The Fall Semester Begins: Chihuahua, Mexico

TecOldAndNew

Old and new on the campus of Tec de Monterrey

After finishing delivery of my first course at Georgetown (an elective in their EMBA program; I was sorry to see it end, and really hope they invite me back), Linda drove me to National Airport on Sunday morning, September 8, and I flew to DFW then on to Chihuahua.  I was returning to the Chihuahua campus of Tec de Monterrey, Mexico’s premier engineering and business university (they began in Monterrey, but now have campuses all across the country).  As in 2012, I was invited down for a week as an “academic leader.”  We landed about noon.  It was good to be back in Mexico, a country I’ve known for more than 40 years.  After a quite rigorous customs inspection, I hopped in Miguel’s taxi and rode into town, to the Hotel Casa Grande.  The visit began just like the year before: with a nourishing bowl of caldo tlalpeño, chicken soup with vegetables and a big chipotle pepper.  I wanted a beer, too, but was headed to the gym to ride the exercise bike, so settled for a Coke.  Real Coke, sweetened with sugar.

After 20 miles on the fitness bike and a short nap, I ambled out to the pool, and fell into a wonderful T-t-S moment.  A little girl and her dad were paddling around the pool.  She was staring hard, so after submerging myself I waded over and introduced myself in Spanish.  We proceeded in the local tongue for quite awhile, back and forth with young Paula and Adrian.  After about 15 minutes of me stumbling through my life story and reason for being in Chihuahua en Español, Adrian let on that he lived in Pecos, Texas, and that his family, originally from a small town in Chihuahua state, had been there for decades (they own a drive-through beer store and café with authentic Mexican food).  I really liked that earlier on he didn’t reveal that he spoke English flawlessly!  We had a good yak.  Eight-year-old Paula, who undoubtedly spoke English, never did depart from Español. 

In the course of the conversation, Adrian commented that I was well-traveled, and I agreed, then explained that one of the roots of my wanderlust was learning Spanish in the early 1960s.  So of course I had to explain my grade-school Spanish teacher, Don Miguel, and thank him (regular readers may know of this fellow, explained on my blog, here).  It was a nice moment.

I was asleep early that Sunday night, knowing that it would be a busy week.  And it was, first class at 7:30 Monday morning, three lectures that day.  At seven that evening, I ambled to the Sala de Juegos (game room), where the hotel was offering a free happy hour, with beer, soft drinks, and snacks.  An older fellow, with striking, Indian features, and a younger woman were playing pool.  It was Jesus from Mexico City and Ilsa from Chihuahua, both musicians, French horn and trumpet respectively.  They had spent the day rehearsing for a concert of Mexican music in two days.  Jesus had lived in Houston, Texas, for nine years, and really enjoyed it.  My refrain from the previous week, “I miss Texas,” resonated with him, too.  It was a nice T-t-S moment, playing pool with Jesus!

Back at it Tuesday morning, three more 90-minute talks that day, but first a trip through the ample breakfast buffet at the hotel, a truly great spread.  Each morning I loaded my plate with two kinds of chilaquiles (tortilla chips interlaced with cheese and salsa), refritos (refried beans), and Mexico’s version of hash browns and onions.  Yum, yum, yum.  At 5:30 that afternoon, Javier, a young friend from previous visits, met me at the hotel.  We hopped in a taxi and headed downtown to the oldest bar in Chihuahua, La Antigua Paz.  It was a genuine watering hole, brimming with old stuff – photos of Pancho Villa (who probably tippled there), a Victrola, antique sewing machine, and more.  We were at a table in time for the start of the World Cup qualifying match between Team USA and Mexico.  In no time, five more young friends joined us, and we had a big time drinking beer, eating tacos, and watching the match.  I had to restrain myself each time the USA scored goals, and the other partisans in the bar laughed at my gestures.  It was one of those truly local moments that have made travel such a joy for more than four decades.

All eyes on the Mexico vs. USA match at La Antigua Paz

All eyes on the Mexico vs. USA match at La Antigua Paz

Rain in the desert; it's welcome, but there's some short-term disruption

Rain in the desert; it’s welcome, but there’s some short-term disruption

Wednesday morning dawned wet.  Really wet.  This land had been parched for three years, and the drought broke in July with inches and inches of rain, enough to fill all the reservoirs upon which life in Chihuahua city depends.  Agua es vida.  The local news on TVs in the restaurant featured scenes of flooded streets all over town, and the hotel van splashed through some fairly deep water (18-20” was my guess) on the way to school.  That day sped past, three more talks plus some informal meetings with faculty and staff.  I did have time that afternoon to check out some new stuff on campus, including PIT3 (photo below).  As I noted last year, the Chihuahua state government, Tec de Monterrey, and the local business community are working together to leverage brainpower and lower labor costs to build the regional economy.  It’s the kind of good news story that is hidden behind the usual news fare from Mexico, drugs, gangs, and corruption.

The newest building on campus, PIT3, an innovation and business-incubation center

The newest building on campus, PIT3, an innovation and business-incubation center

The city skyline, from the top of PIT3

The city skyline, from the top of PIT3

After the last lecture ended at 7:30 p.m., my host from 2012, Erika Ramirez, picked me up and we headed to El Retablo, a wonderful place with traditional Mexican fare.  Her husband Fernando arrived separately.  I tucked into a plate of Chiles en nogada, poblano peppers stuffed with finely minced beef and topped with a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds (the dish creates the colors of the Mexican flag, green, white, and red).

"Antes que morir," before I die, I would like to -- and students fill in the blank.

“Antes de morir,” before I die, I would like to — and students fill in the blank.

The last day, Thursday, was the busiest, five talks, with a one-hour telephone consulting engagement wedged in.  Whew.  A young prof, Priscilla Gomez, drove me back to the hotel.  Drank a couple of beers, played pool (by myself that night), and was asleep by 9:30.  Up at 4:45 Friday morning, into Oscar’s taxi to the airport.  The ride afforded the most Spanish practice since Sunday night in the pool, and I enjoyed yakking with him in his language; I do wish I could find two weeks free for an immersion program, but before going back next year – assuming I’m invited again – I’m going to drill on some basic verb conjugations, which is my biggest weakness.

Dawn at the Chihuahua airport

Dawn at the Chihuahua airport

The Sierra Madre Oriental, northeast of Chihuahua

The Sierra Madre Oriental, northeast of Chihuahua

I had a couple of hours at DFW, and did some work.  On my way out of the Admirals Club in Terminal C, I ran into a longtime American Airlines colleague, Gail Sloane, who told me she now runs the four clubs at the big airport.  We had a good catch up, and after I gave her a big hug and said goodbye, I was reminded of what a joy it was to work with so many fine people over the years.  Airline people are special.

I was home by 6:30, Henry and MacKenzie jumping for joy at my return.  I didn’t have the heart to tell them I’d be leaving again in three days.  Woof!

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