Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reflections on Mexico etc etc

So I figured that I would just write a few key things about my experience in Mexico. These thoughts are all over the place, so bare with me.
First I don't like Nopales. I tried really hard to like them, but I just don't. And also, thats okay. I learned how to tell people that I don't like them or don't want to eat them and it turned out just fine.
Also, my host family was the best. I feel like they were the missing link between the college students visiting from the United States and the rural Mexicans that we were with. Every time we had a question about what something meant or why people do what they do, or if we heard something that we didn't think was really true- gossip or just an unlikely explanation for a cultural practice- we could always get clarification from our host family. They were willing to explain things so that we could understand which wasn't always easy to get from other people. And as well they were fun to be around. We danced, we partied, we watched many many movies, and ate a lot of food. Being with them was an easy way to keep myself in the culture without feeling overwhelmed.
Health in rural Mexico sucks. Here are a few reasons why.
-Nutrition- they eat carbs and sometimes protein. They lack a variety of fruits and vegetables with vitamins and minerals. This isn't really their fault. There is a scarcity of this food and they are poorly educated about proper nutrition. I came to this conclusion after several meals with Silvia's dad, Daniel. He once tried to convince me that eating skunk soup was good for my asthma. I told him that I didn't have asthma. On several other occasions, he gave me misguided dietary advice.
-Exercise- they don't. Silvia likes to exercise. She has lost quite a bit of weight since last year by doing a dance routine that she would make up. We would do it with her. Of course that attracted many of the muchachos from the ranchos. I didn't really like being the night's entertainment but I wanted to support Silvia in her efforts to exercise. She is the only one who exercises and is criticized by many people including her husband for doing it.
HOWEVER- they seem to be very strong. The men and women do a lot of heavy labor and so seem to have a lot of core strength. However, this is accompanied by a lot of girth- the women especially seem to carry a lot of extra weight around their midsection. Many of the men remain fairly trim. This is likely because the men get more aerobic type exercise working in the fields while the women can never seem to get their after-pregnancy weight off because they mostly stay at home.
Physical Education- no one gets it. The teachers themselves are minimally trained on how to teach physical education and proper nutrition. So how would they be expected to teach it. PE class is really just extended recess. Honestly, it is not surprising that Physical Education would not be emphasized in a society where education, in general, is unimportant. Still, the kids seem to be in fairly good health. Of course this was the purpose of my study. I can't draw any conclusion right now because I haven't been able to analyze the data or compare with other data. But from my observations, the kids don't seem to be any less healthy or more healthy than other children their age. They seemed to do the exercises fairly well so maybe they are a little stronger, but still there were some that were less capable.

So those are my thoughts as far as my time in Mexico is concerned. It was certainly an interesting experience. Sometimes it was super exciting and I loved it and sometimes I didn't. But overall it was a good experience- something that I will never forget.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Hey everybody—
So its been a little while and I'm not really sure where I left off last time- and honestly it was so long that most of you probably didn't even finish reading it. This one might be equally long so we'll see if I can keep your attention. I'll start from the end and work backward.
Today was super great because I was able to do three students in my project- so just in case some of you don't know what the heck it is that I'm doing here- basically I'm making some kids in Mexico do sqauts and planks and pushups among other things. Its like fitness testing but Mexican style. But yeah soI was able to finish three kids today and that makes six total done- only 24 more to go. Thats a bit overwhelming for me but that's alright. Next week I should be able to finish the other nine kids in the school here in El Encino and Hopefully I'll get some kids from another Rancho, Santa Rosa next week. I went to the school today to give the kids the consent forms to sign. We'll see how many I get back. At this school I didn't really have the help of the teacher to introduce the project and the kids were kind of running around and I did my best to make the project sound appealing and told them I'd give them candy if they brought back the form. I'll cross my fingers that it'll work. It was actually really easy to get the forms back in El Encino. I just told them that the first 5 people to bring back the forms would get to use the pedometers. I had kids running to my door during their lunch break to bring back the forms. It was great. :) I didn't have the pedometers to give or show to the kids in Santa Rosa so they weren't so easily intrigued. It also looks like one of the kids here broke or lost a pedometer and so I will only have 4 to work with. That will tag on some extra time for the study since I'm down a pedometer. I also decided to give the kids a questionnaire anywhere because that will be a sort of back up way to check their physical activity. It helps too because I can't monitor their pedometer use all the time and I know there have been a couple kids who haven't worn it every day.
But anyhoo- the kids are doing a good job with the exercises. They seem to understand me pretty well and do them right. That makes me feel good. (I'll take this time to remind everyone that I started learning Spanish January last year. Its going pretty well.) Also, the kids seem pretty strong. I don't know how kids in the US would do but they are really good at some of the exercises that I think are harder. Its fun to watch them do it and see how easy or hard different things are for them.
So before I could start my project I had to make the equipment. Last week when I was in Irapuato I made a couple of the kids from the ward take me to Home Depot to buy wood and pvc pipe. (I can't tell you how happy I was when I found out they had a Home Depot. At first when I asked the guys where I could buy wood they said they didn't know. So I started looking online and I found a home depot- which they apparently already knew about but I guess they didn't know you could get wood there. I don't know. They also couldn't fix their car a couple weeks before when it broke as we were going out for tacos. You can take from that what you think it means.) Anyway, we went to Home Depot and I also again successfully explained what type of stuff I needed and how I needed it cut to the people working there. It turned out they couldn't really help me as much as I hoped anyway, but thats alright. I bought a  box cutter and whittled away at the pipes myself. Its pretty good makeshift equipment that I made for myself.
 Also, I have to ask what the deal is with no one having change. I give them the equivalent of a 20 and to pay for something that's around 7 dollars and they ask if I don't have a 10. No I tell them. So they look in their register and then ask again if I don't have anything smaller. NO- but this time with American attitude because I know that I'm gonna have to wait around for someone to pay for something with a 10 so they can give it to me as change. I don't get it. I've never worked in retail or whatever that is but I'm not sure what it is that we do in the United States but there is always change for a 20. I can understand when the little tiendas don't have change but the bigger grocery stores? Anyway, I live in Mexico.
Okay- soooooo otherwise things are good. I'm happy that I started on my project now. I'm feeling the pressure a little bit and I have some other coursework that I'm supposed to do while I'm here that I'm behind on. But it'll get done. School gets out July 8th so I'm working really hard to get all the kids done before then. So ideally I'll finish with the study in a couple of weeks and then later I will get going on the other coursework. And hopefully we'll get to go more places and meet new people so that I can learn how to make tortillas. And hopefully it will rain soon so that we can go swimming in the river and I will also wash my clothes there too. Right now I just go as long as I can in my dirty clothes until I'm just too disgusting I can't take it anymore and then I wash them in a machine that they have. I was half disappointed when I saw that she had a machine but also I was okay with it. I wasn't sure what it would be like here for that. I also wasn't sure if there would be a toilet. Which there is not but there is a latrine. Its nice- made of cement with a hole in it and a little curtain for privacy. I never close the curtain because the wind just blows it in my face. And that  way too I can overlook the beautiful landscape. It has a pretty nice view- mostly flat dry dirt and some cactus scattered about. Sometimes there are goats in the distance. They keep me company when I've had an especially upsetting meal. Okay so maybe that is a little too much information for you guys but I will have to say that you win the prize for continuing to read to this point. But yeah- we have a latrine that is pretty luxury, some people do not have that. The worst is when I'm in another village and at someone's house who doesn't have an outhouse or anything. I'll keep that story to myself.
But yeah- we also have a shower. I was expecting to give myself sponge baths from a bucket for three months. But actually I'm living the high life out here in the-middle-of-nowhere Mexico. I have an outhouse, a shower that looks like a cave, and a washing machine. You'd think I never even left Provo. You can tell me if you agree. I took some pictures so I could show you folks at home the exotic adventure I'm having.
Oh one thing that I do really have to mention- the stars here, incredible. Definitely better than what you've got in Provo. It´s okay be jealous of that.
That's all I have for now. A la prochaine.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Helloooooo out there

So life in Mexico is going pretty well. I have really enjoyed myself this past week. I am finding a lot of really great things to do- for my project and also just for fun. So I started “working” in the schools this past week. Or maybe I started last week. Either way, its going well. For the first class I wasn’t really sure what I would be doing. When I approached the Maestro about working in the schools I just offered to help him inwhatever way he needed and suggested to teach English or some sort of health related class. He said okay- thatI could do whatever I want whenever I want and for however long I want. While this is generous, it is also vague. So I went to class, not really knowing what I would be doing. The teacher asked me if I was ready and I said yes and so he left. So... luckily I used to have to teach kids on the spur of the moment when I taught karate so I just played a game where I got to know their names and then they got pretty bored with that and wanted to play a game. So we talked about different games and sports that they like to play. We played a game called “encantado” which I feel like is a mix between freeze tag and capture the flag. It was fun, but it was sooooostinkin hot that I really didn’t want to play. But I did anyway.  Then class was over and they had an hour lunch break. I went back to my room to do some homework and after about an hour Natalie, the other girl that is with me knocked on my door and said there was half a school waiting at the gate for me to come and play with them. I looked outside and there were about 20 or so Mexican kids waving at me so that I would come and play some more with them. So Natalie and I played soccer with them. That was more fun for me because I could stand in the shade more whereas in the other game I had to run around in the sun a lot.
So the next week I was more prepared for what I would teach the kids. It’s a bit difficult though because my study deals with their normal activities and how that affects their body composition and strength. So I don’t want to teach them a lot of exercises that they don’t usually do and all of a sudden they have way better core stability than they did before. Honestly, I don’t imagine it would make much of a difference but I still don’t want to take the chance. So on Wednesday I taught them the food guide pyramid. They were disappointed to see that they should be eating more vegetables than meat. Honestly, I don’t think they have a lot of control over what they eat. The diet here is pretty much limited to beans, rice, tortillas and tomatoes. IT actually kind of is hard for me- themeals are just one color- brown. What I wouldn’t do for a salad or something green. They do have a green vegetable, the nopale, it’s a cactus. It’s actually pretty good but it sometimes has a slimy texture and I’m not so into that, but its green so I eat it. Anyway, after I explained the food pyramid I had them prepare a menu with an appropriate balance of all the foods. It was actually a really hard concept for them to understandbut I think they figured out at least that they should be eating more veggies. After a while they were getting kind of rowdy and so we played a game called “fruit basket.” I used to playit in my French class in high schools. It related to food so that’s why I picked it. They enjoyed it.
Also, on Thursday we went to the Jr. high. I thought that I might need to work there too to find some 12 year olds for the study, but actually most of the 12 year olds are in the elementary schools still. But we went to the Jr. high anyway during their PE class to observe. The idea was that I could just observe and then the teachers would talk to me and we would figure out a way for me to help them out if I wanted. What I mostly observed was that there were tons of students and very few teachers. Each teacher would have a group of 20 to30 students and run them through some different drills. After about 20minutes the groups would rotate. So a lot of the time the students were just standing around waiting for their turn to do the drills. So afterward I offered to some up with some sort  of routine that I could run a group of kids through. The teachers were very glad to accept my help. I’m excited. The kids are really easy to talk to and also I think that it’ll be a really neat experience. Later on we helped out in an English class. The tools they have to teach English are pathetic. The books have tons of errors in them and as well, the teachers usually don’t speak English very well. So they are also glad to have our help with that.
I am also going to start helping at another elementary school. This is to help me find more students to recruit for my project. These teachers have actually given us more specific directions on how to help. They want us to teach the kids a song in English that they can sing at their end of year graduation celebration. We still don’t know what song we are going to teach them, but when did teach them the alphabet and what all of their names are in English- except all of the Fatimas. We couldn’t figure out the equivalent for Fatima or Pilar in English. Anyway, I was excited about this school because the teachers asked a lot of questions about my projectand what my goals are and I can tell that they will be willing to help me out once I’m ready to start, which hopefully will be at the end of next week. I’m pretty excited about it but also nervous. School gets out in the beginning of July and I anticipate that there will be a few things that set me back a little bit, so I don’t want to waste too much more time.
As far as the rest of the day, we try to go to different Ranchos and meet people. It’s been interesting. I’ll be honest, I am not good at small talk, especially in Spanish. But it’s been a good experience.
Also, every night we have been working out with my host mom Silvia. I think I may have mentioned this in my last email. She made up a dance routine to some Latin music. It consists of a few kicks and punches and mostly just jumping around, also there are a few songs where we just move our hips like crazy. (So hopefully by the time I come home I’ll be able to shake it like a Mexicana.) It’s actually not too bad. And so we’ve been doing that the past couple of nights. Two nights ago a bunch of boys came over to mock us. There were probably about 6 of them all under the age of 12. I thought it was funny as I was thinking about myself in the middle of nowhere in Mexico dancing some absurd routine with little Mexican kids climbing over the fence to come and laugh at us. It’s just something I never thought would ever experience. It’s also something that makes me really enjoy being here in Mexico. I like all of the new bizarre experiences that I didn’t even know I was missing out on in the United States. It also provides some good insight on the attitude about exercise and physical health here in Mexico. It’s actually the opposite than what I thought. I figured that since the people farm their own land and work in more rugged environments etc that they would be stronger and healthier. But honestly, it just seems like everyone is super fat and lazy. A lot of it has to do with the heat. When it’s this hot- no one wants to move. Also, they just don’t have the nutritional resources available to them. I also think that there is a correlation between education and the amount of importance physical fitness has in people’s lives. Of course these are just observations that I am making and it’s not really the question that I’m trying to answer in my project. I think it will be interesting to see what the results turn out to be. The kids aren’t necessarily obese like I’m observing with the adults but I also am sure they engage in a ton of physical activity because it’s not really encouraged here.
Anyway, that’s all I have for this week. Hope everything is going well back home. Let me know if there is anything you do or don’t want to hear about in regard to my adventures in Mexico.
Avec amour pour toujours,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Amy Nagle's Inquiry Presentation

I listened to Amy's presentation about her projectand wanted to comment on it a little bit. She talks about some of the different physical activities that are related to core stability in Ghana- she mentions specifically the way women carry things, including their children. We have all seen the pictures of African women carrying large loads on their heads, as well, I am always amazed at how they will carry their children on their backs all day. This seems like anobvious difference between the African cultur and the American culture. I question if i will be able to find these same types of postural activities in Mexico. It makes me think that the kinds of activities that will affect core stability will be more subtle and therefore harder to recognize. It also brings to mind that perhaps there will not be a difference in core stability between Mexican and American children. If this is the case, there isn't really anything that I can do and the results willnot show as different. But if there is a difference, I need to be making very close observations and figuring out what the differences are caused by. I will really try to involve myself as much as possible in the activities of the people in order to not only observe the differences with my eyes, but to also feel the affects of the acitivities on my own muscles. I wonder though if I will be able to participate in all of the activities. I will probably be able to easily participate in the activities of the younger women or even the older women. It might be more difficult to participate in the activities of the children and especially of the men. I will do my best to be able to do what the children dobecause they represent the population that I am studying. I don't want top be seen as strange though and I don't want to overstep my bounds with the kids either. I'm not sure how much I'll try to participate in the activities of the men. I feel like that would seem even stranger to the people. Iwill try to make good observations though (even then I wonder if they will think that I am strange for watching them in the fields.) I'll try to do it in a way that is inconspicuous. If I just sit and watch- that would seem weird. I'll have to make observations while I am walking from place to place and listen carefully without seeming too strange. Hopefully, I will be able to be doing something while I observe so that they do not realize that I am observing them.

Language again

Matt you should still give me credit for doing this post. It was insightful and from a specific conference lecture that Ashley recommended that we listen to. So here it is again.

I listened to "Where's my Babel Fish" yesterday and have been thinking a bit about language in general. First off I think it's great that we were given a list of slang and profane words and phrases to help us understand a little bit better what is going on. In addition, I have been thinking a lot about language from doing the translation work for my consent and assent forms. There are so many words that are just not common in Spanish. For instance some of the exercises and equipment that I will be using just are not common words in Spanish- at least not for a common person. I think I could say the same thing for English sometimes. If I start talking about lateral flexion of the I.S. joint, most people are not going to understand what I'm talking about. This is also something that I have seen when I work in the physical therapy clinic. The PT will explain certain structures of the body or procedures using words that I just learned in my anatomy class last semester. So, I am sure that the patient does not quite understand what he is talking about. This is just not too helpful for that person. This is something that I will need to be careful of when I am in the field. Common words for me may be uncommon to the people I will be living with. Even Spanish words that I have learned in class may actually be rarely used in rural Mexico and there will be other words that the people use for what I want to say. I imagine I will have frequent headaches while I am there trying to understand what is going on. So while this difficulty and problem is inevitable, I hope that it will not hinder me too much in my field study experience. In fact, I am excited to figure out how the people living in the rural areas outside of Irapuato speak and communicate differently than I have imagined here. It will be neat to learn some of the appropriate words and phrases that are unique only to Mexico and even only to Irapuato and the Ranchos.
In addition, it is not only language that differs between cultures, but as Liann described, there are concepts and ideas that vary greatly. Some ideas in American English just do not exist in India. I anticipate that there will be some similar difficulties that I find in Mexico. I am especially interested to find out the differences in their understanding of health and physical activity and then see how these differences in ideas bring about differences in behavior. At the end of Liann's discussion she mentions that she wishes she had emphasized the qualitative data more because it helps interpret the significance of the quantitative data so much more. This is something that I have been thinking about. I hope that three months in Irapuato is sufficient time to shed some light on the cultural reasons for physical differences between Mexico and other areas of the world.

asking questions to get good answers

I have been thinking a little about the conversations that I am going to have in Mexico and how I would like to find out more about their ideas of health and the role it plays in their lives. I am not planning on doing any formal interviewing for my project but I thought that it would be helpful to go over one of the readings about asking questions to gain some insight into how to get answers to some of the questions I have. While reading through it I have tried to come up with some useful questions that I could ask while engaged in friendly conversation. Some of these questions are not formed in a descriptive way, but by asking them I can then ask the ones that are more descriptive. Here they are:
·        Why do you cook the food that way?
·        When you cook, what is the most important part of it?
·        What would you say that your husband would say is most important?
·        What would you do differently if your child were sick/ too skinny/ too fat?
·        What types of activities do you do that you feel make you stronger?
·        Do you ever do anything just to make you stronger?
·        When is it that you start to feel tired while working? Do you ever?
·        What is an interesting question about health?
·        If a group of mothers was talking after cooking dinner/ doing chores what kinds of questions would they ask each other?
·        Could you describe a typical day in the fields/ doing chores/ at school?
·        Could you describe your day yesterday from the time that you finished school to the time that you went to bed?
·        Tell me about the last time you had to run? The last time your muscles were sore? Why?
·        The next time you ______________ (do laundry, go to the town, cook that) can I come along?
·        What is your activity/play like now and how is it different from when you were younger?
·        How would you refer to someone who runs a lot? Is very athletic?
·        How would you refer to someone who is very healthy?
·        If you were talking to your friend _________ would you say it that way?
·        If you were talking to a child how would you refer to it?
·        What are some other ways in which I could use that word?  
·        What do you do during free time? What would you do if you had free time? What do you do during _________’s free time?
Some of these questions are better than others. I think that it gets the ball rolling though. I think that as I am there I will be able to clarify the questions a little more to the specific situations. I also think that some of the way these questions are worded doesn’t work for just friendly conversation. And even reading through the reading, I felt that some of the example questions he gave were rude. For instance, asking a waitress to give an example of someone giving her a hard time, can be a terribly rude thing to ask if she is emotional about a specific incidence. Or asking someone to play a game of bridge and explain to him what they are doing along the way, can be really obnoxious. I think that is why it is so important to first build rapport with the interviewee. Also, I see how these questions can work, I just also see that if he’s not careful he could end up bothering someone and not get any information out of them. As for my questions, I think that I will have to work on them a bit but writing them down does help me focus a bit more on the types of questions that will get me more meaningful answers.

Religion in the Ranchos- La Misa and other such stuff

I have had a few opportunities this semester to attend religious "events" in Spanish- meaning that it was in Spanish with native Spanish speakers. I also finished reading Pedro Paramo- which was a weird book, perhaps a little too existential for my purposes- but I drew a lot of insight about religion from it.  So I thought that I would start with a little report on La Misa and then try to tie in a few other things that will/might apply to my experience in the field.
There were several differences that I noticed in La Misa than what we usually find in Mormon worship services- or even American worship services. One was the food that was there. I regret now that I didn't stop to eat something- but knowing the kind of person I am- shy at first and then I branch out a little- I know that would have been hard for me. If I did it again I would definitely stay for food. Maybe I'll get a chance to go again before leaving. So from that aspect of the Misa and from what I've heard about Mexican culture and even seen- food is a big part of the culture and is even present in religious situations. Of course Mormons do this too- just in other ways. I wish I had more insight about this- that just tells me I should have gotten a churro or something and I probably would have more insight.
As well, in La Misa people were dressed in more casual clothes. I also saw a lot of different types of people. It wasn't just old ladies or families, there were young adults and men alone etc. They all also seemed to have a different way of worshipping- meaning that some of them sang, some did not, some knew the words of the prayers and some did not- or at least didn't repeat them, some held their arms up when they prayed, some did not. In a setting where I was living among them- for instance, I might be able to do this in the field- I might be able to draw conclusions about why each person acted they way they did. Even if I had talked to more people that day, I could not have gotten to know them so well to know what type of person they were and why they were at Mass and why they did or did not repeat the prayers. But in a field study situation, this might be something that I will be better able to do. And since my project doesn't deal so much with religion, this might not be part of the questions that I try to answer, but I could perhaps gain insight into why certain people eat what they eat and the types of physical activity they engage in and why. I'm sure that there are variations within the community. I want to understand their perspective as a whole on health etc, but in order to do that I have to find out what the individual differences are.So the point of this thought is that, only given one afternoon to make observations about people is not enough. It is good practice and can open up some questions, but spending three months will give me so much more opportunity- even at that, I'm sure that three months will in some ways feel insufficient.
Another aspect of religion that I wanted to comment on was that it seems as though it is starting to change. For instance, more people were wearing jeans and more casual clothes than people used to in the past. Also, there were some electric guitars, which several decades ago would most likely not have been permitted in church. In class we have also discussed some of the changes in religion that are happening in Mexico. Roman Catholicism is still the predominant religion, but other religions are giving rise. There is supposed to be an Evangelical Church going up in the Ranchos. I am interested to see how the people respond to this and the changes in religious dynamics that it causes. In the book Pedro Paramo, religion was not portrayed well. The book was written several decades ago during what was probably the beginnings of some of these religious changes in Mexico. The author portrayed the Padre as a hypocrite, preaching of virtue but displaying none of his own. The people of the town were portrayed as ignorant followers (for the most part) going to the Padre for final judgment on their acts but in the end, dying and ending up in a heavenless state- like the idea of purgatory. The author seems to be saying that despite their beliefs there is nothing after death. The history of Mexico reports a very strong influence of religion, especially from the Catholic Church, it will be interesting to see if the people in the Ranchos still hold to this tradition, or if some of the philosophies of other religions/ideas are seeping into their culture.
Of course, I'm not really sure how I would go about answering these questions. It is not connected to my academic project, and religion can be a very sensitive subject. I also wouldn't want to get into a situation where I was presenting my beliefs in an inappropriate way. I think, though, that by participating in and observing the religious events, I will be able to gain some insight and maybe even be able to come up with some questions or engage in some harmless conversation.