Sunday, 2 August 2015

Viva Veracruz!

Veracruz map


Arrival at Arturo's

I arrived to the state capital of Veracruz for a two week vacation and handed over a precious bottle of Miahuatlan mezcal without further ado to my friend Arturo. He was putting me up for my first few days in Xalapa so I splashed out on a nice bottle. After dropping of my bags he began taking swigs out of it whilst driving en route to his gig that night.

"Gimme that!" I said snatching the hip flask. "It's not all for you".

I was glad that I had picked out a black t-shirt that day, as I already felt like a choir boy on a day trip to Hell when I entered 'Rockers' bar. Everyone (bar the unintelligible Chilean barmaid) had thick beards, long hair and a lot of tattoos and body metal.

I ordered a caguama (1.25L bottle of beer) and suffered the barmaid's sniggers when I asked for a glass. I later discovered that everyone else was chugging straight from the bottle. When it filled up there were 20 people at any one time clutching these gigantic booze dispensers. I imagined them to be tiny deranged emo-smurfs drinking from normal sized beer bottles. Arturo's prog-rock band is going on tour to Europe in August (including London), so if you are around try to check them out.

Saturday was no less eventful as we took a quick tour of Coatepec - famous for it's coffee - which is nearby.

"You want this crema? Buy these bonbons, they're delicious! When are you gonna buy some coffee?"

I kept having to remind my friend that I was on vacation for two weeks not two hours, and that I didn't want to lug around souvenirs for that long.




We went to dinner at his girlfriend's house where her parents went to great lengths to explain why they served the meal without tortillas. It was traditional to eat it with tamales. "OK" I shrugged piling more corn onto my plate.

Diana (the girlfriend) told me about when she got a skin rash and he suggested that she put corn meal on it. 

"Mai cena?!?" she exclaimed "My food? My dinner???"
She thought he was talking English for some reason.
"No . . . Maizena!" 

Yet another Spanglish fail. It reminded me of the time a supermarket attendant pointed out the poultry section telling me that it was "muy chicken".


Concerts and comedy:

I also managed to attend five music concerts in all that day, don't ask me how. Xalapa might not be the most touristic place, but there sure is a lot going on.

It's nice to be in a city with an arts scene, and a sense of culture. The city has a well known university which helps develop the desire to put on and attend events, and a less conservative approach to life too. Being such a long coastal state, Veracruz has got a real mix of races, cultures and attitudes. There seems to be a good work-life balance, less 9 to 5 and more getting involved in different professions, causes and events. From what I could work out, everyone's job is to drive around the city beeping and waving to their hundreds of acquaintances and friends.




Arturo's Dad Joel is funny. A jovial and rotund engineer and part time carpenter, every second syllable that escapes his mouth is a swear word. When I gave them a present for hosting me he shouted "Mira este cabrón!" When he's not talking about food he's making jokes. I told him I saw the herpetario (reptile zoo) in the park.

"Well what do they have in there? Herpes?" He asked raising an eyebrow.
"I don't really like snakes OR herpes", I said. "I'll just avoid it, I think".


xalapa park


On the way to a birthday party for one the 128 or so family cousins, another funny incident happened in the car. An obviously drunk man came over to our car, pointing, and said "I know you don't I?" to the Joel.

"Oh yeah?" he says playing along "Which cantina did we meet in?"

The drunk guy starts babbling on about the delicious food in the bar that he drinks in and his wife jumps out of the car scolding him and trying to get him into the car. "10 . . . 9 . . .8 . . . 7 . . ."
She is giving him a count down!

"What's going to happen when she gets to one?" mused Joel.

We soon found out when she launched into her husband screaming about "malditas cantinas" and slapping him about his ample body and head.

"Having such a recognisable face has its downsides" Joel expressed mournfully whilst driving away.


A little bit of bully:

I went to a town outside of Xalapa that was hosting its annual festival and was delivered by personal chauffeur service to my cabana which of course belonged to one of Arturo's extensive family. I visited the waterfalls where the 80s classic Romancing the Stone was filmed and set off on the long walk back into town.


xico cascadasxico festival


When I finally reached town I was confronted by several hundred cowboys on horses ready for the Cabalgata parade. I was also gasping for a beer from my arduous perambulation and pounded an Indio tall boy in about 4 seconds flat. Some of the cowboys even started cheering me on.

"You should have bought six" said the roadside beer seller.

As the parade moved into the town centre the festival atmosphere made itself more apparent. There were hundreds of spectators whistling, high fiving and taking photos of the riders they knew - between knocking back an obscene amount of Xico's famous blackberry liquor.

Before long, banda groups has descended into the street and the liquored up revellers were dancing in rain, carefully avoiding the mountains of horse shit piled up in the street. This was all punctuated by the usual occurrence of incredibly dangerous and loud fireworks being set off as each barrio burned their torito - a bull shaped wooden death trap loaded with explosives that everyone GETS INTO while the fireworks are going off!


xico festival


The next day wasn't much different. Drunken chaos. This really was an example of a Mexican holiday - where people cram as much debauchery as possible into the 6 hours or so per year that they don't have to work. The 22nd July is the culmination of Xico's festival where they let 20 real bulls loose in the streets.

The whole high street puts up wooden and metal barricades and the spectators pay to bring a lot of beer, liquor and corn based snacksas they can fit into the safe zones. People were already taking there places, singing and drinking when I finished breakfast at 9 a.m. I'd estimate around 10,000 people came, dressed up to the nines in cowboy gear, boots 'n' all. Here's a video of some of the action:


video


And now for the good news, no bulls were harmed, although three idiots  torreros were injured quite seriously. My favourite moment was Bull vs Piñata as the poor little leprechaun got one of its legs ripped off after taunting the toro one too many times. One thing I can say, is that at an event like this, it's good to be a tall traveller as you can see better than all the rest! I hope you enjoy the pics.




I scurried back to the cabana where the whole family had decided to convene for a family meal. They didn't seem to care that it was literally the busiest day in the town's calendar, there was chicken and mole to serve!

After several hours on my feet, three plates of dinner, and countless cups of liquor I was beggining to struggle to field the thousands of questions, photo requests and offers of mezcal from the family. I made an excuse about wanting to go back into town at 9pm, but returned after an hour as all I found was beer, banda and bullshit (actual cow dung).


A wet 'n' wild wedding:

After checking out Xalapa's famous anthropology museum (big stone heads, nice gardens), I went to camp in Jalcomulco, a small town 30km away. I arrived to the small riverside town and asked in a few places where was good to camp. One business offered me a gated compound with pool and 'security' for the very high price of $150 pesos per night. As I 'ummed and ahhed' they added, "or you could camp on the beach down the river, it's totally safe". I plumped for the $0 peso option with cold river wash an optional extra and it turned out to be a lovely spot. It was indeed very safe, but not from the blasted insect whose bites all over my legs remain sore to this day!




I had arranged to go rafting with one of Arturo's cousins the next morning and we set off on a family trip in the morning. He offered me a beer at 10 a.m. and when I asked if it was a bit early he replied "No, it's the best time to drink!" They sure like an early snifter in Veracruz.

Amongst my rafting companions were two nieces who were about 13. They made the usual request to be taken to England in my backpack, but seemed less keen when I told them my next foreign trip would be to Honduras. The rapids were a little calmer than expected, so in between shrieks from the girls I gave an inpromtu English class.

"Are you having a good time?"
 "Qué???"
"Un buen tiempo?  . . . How do you say bueno in English?"
"No sé"
"y tiempo?"
"Es que no sabemos!"
"Well, what do you know in English?"
"Err . . . ah ya! May I come in?"

***sigh***




I left in the afternoon to go to the wedding reception of some former colleagues who are from Xalapa. Two truths about Mexico - there's always more tortillas and there's always a wedding.

I wore my smartest t-shirt and only pair of trainers and met the happy couple Joaquín and Ana Rosa outside of the cathedral where a huge pro life demonstration was taking place. The protesters soon had the bride and groom posing for shots with their banner shouting "Beso! Beso!"

The reception was nice as I got to see some old colleagues but had to suffer through the 101 rituals where the groom danced with the mother in law, then the mother in law danced with the witnesses, then they danced with the waitresses and the waitresses tried to find some taxi drivers to dance with. Something like that anyway.




Instead of beer or wine, hot chocolate and an insufferable piña colada substitute were served before the meal. I needed a stiff drink after being forced to wear a sexy apron and run around the groom bumping into him with all the other singletons. Thankfully the whisky and cokes and tequila started flowing after that although I was already pretty shattered from the rafting and insect bites.


Trailer Parks and bungee jumping:

On Sunday I said goodbye to Xalapa and travelled up the coast. The Costa Esmeralda is around 40km of beaches with hundreds of hotels and family sites lining the ocean side of the highway. It's really more geared up to day trips by car and bringing your own food and drink, but it was a nice spot anyway. It seems that most of the hotels employ a man to stand on the highway waving a red flag to symbolise that there are spaces in their facility. A red flag? Why not blue or green, or just make a better sign??? I tell you, Mexico needs some marketing help.

I decided to get off the bus at a semi busy looking trailer park (with a man waving a red flag) and camped for a few nights. Camping costs 80 pesos and the park had a pool, bathrooms, WiFi and was on the beach - not bad. In fact, it didn't have any trailers and really quietened down after the weekend.




There is a lot of property for sale here, and although the sands are not golden with huge breaing waves, it's an attractive place. The two sisters from D.F. who run it were a bit like good cop bad cop. The smaller one was very welcoming and gave me a lift to the shop, whilst her fatter younger sister seemed intent on giving me misinformation, and grinned maniacally when I enquired if the price of a small beer was indeed 30 pesos.

I went to Papantla one day, a tourist town that is home to the famous voladores - the flying men. The town was OK, although I couldn't see what made it so magical, there was just loads of blokes jumping of a high pole set to the music of another bloke on top playing the flute.




The number of voladores reminded me of the scene in Flight of Conchords where the kiwis are accused of trying to bungee jump everywhere by a racist New York fruit seller.

The El Tajin ruins are close to Papantla and were worth a visit although by that time it was baking hot. My favourite part of the site was cooling off under a tree for 30 minutes and getting in for free with my teacher's card.





Sweat and volcanoes

I arrived to Veracruz and spent two hours walking with my bags in the hot sun trying to find accommodation. I sweated. I bumbed into a tall, blond pretty dutch girl and we decided to share a room to save money. Sounds promising right?

On the 8th or so place we went into we found a reasonably priced room. "If this one isn't good enough I'm going to cry" I said. To be honest, I don't think I had the body fluids to produce tear by that point as I had sweated out about 2 litres of water. Well, bunking with the dutch beauty Was less fun than it sounded as she had a mexican boyfriend and spent most of her time worrying what to eat as she was vegetarian.





"I've only got $25,000 to last two months. Is that enough?" she fretted.

Yes, more than enough!!! Stop spending $50 on orange juice in a posh zocalo cafés! Her idea of a cheaper option was walking one block and settling for the busiest café in town which is also a famous tourist attraction.

Veracruz is a truly bizarre city. A mix of Caribbean and Mexican, expensive and cheap, beautiful and ugly, historic and beholden to modern commerce . . . oh yeah, and it stinks. In a way I was glad that the sewage smell wasn't just our budget hotel, but wafted through the whole city. Even with the smell of poop, it does have a certain charm. I imagine if you know the best places to go, it could be a cool place. There was plenty of music and dancing around the cafés in the centre. It's a bit like little Havanna, I remember seeing one particularly Cuban scene in the zocalo where a fake watch seller and cigar hawker were discussing the day's play over a glass of rum.

The next day I checked out Veracruz's major tourist attraction, the aquarium. Dutch girl disapproved because aquariums are somehow cruel to animals. Later, I headed off to Orizaba, the town at the foot of Mexico's highest mountain (and volcano). Finding accommodation was certainly less sweaty than the previous day, but the nice little town then shot itself in foot by giving yours truly some bad tourist information. The cable car up the hill to view the mountain was supposed to be open until 6pm but when I arrived at 5:01pm the ticket agent told me,

"No more tickets".

I pointed to the line waiting for the cable car and said, 

"But they have to go up, can't you sell tickets until the last car is full"

"It's 5:01pm, we don't sell tickets".

Mexican Logic.





Orizaba was just a stop over really, but it's a shame that I came to the town named after Mexico's highest mountain without seeing it! As I said though, it's a nice little town with an iron palace built by Gustav Eiffel, and was home to one of Meixco's biggest breweries. Unfortunately it's the rubbish one! (Sol, Indio, XX). I'm off back to Oaxaca where Corona is king!

I really enjoyed my time in Veracruz, it doesn't have so many big ticket tourist attractions, but I'm proud to have made it my 10th visited state in the republic, and my final Mexican holiday! The full set of photos are below.

Back to the classroom next time. 

Talls 



Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The theme of themes

I've always said that I want someone to kill me when I start hosting dinner parties. I've got no issue with inviting people over for dinner, but there's something so false and showy about 'dinner parties'.

Well I may not have broken out the fine china just yet, but I have hosted a number of theme nights in the last year. I don't know if this is cooler or uncooler that dinner parties. Probably uncooler, but I feel like less of a tosser inviting people around for a party which involves a few decorations and different music.

Anyway, you have to make your own fun in this small Oaxaceño town. Opportunities to socialise can be limited (unless you like slurring drunk Mexicans approaching you with "Hey my friend, hey you motherfucker").

Here's a look at some of the events that the notorious Orange House (now a deep blood red colour) has put on.

pub quiz
1. Pub quiz night



Wanting a little taste of home, we decided to put on a spread fit for the Pearly Kings & Queens and turned the lounge into an East End boozer. Most of the guest were American or Mexican, so they didn't fully understand the joy of random trivia whilst getting drunk. Writing the questions was especially difficult due to the different ages, nationalities and interest of everybody.

pub quizThe rather brown supply of food included home made scotch eggs, mini quiches, chicken drumsticks and a variety of sandwiches. There was a lot of arguing about correct answers, cheating and inside knowledge of the questions, but I maintained my usual strict justice, awarding the win to a multicultural team of UNSIS teachers. The trifle we made was pretty good too, we ended up eating it for days.




2. An Indian feast


Any excuse for a curry. I guess you could say this is just another 'pub grub' night, but we did try to push the boat out and provide a feast for a visiting guest.

I had met English cyclist Jess in Guadalajara at Christmas and by March he had made his way down to Oaxaca. He brought his insanely heavy bike down to Miahuatlán and after a minor crash needed some refuelling.

My mate Jess in Mexico
We had about ten people to feed and always stock up on curry paste and spices when we or anyone else goes back home. We cooked lentil dahl, cauliflower curry, saag aloo, tandoori chicken, raita, naan breads, pilau rice and popadoms (well, tostadas).

To add a bit of atmosphere we all sat on the floor and ate finger style with a backdrop of droning sitar ragas. God bless you Pataks.


The night was a little lacking in entertainment as no one fancied a game of Kabaddi on the patio after all of that food!



casino night
3. Casino night

Perhaps our most ambitious night was attempting to turn my house into a casino . . . in one day. Whilst it was a lot of work, and the house didn't make a profit, it was a very rich experience. We printed off invitations for everyone we invited (although the turnout was halved due to a torrential downpour) and spent Saturday running around buying the necessaries and decorating the room. The guests were instructed to wear black and white, and we would provide them with casino chips. The grand winner with the most chips at the end of the night would win a prize.

casino nightcasino night


We started with a quick game of blackjack, before heading to the racetrack. We showed horse, dog and snail races on the projector and watched as the attendees screamed at the prerecorded videos to try and win more worthless plastic chips.

Resident magician Max then performed a short set. It was a little more Oliver Twist than David Copperfield but the tricks went down pretty well with the rowdy gamblers.

After that it was time for refreshments in the form of a cocktail competition. The winner, whose bizarre mix of rum, pineapple, coconut, soda and maguey worms received extra chips to add to his collection.

cocktail competitioncasino night

We finished up with a game of roulette via the method of projected videos and an ingenious table designed by yours truly. We called it a night at about 2am and awarded the prize to Evan who immediately furnished everyone with one of his winner's Ferrero Rocher - the classiest chocolate available.

Casino night was really fun, but be warned, it takes a lot of preparation and manpower!





4. Movie Night

You may have noticed that two common factors of these theme nights are food, and projected television. No change here then. A few months ago we crammed as many friends into our lounge as we could fit and treated them to a dose of classic British comedy - Monty Python's The Life of Brian. Our older cinefile friend knew almost every line, but it was a bit of an education for some of the less culturally aware (or more religious) yanks amongst us. At least we provided them with plenty of hot dogs and nachos to make them feel comfortable. The next week a new teacher called Brian arrived to the department. The poor guy had to endure around a month of

"His name is Briiiiaaaaannnnn!" songs and was told on several occasions that he was
"Not the messiah"





5. Bonfire Night


Thinking about donning woolly hats and gloves and heading out to a dark field in the middle of nowhere makes me a little homesick. No, I'm not talking about dogging events just off junction 17 of the M25, it's another British classic - The 5th of November.

What better way for the family to get together than for us to burn the effigy of a crushed political dissident and religious minority?

Long live the monarchy and the archaic political system! 

Of course it's all about having a warming drink whilst watching things blow up, and if Mexico does two things well, it's hot chocolate and cheap fireworks.


We invited people over to swill, hot chocolate, chow down on pork and apple baps, and watch the spectacular demonstration of pyrotechnics. the pork went down well, but we went a little overboard on the 8 litres of hot chocolate (which the Mexicans found a little too rich). The fireworks caused only minor injuries (loss of hearing for a day) and damage (one broken window), but we got about 30 minutes of entertainment for only 400 pesos (20 pounds).

I'm surprised Mexico doesn't have any celebrations to burn anti-heroes like Hernan Cortez, Emperor Maximilian or  . . . Donald Trump. They sure have enough fireworks to go around!




6. Ready Stead Cook



Our most recent theme night was instigated by the arrival of some very fancy chef whites and by some TV nostalgia. The now off-air "Ready Steady Cook" holds a special place in my heart due to many quiet afternoons watching it as a student. It featured and awesomely camp host, bad celebrities and inventive tasty food - what's not to like? One time I even convinced my brother that my mum had recorded and episode and it was going to be aired soon.

"It's on today!!!" I would shout.

When the contestants appeared and one of them wasn't her I'd say

"oh . . . maybe tomorrow". I kept up the charade for a good few weeks.

Imagine my surprise when a current colleague told me she had actually been on the show in New Zealand. We had to recreate the competition! However, she was very keen to be on the 'red tomato' team to avoid the painful memories of her defeat on the show as a 'green pepper'.

As ever, we had the projector up and running, showing reruns of the show. This was good for some of the 'contestants' who didn't know the format. We had three pairs and decided that they had 100 pesos (5 pounds) to buy a bag of ingredients. When we returned after our thrifty shopping, we switched bags and gave the first couple a few minutes to look at their ingredients and plan their meal.

When the teams started cooking, they had 30 minutes to knock up what their ingredient bag permitted. They also had to endure the annoying TV host style questions of the other contestants who tried to get in their way and put them off.

The first team made some cracking 'cracker' entreés and a spicy mince dish. Next was Guy and Lupita who nearly came to blows in an argument about garnish. They managed three dishes - prawn ceviche, prawn curry, and a mango and plantain dessert.

Finally the tallest chef in Oaxaca stepped into the kitchen and furiously ordered everyone out of the kitchen whilst demanding more wine. I don't know how I did it, but we made four dishes in 30 minutes. Caprese salad, Italian stuffed peppers, a beef pot roast, and a pineapple, coconut and rice dessert. Unfortunately, this was not enough. When we voted, the green peppers won the day and took home the gold envelope with imaginary charity money in it.

I've got plans to put on other events like a Spanish night (the nationality not the language), a murder mystery and a Karaoke night. People here are going to miss the 'orange house' parties when I'm gone, or then again maybe they'll relieved to not have to dress up like an idiot to enjoy themselves.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

International Day at UNSIS


What? You haven't heard of International Day? Unbelievable! It's only the most important event in the university calendar! The students wake up at 5 a.m. eagerly anticipating proceedings like kids awaiting their Christmas presents.

I wish.

International Day is basically a showcase day for the Languages department at the university. Each department (Nursing, nutrition, business etc) has their own jornada with a conference in the auditorium and in February, I came up with idea of doing one for the Language Centre.

The title of the day went through many changes - 'cultural day', 'intercultural day' 'international intercultural day' . . . so we were just glad to settle on something roughly accurate in the end. The department hosts American, Canadian, British, Irish and Australian teachers in addition to some of the Mexican professors and students that participated. So, with more than a few nations represented, we plumped for "International Day of the Centre of Languages." Just to clarify, although the only language we officially teach is English, we included a few tasters of different languages and viewpoints across the day too. Also, as far as we are aware this is the first event of its kind at any of the Oaxaca SUNEO campuses.

Since the idea was approved around two months ago, we've had countless meetings, schedules drafted and re-drafted, and put in a lot of work in additional to our normal classes. So why would we want to make all of this extra work for ourselves?

1. For the students - Students enjoy their English classes (on the whole), but they still have a very narrow perspective about learning, the world, and don't really know us that well either. We wanted to do something fun to include them and show them why learning English is a good idea.

2. For the department - As an obligatory course with no clear mission statement for why the students learn English, our department often gets overlooked. We get the worst class times, few resources and requests often get ignored by the administration. With a high profile event like International Day, we would hopefully rise up a few places in the departmental pecking order.

3. For the other professors - Language teachers are indeed a strange species, and whilst the department is friendly with several Mexican profs, most of the UNSIS staff avoid us like the plague. We wanted to open up a conversation with them and also show them what we do, because our job is very different to theirs.


So, after a lot of meetings, planning, designing, cooking, swearing at computers and running around making last minute changes, here's how the day went down.


8am - I arrived to the auditorium to discover that half of the student projects had fallen down over night, so I spent a while sticking them up again before heading to set up the 'food fair' area. One of the other profs came in babbling away saying that he'd brought apples with Hershey's chocolate sauce instead of flat breads. I was feeling the pressure of the occasion at this point and professed to not really caring. To be fair, this particular teacher is not known as being the slickest operator and we're lucky he even remembered that International Day was happening. He once got invited to a Rodeo and ended up smacking horses' arses (not a metaphor) and running away from the bulls.

I went back to the auditorium to help get the audio and projector set up and discovered Temo, the technical helper, in full reclining mode.

"Nothing is working Temo" I stammered. "How are we going to fix it?"

"Ni vale maaaaaadre, no pasa nadaaaaa" he replied lazily.

I had to virtually prise him out of his seat with a crowbar in order to check the microphones and the slide show. By 10am, we were just about prepared and the seats were starting to fill up. We managed to ensure a packed house each hour by bringing our classes to the event and ushering them into the seats which was an additional stress of added questions and Spanglish banter. I finally settled down in my stage right position in front of the master presentation computer and was ready to begin.


10am - We had the usual University administration pomp with various powerful people doing an inauguration speech. The admin staff are certainly egotistical as they have to sit centre stage and receive a round of applause regardless of whether they say anything or not. The vice rector even brought her secretary to stand menacingly behind the table of top brass as a symbol of power. Weird.

We kicked of with a song from the Magic Man's students, which was great fun and well rehearsed. See if you can guess the Beatles' number from the picture. It was an a capella version, which made clapping along a little harder, but it went down pretty well.

The singers with the conductor in the 'orchestra pit'
It was followed up by 5 reasons to learn English, presented by the boss, and two talks from Mexican professors who had studied abroad. I was the one pushing the buttons on the computer and was already starting to feel under pressure. One of the teachers took a little long describing eating her lunch in the library at the University of San Diego, and the other gave a rather dry account of 'logic trees' during his study of computer language interpretation in Rochester. Who new that so many 'fascinating' industries like Xerox and Kodak were located in upstate New York. His "back one slide, forward two slides, stop! repeat and fast forward" method started to give me the jitters, but we eventually made it to the last slide . . . and the crowd went mild.


11am - I ran over the the food fair which was already in full swing and encountered a queue of about 200 hungry students trying to squeeze their way up the stairs. Maybe they had heard something about those delicious apples! Each teacher had brought in traditional food from their country and there was just about enough bite size portions to go around. We had:

Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches (Ohio)
Oatmeal Cookies (California)
Biscuits (Kentucky)
Devilled eggs (Iowa)
Chiles en nogada (Mexico)
Mac 'n' Cheese (Colorado)
Quiche (Hertforshire)
Soda Bread (Ireland)
Potato Salad (Canada), and much more.

I nailed it by making scones for the first time which I served with cream, jam and Tetley's tea. I was under such pressure from the grabby students' hands that I was struggling to field the questions.


What tea is it?
English tea or breakfast tea . . . black tea

How do you pronounce scone?
Skohne . . .  or Skon . . . it doesn't matter.

Where is the tea from?
England . . . India . . . China . . .err yeah

Cream first or jam first?
Cream . . . jam . . . stop eating it without any cream. You need cream!!!

With milk or without?
Whatever you want just stop with the questions and move along!

12pm - After the food was finished the room looked like rubbish tip after being attacked by a flock of angry seagulls. I left some others to clean up and headed back to the Auditorium for more PowerPoint perfection.


We had presentations on Japanese letters and words, experiences from Mexican profs living abroad, and some student videos about nursing around the world.

1pm -  I had curated the 'Arts hour' which couldn't fail to be the most popular section of the whole day, could it? Now it was my turn.

First off Guy pranced his way through a performance of 'Shakespeare and the theatre', with a slide show expertly put together by yours truly. There were lots of boos, hisses, and throwing stuff . . . which was part of the show, not because it was so bad.


The thespian masterpiece was followed by a rather confusing look into the hidden messages contained in 'The Little Prince' (which I had never even heard of), and then a gallery of Berlin street art.

I teamed up with Brian, of PBJ sandwich fame, and followed up with a journey through the Rock ages. I think everyone liked the presentation and the accompanying videos, but I felt we missed a trick by not getting students more involved. They could have partaken in some headbanging or air guitar, whilst we should have at least worn some silly clothes or KISS masks.

I managed to get some food down me at lunch and spent time tweaking presentations and photos until Temo returned to the auditorium full of tortillas and ready for an afternoon doze.

The line dancers in action
4pm - 'Traditions' started with a bang as Kate donned her boots and a checked shirt to talk about cowboy culture. This was always going to be a winner as I think the only place with more cowboys than America is Mexico. She got one of her classes to do a line dance and the audience loved it. One thing you can say about the kids here, is that they are willing to give things a go. I can't imagine grumpy high schoolers in the States or moody university students in Britain wanting to get up on stage.

For the rest of the hour we took a look at Chicano murals in San Diego, and American traditions. One of our outgoing teachers who is a dead ringer for Woodly Allen, nervously stammered his way through a 4th July slide by informing everyone that "I don't like to go to fireworks celebrations . . . you know . . . because . . . err . . . they take too long to get to and err . . . they've got massive queues." Fascinating, please tell me more.

I then improved on my earlier performance with a rousing demonstration of some weird and wonderful British traditions (think Cheese Rolling and Morris Dancing). I managed to get the audience involved a bit and will upload a video of the talk if I can get hold of a copy.

9/10 students rated this presentation as the best of the day.
5pm - We played more student videos at 5 because many of the higher levels had produced clips about Nursing, Municipal problems and business commercials. One group of my students came in dressed in full formal clothing looking very nervous.

"Don't worry girls", I told them "we are just going to play your video, I told you not to come in dressed formally".

"OK teacher" they said looking relieved and a little sheepish.

6pm - Due to lack of caffeine, I was starting to lose the plot. Remember, we had set up everything ourselves and had virtually no help from the 'powers that be' in the university. No coffee, no food, no technical support (well, Tranquilo Temo), and no one to help usher the students into place. We prepared gift baskets for every Mexican teacher who gave a speech in English, but there was nothing left over for us native speakers. Where was my certificate and basket of sweet treats?

As I drifted in and out of consciousness during the final hour, my dreams of a cold Corona were interrupted by Edna screeching 'next slide . . . NO! . . . The NEXT one . . . ahhh YAAAAA!' Oops, sorry! We were nearly there. We had a few more presentations and wrapped up with a hastily constructed student photo slide show set to some music - you've guessed it:

♩ ♪ ♫ "You say goodbye . . ." ♩ ♪ ♫ 

The UNSIS players
After a bit of cleaning up, we headed to a local pizza joint for some well earned food and drinks. The atmosphere was a bit like an opening night party after a theatre performance, everyone was on a high and we were really pleased with how it went. I may have been the protagonist, but it was a big effort from everyone, and I want to say that I'm lucky to work with people who are willing to put in the effort and keep and open mind. Unfortunately, this thank you message must exclude Mr. Chocolate Apples, who spent most of the day locked in his office sulking.

I think the day was a success in all three of its objectives. The students loved it, we've gotten lots of messages of support from other profs, and the administration even gave us some new computers. The food was a real hit, as were any sections that included student participation, so that's a good learning for the next time.

All hail International Day!
¡Viva el día internacional!

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