Monday, September 27, 2010

Cayacklii nieae dixzaa

The title of this post means, "I am learning Zapotec". I have to admit I have not learned that much yet; in fact in order to write that title I just asked my Zapotec teacher to tell me how to say that phrase via gmail chat, and I have only a vague idea of how to pronounce it. Good thing my Zapotec teacher has gmail chat. But hopefully soon I will know enough to come up with a phrase like that on my own.

I found my new Zapotec teacher through couchsurfing, as I have found most of the people I know here. He is from a town called Teotitlan del Valle, which is about a 45 minute bus ride from Oaxaca when there are no roadblocks caused by protests (which there all too often are). The first time I visited the town I fell in love; I decided it would be the perfect place to become involved with the school and try and volunteer once a week. Apart from being absolutely gorgeous, it has a strong weaving culture; woven items are the main market commodity, and almost everyone there knows how to weave, men and women alike. Here is my Zapotec teacher and tour guide posing in front of some of he and his mom's weavings: In addition, the town has kept the Zapotec language alive to a larger extent than other towns in the vicinity of Oaxaca. According to the 2000 census, a majority of the people there are bilingual in Spanish and Zapotec (that has probably changed somewhat by now as the weavers become more and more involved with the outside world and Spanish becomes more and more dominant).

So, I went to the town's primary school and talked to the director about the possibility of volunteering there once a week. I haven't gotten an official response yet, but the director seemed to like the idea. Most likely, I will be giving an "English workshop" to a different group of kids every week. I haven't completely formulated yet what I would want to do in these workshops, but I would want them to somehow incorporate the Zapotec language (maybe create some games and activities that involve both English and Zapotec words), try to give the Zapotec-speaking kids a chance to be my "teachers", and in some way or another get the most important message across: "YOUR native language is important too! And there are people who want to learn it!" I told the director I wanted to do "English workshops", but really I think the most important part of my work would be just that, sending the message that ALL languages are important and enriching to learn. In ten years the kids probably will not have retained much English from my one-hour workshop--maybe a couple words--but maybe what will stick with them will be the memory of someone coming to their school from the United States who wanted to learn THEIR language. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

So my lessons in "Zapoteco del Valle" (as opposed to "Zapoteco de la Sierra", the dialect I was learning before) have commenced. It has very little in common with the first dialect of Zapotec I was learning, except it's also really hard. The pronunciations are such that I usually can't even figure out how to write words down phonetically so I'll remember them. The main issue is that Zapotec is a tonal language (Paci, you and Wikipedia were right)--so basically it's about as hard to learn as Chinese, except without the characters. A funny anecdote from today: I was making a list of food vocabulary, and realized that the word for "chicken soup" is "shu-beédxi" and the word for egg is "sut-beédxi". My teacher said that was because "beédxi" is chicken. My first reaction was alarm: "Why in the world is the word 'chicken' in the middle of the word 'egg'?! There is no chicken in eggs!" OK, so in my defense, the word in Spanish for chicken the food is different for the one for chicken the animal, so having my teacher tell me that chicken the food was in eggs might have been what threw me off. Also, I have never seen a language where the word "chicken" is embedded in the word "egg" (though it makes sense, doesn't it?). Speak up if you know of another. Apparently the literal meaning of the word "egg" is "bone of chicken", though in a different Zapotec dialect it means "son of chicken".

Yesterday, I also had a nice long talk with one of the directors of CMPIO, the Oaxacan Coalition of Indigenous Teachers and Promotors, which is right here in the city. The organization is part civic association, part labor union, and partly supported by the SEP (Mexican Department of Education). The main goal of the group is to "recuperate" indigenous languages and cultures (the word "preserve" in this context is becoming politically incorrect, since languages and cultures are by nature not stagnant things) by developing pedagogy for bilingual schools (schools in which students and teachers use both Spanish and a native language). Unfortunately, the SEP currently only has one national curriculum that applies to all schools in Mexico, whether or not they are bilingual-- which makes it difficult for bilingual schools with alternative pedagogies to be recognized and funded as public schools. However, CMPIO has made a few important strides, including what the director considered the two most important projects: "segundarias comunitarias" and "nidos de lengua".

Segundarias comunitarias are high schools that use an alternative bilingual curriculum, in which the learning originates from the town itself, rather than being imposed by the outside world. In other words, students learn through the lens of their own culture and language, rather than being taught assimilation. The first two years incorporate various community projects and interviews with people in the community. The third year includes an investigative project within the community. From what I understand, there is some kind of complex situation in which these community schools are recognized as public by the state of Oaxaca but not the federal government. Unfortunately, the closest "segundaria comunitaria" is about a 3- or 4-hour trip from Oaxaca, the farthest being about 12 hours away. But I do hope to visit one sometime.

The second project, "nidos de lengua", means "language nests". This was a phenomenon that began in Australian aborigine communities, in which the elders realized that their language was disappearing because children were no longer being taught to speak it. It is a strategy that is ideally for kids between the ages of 1 and 6 years old, in which "nests" of 10 or 20 kids are formed in which they are spoken to all day in the native language by language "guides", who can be community elders or younger community members trained in bilingual pedagogy. It is essentially a total immersion experience designed to make the children bilingual and in this way retain more of their community's culture and history. In order to make the "nido" effective, the parents of the children are also encouraged to speak to their children in the native language at home, although this is very difficult because many of the parents only speak Spanish. CMPIO is holding a two-day workshop on "nidos de lengua" in October, which I am thinking of observing.

Although I find the idea of "nidos de lengua" interesting, I can't help but wonder how well it works for the kids in them, and how well it will work in the long run. In Oaxaca, kids as old as 10 are sometimes thrown into the nidos. That makes it more of a second language-learning program than a preschool immersion experience. I'm all for recuperating native cultures, but I have to wonder if an indigenous 10-year-old, on the cusp of his or her teenage years and experiencing a ton of pressure from the increasingly ubiquitous Spanish media to conform to mestizo social norms, would be all that thrilled about being made to learn an indigenous language that is only spoken by elders. Unfortunately, in Mexico there is a lot of prejudice against indigenous people and people who speak indigenous languages, which accounts for most of the reason the languages are dying out. Some people would argue that it is good that indigenous people are learning Spanish and participating more in mestizo society. After all, it gives them much more power in the society as a whole. I partly agree with that argument, but I also think it's not necessary for the native languages to be lost. Consider the example of the Catalán language in Barcelona. Just about everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish, but signs are still written in Catalán, not because the Catalán language is necessary for any official business, but because of the cultural pride of the Catalán people. Languages only die out when people stop valuing them. And to me, every language is valuable because embedded in the language are certain cultural beliefs and perspectives that might not exist anywhere else. In order for indigenous languages to survive in Mexico, it is not only necessary for the government to start supporting bilingual programs, but for both mestizos and indigenous people to be re-educated and learn to value of native cultures. It will require a lot of work, but I don't think it's impossible.

As for my "real" work --what Fulbright is actually paying me for-- I finally started assistant teaching classes at the Tec a few days ago, usually for 3 or 4 hours a day. It is a lot of fun, and I am realizing that I actually enjoy working with college students a lot more than I liked working with first graders, for the most part (dammit, that might complicate my career path). Most of the students only have a very basic knowledge of English even if they are technically in level 2 or 3 (the fact that they are allowed to take a year off in between level 1 and level 2 probably partly accounts for this). So far in the classes, I have mostly been introducing myself in English, then having the students try to ask me simple questions about myself and asking them questions about themselves. They tend to be shy, but fun. The top questions so far:
"Are you married?"
"Haha, no."
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"I don't feel like answering that. Ask me later." (collective laugh)
"Do you drink?"
"No, never!!" (collective laugh) "Well, OK, sometimes."
"Do you like mezcal?"
"Do you like chapulines (crickets)?"
"No! They are the only Oaxacan food I don't like."

In future classes I hope to collaborate a little more with the professors and have some of my own activities and/or a presentation planned, but for now, I am having fun getting to know the students.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fiestas patrias

September 15th, 2010 was a big day for Mexico: the bicentennial anniversary of Mexican independence, the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. Every year on the night of September 15th, Mexican government functionaries all over the country re-enact "El Grito" (the scream) of Miguel Hidalgo, the pastor/revolutionary who was declaring the country's independence from Spain. (Actually, "El Grito" took place on September 16th, 1810, but the celebration has taken place the night of the 15th ever since the dictator Porfirio Díaz decided to move it a day earlier in honor of his birthday. More on Porfirio later.)

Oaxaca did not host the biggest party in Mexico, but I decided to stay put to avoid the ginormous crowds that would without a doubt be present in the capital and the region north of there, where the war for independence was fomented. In the days leading up to the bicentennial, the zócalo in Oaxaca was decorated with hanging lights, a couple extra bandstands, dozens of vendors selling giant hot-dog shaped balloons decorated with the message "Viva Mexico!", and a giant display featuring pictures of Hidalgo and the other main players in the independence movement, with the Mexican anthem written in a different indigenous language on the back of each photo.

Then came the big night of "El Grito". I headed to the zócalo with some friends at around 8 PM and enjoyed a musical performance by a band that played everything from cumbia to such classics as the "YMCA" (I was the only one in the crowd doing the motions--I'm sorry, it was instinctual!). The night was filled with the classic foam spray fights and in an interesting twist, egg shells filled with confetti. The crowd in the zócalo grew larger as the night went on. At around 11 there was a very unimpressive "parade" consisting of a bunch of policemen and some random people following them. The parade was followed by El Grito, which goes something like this:
Governor: "Viva Hidalgo!"
Crowd: "Viva!"
Governor: "Viva la Revolución!"
Crowd: "Viva!"
Governor: "Viva Mexico!"
Crowd: "Viiiiiivvvaaaaaa!"
There were several other "viva"s in there, but I can't remember all of them. You get the gist. After the parade was the most exciting part of the night: fireworks! By this time the zócalo was jam-packed, and after the fireworks suddenly everyone started panicking and pushing their way out of the zócalo. Somehow I managed to stick with the group of people I was with-- but not without a fight.

I could go on about the rest of the night, but instead of talking about mezcal, dancing and general raucousness I've decided to launch into a discussion of Mexican (and particularly Oaxacan) history, mostly based on what I have gleaned from a very condensed but entertaining book I just finished reading on the subject. Here goes:

So what is Oaxaca celebrating, and what is Mexico celebrating?

Interestingly enough, perhaps the two most influential presidents in all of Mexican history both hailed from Oaxaca: Benito Juarez and Porfirio Díaz. Benito Juarez was a poor Zapotec Indian who was orphaned at the age of three. He amazingly went to school, learned Spanish, studied law, and became a major force in the country toward the end of the independence movement. He served as president for several years, and is remembered for drafting the modern Mexican constitution, enacting reforms that undermined the power of the Catholic church and broke up haciendas, and overthrowing the short-lived French occupation of Mexico. And all this with a towering adult height of 4'7". I kid you not. (Also worth noting: if you ever wondered who the Italian Benito Mussolini was named after, here you have it. Mussolini's parents were involved in a fight to overthrow Austrian invaders in northern Italy, and admired Juarez for overthrewing the Austrian emperor Maximilian, who was sent by the Napoleon III to rule Mexico.)

Porfirio Díaz was also from a poor Oaxacan family, but comparisons between he and Juarez pretty much end there. A more conservative, military force, he attempted to overthrow Juarez's government several times, and finally came to power when Juarez died. He served as president (dictator) of Mexico from 1876-1910, and is remembered mostly for his violent repression and for sending political dissidents and indigenous people to work camps in the Valley of Oaxaca to die. However, he also built the first Mexican railroads and successfully "modernized" the country (by allowing foreigners to take control of most of Mexico's resources and industries). Strangely, he was supported (among others) by none other than Karl Marx, who saw his industrialization of Mexico as a necessary step toward communist revolution (although I'm quite sure that Mexican Marxists saw it differently).

So it was Juarez who set the stage ideologically for the Mexican Revolution in 1910, and Porfirio Díaz's opressive rule that precipitated it. Though Juarez and Díaz are seemingly opposing figures, generally Oaxacans are proud that their state is the birthplace of both. Granted, while Juarez is literally worshipped and has the city of Oaxaca de Juarez named after him, Porfirio Díaz does not have the same godly stature but is also acknowledged as someone who had an equally important role in shaping modern Mexico. A mural in Oaxaca's Palacio del Gobierno, now a museum, portrays the colossal heads of both, though Juarez and his wife take center stage.

To jump back temporarily to the present, I was shocked to hear yesterday that Gabino, the new governor of Oaxaca who was supposedly the opposition candidate to the PRI, was actually a member of the PRI himself. To put an incredibly complicated political mess simply, it seems he decided to run for governor as something other than PRI (he didn't even really have a party) in order to be the opposition candidate to the PRI. So basically, the PRI found a sneaky way to stay in power. Voters in the election got to choose between the repressive PRI and a PRI member posing as not PRI.

The PRI is a somewhat baffling entity to begin with. The acronym stands for the "Institutional Revolutionary Party", which sounds like a complete contradiction in terms, but was formed after the Mexican Revolution supposedly as a mechanism to institutionalize the populist, leftist values of the revolution. But it is hard to tell what the PRI's politics actually are, since it was the only political party in Mexico after the revolution and its main priority has always been to stay in power-- upholding the values of the revolution being only of secondary concern. For this reason the PRI has historically been more than a little schizophrenic in its policies. Somehow Mexico managed to maintain good relations with both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Mexico was a haven to political exiles such as Trotsky (and many others), while simultaneously copying the U.S. in hunting down and persecuting "commies". Lázaro Cárdenas, a self-proclaimed Marxist who nationalized Mexican industries and gave traditional communal land back to peasants, was a member of the PRI. But so was the neo-liberal Carlos Salinas, who 50 years or so later re-privatized those industries and broke up the communal lands. So I don't think I'm the only one wondering what the PRI actually stands for.

The PRI is still the most powerful political "party" in Mexico, although they have not held the presidency since 2000. But the PAN, the new ruling party, may not be a much better alternative. The PAN was formed in 1940 as the first PRI opposition party, in reaction to Lázaro Cárdenas' radical socialist reforms. The PAN was originally made up of wealthy businessmen, supporters of the old Catholic church, and supporters of Spanish fascism. The party is still pro-Catholic, elitist, neo-liberal, and pro-United States (no comment). There is also an opposing leftist party, the PRD, but unfortunately the PRD currently has too many warring factions in its ranks to be able to get its shit together. In 2006 the PRD candidate, López Obrador, lost the national election by a very narrow margin. But then he lost all credibility in the eyes of most Mexicans by proclaiming himself the "legitimate" leader of Mexico, insisting that the elections were fraudulent (it's possible, but not proveable), and refusing to get over it and move on with his career.

All in all, if you like revolutionaries and social reforms, Mexico is not in a particularly good place right now, at least in terms of its central leadership. Will the political left get its act together? Is another revolution in the books?

Oh! What a cliff-hanger.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I have a new home in Oaxaca: I am renting a room in an apartment about two blocks from the zócalo, or main square. I have a nice big room with a sliding glass door/window looking out on the street. There is a big market a few blocks down my street, so it is a bustling place. At least 12 hours a day, I can hear loud merengue music coming from a store across from my apartment that sells washing machines and other household items. I presume it makes the washing machines seem a lot more exciting. In my apartment complex, there is also a rooftop patio from which you have this view:
The apartment is shared with two middle-aged women, one of whom is the owner of a dance studio down the street. We have already made a deal in which I am giving her free English classes in exchange for dance lessons. The other day I learned some basic cumbia moves, which seem to be essential in these parts. Take the poll on the side of this page to put in your two cents on what dance I should learn next.

The last couple weeks have been filled with all kind of discovery, hence the title of this blog. Highlights include:

1) Taking a walk with Jesse to an "orquidearia" (orchid garden) in San Andrés Huayapan, near where my former host parents lived. We had to ask directions about ten times, and ended up passing by the place the first time and having to turn back because there was only a sign for it coming from the other direction. (There was, however, a sign for "gotcha", evidently the Mexican version of paintball.) The garden was pretty impressive-- it is kept up by one guy who explained to us that there are 1,300 species of orchids in Mexico, and at the orchid garden 1,200 of those are represented. The orchids all bloom at different times of year, so there is always something new to see. Anyone want to go back with me?

2) Visiting the largest tree in the world, judging by trunk width: "El arból del Tule", 14.5 meters in diameter. There are different estimates for the age of the tree, but Zapotec legend has it that El Tule was planted about 1,400 years ago by Pechocha, the Aztec wind god. El Tule also has a "son", who lives nearby but is not quite as big as his dad.

3) Taking a bus to Tlacolula for the Sunday market. The market was absolutely HUGE, taking up what seemed like the majority of the town and including everything from food to crafts to music to household items like pasta strainers (which I, thinking practically, bought). There was an eerie silence as soon as you left the market area, which led me to believe that the entire population of the town was in some way involved with the market. Tlacolula is known for its production of mezcal (a liquor similar to tequila), which I sampled. I also had the opportunity to try pulque (yet another, even more traditional drink made from the same plant--agave--that is used to make tequila, but this time fermented), and techate(sp?), similar to pulque but with fermented pineapple juice added-- a Zapotec beverage, I was told. The last yummy thing I will mention are these amazing little avocados that have smooth, thin skins you can eat. The skin has a kind of licorice-y flavor, and they sometimes use it to flavor beans here. The ones I bought in Tlacolula were particularly small, about the size of golf balls. I eat them like candy.

Another discovery I have made is that my "side project" of learning a bit of Zapotec and volunteering in a bilingual school might be a bit harder to arrange than I had thought. There seems to be no language school in the city in which Zapotec is taught, other than the Universidad Benito Juarez, but when I inquired there about classes I was told that Zapotec is not being offered at the moment--maybe in the spring. That means that I'm going to need a private tutor if I want to learn the language.

Lo and behold, I found one! A girl from couchsurfing that I have become friends with told me that her dad speaks Zapotec, and can teach me! For a couple days I thought my problem had been solved. But there is another complication: I have since learned that there are about 40 different dialects of Zapotec, so that in many cases even people from neighboring towns are unable to communicate with each other. (Also, for the record, there are 60 dialects of Mixtec-- and those are just two of the 16 indigenous languages spoken in the state of Oaxaca.) Fortunately, I've been told that there are only 3 or 4 MAIN dialects of Zapotec according to the different regions in which it is spoken, suggesting that many of the dialects are probably similar. However, my friend's dad is from a town about 4 hours outside of Oaxaca City, which would not be convenient if I wanted to have an ongoing relationship with the community.

And yet another issue: as might be expected, in communities closer to Oaxaca City, local dialects are being spoken less and less and are becoming mixed with Spanish. This also means that there may not be any truly bilingual schools in the immediate vicinity of Oaxaca. I am now thinking that if I cannot find a bilingual school in a neighboring community, perhaps I could try to do a kind of language exchange with some school, in which I came once a week to teach the kids a bit of English, and in exchange they could teach me some Zapotec. However, this would require that the kids in the school actually spoke Zapotec, which could also be hard to find. More investigation is required.

In the meantime though, I have decided to be tutored once a week by my friend's dad. My first lesson was yesterday, and I can already see that this language is not going to be easy. Since it is an oral language, there is no official way of writing it. It includes some unusual guttural sounds as well as many words that have a sound pronounced like the French "J", as in "Jaques". And there are certain things that seemed designed to confuse me: for instance, the number three is pronounced "sho-nay", and the number eight is "shO-nay". The only difference is that the "O" sound in the number eight is slightly more drawn out. Also, "cho-pay" is the number two, but "shin-cho-pay" is seventeen. Ack! Study time.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Essence of Oaxaca, and Blue Essence

For the last couple days I have been wandering around the central part of my new home for the next year: the city of Oaxaca de Juarez. I am living temporarily in the home of a very nice middle-aged couple, Mario and Eva, a mathematics professor and administrative assistant who both work at the Universidad Tecnológico, where I will soon be assistant teaching English. Classes at the university were delayed for a week for whatever reason, so they don’t start until this Monday, and English classes start even later, on September 20th. So I have some time to get to know the city, find a permanent living space, make some friends, travel a bit, whatever. It is a very strange feeling to be in a new place, know no one, not know your way around, and have no time constraints. I keep thinking: “What the hell am I doing here?” But I think the strangeness will wear off pretty quickly. I’m starting to warm up to this place; after two days it’s already starting to feel a little more like a place I could call home.

It is rainy season now, so the city has been pretty gray, but when the sun comes out it is gorgeous. The city center is filled with sand-colored cobblestone streets, colonial churches and cathedrals, and homes and businesses painted bright colors. It’s an interesting mix of local indigenous culture and cafés and bars that are obviously catered to tourists as well as the city’s many ex-pats. The whole city is surrounded by green and sandy-colored mountains, making for a beautiful backdrop. And as soon as you leave the city center, things start to become rural. Mario and Eva live a mere 20 minutes by bus outside of the center, but the area feels much more like the campo than an urban area, with nothing but little general stores and not an internet cafe in sight, to my chargine. Back in the center, the zócalo, or main square, is always bustling with vendors; indigenous people from surrounding pueblos selling their crafts, itinerant artisans like the many I ran into in South America, and food vendors as well, selling tamales, chorros, elote (corn). Like the rest of the country, Oaxaca has also been preparing for big celebrations on the bicentennial of Mexican independence, which is coming up on September 15th. Right next to the big cathedral in the zócalo, there is a big glowing digital countdown clock, counting down the days and hours until the colossal national party will begin.

Thankfully, Oaxaca is still showing healthy signs of dissent: elections were just held in July, which finally ousted the repressive governor, Ulisses Ruiz, who came to power in 2006 and is famous for provoking the massive teacher’s strike that year, which lasted for months and turned violent, putting a temporary stop to all tourism in the city. What began as a customary annual teacher’s strike turned into a much larger and more broad-based movement when the governor, rather than negotiating with the teachers, responded with violence. At that point, many other sectors began sympathizing with the teachers, and APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) was formed, a coalition with the main goal of ousting Ulisses Ruiz and promoting democracy. For months, APPO pretty much controlled the city, and had even taken over (peacefully) several television and radio stations. But unfortunately, due to some under-the-table negotiations between the governor and the federal government, the strike ended and Ulisses Ruiz staid in power until this year. Now, a candidate has been elected who my “host dad”, Mario, says is backed by a coalition of political parties rather than any one party. I asked if it was a leftist coalition, but he said no, it was just a broad-based coalition. I guess you do what you’ve gotta do to get the bad guys out; hopefully this “Gabino” character will be an improvement over Ulisses Ruiz and his political party, the PRI (the single party that controlled Mexico and held fraudulent elections from 1910 to 2000). In the zócolo, there are still cloth banners hung promoting the APPO and denouncing Ulisses Ruiz. And on the radio I keep hearing an announcement for some kind of “democratic convention” that will be taking place this Saturday morning (apparently referring to the democratic political ideal rather than the party, since Mexico does not have a “Democratic” party). I have also been told several times that the Oaxacan street sweepers are on strike, which is why the streets are so dirty (they still don’t seem that dirty to me, but good for the street sweepers).

So anyway, what have I done in Oaxaca? Let’s see... the first day I went with Jesse, a British girl who will also be assistant teaching English at the Tec, to see the university for the first time. The campus is pretty small and has a nice, humble and friendly feel to it. There we met some of the professors, got some coffee and a bite to eat in the cafeteria, and made our first Oaxacan “friend”: predictably, a 19-year-old male who approached us, wondering who the “gueras” were, and invited us to come to a bar with him and his friends on Friday. Whether we will actually go is questionable, but hey, I guess one friend is better than none.

Since our visit to the university, Jesse and I have mostly been wandering around the center of town. Highlights include: eating the best “mole negro” I have ever had, snacking on “chapulines”, or toasted crickets seasoned with lime and salt (not sure yet if I’m a fan), eating Oaxacan chocolate (amazing!), and having a sample taste of mezcal, a liquor made from the agave plant, like tequila. So yes, all those highlights have to do with food, predictably. All except for a little adventure I had yesterday.

Jesse and I had split up for a couple hours in order to get a feel for the city on our own. I was wandering about in a little plaza when I ran into a group of high school students who stopped me to ask if I would help them with a commercial they were making for one of their classes. They wanted to film me holding a bottle of perfume and saying, “Buy this new perfume, Blue Essence. It’s the secret to seduction for all women, and if you buy it, you’ll get this free bracelet.” At first they told me to say it in Spanish, but then changed their minds and thought it would be cool if I said it all in English so they could add subtitles. I was to say those lines, and then spray a bit of perfume on myself. Then, a really punked out kid (I’m not sure if he was also a student or just someone else they’d gotten to help them) was to walk by me, sniff the perfume, and appear enamored. This being my first commercial appearance and one of my only experiences with perfume, it took me a couple takes to get it exactly right. The first time, in trying to spray the perfume around my neck, I accidentally sprayed it on the side of my face and had to wipe it off, provoking uproarious laughter from everyone including myself. It was good fun for everyone. So now, I am a model for this (probably fictitious) “Blue Essence” perfume. Who knows what else might await me in Oaxaca?