Good News/Bad News; Mangos and Politics

20 Apr

Do you prefer the good news or the bad news first? The bad news is that it’s election season. The good news is that it’s also mango season!! So you can be a hapless bystander at a politically-motivated shooting, but afterwards you can buy a whole bag full of mangos for just 10 pesos! I’m drooling right now just talking about it. 30703725_1775046295885743_4088949457251467264_n

Ten pesos of mangos!

Now, if you’re from the US you’ll appreciate the good news about elections here. The season is relatively short- just a couple of months of people paying attention, putting up billboards, driving around with annoying songs pouring from loudspeakers. I mean, it’s mid-April, and we’re just now starting to be inundated with madness; elections are all over on the first of July! It’s not like in the US where you start hearing about candidates more than a year in advance.

The bad news, however, is that this year’s election season is big time; this year there are presidential elections here in Mexico. Which means they up the ante on the already-high levels of political passion, corruption, and violence.

Who are the candidates? I don’t really know. I’ve seen their names and all, but after almost six years here I’m still not clear on politics. There’s a guy from the ruling party whose name looks English, and now some people are purposely pronouncing it like you would in English, because otherwise it’s too close to a word in Spanish that’s like “pissed-himself.” Teeheehee. This ruling party seems to me to be the more elite, for-the-rich political party, although many a poor person supports them, because their family supports them, and they’ve always supported that party, and therefore it’s just the right thing to do! Plus they might give you a bag full of staple foods for your house if you vote for them. And maybe a t-shirt to boot. So, obviously they have your best interests in mind. This party is responsible for having privatized a lot of Mexico’s wealth, including the gasoline. They’re also responsible for the recent Education Reform (which I wrote a little about here), so you know that teachers are not voting for them. This party’s big political theme translates to something like, “Making progress, with you.” We don’t know what they propose to make progress on, but they’re going to do so- with you!

There’s some other big-time party that doesn’t seem all that different from the ruling party, except obviously they have less money currently because I don’t see their billboards up everywhere. This party, however, seems about equally as likely to give you a t-shirt and some rice and assure you that they’re going to take care of you.

Then there’s some other party that touts itself as more for-the-people, but who knows what they actually do for the people. Even their name, Morena, literally can mean dark-skinned woman, so it sounds pretty appealing. This party supposedly has a candidate who’s run for president a bunch of times and never even come close, which reminds me of Salvador Allende in Chile and gives me all the warm fuzzies even though I know zilch about this candidate’s politics. That’s the sum total of my savvy political gringa knowledge. (Don’t judge me; I warned you that I know nothing. The good news is that I’m not allowed to vote, so I can’t harm anyone with my ignorance!)

In other good news, despite hearing quite a few bullets, not only was my family not shot, but apparently no one was actually shot. No one was killed. I didn’t even hear of any hospitalizations. I guess someone just wanted to break up the protest. The ruling party’s “pissed-himself” presidential candidate was in town, for some unknown reason. Why Coastal Oaxaca? Shoulder shrug. Of course the teachers and some other folks were there to say, “Hell no.”

The bad news, however, is that at a protest that included a lot of teachers, they couldn’t put correct accents on their fanciest signs. “Mexico Ya Desperto” the sign said, which should mean Mexico Woke Up…. but not quite. I know, I’m being petty. But this was a sign they’d paid to have made, not just some scribbles on poster board. And some of y’all are teachers! Get your signs right! You’re not making your case well.

In case you were wondering, I was not actually attending the protest. I have taken my kids to protests and other political actions before. I did not take them to a protest here during election season, however. Some folks were there with kids, and that’s their right, and I respect that. Personally, I don’t have enough faith or investment in the political process here to go protest about that. Now if we’re protesting the health care system, or the lack of basic services, or treatment of women during childbirth here, count me in! But I digress. We ended up in the blatantly wrong place at the wrong time because I needed caldo, a fantastic broth-based soup. I had an exemplary, nourishing caldo made with farm-raised chicken and a bunch of veggies. The downside of that is that my need for caldo to soothe my sore throat was what allowed my cold-addled brain to think it was okay to be within stone-throwing distance from a protest during election season.

So we’re leaving the restaurant and right as we were getting into the car, I heard a driver coming from the direction our car was pointed in telling a taxi driver not to go that way. “That’s where the (something muffled I didn’t distinguish) is,” he told him, shaking his head. I saw a bunch of folks in pairs and small groups walking quickly in the opposite direction. “Go the other way!” I told Conan, even though he was already doing it. Then we heard gun shots. People were running instead of walking. I made the kids lower their heads in the back seat, pushing Khalil’s down for him because that child never wants to obey without a good explanation. (Where does he get it from?) Then more shots.

Here’s the other good news: random public gun violence is not the norm here. I don’t usually have to worry about these straight white male terrorists- like we have in such excess in the states- going around shooting people on a regular basis. I know, you’ve probably heard about the extreme violence happening in some Mexican states due to the drug trade (and lots of political corruption). And that’s definitely happening in some places. Where I live we’re mostly pretty removed from all that. And outside of the obvious “bad guys” selling drugs or being politicians or being cops, Mexico doesn’t have a general culture of gun violence. There are no school shootings. No workplace shootings. No church shootings. Granted, people like to get out their guns and shoot up into the sky to celebrate things, which may not be my style. But in general I feel way safer from gun violence here than in the US.

And did I mention the mangos? Election season may be in full swing, but so is mango season. In the span of just one week, the same week that billboards and bad music started happening, that magical thing occurred where the price dropped from 20 to 10 pesos for a bag bursting with fresh, juicy mangos of all kinds. That makes it official. Corrupt elections happen all over the place, but not everyplace has this quality of life.

Mishaps on the Mountain

7 Apr

It’s never good when you hear a loud pop and smoke pours out from the hood of your car. It’s especially not good when you are on a windy, two-lane mountain road in the middle of nowhere. With two little kids in the car.

I promptly pulled the kids out of the car, in case something else exploded or caught fire in the following moments. Of course, then I had to keep them in the practically non-existent area between the road and the cliff drop-off. Fun times, especially for the adventurous three year old.

This is precisely why I don’t plan to ever drive this stretch of road by myself with the kids. I do love a good adventure, and often, I admit, I even love a good misadventure. But it’s a bit more stressful and much less exciting with the kids involved. We were on our way to Juquila to visit their abuela. It’s not an especially fun trip to begin with, but it is always nice to see my fabulous mother-in-law, and the kids were thrilled, of course. Breaking down on the mountain is even less of my idea of a good time, though. At least Conan was there, though, and it was still daytime. There are always pluses in every silly situation.

Almost immediately after Conan lifted the hood, another car stopped to see if we needed help. A man assessed the situation with Conan. They decided it was some kind of problem with the radiator. Solution: let it cool down, pour lots of water into it and try to get further down the road (which means up the mountain, in this case).

The car did not agree with our proposed solution, however. We did get slightly further up the mountain, slowly, sputtering and chugging along like a long freight train desperately trying to pick up speed. We got to the next safe-ish spot to stop- a spot not right on a curve, so other cars have time to see us and go around us. And there we stopped. And sat for a bit. Conan popped the hood and flagged down a truck to give us more water. Since we’d only managed to drive for about three minutes, at a snail’s pace, this just-add-water plan didn’t seem very promising. The kind folks in the truck promised to tow us to the next town if this extra water didn’t take us far enough.

Indeed, the car was more incredulous about the idea than I was. We barely made it a minute up the road when it became glaringly obvious that it was not a sufficient solution. I was also slightly incredulous about the truck pulling us up the mountain, because the truck was already overloaded with palm branches, probably headed to make someone’s roof. There were a couple guys up on top of the palms, too. It wasn’t a truck made for towning, either, and it looked older and more overworked than our car. I wasn’t completely convinced they could make it with us, but it sounded great. And we didn’t have other options. There’s no AAA car service on the road to Juquila. There’s not even cell phone service, even if something like AAA existed. Besides, this is Mexico; where there’s a will there’s a way. Anything’s possible, especially with duck tape and a prayer. Sí se puede!

And it worked. It was slow going, but faster than walking with the kids and the suitcase and Khalil’s three big toy trucks that he insisted on bringing. The thick rope that they had tied to something under our car and something on their truck broke at one point. But no bother. They retied it. We continued, Conan braking furiously during the downhill parts to not hit truck and send palms cascading on top of us. (Perhaps the palm free-fall was my unrealistic concern, but you can see from the pictures below why I imagined that possibility.)

The view from inside the car while being towed by this truck:

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Khalil, of course, was pleased as punch when he realized we were being towed. Because tow trucks are cool. Even if this wasn’t an actual tow truck. Pesky details. It was a definite bonus for him. Lucia kept asking why we were going so slow and if we were ever going to get to Juquila.

We made it to the next town, which is so small that we might even call it a village. They only have cell phone service in this one spot of town, when the wind isn’t blowing too hard in the wrong direction. Conan set off on his quest for super glue, aka Plan #2. There certainly wasn’t a mechanic in town or any kind of car parts shop. It’s the town of the Piedra Mujer (yes, you translated that right- the woman stone). Unfortunately, that’s about all they have there- the stone that looks like a vulva that helps you find a partner. And unfortunately, we were in search of super glue and not romantic partners at the moment. There was no super glue to be found.

We left the car near the cliff where you can sometimes get cell phone service and went to wait for one of the passenger vans that go back and forth from Juquila to Rio Grande, the bigger town at the bottom of the mountain.

While we waited, we watched the local folks who were standing on the road taking advantage of the spring break traffic to stop all the cars and ask for donations to build a new church. They stopped cars by holding up a rope across the road, a common and very effective strategy. It was entertaining for a couple of minutes and then that wore off. Several people walking by gaped and talked about our light-skinned children, especially little blonde Khalil. “No soy bebé” Khalil kept saying, (I’m not a baby), overhearing them say, “look at the baby!” We bought the kids quesadillas that a lady was making on the hot comal in front of us. We all used a bathroom with no toilet paper but that at least had soap. (I had forgotten the cardinal rule of traveling with my own toilet paper. I did have soap in my bag, of course, since it wasn’t necessary.)

Finally the van came and had two open seats for us. Well, we had to walk a few feet down the road to where they were dropping off someone else, but we got two legitimate seats, not like the extra sitting-on-a-suitcase or on a bucket seats. So one kid on each lap and we were off again.

We had a lovely home-cooked meal upon arriving (breakfast at 1 in the afternoon for Conan and me), and Conan set off to find some kind of glue to get the radiator semi-functioning again. The plan was to make it back down the mountain to Rio Grande, where there are mechanics and car parts and all. He found some glue in Juquila that’s not actually for car repair but that promised to withstand high temperatures and set off back towards the car, about 45 minutes away.

He came back about 3 or 4 hours later when the glue still hadn’t dried. So much for him making it to work that night. We spent the night in Juquila and set off the next morning to see if the glue had dried. We left the kids with their abuela for spring break, so I felt way less stressed about how things might or might not work out for us and the car. Mishaps without children and their tears and their bathroom necessities are much easier to cope with.

There was one little spot where the glue wasn’t completely dry, but the radiator bust seemed mostly sealed up. We poured in tons of water, I said my prayer to the patron saint of travelers (and Barga, Italy), and we headed down the road. We stopped and poured in more water every few miles, and the car continued to chug along.

Happily, magically perhaps, we made it to Rio Grande. By then, however, the mechanic who my father-in-law had called to help us out was no longer available, since we’d said we’d be there early in the morning, and it was certainly late morning by then. “Did he expect us to be on time? Where does he think we are? This is Mexico!” I complained to Conan, only mildly bitterly.

Luckily, however, Conan remembered another place down the street with a sign for radiators. And the mechanic was home and ready to work on a Sunday. He got us the part we needed, which luckily was not a whole new radiator, and fixed it in an hour and a half. And best of all, we had exactly enough cash on us to fix the car and have a couple tacos for breakfast. (Because of course there’s no ATM in this “bigger” town, either.) Complete success! The good life! Thank you, Saint Christopher and super glue! Until our next mishap!

 

 

 

The Gringa-Costeña Neighborhood Invasion

28 Mar

Look out, Puerto Escondido! The Gringos are Taking Over! They’re not just using your beaches anymore! They’re stealing your jobs, marrying into your families, and taking over your neighborhoods. Not just the expensive beach-side neighborhoods, either….

My friend (also white and foreign) and I shared a taxi from the touristy beach / nightclub part of town one night. We dropped her off at her house, in a nearby area of town mostly occupied by tourists, immigrants (mostly white Canadians, Americans, some Europeans), and wealthy / well- established Mexicans. Then I told the taxi driver where to take me.

“How is it that you came to live in that neighborhood?” the taxi driver asked me, raised eyebrow and all, in that tone of voice between polite and astonished. It was that tone that parents use when kids have done something astounding like clean their room of their own accord- like, “That’s wonderful, but more than a bit on the suspicious side.”

“Because that’s where my house is,” I responded, laughing. I’m used to folks being surprised, and I’ve had many variations on this conversation in many a taxi. “Do you rent or own it?” He wanted to know, looking for more clues about how a foreign white girl could possibly live where I live.

The other thing that usually happens when I take a taxi to my house is that once we get to my street, the driver automatically tries to stop in front of my closest neighbor’s house. It’s a bigger and prettier house. It’s painted, unlike my gray house still in need of an extra coat of cement before we could ever think about painting it. The neighbors have a big concrete fence around their house. Ours has an aluminum garage with a beat up door where I accidentally ran into it with the car one time. But surely the gringa has money. Surely the white foreign woman has the nicest house on the block, right? Bwahahaha.

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My fabulous house! Not the fanciest on the block, but it’s ours. And it’s pretty sweet.

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view from the back yard

Granted, I do have money, compared to my neighbors with slats of wood for houses, or compared to my neighbors with one room for a whole family. I’m not the richest person in the neighborhood by any stretch, but I am light years away from the poorest, too. “Do you rent or do you own your house?” the taxi driver had asked. “We own it.” I tell him, and then I offer a giant crumb, a big clue: “My husband had a plot of land here he bought years ago.” My Sherlock Holmes driver politely refrains from shouting, “Aha!” Instead, he asks, “Is your husband Mexican?” He is already sure of the answer, though. Because obviously, just some regular white foreign person couldn’t possibly end up in this area of town on their own. And they don’t; it’s true. Nobody recommends it as the spot to folks arriving from other countries. Even all the foreigners in the English Department of the University down the street don’t live in this neighborhood.

It’s not like my neighborhood is awful, by any stretch. There’s almost no crime. It’s not yet densely populated, so you can see plenty of stars and actually hear yourself think at night. There are still no bars nearby to blast their songs of heartbreak, and I only have one neighbor who sings loudly when he’s drunk. Kids can play in the street without much worry of traffic. There are plenty of señoras producing fresh tortillas within walking distance, and there are even little store fronts in people’s houses nearby, in case we have some urgent need for rice or potato chips or something. And it’s only a fifteen to twenty minute drive to most other places in town, including downtown and the beach. It’s a little inconvenient without a car, in that it’s a ten to fifteen minute walk to the nearest public transport. Even with a car, it’s crazy far from my kids’ school (nearly 30 minutes drive- gasp!). Much of my neighborhood is made from dirt roads, and it gets bumpier and harder to navigate in the rainy season. Really that’s the case in many neighborhoods in Puerto, though, not just in mine. It is inconvenient because folks in other parts of town think fifteen to twenty minutes is so dreadfully far away. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?)

Also, it’s still a developing neighborhood without great internet access nor a view of the beach. Beyond that I can’t really see any reason why it should be so shocking for me to live here. Except that it’s not one of the white* / foreign people parts of town, and I am indeed white and foreign.

Except for the one guy from Arkansas who no longer lives here, I’m the only foreign person in this area of town, as far as I know. And I certainly would’ve heard about it from the gossip mill by now if there were other foreigners in my area. (He was also the spouse of a Mexican person, for the record, and from a poor state in the US like I am. In case you’re collecting your sociological data also.)

As the lone white girl in my neighborhood, I am a minority. But instead of facing discrimination and danger, which is the typical case when people of color are the minority in white areas, I end up with better treatment and positive stereotypes. At least if you think being pegged as a wealthy person is something positive.

I could tell you again all the general privileges that come with being white and foreign in southern Mexico. For example, I can walk into some bar’s bathroom in the tourist area and folks assume I belong there (and let’s be clear, by “belong” I mean “have money and am going to buy something there”) and thus, they don’t charge me for the bathroom or tell me to go away. Another white immigrant said she won’t ever bother to obtain her local driver’s license, because after several years of driving here she has never once been stopped by the transit police. Immigration officials are the most helpful folks in the world to you here. We are a minority, and yet it somehow only translates to more benefits. This is white privilege in action, even in a foreign place where brown skin is the norm, even though discrimination is the norm when folks from here go to my country.

Aside from the general white privilege aspect, though, by living in a non-white neighborhood, I not only don’t have any problems, I not only get more privileges, but I also get cool points. After the initial distrust and disbelief, people typically move on to assume that I’m somehow more a part of their culture. That I’m a little less foreign. So I know the best restaurant for fish (it’s not beachside, y’all). I get invited to quinceañeras and prayer circles for the dead and do all the other traditional celebrating and important life moments around here. I have a near-constant stream of neighborhood kids selling me their mom’s tamales at my front door. The list of benefits goes on and on. It’s totally worth having a longer drive to the beach, in exchange for all this.

I’m still a white girl, but I’m, like, a semi-official-part-costeña now too (from this coastal region). It’s a sociologists dream. So look out, Mexico, the gringas are taking over, and they’re even blogging about your culture. Too bad your lovely, polite, sane immigration officials give out green cards so reasonably! Bwahahahahahaha!

 

*I’m using the word white to describe both skin color AND foreign nationality. There are Mexicans with white skin too, and they also have some added privilege from their skin color, but it’s not the same as being white and foreign.

Cyber Purgatory

16 Mar

What’s life like without home internet? Imagine trying to get motivated for your 5:30 AM workout, five days a week, with only access to the same small handful of perfectly motivating songs to keep you going. Imagine having to pack up your small kids and drive to some public place and spend money to justify occupying their business, crossing your fingers that the connection is good and the kids stay in their seats, so that you can Skype with your family that lives in another country. Imagine having to wait days after someone gives you a book before you can read it, because you need to find time to get to some internet access to download it to your Kindle. Imagine trying to decide between your spending money going to, say, a family trip for frozen yogurt, or enough megabytes for a handful of youtube songs.

If you’re rolling your eyes at my “Developing World Problems,” rest assured you’re in good company! I’m even rolling my eyes at myself. It’s pretty absurd. My family is not starving. Our house hasn’t been destroyed by any of the earthquakes thus far. My children have shoes, even if the little one only carries them to school and back in his hands and never actually puts them on his feet. No terminal cancer happening. We even have a car that works more often than it doesn’t. All of these annoyances that come from not having internet at home are not even a step down from all those funny non-problems that people call “First World Problems.” (Just google it if you’re not familiar. You won’t be disappointed.) It’s silly, it’s minor, and yet sometimes it’s go-outside-and-hack-at-the-weeds-with-the-machete level frustrating. “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” my Dad would have asked me, but in this case, yes I do! Thanks! So grab some cheese and a glass for yourself, because I’m going to lay it out for you.

“First World” Problems*

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You would think I’d be accustomed, to not having home internet. I didn’t have it in the US until 2008. And I haven’t had it here in over four years. Plus I spent that year in Juquila when we theoretically had internet but it was so slow you couldn’t do much on it except from about 3am-7am when the rest of the town was sleeping.

I should be unfazed by my lack of convenience, after spending a year and a half without electricity, but I am fazed as f@*#. On a bad day, I am mad about it like a determined two year old whose parents just won’t let him eat the cat food. I mean, I just spent months in the US with unlimited internet access! Even in a car, driving on an expressway in the middle of nowhere! You people not only have phone signals, but also wireless on the phone! It’s unbelievable! The injustice of it all! (Okay, insert a little auto-eyeroll here)

Meanwhile at my house, which is only about a mile from “downtown” of my fair adopted city, we can’t get a half decent signal. Our neighbors across the street got the fancy antennae and all that jazz and tried last summer. That’s how we know it’s not worthwhile. I have slightly more than zero knowledge on technological functions of internet signals, so I can’t explain why it doesn’t work in my neighborhood. Because the gods of capitalism hate poor people? Wait, no, that’s the wrong answer…. I don’t know why; I just know that’s how it is.

By extension, don’t bother trying to tell me all the reasons why you, in some other town or some other country or even some other neighborhood, believe that we should be able to have home internet. “But this (insert name of wireless technology) exists now! It’s everywhere! I’m sure you can get a signal via (insert name of some other internet service) if nothing else.” No. Just stop. This is my neighborhood, run mostly by chickens, goats, and small children, and therefore I’m sticking to my empirical evidence: the neighbors tried and it didn’t work. That is all. We just have to wait until things… develop more, I suppose.

For now, however, this is my big chance to complain about my limited internet access, so here are a few other annoying inconveniences:

-I can’t answer calls when people try to video message me on facebook. I can’t video call people. Which means my kids  and me keeping in touch with family members is really tricky. My biggest just lost her first tooth, but did she get to call any of the grandparents to show off? Nope, not a one.
-I can’t instantly show my kids pictures of prehistoric giant crocodiles that they’re curious about. I can’t take advantage of satisfying our quest for knowledge right away. All that info “at our fingertips,” and yet, not now, guys, sorry.

 
-I can’t let them watch videos so I can take a brief nap. (Apparently our DVD selection is boring them these days) Sleep is a human right! My kids are also pretty sure that a better selection of programs is in order.

 
-I can’t do workout videos beyond the ones I have on DVD. Health is important! I need new ideas!

 
-I can’t type out my electronic correspondence. I have to poke at my phone to try to send my long-winded messages back and forth to friends and family. I don’t know how people tolerate that pecking at the letters all the time.

 

-I can’t post my blog from home when I finish it at midnight (so often the case since that’s my only chance at private writing time).

 
-I can’t get updates on my computer or my phone.

 
-I can’t put on any song I want whenever I want. (Seriously, not having unlimited youtube might be the biggest crime, as far as I’m concerned.)

 
-I can’t apply for jobs, because I can’t upload my resume and all that from my phone.

 
-I can’t do any sort of general internet-based work nor fun when my kids are asleep or when they’re occupied playing nicely with a friend.

 
-I can’t practice and learn more American Sign Language.

 
-I can’t do research for my book. (YES you read that right!)

 
-I can’t take an online course or even watch my friend’s youtube videos on parenting.

 

That’s just the short list! Obviously, I can do all of these things when I’m somewhere with internet access, but that time is limited. Some of these things I can do somewhat on my cell phone, assuming I have internet megabytes or whatever left on my plan or from my internet-megas top-up. But anything involving video is too much for my plan for more than a few minutes.

I am glad that at least I have a Smartphone now. I am grateful for some access to the worldwide everything. I’m grateful for having a Kindle in the first place in this land of such rare access to books. I’m grateful for a computer where I can draft things and then post online. I recognize all of the things that I have going for me in this scenario, trust me. But sometimes it feels like giving me two chips out of the bag. Who the hell is satisfied with two chips? It puts the taste in your mouth and then rips it away from you! It is a limbo land of semi-access to the cyber-world. It’s an internet purgatory. I have some access; I’m not like in some technology-free hell. But I can see all the things I could be doing, just over the horizon, and I can’t quite get there.

It’s kind of like when we were living without electricity. It would have been way easier to deal with if I were living the whole-shebang lifestyle of no electricity. Like if I were living in some small old school village where everybody cooked three meals a day and didn’t need to refrigerate leftovers, where it was just the norm to go to bed at dark, or sit around a campfire talking into the night. If I lived in the kind of society where electricity wasn’t an utmost basic necessity, then I would have rocked it. As it was, however, I could see the lights on at a neighbor’s house two blocks directly in front of us, taunting me. Without electricity, but living in a society where electricity is the norm, we spent a ton of excess time and energy buying ice for a cooler and charging lamps to use at night, for example. As usual, it cost more to be poor, to have fewer services.

It’s the same with internet access. No, it’s not as necessary as electricity. But we live in an age of technology. It wouldn’t be a big deal to not have home internet, except that each year the world becomes more and more internet-based. Internet isn’t just a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity in many ways at this point. For example, my whole economic plan for coming back to Puerto post-quitting the university was to teach English online. It’s not actually practical to do that from some beachside bar or restaurant, believe it or not. It’s definitely not workable from the my normal free internet spot where every time there’s a sports event the seating area fills up with drunk cheering dudes and the internet connection slows to nearly negative numbers.

On a good day, my limbo land of partial access is smooth and nearly sufficient, signals flowing to my computer from the place that I’m teaching now, the place where I wait to pick up the kids from school (when there aren’t too many other folks), and a very kind friend’s house. On the good days, I’m stoked that I have some digital devices, and I’m satisfied with long old-school phone conversations with my friends and family. Some days it’s enough to have the self satisfaction of finishing a blog and knowing that I’ll find time and space to publish in the next day or two. Some days I can take a deep breath and roll my eyes at myself and my internet drama.

On the bad days, I console myself with toddler-style tantrums, complete with head-banging and rabid tears (I imagine myself having such tantrums, if nothing else).  Be patient with me and my “Developing World Problems.”  This, like everything else, won’t last forever.

 

 

*Yes, the whole “First World/Third World” terminology is really problematic, socially and personally. Here’s a fabulous article from those lovely, brilliant folks on NPR about who the now-never-mentioned Second World was, why these terms are problematic, and possible other descriptions. However, the “First World Problems” memes are hilarious.

The Music Interlude of English Class

8 Mar

Exile to Mexico is proud to present: music exchange week at the university! A new Throw-Back Thursday publication for this humble blog!*

What music represents your country’s culture? This was one of the questions I asked my Level 2 students this week to get their brains relating in English for our music unit. It’s been such a fun discussion and rock-out session the past couple of days of class that I thought y’all might appreciate some of the excitement. Plus I bet you’ve never heard of half the music my students think is important, just like they’ve never heard of half your music. So I’m bringing the music exchange to you.

We were preparing to read an article on hip hop, and its now-international popularity. The article included a history of the roots of hip hop that mentioned genres like blues, jazz, reggae, and rhythm and blues. Most of my students have never heard of any of the styles or artists named there, except maybe for Bob Marley’s reggae. So we spent more than a whole class reading the timeline, listening to music and discussing it. It turned out to be a blast, even if nobody understood more than two words of any song. They foolishly wanted me to sing to them, believing that my singing would help them understand. Bwahahahahaha!

Before we even got to all that music, though, I asked them what music represents Mexican culture. What do you think, dear reader, when you think of music in Mexico? If you said mariachi, some of my students would certainly agree with you. Mariachi is popular- at certain moments, at least- all over Mexico and is fairly recognized internationally. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) even declared it an important part of the national culture in 2011.

Other popular answers to this question included banda music and norteñas, which you may or may not have heard of. I certainly hear people playing banda music around here about a thousand times more often than they play mariachi music, but identity is identity and we all know mariachi is historical and famous. Perhaps it is more relevant on a daily basis in other parts of Mexico than here in coastal Oaxaca.

I am the worst in the world at describing music, so I will spare you my pathetic attempts and give you examples instead. This is some of the music that my students feel like is important to and representative of their lives and culture in Mexico.

This is Conan’s favorite ever corrido, one style of music that a lot of my students mentioned as being important. A corrido is a Mexican folk ballad that narrates something like a historical event or another important topic. It was a style that started in the gruesome, ten year long Mexican Revolution. I was much more impressed with the argument for corridos being Mexico’s music rather than mariachi music. Corridos explore a whole gamut of topic including but not limited to infidelity, immigration, poverty and oppression, folk heroes and historic events, and even violence and drugs. Norteña music, at least as far as my gringa understanding goes, is in the same style as corridos, still a narrative ballad style, but more about love and romance and cheating and all that stuff, and less about popular stories and oppression and revolution and the like. The most famous Mexican group that is classified as “norteña” music is Los Tigres del Norte. Here’s a song by them, and another, because I got a lot of recommendations by them.

Banda music is something it seems like everybody listens to around here, so of course that was named a lot as well, although I feel like that’s like saying “pop” is the national music of the United States. Here’s an example of something that I suspect is supposed to be romantic but the video itself is creepy, in my humble opinion. I can’t even listen to the lyrics. That’s how I feel about most pop music- especially “romantic” stuff, though, so it’s nothing against banda music itself. Here’s another example, just in case it’s your thing.

Not one person named mariachi when I asked what music represented culture in Oaxaca, of course. There were some more mentions of corridos and banda music by a couple people, but overall the clear consensus was a regional style of folk called chilenas, which I bet you’ve never heard of. Here’s an example of a chilena, along with the dance, at a yearly festival called the Gueleguetza that takes place in Oaxaca City. And a chilena about Puerto Escondido, my adopted town. And another popular chilena, because, really they are a major part of the culture in this state.

So does everybody here love chilenas and listen to them daily? No. But they’re guaranteed to be played at a wedding or other major party, at the town’s festivals, etc. They are THE regional folk music. Everyone knows how to dance to them, at least on the basic level, at the very least if they’re tipsy at a big party. Chilenas are heard throughout Oaxaca much more than mariachi, hands down. (I like it much more than mariachi music, too.)

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People dancing a chilena in Oaxaca. (Google image, definitely not my photo)

Also, in case you’re curious, there is indeed a link between the country of Chile and the music called “chilenas” here in Oaxaca. It is a bit similar and surely comes from the folk dance in Chile called the cueca. You can see a cueca for comparison here. The little bit that I’ve been able to research about it says that chilenas probably came here through Chilean sailors and immigrants heading to California during the gold rush, stopping off and maybe sometimes staying on the coast of Oaxaca. It’s a small world! (Especially since I also used to live in Chile.)

These music discussions were extra delightful for my students because, in addition to goofing off and watching their teacher lip sink to strange music, it turns out they had a very easy time with the vocabulary and translation part. There’s no English translation for Mexican music styles. Mariachi is mariachi. Chilenas are chilenas. You just have to experience it…. and pronounce it like a gringo. “Teacher, how do you say, ‘música banda’?” “Banda music!” I tell them happily. It’s just like my Level 1 students’ joy when we talk about food. “How do you say ‘enchiladas’?” “Enchiladas,” I tell them, and they sit there and blink at me. “It’s the same?” they ask. “Not exactly,” I say, and they giggle hysterically when I pronounce it like we do in the states.  Another win for the students!

Hope you enjoy the music half as much as we did in class! Salud!

*This is a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, and failed to publish. Whoops! But look how social-media savvy I am! Finally using the term “Throw Back Thursday” just before it goes out of style! Yay for taking advantage of procrastination!

Also, thank you, YouTube, for helping out the international sharing!

Wild Child Conversations

28 Feb

“I want to be a hippo when I grow up. What about you, Mommy?” The almost-three-year-old asks me the other day. After I tell him my options, he gleefully scoffs at me. “You’re gonna still be a people. I’m going to be an animal in the zoo!” His tone of voice is mocking me, and his smile is so big it’s its own celebratory dance. These are the kinds of conversations we have. This is how my kid with severe Apraxia can express himself now, glorious sense of humor and all.

The child who worked so hard to talk is now a verbal fountain overflowing with delightful observations, fascinating questions, and creative ideas about the world. A year ago I couldn’t have imagined this explosion of expressive language. Considering that he only had four vowel sounds when he started his speech therapy, all of this is total magic, which I am grateful for daily. We were in the right place at the right time with a lot of support and the perfect speech therapist- a specialist in Apraxia, no less- and all of this talk is the mother-load payoff. So I even try really hard to feel gratitude when he is lying in bed incessantly discussing dinosaurs or construction sites with himself, after I refuse to answer more of his questions because it’s past bedtime.

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These are the kinds of questions and comments that are the new norm from this kid:
-What can baby giraffes do when they are born?
-Why does the Earth only have one moon? Mommy, I want to go to Jupiter! Can I go on a spaceship tomorrow?
-Elephants have trunks. Elephants love to drink water with their big trunks!
-How does a dump truck work? How does a snow plow work? How does (x,y,z, ad infinitum) work?
-(In the car) Mommy, go fast! Red means go! (Followed by maniacal laughter because he knows it’s not true.)
-I have my dress on. Now I can go dig!
-There’s a fire somewhere! I have to go put it out with my firetruck and ladder!

Granted, he can’t pronounce a few consonant sounds. He substitutes other sounds instead of a G, K, L, or R. But he’s at age level and folks besides me can understand him most of the time.

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Yeah, he almost never wears shoes.

Mostly his grammar is at a good level, but of course I correct some things. “No, baby, we say ‘give it to her,’ not ‘give it to she.’” He looks at me like he can’t believe he got something wrong. “Is that in English or in Spanish?” he asks suspiciously.

His Spanish is coming along, slowly and awkwardly, but it’s coming. His priority words in Spanish are: más (more); leche (milk); basura (trash); and adios (bye), which is followed nevertheless by an extra, “Bye! Have fun!” in English. His accent sounds foreign, and not like he was born in Mexico. But there are words coming out!

He often asks, “How do we say that in Spanish?” The other day he asks, “How do we say melón in Spanish, Mommy?” He’s flummoxed when I tell him that the word is already in Spanish. He only misses half a beat, though. “Mommy, how do we say melón in English?” my determined little language learner asks instead.

Often he just goes around speaking English to everyone, perhaps mixed with a word or two in Spanish, and leaving the onus on the rest of the world to understand or not. “Jayden, give me my chanclas,” he says, and his classmate kindly hands him his flip flops. I suppose he suffered too long in his limited world of a few sounds and lots of miming to be shamed into silence just because he’s speaking the wrong language.

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He definitely uses his lexicon to get what he wants, as almost-three-year-olds are apt to do. “Mommy, can I have coffee? Give me coffee. Can I have some coffee? How about now?” Because we drink strong, highly-caffeinated coffee at my house, I don’t usually hand out coffee to my kids, despite it being a Mexican custom. I have let my kids taste my strong, bitter, black coffee, in the hopes that they’ll hate it and quit asking for it. They both loved it for some bizarre reason. So he continues to beg for coffee, especially milky sweet espresso drinks that we sometimes make or buy. I remind him again that at my house, coffee is for grown ups. So finally he says, “Mommy, I’m a grown up! Gimme coffee, Mommy!” He’s so incredibly pleased with himself, with such a wide dirt-eating grin, that I give in. “One drink of coffee for being so funny,” I tell him. That’s right, you get rewarded for a sense of humor in my house. Even with espresso. We’re a wild and crazy bunch.

He comes up with totally random stuff that appears to be important to him for unfathomable reasons. “Mommy, I want a sheep,” he tells me one morning. I ask him about seven times what he’s saying before I understand, because sheep just isn’t on my ear’s radar as something to complete the sentence ‘I want a.’ “A sheep? Like that says ‘baaah’?” I ask to confirm. Indeed. “I’m not bringing any sheep into my house,” I tell him resolutely. “Mommy, I’m going to sleep outside with the sheep then.” There, Mommy, problem solved. He lies down on the floor to demonstrate how he’ll be sleeping outside. “Can we get the sheep today?” He asks. No. “How about tomorrow?” Nope. “Can we get the sheep on Friday?” (Not that he knows when Friday is.) No. “How about for my birthday? Can we get the sheep on my birthday? I’m going to sleep outside with it. Like the other boy.” I have no idea what other boy he is talking about. Someone from a book? From a video? An actual person we’ve seen around? Not a clue, but apparently that boy made a major impression. The answer is still no. Talking can’t get you everything, kid.

He also uses his language to try to internalize our family rules and values, or sometimes just to prove to his sister that he’s in the right and she’s in the wrong. Thus at any given moment he’s walking around firmly touting things like, “We don’t bite people. We bite food.” In a register only slightly quieter than a yell, he suddenly says, “Yes means yes! And no means NO!” I have high hopes for him to be giving workshops on consent someday.

If he’s not too busy being a firefighter or a heavy machinery engineer or a trash collector or a hippo in a zoo, anyway.

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!