The Shock before the Culture

The clouds were massive and building around us. With each new gust of wind, the plane shook violently. The flight attendant brought our snacks by, and I wondered how she managed to stay standing.

With each bump the flight took, I began to feel sicker and sicker. It was only about an hour long flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca, but it seemed to take ages with all this turbulence. At long last, we landed. I was never so happy to have my feet on the ground again.

We walked into the small airport where our host families were awaiting us. My roommate and I were introduced to our host mamá. La Señora gave us each a hug with accompanying besos (kisses) on our cheeks, which I was not ready for! As a side note, I think that any culture which uses kisses in greeting will be something that will startle me, no matter how many times I am told to accept it.

Our host mamá and her son had come to get us. The sun was setting on this new-to-me country as her son loaded our bags into the back of the truck. Then we were driven from the edge of the city to the home of Señora.

On the ride, our mamá asked us questions to which I couldn’t respond. All of a sudden, after several years of Spanish class, the foreign language I tried so hard to decode was entirely foreign to me again. I understood not a word and couldn’t formulate a proper sentence to answer. While my roommate chatted away in Spanish (she had been to Mexico before), I looked out the window.

I saw some people walking barefoot in the street, and little half-broken buildings. Meat was cooking outdoors at some restaurants. As we drove, I began to see familiar things: KFC, Sam’s Club, Office Depot. The longer we drove, the nicer the clothes of the people on the streets. I was acutely aware of how much more wealth could be seen the further we drove.

I remember thinking, “I am in Mexico. I am in Mexico. Oh, what kind of place did I come to? Everything is moving too fast…” And then we were home, at my host mamá‘s house at least. As we got out of the truck, one of the dogs came up, smelled me, and let me pet it. That was the only time one of those dogs was so nice to me.

My host family’s home was inside walls and solid gates. Their lawn was meticulously groomed and almost as green as the Emerald Isle. Their flowers were resplendent in their beauty, especially their Birds of Paradise which effortlessly flourished. But I didn’t see any of that. My eyes went to the sidewalk, to the smooth orange-red ceramic tiled floor, to the stairs as we followed our host mom… She showed us our room we would share, and its adjoining bathroom. We met another American living across the hall.

Then I excused myself. I went into our bathroom and sat down on the delightfully cool floor. “What was I thinking? What am I doing here?” And then I was sick. Mexico had spun me around and turned my world upsidedown in no time at all. And I hadn’t even started to experience the full extent of the culture.

After a while my roommate and I were called downstairs to dinner: cereal (dinners are small meals in Mexico). Then, we went to prepare for the next morning’s class. As I went to sleep in Mexico for the first time, I felt confused, uncomfortable, and unsure that I made the right decision in coming. The lesson here: give it time and experience the culture, not the window’s view.


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