25 Dec 2007

Last classes, Oaxaca and…brucelosis?

Posted by Deborah

It’s hard to believe that six months is over already. On Dec. 14, I had my last day of school. Earlier that week, I’d taken the same test I had completed when I first arrived, which did affirm that I actually learned something. 🙂 Then, on Friday, I gave a final presentation in front of all the current students and teachers. I’d been giving these weekly presentations for about a month and a half now, but usually for a much smaller audience. For this one, I’d decided to research Oaxaca since I was planning to go there for a week of vacation after finishing my classes. I spoke a bit about how the area was founded by Zapotec and Miztec people, but spent most of my time on the teacher protests that started last year and still haven’t been fully resolved today. Then, we spent the rest of the afternoon learning about posadas, the traditional parties held before Christmas. We made ponche, learned how the piñatas’ seven points represent the seven deadly sins and had a riot breaking two piñatas of our own. I think all these festivities in part were just an excuse to celebrate since there were several of us marking our last day of school – Sheila, Cheryl (who’d been here for just two weeks), Mateo and Manuel. But we all appreciated it. Later that night, we got together again to go dancing at a salsa club called Guantanamera. I’m sorry we didn’t find that place sooner, it had a great live band and a nice floor.

The gang on my last day of class.

Then, on Saturday, I headed off on my trip. First, I went to Puebla where I saw a local production of the Nutcracker ballet, listened to guitar music, visited the Casa de las Muñecas museum and walked around the downtown. I had hopes of catching this “zoo safari” where you drive through natural habitats to see the animals, but it turned out to be a whole day deal and I had to be in Oaxaca by mid-afternoon Sunday to meet up with my friend Donna, who was flying in from Charlotte.

Casa de las Muñecas in Puebla

So, after a four-hour bus ride Sunday, I was in Oaxaca, where I met Donna at the airport. We walked around the area by the Basilica de la Soledad, where there was a big street carnival in honor of the church’s patron saint. The next day, we explored the city in earnest – the major city market, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, the church of St. Agustine, a former convent-turned-hotel, the church of Santo Domingo, the Basilica de la Soledad and adjoining museum and the zócalo.

Chapulines, or cooked grasshoppers coated in chile, a Oaxacan delicacy for sale in the local market.

The Church of Santo Domingo

On Tuesday, we took a bus to Monte Alban, a city built by the Zapotec people thousands of years ago and probably the most impressive ruins I’ve seen in Mexico. It took a good three hours to see the whole thing, including a museum that contained some of the bones and treasures found in the tombs there.

The only picture I have of me and Donna together.

Wednesday, we took a tour that included five stops outside of Oaxaca: the giant cypress tree in San Maria del Tule; the weaving village of Teotitlan; the Mixtec ruins of Mitla; the natural rock formation of Hierve el Agua; and a mezcal factory. It was a nice combination. The tree was gorgeous, the ruins small but interesting and the rock formation stunning.


Hierve el Agua on the right

Natural spring pools at Hierve el Agua

I could’ve done without the weaving demonstration because they really only took us to one store rather than the village center to look around on our own. Other than that, I only wish I had felt better. I don’t remember how much I’ve mentioned about my health on this blog, but basically I haven’t felt normal since the end of October. I always had something, whether it was a cold, flu, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, whatever. Most recently, it was about two weeks of solid headaches that had started around the trip to Veracruz and continued in Oaxaca. I saw our school doctor several times and even another doctor at the pharmacy nearby but nobody seemed to be able to figure out what I had. I had pretty much resigned myself to handling the pain in Mexico and getting more tests when I got back to the U.S.

But this day, my symptoms got more severe. From the first tour stop, I was feeling out of it and when I tried to speak, the words didn’t come out right in English or Spanish. At the same time, my arms and legs felt as if they were asleep or paralyzed – I tried to pull out my camera and promptly dropped it on the ground. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. A painkiller helped me get through the rest of the day – though I’m not going to lie, it was a challenge – and Donna and I immediately went to the nearest doctor we could find when we got back to Oaxaca later that night. He was like the others, not certain what could explain my headaches, or swollen ankles, or loss of speech, or high blood pressure, etc. He told me to get a blood test the next day and come back with the results. Of course, the next day, I felt much better but decided that I’d waited too long and would go ahead and get the blood test anyway. Later that afternoon, I brought the results back to the doctor and found out that I had not one, but two problems: brucellosis, an infection caused by eating unpasteurized cheese or milk (apparently common in Mexico) and ricketsial disease, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. That one caught me off guard. I was guessing that I had Dengue Fever or West Nile Virus, some sort of tropical disease passed on by a mosquito, not a tic-bourn disease common in my own state! Anyway, that’s what the test said. The treatment consisted of eight days of a massive injection plus six weeks of antibiotics. Thank goodness Donna was there with me. Not only did she help me process what was going on, but she put up with my constant tiredness and agreed to give me the first couple of injections. What a true friend. I don’t know if I could stick anyone with a needle. The good news is that the medicine seemed to cut back the headaches right away and I feel like I’m on my way to recovering.

Back to the trip…During the rest of our day on Thursday, we saw several other museums including the Regional Museum located in the buildings next to the Church of Santo Domingo (one of the nicest churches in the city), the Casa de Benito Juarez, beloved political leader, and the Rufino Tamayo Prehispanic Art Museum. At night, we saw an hour and a half of regional folk dances modeled after the annual Guelaguetza international dance festival in July.

Friday was another off day for me. We went to Coyocan, a nearby town known for a certain kind of black pottery that was supposed to have a market day. We looked at some of the shops in the square and had lunch, but I was feeling so awful that we headed right back instead of heading further to the market. I slept the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Saturday was Donna’s last full day in Mexico. We went to an artisan’s market, a stamp museum, a few more churches and back to the main market and zócalo. Donna left super early Sunday morning and I spent the day in Oaxaca by myself. My original plan was to visit Tlaxcala but the bus schedules didn’t work out, so instead I went to the nearby village of Tlacolula for their market day. Tourists, modernly dressed Mexicans and little old indigenous ladies wrapped in clashing brightly-colored cloth filled the main drag. Vendors were selling everything from cures for wrinkles to live turkeys. I especially loved seeing the women carry these huge bundles on their heads without even putting up a hand to keep them steady.

After walking through the whole market and the central church, which rivaled the gold-gilded Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, I took a bus three kilometers back toward Oaxaca where I got off to see the ruins of Lambityeco. These were even smaller than Mitla, just the tombs of what once must have been a wealthy family with two steam baths and some statues to the rain god Cocijo. Seven kilometers further down the road, I stopped at Dainzú, another, slightly bigger ruins site that included tunnels and a ball field. It was so peaceful and quiet up on that hill without anyone else around.


When I arrived back in the city around 5 pm, the annual Noche de los Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, was in full swing. Who would’ve thought that Oaxaca would have a radish festival? Apparently, it started about 115 years ago and no one’s really sure why. Local artists use it as a chance to show off their work. In addition to radishes, they make sculptures out of a certain dried flower and also dried corn husks.

I took an overnight bus home later that night, stopping in DF in the morning to meet with an editor at an English language paper I’ve been working for. It was a long night, but a great trip overall, and I’m so glad Donna came to share it with me!

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