Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Guess Who's Coming Over

I've gotten background checks for jobs before, but the one I got yesterday was by far the most intense. It was actually what they call here an economic situation survey. Apparently before a Mexican citizen in the D.F. can get a job in the formal sector, investigators hired by the employer must come to your house, inspect it, take pictures of you in your house, ask a lot of personal questions, take more pictures of your living room, etc. then go off and do who knows what with the information.

I've asked the investigators, I've asked my boss, I've asked my Human Resources contact what is the deal with that? Why is that done and what happens to that information. No one seems to have a straight answer. All I've gotten is that it's just part of the job process.

The investigator asked: how big the house is, how many rooms, bathrooms, what elementary school did I go to, how much rent do I pay, how much money do we make, who is the owner of the house, etc.

I guess after an hour and a half went by and I started getting snippy with the investigator he asked, "Don't they do this in the US?" I said yes, maybe if you are going to work for the FBI.

At first I thought, well, it's a newspaper. You want trustworthy people working in one of Mexico's power houses. But then the investigator told me that they also visit job applicants for businesses like DormiMundo, a local mattress chain, and a local flour company.

So what, if they decide you are too poor, you won't get the job. It's a very messed up system that Mexican citizens here must go through. I recently got my Mexican citizenship, and I'm finding out that along with my visa-free stay comes all the crazy bureaucratic red tape you can imagine.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Downtown Coyoacan

Weekends at our neighborhood plaza in Coyoacan are usually one big party. You can see everything from dancing to mimes performing in the plaza. We wander over to the plaza several times a week, since it is considered the downtown of our neighborhood. But lately we rush through the crowds, focusing on where we need to go. So it's nice to have visitors around to give us a reality check, and help us slow down and enjoy the little things around us.

We took a stroll this weekend through the plaza with my mother-in-law and a friend. They helped remind me how this city is so full of life.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Going Wheel-less

Being the native Texas girl that I am, I quickly learned that having a life meant having a car. But when it came time to move to Mexico City, Jeremy and I decided to get rid of the two cars and one beloved scooter that we owned. With an estimated 5,000,000 motorists clogging Mexico City streets during peak times, we decided that we don't need to add to the megalopolis' grave contamination problem. And we also didn't need a daily dose of road rage.

Most of our friends here have cars, and have learned the art of weaving in and out of the city's lawless traffic. But we've become one with our friend, the subway or the Metro, as it's called here. It's cheap (about .20 cents), fast (you don't have to wait more than about 3 minutes for a train), and goes practically everywhere. Sure, you are lucky to get a seat and sometimes have to find creative ways to squeeze yourself into a train, but one thing is for sure--you'll never get bored. I've seen everything from musicians performing to guys who lie on broken glass for money.

Unlike cities like DC or New York where lots of businesspeople and professionals depend and prefer the subway to get around, having a car here is a symbol of status. Most of the upper and upper middle class wouldn't be caught on the subway.
I'm proud to say that I haven't missed driving one bit. In fact the times that we have gone back to the States and have rented a car, I take the passenger's seat. We realize that at some point we'll need to get cars whenever we head back to the States, but for now, I'm happy going wheel-less.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Back in the Newsroom

After about a year of working from home as a freelance writer, I'm stepping back into the newsroom. I've been hired as an editor at the International Edition of the Miami Herald, which is a partner of the Mexico City daily El Universal.

Yesterday I went for my first day of training, and this guy was there to greet me at the front door. Wish me luck!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hilton hotel tries product placement in Cancun

Instead of being awed by the Mayan ruins we visited in Cancun Island this weekend, something felt very wrong. Behind the structures that were once used for religious ceremonies, a giant pyramid-shaped Hilton hotel could be spotted hovering in the background.

It was really disgusting how companies like the Hilton manage to sneak into your brain. It reminds me of the Wal-Mart that built close to Mexico City's Teotihuacan area in order for pyramid-climbers to have a perfect view of the yellow smiley face from one of Mexico's most sacred sites.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Trying to find naturaleza in Cancun

A normal person goes to Cancun to forget about worries. They leave disturbing concerns about the state of the mangroves, the decling fauna and marine life behind. But I'm not a normal person. I am a journalist with a background in environmental journalism-- a bad combo that prevents me from relaxing at a place like this. I'm in Cancun (for the first time) helping Jeremy photograph a story on environmental impacts here after the hurricane.

While the water is a beautiful transparent blue, it's hard for me not to think about how little naturaleza there actually is around me. Cancun is a man-made city, and I feel the plasticness around me. I guess I should say at this point that I'm not really a beach kind-of-girl anyway. I don't swim, and I can easily tan on a hot day by just walking around town. But I can appreciate beauty. In the Corn Islands in Nicaragua, the water was amazing, the beach untouched by hotel resorts and developers trying to make a buck. It was still pure. You could walk on the beach for miles and not see anyone, perhaps a few locals. In Cancun, the lake across the beach is dying. Animals that call it their home are beginning to die as well. But I'll let the news story tell you more about that.

We met a lifeguard named Daniella as she was shoveling through a small cliff of sand. She was building some makeshift stairs for her in order to access higher beach ground. Someone could need help right now, she said, but because I have to shovel through this myself, I might not see them. She went on to say that some of the hotels do not provide basic needs for the lifeguards or the beach. A drunk American drowned in three feet of water last week, she said. The beach hardly has signs to warn beach-goers of dangerous areas. Some hotels do not provide watch towers for lifeguards, limiting their view and not protecting them from the sun. Daniella has already developed sunspots on her face. Perhaps more alarming, she said that some lifeguards have gone snorkeling only to find that there are sewage pipes from some of the hotels to the ocean. She said the others tell her there's no point in reporting it because nothing will get done.

At night I stood on the balcony facing the ocean, closed my eyes and listened to the sound of waves crashing. Forgive us madre tierra for what we are doing to you.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tranquility amidst the craziness of the city

Ahh, finally some peace and quiet. Spots like the Bosque de Chapultepec in Mexico City help you forget that outside of the park there is crazy traffic and everything else that comes with a city of 20 million people. We took our friends Brenden and Joy there during the week, and I was tempted to go back later with my laptop and just work under a tree.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Strolling Downtown D.F.

Jeremy and I haven't been to the city's historical downtown since covering this summer's mega marches led by leftist presidential candidate Lopez Obrador. I think we got accustomed to seeing the area taken over by the tent city that was erected during the crazy presidential elections. We forgot what it was like to go downtown for fun.

So when our friends Brenden and Joy from New York came to visit this week, it was time to get reacquainted with downtown Mexico City. Here are some photos of Alameda Park, which is like the Central Park of Mexico. It's a popular hangout on Sundays for families and lovebirds. I also tried to get artistic by taking a photo of Joy walking past the Zocalo, but I wasn't quite successful. The Aztecs believed that the area near the Zocalo area was where the center of the universe was located.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Ode to La Familia Flores

Before I left to Nairobi, my dad's side of the family (aka the Flores crew) rang in the New Year with a big ol' bash--Mexican style. The familia got together at my parent's house in the northern Mexican town of Guerrero, Coahuila. That's the same town where my parents grew up, where our Flores grandparents are buried, where countless of weekends were spent and where my wedding was held. Here's to starting a great year with the familia.

Before the guests arrived, my older sister Nilda (left) and I appreciate the view.

The party gets started and my dad dances the granny piƱata. My aunts shake their booties in the background.

One of my favorite foods in the planet is barbacoa. Slow cooked, in this case, baby goat meat that gets so tender it falls off the bone after six or so hours of cooking inside a hole in the ground. Vegetarians, please look away.

From the top of my head I can count more than 15 first cousins on my dad's side. Here are a few of us who made it to Guerrero.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Documenting the truth behind the World Social Forum

Just wanted to update everyone on the two men from the Korogocho slum in Nairobi who were killed after protesting the exclusion of local Kenyans in the World Social Forum. It turns out the men were killed by Kenyan police, just as the community suspected. Here's some coverage from Hip-Hop journalist Davy D who I met at the forum and was a witness to the demonstration.

Click on the blog title to link up to "How the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, got hijacked," by Davy D.
Don't forget to check out the audio too.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Fresh Air

Spending too much time in Mexico City during the current dry season can be a killer for the nose. Mexico City is in a valley surrounded by mountains, so clouds of air pollution remain stagnant and hover over the city when there is no rain to clear the air. Last month, Chilangos (as Mexico City residents are called) started feeling the effects.

When the concept of an oxygen bar was first introduced in the States years ago, I thought that was the dumbest idea. Now, I'll never take breathing for granted. My nose thanked me when I was breathing the Kenyan air. But upon my return, poor Jeremy had had it. A daytrip out of the city was in order. We took a bus about two hours away from the megalopolis to the town of Tlaxcala. Aside from having cleaner air, Tlaxcala is an amazing small town full of history and life.

It is said that the Tlaxcalans fought fiercely against the Spanish when Cortes and his crew came to conquer the area, but later Tlaxcalans became Cortes' allies against the Aztecs. I couldn't help but think how history could have been different if Tlaxcalans had not submitted to beliefs of a white man coming to the Americas to save the indigenous peoples. The Spaniards built many small chapels in Tlaxcala before the conquest, and then built major churches and a basilica once the land had been conquered.

We toured through some of these amazing churches full of gold-plated wall-to-wall religious statues. I walked into the church where Spaniards recorded the first baptism of an indigenous person, as well as where the first pulpit was built in what they called New Spain.

After all this talk about the conquest, it was so relieving to meet some indigenous elders who continue to live life according to the ways of their ancestors. At the Museo Vivo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares, I met 83-year-old Gabriela "Gaby" Angel. She worked at the museum explaining how a kitchen was run in the past and how a traditional steam bath called temazcal could purify your body.

Though the kitchen at the museum was a display, Gabriela said her kitchen in San Juan Bautista, Ixtenco, (about two hours from Tlaxcala) was very similar.

"My daughters get mad when I replace a barro (mud/clay) pot with another. But I like them better," Gabriela said. She also went on to say that her mother had lived to be 115 years old! It must be the powers of the temazcal baths. Gabriela agreed. She said she still takes a temazcal steam bath on Wednesdays and Satudays.

"I take normal baths too, but I don't feel the same."

Monday, February 5, 2007

Remembering Nairobi

I began feeling nostalgic about leaving Nairobi during my last afternoon there. So as I was riding the back of a city bus to my hotel I decided to snap some photos of whatever scenes I could capture from where I was sitting. These are just short glimpses of weekday life in the Kenyan capital city.

**Note: I mentioned in a previous blog "Conflict in the WSF" that a group of local Kenyans protested the restaurant monopoly within the conference, leaving the local food vendors out in the parking lot. They also protested the high conference rates and demanded that the food be distributed to the children. During the closing ceremonies of the conference, locals marched from the slums to the downtown area, but tragically two men --who were part of the protesters during the week-- were shot and killed. Their deaths were confirmed, but the identity of the culprits were not at the time of our departure. Many believe the shooters were working with the Kenyan officials who owned the restaurant inside the conference. May their souls rest in peace, and their struggle toward social justice live on.

I believe they were waiting on the bus or matatus to swing by. Matatus are similar to the "combis" or "colectivos" in Mexico, where people squeeze in minivans to get where they need to go. There's a matatu below, but it wasn't nearly as colorful as most of the ones I saw.

One thing that's universal among big cities across the globe--Traffic. Notice how the traffic is coming from the left side. That was one of the hardest things to get used to while we were in Nairobi. A woman from the Global Exchange delegation was hit by a bus and killed as she crossed the downtown streets of the city. We all grew paranoid when crossing the street after that. Many of us held hands and darted to the other side. We must have looked so silly to the locals.

Hip-Hop alive in Kenya--Check out Snoop Dogg representing in Nairobi.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Korogocho Slum- A Closer Look

Though I've been in Mexico City for four days now, all my dreams this week have been set in Africa. Perhaps I left a part of me in Nairobi.

So I've decided that before I move on to show you glimpses of life in this crazy Mexican megalopolis, I'll show you some important images of a life that although seems a world away, is closer than you think.

As a journalist I've gotten used to getting up close to people for photographs or interviews, but I felt horrible being the intrusive tourist at the slum trying to shoot the amazing scenes around me. So at one point I just kept my camera under my bag and began shooting. After I looked at the images I discovered little details that in writing many of us call "gold nuggets."
The photo in front of the store was one of those pictures. Later I noticed the little girl with the baby on her back.

For the last part of our walk through Korogocho, a friendly Korogocho woman wearing a beautiful orange dress and headwrap joined us. She said something in Swahili to a community organizer who was showing us around, and he couldn't help but laugh. "She is saying that she wishes you and Erika could stay here to marry her sons!," he said. We all had a good laugh. But somehow I think she was only half kidding. That wasn't the last marriage proposal from moms that we received during the trip. I had to take a picture of that mom/cupid.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

On Safari

As I look back at the photos I took in Kenya, it's hard to believe I was actually there. I'm amazed by the beauty that's so rich on our planet, and grateful to have seen some of this beauty firsthand. Enjoy!

On one of the days of the trip, a group of us went on a safari in Nairobi National Park. Safari, directly translated means journey. Nairobi National Park sits just outside of the capital city, making it an interesting and unique place for a safari. In some of my pictures you'll notice the Nairobi skyline as the backdrop to the wildlife that has been protected.

I feel in love with the acacia trees in Kenya. I must have taken about 50 photos just of these trees.

Giraffes are my new favorite creatures--next to my beloved turtles, of course.

Someone in our group spotted this lion through the grassy plains and began screaming with excitement. Our bus hit the brakes and went back to check it out. Everyone reverted to their infancy, with shrieks of joy. At last we had spotted one of the Big Five.

While every other group on safari drove through the savanna on special safari vehicles, our group took the slightly more ghetto method of transit--a city bus called Citi Hoppas. Our guide even poked fun of us by saying that the animals kept still when we passed by because they were not used to the big green monstrousity!