This past week we had many ups and downs. Two weeks ago we started our “tracks” in
which we chose to take classes in Food Systems, Botany, or Spanish, depending on our
individual interests and majors/minors. I chose Spanish myself and it turned out to be a little
more than I bargained for, yet helpful and interesting nonetheless. Our professor was very
passionate about teaching and urged us to express our ideas about abstract topics each day like
our personal views of the cultural differences between our own culture and that which we
observed in Mexico or the Zapatista movement. These 4-hour discussions were entirely in
Spanish with the exception of one of us asking for help expressing our ideas or with an odd
vocab word. From the beginning I realized my Spanish was nowhere where I thought and, half
way through the day, I would often become very tired or frustrated with the sheer amount of
things I didn’t know or understand about Spanish. However, in retrospect, the class improved my
knowledge of Spanish and Mexican culture immensely.
Unlike other classes I have taken here or in Vermont, there were field trips to famous
cultural areas at least once a week. The first in-class trip was to the convent-turned-museum
attached the Santo Domingo Church, a rally point well known to everyone in the group. On the
outside, the church appears to be much smaller than reality. But once you enter through the
museum doors, there are corridors upon corridors of smaller doors, opening into halls of artifacts
of indigenous tombs recovered from Monté Albán or old systems of distilling mezcal. It could
have easily eaten up an entire day instead of the 4-hour class we had to explore it. The second
field trip was to the Botanical Gardens just outside that was home to every native plant in Oaxaca
including the ancient relative of corn that we see today as the result of centuries of artificial
selection by farmers. Some tree and plant species were so strange it almost felt as though we
were in the middle of a Dr. Seuss story (or Jurassic Park).
The latest excursion was to the ruins ofYagul (“old tree” in Zapotec), a home for the elite after wars in Monté Albán forced them to relocate. Among these ruins were epic plazas and rooms easily distinguishable though they were more than 1000 years old. They also contained a unique ball court shaped like an “I” that is thought to have been home to an ancient sport that celebrated special religious events. In
addition, it was one of the first areas of inhabitance for early humans who lived in caves near the ruins where evidence of the ancient corn species was found, among other things. From the road leading up to the ruins we could see cave paintings in giant crevices carved into the walls. After
this we traveled to the nearby market of Tlacalula, the city of relocation for the ancestors of the area after the Spanish Conquest. Once entering the market, it was easy to see how you could be lost. The main street of the market was flooded with vendors and market-goers buying and
selling everything from machetes to black pottery and leather shoes to local produce. It appeared to never end and, after about and hour and a half, we still had not found the end of the market due to the many side streets and distractions along the way. On our way back, we all rested our feet and took naps on the bus home.
With only four weeks left, I’m looking forward to doing more outings like this to other famous ruins that are scattered around the state and exploring even more topics in my upcoming classes. The time has gone by so fast!