Yesterday (Friday) sucked. I felt like I was in an alternate universe where the world was moving and shaking but I was stuck trudging through thickening concrete. My goal at work was to stay awake, look alive, and pretend like I understood something. Anything. It was an energyless, cloud of a day. When I got home I collected myself in my room, ate a bit, and then promptly fell asleep on the sofa. I could do nothing else. It was my first “hard day.”
People warned me about these days. There will be hard days where the language will seem like a wall that is too high to climb, a river too fast to cross. There will be days when the culture shock is very real. It hit me like a train yesterday. I’ve never felt a struggle like it before. It was draining. It crushed my confidence in being in Mexico City. It made me doubt why I’m here challenging myself to something so daunting.
Today I woke up to my same old alarm. I put my tennis shoes on. I made some toast. I greeted my host niece, Karina, “buenos dias.” We left the house at 8am to go on a walk in a nearby park, only a couple metro stops away. We walked in the misty rain, bought bread, ate “gorditas” (thick stuffed corn tortilla circles), studied Spanish grammar (for her, English), and watched a movie. I had a normal day. I spoke in Spanish and learned more. I had a good day.
If you asked me to make a list of things I’m grateful for, top of my list today would be Karina and my host familia. I’m especially grateful for her patience with my constant “no sé” and “como se dice eso?” She calmed my fear that the wall of a new language was too high. She is easy going and it seems she enjoys teaching me things. She chooses to spend time with me. It’s amazing how much that makes me feel valued and normal. I’m not so sure I’d be interested in myself with my low level of conversation and self expression at this point.
As for the rest of mi familia, I should start at the beginning. Forgive me for the delay in this. Here’s a family run down. People who live in the house: Host parents- Juan and Georgina. Host niece (she’s 18)- Karina, but she’s about to leave L. Host siblings- Lilia, Hugo, and their kids Hugo Angel, and Luis. People who don’t live in the house: Karla and her husband Victor Hugo. Julio and his wife Bethany. I have yet to meet Karina’s parents since they live in Guadalajara. Otherwise, I see the others at least weekly.
I moved in with my host familia on a big holiday. “El Grito” is a celebration the night before the Mexican Independence day. What happens on big holidays? Big family parties. I knew I was beginning my time in a very outgoing manner. I was both excited and intimidated by this. Lilia and Hugo, two host siblings, picked me up from the bus stop and gave me a delicious smelling bouquet. When I walked in to house, a three story white house across from a hustling and bustling market, I was met with open arms from my host mom, Georgina. “Bienvenidos a tu hogar,” she said while she hugged me. Over my shoulders I see this big, colorful banner in my honor.
After arranging my stuff in my room (thank goodness no more living out of a suitcase for awhile), people began arriving. Cheek kiss after cheek kiss, I met people. All night I smiled and laughed. I felt at home and taken care of immediately. Did I understand everything? Absolutely not. Did it matter? No, not really.
The next morning, Karla, Victor Hugo, and Karina took me on the metro to show me how to get to work the next day. They woke up early after a late night just for me. They were very intentional about making sure important things were clear so I could do it all by myself. Victor Hugo even got my metro card for me. After, we went to a parade. I’ll be honest; I did not know this was part of the plan. We watched thousands of military personnel march past in various uniforms, singing, playing songs, kicking in line. It was fascinating since I’ve never seen anything like it. Simultaneously, parts made me feel a little uncomfortable. Like the amount of firearms (did you know that there are enough firearms in the world to kill every person 40 times over?) and how men catcalled at the women soldiers. Still, I enjoyed it and was glad they brought me.
That weekend, last weekend, I thought I had no plans. At 8:30 am on Saturday, my host dad, Juan, knocked on my door saying he wanted to teach me how to get to the park. So there we go. Juan, Karina, Karla, and Victor Hugo. I ran with Victor Hugo, who is an avid runner (perfect!) and we finished the morning with fresh juice and yogurt from a fruit stand. Best part was knowing there was an easy to get to 5k course close by that’s safe to go to in the morning.
Victor Hugo invited Karina and me to go to his 10k race the next morning. At first I thought, no. Too early. Then I remember part of our YAGM Mexico covenant: ‘the yes attitude.’ I could sleep in OR I could get my butt out of bed at 5:30 am, see a new area, get good exercise and spend quality time with quality people. Though she said it was too early, even Karina was up with me in the kitchen preparing for our morning of a race then Karla’s soccer game. That’s dedication. She only went to watch!
I ran without a number since I didn’t have time to register beforehand. Victor Hugo made sure I knew where to go, where to meet after, and that I was with him at the start. In the dusk light, people began singing and the crowd of six thousand people began to inch forward. As we began, Victor Hugo stuck with me. When we got separated, it wouldn’t be long before he’d be back by me asking how I was feeling or if I wanted water. This continued for 6 kilometers during his race and he was taking care of me! Finally, I was really hitting a wall with a bad side cramp and I told him to go. He did and I was glad to see him go at his own pace. I don’t think he knows he got me through a couple of tough kilometers.
At the end of the race, I see him walking towards me taking my picture. I give him a high five but have to go through the non- registered runner exit. When he finds me later he takes his medal off and gives it to me.
“Are you sure?” “Estas seguro?”
“ Yeah, I have many.” “Sí, tengo muchos.”
It was such a simple gesture but it meant the world to me. Sure, the medal is pretty normal and it was a bit sweaty but it was a sign of care. Of acceptance. I wore it with pride. It was the slowest 10k race I’ve ever ran yet I will cherish that medal because to me it’s Victor Hugo’s intentionality and care.
My host family showers me with grace and love. I’m sure they think nothing of it but I’m going to point out some moments where I felt so cared for. Georgina showing me all the ropes of the house and taking me to the doctor. Juan bringing me a jump rope. Lilia teaching me words that have double meanings. Lilia and Hugo dropping me off at a closer metro stop before work. Karina explaining word after word. Julio cracking jokes with me so I feel like part of the clan. Bethany bringing me a map of the city. These are the moments I need to remember when I feel like it’s all too much.
I’ve walked into a community of great hospitality. I’ve joined a familia that cares for me. There will be hard days and I’m not immune to them. I will continue to miss you people at home and being in places I’m accustomed to. But as I walk here I need to remind myself that I have so much to grateful for where I am. I thank God for that.