By Emily Smith van Beek
A month has gone by so quickly. The International Support Worker students have been put thorough new challenges, unforgettable experiences, an emotional rollercoaster and new lifestyles. We have lived in San Cristobal and travelled deep into the Lacondon jungle. We have met new people, worked with wonderful organizations and spent time living with local families, improving our Spanish.
Days have been fun and full of learning. Learning in the least traditional ways possible. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but that isn’t to say that it wasn’t hard. I pushed myself to my limits physically, emotionally and mentally. As I prepare to come back home to Canada I know there will be more challenges in re-integrating into my native culture.
On the last night in the jungle I spent time with students and teachers reflecting on what they are most excited for when they get home, and what they will miss most about Mexico. Like most conversations, it all got turned back to food!
Half of the students in the program are vegetarians, and both professors as well. A lot of us encountered challenges with food, as our expectations were a lot different from reality. Most of the vegetarian students (myself not included) were champions when it came to accepting meat that was served to them. On days where food could not quite hit the spot,
we would fantasize about what we might be eating if we were at home in Canada. You can only go on so long sustaining yourself with chocolate and potato chips. When you think of Canada you think of bacon, beaver tails, maple syrup and lots of potatoes! None of those were at arms reach for us however.
While living in the jungle, I ate spaghetti every day. No protein. No veggies. No good for my health. I dreamed of coming home and cooking risotto or veggie stir-fry. For me, I still had 11 days left of my “vacation” while everyone else headed home.
So as to live vicariously through my classmates, I asked them “what is the one thing you’re going to eat as soon as you get home?”
Rachael: an Indian dish and Lindt chocolate
Kate: she’s happy staying in Mexico, eating Mexican food, but would be happy with a sushi or Thai treat.
Sharan (who has experienced the biggest culture shock coming from India to Mexico): chapatti and cooked veggies with dhal
Andrew: a Harvey’s veggie burger
Vicky: Caesar salad
On the flip side, I then asked the students, “what will you miss most of our Mexican diets?”
Rachael: black beans and coffee
Kate: tortillas with lemons and salt and mango enchiladas
Andrew and Tammy: street tacos
Vicky: Aztec soup (a clear tomato based soup with cut avocados, tortilla chips and cheese)
We all then had a good laugh that consensually we’ll miss chicken soup and rice the most. When visiting communities it was customary that every family or organization we met with would welcome us with a meal of pollo ranchos y arroz, chicken soup and rice. I think if we never saw it again, we would all be very happy.
Living amongst a new culture is hard. It takes a long time to adapt and is hard to do in a month. Food is always something that sparks conversations and connections, so imagine how often we would speak of all the new things we tasted, and how different everything was from home. It makes you really appreciate of what we have.
One ISW Student, Laura Rocoski won’t be reintegrating back into Canada just yet. She is doing her second internship with an organization in San Cristobal, SiPaz. I held a separate interview with her.
E: Have you adjusted any of your likes to be more accommodating to a Mexican diet?
L: Of course. I am a vegetarian, but not regular vegetarian. If I am cooking for myself I will strictly cook vegetarian, the only time that I will consume meat would be if a plate is put in front of me. I will eat it no matter what is put in front of me, be it locally raised, grain-fed, or from down the street. Before coming to Mexico I knew that we would be entering communities that would offer us a meal that would most likely include meat and I did not feel comfortable turning away from that offering. While I have been in Mexico I have been consuming meat but on a very small scale. I think that when travelling it just enhances your experience if you dive into the local diet, it’s cost effective and usually quite tasty.
E: What is the biggest challenge as you stay in Mexico and watch the rest of your classmates comes back to Canada?
L: I think that question on its own is the answer. There are a few things that I have found difficult with staying in Mexico, but since I have lived in Mexico before I had an idea of what to expect. I have never been one to feel homesick, even when I was living in Mexico for 4 months. But this time it is a bit different because I came down with a group and one by one I have watched all of them leave. The last time I lived in Mexico we all stayed for four months, so I didn’t really have a chance to miss home because it was easy to build a family out of the group that I was with. This time it feels like I am starting from scratch and then this is where other frustrations stem from, for example the language barrier, making it harder to build relationships and express my views on different topics.
E: If your parents could ship you any food item from Canada, what would you choose?
L: That’s tough. I truly love the food here. I think that one thing I miss the most would be almond milk or lentils. To be perfectly honest, the thing that I have missed the most when it comes to food is cooking and baking on my own. While being here, I have been either eating out or having prepared meals by host families. So to be without my own cooking space for a month and a bit has been super hard.
Now off to Guatemala for some more adventures!