Friday, April 11, 2008

Our last day in Dolores. Up and packed and out to UTNG for a final, 8:00 a.m. class with Rosalie, helping her students practice their conversations for next week’s oral exam. This was a final reminder of how much fun it has been working with these young people.

Then a wonderful send-off ceremony, with speeches from the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and a couple of more advanced students, traditional songs, and a karaoke number in English. Our host at the pulqueria and his wife were also there, and it was wonderful to be able to thank them again for their hospitality. We were given certificates of appreciation and, in turn, thanked UTNG for letting us work with them and see what a wonderful future they are building for Mexico.

We then set off for Guanajuato. The mountain ride was as glorious as at our arrival, but now we recognized names and landmarks…our Mexico. We dropped our bags in our rooms and headed out for the city center. What an exciting city – bustling with energy on a Friday afternoon. We saw the Diego Rivera museum and the marvelous architecture and exhibits at the Alhondiga museum.

Also ran into Chuy on the street, on his way to class. Lunch outside in a shady square, a little shopping, and some people watching in the green Jardin Union. Our final dinner was at a window table overlooking all the activity in the square – mimes, costumed musicians, and hundreds of people out enjoying the evening. Back to our hotel for an early night since Evelyn and Mary have a 4:15 a.m. taxi to the airport. Joyce will enjoy a more leisurely departure on Saturday.

While we’re all looking forward to home, that Willy Nelson song comes to mind, “On the road again…just can’t wait to get on the road again…”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our last full day in Dolores. Joyce and Mary took a last walk around down town before breakfast, when the city is so cool an green.

After our morning meeting, we walked-up to the campus for the last time, since tomorrow we'll ride up with Carl. We had three classes , two with Chuy and one with Bill. Students are still hard-working and eager, but exam time is starting; and many of them are focussing on next week's finals.

Spent the break in the library and returned to the sac for conversation club only to find the room full of students taking exams. After waiting next door for some time we returned to the teachers' area where Marcia brought us one final student for conversation practice.

Back to the hotel with Carl where we'll have our final meeting and and head off to a party at Vero's. Tomorrow morning we have an 8am class with Rosalie, a good-bye ceremony, and then we're off to spend an afternoon and evening in Guanajuato prior to am Saturday flights back home.

So many final thoughts... but a short one: Truly it is in giving that we receive... and we all have all received so much from our volunteer experience in Dolores.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The last week is rapidly coming to an end and we are getting more used to the program and the lovely town of Dolores.

We had a late start for classes, 10:20 am, so we could enjoy some time in town. Got a ride to campus with Carl and had a great variety of classes again. Some are small and quick to speak English. Other classes may be large and are having English classes for the first time. But all of the students are receptive and seem to enjoy our presence.

We spend an hour at 4:00 pm in Conversation Club to help those who want extra time to practice. Have met some industrious kids.

We enjoyed a fabulous meal at the Plaza Restaurant and took a brief stroll around the park. Actually saw one of our students dancing in the band shell. His specialty was “break dancing.”

THOUGHT: No matter how thin the pancake, there´s always another side.

George Vecsey, NY Times sports writer

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Today was the first of three late-start days. Our first class only began at 10:20. This afforded Joyce a chance to roam around Dolores taking photos to preserve and reinforce her memories, and we all had a nice breakfast at the Plaza Restaurant.

We worked with Marcia for the first time today. Marcia is an expatriate American with a more direct teaching style than we have observed. The kids came to class on time! In her classes we prepared the students for an oral exam on describing other people. ¨Jeans” is a word they all know!

The Conversation Club had more advanced students today and was quite interesting. We could see how they are starting to grapple with the age-old conflict of remaining at home (Dolores, San Felipe, etc.) or moving away from family to pursue economic opportunity. They were smart and funny.

Our host at the hotel drove us out to the country to visit the 2nd oldest church in the Americas – a rare treat. This was followed by a barbecue in the hotel patio, hosted by Sr. Pompeio, which was an excellent conclusion to yet another fascinating day.

THOUGHT: An adventure is only an inconvenience right considered.

G.K. Chesterton

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hi ho! It’s back to work we go. After reviewing our first week on Sunday evening, we’re all committed to week two, but the alarms did seem to go off awfully early this morning. (The switch to daylight savings time didn’t help – it was dark outside.)

After a meeting with Carl, he drove us (what luxury) to campus and then headed back to Querétero.

We had our first class with Nathan and worked in groups on the concepts he provided us. Back in the teachers´area, Joyce dutifully transcribed the log, and we all waited for our first class with Veronica. Unfortunately, she was sick today, but Jaime eventually found us and took us to her class for a 15-minute session, which we hope was of some help to the students.

Next was JJ´s class, where he challenged us to create and deliver a lesson. After five minutes of brainstorming, we decided to use world maps and have the students plan a vacation – pricing tickets, packing, etc. It went quite well.

This was doubly fortunate because, after a quick snack chez UTNG, we had a second group of Veronica’s students to manage on our own. Although they were at a slightly different level from JJ´s, the lesson plan worked.

After a break, we met in the resource room with the Conversation Club. At first, there was only one participant, Gerald, an amazing UTNG graduate who had just returned from working in the US due to his father’s sudden death. His intelligence, focus, and drive were inspiring. Towards the end of the session, a couple of beginning students joined us, and we hope they come back to practice.

Dinner at El Caudillo – our waiter wanted to practice his English so ordering was a bit of a hodge-podge, but still a pleasant evening.

Heavy traffic around El Jardín -- watched an ambulance try to weave its way through, then home to the hotel.

THOUGHT: Ignatius Loyola’s “What profits a man if he gain’s the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul?” seems to speak to the Mexicans we’ve met who worked in the US but returned home.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Joyce and Evelyn: A day off to explore and enjoy. Joyce and Evelyn took the bus to San Miguel and had a wonderful adventure exploring the city with a personally guided walking tour. The guide spent two hours with them and impressed them with his love of San Miguel where he has always lived. They visited an art school where they viewed outstanding murals by Pedro Martinez. He was extremely knowledgeable about the history and architecture of San Miguel and taught them a lot.

But, of course, before they got serious about touring San Miguel they had to get their American coffee fix. Joyce had a cappuccino at Starbucks and Evelyn had her caffeine from Dunkin Donuts. Both shops are easy to spot right off the plaza.

The guide, Jesus, suggested a wonderful place for lunch and they were treated like royalty there. A gratis appetizer was offered and Evelyn enjoyed a healthy grilled vegetable salad while Joyce enjoyed delicious tacos.

They next found their way to the Ramirez Market and discovered the silver and other shops. Both made purchases of necklaces, earrings, and pendants and were very pleased with their decisions.

They just made the 4:00 pm bus back to Dolores – it was backing out of the parking place, but stopped for them. They enjoyed the milk stop run where workers were getting off and on.

Joyce and Evelyn shared their travels with Mary and met Carl at 7:00 to take him to the newly discovered restaurant, El Sabroso Pollo. He was impressed, but the crowd there was noisy and the echoes off the stone wall were loud. The upcoming week´s planning meeting was held back at the hotel and everyone looked forward to a good night’s sleep.


If you know all the answers, you haven’t asked all the questions.

Mary: Mary stayed in Dolores to explore the city and search out places of interest for sightseeing during the upcoming week. Among places of note were 1) churches – Our Lady of Sorrrows (Dolores) with amazing wood carvings and the Third Order Temple, where mass was being said, accompanied by guitars and singers and where the church was packed. Statues were covered in tiny Milagros. In both churches, posted in the back were marriage banns, complete with pictures and family histories. 2) Museums – Hidalgo’s house contained rooms furnished as they were in Father Hidalgo’s time, copies of letters and revolutionary documents, and the tithe hall filled with wreaths, plaques, and a large statue of Hidalgo. Independence Museum, in the former prison, contained wall sized drawings, statues, and exhibits explaining the struggle for Mexican independence. 3) Government buildings – The first floor of the Mayor’s Office and the Visitors House were open and both had interesting courtyards.

Best of all was sitting in El Jardín, listening to church bells, watching teenagers parade by, and eavesdropping on the shoeshine man.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

This was a school day in Dolores for public and college students. Walked to the campus and got there before anyone else. Our first class was with Karina -- who is also Nathan’s wife -- with students who come only on Friday evening and Saturday. They are older and not yet too swift in their skills. At one time we merged with another class and kept going for over an hour with 6 or 7 in a group.

Then the weekend began and we all did our own thing. Mary had her hair done, Joyce shopped for us and Evelyn stayed put, reading and resting.

Mary discovered a beautiful, newly opened restaurant that we decided to try, and it was wonderful. We will go back there for sure.


Amidst the mud and muck of things, something always, always sings.”

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch

Friday, April 4, 2008

Today was a day of much travel and disparate experiences. We had a leisurely start – an 8:30 breakfast to send Carl on his way home for the weekend, followed by an 11:00 rendez-vous with Chuy to visit a pulquería. Pulque, we learned from the patrón, is a lightly fermented and perhaps slightly alcoholic traditional beverage. We followed the patrón – we in Chuy’s car, he on his Italik motorbike – out to the fields where he collects agua miel (the liquid produced in the heart of the maguey cactus). Back at home, he strains the agua miel into a large olla (clay pot) where it ferments. The primary customers for the pulque are the workers in the surrounding fields.

We had time before our next obligation for ensalada de frutas and sopas in El Carruaje.

Capping a week of visits to satellite programs, we headed out to Ocampo at 4:00 with professor and program coordinator Jaime. The students there pack their studies into Friday evening and all day Saturday. Most work, many have families, and many must travel long distances into Ocampo from rural communities. They are VERY impressive! In Ocampo you may encounter “Los Locos,” a merry band of masked clowns who both startle and entertain!

A simple dinner of quesadillas, ranch steak, and rice and beans was just right. Jaime brought us home safely at ll:00 p.m.


The struggle of today is not altogether for today – it is for a vast future also.”

Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, April 3, 2008

New adventures – Joyce and Mary went out for breakfast breads and pastries and had an enjoyable walk around town in the cool morning air. Though, alas! They did find that overnight the sidewalk was torn up on the egret-free side of Guerrero.

We took Carl’s car (with Carl driving, of course) to campus to meet Jaime and Chuy for a visit to a talavera factory. Jaime took us to his uncle’s small factory where his uncle explained the steps in making thrown pieces and even made two small vases and a large bowl for us to see. Most of the work – beautiful in design – is sold to others who paint and finish the pieces. But he is working on some new clear glaze designs, improves his techniques through the local trade association, and has been to the US to discuss distribution. In sum, he is a sophisticated entrepreneur.

Jaime also took us to a factory and store where molded pottery is made and decorated. The owners have an amazing house with incredible tile work throughout.

We then dropped Chuy back at UTNG and headed off for San Miguel de Allende. Such traffic – we felt a bit like country mice sitting in miles of bumper to bumper traffic and streets without parking places. We had a quick, but delicious, lunch in a Sri Lankan restaurant and on leaving met the owner, who also teaches in the gastronomy department.

UTNG-San Miguel is only one year old, holds classes in a high school, and has programs in tourism and gastronomy. Like their fellow students at Victoria, these students had planned an afternoon of presentations for us. We heard speeches on Guanajuato and on dreams; we saw a mock interview and were asked to rate the candidates; participated in a blindfolded food tasting; and finished with costumed “Warriors of the Sun” dancers. Then the gastronomy students presented a sample of appetizers they had made. We spent the next hour munching and talking to individual students – many spoke quite good English and were quite confident in attempting to speak it. Although classes continue until 9:00 pm at UTNG/San Miguel, the English faculty left around 6:00 and so we headed home to Dolores.

Found a new restaurant just off the square: El Caudillo – great soups and shared a sizzling molcajete (lava stone mortar) filled with meat, cheese, nopales, onions and hot peppers.


. . . two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I

I took the one less travelled by

And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What a day! We have had so many wonderful experiences that we can hardly remember all of them. We did our usual walk to the campus to meet Francisco from the Victoria campus who drove us there in 1.5 hours. We all fell in love with the small campus of four buildings and were amazed at the stunning cacti.

Our time was spent listening to teams of 4-5 students give an oral PowerPoint presentation in English on a subject of their choice. Our job was to grade them on their team effort. We heard all 112 students that are enrolled at the Victoria campus. We also enjoyed a song by a group of six women students. The students were lovely, but shy and needed help with pronunciation.

Our host, Francisco, took us deeper into the rugged countryside to see some of the arts and crafts of the area. We met some ladies who did basket weaving and also showed us some unusual 800 year old cacti. We really got to see some gorgeous, dry landscapes. Had a swift ride home with an experienced driver and after a brief rest, enjoyed a light supper at one of our favourites – Plaza Restaurant.


Some minds are like concrete -- all mixed up and permanently set.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

So many experiences and people are packed into one day that it feels like at least two days ago we had breakfast at the Plaza Restaurant. Sadly, our much-anticipated coffee from freshly ground beans managed to taste just like Nescafé.

We set off on our now-familiar uphill trek to UTNG for a 9:00 am class with JJ’s students. Using a panel format, we faced 15 or 20 young students and asked them questions that flew around the room and remained largely unanswered. They appear to be quite naïve about the workforce. Things improved after that.

A session with Nathan on useful Spanish expressions was outstanding. Once again, Gaby’s lesson plan was easy and fun to implement. We all feel that our competence in this game is improving.

Evelyn stayed on campus and caught up with email while Carl, Mary, and Joyce went to the mercado for supplies. A ride into town with Gaby was welcome, and then we walked back to campus. (This day we walked up twice and down once.)

Our final experience was an external class including a father and his 10 year old son! The motivation of the external students makes working with them a joy.

Then back to town for a really nice dinner. Now that we have our act together, we´re taking it on the road . . . to Victoria tomorrow!


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot “Four Quartets”