Our first week of uni has been a big one, but I have a feeling that every week will be!
This week we have been getting used to our routine. During the week, we have 12-hour days. We have to leave our hostel at 7:20am, walk 20 minutes and take the bus for almost an hour to get to the university for our 9 am Spanish class. This class is followed by a 2-hour lecture, lunch, and another 2-hour class. We have some spare time before we take the bus back home at 6:15pm. I definitely took my 10-minute walk onto campus in Auckland for granted, and I’m not sure I’ll ever complain about New Zealand traffic again after being here!
This week our topic was Human Rights in Mexico. It has been a fascinating and eye-opening topic. One specific example of extreme human rights violations here is Enforced Disappearances or ‘Los desaparecidos.’ These people are often linked to dissenting against the government or part of political groups, who ‘disappear’ and are never seen again. This was a topic that was touched on in my Latin American studies class. However, I didn’t realise at the time that it is still very prevalent today and has been increasing since 2006 (when the government declared a ‘war on drugs’). It is a topic that is not really ever mentioned in New Zealand, which I find crazy given that there are over 100,000 people who are missing and over 52,000 unidentified bodies that are likely connected to enforced disappearances. It is a phenomenon that also disproportionately affects vulnerable communities; indigenous groups, women, LGBT+, and lower socio-economic groups. Learning about this case study, as well as many others this week, has made me realise just how much is going on in the world we are unaware of. Every country faces issues, and it is impossible to solve them all at once! This realisation is a lot to deal with. It is also something that we talk about in our biweekly workshops. We are learning about what each of us is passionate about and the personal and social context around why they perceive that to be the biggest issue. We all have different interests, and I love that it means I learn more about something I otherwise wouldn’t have.
Hope was definitely found in our Friday visit to a local NGO, CentroProdh. This NGO works all over Mexico to promote and defend human rights, create structural changes, and support grave human rights violation victims. They can also provide a safe space and support for walk-ins who have been victims of human rights violations. We were able to hear examples of some of the cases they have had and are currently working on, as well as meet members of all the different divisions. They have done a lot of work with the families of Los Desaparecidos and other NGOs and collectives in Mexico. It was inspiring to hear about the changes they have made and see the hard work being put in to make a difference. Everyone was lovely and accommodating of us, given that we were interrupting their work! If anyone wants to learn more about their work, their website is https://centroprodh.org.mx/?lang=en . They also have a Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram page you can follow – a TikTok is coming soon!
This week we also got to take a cooking class! The university heard that we were in accommodation where we could make our own dinners and wanted to give us some skills to prepare basic Mexican food. We made tacos dorados de papa (tacos with a potato mix inside, and then fried), tinga de pollo al chipotle (a chicken stew type thing), and guacamole (the key is green tomatoes!), as well as some drinks flavoured with Hibiscus and mandarin. I can’t wait to make them all when I get home!
As our weeks are very full of university, we have decided to make the most of the weekends to enjoy Mexican culture. This weekend we went to the Teotihuacán pyramids, which are about an hour by bus from central Mexico City. I had seen some pictures of the main pyramids, so I was surprised when I realised how large the actual preserved area is! The pyramids were in the centre of the old settlement, where people lived between 70 BC and around 700 AD. There were a lot of smaller pyramids dedicated to over 120 gods, but the largest ones were the pyramids of the sun and the moon. We were given a tour of the area, which included a square surrounded by pyramids where celebrations took place, the main avenue, and around some of the old houses that were preserved. We learnt many different things, but the one that stood out to me was that the Teotihuacán people lived by the principle of balance and strongly believed in life and time being a cycle. This was represented through the extreme symmetry of all the constructions, as well as the thought put into the placement of the pyramids; the pyramid of fertility and life was aligned so that on the spring solstice, the sun would rise exactly above it. They also lived by two calendars, the male, 365 days, and the female which was 260 days (the length of a baby’s gestation). These would start together on the spring solstice and re-align every 52 years. Men would rule for 52 years, and then women would lead for the next 52. It was believed that the city’s life cycle was 104 years (after both men and women ruled), so they would fill the old buildings with rocks and construct an exact replica on top! This was also done to the pyramids, except a new pyramid would be built around the old one, so it ended up with layers (like an onion!). These facts were crazy to me – I couldn’t believe the amount of work that would go into entirely reconstructing a city every 104 years!! It was fascinating hearing how differently people lived and seeing evidence of it right in front of us. Coming from a country whose written history doesn’t start until the 1800s, seeing something built in 70 BC is pretty mind-blowing.
We have also planned to go to the Frida Kahlo Museum, Six Flags, and Guadalajara, where we have booked a tour of Tequila to see the town and sample some of the locally made drinks! I feel so lucky to be in a place where I have the opportunity to learn the things I am from such educated people and have people so accommodating to teach us and share their experiences and work. The ability to experience so much of the culture is also incredible, and I can’t wait to keep sharing what I get up to with you all!