Anas Saba
Anas Saba
Mexico, 2022
Hi! My name is Anas Saba, I will be working with a social enterprise in Mexico City called Someone Somewhere. They are a lifestyle apparel brand that provides work for rural artisan women. Looking forward to sharing this experience with you all! Read More About Anas →

Tacos, trees, and Traveling with Humility

Wow, it’s hard to believe a whole month has passed since I have gotten to Mexico! Over the last couple of weeks, I have had the chance to connect with my coworkers, contribute to some awesome projects, and attend our annual reforestation. More on that later!

In life outside of work, I have continued to enjoy connecting with street vendors and small business owners. One of my favorite places is a plant based “seafood” taco stand, named Paxil. When I make a connection with small business owner, I love to offer a free photography session. Back in Nashville, it’s what I do for work, but in Mexico I like to use photography as a way to connect with the local community.

I met the sisters who run Paxil after being recommended to them from a vendor at a local market. They are super sweet and make such delicious food! They were curious about how I learned Spanish. As I shared with them a bit of my story, we got into the topic of the impact of foreigners from North America and Europe in Mexico City. It is a topic that has been getting a lot of attention lately. With many people working fully remote, they have been leaving large American cities where rent is expensive to go to trending areas in Mexico City where their dollar goes further. Subsequently, rent has gone up in these areas, as people from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York rent apartments here at a fraction of the cost of their previous places.

Prior to coming to Mexico City, I thought deeply about what my presence and impact as an American means here. The issue is much deeper than the cost of rent going up in these areas (areas that in general, were already expensive). The other, more insidious issue is an exploitative and entitled mindset that some of the people who come to live in Mexico City possess. In my short time here, I have personally witnessed foreigners being rude to locals in restaurant settings for not speaking English or not speaking English well enough. Many Mexicans have shared how these sorts of interactions are uncomfortable, belittling, and overall hurtful.

You certainly don’t have to travel outside the country to come across demanding and entitled people. However, I think it’s important when traveling to approach new communities with humility and a desire to learn from locals. Especially as Americans, when we travel to developing countries, we may be coming from a higher socio-economic position than locals we interact with, especially in the tourism and hospitality industries. It is important to be generous, polite, and understanding, especially if it has to do with people not speaking English. I am curious to hear any thoughts and opinions on this in the comments!

A week after meeting the owners at Paxil, I came back to take some photos of them and the food! Attached some of my favorites below.

At work, I have been helping the creative and marketing team with product shoots, copywriting, marketing for the U.S. channels. It brings me so much joy to see how Someone Somewhere helps lift artisans in rural communities out of poverty by working with them to create unique products and a stable work environment.  Last weekend, I joined the team on an annual reforestation day they do with a couple other organizations based in Mexico City. We were part of 300 volunteers who planted 3000 trees! The place was beautiful and I got to connect with my coworkers. It made waking up at 5 AM worth it. Attaching some photos below!

Planning a trip with my coworkers to one of the artisan communities we work this week, looking forward to sharing my next entry!

 

Settling in!

Two weeks in Mexico have flown by! On my flight here, I couldn’t believe how fast my time in Nashville went, and how soon I was going to be landing in Mexico. The pandemic caused me to cherish my time with my family more, so as I excited as I felt about starting this chapter in Mexico City that I have been dreaming about for years, I left wishing I had more time to share in Nashville.

I arrived in the Mexico City airport in a t-shirt and shorts—escaping one hundred degree humid summer days in Nashville and forgetting it would be cold and rainy this time of year in CDMX. For someone who was sad to leave home, it wasn’t the best weather to walk into. Feeling mopey, I knew I had to remind myself why I came to Mexico and reignite the spark I had for my time here.

Pozole is one of the most iconic dishes of Mexico. This traditional stew is often prepared for important celebrations, weekend family gatherings, and national holidays, especially September 15: the start of Mexican Independence Day celebrations. The three main varieties are pozole blanco, verde, and rojo, the color being determined by the chiles used (or lack of chiles in the case of pozole blanco). To get myself out of my funk, I went straight from the airport to La Casa de Toño to order my personal favorite: pozole rojo with chicken. La Casa de Toño is a popular chain where you can get pozole all year round. While it’s no homemade pozole made with love by someone’s abuelita, it hit the spot that day and nourished me in all the right ways. The next day, I felt so excited to get settled in and start my work with Someone Somewhere in a few days.

One of the key ingredients of Pozole is hominy, which gives it its hearty properties. It is typically garnished with shredded lettuce, radish, and oregano. Usually served with tostadas and crema as well.

After picking up my things from a friend who let me store my large items while I was back in Nashville (thanks Brian!), I spent my first couple days exploring the city, neighborhood, and meeting up with some friends. I reassembled my bike and have been using it as my primary means of transportation. Traffic is notoriously bad in Mexico City, even inside neighborhoods, so I am thankful to have my bike to move freely. It’s also a great way to wake me up on my commute to work, especially since the early mornings here get quite chilly.

While I had started my work with Someone Somewhere remotely a week before coming to Mexico, I was excited to finally go to the office and meet my coworkers in person. Someone Somewhere is a lifestyle apparel brand that works with artisans in rural areas of Mexico to create products such as t-shirts, travel bags, windbreakers, etc. You can learn more about them in this video.

On my first day in person, I was shown around the office, met some of my coworkers, and had an orientation session. Everything was going great! While I was between meetings, I saw I had a missed call and some messages from my sister. When I opened my messages, to my unfortunate surprise, I learned she had called to tell me she tested positive for COVID 🙁

I immediately left the office to get tested and texted my coworkers letting them know my situation. A few hours later, my test came back positive too. I went back to working remotely while I quarantined in my apartment. It wasn’t how I had planned to spend my first full week in Mexico City, but with some UberEats orders and some binge-watching, I was able to get through it. Thankfully I had very mild symptoms, and I fully recovered.

After I was able to leave my quarantine, it was nice to people watch at parks and see these dogs enjoying a dip in the fountain 🙂

After I was cleared to go back to the office, I started settling into a routine, signing up at a local gym, and finding my favorite street eats. At Someone Somewhere, I help a lot with their U.S. market communications, whether that’s their U.S. website, social media, or email campaigns. It’s been very fulfilling to feel that I am contributing meaningfully to an organization dedicated to making a positive social impact. My coworkers and managers have fully supported me to be creative, and I really appreciate that they value my work and encourage me to test out new ideas.

I look forward to sharing more about my work, how I am adjusting to life here, the local food scene and the relationships I have built with street vendors on my next post!

Three of many street tacos I have had in my short time here so far!

Getting ready for Mexico City!

I am starting my Lumos award in Mexico City on June 28th. I have just spent nine months in Mexico in the city of Querétaro, completing an English Teaching Assistantship grant. I arrived back in Nashville at the beginning of June, giving myself four weeks to spend time with family, get some rest, get some work done for my food tour business, and stare in amazement on how much Nashville has changed in the nine months I was gone.

Amongst the many things I have learned in the last two years, it’s that things don’t always go according to the we planned, for better or for worse. When I planned my trip back home, I had planned on having a whole month to spend with my parents and sister, who had been in Yemen visiting my grandparents since March. Due to complications with travel in and out of Yemen with the ongoing civil war, they were not able to come back to Tennessee until the third week of June.

While many of my siblings and extended family live in Nashville, those first three weeks in Nashville made me question: is Nashville still home for me if my parents aren’t here? Nashville is changing so fast, and not all the change has been for the better. As I spent more time in the city, saw my friends, family, and went back to my favorite spots, I remembered more of why Nashville will always be home to me. It’s not and likely never will be a cosmopolitan destination like a New York, Chicago, or LA, but it’s still a place where communities have formed to make a home. In the different neighborhoods of Nashville, you see different enclaves where immigrant groups have put their restaurants, grocery stores, houses of worship. From almost anywhere in Nashville, you can access a beautiful green space in fifteen minutes or less. And not to mention, the food scene is incredible, if you know where to look.

On the flip side, the pandemic also changed the sequence of my plans with Fulbright and Lumos. I had originally planned to do Lumos first immediately after graduating in May 2020, and then the Fulbright after. I am so glad that I was able to do the Fulbright first now. I don’t think I fully prepared to take on Mexico City and my project here prior to my Fulbright experience. I feel as prepared now as I ever could be going into a new program and a city with a metropolitan population over twenty million. My Fulbright placement, Querétaro, is only two hours away from Mexico City, so I was able to come to Mexico City often during my grant. As one would expect, in nine months in Mexico my Spanish improved immensely and I now have no issues communicating. That’s not to say that I am not constantly learning still of course! One aspect about Mexico I have come to appreciate so much is the regional differences and diversity. With that, each region has their own colloquialisms and slang that has added so much richness to my conversations with locals.

While I could use another four weeks in Nashville, I am going into this next project feeling prepared, grateful, and excited for a new experience in one of the most culturally rich cities in the world!