Video Game Driving

15 Feb

If I were not a technological dinosaur, I would currently be raking in the dough from the brilliant video game I’d have made called “Driving in Small Town Mexico.” (Okay, maybe I need a catchier name.) As it is, however, I’m just wasting gas money living in my video game reality, trying to get from Point A to Point B without any accidents.

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Driving with Abuelo 

Of course everyone driving anywhere is trying to do so accident-free. But if you’re accustomed to driving in the US, or some other place where there are rules and infrastructure relevant to driving, then you don’t really understand. Let me tell you a little about what my video game would look like. Remember, however, this is not a video game; this is actually a surreal, daily, real-life experience. Woo hoo!

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Khalil practicing hailing a taxi 

You’re in the heart of the “city,” and you’re dealing with all this: A man pushing a wheelbarrow full of papaya in the street, in the lane of traffic beside the parked cars, going in the opposite direction of traffic! Speed bump! People parked halfway in the lane of traffic! A woman with a big bicycle push-cart selling fruit flavored water, with a toddler riding on top as well! Speed bump! People parked fully in the lane of traffic, with emergency blinkers on! Huge groups of teenagers leaving school with a dizzying array of junk food- popsicles, fried tacos, candy, homemade chip-like salty greasy food, homemade donuts (Don’t look! Don’t hit any of them even when they walk directly in front of your car! Remain in the middle of the intersection trying to turn despite oncoming traffic!) A motorcycle that’s swerving in and out of traffic! Speed bump! A grown woman that just decided to cross the street without looking in either direction beforehand! Another motorcycle with four people on it, also nearly crashing! A truck full of dubiously precarious bricks that look like they’re about to come crashing down on top of someone any minute! Speed bump! A bulldozer going .05 miles an hour! All of the other cars trying to go around the bulldozer even though there’s not space to safely do so! Speed bump! 

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photo from bigskysouthernsky blog on wordpress. This is one kind of speed bump around here. There are several types, and there are really EVERYWHERE. 

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A bicycle cart- image from Google. 

At the big intersections, you must avoid hitting any of the people standing or walking essentially in the middle of the road! The people selling pineapple juice, the people trying to wash your windshield in exchange for spare change, the traveler kids hula hooping or spinning fire for spare change, the just-out-of-the-hospital folks asking for help on crutches or with pee bags hanging out of their clothes or other major noticeable health problems, the occasional small child walking through the stopped cars selling something useless, the people in the middle of the road just trying to cross the damn busy street. Green light! Those traffic lights are great, let me tell you.

In other parts of town, however, there is the dilemma over who has the right away at many unmarked, stop-light-free, sign-free intersection. Often you know that you have the right-of-way, but does the car coming up the other street believe that as well? Who is going to stop? Then there are the intersections where neither street is bigger or more trafficked than the other, so who has any idea who has the right-away? I don’t. I drive slowly and cross my fingers a lot. At some intersections, it’s unclear even which part of the road is the lane for each direction, particularly when there are three different possible roads to turn down at the intersection. (Who planned these roads, anyway? Some of them appear to have been done by some haphazardly working drunk.) This is why there is a lot of praying on the road in Mexico. This is why there are so many religious objects in people’s cars, in taxis, even on public buses. Every day that you don’t crash is a small miracle.

But wait! The game continues! To arrive home, you must drive through a neighborhood. You might think you’re in the country, what with the dirt road once you get a couple blocks away from the main road. But you’re really less than 2 miles from downtown. There’s a one lane bridge: who goes first? Will the motorcyclist want to play chicken? Speed bump! Dog in the road! Chicken in the road! Toddler in the road! Speed bump made out of dirt! Big dip in the road- slow down! Really old guy pushing his ice cream cart in the road! Surprise dirt speed bump somebody must have made while you were out! Children out with their mama’s errand bag in the road! A big curve in the road where you can’t see an oncoming car because someone built a giant fence around their house at such a perfect angle! A whole herd of goats! More children! Slippery mud because somebody’s washing clothes and there’s nowhere else for the water to go! More adults in the road! Another car- scoot over because there’s barely enough room for both of you! 

I think that in the video game, the objective will be the same as my real-life objective: get where you are going as fast as you can without any accidents- not even a chicken hurt. Would you like this game? Should I invest? Would you, or do you, like the thrills of driving in small town Mexico? Where have you driven (or ridden around) where it feels like a wild video game?

Here’s a map of Puerto Escondido to give you an idea of the layout.

Watch out for children and piñatas in the road at all times!

Adaptation, Take 957… Action!

23 Jan

Our first week back I kind of wanted to poke my eyeballs out from all the stress and upheaval. Who signed me up for all this moving? Who thought it was a good idea to be multinational? This is too overwhelming! And then I remembered, oops! It was me that made those decisions. Alas.

By the second week back I still kind of wanted to go ahead and pour myself a drink at 10am, but I resisted, remembering that I am a billionaire rock star when it comes to adaptation (minus the billions). So I did what I do best and cranked out an even longer-than-normal list of things to be grateful for. I won’t bore you with the whole thing (you don’t need to know just how happy it makes me to never watch TV, for example), but here are some highlights for you.

Family and Feeding Time!
Finally, Conan can share the joy of being woken up early in the morning to somebody crawling on him or attempting to pull him out of bed with a crane truck. “It’s morning time, Papi. Let’s get up!” says Khalil as I laugh diabolically over my coffee cup.

Conan’s mom, the famous “Abia” (Lucia’s early mispronunciation of Abuela), spent a week in town with us, with promises of more time soon. The kids also have access to cousins, aunts and uncles galore. Mostly this means everyone is overfeeding us and the kids are running around barefoot without folks giving them dirty looks. I can’t complain. In the first two weeks we’ve already had most of our favorite local foods: mole, tamales, chepiles, all the best salsas, gaujes, chilaquiles, and like a million kilos of fresh tortillas. Now just to bide our time until mangos are practically free.

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Papi Time

My future engineer/construction worker
Khalil’s first day back here, he took one look at our dirt road and started questioning his papa about it. “Why is it so bumpy? They didn’t do a good job.” He is relentless in his incredulity over the state of our roads. Everywhere he goes he lets us know about it. He gets out his trucks and insists he’s gonna “fix all the roads.”  “This is not a good road. I’m going to move all the rocks. I need to flatten this road.” All the time. Every day. With all the road repairs in the works for the upcoming elections (repairs which cause road blocks and won’t be done for months, if ever), I am praying that Khalil’s trucks and his ingenuity can actually do the trick. Regardless, his determination makes me happy consistently.

My five year old socialite
It’s been all socializing, all the time since we landed. Our first week back the kids were already invited to a kid’s birthday party (a pool party, no less). They’ve had cousins over and gone to cousins’ houses. Lucia, particularly, is invited to two different neighbors’ houses to play pretty much on the daily. She’s had friends over from school, and of course invited the neighbors to her house. She’s especially thrilled with her bestie Alin, the slightly older girl across the street. Lucia’s making up for lost social time all those months when she wasn’t in school and there were no other kids in the apartment complex outside playing. At last, she has to pencil in her introvert time on the agenda instead of having an over-abundance of alone time!

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warm ocean water year round: yay!!!

 

The School Sent from Heaven
The kids’ first day back at their dream school, we met the new teachers for this year. The principal/director of the school made sure to send me pictures of the kids playing happily and let me know a few details of their adjustment. (How cool is that? Are you jealous yet?) When I went to pick them up, the teachers filled me in on the rest. “Don’t send any more diapers,” the lead teacher told me. “He went on the potty today. Just send some extra shorts or underwear instead.” I hesitated, and admitted, “Well, he always asks to poop on the potty, but he’s not totally potty trained about pee.”
“It’s fine,” she waved me off. “If he pees we can just clean it up. It’s too hot to be in diapers if they don’t need to be.” Where else do you get that kind of attitude about potty training at school?

Two weeks later, Khalil is potty trained. Plus, my kids are well taken care of, having a blast, and most importantly, out of my hair, for several hours a day!

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Khalil in hog heaven at school 

 

And me? Just Here Taking All the Vitamin D
Don’t tell the immigration officials around here, but I am here to soak up ALL Y’ALL’S sunshine, dear Puerto natives.

Did I mention that immigration officials here are about the nicest people ever to have worked in a position of bureaucracy? Seriously. They are soooo nice and understanding, I am thinking about learning to bake just to go thank them.

But back to my sunshine. Not having an all-day full-time job means I get to run errands on my bicycle! Being back in Puerto means riding on the back of my friend’s scooter. It means rocking out to my CDs in the car with all the windows down, with a backseat full of small children on carpool days. It means sunglasses are my most prized daily possession. It doesn’t even matter that my fancy hair product is no match against the humidity and the breeze!

Most of all, I have proved to myself once again how necessary it is to have community, and to maintain my gratitude practice. The first week back of constant chaos and doubts, plus the lack of set plans for both short and long term future, just about crushed my little soul for a second there. But damn was the sunshine great! Damned if I didn’t take advantage of my unemployment to walk around by the beach while the kids were at school one afternoon. Damned if I didn’t find a way to get some moments of peace and joy and appreciation for so many things, amidst the chaos and doubt and indecision and scarcity. Because I’m supported by the best folks in the world. Because gratitude is work that’s always worth it. Because the sun in Puerto is always shining for me.

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A surprise, too-short visit from my favorite resident of Oaxaca City!!!!! The love! The joy! The gratitude! 

Back and Forth and Homes Galore

8 Jan

We’re back! To bare feet on concrete floors. To the happy Jehovah’s Witness’ music pouring in our windows all day on Sunday. To salt tacos, because the handmade tortillas hot off the comal can’t wait for the breakfast to be ready. To coconut water straight from the coconut tree. To trucks that drive by selling oranges or propane or tortillas or drinking water. To men that come to your door with machetes to cut the overgrown weeds in the yard. To dirt roads where dogs and children roam free. To iguanas and crowing roosters and herds of goats for neighbors. To lighting the stove with matches and the absence of a microwave. To clothes hanging from the line. To only cold water in the shower. To not needing lights during daytime because the sun streams in through the over-sized windows that take up nearly half of each wall. To tank tops and cut-off shorts and walking around dancing from all the energy the heat gives me.

All this, less than twenty four hours since our return to the alternate universe that is our life in Puerto Escondido. We’re just two days and three airplanes away from the alien world called Savannah, Georgia- the one we grew accustomed to after six months. One day back here, though, and it’s hard to believe that we were just living in the United States. You can tell, though, by the fancy toothbrushes the kids have now (the electric kind Lucia begged me for, which I justified when Khalil’s speech therapist suggested it), and “whatever that thing is that you’re charging,” said Conan. I have a hair product for the first time in my life (to minimize the frizz, y’all). The kids have their own Kindle (there’s not much access to books here). The kids have a bunch of clothes that are not hand-me-downs (we don’t know that many people in Savannah yet). We might have slightly fancier stuff than when we left, but I’m sure we are not too fancy, even if I might have hollered a little at the slightly chilly water this morning.

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Air travel, by Lucia and Papi

There will be some adapting to do, though. The most obvious of which will be language for the kids. Keeping up with their Spanish proved harder than I thought. My plan was to speak it with them daily, for at least an hour a day, and slowly switch over to speaking 90% Spanish with them. However, between working part-time, homeschooling Lucia/being a stay-at-home parent with them both during the day, learning sign language, taking Khalil to speech therapy three times a week and practicing at home, and all the other important survival things for the three of us, I was not a rock star at maintaining their Spanish language skills.

In fairness to my rock star parenting (haha), Lucia did not have the best attitude about Spanish for a good bit of our US life. “Why are you speaking Spanish to me?” she’d ask like I just peed in the bathtub. I know; it’s hard for me to switch languages with some people, but she was seriously resistant for a while. I enrolled her in a kids’ Spanish class to try to make it more fun than just talking with Mommy. It helped, but by the time she liked it she’d already lost a giant portion of her expressive language. Lucia left Puerto speaking a fabulous version of Spanglish; her English strong from speaking it with both parents at home, her Spanish strong from school and all the other play with kids in Spanish. She still understands Spanish pretty well, but it’s going to cost her some time to get back to where she was. She’s nervous about seeing all her friends and not being able to communicate with them as well as she’d like to. There’s nothing to do but keep showing up, though. Like so many times in life.

With Khalil, I’m completely intrigued as to how the language struggle will go. He left here totally bilingual in his understanding, and with a few words in Spanish and a few words in English. I couldn’t be more pleased to announce that he’s totally fluent in English now! Khalil was most honorably discharged from speech therapy back in mid-December. He is a talking fool; “I can say everything now, Mommy; I’m not a baby anymore.” (Ok, there are a couple consonants he can’t do still, but it’s age-level error.) He can say a couple of things in Spanish from our occasional practice time at home, but I’m not sure how difficult his Apraxia of Speech will make it to get fluent. I’m not sure if the sound sequences will have to be practiced in the same Apraxia-specific way the English ones were, or if it’ll be similar enough for him to work it out on his own with time. We shall see!

At least my kids will not suffer the same fate as my Nonna. She had forgotten all her English when she went back to the US from Italy at one point as a child. The nuns at her school would send her home every day, with a message to not bring her back until she could speak English. Her mother, of course, kept sending her back anyway, because, as she finally pleaded her case, “Where do they think she’s going to learn English if they keep sending her home from school?!” My mom told Lucia this story when she started worrying about going back to her “old school.” My children are happily returning to their school tomorrow, where I am sure that no one will send them home, where the teachers will be patient and understanding, where the other kids will rapidly reintegrate them into the circle, because that’s the kind of wonderful environment that exists there. Their school is definitely one of the things we’ve been pining for. The kids are looking forward to a fun place to play with a lovely group of other kids, and I can’t wait to have some place to send them five days a week. I suspect that readapting to school will be a joy for us all.

I do remember all my Spanish, but I still have my adapting work cut out for me. I have to find a new job and transition into this next phase of life in Puerto. I have to figure out what our next life transition looks like, and how to make it happen. I’m constantly evaluating what home means.
On the one hand, Puerto Escondido feels more like home than Savannah, from all the time, sweat and tears of making it home from scratch. On the other hand, being in Savannah gets us so much closer to so many of the people that we love. But it’s unclear if and when Conan would be able to move there. (That’s a topic for another time.) So I’m constantly thinking about the privilege of being able to decide where I live, and the emotional weight of that decision, especially when one is making decisions for their children. I debate with myself constantly about our most important needs in life and how to make that happen. What are the things and relationships that we each most need in life to grow and be healthy and, at least some of the time, happy? I have more heartache than answers.

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Lucia obsessively draws houses these days. My little artist searching for answers in her way. 

“When you have many homes, and many people who love you,” I tell Lucia when she’s missing someone, “You get to feel very, very happy, but not always all at once.” I hold her and let her cry. “It means we’ll always be missing someone, always longing for some other piece of home. But it also means we’re really luck. We have so much family in different places! Not everyone gets to have different homes.” I console myself right along with her.

And on the hardest days, I listen to my favorite Ani DiFranco song:
“Do you prefer the easy way? No? Well then, ok, don’t cry….. I do it for the joy it brings. Because I am a joyful girl. Because the world owes us nothing. We owe each other the world.”

Home, maybe, is not a place at all, but just a state of mind.

 

Still Dancing to My Own Drum, Like It or Not

9 Nov

I got reprimanded in my salsa dance class.

I’ve wanted to learn for years- since I took college classes in Chile and inadvertently received two salsa lessons. I didn’t get very far with my two lessons. I know the basic steps but I can’t work it at all. The seed was planted, but every time I go to water my plants I run out of water before I get to the dance one. I never prioritize getting dance lessons. My mom even gave me a gift certificate for classes once, back in Louisville, and I still never went.

“You’ve lived in Mexico for five years and you haven’t learned to dance?” Someone asked me, incredulously, at the dance studio here. They didn’t even know that I also lived and travelled in South America. I shrugged, I laughed, I smirked. “Yep. I had to come to Savannah, Georgia, to learn salsa.” I love irony.

But there I was, recently arrived. I was all in my new-in-town-so-the-world-is-my-oyster-optimistic / Shonda Rhimes’s-style say-yes-to-everything mode when I went to this free group lesson at this ballroom studio. I told everyone, clearly and happily, that I didn’t know shit as soon as they asked me to dance, but I said yes to everyone. It was a blast! There was a cheap introductory offer presented afterwards- three lessons for just $25!- and I went for it. Finally! This was it; I could feel it. I was going to prioritize learning to dance salsa.

I want to learn to dance because I love music. I’ve already got my rock and punk rock and ska-punk dancing down, so I’m all good there. I can mosh pit with the big boys and girls. I can jump around and sway and bang my head and raise my fist and even shake my ass and my hips with abandon. Certain songs speak to me, and make it nearly impossible to keep my body still. I even sway and groove in the car because the music gets under my skin. (My kids do, too.) But there are songs that I want to move to that are way beyond my dance repertoire. Where it’d be nice to dance with a partner, which often entails knowing formal steps. Hence my deep-down burning desire to learn a little bit of salsa, cumbia, and bachata.

 

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I didn’t go to dance lessons because I aspire to be some kind of professional. I don’t even want to be especially good at it! I just want to be not clueless. I want to be good enough to not feel like a jerk trying to dance with people who know formal steps. But I don’t need to learn the foxtrot or the swing or any of the other dances that aren’t music that I love to listen to. I don’t want to learn just because I should know these things to fulfill someone else’s idea of what a half decent dancer might be able to dance to. When I explained this to the instructor, he said, “But you never know when a waltz or a foxtrot might come on.” Ummm, yes I do. It probably won’t come on anywhere I go, and even if it does, it doesn’t give me the slightest urge to move my body in time to it. “I only get 25 mintutes a pop so quit wasting my lesson time on bullshit!” I wanted to scream at him. Instead I politely obliged during the first lesson. “Sure!” I grinned, blithely, “let’s review that.” Thinking, “Not what I came here for, but okay.” I was glowing in my positivity.

I left only a tad deflated. I felt like I didn’t learn anything. However, I analyzed the situation and resolved to improve it for the next class. Problem one: We never even had salsa music on. Another instructor was teaching at the same time in the same area, so we were just rolling with that. We weren’t trying to dance in time to the music at all. He said he was trying to teach me to follow his lead, something I am terrible at, apparently. (Ok, it wouldn’t be surprising.) Of course, in my defense, I’d like to think I would be better at if I had an idea of the tempo. I didn’t say any of that at the time, but I definitely considered it all in my empirical analysis. 

My other complaint was that he kept trying to have a conversation with me, constantly, the whole lesson. Now, don’t get me wrong; I adore conversation. Some days I am ravenous for conversation. I even love small talk in the grocery store check out line. Any and all conversation, bring it on! But not while learning to dance! I told him, clearly, more than once, “I can’t dance while having a conversation yet.” I converse with my whole body. I am all gesticulations and eyebrow raises and leaning in and out. So maybe after I’m an expert, or at least a slightly functioning dancer, then we can discuss my life circumstances. Not yet! He insisted that I should learn while talking, though, because that’s how it will work later. I’ll want to be talking to the people I’m dancing with. I’ll want it to be second nature, something automatic while I’m thinking of something else. Ummm, yes, but don’t you think you’re jumping the gun just a little bit? This is my first day! I need to concentrate on my body! I can’t talk about my kid’s speech problems and major life crises while learning to dance! SOS!! Somebody!

I went to my second lesson resolved to speak up and ask for what I want. I told him again that I couldn’t concentrate while conversing. He continued to insist. I told him that I really didn’t want to learn those other dances. I insisted three times before he gave up. He held it against me, though. He brought it up when it took me time and practice to do a twist correctly. “Well I was going to show you through those easier dances first, but you didn’t want to.” He wasn’t exactly mocking me, but it didn’t feel quite like playful teasing either. I realized he must have been mad about it. I asked him to let me practice the turn in a certain way. For him to show me just so, at this speed, please. He obliged, although I could tell it was not the way he wanted to be teaching. I started to feel fairly uncomfortable.

It was my school days rebellion all over again. Who chose this curriculum, and what does it have to do with my life?! What does it even have to do with other people’s real lives? Are the other students just coming so they can either get competitive or learn enough to bust out with the fox trot at their cousin’s wedding? Are those the only options?

It’s a private class, so for some reason I thought it could be individualized. The instructor, however- and perhaps the company in general, had a very firm definition of what I needed to learn. They already had a set plan for how I was going to learn it. I’m sure it works out well for them most of the time, but it was certainly not what I bargained for, even at the cheap introductory rate.

So I quit. Partly I knew it would be hard to justify the expense. Partly I gave up because I it’s so hard to schedule that much time without my children, now that I’m employed and playing volleyball and other such shenanigans without my needy monsters. But I didn’t even bother to go to my third dance lesson that was already paid for. I might have made more effort to continue my dance classes if I felt like the instructor understood my motives and if he were more willing to work with my style. But he didn’t and he wasn’t, so I stopped.

I get it. The teacher has x years of experience. They have a plan that they’ve spent time crafting in order to, theoretically, maximize learning. They’ve probably had many successes with that plan, with those lessons, with that style. I’m a teacher, too. I know. In most scenarios you can’t walk into the classroom and ask the students to lead the class (that’s way too radical for most). I don’t believe in a Burger King version of teaching, either, some kind of capitalistic the-customer-is-always-right education where you give all the students their own 100% individualized plan based solely on their desires and moods. “No, I don’t need any verbs,” I can picture some student telling me. So you have to be a teacher; you use your expertise and experience to guide the student down the learning path at least. There has to be a balance, though, and an equal appreciation for the student and what they bring to the table. 

If you can’t adapt your lesson plan at all, or you can’t modify your curriculum at all? It means your brilliant plan is brilliantly ineffective for all those who don’t fit your objectives to a t. Why not ask them what they most want to learn, and why and how they see themselves learning it? Why not inquire as to what brought them there? It doesn’t do any harm to know! Especially if you’re teaching an individual class. Just one person, and you can’t change your style or your curriculum a little? You feel threatened by the student’s specific requests to try things a certain way, to focus on one thing over another? Nope, that was never gonna be my class. Neither as student nor as teacher.

So here I am. Still waiting for the right dance lessons for me. I know they’re out there. I know I’ll find them because I am glowing in my positivity and unceasing in my movement. My salsa dance movements will just continue to be in private for a while longer.

Love and Solidarity from Gringolandia! I’m trying to make time to write more while I’m here, so there’s more to come soon. xoxoxo

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This is not me, but it’s my level of enthusiasm. Thank you, Google, for the picture. ; ) 

 

This Magic Moment Called the Present

1 Oct

I ate the WORST “tacos” of my life today. So, clearly, we are not in Puerto anymore, Toto. There are no fresh tortillas. No dogs and chickens and turkeys running the streets. People expect you to wear shoes everywhere. There are huge roads and huge parking lots and huge buildings. The coffee comes in shiny, tiny bags with labels and supposed flavors. This is not my adopted town- nada que ver– not even close. And this guacala muck they sold me from a taco truck today, with flour tortillas and devoid of any flavor, can stop claiming any relation with my family’s usual hometown flare.

The planned return trip to Puerto Escondido has come and gone, and yet here we are still, in Savannah, Georgia. Not that I’m complaining. This is exactly where we need to be right now. The positive far outweighs the negative. Khalil is making amazing strides in his speech. My kids are ecstatic to have concrete outside to ride their bikes on (yes, some neighborhoods in Puerto have concrete; mine doesn’t). We are exploring museums and parks and activities almost daily, with lots more on the list. And now, indispensable icing on the cake, my kids will be receiving health insurance, and I finally have a job. Yep, we are residents of Gringolandia. For the moment. This magical, unique, special moment, that will not, cannot last, and will never be the same. Sigh.

Yet I have to say, I miss my beloved costa, much more than I imagined I could. Sure, I knew I would miss my people there; that’s a given I don’t even want to discuss right now. But on top of that I miss certain foods, our house, the culture in general. Especially now that I was supposed to be back “home” already. (Where is “home” at this point? Who really knows? What a loaded word.)

I miss my friend Becka and our gaming club. I miss playing volleyball every week. I miss my (ex)job- my coworkers, my students, the bliss that is teaching. I miss our trusted babysitters. I miss my molcajete and the delicious salsas I could make in it. Side note: I even accosted some neighbors with Mexican accents to see if they had a molcajete (mortal and pestal) they could lend me to make decent salsa. (True story.) And yes, molcajetes are sold here but one cannot buy everything that one wants all the time. (Because my mom doesn’t actually want me to treat her space as my personal storage unit when I leave.)

My kids are definitely feeling the frustration. Khalil was all pissed off because we went almost two months without enfrijoladas, his favorite food. (Lucia is thrilled to be eating pasta all the time, though, let me tell you.) And I did eventually break down and buy the crappy things that pass for tortillas here, although none of us want to get too accustomed to them. They are sad, sad, sad. I mean, in our neck of the woods- in Puerto- you get tortillas that are made from corn that was ground that dawn, prepared by hand, toasted on the comal (griddle) and delivered hot to your door. The packaged tortillas here are like eating 25 cent ramen noodles instead of grandma’s chicken noodle soup made from the chicken she killed that morning. They’re like drinking orange kool-aid instead of fresh squeezed orange juice. Like many unfortunate realities in the US, they’re a pathetic, canned imitation of the real thing.

Tortillas aren’t the only thing we’re missing. We dreadfully miss our familia in Mexico, first and foremost, starting with Papi. (But I repeat: we’re not gonna talk about how badly we miss the people right now.) I miss shipping my kids off to their cool school every day, where they can learn through play and go barefoot and take long walks through the woods to the beach. I miss our neighbors- especially our kids playing all the time without any scheduling or effort on the grownups’ part. I miss the general culture of people spending most of their time outside, trying to catch a breeze, instead of shut up in their eternally controlled climate. (And don’t even get me started on how sick I am of ridiculously, artificially cold spaces in the middle of summer.) I think I might even miss the nosiness / lack of privacy of Puerto. Everyone here seems so secluded. They’re shut up in their isolated homes, only coming out to get from point A to point B. It’s not as isolating as Juquila was, by any stretch, but it’s been far more difficult than I ever dreamed of for my kids and me to have social interaction.

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My kids are, tragically, the only ones we see out digging in the dirt around here.

I know that it is a serious privilege to be living the way I am now. Okay, so I don’t have any money to speak of. But I don’t have housing or transportation problems, thanks to my family help. I only have to work part time, in the evening, doing work that I don’t love but also don’t hate. I am homeschooling (well, unschooling) Lucia, and she’s flourishing in it. I am taking Khalil to speech therapy three times a week, and his talking ability is blooming like daffodils in spring. I have more time to spend with my children than I’ve had in years, since before Khalil was born. As the primary earner in our family, I hadn’t even dreamt of all this as a possibility, and it’s certainly a gift. Granted, I’m also grateful to get to go to work and leave them with my mom for a bit. My life is so full of joy and promise I might burst at the seams.

Lots of other things are coming together for us here, too. I almost cried from glee and self-recognition when I finally got my bicycle out of storage (thank you, Mom and Dee) and found time to ride it. I found a volleyball league that is just starting, and my muscles and my spirit are still thanking me for returning after a 3 month hiatus. I know it won’t be like the laid-back see-who-shows-up games after work on Fridays, where half of the fun was giggling. Still, it’s a good start to a life here. I’m taking an ASL (American Sign Language) class, and I feel like a kid stealing candy from the jar just by being in a class again. I finally got time to have a real conversation with someone at work, with someone who feels very much like “my people.” I’m excited at the prospect of hanging out and conversing with her. So many of the things that I want and need out of life are lining up at my doorstep, and I feel eternally grateful.

I signed up to do some online tutoring, because I’ve now been nearly three months without teaching and the lack of that feels like a punishment- stifling, like trying to tame my wavy hair with a clothes iron. That said, everytime I moan about it, I stop and think about refugees who were surgeons or teachers or stay at home moms by choice, who are fleeing and living in camps or working horrendously exploitative jobs, ripped away from their life’s calling, and often, from their dignity. I try to keep in mind that my life is full of opportunity and growth, that I’m so privileged and lucky to be able to change countries at the drop of a hat without any true suffering for me or for my children. How amazing it is that I can jump right into making a space for us here. And yet… I’m not any kind of yogi. I’m like light years away from Ghandi-like wisdom. As I take all these steps to build a life here, I get all psyched and positive for a minute, and just as quickly I fall into disarray and despair, dwelling on how it’s all so fleeting. As soon as I’ve built something just right, we’ll be packing up to go, and I don’t even know what will happen after that.

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There’s no time like the present to eat cupcakes, while celebrating everyone’s pretend birthday.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I don’t have a long term plan. I know we’re all going back to Puerto, at least for a few months. I have no idea what the next, best decision is from there. I don’t know how long we’re staying. I’m not totally sure where we’re going if we’re not staying in Puerto. I don’t know what will happen with our immigration plans. Much depends on Khalil’s speech status come January. I have a weight on my shoulders so persistent it’s a shadow burden in my sleep.

I basically have no choice but to keep living in this moment, because that’s all I have a clue about. I know at some point I will have to pay school fees or apply at different schools. I know I will need to make housing arrangements, in one town or another. I know that I just don’t know what we’re doing or where we’ll be in the future. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. It’s kind of terrifying, and kind of liberating. Being forced to live in the present, for the present.

And here in the present tense, for the record, I won’t even attempt to eat tacos that weren’t made by me until we’re back in Puerto. Me and you and Toto, too.

 

Who Cares About Oaxaca?

26 Sep

Could it be you? How about you? I do! I do!

Just a quick update on behalf of my beloved adopted state of Oaxaca, in the ongoing horrors of earthquake aftermath. On September 7, there was an earthquake that registered as an 8.2 off the coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas in the Pacific. It was the strongest that had happened in 100 years, and it killed dozens of people, although you may not have heard about it.

I wasn’t there; I was actually busy getting ready to evacuate for Hurricane Irma here in Savannah. Conan and much of our family and friends were there, of course, and they were all lucky enough to be safe and to continue to have intact housing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many.

In the Isthmus region of Oaxaca, there was death and destruction. It’s nothing like the quake that happened days later, which still has the center of Mexico reeling. The numbers are not as horrific. The images are not all over the news like the flooding in Houston caused by the hurricane. This has not been a dramatic or much-publicized natural disaster, in the presence of so many “super” disasters in the world this season. I know there’s so much going on. There’s so much to care about and worry about. There are so many worthwhile organizations asking for money, because, let’s face it, good people are struggling and suffering all the time. Everyone deserves a chance to live decently and safely. So why care about Oaxaca?

<On the map, above Salina Cruz, you can see the towns of Tehuantepec and Juchitán, which were very hard hit. In that same area is San Mateo del Mar, where the volunteers in the video below have been spending so much time. >geo-mexico-oaxacastatemap2

 

Y’all probably already know all the reasons why I care about Oaxaca. But on top of that, let me just say, *&$%##! WHY? Why is it so expensive to be poor? Why do the most marginalized folks always get screwed so much harder? (Nevermind, my non-rhetorical answers are an entire other blog post. I’ll get back to that.) Oaxaca and Chiapas are two of the poorest states in Mexico. They are also home to the largest and most diverse populations of indigenous peoples in Mexico, with Oaxaca beating Chiapas in languages spoken and ethnicities in existence. Oaxaca is an amazing place, with wonderful, generous, and interesting people. (Did I mention it’s my adopted land? And that is has so much in common with my birthplace, Kentucky?) The thing is, Oaxaca is always getting screwed.  Oaxaca in general was already trapped in a cycle of poverty, and this disaster has brought total devastation to parts of the state. And there’s no help on the way.

Well, there’s no real government help at least. There are people working hard to come together and take care of business, but they need more help. There’s certainly even less chance of official help now that the other giant earthquake happened in Mexico. But here’s the reality: People (entire towns) who survive on well water now have sewage-contaminated well water. Folks who previously had homes of some sort now have nothing, and there’s no insurance coming through to rebuild. It’s still the rainy season, and some of the “lucky” families are those who have a tarp to sleep under outside in some places. In general, things are on the level of bad that most folks in the US are blissfully unfamiliar with. Here’s a brief and more concise video that explains and shows much better than I can.

One of the people featured in the video, Dr. Anja Widmann, is my children’s pediatrician in Puerto Escondido, who we very much love, respect, and trust. She has been working countless hours of uncompensated overtime to organize goods and funding, and additionally is volunteering her services as a doctor in desperate communities.

I know that many folks in the US are stretched thin economically, and many folks are already trying to band together and donate to other causes. There are so many worthwhile organizations to give to, and so many disasters- natural and otherwise- reeking havoc on our world these days. I get it. I’m stretched pretty thin myself. But just a few dollars can do so much for these hard-hit communities in Oaxaca. Help them get pipes for clean water. Help a family get a blanket or a tarp. Help a kid get treatment for the now-imminent outbreaks of diarrhea. Everyone in the world is worthy of basic health and safety, and there are so many things preventing that for so many people around the globe. I get it that maybe you’re already donating to too many causes. But half my heart is in Oaxaca and it seems like nobody is talking about or doing much about disaster relief there, besides a small local crowd in the state. The poor and indigenous in Oaxaca have been forgotten yet again. Please help change that if you can. If you donate to these kind volunteers, ALL of your donation will go to affected people in this region. Five or ten bucks might not make a big dent in your budget, but it might make a world of difference to someone in San Mateo del Mar.

“Although little by little this will cease to be news, the reality of the people will continue without returning to normal anytime soon” -Denise Lechner, cultural anthropologist in Oaxaca

The paypal account that you can donate to is:
https://www.paypal.me/deniselechner

P.S. Here’s a fun blog post by someone else that has some quick, interesting facts about Oaxaca if you don’t know much about this wondrous state yet.

Eclipse Tips for Parents of Small Children

20 Aug

If you have older children, this solar eclipse happening in the US is an astounding, wondrous, learning experience. (Right?) If you have small children, though, it’s really just cause for alarm and anxiety. Will I be that parent that watches their kids go blind?

How many minutes will my two year old calculate and obey before he tears away from me and stares directly at the sun, ruining his vision forever? Will my over-anxious five year old ever look upward again, after I warn her that it’s dangerous during a solar eclipse, or will she stare only at people’s shoes for the next fifteen years? What will they tell their future therapists about this moment? How long will it take before someone calls Child Protective Services about one of these serious situations?

Who asked for this eclipse mania, anyway? Isn’t there a better way to deal with the situation, as the parent of small children? How can you trust those solar glasses, when so many have been recalled? How could one relax when one wrong glance in the eclipse can have lifelong detriment?!

So I came up with some ideas, in case you find yourself in a similar predicament, being less than thrilled about the legal implications of your children blinding themselves and doubtful about the educational risk-benefits analysis for small children.

Best Practice #1: Pretend like it’s not happening.

Eclipse? What eclipse? What’s an eclipse? That’s when you fart really loud at a party, right? Poopies? Hahaha! It’s not something to talk about at the table, thank you.

Best Practice #2: Use technology to your advantage.

I took the kids to an informative feature at a planetarium, where they showed us what the eclipse will look like in different moments in different places. I thought this was something to prepare them for the real thing, but as it turns out my older kid was so impressed, she thought she had already seen the whole shebang. “It was yesterday,” she told her Papi. Mission accomplished. My kids have already seen eclipse history in action.

Best Practice #3: Use their lack of long-term memory to your advantage.

Really, the two year old WILL NOT remember this no matter what you do or don’t do. The five year old will remember whatever stories you start telling her now about it. Make it good. Go ahead and tell her it all started when the Earth had the hiccups. (What? Are your small children not utterly obsessed with all bodily noises and functions?)

Best Practice #4: When in doubt, show them the video.

I don’t know about your kids, but my kids are always begging for more screen time, and I usually deny them. All I have to say during the eclipse is, “Let’s watch the video instead!” and they’re sure to be fighting over the best seat to watch it from. I don’t know if I should feel proud or ashamed that my kids would probably be more excited to watch a video of something than to see it in real life. Not letting them turn into TV vegetables backfires too, y’all! Careful what you wish for! There’s no winning in parenting! Oh, wait, except, letting them watch videos so you can act like a grown-up sometimes is winning enough.

So if you didn’t make the fancy cereal boxes or do whatever else folks told you that you had to do to be a good parent for this epic event, rest assured, you are not alone!

Stay safe, do what you need to do, and don’t let the rebellious two year old go blind!

The only reason we have this amazing tool is because a grandparent made it. Thank goodness for our whole village raising my kids. But I still don’t trust the two year old.