Indoor aisles with concrete floors and fluorescent lighting. Water on the floor in random puddles. Mismatched flooring, some tile here, concrete there, plywood there…
My ears pick out the different noises.
Children laughing. A large knife chopping roughly through raw chicken. A small knife sawing through beef bones. What I think must be banda music, only because it is the only “Mexican” kind of music I can recall at that moment. Lots of talking. In Spanish.
We are in the market.
The small food market on “naked lady street”, thus named for the nude Greek statues at the end of it, is a place for the senses.
I smell raw meat. The odor turns my stomach and I motion to Derek to keep walking, quickly please. This smell is quickly followed by bleach, as the vendors scrub at their cutting boards and floors while they prepare to close up shop.
I pass a refrigerated glass case, and stop in shock at the sight of a complete pig’s head. Derek stops too, and the vendor takes it out for us to see. Derek snaps a photo.
I see colors. Brilliant, generous, everywhere, the market is a place to view hues and tones. Layers of texture, deep and shallow and smooth and shocking. All of it coming together in a charming demonstration of unaffected life.
Mexico is a place to become a painter. A photographer. A poet. A musician.
I feel the texture of a head of lettuce. Some mangoes. A pineapple. We buy some garlic and a packet of shredded coconut. I weigh some red onions and find some cilantro and tomatoes at a different vegetable seller’s store and we pile our choices onto the counter. The petite girl with light brown skin rings us up and tells us the total: 36 pesos. About three American dollars. Man, that’s cheap! Derek shakes his head and fumbles with some coins. He places them in her hands. We go in search of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I’ve got a notion to make a big salad for snacking. We find the condiments at a small “general store” booth in the market, and after a crazy conversation in broken Spanish, heavily punctuated with arm gestures and laughter on both sides, we have the makings for a yummy vinaigrette.
We taste the fresh juice at one of the many stands, and the pureed mango, banana, pineapple and strawberry slides down our throats with a cold, smooth explosion of delicious flavor. It comes in a nondescript, huge white Styrofoam cup with a lid and straw, and the whole thing cost 28 pesos, about $2.30 or so.
This would cost $6 at Smoothie King!
Derek laughs in agreement.
A silent war ensues as we all – Derek and me and the kids – try to end up with the smoothie, aka “juice”, and then nonchalantly walk, sucking hard as we go, greedy for the cheap, sweet simplicity of blended fruit.
Now I smell fresh tortillas. We stop to buy a kilo for 15 pesos, about 20-25 fresh-off-the-griddle corn tortillas. It is impossible to explain how good they taste. Melty, warm, corn, dry, these are the words I think of, but they do no justice. The woman who sells them to us has a gold or silver tooth and she grins broadly as she weighs them, wraps them in butcher’s paper, and hands them to us. Derek counts out the pesos and puts them in her hand.
Tien en buen dia.
Have a nice day.
He smiles as he says this, and she nods and says something back, rapidly, and off we march, we five, past more juice stands and taco stops and a used book store and more raw meat.
Not everything is cheap in Mexico. We sent out our laundry the first week we were here, since there are no washers and dryers on base for us to use, and made the mistake of sending wet towels, thinking how expensive could it be, at the cost of 18 pesos a kilo. There are no self-serve laundromats, so you send your laundry out to the lavanderia and they wash it, dry it and it comes back to you neatly folded in thick plastic bags. A wonderful luxury to me, since I am used to doing all of our laundry.
Luxury was right.
48o pesos! Derek was shocked when our laundry ended up being $40 the first week. Live and learn. The next week we wore our clothes frugally, and decided against washing the towels but once a month, but still it was $20. Finally, we were offered a friend’s off-base washing machine, and we plan to hang dry everything.
We have left the market and are walking back to the base. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the market from the base, down the Malecon, and then past a playground, pharmacy, a yummy bakery called Pan al Caliente!, and a thousand other tiny shops for various needs, all crammed into little spaces and nooks and crannies.
Mazatlan is a place where you go for a walk and learn things. If you take a different route home each time, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.
Like this. Derek stands in front of the tiny language school on a back road on our way home from the market. English-Spanish lessons! The sign proclaims this in red on a yellow background, and we stand for a moment and try to decipher the rest of the words written in Spanish.
I wonder how much it costs.
I am struggling to learn Spanish because I am not as outgoing as Derek, and feel insecure about my pronunciation. I love the language, love hearing it, love singing Spanish songs in church, love hearing the students pray in Spanish. But I feel obvious, awkward, ridiculous when I try to speak it.
One of our DTS leaders, Abel, a Mazatlan native, has taken me under his wing and teaches me new phrases and grammar each day. Some of the other Mexican students help me learn how to say my favorite words and ask questions while we all sit at lunch or dinner. Today I learned from our friend Yosef, a fellow student and Mexican who was a history teacher in Mexico City, that corn tortillas, or maiz, are original to Mexico, all the way back to the Aztecs, but flour tortillas, or harina, came over with the Spaniards. I have been able to butcher my way through several conversations about books and history and languages and cultures, since these are the things that I like to talk about with my friends in English.
I refuse to resort to only asking where the bathroom is. I will learn how to analyze Don Quixote (even though that’s Spain), and the works of Carlos Fuentes, and the loveliness of Mexican art and music, and I will wax theological and poetic, in Spanish.
I will, I will, I will.
But slowly. I care about learning proper grammar, and though the Mexicans, and our student from the Dominican Republic are warm and gracious and do not make me feel unwelcome or ridiculous at all, and will converse with me endlessly, though I rip and shred their beautiful tongue, it is my nature to care about this.
Also, there is a student here from Belgium, who speaks Dutch. I took three years of German in high school, so I’m always trying out my German on him to see if he understands. Dutch and German are vaguely similar.
Also, there are the Aussies. I’ve been informed that it is pronounced “Ozzies”. To say it the way it is spelled is to invite laughter.
We have been here 15 days.