Saturday, July 19, 2014

The ants go marching...

I just finished my first week here in Mexico City and wow….what a whirlwind! I didn’t think I would be so busy, but time seems to fly here!

This time last week my Dad and I had just spent 5 hours in a Movistar cell phone store…that feels like ages ago now. I’m currently sitting at my tiny desk in my room, roaring thunder shaking the whole apartment every few minutes (hello rainy season), while gazing at the orderly stream of ants bustling about my floor in the corner. These ants are important – I will get back to them later.


 My Dad and I being gringos...

Getting settled was a production. I ran into the most trouble with my phone (anyone planning to bring an unlocked Windows phone to a different country to switch sim cards DON’T DO IT!). That took about 4 days total to fix, but I was very grateful for the incredible help of my family here in Mexico (with everything, phone-related and otherwise). The other difficulty I had that I hadn’t anticipated was the sheer difficulty of finding things in Mexico City. I figured that since I was moving to a large city I would be able to find all sorts of apartment things (bedding, bins, cleaning supplies, etc) fairly easily. However, it is significantly more difficult to find Tupperware, Clorox wipes, and a shower curtain than I thought. From talking to people, I realize there are simply some things that people travel all the way to the US to buy, or they simply make do without. And there are also things that people here just don’t use, like smoke detectors and ant traps. Yup, there are those ants again, but hold on *cue timely thunder* I’m not done with them just yet.

My family has been incredible and I honestly could not have gotten settled as quickly as I did without their help! I didn’t realize just how impactful their welcome was until a day went by without seeing family and I found myself lonelier than I thought. People in general have been wonderful here, though: my roommates are very welcoming and it has been great getting to know them better, my co-workers are also very friendly and I am learning a lot from them, and even people on the street that I ask for directions (or how to use a pay phone) are very willing to help. It was also an amazing happenstance that I friend I made while studying abroad in Panama came to visit her family in Mexico this week and we were able to meet up! So people in general are what have made my arrival so wonderful. *cue ant darting across my computer keyboard*

 One of many family gatherings

Food is amazing and stressful. Amazing because it all tastes fabulous (honestly I don’t think there is anything I have tasted yet that I didn’t love), but stressful because:

a.) food is expensive in most of the areas I find myself in, and 

b.) I am never 100% sure if the food will make me sick or not. 

I’ve found myself with little to cook with most nights, so I have resorted to makeshift dinner combinations, like spicy salsa on rice cakes (actually that was one of my better makeshift meals). But after a little exploring and lots of question-asking, I found more affordable grocery stores and taquerías (taco restaurants) for the future. My favorite food here has to be nopales, which is a type of cactus-like plant with a very unique flavor. I am also surprised by the popularity of fish here – I have eaten fish at least 4 times in the past week, and not just because I was avoiding meat, but because it was in the majority of the items on the menu. I also love tacos – and no, they are nothing like those stupid crunchy yellow things you get at Taco Bell. In real tacos, shredded meat comes wrapped in 3 or 4 of the tiniest corn tortillas you will ever see, and by the time you add the lime, cilantro, onions, and spicy salsa your mouth is watering. They are the perfect late-night dinner/snack, and I am eager to try more from different taquerías. 

Taco spread

Commuting to Santa Fe from La Condesa has proven not to be as far a taxi ride as everyone kept warning me, but the universities here are on vacation so we’ll see how the commute changes once they start up again. Endeavor is an amazing place – very upbeat, modern, fast-paced, and exciting! The entrepreneurs we work with are enthusiastic and their businesses are always interesting to learn about. Attending meetings all over the city not only makes my week interesting, but has helped me to learn more about the layout of the city. My current project with the other PiLA fellow is to focus on the entrepreneurs for the Tech Track panel in September. By reading the entrepreneurs’ applications and listening to interviews between the entrepreneurs and their Endeavor mentors, I am learning a lot about how business is done in Mexico (and starting your own business in general). I started working on my first profile (a document written in English that summarizes the business of the entrepreneur for the international panel members) and I am excited to continue working on my translating skills.
Speaking Spanish all the time has taken its toll on me more than I thought it would. There are days when I get home and I can’t stop thinking in Spanish, and then there are days where I just can’t seem to form grammatically correct Spanish sentences no matter how hard I try. Everyone is very patient with me, and I know I can only improve, but there are many times (like when I ordered tacos for delivery) that I have absolutely no idea what the other person is saying and I have to ask or make an educated guess. Word of the week = topes (speed bumps). There are tons of them here, so I’m happy I finally have a word for them.

All things considered, this week has brought a great deal of excitement, some moments of frustration, and lots of learning experiences. I am eager to see what next week has in store!

Waiting in Parque de los Espejos (Park of Mirrors) before a meeting
So what about the ants, you may ask? Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about them. What first struck me about these ants was that in the U.S. an ant infestation in an apartment would be catastrophic. People would be rushing to buy ant traps and anything else that might stop the endless flow of bugs. But here, everyone is just thrilled that they are not cockroaches. And once I learned that, I began to look at these ants in a more sympathetic light. In fact, I find them sort of endearing for a couple of reasons:

1. They are predictable. In this city where road signs are mere suggestions, I barely know where I’m going, and everything moves at a pace that is borderline chaotic (and this description comes from someone who has spent plenty of time in NYC), the consistency of this little line of ants gives me some peace of mind. Every morning when I get up and every night before I shut off the lights, there they are, scurrying to and fro.

2. They are harmless. They aren’t termites. They haven’t infested the kitchen cabinets where the food is. They just scurry across the floor in certain areas. In this unfamiliar city, where I find myself needing to be alert for my own safety at all times, these ants are something that I don’t have to worry about.

3. They remind me of myself. I feel so small in this huge city. And I don’t know exactly what I’m doing just yet – but I try to follow the flow of the locals, and do my part to contribute to a bigger picture. 

While I may occasionally find a lone ant in my hair or on my desk, so be it. I pity the little guy because, like me, he’s just learning how to find his way in a very big world. 

Laundry day photos from the roof of my apartment building

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