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Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: February 2008

Dear Readers,
Once again I am writing from the same balcony in Puerto Escondido on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca State in Mexico, looking out on to the same beautiful beach. Since then I've watched many sunsets and sunrises on other beautiful beaches in Oaxaca but never watched the sunrise in Puerto until this morning.

Today somebody said, "Get up Eli: time to greet the sun!" And they turned on my TV!: There's a television in my hotel room that I checked again last night to make sure it doesn't work. But at 6:30am it turned on. The on/off switch really is broken: I could only turn it off by unplugging it.

But there I was awake, I thought it was still deep in the night but I pushed the curtains aside to see dawn just starting. I walked onto the balcony and watched the sun turn the horizon from a ribbon of gentle purple to fiery splendor as it rose from between misty mountains and illuminated the long tropical beach below.

I took a video of the whole panorama saying, "Happy Birthday Miranda! It's March 10th in Puerto Escondido!" Today is my sister's birthday and I started thinking about how much I love my family and the beauty of sunrises and all that! Really there is something comforting about family and the sun: you can count on your family and you can count on the sun to rise EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The night before, the night of March 8th, I was in a small town called El Ciruelo where I went to find this cool rebel priest from Trinidad and Tobago who’s been helping the African community along the Oaxaca Coast but it turns out he’s in Wisconsin right now! I was sick, couldn’t sleep because of loud music and was feeling crazy and confused about my travels and I prayed desperately for a peaceful place and a peaceful heart and I got it.

I just basked in the warm sun for awhile before retreating from its full intensity! I have not developed much of a tan or general tolerance for the sun or the ocean while I’ve been here.

Every time I play in the ocean for more than awhile I'm eventually hit by a big wave that seems to say, "By the way: I could kill you."! Then the lovely waves continue but I no longer feel like frolicking! The ocean is a terribly powerful thing and I like appreciating its beauty from far away on this balcony.

I tried boogie boarding and when I finally caught a big wave I was slammed into the bare sand and could feel slight pain in my spine for a few days. I told this to new surfer and she gave me some pointers on how to avoid that next time. But when I talked to a friend who's actually an experienced surfing instructor he just nodded and said, "Yeah, terrible things can happen." And he told me some examples!

In my travels this trip I've been led to amazing, invaluable experiences and there's probably nothing I can do to give enough thanks for them. Most of February I actually spent in the city of Pinotepa Nacional where they have wonderful festivals and there are many indigenous people of the Mixtec tribe and many black people who are said to descend from Africans brought over to be enslaved but jumped ship and formed their own communities that survive to this day.

By chance or synchronicity I befriend a big family (ten, that's right 10 children) from the small town of Collantes, one of these black communities. I ate wonderful food they made including the milk from their dairy farming business, played with the really cute grandchildren, talked politics with the eldest son in his thirties, and did some language exchange with the really smart youngest daughter in her late teens.

They included me in a church gathering where women were actually making tortillas completely from scratch: from big buckets of corn to dough slapped flat in their hands and thrown on a stone oven over a wood fire, laughing and joking along the way. When you eat food made like that in that festive environment even if it's just rice, beans, chilis, eggs, and tortillas it just tastes so good! There's a life to food like that! It meant so much to me to be part of the event but to them it's just what they do and I really don't know how to thank them enough for it.

I felt the same way after I happened upon what turned out to be a funeral: I just heard live music I liked and thought it was a restaurant! As I peeped in they shouted, "Pasale! Pasale!" "Come on in! Come on in!" It turns out it was the mother of a woman I've been buying tacos from since the first day I got to Pinotepa. They were so open in their sadness and joy as they festively and ceremoniously acknowledged and said good-bye to this beloved woman.

On the very first day I arrived in Pinotepa they were doing their version of carnival (in this case the same day as Mardi Gras) with a very strange folk dance that included three different groups of men in masks dancing and shaking rattles including the featured group with masks that had dark skin and red lips and carried herbs and toy guns in their hands.

The truth is I not only feel like I was led to these experiences but I feel like there's something familiar and essential about the things I saw and felt during them.

Even when I just walk around in a poor neighborhood where houses are made of wood, mud, and stone I can feel a powerful, gentle, REAL energy that I know is lacking among privileged people. Obviously there are things that poor people are lacking that privileged people have, I'd say even on an energetic level. I imagine combining these energies and hope arising from it and it making people whole, healthy, joyful beings.

I guess that's what I'm doing down in Mexico right now: trying to reclaim my whole joyful self. I'm realizing how wonderful and difficult that can be and it's something I can't force! I have to let myself be led at whatever pace I'm meant to go with whoever I'm meant to go whether it's locals, fellow white travellers, or by myself.

For me worldschooling is about putting yourself in exciting, challenging, REAL situations where you NEED to learn things and unschooling is about just learning what you WANT without pressure, accepting that motivation will come when you're ready; acknowledging when you appear to be doing nothing there may be things going on below the surface of which you are unaware.

I've been in a worldschooling mindset and maybe need to remember that "doing nothing", resting, is wonderful too sometimes.

I'm slowly catching on to the idea of smiling and experiencing joy the way Mexican people seem to do all the time. I learn a lot from them and my fellow travellers. I hope you're smiling and experiencing joy too dear readers. Keep in touch!

-Eli