about a woman with children

No, it’s about a 2nd class citizen,

3rd class citizen,

(the class reserved for poor women and children)

It’s about making 270 pesos a week

230 pesos a week, after taxes.


Mine is the story of industrialization

That led us to prostitution

Completely supported by the migration


It’s about running

It’s about trying to escape

But only getting so far

And then turned back.


Mine is the story of women

In small spaces in trains.

This is about women being raped.

It’s about the sandals of patrollers

Covered and full of blood.


My story is about PROCEDE and PROGRESA

It deals with becas and pobreza

It deals with world bank loans

And government droans

It’s about straight up manipulation.


What we need is emancipation.


Mine is the story of women with children

With pains in their necks

With sacks on their backs

With loads on their heads

And a low f–king wage.


This is about marginalization.


My story is about hydroelectric dams

And no good motherf–king PACs

It’s about the soldiers raping

The 14, 15, and 16 year old girls

And the patrollers raping the rest

Of the women.

And the strangling of their victims

With sticks and ropes

And beaten with clubs and guns

And kicked and punched

And children being swung

By their ankles

And smashed against trees and rocks.


This is the story of socialization

Going back to the time of


This story is old, I know

You’ve heard it before.

This is the story of colonization

This is the story of globalization.


This is the story of industrialization

That led us to f–king immigration.

Yes, it was because of subordination.

And when, we come back







You want to see my documents?

Is it cause you saw the red?

No, you didn’t see the red.

You didn’t see me

You didn’t see the red.

You saw the blue pass you by

One by one.

You saw the eagle.


No, I don’t think you saw the red.

Did you see the Quetzal?

Did you see the red in its feathers?

Put your glasses on sir

My documents are right in front of you.


But you don’t see the red

You just see the blue

Why do you do, what they do?

Why do you do, what they did?

Why do you say, what they say?

There’s red in your country too.


But, no you don’t see the red

In the women

In the children

In the men.

You don’t see the red in you.


You only see the blue,

The legacy of yellow and red.

Don’t you see the arrogant lion

The king of the jungle

The powerful crowned one

Sending its holy people

To desensitize, marginalize,

Crucify, dehumanize

Your people, our people?


But you still don’t see the red

Dripping from your hands

You don’t see the red

Painted on the Canyon de Sumidero,

The flowing red waters of Rio Negro.


No, you didn’t see the red

You didn’t see me.

You don’t see them.

And you will never see the red

You will only see the blue

Pass you by

One by one.



Comments are closed.