Thursday, March 5, 2009

new blog!

The wedding was just wonderful! Many of you were there, and we thank you so much for coming to celebrate our special day with us. We had a great time, and felt everything was just perfect. We couldn't have been happier.  Thanks especially to family and friends for your help. Gary Finlinson was particularly kind in letting us use his home/yard. The weather cooperated well, making the outdoor reception just beautiful. Live music by Aaron and Rusty was also fabulous!

So between marriage, family time, Church stuff, the internship, the dissertation, applying for jobs, and helping put together a July conference in Mexico City, I have not found time to blog! It's a shame because I sure enjoy it. Taryn, on the other hand, is documenting the first weeks and months of our married life at She's doing a great job, and has a few fun posts. I am going to try to contribute to it more as well. 

Entonces, any of you interested in reading fun tangents about our newly-wed life, please add to your list of fav blogs. We'll upload more pics from our wedding as soon as they come in. 


Monday, December 22, 2008


So I know 7 months is an extremely long lull in a blog. Sorry about that. Life has been busy.

My transition back to Arizona couldn’t have possibly brought more happiness into my life. As a majority of you know, on September 20th, I asked Taryn Platt to be my wife. She said yes, and I couldn’t be more excited! She is wonderful, and everything I’ve dreamed of in a friend, wife, and (future) mother to the children we’ll raise. Any of you reading this blog will likely have received the below invitation and picture in the mail over the past few weeks. If not, it was an oversight. Please consider this your invitation to join us on Saturday, January 3rd at our garden reception.

Our friend Gary Finlinson has offered his yard to us on our special weekend. Weather permitting, we’ll have an outdoor lunch and program starting at noon. If it’s rainy, we’ll have the reception indoors at a nearby church building. Driving directions will be available at Gary’s place.

Boos-boos are abundant in my life. So you shouldn’t be surprised that I misspelled Gary’s street on our invitation. It’s “McLellan”, not “McClellan”. Below is a map to his home.

Taryn and I will live in downtown Phoenix at least until the summer. We’re renting a cute apartment on Central and Roosevelt, a stone’s throw from the light rail, which opens in a few days (yeah!). We’re both graduating in May (knock on wood) and are looking for jobs all over the country, even considering some outside of the U.S.
With so many things up in the air, it’s hard to decide right now what theme I should ascribe to this blog. I enjoyed using it as a way to stay in touch with many of you and to share my thoughts and experiences while I was in Mexico. I liked structuring the blog around a theme, so I’ll have to continue to consider what theme to use now…I’ll keep thinking about it. Perhaps Taryn would like to write with me. We’ll keep you posted (double meaning)…

In the mean time, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Eid al-Adha!

Con cariño, bryant
p.s., there are more engagement pictures available online for those interested. Jessica is our photographer -- she's wonderful!!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dad in Mexico

A few weeks ago I had my second (and it looks like my last) visitor come to spend some time with me in Mexico: my dad!! We had a great time! For me, it was a melding of two worlds. I love to spend time chatting and just hanging out with my dad, and by now you should know I absolutely love Mexico--the people, food, culture, history, sights, etc. Before this trip my dad had little experience with Mexican life (beyond some visits to border areas). I had a great time talking with him about Mexico, and watching him respond to new experiences.

Toward the end of our trip I thought it would be cool if my pops were to post an entry on my blog about his stay. He's been really busy with work stuff, but agreed to do it anyway. Thanks dad!!

Here is what he sent me just a few hours ago:

Some of you know in April Bryant and I spent 5 days together in Mexico. While it was wonderful to have Bryant’s undivided attention for that time – and of course be in his “home turf” – I have to tell you that it was strange to have to depend on my son to get around. It seems it wasn’t many years ago the roles were reversed. This was the foundation of what turned out to be 5 days of learning new levels of humility, appreciating a different culture, and gaining additional patience.

No matter where we were, Bryant showed his finely developed skill of making new friends. It didn’t matter if they were street people or “white collar” professionals, Bryant could have them chatting as if they were best of acquaintances in minutes. To be honest, part of this was because of the general graciousness that seemed to be inherent in the diverse socio-economic groups of Mexican people we met (maybe he set this all up to impress me – I wonder how much it cost him!?!?!?). This is where the patience came in. A mono-lingual gringo can only take so much gibbering in a foreign language. Of course I tried to follow along – but they kept using more than the 25-30 Spanish words I know. How rude of them! Actually the rude one was me. After spending hours (and even days) of hearing nothing but Spanish, an occasional “thank-you” or “excuse me” would slip out of my mouth (much to Bryant’s chagrin) – showing how I had a hard time changing to their culture instead of assuming (inadvertently of course) they should change to mine.

Here’s a pic of Bryant making great conversation with an “Aztec dancer” we just met at zócalo square.

While I was impatiently wondering why 15 minutes wasn’t long enough to finish a conversation with a stranger, I was able to tour all of ancient Aztec “Mexico City”. As you may know, this city was originally built on a lake. I think this scale model represents a drought year!

Sometimes, however, these lengthy conversations with strangers yielded some very valuable information – like the time Bryant asked directions from 2 separate individuals to a Pacific coastal town that we needed to get to take advantage of some hotel reservations at what our travel book described as a bit of “remote paradise”. Both of these strangers reported the same thing – since we were traveling at night, the only highway that was a direct route to our destination was littered with bad guys who carried guns and liked to rob people. After a short discussion Bryant and I decided that our remote destination wasn’t really that important.

Soooo anyway after a lot of driving and spending all afternoon in Taxco (that was another great experience), we ended up after a wrong turn in downtown Acapulco in the midst of a ton of traffic. Since I was tired I wasn’t much of a co-pilot. Not having a map of downtown Acapulco didn’t help either. Bryant in his ever optimistic attitude helped to ease the frustration we had driving around in what appeared to be circles in this famous “intimate” resort town of 700,000 people. Once again as I looked past my perceived levels of discomfort, there was much to observe in this fascinating diverse culture. Learning to seize the moment (i.e., “here I am in deep Mexico surrounded by a strange yet charming people that look and act so very different than what I am used to”) brought a feeling of being fortunate to witness such things.

Finally we get back on the highway and continue to find plenty of traffic (probably because they pay less for gas than we do). After another hour or so, we pull off and asked someone at a roadside hammock “super store” (I’ve never seen so many hammocks) a good place to get a hotel room. Conveniently, we are next to a left turn that if we traveled “a ½ hour or so” we should find some “hotels”. Its almost 10:00 at night so we say “whatever” and head down the left turn. Now mind you we have spent nearly 14 hours on mostly 2 lane highways (we were too cheap to take the toll roads). WE WERE TIRED! After what felt to be a very long ½ hour the road ends and we are forced to turn left again (we had to because of the ocean). Where were the hotels? The one sign to a hotel yielded a closed building. We drove a little further to a “restaurant”.

(imagine finding this in the dark)

Surprisingly, they were still opened and were willing to cook up some delicious food. For those of you who love Mexican food, there is nothing like the real thing. We asked them to recommend a good place to stay. We were told to contact the owner of the “hotel” behind us. Bryant woke him up and 2 of his 3 rooms were available. We took one. He wanted payment in advance. I think he didn’t trust us. We got 2 double beds and a private bath for $35. After checking into our very clean room, we decided to explore the loud thunder-like booms that we heard coming from the ocean. In the moonlight, they appeared to be 100 foot waves. Not really, but you know what I mean. We found hammocks (surprise!)

The next morning the somewhat suspicious hotel owner became a fabulous host. When we asked him if we could have some coconut milk, he harvested one right then, whacked its head off and served it up with ice and a straw. He then refused to take any payment!

After that he offered to give us a tour of the area in his car. All for no charge – he just wanted to be a courteous host! After driving a short distance he showed us this beautiful fresh water lagoon (it was walking distance really) used for all water sports including water and jet skiing.

He told us it was snake and crocodile free. We didn’t swim in this gorgeous lagoon, but we did in the Pacific Ocean. It felt like bath water (in April no less). In fact it felt warmer than that same ocean ever felt in California in the middle of summer. The waves were big.

While this is only one of many most memorable experiences Bryant and I had, it was one of our favorites. All the people we met in this hidden Mexican resort area were very gracious. Our host told us it is rare that Americans come there. He said most of his guests are Mexican. No 4 or 5 star hotels there – just wonderful locals who show a genuine interest in serving their guests.

These 5 days turned out to be some of the most enjoyable days of my life. While discovering paradise with Bryant was fun, it was the new appreciation of a culture and people that has left the most lasting impression.

Love to all, Bart Jensen

Sunday, March 30, 2008

badgers at Tepoztlán

So I am beginning to feel my time running out in Mexico. I only have about two months left, which means for those of you considering a visit would have to come out soon if you'd like me to show you around! A few weeks ago, Taryn decided to take me up on the offer. We had a great time together, and in just four and a half days were able to visit four states, attend the 50th anniversary of the elementary school in Santiago Xalizintla, visit with friends, eat a variety of foods (including dried grasshoppers!), climb a pyramid atop a large mountain, explore the world-famous anthropological museum, and see other notable sights in Mexico City.

The pyramid we climbed is called Tepozteco, which overlooks an enchanting town called Tepoztlán. Below is a shot of the two of us in front of the pyramid, and another from Tepozteco with the town and valley behind us.

While sitting on Tepozteco and just enjoying the view, I told Taryn about the last time I was there in 2004, and some strange looking animals, called tejones, I had seen up there. After descending from the pyramid, there they were again--the creepy Mexican badgers. The man at the snack shop said we could feed them peanuts he had for sale. We thought that sounded fun, so we bought a small package of cacahuates japoneses. Little did we know that once we opened the package the badgers would practically trample us to get their share. I held the package and was freaking out that in any given moment one of the badgers would leap on my chest to get the peanuts, meanwhile Taryn was having a grand time, laughing and taking pictures during my time of crisis. :-)

Below are some of the pics she took.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

chilangos vs. tapatíos

So it's been a while since my last entry. Sorry about that. I was home in AZ for Christmas and New Year's and loved spending a good deal of time with family and friends who I care for dearly. It has taken me some time to get back into the swing of things here in Mexico, but I am glad to be back. In several conversations with people in AZ I referred to Mexico City as "home", and I really do feel that way. Right now this is my home and will be until I end my stay in June or so.

At 10 pm Thursday night (day before yesterday) I got aboard one of two buses on their way to Guadalajara. I went with some 80 other Latter-day Saints (or "Mormons") to the Guadalajara Temple (actually in the neighboring municipality of Zapopan). Mexico City has an LDS temple as well (there are currently 12 temples in Mexico), but it is closed and under reconstruction for the next several months. Because Mormons like to go to temples (which are different from chapels, where we attend Sunday services) as often as possible, a bunch of us decided it would be a good idea to rent a few buses, go to Guadalajara, spend the day at the temple, and come right back home. So that's what we did.

I knew the drive would be long and that I might not sleep much, so I came prepared--brought plenty of snacks, some books, Sudoku puzzles, and my journal. Fifteen minutes or so out I thought I'd get at it. One problem: the light switch above my head didn't work. In fact, no one's light worked. Thankfully a friend of mine brought a head lamp and loaned it to me. That was a lot of fun to use. I felt a little like a miner.

Then the second problem: the bus was quickly heating up, so much so the windows were dripping wet with condensation. When I could bear the heat no longer (the fact that the only top I had on was a sweater didn't help much) I decided to approach the chauffeur and kindly ask him to please, please turn on the air. I don't think he was happy about it (air conditioning uses gas) but he complied.

The rest of the ride there and back--some 17 hours in all--was great. Comfortable seats, good company, and good food.

This was my second time to Guadalajara (Mexico's second largest city with some 4 million people in the Metropolitan area, compared to Mexico City's 20 million). My first time there was in 2004 when I visited my brother Jacob during his missionary service. From this time forward I heard on occasion that people from Guadalajara (known as tapatíos) don't like people from Mexico City (known as chilangos) and vice versa. Between temple sessions, on a taxi ride to visit downtown Guadalajara with a married couple from Mexico City, I decided to bring up the issue. I thought I would take advantage of a 20-minute car ride with two chilangos and one tapatío. As an American, I could claim neutrality :-)

First, I should say that all three were cordial discussing the topic. Yet, at the same time, they were forceful to highlight the virtues of there respective cities. Realizing I pitted an uneven battle--two against one--I began to side with our driver. I said, "Yeah, Guadalajara is nice; look at the great architecture, the clear sky, and there's a lot less traffic here--plus, mariachi is from Guadalajara, right?" My comment only increased the intensity of the debate (probably my intention; conniving, I know). While they didn't disagree mariachi music has become a cultural icon of Guadalajara and Jalisco generally, they strongly debated its origins. Actually, I'm not sure anyone with certainty knows where it originated. But it was a lot of fun to watch the chilangos and the tapatío go at it. They gave some substance to this notion that chilangos and tapatíos don't get along. I couldn't help but find it all very entertaining.

Below are a few pics I took of downtown Guadalajara. The last one is of my two chilango friends (Jessica and Ramiro) and me eating lunch. Among other things, we had tortas ahogadas, which are indisputably tapatío :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

route to Xalizintla

Before coming to Mexico my plan was to see as much of the country as possible. I wanted to understand better not only its geographic complexity but more importantly I wanted to get to know its diverse people better. My research has facilitated this. In addition to crunching numbers, reading, and writing in a cubicle here in the city, at the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluacion de la Educacion, I am able to visit three primary schools on a regular basis--one in the state of Puebla, one in Morelos, and the other here in Mexico City. During these visits I collect information about various features that contribute to the literacy development of third-grade students. So far I have observed in classrooms, talked with children, followed them throughout their school day, and I've interviewed parents, principals, and teachers. Because the schools and socioeconomic conditions between them are so different, children's learning opportunities are as well. The point of the research is to highlight important differences/similarities in learning outcomes and opportunities between school types in Mexico--private, morning public, and afternoon public schools.

The morning public school is in a small town called Xalizintla. The first time I went there I was accompanied by a friend of a friend who works at the secondary school there, but lives in Puebla (City), the state capital. He introduced me to the principal, teachers, and some of the children at the elementary school in Xalizintla. They were curious about what would bring a gringo all this way to their town, but were also very cordial and accommodating. After explaining my project to them, they committed their support to me throughout the rest of the school year to carry out my project.

There are very obvious differences between small towns like these and urban sectors, like the one I live in. The first thing I noticed was the tranquility, and the beautiful cathedral in the center of town. On my first visit, a fair celebrating the life of a famous saint (I believe it was San Miguel) had been held only a few days prior, and hundreds of colorful flags streaming from the top of the cathedral all the way to the ground were an inviting welcome.

I am trying to get to know the town and its history a bit better. From what I have been told Xalizintla has experienced a great deal of outward migration over the past 15 years or so. I haven't seen many men in the streets as with other areas. Many of those I do see are older, and many are drunk. I guess alcoholism has been a problem. Many women take care of the children and grandchildren while the fathers, grandfathers, or other family members live as migrant workers in urban areas of Mexico or in the United States. Often they send home remittances to provide for their families. This money is also used to build local infrastructure.

Xalizintla's "exodus" is apparent in the elementary school. The school grounds are relatively large (compared to others I've seen), but there are now classrooms unused, and the afternoon school shift (or turno vespertino, where children attend school on the same grounds from 2-7 pm instead of the morning) had to close 8-9 years ago because there weren't enough children to meet enrollment demands. To date, the average class size in Xalizintla is 25 children or so while the norm in urban public schools is 40-45, and often more.

Many of the children at this school live in very difficult economic circumstances. It is made obvious by the condition of their clothes. Yet they are happy, and alive in every sense of the word. Historical trends suggest that less than half will finish secondary school, and a vast majority won't complete high school--la preparatoria. Some won't complete all six years of elementary school. Yet by their general mood and the way they openly engage me in discussion I don't sense them to be cynical or discouraged. The appear very happy and comfortable at school. They love life and are quite engaging. I am excited to learn more about their daily lives during this school year, and how schooling and learning are (and can be) linked with a broader array of life opportunities for them and their posterity.

During my first visit to Xalizintla, the community president, between his tequila sipping, told me about an alternative route from Mexico City. Instead of driving through Puebla City, I could cut between Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl (two well-known volcanoes, also known as Gregorio and Rosita, respectively) using a dirt road. This is now my preferred route. I leave my Mexico City apartment around 6 am and drive through Chalco, Amecameca, and then on a windy, paved road to the peak between the volcanoes, called Paso de Cortés. From there it is all dirt road--or terracería--until arriving to Xalizintla. My first time through I got a little lost and came upon a quaint vacation spot in the mountains--a beautiful place in the forest called Buena Vista. I've been to Xalizintla three times now and have taken some pics during the drive. Here are some of them...

Between Amecameca and Paso de Cortés

Views of Popocatépetl
(in my opinion the more photogenic of the two volcanoes)

Fields of Puebla
(these flowers are very popular during the Day of the Dead celebration)


Overlooking Mexico City following a recent trip to Morelos

Monday, October 15, 2007

la mordida

So, I now have less than a year before I reach my 30s--depressing, I know. I had my 29th birthday a few Saturdays ago, on October 6th. Thanks to those who called and/or sent emails. I didn't really do much to celebrate--didn't tell too many people here in Mexico it was my birthday. But some friends from Church found out and decided we'd celebrate with some cake.

After singing me las mañanitas, they all chanted, mordida! mordida! mordida!, in unison. They wanted me to take a bite from the cake. Not a bite from a slice of the cake, but a bite from a top corner of it. I suppose it's a tradition. Showing my willingness to concede to their insistent demands, I walked toward the cake to take my mordida. As I approached it, however, I quickly became hesitant noticing several in the group subtly approaching me. Then I remembered something about people getting their face stuffed in the cake on their birthday. I knew they were planning to do the same to me. Pero ni modo, I took my bite anticipating someone would shove the back of my head into the cake. And so it was. Nothing like reliving your first birthday getting cake all over your face. I felt a little better about the ordeal when I saw a video of my nephew Elias and his birthday cake the following day. He seems to have enjoyed it more than I did :-) Below is a shot of me and my cake after the mordida, and after I cleaned my face a bit.