Oaxaca, Mexico, the most vibrant place I have experienced. A place that brought an awakening to every one of my senses on a daily basis. Time here can only be described as rich and not in the material sense. While not everybody may have possessed heaps of physical riches, they certainly did not fall short when it came to the wealth of culture. The vibrancy of their culture was displayed on every corner through the striking street art, in every dish prepared and the spices present in each one, through the mouth-watering aromas that danced out the doors and into your nose and every note played that filled the air and graced your ears. Oaxaqueños were not only  proud of their heritage but were always so willing to share it with you and help you experience the beauty of it.

I hope this post will take you on a little journey, that’ll give you even a little glimpse of what life in Oaxaca was like for me.

From the moment you woke in the morning, till the time you shut your eyes at night, there would always be unique melodies that would make their way to your ears. During my time in San Jacinto, where I taught English for six weeks, on a regular morning I would wake up to the sound of an advert that began with a strong cow moo. The jingle was loaded with rhythm from cow bells, a boisterous male voice singing that would have you dancing in your bed. Shortly after this, while getting dressed, high energy reggaeton, accompanied by enthusiastic dance counts from a neighbouring Zumba class would later make an appearance.

A typical day in San Jacinto for me would look like: Me dancing out of bed and getting ready to the sound of a heavy bass line typically found in reggaeton  on full blast from a neighbouring zumba class. Coming out from my room, I would be welcomed into the kitchen by with mouth watering aromas of breakfast. Not too long after my motor taxi would arrive, ready to whisk me off to the summer school where I would teach. 

The fresh morning air gently waking my skin as a soft breeze blew through the open motor taxi (a small motorised rickshaw with no doors) while it aggressively tackled the rough roads beneath its tires.

Upon arrival at the school, the greetings of cheerful children would fill my ears, causing a wide smile to plaster itself across my face.

As I entered the class, the adorable faces of children, eager to learn English was always an encouraging sight for me.

A typical class would often begin with a melodic ‘good morning teacher’, followed by a string of Spanish sentences which would either be the inquisition of ‘what are we doing today’ or ‘How do you say *Lunes* in English’ or the classic favourite ‘puedo ir al baño’ – ‘can I go to the bathroom’. When we began the lesson material, there would be choruses of Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, Baby Shark, Hokey Pokey and/or the Days of the Week, followed by an activity of some sort.

Before long, class would be over and it would be time to head home. It was actually quite comical to hear the ‘awwws’ that would float around the room when I announced this to the children. In the blink of an eye I would have a flock of children all huddled around me sending me off with a hug. My heart never failed to swell each time this happened. Although my brain would be exhausted from constantly jumping between Spanish and English, I always felt fulfilled and excited to go back the following day.

After my classes each day I would be met by the same motor taxi but by a different air. This time the air was warm, with no sign of a breeze and as I’d walk out to the taxi, the high mid day sun, I say caress, but really it beat down on my skin and I loved every moment of it.

I would come home to a warm embrace from ‘abuelita’ (grandma), and a prompt to go rest for a bit before ‘comida’ (food). A lot of times, aunts, cousins, uncles, god sons and daughters, family friends, would pop round to the house to check in and have a wee chat. They were always so willing and so patient to put up with my broken Spanish and help me improve it. Eventually, as my Spanish progressed so did our conversations, to deeper one’s about morality, values, culture, immigration. Not only did this develop my vocab but it also developed my knowledge of the people I was with and the place I was in and as my learning grew, so did my love for the people I had met and for Oaxaca. 

As you strolled through the city streets, after a morning of teaching, you were likely to experience the sounds of brass instruments blaring beautifully accompanied by a heavy drumline that could be felt with your whole body, followed by pride filled, regional chants. When the streets weren’t occupied with traditional Oaxacan music, the sounds of joy inducing salsa would take its place and often bring strangers dancing together.

From what I could see, education was a part of the fabric of those living in San Jacinto and Oaxaqueños in general. This wasn’t limited to the traditional sense of the word i.e. Going to class, reading and writing. Education came in the form of stories that were told around the table, dances that were taught at the vibrant family fiestas , skills and techniques that were learned while cooking aromatic meals for large gatherings and learning the history and/or folklore behind certain ingredients. Education was more than just an academic thing, it was a living, tangible, practical and cultural experience in many ways and to confine it to just one aspect would be to miss out on so much learning which would, in my opinion be to deny one of a truly quality education.

While all of the above added to my wonderful time in Mexico, I don’t think it would have been complete without the incredible people that I got the privilege to cross paths with. From the patient, generous joyous Mexicans who were so gracious and put up with my flailing arms/gestures and my broken Spanish, to my fellow explorers (both from home and across the globe) that I got to share this experience with. 

 I can wholeheartedly say is that it really is the people that makes a place

  • Dami Fagbamila who went on the CIT Volunteer Abroad Scholarship 2019