So today marks the first day of our program at La Salle University in Mexico city. Dazed and jet lagged, I must say that it all seems like an overwhelming blur, and yet, I cannot wipe the smile off my face. On the weekend most of us flew in from Australia. After getting a bit lost at the airport I finally managed to run into the two students who were picking me up, and from that moment the warmth and hospitality of the Mexican people has constantly amazed me. After big hugs and greetings, off we went to the house (la casa) where i will be staying for the next month with a host family and three other health students, two nurses from Victoria and a public health student from Canberra, and honestly, by the following morning we all felt as if we had been friends for months.
Our host mum Alejandra is also incredibly warm and welcoming, and very easy to get along with. She speaks excellent English but teaches and encourages us to speak Spanish. The house itself is full of colour and life, and the food she cooks for us tastes amazing, however the epic portion sizes are a little overwhelming at first.
Our first day we met at 8:45 at the University, just a short 10 minute walk from la casa. The day was more or less of an orientation day, were we were informed of the rich Mexican culture; how to act, what to expect, handy tips, followed by a history lesson by the oh so animated Arnaldo who's enthusiasm could make plain brick wall sound exciting.
In the afternoon we were taken on a tour of the university, from the library, to the pool, gym, and various performance and social areas. The campus itself is astounding and has all a student needs, I anticipate a great month.
After what seemed like an overwhelming day, the night was spent letting our hair down, were some friends of ours (both new friends from Mexico city and also a Mexican friend of mine who did exchange at my university last year) invited all us girls in the house for a casual drink at one of the many bars in la Condesa, sort of like the Soho district of Mexico City. Being a Monday night all was fairly casual, but the conversation and laugher was bountiful, bringing a perfect end to a perfect day.
Me gusta Mexico.
Today we had our first lecture on the cultural attitudes and beliefs towards health care in Mexico, and I must say time really flew by. As mentioned, Mexican culture is so rich in tradition, from superstitions, to family values, that it is almost impossible not to be interested. The focus on folk, religious and traditional medicine was a particularly interesting highlight that we don't often see in Australia.
A lunch break was offered whereby the girls and I took it upon ourselves to visit the University gym. Situated on top floor and encased in glass, the gym offers an amazing view of the city skyline.
The afternoon was spent on our first site visit to the Museum of Anthropology, were the aforementioned Arnaldo shared his animated wisdom as tour guide, leading us on a journey through the artefacts of what they called 'the underworld', otherwise referred to as the prehispanic mesoamerican Aztec civilisation. Although all a bit wary, Alberto's descriptive nature made history into storytelling, picture a Mexican David Attenborough if you will.
After the museum we watched a traditional performance, and were all delighted by the novelty that the park was abound by fluffy little squirrels, and I assure you they are even cuter and friendly than in the movies. And some of the students even tried a local delicacy...deep fried cricket...mmmm
Exhausted but happy, Mexico is full of surprises weird and wonderful, and I anticipate another great day tomorrow.
Today we got to wear our lab coats and go on a tour of the La Salle Medical centre. Walking around the grounds, we looked like doctors, and some interesting issues were raised with regards to increasing rates of diabetes and coronary heart disease, and factors such as the rise of Coca-Cola consumption within Mexico. In the afternoon, we learnt the skills of the locals, with a survival Spanish class, followed by a salsa lesson. Although wary at first, everyone learnt new things and walked away with a smile on their face. I personally love salsa, and had a great time! And I can't wait to try it out on the dance floor.
Today we went on a visit to an elderly care residence for the disadvantaged 'abuelos' (grandparents) of Mexico City. There is a saying that describes Mexico as a place "where tradition and modernity wrestle like two brothers", and here I was reminded of that more than ever. To elaborate, on the one hand there was a major three month restoration project of the residence, with new furniture, infrastructure, a beauty salon, and the like. We also witnessed a level of patient-carer interaction I have never before seen. One could not escape the positivity and genuine affection that the staff had for the residents. As they described it, these were people from slums of poverty, so for them, these later years, with a full belly, a warm bed and plenty of love, were the best years of their lives, and their huge grins confirmed this. And yet conversely, stuck in the past, the outdated equipment saw the use of typewriters over computers, quite a contradiction.
The afternoon was spent on a lecture about the ideologies around sexuality. Then later in the evening a group of us went salsa dancing at a salsa bar in la Roma called Mamarumba. Here we drank beers (Mexican beer is so tasty, picture Coronas but better!), made new friends, and danced the night away. Can't wait to go again next week!
Saturday & Sunday
So today we all went on a tour of historic downtown, and oh lordy how stunning was the architecture. As Arnoldo, our guide once again, said, "let's move on like the elephant!", and that we did; past the 'Mexican Champselysees', the national palace, the opera house, cathedral, templo mayor (the ruins of the major Aztec pyramid and heart of the empire demolished by the Spanish conquest), and the city centre, 'zocalo', pieced at the centre with an enormous Mexican flag proudly billowing in the wind. The sense of patriotism was overwhelming. Here, the city was a cultural melting pot of amazing buildings, passionate political art murals by the likes of Diego Rivera and Picasso, not to mention a symbiosis of religion, where, again, the sounds of the past, still full of life, imprint everywhere you turn.
After a big day, we were treated to a huge buffet lunch in a luxury hotel, and went home with full bellies.
We are all feeling a bit exhausted, but all i can say is man this has been an epic first week, I cannot believe how fast it has gone! And bring on the pyramids tomorrow!
On the Sunday we took a trip to the Mexican pyramids of the sun and moon, and all I can say is move over Egypt, the Aztecs knew how to build! Many steep steps later we were delighted by the view, where legend says that if you stand on the tip of the pyramid and raise your arms in the air your will be rejuvenated with new energy. Not sure how rejuvenated we all felt after climbing two pyramids, but it was great to experience.
We were then treated to a buffet lunch, where I'm pretty sure some of the girls ate at least two and a half plates of dessert each. After a siesta on the bus, the day finished with a trip to the Basilica de Guadalupe, the patron Saint of Mexico, where there are not one, but seven churches! Needless to say, being a Sunday, the grounds were packed, but with sounds of the sermon, echoed by the many mariachi bands serenading in the square, there was an ambience that crept in the heart of any, young or old.
Today has seen the melding of the three stages of Mexican history, Aztec, Spanish colonisation, and modern day. And a perfect reminder of the famous Mexican saying about the Spanish conquest, "It was not a victory, it was not a defeat, it was the birth of the Mexican nation today".