WESTMONT IN Mexico

Westmont in Mexico

. . . and we will soon depart for Oaxaca to experience the Day of the Dead down south. Needless to say, students have been stretched and challenged as they navigate a different language, culture, and forms of worship.

I’ve been impressed with how thoughtfully students reflect upon their experience in their essays. Many keep a regular journal, which they use not only to describe and remember, but to help them understand and process what they are seeing and experiencing. In one early essay, sophomore Laura Shultz describes the sights, smells and sounds she experiences while walking through Jalpan’s principal market."

From Laura Shultz's journal:

"The name of this place seems deceptive to me. 'Mercado Municipal' sounds so formal and official, but in reality, it is no more than a claustrophobic and cluttered layout of mesas set up under tarps to keep out the rain. Countless vendors squeeze their booths together like a real-life game of Tetris. Leathered old men and middle-aged women with thick waistlines hawk their wares, and I am overwhelmed by the diversity of items . . . My ears capture snippets of gossip, intense but friendly bartering, and raucous laughter. Children scream and giggle and chase and dodge and weave through legs. Perhaps these two women intently engaged in conversation are life-long amigas, perhaps they just met each other this morning – who can tell? … The people that pass me never seem rushed. Shopping is not a timed event, but rather, this market is an amiable place to come together and to interact, full of vida and colores and ruidos.

I feel conspicuously out of place here. … I clutch my purse and will myself to blend in. But I do not know this danza, and as others glide past gracefully in invisible cadence, each of my steps seems cumbersome and out of time. The people here effortlessly discern which stands offer the best produce, which vendors will make you sick, how to inspect a purchase. For them, this is a part of the daily ritmo of life. For me, this is a cultural encounter in which I play the role of bystander, trying to glean what I can. . . .

Meandering through the ethereal beauty of the Mercado Municipal de Jalpan forms such a sharp contrast to my own American culture. I make no claim to discern which way is 'better.' I know only that I left the mercado impressed by the vastness of the differences between the two cultures, the beauty of these differences, and the burning desire to learn how to operate smoothly within these differences. And, as I grow in my cultural awareness and fluidity, these vivid and precious market memories will reside in my heart."