A new week began yesterday, after my wonderful weekend in Taxco, and after a quick breakfast I took a taxi to my school which is located in the El Túnel neighbourhood. The school is called CETLALIC Alternative Language School and among the many Cuernanvaca language schools it has a rather unique place. Cetlalic teaches Spanish in a historical, cultural and political context and many of its students are community and political activists. Cetlalic is also committed to providing a language study experience for all groups and it also hosts many gays and lesbian students. The owner, Jorge Torres, is an avowed fighter for a variety of social causes, based on his family’s legacy in the Mexican workers’ movement.
The teachers at the Cetlalic language school with Jorge Torres (2nd from right)
At 9 am we started with a brief introduction and shortly after we three students (a couple from Germany and myself) started with our lessons. Cetlalic offers grammar courses from 9 to 12 and from 12, followed by a práctica from 12 to 2 with optional extra-curricular activities afterwards. These might include museum visits, visits to local places of interests, special lectures, movies or get-togethers.
Our teacher Mario did his best to describe the intricacies of the “subjuntivo del pasado” to us, one of the more difficult grammatical forms in Spanish. Instruction was held on a balcony behind the school, overlooking a lush tropical backyard with birds singing in the background.
My teacher Mario (2nd from left) with his colleagues
At 12 noon all the other teachers joined us and Jorge held a ½ hour charla ( a brief speech) about the Zapatista movement in Mexico. This movement originated in the state of Chiapas and is trying to address issues of social injustice, particularly those affecting indigenous people in Mexico. Two other teachers had attended meetings that are part of the tour of the so-called “Subcomandante Marcos”, a revolutionary leader who has patterned himself after famous Che Guevara and who is doing a speaking tour across the country to make people aware of the plight of people in Chiapas. I have to admit I wasn’t very informed about the intricacies of Mexican politics, but I had heard of the uprisings in the State of Chiapas. My co-students from Germany seemed to be much more knowledgeable than I about these topics.
Palacio del Gobierno in Cuernavaca
As I was about to do more explorations in Cuernavaca, I was unable to participate in the afternoon language practice, so I started my 20 minute walk towards downtown and stopped in at Roxana’s office at Tourism Cuernavaca, to work out the rest of my itinerary and sights to see for this week. Then I took a local bus downtown to check my email. I hadn’t been on the net since Friday morning and it was high time for me to put myself back in touch with all the important folks in Canada. Internet cafés are very inexpensive in Mexico, you can surf the net for a whole hour for anywhere between 5 and 10 pesos (C$0.60 to C$1.20).
Having taken care of my communications needs, it was time for a late lunch and I simply had some cheese quesadillas with a wonderfully tasty green chili sauce in a local restaurant right opposite the Palacio del Gobierno. After a little icecream break I strolled down a street called Francisco Leyva to find a place that I had heard about 2 days ago from the Californian couple that I met during the bus ride to Taxco on Saturday.
The beautiful Casa Vamos
They had talked to me about Casa Vamos, a non-profit organization that had been started by a couple from Vermont, that was using a wonderful villa / mansion to generate income for a variety of charitable activities that they had set up. I found the villa at 56 Leyva, rang the bell and a Mexican man in his 50s opened and I explained who I was. Agustín graciously let me in since the Californian couple had already mentioned my interest in this organization. He took me around the whole villa which is very extensive and has several bedrooms that are rented to guests.
The villa is beautifully decorated, has a living room with a high vaulted ceiling, and interesting art work on all the walls. The bedrooms range from a US$50 room with 2 twin beds, to a larger room for $75, and 2 extremely large rooms for $100. All rooms have private bathrooms, and some of the bathrooms have extremely fascinating tubs that are completely made from local tile.
Beautiful sitting area at Casa Vamos
Agustín, who is the local caretaker of the mansion, and I arranged that I would meet one of the organizers later in order to find out more about this charitable organization and all the initiatives that it is involved in. I was just fascinated by the combination of tourism and fundraising for charitable purposes and was a little sad to hear that the mansion was for sale. I just thought that this unique approach of offering historic accommodation in a beautiful Mexican mansion was such a neat idea for generating revenue for some great causes.
Among many other causes Casa Vamos, which is part of an organization called VAMOS, runs a house called Casa Tatic that is dedicated to helping Mexican street children while also functioning as an indigenous cultural center. Vamos also runs cooperative of locals who produce striking artwork, it provides leadership skills, literacy training, promotes human rights, is involved in community development, builds schools and community centers, and helps to provide medical and dental services to Mexican people living in poverty.
Another sitting room at Casa Vamos
With all arrangements made for an interview and my visit at Casa Vamos finished, I walked just a few steps down to my good friend Marta Elena, who runs the Villa San Marcos B&B where I had spent a few days in my first week in Cuernavaca. We have developed such a wonderful friendship since I came here and I thought I’d drop in unannounced on my friend to see if she was home.
Sure enough, I rang the intercom and said that it’s me and Marta Elena’s voice went up with delight, we were both happy to see each other. We had a wonderful time in Marta Elena’s backyard, she introduced me to all the various plants that she has in her garden and showed me a variety of family photos.
Very sadly, the evening took an extremely unfortunate turn. One of Marta Elena’s beloved dogs, her little pug Kissy, ended up swallowing a bee. We noticed it when Kissy started throwing up and walking around in a daze. Within a few minutes she lost control of all her bodily functions and when Marta Elena held her up she was just hanging there, limp, without any muscle control. Marta Elena put her down in her doggy bed and Kissy’s belly was moving up and down, her tongue hanging outside of her mouth. We frantically tried to reach a vet, but all the people we called were either not available or they were very far from our location.
After about 20 minutes Kissy started to stretch and opened her eyes and moved her legs. We thought she was recovering, but just a few minutes later she stopped breathing. Marta Elena tried to revive her, but to our great dismay little Kissy had passed away, she had died from anaphylactic shock.
It was so sad to see this young little dog, just lying there. My heart broke for Marta Elena who loves all her animals. She is such a loving and generous woman, and her dogs received so much of her loving attention and dedication. I embraced her and tried to console her, but there is nothing anyone can do in such a moment of sadness. We both were shocked at how quickly life can change and how life sometimes just hangs by a thread.
I’ve been thinking about this all night, how one minute Kissy was just a happy young dog, and barely half an hour she had succumbed to a lethal allergic reaction. Marta Elena walked me back part-way towards the house of the family where I was staying, she said she needed the walk. I admired her, because she maintained her composure, something that must have taken a lot of strength, considering how much she loved Kissy. I can only attribute this strength to the maturity of a woman who has experienced so much in her life and I embraced her and held her tight when she left.
Events like these make you realize the fragility of life.