Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Reading Train

John arrived on Friday afternoon after spending most of the night on a red-eye flight from Tiajuana. The little apartment was a nice size when there was only me living there. John is planning to be in Mexico 3-6 months, so he came with four or five big bags full of everything you could imagine including more folded up duffel bags for purchases. He’ll go home via bus, and there are no bag restrictions on buses. When he took a look at those stairs he turned around and asked the young cab driver what he’d charge to carry the bags up. The fellow grabbed the two heaviest ones and started up the staird. I thought he would collapse by the time he got to the top and knew he’d wished he’d asked for more money!

John was pretty exhausted from a night of no sleep on the plane, but we still took the bus to the market and then on to Centro to look around a bit and have some dinner. He broke off the knob on the kitchen sink the first time he tightened it. It was cheap cast iron and broke right in half. We couldn’t find any ‘mechanico’ stall that had a replacement so we purchased a pair of cheap pliers and rigged a “knob” with the pliers and a rubber band. I swear all those years of camping experience have come in handy living in Mexico.

On Saturday, we had a very leisurely morning and finally went back to the market and then downtown. John had a Zapatista contact he wanted to make. But before we did that, we stopped at the plaza.

Getting a little help.
A young married couple has started a reading program that is just too cool!! The man and his father built a train engine. It’s a welded steel structure over an old car body and engine. It looks just like a train engine and has seats in the back for “tourists”. They give tours of the town in the “engine”, and the money supports the other half of their program, an outdoor library for kids. They have a small ‘train’ with a cart full of picture books, a few tables and chairs and several peddle cars that also look like trains. The kids pick a book, read it, and then they can play on one of the peddle cars. You see kids parked all over with the books and several of them peddling the cars. It’s very popular. We stopped to talk to them about the program. It hasn’t been going on very long, has a little government grant to keep it afloat and they’re out there ever Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 10. 

Reading books at the Reading Train.

I asked if I could interview them, turns out they just live a few blocks from our apartment. I took a few pictures but will come back for better ones with my bigger camera. John came up with several fund raising ideas. It think this little grass-roots program is marvelous, because the way Mexico works their educational system, a lot of kids have no access to school. Oh, sure, schools are public, but one or the other parent must volunteer one day per week at the schools. If they don’t the kids don’t go. Period. For single mothers, for the poorest of the poor, school is not an option, and that accounts for why there are so many raggedly children on the street shining shoes and selling gum. The whole family works at just staying afloat. 
One of the train peddle cars.

With a program like this, kids have access to books, and they were just fascinated. One little boy in dirty pants, dusty hair and no shoes was reading with his finger on each word, just thrilled to be able to do it, and even more thrilled to ride in one of the carts. I think they need better signage to get the tourists involved in riding the train. If I had known the train raised money for the reading program, I would have ridden it the first day. If more of the multitude of tourists in San Cristoal would do that,  their funding could easily be increased.  So John and I have found our ‘short’ calling while in Mexico. We are going back on Sunday to talk more with the couple and find out what they need, and what they’d like. John has spent most of his life marketing and selling. If they will accept our help, they might be able to get quite a bit more money for their project. I will also do some fundraising when I get home. I think this sort of thing is so worthwhile. You can’t succeed in modern life if you can’t read well, and for a culture to exclude some children….well, it’s unconscionable, and it ensures a constant underclass that is too easily exploited.

There’s a restaurant on Guadalupe called Tierra Adentro. It is a nice place with an open, barely covered, courtyard with tables and chairs, little shops, a bookstore, and conference rooms. The shops are run by co-ops from the Mayan villages and much of the profit goes to fund Zapatista activities.  The floor is stone and was filled with pine needles like the church in Chamula. This was the first time I’d been in there when the pine needles were on the floor and it’s just as dangerous as in the church. In fact, one kid leaned back in his equipale chair and fell right over. Everyone laughed. He was fine, but I thought, this would never have happened in the US without someone throwing a fit over it.

John’s contact there, Jose, is a red-haired American man from southern California who has been living in San Cristobal for a few months studying Spanish. He’s married to a Mexican woman and is a friend of the restaurant owner. We spoke English for a bit and then switched to Spanish. I learned a lot about the Zapatista movement and the efforts of the indigenous people to get control of their land, and how it gets financed with international contributions.

Courtyard roof at the Zapatista Restaurant.

After a nice lunch we headed over to the landlady’s place to talk to her about John getting an apartment in the Centro area in May. She told us the young couple upstairs will be moving on Wednesday. I was so surprised. Natalia hadn’t mentioned it. So we’re going to move to the much larger apartment when they move out. I’m really happy about that, though I am going to miss Natalia a lot.  She gave me a tour of her place last week, and it’s a lot larger, two bedrooms, and a halfway decent kitchen.  After we got home, she stopped by to meet John and said they’d just decided to move to a place closer to Centro. I can see how it would be lonely out here for such a young active couple.  I wouldn’t have picked this spot either, but I’ve enjoyed it for one month.

Zapatista restaurant.
At the Posada, our landlady Sr. Martinez was in the kitchen with her baby, Mateo. He was in a highchair pushed up against the wall and behind the table. Obviously she is an experienced mother. He is about 6 months old and strong. He pushed his little sturdy legs against the table and rocked back and forth in the highchair, but the wall kept him from flying over backwards. He was so cute, with huge brown eyes and fluffy chocolate hair. She was feeding him strained fruit that he didn’t care for at first, but then made noises and stretched open his mouth like a baby bird begging for more.  We sat and chatted for probably an hour; the way business is done in Mexico. I gave the broken handle pieces to her and assured her there was no hurry to fix it, we had a solution. She was relieved as tomorrow is Sunday and she’d have a hard time finding someone to send out to the “cabana” as she calls the place.

Brigitte's hairless pouch, Biscot.
I left John to find his way back to the Train people while I took the CD with Pascuala’s photos on it to Brigitte. She insisted I come in and look over the photos. I think she was quite pleased. She invited me to go on yet another ‘shoot’, this time to photograph some welder/ironworkers. Somewhere up in the mountains, there’s a very tiny town and a group of 7 men who do artistic gates and other types of welding. They have no phone, so on Tuesday, we’re going to wing it, go there, and hope they will be working. Her husband Bob wants to go too, he said it’s a beautiful drive. She still wants to take me to the little town south of here that is famous for ceramic figurines. I’ve seen them around town and in Brigitte’s house. We’re not talking little table-top animals. They are life-sized jaguars and ocelots. She showed me a photo of an artist with a huge jaguar piece. The face of the cat and the woman bore great resemblance to each other, not something she appreciated when Brigitte told her that!!  I’m beginning to really like Brigitte. The woman speaks her mind…..always. And so does Bob. I think the four of us will have a fun trip to wherever this little village turns out to be.

I found John at the Reading Train perusing a book on Mayan archeology. He said some of the temples have 365 steps, one for each day of the year. He wondered how many months the steps up to our little apartment covered. At least two months I would guess, I’m not sure I want to know!!


A little Aztec....








For a while, we enjoyed entertainments on the plaza in front of the Cathedral. I enjoyed putting my new little camera through its paces, it even does short videos. Click below to see Aztec dancers: