Oaxaca, Mexico: school, life here and more

Week 4 in Oaxaca 
Too early for school. I’m sitting outside the nearby church, near the woman who sells bread rolls here every weekday. My usual coffee seller is not here today. Unusual, his cart is always in front of the church near the school. But, when I first started there were 6 or so stalls there that sold tlayudas, etc every day and they disappeared (to where?) after a week-long church festival. I can’t figure out who will be where when. My fruit lady is not always on her corner either. Can’t figure out when she will be away. 

An old man (probably only 40, looked older) took off his hat and crossed himself as he walked past the church. He was carrying a box with chewing gums and other small colourful sweets. The box had a strap across one shoulder. So many have identical products and carry identical display boxes. Kids must buy from them but I’ve not seen one make a sale yet.  Not one!

Police hang around on all the major corners in the Centro. I counted 12 at one, just leaning on the barrier or standing nearby and chatting to other police. 

The police I envy are those who spend the day fighting crime in a nifty little vehicle. I want one too!


Life as a student

One day I feel as though I might get on top of Spanish. The next I feel as though I’ll never understand the radio or indeed anything without concurrent supporting pictures, like tv. Agghh. I undermine myself so easily, focussing on how little I know. So I went into class and told Marco I can’t understand Spanish today.

Marco being Marco, he said that is normal and, within 5 minutes we were ploughing new ground. I got it! And enjoyed it. There is no doubt I’m doing heaps better but….. After class I needed to change $U to pesos. Headed to my usual place and still can’t figure out why the guy there said he couldn’t sell them to me today. I must have said I wanted dollars, not that I wanted to sell dollars. No idea so I left wondering. Wondering what he’d said and if I’ll ever have enough Spanish for what I want! 

A nearby bank gave a better rate and it was easy. I’ll need to go again tomorrow, or soon after, again. Yes, the bank won me today. Sure, a longer line but a better outcome. Thankfully I had a stash of $U and am not dependent on a falling (collapsing) $A! 

And then there was poetry with Alfonso. He started his half of the week mid Wednesday. To my surprise he had me read a poem, by Octavian Paz. It was about autumn coming and welcoming the changes. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it. My homework was to find another by Paz that I liked. It’s called ‘Preparatory exercise’ (Ejercicio preparatory). And it’s about preparation for death. Sounds morbid but it’s not. Good for vocabulary and for having to practise reading a large text out loud. 

The day after we practised tongue twisters. As an english speaker I don’t pronounce certain letters sufficiently distinctly. So we did classic bits like:

Tres tristes tigres

Entraron en in trigal…etc

Look easy? Try it. Remember, with Spanish accent and don’t lose the ‘r’ in each word. 

The best was:

Erre con erre carretera

Erre con erre carril

Erre con erre la rueda

La rueda del ferrocarril.

A very clever little rhyme that says there’s a double r in rail, in carriage and the same sound is used in the wheel, the wheel of the railway. Like the Peter Piper picked… rhyme. But the ‘erre’ one has an embedded rhythm Peter Piper and most others don’t. 
Slowly I’m starting to understand snippets on the radio and the street. I’m an addict when it comes to tv. Some stations have subtitles as many programs on Nat Geo and Discovery, my favourites, are dubbed. So last night I watched a guy being dropped into a pit like the crater of a very active volcano and then the great standby, Accident and Emergency from a very busy hospital. Much more interesting trying to match words to sounds or to just interpret sounds. 

And yes, a few weeks back in an english only world I’ll lose a lot. I’ve learnt though that the school and accommodation in Oaxaca are very quiet in September and might use that knowledge in future.  


I never dwell on the weather here. It’s a bit like a cooler Cambodia at the same time of year: rains later most days and often overnight and the daytime temperatures are in a very pleasant range in the twenties. The difference is it’s not humid here most days. Washing dries fairly easily. 

But, and there is always one, the number of mosquitos seems to be increasing. I use spray and, in my apartment, a thing with a card that you plug in. The number of bites I have may be less than otherwise but, I’m the cause of a whole new generation of the dammed blood suckers. Most days I find new spots of blood on my pillowslip and the top end of my bottom sheet. Fingers crossed dengue is not prevalent this season. 


Not just the buildings are coloured in the Centro. Some of the clothes, mainly dresses or shirts for women, are so bright and beautiful to see. And yes, they are everyday wear by many women. Not all, especially the younger ones.

A bit different from some of the take away. I shared such a nice empanada with Marco at the Ocatlan market last week I thought I’d try again. The sellers at the market nearby have premade ones in a plastic basin, under a tea towel, with a sample on top.

I should have known better. The colour says it all. I ate some of the inside and passed on the greasy outside. Not easy finding a bin around here. Thanks, I managed!

Being local

I am accepted as local! By the government, if no one else. Yesterday I was surprised to get a text message. The government kindly told me that a particular development will employ a lot of people. 

What can you say! Well, yes. But, fancy being so desperate you have to send out texts to convince people. The number of federal government ads on the radio is astounding. All stations. The messages basically say how it’s transparent, for the people, etc. Interesting. Interesting they have to keep saying it, words rather than actions? Possibly. Judging from the sewerage and water distribution system. (Scary watching the toilet sometimes and wondering if the bowl will empty or will leave me having to call Maria Antonio the next day for, um, help! Um, a plumber. Has focussed my mind very successfully on putting toilet paper in the bin beside the toilet. Reminds me, one place I get coffee seemingly never empties its bin. Then I quickly realised, it doesn’t provide toilet paper most days either! That is equilibrium.). 

Anyhow, the President is widely ridiculed, for everything. For example he apparently wore his running socks backwards one time, for opening a book festival and admitting he couldn’t remember reading a book, except for parts of the bible…Etc. And, the word ‘corruption’ is omnipresent. Whoops, another ad from the feds. Honestly, the government must support many radio stations single handed. The combination of the inevitable obligation of the press to the government and the very large numbers of police is interesting. At one intersection this morning I counted 12 uniformed police. No action there from them or anyone else. 

And then is the matter of the 43 people who were ‘disappeared’ by the government and the treatment of various indigenous groups. And the continuing fight by the teachers for an improved education system. Sometimes not understanding the complexities helps and other times I’m sure I get the wrong end of the stick.  Signs that say the paramilitary killed people in San Juan Copala and the people want them out. 


 But, the government sprays out its messages far and wide. Including to a me. Yup. Just lucky I guess.

The flag is put up and down daily. I like the goose stepping flag bearers. The penguin was suitably impressed, saluting from the side as they passed on Friday. 

And the military band played on.


Two bands again on Friday, the second a very professional looking lot. Although the dog seemed a bit unimpressed, come to think of it!


And the world kept on about them. We all need morning coffee.

    And greens for meals later in the day.


One of the many markets here has a big food section on Saturday. Cafes appear overnight. Many if them along a central street.


Every day these ‘pop up’ shops operate they have to be set up and down, whether selling clothes or food.


Monica has reappeared, back from Puerto Escondido, which sounds like a wonderful place. She wants to meet on Friday for coffee. Her language in SMS are intriguing. Anyhow, I’ll be very happy to have coffee with her again.

Come today, Sunday and I was sitting waiting for Monica. She is always late. I was not sure about the old lady who sat next to me. I chatted briefly to her, one way but she nodded. And then she started unpacking her very large bag of woven pieces. Not for my benefit I hoped. I did like the pale blue one but, what would I do with it? Frankly, the red pieces I bought in Guatemala many years ago were better pieces and I’ve been hard pressed to find a role for them.

Her friend has just arrived and they are speaking Zapotecan. Very different sound. How do I know it’s Zapotec? I asked her. 

Anyhow I left the Zocalo after 20′. Many Mexicans make an art of being late, according to one of my teachers. They, on the other hand, always arrive on time. But, Monica has been late for every meeting so far. As a hyper enthusiast for texts she could contact me. So, another time. Possibly. 

And she did text. I told her which coffee shop I was in and to join me. This was a lot later. 😀 And she didn’t turn up. I was secretly relieved and happily spent the time with Spanish verbs and listening in to nearby conversations. The result? Well, let’s say no one would employ me as a bilingual eavesdropper! 

Friday outing

No outing on Friday. I didn’t want to go to towns all over to see pottery being made, black or green depending on the town; weaving; nor the world’s biggest tree (I thought I’d seen that in Calcutta in 1973), … So, we did classes & I suggested we then went to a cafe in the Zocalo. We did and it was good having Alfonso there, to talk about people, things, who & what we could see. 

Down near the market on a Saturday

 One of my favourite places is the shop with this sign, yes, the chocolate shop. They sell a wonderful iced chocolate milkshake. Cartons of milk are poured into a container with a large block of ice. The maker scoops out a mix of ice and milk, puts in 2 spoons of powdered chocalte and puts it under a milkshake mixer. Very nice.

And there is something about roadworks the world over. Signage is getting ‘better’. They all seem to say the same as this, that they are constructing it for us today and that you will enjoy it tomorrow. 😊


  And the penguin and the shark:  well, the pirate was keeping them apart late Friday. I thought the penguin had gone but, no! He was safe. Puffed up anew with his successful escape. 😉


One thought on “Oaxaca, Mexico: school, life here and more

  1. What a great blog. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Pleased to hear more about penguins antics. You are going to miss him when you come home. Perhaps he could come here to live away from pesky shark!


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