Laura Bradford - General Care Projects in Mexico
Any level headed person would understandably conclude that this is not necessarily a great foundation for deciding rigidly upon a country in which you are going to be spending 6 months of your life. The fact that Mexico, to me, was somewhere between the US and the Amazon, where men, (predominantly called Jose), wore sombreros and twisted their moustaches whilst standing beneath a cactus, illustrates the extent of my innocence and total ignorance of this wonderful country that I have come to know and adore.
I was nervous and excited, and of course tired when I arrived in Guadalajara, instantly immersing myself into the 'chilli culture', by pointing,(gesticulation acting as my only means of early communication) at what I imagined was a strawberry iced drink in a juice bar. The fact that it was a chilli and tomato slush was certainly a shock and a clear realisation that I was far away.
I was picked up by one of the guys from the office, who was so incredibly friendly to me, I felt instantly relaxed, and like a friend already. Looking back this is such a blissful memory of so many encounters in Mexico, you seem to become friends so quickly with everybody.
My placement was in Guzman, a small, unspoiled town just south of Guadalajara, ideally positioned between the coast and the big city. Things are never going to be quite as you imagined them, and with my own experience I would stress so much that you just have give things time. I think it was very natural that it took me a few days to settle in. Two days in six months is nothing, and after those one or two nervous days at the very beginning I didn't look back once.
My family, were quite literally 'my family' for my time there. Sarah, a friend from England, and I, lived together and we felt just like honorary daughters. Speaking Spanish all the time with our family was the best way to learn and similarly a perfect way for becoming more familiar with your Mexican 'parents.' We spent hysterical afternoons with our 'mother,' armed with phrase books desperately trying to overcome the initially enormous language barrier.
Amusing instances concerning language skills or the lack of, are very frequent in the beginning, but the Mexican people are very patient, and manage to stifle their laughter on most occasions. Enjoy the problems that arise over language difficulties, they can be so funny and are a perfect way for making friends. Mexicans appear to love teaching you 'new' words, largely blasphemous!
I worked mornings in a Red Cross primary school, and afternoons in an orphanage close by. The children were enchanting and I relished the relaxed attitude in this school, especially compared to my experience of work in a London Kindergarten. From our safety, cleanliness obsessed country, this school was certainly a far cry. Lollies from the ground, into mouths (into my mouth sometimes, slightly disconcertingly), swinging upside down from broken climbing frames was all the customary playground behaviour, and the children were blissfully happy.
The children were really eager to learn numbers and colours, and making up songs to help them learn these proved very popular. The teachers allow you to be as inventive as you like with your teaching methods, and do as little or as much English as you want.
I spent much-loved time at the orphanage which is run by three nuns, dividing my time between bouncing on the trampoline, swinging on swings, eating delicious 'food' made from lego, provided by the budding cooks among them, and racing around in a Darth Vader mask with a fairy wand. I only hope they enjoyed all this playing as much as I did. I was miserable to leave, but luckily I comfort myself with the fact, that as much as we probably don't like to believe it, little children are naturally fickle and I was sure that in a few days, another new and exciting person would come, and I would be a distant memory.
It is terribly easy to get very attached to the children, especially the orphans, so this is a good way to think of it. As it turned out I wasn't able to forget them for long, since two little angelic girls passed on their particularly ferocious nits to me. I am hoping that this is all part of the experience!
Guzman is flanked by a volcano and a lake, and at first I couldn't believe how beautiful it was, like nothing I'd ever seen. Away from the bright lights of the city, we would amuse ourselves, blissfully happy in this untouristy town, in local restaurants, local bars; very low key, just genuine, informal fun. On Sundays in the main square they have a fair, with small rides and lots of food stalls, which we used to go to- a perfect end to the weekends. An added bonus were the good looking boys break dancing in the kiosk, in the centre of the square. So if you're looking for a skater boy type boyfriend, look no further. Sadly we found out to our horror that most of them were pupils at Sarah's school; a perfect example of Guzman's close knit community.
For me the best thing was that I felt so totally at home, so very far from my own home and anything I knew. That was a real momentous occasion actually, when I suddenly felt like I belonged, just like any of the locals, this is a cool feeling.
The Projects Abroad office in Guadalajara and Jose the representative in Guzman were always there, and willing to help you as little or as much as you need them to. I never once felt 'nannied' by the organisation, but at the same time I knew, and we all knew, that if we had any sort of problem or query it would be quickly dealt with or explained.
I would write forever if I talked about my travelling in Mexico but what I will say is that I am so glad that I gave myself the three months teaching and left myself with an open ticket to do as much travelling as I like. Mexico is incredible, so different throughout, from the vastness of Mexico City, so alive and buzzing, to the indigenous mountain towns of Chiapas, and the virgin beaches of the Pacific.
I wanted to learn Spanish and to really get to know a country and a culture, and I have left Mexico feeling totally fulfilled. I did actually want to learn to dance salsa, but having failed miserably at this I just learnt to appreciate watching it done well. Fantastically in the salsa bars I went to it didn't appear to matter one bit how good you were, or in my case, how appalling, you just dance!
I have never been so fascinated and stunned by such beauty and diversity as I was in Mexico and so pleased that I was lucky enough to work with and amongst the people.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.