After we returned from South America at the beginning of February, it didn’t take us long before we were frantically searching for somewhere to go to get us out of the hellish cold. As much as I like the nice volunteer greeters at Calgary International Airport, it was all I could do not to lash out when the adorable little old lady in her red vest and white cowboy hat announced, “Welcome to Calgary, Canada, it’s -33 C. Have a great day.” “Minus thirty- freaking- three” we say, looking at each other in horror. “What were we thinking?”
It seemed like a good idea going home at the beginning of February- do a little skiing and enjoy some winter. “Seemed” being the operative word here! Shaking our heads, we drag our suitcases out into the giant walk-in freezer that was Calgary, maybe even all of Canada that day, and head for home.
About five minutes after walking in the door I say, “Why don’t we go somewhere to study Spanish for a month? A place that’s not too far and maybe we can get a ticket on points?” 24 hours of -30 C later, and we had booked a trip to Oaxaca, the Southern Mexican colonial city nestled against the Sierra Norte mountains, and which has a great reputation for language schools, arts, music and culture, traditional weaving and crafts, and a well-developed gastronomic identity, meaning lots and lots of incredible food. Bingo!
The plan was to study Spanish and do some volunteering. So after a search through numerous language schools offering everything from Spanish to cooking classes and salsa lessons, we liked the looks of the Oaxaca Spanish School. We booked private classes Monday to Thursday 9 -12. Next, find a place to volunteer.
Doug scouted out an organization called Fundacion En Via, a small NGO that provides interest-free micro-loans to women in the villages surrounding Oaxaca and offers English classes in two of the villages. And so after a Skype interview with Kate, En Via’s bilingual, 24 year old English Coordinator from the US, we were booked to teach English in the pueblo of Tlacochahuaya, about 40 minutes by local bus from Oaxaca. With slight apprehensions about teaching English two afternoons a week (Dugla) and learning Spanish one on one for 12 hours a week (me), we escaped the cold and were off on another Dugla Tours– Mexican-style.
Being one of Mexico’s major tourist centres, drawing people from around the world, and a haven for gringos and other expats trying to avoid winter, there are loads of hotels, bed and breakfasts and apartments for rent in Oaxaca. A little digging in the accommodation department led us to a great apartment at the Oaxaca Learning Centre. In the centro historico, a short walk to one of the many food and artisan markets, twenty seconds to – get this – a wood-fired oven pizzeria, that just happens to be one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca, and around the corner from the cutest little Lavanderia, the location was perfect. Plus, it was somewhere that we could put our money to good.
We read about the Oaxacan Learning Centre a couple of years ago, thought it was a cool program, and were excited to see that they also had a Bed and Breakfast and a little flat with a lovely terraza. The OLC is a non-profit that offers tutoring and mentorship to students from surrounding villages, who are in need of support- educational and financial- and the guidance to help them be successful in their studies. All money earned from the rental accommodation is put straight back into supporting programs at the centre. Lucky for us, when we contacted Gary Titus, the centre’s founder, and we would come to learn, an incredibly kind and generous man, the apartment was available. For the next four weeks, we would live above the centre and get to know many of its students, its staff and Gary, who has made it his life’s work to provide opportunity to young people. As he said to us one day over a breakfast of fruit salad, homemade yogurt and homemade granola, made by the centre’s chef and cooking teacher, Andres, “All people need is to be given an opportunity and the support to get ahead. Really, it’s what we all need in life.”