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Posts Tagged ‘chiapa de corzo’

Happy Mexicans = My Goal

Once upon a time…

It’s now been almost a year and a half since I cut ties with the homeland and boarded a plane headed for Mexico City.  Much has befallen me since then, from the spine tinglingly good to the though provoking to the black and ‘orrible, but I wouldn’t change any of it for all the tea in Blighty.

However, I have to be thankful for the first few shaky steps I made on arrival; getting indispensible training to teach English, making my first real assault on the Spanish language and slowly but surely finding my place and being accepted into a little Mexican community.  I’ve had the benefit of a year of hindsight and I have to say that it was about as good a start as I could have hoped for.

The thing was, this course was bloody hard to find.  I spent months scouring the internet and getting very confused by all manner of TEFL training courses and job options, all of which came to precisely bugger all.  My breakthrough came via my Bristolian Spanish teacher’s friend (!) who was teaching at the Dunham Institute in the small town of Chiapa de Corzo, the very place I ended up training to teach English and working.  A shining testimonial from her and a look at the Institute’s website was all I needed to pick my point of entry into Latin America and book my flights!

Meanwhile, back in the present day…

A couple of months ago the Director of the institute, who I’d been helping to redesign their slightly scatty website, (much better now) dropped me an email saying that for reasons unfathomable the number of TEFL students studying at Dunham had dropped off dramatically; the lovely little language institute that had welcomed me into Mexico was going unused.  Out of ideas, she asked me to help drum up some business and given my experiences training and living in Chiapa de Corzo I had no problems obliging.

Searching hard to find a hidden treat is good up to a certain point, but I know that there are  people out there looking for places like the Institute, missing out on what is on offer.  So, I’m asking you to get the message to the right people about the Dunham Institute!

I don’t want this to be one of those “send this on to 10 of your friends” efforts; this isn’t about trying to email-blast as many people as possible, but thinking about who would really benefit from knowing about the Dunham Institute, and telling them!  With this in mind, are you in any of the following situations?  It’s a great chance to play matchmaker and make your mate and a bunch of Mexican schoolkids very happy!

1) You know someone who wants to travel abroad

Are they considering Latin America as an option?  Would they be interested in using English teaching to earn and work as they travel?  Send ’em to the Dunham Institute website to have a look!

2) Someone you know wants to volunteer abroad

Are they interested in teaching English on a voluntary basis?  The Institute runs an 8 week program to train volunteers to TEFL standard before placing them in state school classes to teach local kids.  If getting trained in a skill and using it as a volunteer sounds good…yup, send ’em to the Dunham Institute website!

3) Someone you know works with a TEFL student recruitment company, or manages volunteers

I’d love to speak to them about working with Dunham; get them to send me an email.

4)  You have a website or knows someone with a website that would like to link to the Institute

Great stuff!  Pop the link up and drop me an email to let me know, or get your contact to send me an email.

5)  You’d like to help promoting the Institute’s website by clicking on things…

I’ve posted a few entries on Yahoo Answers about TEFL and volunteering, which I’d be most grateful to receive votes on.  If you have a spare minute and are a “level 2” on the YahooAnswers system (i.e. you’ve already been using it), click on any of the links below to cast your vote on your favourite answer to the questions that don’t have any votes yet.  In case you aren’t sure, its teacherjon” that needs your clicks…do it soon, because the voting closes on the questions within a few hours in some cases!  Please note that if you aren’t level 2, the system doesn’t give you enough privileges to vote, boooo

Can I volunteer abroad for cheap?

Where can I find free or cheap study abroad or volunteer programs…

Are there any volunteering abroad things on this summer?

Should I take TEFL or TESOL?

What’s a good ESL or TESOL certification course that I could take?

6) You have some wisdom to impart about how to get more students to the Institute

I’m not pretending to be a big cigar smoking expert about all of this; I’ve got a few plates spinning in my marketing mix, but you’re all a bunch of very intelligent, free-thinking and beautiful people.  If you’ve got an idea about how I could boost those numbers based on your experience, connections or tea leaf readings, send me an email; I love advice!  This list needs more than 7 numbers…

7) Just putting it out there, but…maybe you want to be a TEFL teacher!

I can’t recommend the course highly enough, and if you want a good introduction to Latin America I’d be happy to help you get set up at the Institute.  Find out more about the programs that Joanna runs here.

I hope there’s something above that fits the bill for you so that someone out there can get organised, kick starting their TEFL teaching or getting stuck into some volunteering and getting the best out of the community in Chiapa de Corzo.

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Night of The Man-ladies

On Thursday after school I headed over to my Mexican family’s shop to recieve a costume for the Fiesta de Chuntas. This fabled event that I`d heard about is the jewels in the crown of the fiesta month in Chiapa de Corzo. All I knew was that the men of the town dress as women (which was, in all fairness, an event in itself), but tonight I was to find out a great deal more. My family had asked me, grinning over the dinner table some days ago, if I would be interested in cross dressing with everyone else and, pursing my dream of cultural immersion, I enthusiastically (and rather naively) accepted.

On my arrival at the shop, Madre Tone rushed me around the corner to a seamstresses house where we were duly rejected; no more clothes for a man of my size.  Thus I was left standing in the house of Tone`s sister some ten minutes later, clad in the traditional women’s garb of a long flowing purple skirt with floral print and a low cut cream blouse with frilly sleeves and lace lining . The occupants of the house watched with glee as extensive makeup was applied to my face, my hair was gelled back and a floral headpiece duly clipped in place. Tone and her sister spared no expense; beauty spots, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick – my first experience of being made up was thorough to say the least.

My transformation complete and the trappings of my previous male persona dispatched to my house via Tone, there was no escape. Her sister Icha, my incredibly kindly self nominated guardian and guide for the evening bundled me into the back of the family car with her clearly amused husband and deposited me around at the house of one of her relatives to meet with other participants of the impending party. Sat on their sofa, dressed in full regalia and sandwiched between two archetypal Mexican men, large and trying very hard to assert their machismo, I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake.

Thankfully I wasn`t subjected to this for long and amongst a selection of women wearing the same outfit as me, we progressed from the house into the night. Apparently heading for the heart of the party, I saw groups of men swaggering around in dresses and the crowds of spectators begin to swell as we approached the centre of town. I was quite a spectacle, with cars honking their horns and winding down their windows to shout at me; I dutifully shook the maraca at them with which I had been issued.

We rounded the corner by the base of the steps below the waterfront Church and suddenly encountered the procession of the Chuntas. It was a vast, pulsing mass of colour, noise, movement and pure, powerful energy, preceded by a single figure covered from head to toe in black body paint and cut off jeans, sporting a broom with which he swept the streets in a shuffling, hopping dance before the mob. Icha and I were swallowed up by the procession, and I found myself surrounded on all sides by jubilant dancing Mexican men wearing frilly dresses.

The procession was driven by the relentless pounding of marching drums and whistle flutes played by groups of three or four musicians interspersed throughout the spectacle.  The sound was elevated to incredible proportions by the rhythm that came from every single member of the party, stamped out with their feet as they danced and from the thousands of maracas shaken simultaneously. It was a jubilant racket, punctuated by wild cries from indiscriminate callers within the crowd, most indecipherable to my ear but some like “Viva Chiapa de Corzo!” , answered with a roar from the rest of the crowd within earshot.

The procession crawled its way up the hill to a church where the revellers spilled into it, filling the building to capacity and beyond within minutes. The noise and passion from the participants was truly something to behold, amplified by the the high, arched ceilings. As quickly as the had arrived, the Chuntas surged for the small exit doors on the side of the church.  The vast mass of people squeezed through the tiny apertures, firing out into the street like a champagne cork from a bottle.

My initial feelings, aside from complete overawe and detached amusement were of inhibition. I didn`t understand the words of the people around me, I felt intimidated by the passion and intensity and was very self conscious about all the attention I was attracting from my fellow party goers and the army of spectators; I really was the only white guy in a dress.

A glass and a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila were thrust in my face by a dancer and his group, grinning encouragement at me. I obliged, polishing off a few shots, and my inhibitions slowly melted away, allowing me to become infused with the spirit and energy of the night.  Icha was dancing and shaking with gusto dutifully beside me as I picked up my skirts like everyone around me and began to issue calls and drunken exclamation to the Mexican skies. Fireworks exploded above and ahead of us.  They were being sporadically set off, I was later to learn, by an elderly gentleman with a full arsenal inside a huge backpack who trudged ahead of the revelry to direct the masses.

The crowd squeezed through the constricted streets, at times so tightly packed that it was almost impossible to walk. The beat of the drummers would waver and die at these times, crushed and drowned by the press of bodies, but the crowd would rumble at the silence and shift and within seconds the pounding rhythm would begin again, accompanied by a roar from the surrounding dancers.

Icha suddenly took me by the arm and pulled me inside an empty house whose doorway faced the street. Before I knew what was happening the single, empty room with a huge alter at one end was packed to the rafters with Chuntas and wild dancing ensued. At some point the beat slowed and Icha bade me lower the maraca that I`d been shaking relentlessly for the last hour and a half.  Only the dancing persisted until, without warning, the beat quickened and the assembled revellers cheered and the maracas were sounded again in earnest.  As quickly as it had filled, the small room emptied leaving only a tiny wrinkled elderly woman with nut brown skin sat on a chair before the alter, head bowed.

We had, as far as I could ascertain in my awful Spanish, just paid homage to a saint by dancing in their house. The purpose of the procession was to visit each saint house and church in the town over the course of the next seven or eight hours, ending at about four in the morning.  I still have no idea as to the purpose of the cross dressing.

I ended up dancing in the procession for four hours, finally conceding at midnight. The locals, who had waited a year for the opportunity to cut loose, eventually finished up at about 8am in the morning with  the stench of alchohol filling the street.

I wasn’t expecting to say it, but I’ve never had so much fun wearing lipstick.

Chiapa de Corzo
10th January 2009

Footnote: It was brought to my attention that at some point during the evening I was interviewed on national television.  And yes, I have the footage.

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