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Below are the 18 most recent journal entries recorded in beccaella's LiveJournal:

Monday, May 28th, 2007
6:06 pm
What is this journal to me?
So I decided to apply to join an LJ group today and one of the criteria is active posting in your journal and when I went back to take a look at what my online profile looks like..... a lot of locked posts from last summer in Oaxaca (where I just got a big research grant to go back to to research the cultural stuff around prenatal care and pregnancy, gender and migration!). I've been joking offline that rather than studying for my comprehensive exams in my academic areas, I've preparing to do one on feminist online community formation and discourse.... all while maintaining my status as a "lurker" (which I know is such a no no). It's like my usual shyness and reticence to engage before I know participants in a situation has blend into online space, which is ostensibly a place that frees people from embodied conventions. So..... I may turn this journal into a repository of my soap-box emails. Or a place to air some of the things I've been meta thinking about feminism online..... in particular the different genres of discourse and the way that nostalgia, generation, sex, and authenticity get deployed in conversations.... really what I'm interested in are blog posts for their content and comments for their interactions. I guess what I'm partially interested in is the purported transformative power of online communities in real life, but then..... and also, what is the affective quality of online quasi-consciousness-raising spaces when there is also the whole distance, anonymitiy thing going on. blah blah blah. It's funny that I never never never post (as if that first post is the hard hurdle to get over) and yet spend so much time involved with these blogs/communities/.... that my active interior life has made me feel much more a participant than I am in reality. And now, this just feels like navel gazing. Sending off my disjointed thoughts into the ether of the internet, where I can pretend that it floats without connection.

This is much much more fun than pulling together a bibliography on latin america and its contemporary diasporas or translating my IRB materials.
Thursday, August 10th, 2006
9:36 pm
Scratch off the bus as escape route
Today I made a very unsucessful attempt to visit the second big feminist health organization here (more research and education than applied as I understand it)-- unsucessful since they don't have a website and apparently the address that I had found for them is old (which when I went back to the referring webpage, it's a couple years old). So.... while they are mentioned all over the web, it's often without accompanying address, but I did find another address (which is actually very close to my posada) that I will try tomorrow. They're in the midst of a gathering of North American and Traditional parteras so I'm a little loath to barge in.... we'll see. I also tried to be low-key today since my back is not a very happy camper and is hurting a fair amount (big sigh, I'm really not happy about this bodily situation).

It was a bit of a schlep, although I'm very proud of my ability to navigate this city for the most part without map and so I hit one of the major roads further down than normal, prompting me to wonder at the amazing amount of traffic as I walked toward the 1st class bus terminal. Turns out APPO protestors had taken over the bus terminal (or at least were prohibiting buses to enter or leave and were camped out in front of the terminal). It was really interesting to watch a bit because it was absolutely non-violent and organized as men worked to block the street with buses (I don't know if the bus drivers were in collaboration or if they had comandeered them) and people calming sat under tarps blocking the entrances. http://www.flickr.com/photos/43431912@N00/212212980/ And I don't think that I've mentioned this before, but women are a major part of this protest movement. Needless to say the drivers around the area were terribly annoyed, and this is the first targettinng I've seen (or maybe the second if you count the seizure of the tourism bureau) of services that are mostly used by tourists rather than state infrastructure. There were a couple other interesting things, namely that people on the other side of the street (which I was on) were not terribly interested in what was going on across the street.

I didn't stay to watch since nothing looked like it was developing and I was feeling conspicuous as a gawker. The worst part for me was the anarchistic traffic in response to the blockaiding, including on bus that made a "3" point turn (try more like 20) over the median, sort of right at me.
I wasn't sure if he was trying an alternate route or aiding in the blockade, but it was a little close. I ended up using a women and children first strategy to get across the street, figuring that women holding children wouldn't be hit so if I got right behind them I might also be safe. This particular intersection is the scariest for me and in some ways is a good tests of that anti-PTSD therapy as I have to cross and then pass a gas station into which many cars turn (the same angle at which the car came at me when I was hit).

After the man was killed yesterday (the day before? And I just read a report that ) more and more fuera ruiz grafitti has blossomed all over, and the Teatro Juarez was "hit" I'm pretty sure last night and is now covered in graffiti and closed. It's one place I'm not terribly sorry to see vandalized since a) it's ugly and b) the slogan "Oaxaca, your Mexico" just sort of offends me, given all the ways in which indigenous culture is coopted here and then communities are marginalized. So....
What I think is striking (non pun intended) is that there really could have been "bad" destruction, broken the glass doors and trashed the inside but there wasn't. It's symbolically closed by order of APPO and "taken back for the people" and it's got a lot of repainting, but it's not long term really bad. It's particularly relevant given the way that the media representation of APPO and the protestors in the US has been of anarchistic destruction. It was also pointed out to me yesterday that the official government of Oaxaca as effectively been removed from the daily operations of city life and there isn't any major impact (albeit I know nothing about the payment of civil servants etc., there has been no large increase in crime- other than the person/people killed by the state police-with the police removed from downtown. I'm also amused at the warnings against coming to Oaxaca due to the "destruction of downtown" (largely the graffiti that I'm really enjoying), since they are all things that I think make this city really (visually) interesting right now. The most interesting one that I saw said "Mexico 1968=Oaxaca 2006" which is a really intresting statement to make about social climate, although I'm not sure about the whole equivalence with the giant massacure of students....

The US embassy has issued warnings for tourists to stay in hotels etc. and avoid public demonstrations, I'm a little amused by that since really, if you aren't in the zocalo or other seized areas and it's day time, life goes on as normal (just with less tourists). Plus, all the injuries and violence I've heard about has been at the hands of state or federal police, so..... that said, I decided not to walk towards and watch the large demonstration this afternoon because I'm trying to be good to my body and not take unnecessary risks-- mostly it's also because I'm alone. I really don't see this ending anytime soon though or without escalation, just not sure when that would be or what form it would take.

Workwise I think things are ok, although I'd appreciate any suggestions for this trip I need to take next week to Tlacolula that will intail me going by bus or taxi to a small town, tracking down a dr (with a letter of reference) and trying to get some time to talk with him and some midwives who are there as needed rather than scheduled, and maybe staying overnight at a hotel t.b.found.....
Thursday, March 2nd, 2006
9:39 am
Rantable News Stories of the Day- today's theme: sex and the legal system
Story #1
From today's New York Times

"Shawanna Nelson, a prisoner at the McPherson Unit in Newport, Ark., had been in labor for more than 12 hours when she arrived at Newport Hospital on Sept. 20, 2003. Ms. Nelson, whose legs were shackled together and who had been given nothing stronger than Tylenol all day, begged, according to court papers, to have the shackles removed.

Though her doctor and two nurses joined in the request, her lawsuit says, the guard in charge of her refused.

"She was shackled all through labor," said Ms. Nelson's lawyer, Cathleen V. Compton. "The doctor who was delivering the baby made them remove the shackles for the actual delivery at the very end."

Despite sporadic complaints and occasional lawsuits, the practice of shackling prisoners in labor continues to be relatively common, state legislators and a human rights group said. Only two states, California and Illinois, have laws forbidding the practice....

Corrections officials say they must strike a balance between security and the well-being of the pregnant woman and her child.

"Though these are pregnant women," said Dina Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, "they are still convicted felons, and sometimes violent in nature. There have been instances when we've had a female inmate try to hurt hospital staff during delivery."....."

OK, so most people would agree that this is henious, and I agree. Here's what I keep thinking about this- as birth has become a medical event (Robbie Davis-Floyd/ Early Emily Martin 101), Drs and medical practitioners increasingly define the pacing and setting of it as within their domain of expertise. One of the major arguments justifying Roe was that an abortion was a private medical decision between woman and dr- the AMA was big on jumping on the medical privacy as medical expertise. Do any of these issues of privacy between medical expert and legal person (the legal personhood aspect has been one of the ways that abortion restrictions for minors have been justified) apply within a scenario of incarceration where the inmate has been effectively stripped of citizen-rights? Keep in mind that after the Hyde amendment, inmates in federal prisons are stripped of any right to abortion, even if they can pay for it themselves!

Story #2- from a number of blogs
Relive Your Rape Or Go To Prison (While Your Rapist Goes Free)

"A Naperville woman who on Tuesday refused a judge's order to view a videotape of her alleged rape could be jailed on a contempt of court charge if she does not change her mind Wednesday, and the judge is considering a request to drop sexual assault charges against the Burr Ridge man on trial.

"I am ordering you to answer these questions," Judge Kerry Kennedy told the woman after an hourlong recess to discuss her refusal. "The consequences are that you would be held in contempt of court, with incarceration possible. Are you still refusing?"

The videotape was viewed in the March 2005 trial of Christopher Robbins of Brookfield, who was acquitted of sex charges after arguing she consented to sex with him in an incident that wasn't videotaped. Robbins allegedly is seen on one segment of the tape, but not engaging in sex with the woman.

Prosecutors allege that the videotape first shows another defendant, Burim Berezi of Brookfield, having sex with the woman, then it shows Missbrenner. They say the tape shows her unconscious as people spit on her and write derogatory words on her naked legs and abdomen."

Ummmmmmmm- are we back in the 80s, 50s? Reading other people's comments in support of this judgement there seems to be the impression that the presumption of the defendent's innocence means that there you have to assume that the victim is a big lying slut who the jury needs to watch watch her own gang rape to see if she reacts appropriately.

Sex, reproduction, autonomy what? And now, someone else add a more sophisticated analysis.......
Saturday, July 30th, 2005
12:28 pm
Almost out of here
I am almost out of here after two months of ups and downs learning to live (and perhaps) work in a place where I am often by myself and by no means fluent in the language, and I wanted to thank you all for reading my ramblings about my adventures here and the emails that make me feel connected to my "real life." Things that I am so excited to return to (next friday) include being Becca again (I´m ok introducing myself as Rebecca, but it´s too odd when other people refer to me as such, especially when they speak in English), the absence of mosquitos that seem to really just like to bite my ankles, and a close and easy place to swim. But on the whole I think that this has been a great adventure, with tons and tons of pictures that I will make you all stare at, a full diary, and many pieces of jewelery and textiles (let me know soon if you would like me to pick you up anything special, silver jewelery?). But even though I bought some, practically no one is getting postcards because I have a block with them and appear to be unable to both write and send them (sorry). I say that this is probably my last giant mass email from Oaxaca since last weekend taught me not to say that I will not do x,y, or z.

But first, how cool is this, in my line of sight in my usual internet cafe there is a woman on online chat (something many people have told me is commonly used to communicate internationally with family in the states, especially in small towns). But the cool and different thing is that she is not typing, she and her partner are having a signed conversation via webcams- very cool to see her and over her shoulder to see the fast simultaneous signs of her partner.

So almost immediately after writing about how I wasn´t going to participate in the Güelagetza madness because I´m cranky that there is too much rhetoric about how indigenous people dancing in the middle of an auditorium is culture whereas everything else isn´t, I ended up a frontline spectator on the official Güelagetza parade watching dancers, musicians and assorted supposedly famous people demonstrate in short form what they would do officially two days later. It was visually amazing (I quickly blew through all the film that I had on me) with these great extensive costumes and such a great range of ages and body shapes. There were also many "trickerster" participants who either had fuegos artificiales (fireworks) that shot into the crowd at unpredictable moments, the clowns who draped a scarf in front of the lens as you were about to line up a photo, and this one troop who danced with vacas made from stretched goat skins and sharp cow horns who physically outlined their sidewalk territory by pushing us back using the tip of the horns- I did not need much encouragement in that. One of the coolest things where the giant muñecos (oversized dolls), with a kid´s face peering out as they kept the muñecos dancing- arms flying. I also saw some great capoera demonstrations, which I had not known were very popular in Mexico.

Then, to round out my weekend of festival participation, very early Sunday morning I met my friend Sandra and her friend Scott to go to the festival in the small village she is working in. There were many complications including the presence of a bike race which meant that buses and collectivos were non-present so our grand plan of picking up a ride on the side of the road was deferred as we kept getting directed further and further along the main road out of the city and there were still none. Luckily, we were eventually picked up by a bus and arrived in San Ana de Valle were some teenage girls had told Sandra they would take us on a hike up the hill behind the town (it was now about 11am and hot when we got there).

So we take off from this tiny town, that is at the bottom of the mountains I was hiking in about a month ago- gorgeous views of the central valley. As we are hiking along through the cactus, Scott and I hear a little voice saying in English, "come on then, hurry up" and we kind of wondered if heatstroke was in play as we couldn´t see anyone around. But eventually, again we heard the voice asking us if we speak English and this time we see a little girl about 7/8 years old and her two dogs. I started talking to her and it turns out that she was born and lived in LA until the last year when her grandmother got sick and she and her parents returned to San Ana. She was obviously really excited to talk to someone in English and I got a lot of her story, which was amazing, she had come to the pueblo without speaking basically any Spanish, and not being able to read or write it, so she was sent back to 2nd grade, so that when she returns to LA in Sept she will have to repeat 3rd grade, the grade she had completed two years ago. I asked her which place she liked to live in more, and she without thinking told me LA, there are too many rocks in San Ana. I was sort of chuckling at this, but after we left her, I soon realized that this was no joke as the "hill" was more exactly a gravel pile in large part, and the trail was more "what looks like the least slippery way to get over this big rock?" The two teenagers were really amused at our difficulties and thought I was an idiot for wearing (hiking) sandals.

When we finally got off the loma and realized how little we went over what felt like an exhausting hike, we looked around to figure out where and when the proported festival would happen as the town looked practically deserted. When we saw a group of girls with canastas, their hair elaboratedly braided with ribbons and the brass band converging in one area of the Zocaló, we headed over there- it turned out to wait out the rainshowers and wait some more. Finally the calenda (parade) took off and we were excited to figure out what exactly happened during this fiesta as we were the only tourists in town. Eight hours later, we knew by heart exactly what a calenda entailed, visits to each of the houses of the majordomos, a speach, mezcal and dancing (the same song and dance for 8 hours!!!!)- I can now replicate the dance, complete with slightly bored expression focusing on the ground and no exchanges between dance partners. But it was cool to follow along, especially after dark, sample the mezcal and watch the interactions between the men who showed off by dancing with these giant (and proportedly really heavy) wooden balloon looking things- many more close falls as the day went on.

But as the night went on people talked to us more and more (or men did) and I had some interesting conversations about their experiences in the US (there is a huge community from San Ana in Santa Monica apparently). Finally, around 10 as I was becoming increasingly cranky in the absence of afternoon coffee and with the prospect of not getting a ride out of the community, they assembled again in the Zocaló and did the dance again, but this time setting fireworks off from the canastas, still on women´s heads! That was really cool to see and I was glad that we stayed for it- even if I was a bad anthropologist and failed to find intellectual excitement in 8 hours of the same thing over and over again. However, to get out of the community we ended up having to hitchhike with a nice couple in a pickup to the nearest big town, and then tried unsuccessfully to hitch from the caratera, until we finally found a taxi that would take us back to Oaxaca (not wanting to wait for the bus that might come by at midnight). All and all an interesting day in seeing just a little bit of life in these small communities where many many immigrants to LA come from. I came home and dreamed about the same song over and over.

Since then I have been mostly hanging out in Oaxaca, doing all my "last things" and holding on to the expectation that I will return. Please wish me luck in my flight friday so that I don´t have to sleep in the D.F. airport and that the gods of immigration smile on me.
Wednesday, July 27th, 2005
4:30 pm
PMSing in a foreign language sucks!
Language is getting hard again, I can understand almost everything, but I am just having an unbelievable time putting together gramatical sentences- at least until I get warmed up to a topic, I think I´ve mentally checked out a bit which isn´t great since I still have a week and a half to go. Plus, doesn´t exactly impress the guy I´ve been dreaming about- who I´ve decided is one of those guys who is either a) oblivious, b) oblivious and shy or c) not interested and this is his way of letting me know it- so I´ve pretty much had to abandon seduction plans- I mean not even saying goodbye and bypassing all opportunities to make plans is a pretty clear indication for me. Cèst la.

But had some crazy adventures Sunday going to a fiesta in a small small town, which ended with having to hitchhike out of it at night- luckily catching a pickúp truck to the next bigger town where we stood on the highway trying to hitchhike since it looked like we had missed the last bus (although there _might_ be another bus at midnight). Oy!

The funny thing is that after I had written about not wanting to participate in the Güelagetza crazyness, I ended up at the official parade and then a similar fiesta the next day (8 hours of the same freckin´ music and dance!)- and then the day after (Mon, the official day of Güelagetza) as I was wracked with a horrible stomach flu thing, I got stuck on the wrong side of the street from my house blocked by the official post-celebration parade with the same music again- guess who was not exactly ms. amused?
Saturday, July 23rd, 2005
11:56 am
Being in Oaxaca as a not-quite tourist
I haven´t written a mass update in a while since life has settled here into a more or less even routine as I struggle with how to be in one place for a long time without being a tourist or local. I have two more weeks here and I am constantly torn between being thrilled to return to normal life-- my daily contact with my created family, my apartment and the ease of not being constantly marked as a extrajañera-- and feeling like I want more time here.

Oaxaca is currently in the tail end of annual largest period of tourism, with Europeans, Mexicans and Estadunidenses flocking to Oaxaca for the Guelaguetza celebrations. Originally, this festival was created by the catholic church and then was basically appropriated by indigenous communities as a time to have a massive gathering to exchange produce, dance traditions etc. But after the revolution, the State codified the celebration, building a giant stadium on the hill above my house, and specifying that each area or pueblo would display its "traditional" dance and trajes as a celebration of "authentic" indigeniety, which meant that many places had to then create a representative dance (and here ends the history lesson). I have decided not to go to the official Guelaguetza presentations for a couple reasons, the largest is that I went to a presentation of the plumed dance in Teotitlan del Valle a couple weeks ago and was incredibly bored after about 5 minutes. The dance was amazing in terms of the elaborate costumes and the athleticism of wearing incredibly heavy headdresses in the blazing sun, but the music and choreography were extremely repetitive. So instead I have enjoyed the increased numbers of street musicians, and the seemingly impromptu small exhibitions I have stumbled across as I walk through downtown. Otherwise, I am really enjoying reading and writing in the smaller parks that are close to my house.

Oaxaca has been in effect transformed between the time I arrived and now as the city really markets this time as the "real" Oaxaca, the amusing thing is that of course most of the people I know who actually live here leave town for the Guelaguetza week because the exhibition tickets are really expensive ($400 pesos) and they don´t really feel like this is for them or represents them. When I got here (and still) a sure conversation starter was asking people what they thought of the "restoration" of the Zocaló (the historic center of town) as through political mechanisms the old one had been distroyed without community imput and was being modernized. When I returned from LA last weekend I was trying to figure out what exactly had changed in the look of the city and then I realized that all the scaffoldings had been removed from the buildings, that the incessant sounds of construction had been in order to finish restorations in time for this week. And the Zocaló was finally open. It completely changes the look of the area and to me looks amazing, but everyone who I ask who is from here hates the look, feeling that the replacement of historic local stones (which turn green when wet) with concrete and brushed metal sculptures has created a modernist space oriented more towards tourists than locals.

So, this is one of the most pressing issues that I am both learning about and also participating in by being here (but what is interesting is that when I raise my own culpability with my friends from here they tell me that no, I´m not a tourist, I´m a student and there´s a difference). I have been very struck with the marketing slogan "Oaxaca tambien es tuyo" (Oaxaca is also yours), that I interpret in light of the reinvention of the city as a tourist space and within histories of appropriating indigenous culture as national identity, but a friend told me, "no, this is to try to make tourists from Mexico feel that they have a responsibility to protect the historic spaces that make Oaxaca such a tourist destination, so that they don´t steal stones from Monte Alban or bark from the Tulé tree (the largest biomass in the world?)." So even if it´s not at all relevant to my interests in reproduction, I am ethnographically learning a lot here- and there is a constant discourse about the States which is relevant to my interest in transnational community formation.

My spanish is improving steadily and I can have great complex conversations with one person, and can basically follow the conversations between native speakers even in loud bars. The one silver lining in my somewhat hellious return to Oaxaca ( 1.5 hours in line for immigration in Mexico City and then running through the airport- yes me, running- only to miss my connection by 5 minutes) was that I could solve the problems in spanish and then in Oaxaca use my spanish to locate my bag (which had made it back here hours before me). Also, I found out that with enough persistance it is possible to cut through the plastic locks used to protect luggage with a key (I got back to the house very late and any other sharp implements were in the bag I was locked out of. The final highlight of the week was going to the alternative club here in Oaxaca and being able to impress my hosts with my samba skills ("what a güera can shake like that?"), which attracted the attention of a couple guys from DF who wanted to know if I was Columbian- see I can pass if I keep my mouth shut!

**** Audience Participation Part****** Finally, as one of my projects when I return to the States is the final revision of my MA thesis, I am starting a "name that thesis" contest- the awkward working title is something about "The Making of ´Depraved Indifference´ and Maternal Irresponsibility in the Age of Scientific Pregnancies" and it´s about the way that fetuses have entered the US social imagination and have redefined the ways that women are held legally and socially responsible for creating specfic kinds of fetal health- more or less. So, if you are better than me at catchy titles, please help me out!
Thursday, July 21st, 2005
2:21 pm
quick update
Went to LA for the weekend which was great, but made it pretty hard to return to Oaxaca, between the cell phone access, the beach, the not worrying about just wearing a camisole and shorts, the dolphins playing in front of where I was sitting, it was as close to ideal as I could imagine.

The wedding was a little not what I was expecting, more traditional, but it was just so nice because you could see how happy they are together and how much they love each other.
It was also cool to hang out with my mom´s graduate students and get to know them a bit more than as those people who have meetings in my house when all I want to do is be on vacation. It was a little hard at times with the music and other stuff reminding me so clearly of freshman year of college and my ambivalences about my relationships with Maggie and Scott (for those who haven`t had to either live through those heartbreaks with me or listen to me drunkenly recount them, it`s a long story). I saw Mariel there and it was a little weird, I was trying to be really warm and ask her about what she´s up to an stuff, but she was really not into playing nice, pretty cool in her interactions with me- sea lo que sea (I finally learned the equivalent expression for "whatever"!).

Other stuff, had a somewhat hellious flight back here, but my spanish (and especially my spanglish) is so much better that the 5 hours in teh Mexico City airport were not too crazymaking- it is somewhat hard to be back here, I am simultaneously wanting this trip to be over, tired of being a conspicuous foriegner and having to worry about language all the time, but I also really like it here, I like the people I´ve gotten to know and I finally have a (maybe) date with the guy that I´ve been lusting after- we`ll see.

Feel free to email me seduction tips as I fear that I can use as much help as possible.

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005
1:55 pm
How odd
So I´m sitting in my usual internet cafe with the mesquitos or fleas (I try not to think about them too much) biting my feet and ankles as I listen to the jovenes who run the place singing along with G&R´s "knocking on heaven´s door!"

I fell on the street today and my hand stings. Mostly I was totally embarassed as I had to walk down the street with a giant stripe of water and grit that started on my left boob and ran down the side of my pants. I was tempted to roll so that at least my sides matched (possibly suggesting that it had been an intentional fashion choice). Kids laughed at me and a man walked past me as I slowly got up off the ground and said "quedarte" ("be carefull"), advice that probably would have been more helpful before I steped on the wet uneven patch and my ankle rolled. So I was that person lying in the street today, pmsing, a wonderful time to be a foreign city.

I went to a problematic presentation last night on Africans in Oaxaca, where this drum teacher from Senegal spoke somewhat pompasly about how Africa is not a place, it is places, and then promptly talked a lot about Africa and how similar it is to Mexico. Interesting, he spent a lot of time protesting the representation of Africa as a poor place, raising for me interesting ethical questions about need, ethics and representation. Yes, he is definitely right that there are poor people and poor areas all over the world, does that mean that we should not talk about poor communities or that we should talk about all of them. I wish I had read Kleinman, Kleinman and Das about social suffering more carefully (this is for Jason). Thoughts?
Monday, June 27th, 2005
3:28 pm
A few things I´ve learnt in my first solitary international travel
The words cheesy, quirky, sketchy etc. are words that form integral parts of my normal speech and are both intranslateable and difficult to describe in spanish.

Things that it is good to always have with you:
Chocolate (because it makes everything seem better, many nights when I was first here and very lonely, a square of chocolate went a long way- thanks to April for bringing me amazing chocolate from NZ and my innate tendancy to hoard yummy things)

Clear nail polish (nail biting and polish peeling are great things to do under
stress and enabled by a ready supply of clear growth encouraging nail polish- thanks to Robert for the somewhat thankless errand)

A reading lamp (thanks to Robert and April, because when you go up to the mountains and don´t think about the fact that street lights are luxories, it can make a great flashlight and help distinguish between rocks and dogs in the dark)

A journal (it´s good to always look busy and makes up for the absence of a video camera to preserve the sensations of the new)

And more things I´m sure.
Thursday, June 23rd, 2005
8:04 pm
Finding Fetal Representations in Oaxaca (or good omens carved in stone)
There is a different kind of visceralness for me in Oaxaca, I am
conscious of my appearance in different ways since the way I walk, my
height, my clothes all mark me as a particular kind of person here,
walking down the sidewalk takes a little different kind of
concentration (will the sidewalk be wide enough for me to walk the
whole block, or will I possibly have to step in front of a bus to
manuver around a telephone pole or reconstruction site? Which is the
shady side?) and the sounds of traffic are different. I love all the
utility trucks and delivery trucks here because they advertise their
presence with specific sounds: the guy delivering agua pounds on the
door bellowing "aaaaaggggguuuuaaaaaa" so as to render the sounds
almost incomprehensible, the guy on the trash truck has a triangle
that he bangs to signal the approach so people can get their trash out
in time, the guy on the fruit trucks sings his produce over a loud
speaker and (I guess) when he gets tired, blares ranchero music, and
my personal favorite, the gas truck moos! (it does, it goes "mooooo,
a Oaxaca" and then there`s music over and over!). So these are some
of the sounds that wake me up and accompany me on my morning walk
(better than an ipod!).

This has been another full week in class and trying to figure out life
here. I spoke more english than in past weeks for a lot of reasons
mostly because I`ve met more people here who have become friends. For
the most part I try to switch between English and Spanish (and my
Spanish improves immensely daily), but I feel more like myself as an
articulate person when I can use English and participate in quick
social conversation. While it is probably not the best for my
speaking abilities, I`m working on a balance. And there are a bunch
of cool tourists I´ve met in the last week so I have people to go out
with, and feel much less isolated. You may notice that I say I´m
meeting other tourists rather than Oaxaqueños, which is in large part
due to a couple unfortunate but harmless incidents that have made me a
bit wary of the Oaxacan men who want to talk to American women. But
my cultural competence grows daily and I find it endlessly interesting
to watch people in the street.

One of the big things to watch on the street this last week has been
people (mostly kids and older people) collecting a local delicacy.
With the rains that now come consistently in the afternoons and
evening have come these giant ants that fly, but lose their wings
(some in midair) and are collected from the streets, sidewalks and
patios to be boiled in salsa and eaten. Along with grilled
grasshoppers (Champulines) and Agave worms, they are some of the more
exotic delicacies. I was all set to try a grasshopper until I saw
them and they still look like bugs even after they`re cooked, I think
I could only do it blindfolded now. The current limits of my cultural
relativism is to carefully not step on the giant ants in order to
leave them for someone else to eat.

But the biggest news of this last week comes from my excursion to
Monte Alban, an amazing set of ruins high on a flat mountian top above
Oaxaca city. This was my first experience with Latin American ruins
on this scale (although I had been to smaller less impressive ones the
weekend before) and I was blown away. With the rains of the last week
the ruins are surrounded by high green grass, setting off the pale
stones of the temples. Monte Alban was the Zapotece capital for
hundreds of years (300-500 AD maybe) and was built without wheels,
hauling the sand for the morter up via a human chain to the top of the
mountain. It is a simply spectacular site both of the ruins and of
the surrounding valles (and a great view of Oaxaca Cuidad), and has
examples of some of the earliest examples of writing. We had this
amazing Zapotec guide who told us that he would give us the real
history that the Indians have known for generations rather than the
history of the academics who never asked them what they knew.
Phenomenal on so many levels, from linguistic revisions ("when were
the Egyptians in Mexico, why are these pyramids?") to social critiques
of the archelogical evidence that indicated that the Zapotecs had been
more violent than commonly understood. He was great, giving a very
full historical description of what social structures needed to be in
place before attempting a project of such grandure (and he credited
women making tortillas with discovering the properties of limestone-
yay valuing domestic labor!).

And then he took us over to these carved stones that are commonly
known as the dancers and which the guidebooks refer to as depictions
of castrated men, but our guide pointed out that the majority are
pregnant women!!!!! His take is that these images were used to depict
pathological medical cases and pointed out their representation of
fetuses in different situations!!!!!! So these stones may be some of
the earliest examples of fetal representations- was that an omen or
what? I took a couple rolls of film and hope the details come out.
And now I need to do a literature review to see what`s been written
about them already- and regardless of whether they are fetuses or not,
what is interesting to me is that the guide singled out those stones
with that interpretation. Now that my spanish is getting better and
is functional to at least start a professional conversation, I plan to
do more work figuring out the social terrain of prenatal care and
reproductive rights activism here.

Other adventures this week included a night at this really cool chill
lounge for poemas en femina, a somewhat feminist poetry reading event
that was pretty cool and a chance to work out understanding spanish
through different cadences. I went with the American anthropologist I
had met a couple weeks ago and her partner, I really like them both
and have wanted to check out this club. I spend Friday night at the
best salsa club in Oaxaca and saw some really great (and really bad)
dancing, it was a lot of fun and a big group of interesting Oaxaqueños
and ex-pats. I feel like I`m slowly slowly getting to know people in
communities I would want to hang out in. And yesterday I went to this
great ecological paper factory where they demonstrated how to make
paper from all these all-natural fibers and tints, beautiful work, and
they use the reclaimed water for the garden! Plus a nice chance to
see more of the state- it`s so beautiful.

Tomorrow night I`m off to a fundraising concert for an organization
that works with Oaxacan street kids in the beautiful 18th cen. theater
here and then this weekend I`m heading up to the Sierra Norte
mountains with this other American woman who has become a friend.
There are a bunch of little Zapotec villages that have built an
economy by transforming themselves into ecotourist destinations. So
we will be left by the 2nd class bus at the side of the road and hike
5 km to Benito Jaurez, from which we can hike up to waterfalls and
into the forests.
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
8:18 pm
A question of the unconscious
Ok, so here`s a question for all of my friends who are way better at untangling unconscious stuff than I am.

Why is it that on being in a new place that is sometimes scary and challenging to my sense of self, I pretty consistently dream about a long over ex? It`s been seven years, why is he appearing as a supportive person in my dreams, why do I think about him and consider making contact? Is it a coping mechanism for feeling out of my depth that brings me back to the person who helped me feel so secure in college (and then ripped that security from me)? Is it an issue of him having taken a trip in siumilar places of Mexico and Guatemala sortly after our relationship exploded that allows me to make sense of my experiences in part through his encounters?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005
7:37 pm
A good day
Today was really good, they changed my class around and I{m now in a more mixed class that has good synergy and more lefties than annoying americans- less "it´s all about me" and since we all have different strengths and weaknesses, I think it´ll be good.

Danced today and it was really nice for a couple reasons, including, I´m getting very good at some of these moves dancing 2,3 times a week (I even let people do the comb on me), the dancing I´m doing is more puerto rican so I´m learning a lot of the turns and it´s fun. Today I was dancing with the main teacher and his gf (also a great dancer) was watching from above and afterwards she stopped me to tell me how great we looked, that it was beautiful to watch! And I "talked" more with the guys I was fretting about in the aftermath of last week so I´m less concernered now that I´m blackballed from the salsa community (which I was worried about when I went to this fabulous Salsa Club Fri night and none of the men I had previously met wanted to dance with me).

Tonight I´m meeting this american anthropologist and her partner to go to a feminist- feminine poetry event, figure that´s a good event to run into a more alternative crowd, and it´s in a performance space I´ve been wanting to try out.

Plus today in despiration since I finished the two books I brought to Mexico, thinking that they would be hefty books, I bought two new ones today, an older one by Isabelle Allende (her first set in the US) and a newer one written by a mexican-french writer that´s a fictionalized biography of Tina Modotti, the communist photographer played by Ashley Judd in _Frida_, called "Tinisima," I´m already hooked. If I can´t comfortably read in spanish for pleasure, I can at least seep myself in Mexican/Latin American writing styles. And I can recieve Amazon packages here (hint).
Friday, June 17th, 2005
3:43 pm
Building a reputation, or why I hate small towns
So last night I was waiting for a friend (it´s weird to think that people I hang out with only a couple times in this context become friends) in front of the main church here, sitting on a wall under a tree. So as I was sitting there, which is the main hangout spot for young Oaxaqueños, these little indigenous children came up, hair kind of ratty, dirty faces, but soooo cute, and in sync go "one peso!¨and I was like ¨no¨and the little boys ran away but each smacked me on the leg. I was so surprised, not that it hurt, but it was such a little kid thing to do. So then these two little girls came up and did the same demand, but instead of hitting me, they stamped and ran off, only to do the same to the next couple. In some ways it was pretty funny since it basically just seemed like it was a sort of game to them as they went from person to person, and on the other hand really sad the encompassing degree of poverty here (minimum wage here is like the equivalent of $5 for an 8 hr day). There are a lot of street families here, not that I know if they live on the street, but during the day they come in (mostly indigenous women with their long skirts and head shawl) and sell food or small crafts, and the babies sleep in the shade on the sidewalk and the little girls (maybe 5-6) sell candy and cigarettes on the street at night.

Also, and yes, I needed Geeta´s patented No lecture, honed in the crowded clubs of LA- I know I know, I should have done it but it wasn´t that big a deal, a mistake I know not to make again you know? And since I don´t plan to go back to that club again....... thought that was it.

But no! Because last night, this woman Jessica who I went out with brought along this guy she met on the street, Sergio. And the first thing he said to me was "oh, I saw you at La Tentacion last night, you were dancing really sexy!¨ god save me from small towns! So Jessica and I had talked about salsa dancing but of course the music didn´t start until 11 so we went for a beer. Sergio asked what kind of place we wanted, I was like, oh, cheap, whatever. But instead of taking us to a bar, he took us to a cantina (a little seedier and until recently women were not allowed by law inside!), where we were the only women!!!! So Sergio speaks pretty good english which is why I could understand as much as I could, and when Jessica went to the bathroom, he again brought up, "oh, that guy last night, is he your boyfriend" and I was like (stupidly), no I don´t have a boyfriend right now. And he was all "oh, cause the way you were dancing, so sexy, I thought he was your boyfriend" and I finally said, "you know, I really wasn´t comfortable with it, but I had just met that guy and he was a friend of a friend of a friend and I didn´t know how to stop it, but I wasn´t comfortable with what he was doing" especially since he was using quite a bit of strength to hold me tight. So I thought that would stop this conversation about how I dance (which wasn´t that bad) and what kind of person I am. But no, he kept bringing it up, "oh, the way you were dancing I thought you were really into him...." hello, I said I didn´t like it!

So then he starts to tells us this story about how he lost his virginity, and how in the states women are so much less conservative about sex and blah blah blah. Which I really again wasn´t comfortable with, and again made some comment about how we had been such good girls and that was just a stereotype........ but he kept talking about this. And Jessica and I kept trying to change the subject, but it didn´t work. So finally it was 11 and I was exhausted and not entirely comfortable with this guy so I was like, "oh, I´m so tired, maybe I´ll bail" when I caught the look Jessica shot me and was like "oh, or I´ll go" and then she was also tired, so we both were like "oh, this has been nice, but we´re both tired and have to get up early...... dancing another night" and he became this total petulent little child, he was all "you told me you wanted to dance with me, I thought....." and then he made Jessica pay for his beers (only about $2, but still!) because she had promised to dance with him and now he felt bad.

When I talked to her today she said he walked home with her a little ways, trying to get her to go- tooo pushy. My teachers told me that there are a bunch of guys here who want to get on extrajañeras because they think we´re loose. And the funny thing is that I brought pretty conservative clothes because if I do research here, I want to be seen as a respectable person! Who knew one night out at a packed club?
Thursday, June 16th, 2005
4:44 pm
Sleazy clubs the world over
So last night first I went to this old movie theater for a ¨free¨
showing of Princess Mononoke (which by the way was free in the sense
that you can decided how much of a donation to give as they block the
door with the donation box). The movie was in english with spanish
subtitles, so I actually knew what was going on and got to practice my
spanish reading (kinda sorta). If you haven´t seen it, really
interesting gender representations with the two main warriors women,
one intent on ruling the world by training prostitutes to fight and
the other one intent on killing the other for destroying the
environment, and the main male is trying to creative global peace and
harmony. But I don´t know its overall moral because about 1.5 hrs in,
the dvd stopped, and that was the end of the movie! We sort of sat
there as they tried 4 times and couldn´t get it to move past the
middle of the last apocraphal battle. Hmmmmmm, the cosmos telling us

And then, I went out with Hiromi (this Japanese woman who also lives
in my house and goes to my school) and some of her Oaxaqueño friends,
we were supposed to go salsa dancing at an admittedly touristy club
with live music, but instead we went to this club that would have been
right at home in a total B&T neighborhood. It was about half and half
Mexicans and extrajañeros, playing all American rap and a little
hiphop (Jay Z´s ¨99 problems but a bitch ain´t one¨was a fave). When
we first got there around 10 it was pretty empty so we went up on the
balcony and I had fun laughing at the bad dancers. But then when we
came back from picking up a friend of this friend, it was a total mob
scene. So we were dancing and I was trying to teach Hiromi to dance
to rap and was having fun since I haven´t gone out dancing in a while.
And more and more of Walter´s friends were showing up and this one
was like ¨we´re going to dance now, vamos baillar ahora¨and I was like
ümmm, says who?¨but whatever, one dance right? Um no, he wouldn´t let
me go and it wasn´t a big deal ´cause I could have gotten out of it,
but the bad thing was that he was totally grabby. And you know I can
take care of myself but as he was grinding his erection onto my leg I
was occupied keeping his hands on my legs and not my crotch (hello,
not your sex toy!). Ewww. So I put some space between since I didn´t
want to make it a big deal. But we left shortly afterwards. As
sleazy as an American club, and since Hiromi wasn´t really experienced
in this kind of club scene she didn´t know that she was supposed to
rescue me when I mouthed ¨help¨! Cést la, I know to find other clubs,
being there definitely made me feel old.

One thing I constantly screw up in the language is gender (that and
verbs) and I don´t have good enough spanish to say that I believe in a
trans sensibility, so what does appropriate gender matter. Plus, I
don´t think that argument works when I don´t actually know the
standard from :)
Wednesday, June 15th, 2005
1:52 pm
What do you wear to dance when you´re already too tall?
Going dancing at a club for the first time tonight and I´m trying to figure out what to wear, but I don´t want to wear my heels because I already tower over the Oaxaqueño men, one guy in this dance class has to hop to spin me- que embarassing!

In other interesting news I learned more about various älternative¨places around the city that are queer friendly- since those are usually my people, I´ll head up to see what I see. Coincidence that the anthro center, good public pool, media activists, and alternative sites are all in the same neigborhood?
1:24 pm
A vent about american tourists
I got into a political argument in my class today (totally in spanish) with these other two american women. It really pisses me off when people come (especially those who do homestays) and expect that things in mexico will be exactly like in the states and that homestays are just cheap hotels. You would not believe these women at breakfast this morning, ¨oh, we´re used to just toast and fruit and tea, but can you have more pan dulce and oatmeal and I would like some unflavored yogurt but on the weekend, but not this sat we want the usual breakfast. and can you wash the towels every other day?¨! And then listening to these women in my class talk about what good bosses they are to their mexican maids and how much they spend on private spanish classes and how they support ahnold. I couldn´t resist pointing out that the US system really privileges only those who can afford it and health is abismal compared to other developed countries- I hate american tourists so often. I told my other teacher- ellos hablan mucho y ven nada sobre mexio.

Also in my class is a woman who has no filter or obligatory passage point between her brain and mouth- todas sobre su familia y su complaints, I try not to be too obvious as I clench my jaw.

love and haven´t you missed my vents?
Tuesday, June 14th, 2005
7:21 pm
Narrative I- First Impressions
So I got here safe and sound three days ago after a long long trip.
In some ways Oaxaca is nothing that I could have expected, and in
other ways it´s everything I was (and was worried about). It´s a
beautiful, small city in a valley surrounded by mountains. It doesn´t
feel like being in the mountains as I am used to mountain cities- it´s
hot and dry and dusty during the day (I hear that June is the worst),
but cools off at night (not too much). It´s a small tightly packed
city whose center is all old old colonial buildings (mostly restored),
narrow sidewalks and cars that don´t believe pedestrians ever have the
right of way. But the people here are very friendly and for the most
part are patient with my very broken, mangled spanish. A couple of
the hardest things have been not being able to speak in English since
I got here and figuring out a new city in the heat. The Mexico City
airport was the worst- so hot and smokey and no one there spoke
English- at immigration all the Americans got in the wrong line. I
found that since none of the money exchange places spoke English and I
needed money to buy a bottle of water, ATMs are beautiful things.

Once I arrived in Oaxaca my host-mother picked me up at the airport
and took me back to their house- it´s large with separate quarters for
students and a big terrace overlooking the city. I have a small room
with a fan, a tiny bathroom and atrium to myself. She gives us
(there´s a Japanese student here too) breakfast and after that I´m on
my own. Still figuring out the food systems here. It´s too hot
during the day to want to really eat things, and the traditional meal
at night is small. But I don´t think I´ll starve.

At this point my passive reception has increased enough that I can
generally understand my host mother and the other exchange student
when she speaks slowly- Olga, my host mother, doesn´t speak much
English- I nod and smile and say ¨si¨or ¨bueno¨ a lot.

Today as I was wondering around downtown a man stopped me on the
street and began to chat with me. I wasn´t quite sure what his deal
was but I decided to go with it. He´s a teacher whose brother is an
undocumented immigrant in Oregon, and he wanted to show me around for
free. I was a bit suspicious, but didn´t have quite enough spanish to
protest, and besides, I´m supposed to be learning spanish by speaking
with mexicans. So I followed him around for a couple hours, always
making sure that there were many people around. He took me to the
photography institute, the law school of Benito Juarez, an old convent
that´s now an amazing hotel, a women´s carft collective and explained
everything in spanish. He speaks no english, but I could mostly
follow him, I just couldn´t speak much myself. It seemed all on the
up and up, but I wasn´t totally comfortable, so I kind of blew him off
when he wanted to take me to a Mezcal bar. It should be interesting,
but just not sure, I told him I wasn´t sure I could meet him, and I´ll
decide closer to the time. I´ve never been by myself quite so much,
so I´m still figuring out the ropes. Interestingly, people seem to
make clear distinctions between tourists and students, with students
treated a bit better because they{re making an effort to learn the
language and culture. I haven´t met any other American tourists yet,
although I can recognize them on the street, and haven´t seen any
other single travelers yet. It´s still early.

For those of you I told that I would have cell phone service, I don´t,
but I think I can get phone calls at the house (not quite sure how it
works). And luckily, there´s an internet cafe close by the house so I
can still be in close contact.

Muchos besos,
7:19 pm
Narrative II- Hierve el Agua and Compleaños
Hola mi cariños-

Now that I have been in Oaxaca for a little over a week the American
tourists are crawling out of the cracked pavement. When I got here I
felt so alone and timid about my spanish and like I couldn´t even
order food or water without it, and now, in the restaurant where I had
lunch today everyone was speaking english (everyone but me and my
lunch companion, mostly). For the most part I´m trying to live only
in spanish and while I still am very shy about speaking spanish as I
stumble over tense and pronuncation, I am able to think at times in
fairly gramatical spanish. Iro nically it`s getting a bit harder to
not speak in english as the school I attend has swelled from 3
students to approximately 20 (mostly if not all American) and since I
am a helpful soul, a lot of people keep wanting to ask me questions
about the city in english- grrrrrrr. But if I am still frustrated at
my inability to translate my observations into recognizable spanish,
my passive comprehension is growing daily. And I´ve walked the streets
around the central city enough to feel like I have a mental social map
of my pequeña world.

And I have already had some great adventures, including my first
experience with a Latin American collectivo taxi. On Saturday my
friend Hiromi and I decided to venture out to a local attraction named
Hierve el Agua (or boiled water), which is the result of sulfer
springs cascading over the mountainside to form petrifided waterfalls.
So we got up early and rushed through the narrow downtown streets to
the second class bus terminal, where sure enough, there was a bus
labeled Hierve el Agua. So far so good, we´re the only ones who
needed to pick it up in the terminal while the rest of the Mexican
passengers waited on the side of the road and highway. But then just
before the conductor comes through to collect the fare, he rolls the
sign to announce that now it goes to Mitla/ Talocalula.

So we get off in Mitla where we´re told we need to catch a collectivo
across the street- but four tourists are not enough and the driver
says that we´ll wait about twenty more minutes for more tourists (you
see where this story is going?). An hour and a half later crouching
in the scant shade of a small store another bus finally shows up that
actually contains tourists. So now there are nine and Hiromi and I
crawl into the low back (I´m too tall for this area!) and the
collectivo bumps off along a dirt and rock road straight up and over
the mountain to Hierve el Agua. Which by the way was wonderful,
mostly because I got a swim in in a natural pool that didn´t smell
like sulfur. And, it was amazing to be up so high to get a sense of
how the various valles are arranged- small small towns connected by
small dirt tracks populated by cows and burros and people and

And, on the way back Hiromi and I took the opportunity to explore the
ruins of Mitla a bit (a former Zapatec palace destroyed and replaced
by a church- as was the case in most of the important pre-Hispanic
sites here). It was amazing to wander around and look at the restored
mosaics, which totally makes me want to be an archeologist and delve
into the history. There are a couple codices still preserved that
narrate the local history in a combination of figures and writing.

Other adventures over the last week include a birthday party of a
friend of Hiromi`s who we met by the main market (another place I am
too tall for). I tried to keep up as I dodged low hanging baskets,
small women carrying toddlers, chickens or tortillas slung in their
multiutilitary shawls, people carrying live chickens and pulling goats
along (really made me want to be a veg) and men pushing wheelbarrows
filled with oranges or lychis. It was pretty much complete sensory
overload. And, along the way we met some other friends of Juanita´s
who are (wait for it).... and anthropologist and her partner. I´ve
found everyone I meet is about three degrees removed from some kind of
anthropological endeavor as Oaxaca generally is a fertile site of
research- something that makes me a little cautious of claiming the
anthropological mantle (and as I seem to be a magnet, I made friends
with a really nice lesbian couple).

Going to Juanita´s birthday was a great experience as she lives high
up in a small puebla just outside of Oaxaca, a mix of wildly colored
stucco houses and adobe structures with tin roofs and cane walled cook
structures. Her family was incredibly welcoming as we sat in the yard
along a long wood table under a plastic tarp that threatened to come
down on us constantly. And then Juanita`s aunt and friends taught us
to dance to banda and ranchera music as a speedy gonzalez tape played
a mix of traditional birthday songs.

For people working on indigenous representation issues, Oaxaca is a
fertile place, with most people I´ve met telling me about indigeniety
and traditional weaving, embroidery and clothes are the largest craft
market. There are also some great museums of pre-Hispanic and
contemporary art that emphasize the artistry and craft of cultural
productions (very proud of myself for reading the spanish

My days are mostly spent in class, dancing twice a week, and wondering
around watching the city. There are many anthropological and feminist
(and media) organizations I now have contacts to, but I am loath to
introduce myself until my spanish is a bit better. And at least in
the salsa classes I feel like I`ve got my act together. I miss the
contact with friends that is so important in my daily life, but am
writing a lot and feeling more comfortable being here for the next two

Con amor y besos,
Becca (or as I am known here, Rebecca)
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