Monday, April 27, 2009

Dispatches from Mexico - 1st installment

Nineteen department members graduated from the third annual session of our Spanish Immersion program on April 10. The program condenses four semesters of collegiate Spanish coursework into 10 weeks and is taught by a professor from Mexico. Participants not only learn the language, they learn the culture. At the end of the course, the top six students were selected to continue their studies through immersion in Kansas City’s sister city of Morelia, Mexico.

(Above are pictures of Sergeant Tamara Pronske in Mexico City and downtown Morelia from a hotel rooftop at night. Click on them to see larger versions.)

The point of the program is to make as many KCPD members conversant in Spanish as possible. Kansas City has the largest Hispanic population of any city in the state, with more than 50,000 people in Jackson County alone claiming Latino heritage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007. Those numbers are on the rise, and many of these people speak only Spanish. Our officers must be able to police these communities effectively for the safety of the entire city, so teaching them Spanish is a necessity, not a luxury.

The six officers left for Mexico a little over a week ago. When they got to Morelia, they moved in with host families and are continuing their Spanish studies at the local university. Sergeant Tamara Pronske is keeping us up to date with what the officers are doing down there, and I’ll be posting some of her updates on here weekly. In addition, we’re all praying they avoid the latest swine flu outbreak, though it sounds like some are already battling illness.

April 19:
Today we flew into Mexico City. The city is huge - 23 million people. The traffic is crazy scary and I would NEVER drive in it. We met Lucia (our professor) and drove to the hotel. We had our first meal in Mexico, and it was yummy! Lucia then walked us to the downtown area where the federal buildings are. At 6 p.m., a ton of Military Police and the Military band come out of the building where the president works, and they take down this huge flag. It is so big, it cannot be folded - they roll it. All the while, the band is playing and everyone is just in awe. They then take it into the building where the president works. This happens everyday at 6 p.m. So much national pride here. We walked through some cathedrals and watched mass. Once again the architecture was amazing.

April 23:
We are in Morelia and it is everything Lucia said it was - beautiful and the weather is perfecto. I got sick the first night here but got medicine and am starting to feel better. Another officer has a respiratory infection, and the other guys are starting to get worried :).

April 26:
Well, it has been a few days since my last update and I have been very busy. On Day 5, I started to really feel better. After class, Randy took me all around downtown (centro) to get a better grasp of the city since I missed the group tour the day before due to the fact I was sick. The centro is very nice, with a lot of great cathedrals and churches. The architecture is amazing. It was a very low-key day.

On Day 6, we had class, and then the whole group went back to the centro to walk around and eat dinner at a very Mexican restaurant called Burger King. Yes, after a while, even I get tired of Mexican food. It was kinda’ nice to have some food that’s familiar.

Day 7 was great. We started out at KIIS (our school is called the Kentucky Institute for International Studies) and our bus driver, Pepe, drove us to Santa Clara Del Cobre, about an hour outside of Morelia. Pepe is our driver everywhere we go. He’s great and can maneuver a bus through anything.

Santa Clara is a village (and I mean very small village) that is known for its copper (cobre) smiths, and their work is world famous. While there, we watched cobre smiths take big chunks of copper out of a fire and 3-4 men would hit it with large hammers until the copper chunk got cold. By hitting it, they are flattening it out until it becomes thin and pliable to make into pots, vases, or whatever they are making. It takes one week to make a medium-sized pot and they must put the cobre back into the fire and take it out to bang on it 400 times before it is of the size needed to make into their ware. It was amazing to see 4 men hitting this 6” wide and ½” thick piece of copper in perfect unison without missing a beat. The banging created a lot of noise, and I am sure they are all deaf by now.

After Santa Clara, we moved to another small town called Patzcuaro. This town has a lot of churches and artisans. When we first got there, we went into a huge cathedral and went in while a quinceanera was going on. This is when a Mexican girl turns 15, and she is now considered a woman, so it’s kinda’ like our Sweet 16, except a lot more elaborate. She wears a wedding-type dress, sometimes white, other times colored, and has what looks like bridesmaids with her. She then has escorts with her in tuxes, and there is a church service and then a reception. Very cool.

I then went and did some shopping. Yeah!! Bought some copper wares and some jewelry. After a long day shopping and site seeing, we headed back to Morelia. After I got settled, the group met up for dinner and then headed to the centro. On Saturday nights, they have a huge fireworks show. We went to a bar on the roof of a hotel and had some drinks and watched the show.
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