Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesdays at Tianguis

If it's Tuesday, you can find me at Tianguis

There are several mercados in San Miguel de Allende, but one of the most popular is the Tuesday market, known locally as La Placita or Tianguis. Tianguis is from the Nahuatl word tianquiztli, which means “marketplace”. Nahuatl, one of the indigenous languages of Mexico, was the language of the Aztecs, a group of seven Chichimec tribes who controlled Mexico from the 12th century A.D. until the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s. At that time, Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Mexica tribe, had a network of markets that served 20,000-40,000 people a day.

I have always loved the open-air markets in Latin America. When I lived in Ecuador in the early 1970s, I discovered that each village held its market on a different day of the week. For example, I would go to Otavalo on a Saturday to shop for woven ponchos or blankets. To find the colorful, hand-sewn shigras (handbags), used by Andean women since Pre-Columbian times, I had to travel to SaquisilĂ­ on Thursdays.

You can buy just about anything at Tianguis -- fruits and vegetables, live birds, herbs for any ailment, meats and fish, freshly-made tortillas and other prepared foods. One section is similar to our flea markets or swap meets, where they sell shoes, new and used clothing, pots and pans, appliances, furniture, CDs and DVDs.

I bought some wonderful aguacates negros or black avocados. The skins are very thin and you bite into them as you would an apple! And, I always bring home platanos (bananas) and higos (fresh figs), which are my favorite fruit! I told my friend I wanted to plant un arbol de higos, which literally means "tree of figs". And, she taught me the correct word for fig tree, which is UNA HIGUERA.

Even if you don't buy anything, you can just stroll through the market and let the colors, sounds and smells captivate your senses.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Water Crisis: Local To Global

The summer is the rainy season in Mexico. I was warned that I should never forget my umbrella because each day in July and August, it rains very hard for an hour or so, filling the cobblestone streets with rivers of water. Since I arrived on July 3rd, we've had only one heavy rainstorm two nights ago and 2 or 3 afternoons of light rain. ¿Que pasa? San Miguel has been hot, dry and dusty for 18 of the last 21 days.

There is a growing water crisis in San Miguel de Allende.

I have been told that the Independencia Aquifer, the aquifer that provides water to San Miguel de Allende and surrounding area, will be dry in 20 years! There are also a host of other water-related problems.

According to Ecosystem Sciences, deforestation, over-grazing of livestock, soil degradation, and diminishing groundwater have created a serious threat to local water resources in San Miguel de Allende. Moreover, "much of the surface water in the area is contaminated with human and industrial waste.

In addition, as the groundwater level drops, the concentration of naturally occurring salts and minerals is increasing. Studies show that the fluoride levels in the groundwater in certain areas of San Miguel de Allende are above acceptable concentration (Ecosystem Sciences). To read more, go to their website:

The Global Water Crisis

Water scarcity is not just a local problem in Mexico. It is a global problem. One of the topics covered in my course, Global Social Change, is the the crisis of water scarcity worldwide.

Here are some facts:
  • While 70% of the earth's surface is covered by water, 97.5% of the world's water is salt water and 2.5% fresh water.
  • According to the World Health Organization, less than 1% of the world's freshwater is readily available for human world consumption. 70% of the earth's freshwater is used for irrigation.
  • Out of 191 nations in the world, 10 nations share 65% of the world's annual water resources.
  • 1.2 billion people - or almost 1 out of 5 people in the world - are without access to safe drinking water and half of the world's population lacks adequate water purification systems.
  • 2.4 billion people, or 40% of the world's population, do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • In 1998, 31 countries faced chronic freshwater shortages. By the year 2025, 48 countries are expected to face shortages, affecting nearly 3 billion people - 35% of the world's projected population.
  • Residents of developing nations pay on average 12 times more per liter of water than those getting their water through municipal systems.
  • According to the UN and the World Health Organization, 80% of diseases in developing nations stem from consumption of and exposure to unsafe water, which kills more than 25,000 people each day.
  • The UN estimates that in less than 25 years, if present water consumption trends continue, 5 billion people will be living in areas where it will be impossible or difficult to meet basic water needs for sanitation, cooking and drinking.
According to UNICEF, 4,000 children die each day because they lack access to clean water.

The global water crisis must be tackled on both local and global levels.

In San Miguel de Allende, a number of local organizations have started rainwater collection efforts, mostly in rural areas where water contains dangerous levels of fluoride. I mentioned last week that the Rotary Club is involved in helping to fund these efforts.

Another, "Todos por el Agua" (Everyone for Water), is a local initiative in San Miguel de Allende for restoring, conserving and protecting the area's water resources and the environment. Funding from federal and state conservation programs, as well as funds collected from water users can help farmers and landowners implement watershed restoration projects. "Todos por el Agua is currently developing a coalition of non-profit organizations, government agencies and citizens that are interested in participating in "Todos por el Agua".

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a report, The Right To Water. It examines the issue of water as a human right.

World Water Day 2009 was held this past year on March 22nd. You can visit their website to learn more about some of the global efforts to help solve the global water crisis.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tutoring English at the Biblioteca Publica

I am now a volunteer English tutor three evenings per week at the Biblioteca Publica (public library). Actually, I am a co-tutor with my friend Marc (a special education teacher from California). After being assigned three adult students (and a possible fourth) to tutor in English, he was feeling a bit overwhelmed and asked me to help out. I really couldn't say no. There is such great need and so few volunteers.

Tonight was our first tutoring session with two of our students, Laura and Berta, who have very little knowledge of the English language. Apparently, English is not taught in primary and secondary schools here. We all sat around a table adjacent to a beautiful courtyard (see photo), which makes the experience particularly pleasant.

To be perfectly candid, I would not have known where to begin. I spent most of the one-hour session observing Marc, who has 35 plus years of teaching experience in special education. What a pro! He is returning to the U.S. on August 1st, so I have a lot to learn from him during the next two weeks. Laura and Berta did beautifully and our first session was a success.

The Biblioteca has an interesting history, having been started by a Mrs. Helen Wale in 1954. It has the most extensive bilingual library outside of Mexico City and contains more than 55 thousand volumes in Spanish and English. The library also has a small collection of German and French literature.

The Biblioteca Publica provides many services to the community including low-cost computer classes in Spanish and English for children and adults, scholarships to rural students in junior and senior high school and university, and a theater for plays, concerts and movies. The library also publishes a weekly newspaper, Atencion San Miguel, with articles in both Spanish and English.

Scroll down to view a video about the Biblioteca Publica in San Miguel de Allende.

Biblioteca Publica de San Miguel de Allende - Video

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Meet my new friend, Gabriela. Nine years old and the youngest of eleven children, Gabriela helps support her family by selling dolls and other crafts on the streets of San Miguel de Allende.
I may be Gabriela's best customer. One of the large closet drawers in my casita is now overflowing with colorful dolls in many different sizes. I may even need to buy an extra suitcase to get the dolls home when I return in September!

When I first visited San Miguel in 2008, I saw only a handful of women selling dolls in the jardin and a few children selling nopales cactus. And, I recall being surprised to see only two or three elderly women beggars on the sidewalk. Now, just one year later, the number of beggars and street peddlers in this city has increased dramatically.

The global economic recession, drug-related violence along the U.S./Mexican border and fears of the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) have had a devastating impact on Mexico. The Mexican economy shrank by 8.2% during the first three months of 2009 and figures for the second quarter of 2009 show a decline in tourism of 45%! Tourism is Mexico's third-largest source of revenue, so you can imagine how hard they are struggling to recover.

Some of the shopkeepers and waiters in town have told me that business seems to be picking up a bit lately. As for me, I am trying to do my part. My holiday shopping is finished. Everyone's getting dolls this year!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Visit To The Mid-Day Rotary Club of San Miguel de Allende

Yesterday I attended the weekly meeting of the San Miguel de Allende Mid-day Rotary Club. I first learned of this meeting from the folks at Casita Linda, one of the many non-profits that receives funding from the Rotary Club.

I shared a bit about Berkeley College's connection with the club both on the District level (7490) as well as the local level (Bergen and Passaic counties) and the service of our very own Teri Duda. The attendees were pleased to learn that Berkeley also started the first Rotaract Club in Northern NJ and still supports the club to this day, now at our Garret Mt and Paramus campuses.

The visit was also a bittersweet one for me, as my late father, Stanley Milton Frasier, was an active member of the Rotary Club in our hometown (Mays Landing, NJ) for more than 35 years and served as President from 1968-69.

In addition to Casita Linda, the San Miguel de Allende Midday Rotary Club supports the following organizations in the area:

Hospice San Miguel - The first full comprehensive Hospice facility in Mexico.

Computadores Pro Jovenes - Refurbishes computers which are donated to local schools and students with special disabilities.

Diabetic Retinopathy Camera & Diabetic Retinopathy Laser Machine - There is a severe diabetes problem in Mexico, especially in this area where 13% suffer from diabetes and 10% of those are in danger of losing their eyesight. The Rotary Club has committed funding for these two machines.

Casa de los Angeles - Day care center for children of single working moms who come from the outskirts of town to sell their wares in the market or work in homes, restaurants, etc.

Los Torres Water Project - Together with Rotary Clubs in U.S. and Canada, they are launching a water harvesting project to provide safe drinking water. The 92 families living there are now drinking water heavily contaminated with fluoride -- which causes brain and bone damage.

You can visit this Rotary Club's website at:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fiesta de la Santa Cruz del Charco del Ingenio

On Sunday, July 12th, I attended the Fiesta de la Santa Cruz at El Charco del Ingenio, the Botanical Garden and Ecological Preservation Zone in San Miguel de Allende.

Since its beginnings in 1991, this celebration is held every year in July to commemorate the foundation of the Botanical Garden as well the rescue of this magnificent ravine – a project that not only preserves El Charco as an ecological reserve but also as a ritual space for local indigenous communities of San Miguel. The image of the Santa Cruz goes back to the wars of Conquest of the 16th century and the foundation of San Miguel de Allende. As such, Charco del Ingenio is a sacred territory for the communities of the Santa Cruz, urban as well as rural, who come to the annual festival.

The ceremony starts in the Plaza of the Four Winds and the cross is carried to the four cardinal points of the Botanical Garden where the protective shrines are located. It finishes with the installation of the cross in Parque Landeta where the fiesta continues all day with ritual dances, music and more.

Dancing at the Fiesta de la Santa Cruz

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Casita Linda: Building Hope One House At A Time

During my stay in San Miguel de Allende this summer, I will serving on a host committee for a Broadway fundraiser for Casita Linda, a Mexican non-profit organization founded in 2001. Casita Linda (pretty little house) builds adobe brick houses for the poorest of the poor in San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding areas in the state of Guanajuato. Their work is similar to Habitat for Humanity. Many poor families live in structures made of rocks, sticks, rags and plastic tarps, etc. that provide little or no protection from the elements (scroll down to see a photo).

Yesterday, I attended a dedication ceremony for an adobe house the group has built for Raquel, a single mother of three children. The new casita is in Ejido Tirado, just a five-minute drive on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende. I have created a slide show with photos of the casita, the new owner Raquel, the workers and the volunteers from Casita Linda. Scroll down to view the slideshow.

Casita Linda builds around one casita per month and has been able to employ four local Mexican men full-time to construct the houses. However with the recent slowdown in the economy worldwide and the drop in tourism to Mexico, donations have decreased significantly. They need grants and donations of $8,000 per month to meet their budget.

Broadway Loves Casita Linda
, a musical and dance review starring Broadway musical stage personalities, will take place on August 19th and 20th at a local theater in San Miguel de Allende. The funds raised by this show will help pay salaries of the Mexican construction workers and for other costs involved in building adobe houses for families living in extreme poverty. I will be posting updates and news about the show and Casita Linda's work during the coming weeks.

You can learn more about the work of Casita Linda, read stories of the families and see more photos at:

Hasta luego,
Professor Kulik

Living in extreme poverty

Learn more about Casita Linda

Dedication of casita by Casita Linda

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Struggling With My Spanish!

Have you or anyone in your family struggled to learn English or another language? Well, I can empathize, because I am having such difficulty understanding and speaking Spanish! I'm always saying "Mas despacio, por favor" (more slowly, please). I have not spoken Spanish since I was a college student in the mid-1970s and I am feeling quite frustrated right now.

Spanish was my minor in college and I spent two summers living with a family in Quito, Ecuador. That was when I fell in love with Latin America -- the people, the culture, the history, los Andes mountains Although I did not become fluent in the language, I spoke Spanish quite well back then. So, naturally, I thought it would all come back to me now, but I am having a terrible time remembering the most basic words. Also, since so many Americans live in San Miguel de Allende -- at least 6,000 --everyone speaks English. So, I am now asking the local people to help me with my Spanish -- the shop keepers, taxi drivers, waiters, vendors, etc. I am a bit embarrassed when I make mistakes, but they are patient with me and I'm making some progress.

Tonight I am going with my new friends, Jadita and Graciela, to an authentic Mexican cantina that has been in the same family for several generations, la familia German. Years ago, it was a favorite hangout of writers Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac. I am hoping to practice my Spanish and have some really good Mexican food! I'll try to get some photos to post on the blog. Hasta luego!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gazebo in El Jardin

Vendors on El Jardin

Mariachi in El Jardin

4th of July in El Jardin

Early in the evening of July 4th, I heard the sounds of mariachi bands coming from the direction of el jardin, also known as the zocalo, or what Americans would call the town square. El jardin is one of my favorite parts of the city because it is full of life -- young and old, Mexican and Norteamericanos, children playing, vendors selling food, lovers embracing -- and on this evening, a young man was singing to the music of the mariachi band.

The social interaction in el jardin reflects what social scientists call collectivism, or the degree to which people integrate into groups. Used in this way, the term collectivism has no political meaning. Latin American cultures, including Mexico, tend to be more group-oriented with strong extended families (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins). Some societies are more individualistic and less group-oriented with the belief that a person should only take care of himself/herself and the immediate family. The U.S. tends to have a more individualistic orientation, however with our diverse population, ethnic groups and even individuals can fall anywhere along this dimension. Students in my online course, Intercultural Communication, explore the impact of individualism/collectivism on communication, the workplace and international business. A greater understanding of cross-cultural communication can help our students become more effective leaders, managers and entrepreneurs.

Greetings from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

Welcome to my Berkeley College blog! I am Dr. Marilyn Kulik, Professor in the Department of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Berkeley College. I have been teaching social science courses, both onsite and online, since 2001. This summer I will be teaching online courses from San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of central Mexico.

While you may not be able to accompany me in person to experience the rich culture and beauty of Mexico, I hope you will join me on a “virtual journey “as I explore San Miguel, Guanajuato and other cities in central Mexico.