Guadalajara: Rain

 photo IMG_6697.jpg
The view through my apartment window as the first raindrops fell


Tapatíos (people from Guadalajara), look forward to the beginning of the rainy season in June, when evening showers provide relief from the sizzling daytime temperatures.
The rainy season officially began last night.
Even though the forecast had called for only a twenty percent chance of rain, by 6 p.m. a few scattered clouds began to release their precious moisture. Then the cloud cover thickened and rain began to fall faster and faster, punctuated by thunder and lightning.
After several hours, the rain tapered off, leaving puddles in its wake, and little rivers coursing down the gutters.
“Either the rain or Vivaldi, which shall I pick?” Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo asks in his poem “Betwixt Worlds.”
For the tapatío sweating through a seemingly endless summer day, there is only one answer.
And it’s not Vivaldi!

Little brown sparrow,
the old men still remember
the last song you sang.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved


Guadalajara: Volunteers

 photo IMG_6686.jpg
A volunteer tutor helps a student with his homework at the Salvation Army’s Hogar de Niños.


Because money is usually always in short supply, volunteers are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization.
Volunteers free up limited resources for maintenance of buildings and grounds. In some cases, they also allow for the hiring of more paid professional staff.
Nonprofits just can’t exist without volunteers.
Every Wednesday, two volunteers go to the Salvation Army’s Hogar de Niños to help the children with their schoolwork. One of the volunteers is American, and one of them is Mexican. Both speak Spanish, of course, and both are eager to see the children succeed academically.
They help the students primarily with reading (a difficult and disheartening task for many of the children), but also with math—whatever it takes to get them on the right track.
The students love their volunteer tutors, and it’s a sad day if, for some reason, a tutor can’t show up.

Little brown sparrow,
the children’s raucous laughter
does not bother you.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: In Praise of Jorge

 photo DSC_0127202.jpg
Sometimes it’s hard to find a good taxi driver.


My taxi driver, Jorge, is reliable. If he can’t show up at the agreed-upon time, he calls me to tell me when to expect him.
This morning he called.
“I will be there in fifteen minutes,” he said at 8:45 a.m., the time at which he was supposed to pick me up.
The promised fifteen minutes stretched into nearly forty, but he had called, so I knew he would show up. When he did, I clambered into the cab, and away we went.
I thought that Jorge had been delayed by heavy traffic. It turns out that he was sick, and should have stayed home in bed. In the early morning hours, he had been hit by stomach pains and diarrhea.
But sick or not, he was determined to keep his promise to pick me up and transport me to the Hogar de Niños, where I volunteer to teach English to children for a couple of hours each morning.
When we arrived at the hogar, a scant thirty minutes after leaving my apartment, I paid Jorge, tipped him generously, and said, “Now, go home, and go to bed.”
He promised he would.

Little brown sparrow,
even during the downpour
you keep on singing.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Homecoming

 photo IMG_6645.jpg
After being helped from her “carriage,” Our Lady of Zapopan is escorted into the church.


Promptly at 5 p.m., the bells at Templo San Nicolás de Bari start to ring wildly, signaling the beginning of the procession that will bring Our Lady of Zapopan (Nuestra Señora de Zapopan) to the church for her annual visit.
Drummers and trumpeters lead the joyful procession, and residents line the streets, longing to catch a glimpse of “the little cornhusk doll.” Penitents murmur prayers and cross themselves as Our Lady passes by.
When the procession arrives at the church about thirty minutes after it starts, and Our Lady is gently lifted from the “carriage” (actually, a pickup truck) in which she has been riding, a great shout goes up from the crowd: “Viva! Viva! Viva!”
As Our Lady is carried into the church, with the drummers drumming and the trumpets blaring, the shouts continue: “Viva! Viva! Viva!”
At last “the little cornhusk doll,” decked out in all her royal finery, is given a place of honor in front of the altar. The crowd oohs and ahs.
The church is packed, so I cannot enter, and as I stand at one of the entrances, a young man turns to me and says something in Spanish, but the crowd is still so noisy that I’m not sure what he says.
No hablo español,” I say with a smile and a shrug.
¿Habla usted Inglés? he says.
“Yes,” I reply.
He introduces himself as Brandon, formerly of Colorado. He says that this is his church, and that he has lived in this neighborhood for two years.
“Why?” I ask.
He points to his Mexican wife and child and says, “That’s the reason.”
He claps me on the shoulder, and points to the food booths that line the street in front of the church.
“If you want some really good tortas,” he says, “try the stand on the corner. They are delicious. Enjoy your stay here.”
And then he dashes off to join his wife and child.

Little brown sparrow,
the boy in the bright red shoes
wants to sing with you.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: The Visit

 photo IMG_6552.jpg
A sign announcing the visit and procession route of Nuestra Señora de Zapopan


She’s a tiny thing, and not much to look at, even though she is clad in regal garments and wears a crown. Some people might refer to her dismissively as “a little cornhusk doll.”
But according to the story, Our Lady of Zapopan (Nuestra Señora de Zapopan) started working miracles in the sixteenth century, and she’s been working them ever since.
Fray Antonio de Segovia fashioned a little cornhusk doll in honor of the Virgin. For ten years, he wore it around his neck. In 1541, in an attempt to make peace between warring Indian tribes, he went among them and preached. It is said that those who heard his message saw rays of light emanating from the image he wore around his neck, and they laid down their weapons.
That was the beginning of centuries of reverence for Fray Antonio’s “little cornhusk doll,” representing Our Lady of Zapopan.
In 1721, a plague swept through Guadalajara. Sacred history says that when the image was carried from barrio to barrio, the plague ceased.
At about the same time, Our Lady of Zapopan was declared to be the official protector from the fierce thunderstorms and lightning that characterize the rainy season. Thus, the little image is carried from its place in the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan during the rainy season, which begins in June, to visit every church in every barrio of Guadalajara.
Tomorrow “the little cornhusk doll,” will be carried in a joyful procession through the streets of Colonia Manuel Vallarta. At the end of the procession, there will be a Mass at Templo San Nicolás de Bari, a five-minute walk from my apartment.
To participate in a local celebration is one of the benefits of being more than a casual tourist in a foreign country, and I look forward to catching a glimpse of “the little cornhusk doll,” and to hearing the sounds of rejoicing in the streets.

Little brown sparrow,
after the storm has ended,
will you sing again?


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Sanctuaries

 photo IMG_6563.jpg
One of thousands of courtyards in Guadalajara


Every city dweller needs a sanctuary, a place to refresh his or her soul. Some take refuge in the hundreds of little neighborhood parks scattered throughout Guadalajara, while others find themselves refreshed by simply opening their own backdoor to a courtyard.
Fortunate are those who have a house with a courtyard, for here among flowering plants and singing birds the householder may say, along with the Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo: “All of Nature/ speaks to me as I witness each/ moment inhaling quietly.”
Humans have long known—and sought—the restorative power of birdsong and the fragrance of flowers, and a courtyard is often the perfect place to find both.
Not all courtyards are completely hidden from public view. Some can be glimpsed through ornate iron fences, and fortunate are the passersby who pause in their peregrinations to fill their eyes and ears and noses with the sights and sounds and scents emanating from these little sanctuaries, for they will go on their way refreshed and rejoicing.

Little brown sparrow,
the cricket in the courtyard
tries to sing your song.


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved

Guadalajara: Names

 photo IMG_6531.jpg
Miguel (alias “Sin Nombre”) displays his name tag.


My three-week volunteer assignment?
Teaching as much English as I can to a group of sixth-graders at the Salvation Army’s Hogar de Niños in Guadalajara.
How much English is that? Not much, I’m afraid. There’s only so much you can accomplish in an hour a day.
But we do what we can, and because each day’s lesson is punctuated with singing, we have fun doing it.
Monday was the first day of class. I came prepared with name tags, even though I already knew some of the students from last summer.
They grabbed the multi-colored Sharpies® and got right to work. What a relief to be able to call everyone by name!
For three days, I began the class by handing out name tags for the students to decorate and wear. Then Thursday, I didn’t.
Mournful faces! You would have thought I had snatched candy out of their hands just as they were ready to eat it!
“Tomorrow,” I promised. “I’ll bring the name tags tomorrow.”
I did, and they were happy.
And why shouldn’t they be?
A name is the most wonderful sound in the world to the one who bears it. It sounds pretty wonderful to those who love them too.
“Whisper her name at the stars/ and they will shout back, mercy,” Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo writes in his poem “She.”
A name tag is not a star, and it won’t make you a star, but it is a way to hear your name on the lips of someone else.
Your name. The most beautiful sound in the world.

Little brown sparrow,
my phone is now on silent—
will you come to me?


Text and photo © 2017 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved