Tehuacan, Mexico – population 250,000 located in state of Puebla, a two hour drive from Mexico City. Experiences in Tehuacan by blogger recorded in this article.
Tehuacán April 2008 Posted June 25, 2014
I am seated in the departure lounge of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport upon returning from a trip to Mexico. I am very tired, but also satisfied after spending an intense week in Tehuacan, Puelba, a city of 300,000 that is situated two and a half hours south of District Federal, D.F., Mexico City. Tehuacan seems smaller than its 300,000 population because a large percentage of the people live outside of the main city in indigenous villages. In spite of progress in the city and the construction of the the new mall, there is a high level of pollution due to constant traffic with the city itself, yet Tehuacan retains the feel of a village in the desert of “old Mexico.”
Restaurante La Lonja (The Slice) located on the main square of Tehuacan and busy from morning to midnight. Photo courtesy of Joel Chargoy III, M.A. Iowa State U., native and resident of Tehucan, Mexico.
In 2002, I met Joel Chargoy III in a class of Latinamerican Literature at Iowa State University. We became speaking partners and conversed weekly in Spanish for over two years in Ames, Iowa, usually in a coffee shop. At the time, Joel and his wife, Graciela, called Chela, were both graduate students at ISU. They invited me to their hometown, Tehuacan, and I accepted the invitation. Since then, I have been there five times and always have found it to be a productive and valuable experience in promoting my understanding of the culture and also in improving my fluency in Spanish, mainly due to my work with SEPROC, the seminar company run by Joel Chargoy II, the father of Joel lll, and his wife, Maria. Through my relationship with the Chargoys, I have participated in several seminars with businesses, universities, secondary schools and sports clubs as a guest presenter and I am always given a prominent role in the program. Giving talks of one to two hours in front of a group of educated Mexicans in their native language is a big challenge and an experience that has given me more and more confidence and linguistic ability in Spanish. In 2003, I went to a secondary school, Kennedy School, with the Chargoys and found myself on the stage of an auditorium face-to-face with 300 high school students giving a program about the habits that can lead to success as a student. That day there was a student there who insisted on “cantinfleando” my comments with the intention of giving me a bad time. He was clearly trying to distract me asking strange questions, but I answered them and answered the challenge. I speak fluent Spanish today as a result of these valuable learning experiences with SEPRCO in Mexico.
The Chargoys are a unique family, well educated and ambitious. In addition to Joel III and Chela, who now have Joel IV and Adriana with them, they are hard-working and capable together and individually. Both earned an M.A. at Iowa State and have recently moved back to Mexico from Chicago after a 10 year stay in the U.S. Joel II has a university degree in Economics and María earned a degree in law in Mexico at the age of 20 years – she started her law studies at the age of 16. Laura, the oldest child of Joel II and is an elementary music teacher in Tehuacan. Juan Pablo, the third child, has just won a science prize in a program through the University of New Mexico and will graduate as an engineer in Puebla in December of this year. The youngest of the children of Joel II and María is José Miguel, who will graduate from Kennedy School in May and will start a university program in mechanical engineering in August. It is clearly an outstanding family and one dedicated to progress and educational achievements.
I flew from Dallas to the Benito Juárez Airport in D.F. on Saturday the 5th of April and took a bus from the airport to the bus depot in Puebla called CAPU. (Benito Juárez was first indigenous person to be elected presidentof Mexico and he served multiple terms at the country’s leader) From there I traveled in another bus, the ADO line, the two hours to Tehuacan. I arrived at 8 p.m. and went directly to the Hotel Mexico to register and organize my room, then I walked a block to the main square of the city to La Lonja (The Slice), a restaurant very well situated with an outdoor terrace that faces the park and with a perfect view of the action of the central business district. I choose a table on the terrace (outside) and order a cup of coffee from Gaudi, the friendly waitress. She remembers me from previous visits and welcomes me warmly before bringing me the coffee Americano and an order of toast. I say to her: “El gringo viejo ha vuelto a Tehuacán”. (The old gringo has come back to Tehuacan).
Hotel Mexico is two blocks from the main square of Tehuacan. It’s a very nicely appointed building and an important landmark in the city. Photo courtesy of Joel Chargoy III, M.A. Iowa State University, and native of Tehuacan, Mexico.
Sunday morning, I get up a 8 a.m., dress and take an hour walk in the area of the hotel to stretch my legs and wake up myself. Even though I don’t drink alcohol, I feel like I have a hangover, but the previous day’s travel, especially the bus trip through the mountains, caused it, not the grog. I returned to the hotel and called Joel II, who invited me to have breakfast with the family at their home in Colonia Arcadia. I walked the 20 minutes and was planning to catch a bus back to Puebla at noon to take in a professional soccer match in the Mexican League, but they had in the meantime changed the start time of the game and I instead stayed all afternoon at the Chargoy home. I was disappointed in not being able to see the game, but enjoyed the day with three generations of the family including Renata, daughter of Laura and Estuardo and sister of Estuardo II and whose(Renata’s) baptism I had attended in 2003. I had a lively chat with Renata that afternoon about a variety of subjects. She is a very bright, charming girl, and responded appropriately to every subtlety in our conversation.
In the Chargoy home, I always spend time with Arnold, the family pet, yes, the noble Arnold. Three years ago at the age of 12 Arnold was acting as if he were dying, in fact, their vet confirmed that he had a deadly disease and it was common among his breed. The big dog couldn’t walk and was moving with great difficulty dragging his rear on the ground. Also, he lacked energy and was not eating nor drinking normally. I decided to try to give him a boost and bathed him, combed him, dried him with a soft towel, and sat with Arnold in the sun for two hours that day in the backyard. I continued giving him this kind of attention each day for three days and he seemed to be responding to my affection. I had to return home to Des Moines and said good-bye to the family and to Arnold. Before leaving, I spoke with urgency to José Miguel, the youngest Chargoy, and suggested that he give more attention to Arnold and I gave him a list of things to do to make Arnold’s life better. The young Mexicano agreed with my plan and promised me that he would carry it out. On returning to Des Moines, a few weeks later I received the great news that Arnold was walking, eating and drinking normally. Three years later, during my annual visit, I was so pleased to see Arnold in good health. The family had given him more freedom and he was able to call the entire yard his own. In spite of not seeing Arnold often, he always recognizes me and welcomes me by putting his enormous paw on my foot while rubbing his nose with affection on my leg. He seemed very happy which made me happy also.
A highlite of my visits to Tehuacan is always an afternoon with Don Miguel, the patriarch of the family and father of María, and Aurora Amador, maternal grandmother of the Chargoys. They live in an large apartment close to my hotel and the 1951 Buick retired at the side of their building assures me that I have found the right address. Don Miguel is 88 years old, demonstrates perfect clarity, hears well, uses the vocabulary of a cultured man and always has time to talk to me. We get along well and we always sit together in the living room drinking juice or a coffee and chatting about a variety of topics for a couple of hours. Normally, Aurora, also in her eighties, greets me, says that it is a miracle that we are seeing each other again, then disappears to the kitchen to continue her work. It seems she is always cooking something.
On Tuesday morning, Ramses, a university student who I met five years before, after giving a SEPROC program at the University of Euroamerica, came to the hotel and walked with me the 8 blocks to my class at the University of the Valley. Ramses had introduced himself to me at the University of Euroamerica several years before and said then that he wanted to communicate with me by email. We have maintained contact since then. He received his degree in business the past autumn and is now studying French at a private institute. He looks good and has matured through the years. I invited him to attend the class I was teaching that morning, but he had to go to work. I taught English for two days at the University of the Valley on that trip and enjoyed the students, who responded to me with enthusiasm and seemed to be interested in the topics discussed. I had the occasion to use my Spanish in explaining grammar, vocabulary and verb conjugations in comparing the English with the Spanish. The following day I returned there to give a class in English to a group of 30 advanced students. In general, it was a valuable experience and one that I would like to repeat some day.
In my free time I studied my notes and new vocabulary gleened from books I had recently read and from the current visit to Tehuacan. I used a chair and table at the hotel swimming pool and a study room in the new municipal library as work spaces. I organized the information and put it into a notebook, which serves as a reference of the information I have accumulated recently in the Spanish language. For example, I wrote about the works of John Updike (Conejo en Paz) , John Grisham (El intermediario y El proyecto Williamson) and García Márquez (La aventura de Miguel Littin clandestine en Chile). In the evening to relax I went to movies at the new mall, La Plaza de Paseo, and took advantage of subtitles in Spanish to enter new vocabulary in the notebook which I had in hand. I saw Los falsificadores, which was spoken in German with Spanish subtitles. No hablo German, therefore I relied exclusively on the subtitles for meaning.
On Thursday, the day of my departure, I got up at 5 a.m. and went to the reception of the hotel to pay my bill. I saw a young man about 20 years old, the cashier, sleeping on a portable couch behind the reception counter. I woke him by ringing the bell and then paid him and we chatted about his studies in the field of secondary education. He told me that he was from the indigenous village, Tepanco, a 30 minute bus ride from the center of Techuacan, and that he was attending classes during the day and working the night shift at the hotel. I told him that I admired his discipline and determination and wished him good luck with his goals.
We said good-bye and on leaving the hotel I looked for Mundo, a 7 year-old boy that sells the local newspaper, El Expediente, on the corner of Reforma and Independencia, but it was too early and I didn’t get to see him. I was disappointed not seeing Mundo and giving him my business. I crossed the street in the darkness of the early morning and walked five minutes to the ADO bus station, where I boarded an ADO bus to Puebla, then changed to the Estrella Roja line for the two hour trip from Puebla to the D.F. Airport. I had spent six days in Tehuacan and I was satisfied that I had taken advantage of each minute to grow in the Spanish language and in my understanding of the culture there. I would like to teach there for a semester, but these days I have other responsibilities in Texas and Iowa and cannot justify the time away. In this stage of my life, a shorter trip serves me well and the week was sufficient to give me a worthwhile visit. I spent years working in Moçambique, Japan, Australia, etc. therefore a long stay in Mexico seems unnecessary. Adios, Tehuacan, see you again some day.
Note: This was the trip in which I planned with Joel Chargoy II of SEPROC to do some basketball clinics in Tehuacan and he authorized my invitation to veteran coaches Orv Salmon, former Drake assistant and highly successful coach and AD at DMACC-Boone, and Nick Nurse, who at the time was making a name for himself in the NBA Developmental League, where he won titles with the Des Moines Energy and the Rio Grande Vipers (McAllen, Texas). Orv has stepped down from a series of 25 win seasons at DMACC and trips to the National Tournament and remains as Athletic Director with BJ McGinn as his successor, while Nick is now a top assistant with the Toronto Raptors in the NBA and it seems destined to become an NBA head coach. More on those clinics and the contributions of Orv and Nick to state of Puebla basketball. It was a memorable experience and one laced with all kinds of humor. More on that later.