Archive | September, 2012

A Work-in-Progress, Day after Day after Day

26 Sep

You could say I’m stuck in the life of a white, middle-class, 1950’s housewife- minus the valium and fancy appliances. Or some days it feels more like that movie Groundhog Day- where I wake up to the same old monotony, day after day after day. If you’ve never been outside of the U.S., you might not understand how much patience is required. Everything is slower. It’s all a process. All the time.
For me, in addition to being a city girl, raised in the land-of-convenience, I’m a habitual multi-tasking over-achiever. Despite having travelled a lot and learned to (temporarily) go with the flow, I tend to think patience looks great on others, but for me is a really boring, overrated virtue. I catch a glimpse of it in myself from time to time, or in certain contexts (like when I’m teaching, I can be the epitome of patience), but then it slips out of my greedy little hands when I wish for it the most. Such as when trying to accomplish anything in Mexico- aka daily life.  Let me paint a little picture for you.
The first 4 or 5 hours of my day, every day, look like this:
-Get up, shower and get dressed. Go upstairs and put water to boil on the stove.
-Attempt to sweep the puddles of water off of the upstairs floor/porch/roof (whatever you want to call it- the top floor of the house in the part that’s open air)- because it inevitably rained at some point in the night and the concrete is uneven at certain points of the roof (which is flat).
-Put the clothes that didn’t dry yesterday back out on the line. Try to keep an eye on the coffee or it’ll boil over.
-Start washing diapers. Now technically, we have a washer. But it is not a washer like you probably have, or like you have access to at the laundromat down the street from you. It is a washer which sometimes manages to swirl the clothes around a little bit before I have to take them out, potentially scrub on them some more, rinse them, and squeeze as much water as I can out of them. Then I hang them on the line to dry and try to stay close by because it could suddenly start to rain at any moment in the day. Notice I say “start” washing diapers because as you can imagine, all of this is a process and I am also taking care of the baby and potentially still waiting on coffee and other such tasks that I probably shouldn’t bother trying to multitask. Taking care of Lucia means talking to her while I do things, hoping she plays with the giraffe that hangs on her carseat, trying not to feel guilty about letting her sit around in her car seat all morning, putting her in the wrap when she won’t sit alone anymore, feeding her when necessary (which of course is like a giant pause button on all these morning tasks)…. You get the idea. Slow, slow, slow.

clothes rinsing and spin cycles

-Wash the dishes from last night, since it was probably raining when we finished eating dinner, or else it was just dark and we were tired and didn’t feel like it.  (I think it only rains like this about 6 months out of the year?)

the dishwasher

-Coffee is surely ready by now, having boiled for a few minutes and then sat on the stove to let the grounds settle at the bottom. I drink some coffee and start to feel more alive.
-Check and see if we have enough ingredients or appropriate leftovers for almuerzo, which we might call breakfast except it’s late in the morning, around 10 or 11 o’clock. (I note here that this schedule of eating is perfect for me. Thank you, Mexico.) If not, go to the appropriate place to buy whatever. The appropriate place is usually some version of a corner store which is some neighbor’s storefront. Although sometimes you need stuff from the centro, which is a further walk. Not somewhere I’m willing to go in the morning- if I didn’t go in the afternoon then oh well.
-Start cooking, or heating stuff up, etc. Hopefully the woman down the street who makes tortillas by hand has passed by and brought the tortillas for the morning. If not, someone’s gotta go get them.
-Sit down to eat. Feed Lucia first, because she’s probably hungry again by now.
-Wash the dishes.
-Now it’s time to go out and get supplies/food, or run errands or whatever. Hope it doesn’t rain while we’re gone.
-Get back and it’s time to start cooking for la comida, another fairly big meal that happens around 3pm.
This is my morning/early afternoon, more or less every day, over and over. Often Conan’s mom is here and she takes some of these responsibilities, and Conan also does some of them plus some other relevant stuff. Some of this would be a slow process no matter what, by virtue of having a newborn baby. But this gives you an idea of how my time flies, filled with non-glamorous non-adventures. The rest of the afternoon usually holds other non-glamorous and slow tasks as well. This is part of how I end up not having time to write. This is how I end up so often feeling bored and frustrated, like I’ve accomplished nothing in the entire day, despite being busy all day long.
But I guess I accomplish living another day. Raising my daughter another day. Being with family another day. Learning how to navigate another culture, another phase in my life, for yet another day. And maybe I don’t cross off much on my to-do list, but when I accept that this is my life, and not actually some 50’s TV show nightmare I’m going to wake up from, I find moments of joy. I shamelessly sing off-key to music while I wash, despite the neighbors hearing me. I tell stories to Lucia while I cook. I check my facebook while I feed Lucia. I chat with people. I find time to laugh. This is my life, and it’s just how it needs to be, if I can just remember that I’m my own main character. Even if I didn’t write the script, if I don’t always have much control over the circumstances, I decide how I act, and how I’ll live.  And I decide I don’t need Valium or (many) fancy appliances. I throw away my to-do list and decide I’ll put passion into monotony, and that’ll be even better than patience. Even if it takes forever.

Epic Burgers

5 Sep

I didn’t plan to come to Mexico to eat burgers. Yes, burgers. Not burritos. Not chimichangas (which aren’t real Mexican food anyway). No. Burgers. Go figure. I’ve been a vegetarian, most of the time, since I was 11 years old. The exceptions have been mostly when I’ve been out of the U.S., which has been quite a bit in the past 10 years. Even so, the past several countries have all been in Latin America, and while I’ve eaten meat there (even Chilean versions of hot dogs!), I have not eaten a burger in at least 7 years. I believe the last time I ate a burger I was in Italy, with a horrendous case of boot-rot, and in an effort to avoid walking my travel partner got us McDonald’s, since it was the only very close food available where we were staying. (We swore each other to secrecy from the shame and irony.)I don’t even like burgers, or most meat, really. I eat it when I’m away because I want to try all the typical food in a country, because it’s convenient and I don’t always have access to what I would normally cook for myself, because I don’t want to reject food that kind people offer me. But I don’t get excited about meat, especially burgers.
But we walk down the street to visit Epic (whose name is actually Epigmenio, who people call Epig, which sounds more like Epic). I am not planning on eating a burger. But I am desperate to get out of the house, so I gladly accompany Conan, with Lucia wrapped up against my chest, of course. Epic is friendly. He speaks directly to me. He smiles- and has very cute dimples, by the way. He has that idiosyncratic I’m-super-busy-working-very-fast-but-it’s-all-cake-to-me, laid-back attitude that experts in the service industry do so well. It’s the first time I’ve seen that attitude here in Mexico, where tips do not prevail. It takes me back to that camaraderie of the restaurant business in Louisville. He chats with us despite the blaring volume of telenovelas, which he glimpses at from time to time- super multitasking, as busy as he is that night.
I can’t believe how many people come for his burgers. That night he runs out of burgers, so many people come, but he still has some hotdogs left…. More than the sheer quantity of burgers, I can’t believe what these burgers look like. I watch him prepare plenty of them before he gets around to taking our order- and by then I’ve decided that yes, I have to have one. Because these are Mexican burgers, after all. And not just Mexican burgers- these are fucking epic burgers.
Let’s see if I can manage to name all the ingredients:
-the burger (which I might add, is local beef, ground the same day, formed into patties by hand that afternoon- although I didn’t learn that till later)
-american cheese (or some equivalent of gross orange-yellow version of cheese, ew)
-pineapple (for the Hawaiian burger, which I ordered)
-quesillo (delicious Oaxacan melty cheese)
-fried onions
-ketchup AND mustard AND mayonnaise
And the verdict is in…. they’re fantastic! (Okay, so I got mine without bacon or American cheese. Even when doing as the Romans do and all that, you gotta have some standards.) You might think I can’t make a fair comparison, since I hadn’t had a burger in years. But come on, converting a vegetarian is a pretty impressive feat.  I advise you all to abandon your fast food burgers immediately, and high tail it to Juquila.
Even more important than the burgers (and what, you ask, could be more important than burgers?), I’m turning Epic into my first friend in Juquila. Call it instinct, sixth sense, intuition, whatever- Epic exudes friend-material energy; he’s friendly but also, I think, sarcastic and skeptical, he’s funny and giggles easily, and I think he’s strong and tough and nice and lovely. I don’t actually know him, especially not that first night when I go and eat his hamburgers, but I warn him that same night that he’s gonna end up being my friend. More details on that later, but I will mention that so far so good- he’s even the first visitor that’s come to the house to see ME (not for Conan, not for Lucia- but to talk to me!)…. I think it’s gonna be an epic friendship.

Lucia in the sky with diamond… earrings? Or not. And other mama drama

5 Sep

Lucia, being a baby of not-quite 2 months old (at the time of writing this), looks pretty androgynous.  In the U.S., the color of baby clothing is what tends to identify a baby’s sex. I even had a nurse think that what was on the medical chart identifying my baby as a girl must have been wrong, since the baby was wearing green. In Mexico, apparently what identifies sex is earrings, or the lack thereof. So since Lucia doesn’t have her ears pierced, everyone assumes she’s a boy. When we say she’s a girl, people are shocked and dismayed. “When are you gonna do her little holes?” they ask. “When she asks for it,” we reply.  That stops some folks, but others insist that that’s silly; she really needs some earrings.
People also believe that babies here are cold all the time and must be totally bundled up, even in sunny, 80-degree weather. “Where are her socks? Where’s her hat?” someone scolded me (this is a theme, really). “It’s hot out,” I asserted. “When did she tell you she was hot?” Around the same time she told you she was cold- I didn’t say. What’s even better (“better” being more ironic and irritating) is when strangers insist on holding my child, and then when she cries they tell me it’s because she’s cold, or for some other reason which is surely my fault. It couldn’t be because she doesn’t want to be in their arms, even though she was not crying in my arms just 3 seconds ago and now that you’ve given her back to me she’s stopped crying again. No, no, you, the stranger, surely know better than I what’s wrong with my baby. Thank you.
Which brings us to another baby mama drama of mine: strangers snatching my baby from me. I realize it’s probably universal that people like to hold babies. I don’t normally mind other people holding Lucia. In fact, it’s often a nice little break for me and her papi. But my mama-bear instincts kick into high gear when people who haven’t even introduced themselves to me come up and try to take my baby out of my arms. There’s no, “oh, can I hold the baby?” or even, “hello, my name is so-and-so”. They just come and reach out their arms, and I’m a big bitch for not wanting to hand over my baby. I don’t care if they know Conan, or Conan’s mom Paulina. I don’t know them. And I am (one of two people) responsible for Lucia’s wellbeing. Even if it weren’t dangerous (and parents, you try telling me you like to hand your newborn off to strangers on a regular basis), it’s still exceedingly rude. I can’t imagine trying to take someone’s baby out of their arms without a) asking them if it’s okay, and b) INTRODUCING MYSELF, if it’s not already a friend of mine. Part of this is, I believe, another symptom of me not being a real human being here (or maybe there’s another reason why so few people will speak directly to me?). For example, day 2 in Juquila, I go to the corner store with Paulina, with Lucia in her wrap as usual. People in the store come make a fuss about Lucia (Okay, cool. She is an adorable baby and all that.), but they ask Paulina if it’s her baby. Ummm, have you seen Paulina pregnant in the past year? Is Paulina carrying this baby around wrapped up against her body? You obviously can’t really mean to ask if this is Paulina’s baby, so why are you asking that? Is it that important to not acknowledge my existence? We could make a comic book character out of me- the invisible mommy. Look! There’s a floating nipple feeding that baby! Look! That baby is walking down the street held up by thin air! Bless their little hearts, they surely just want to help poor Lucia, as it must seem that she’s all alone.
And then I have culture shock around safety. Car seats are practically non-existent, for example. We went out to eat tlayudas a couple days after arriving. A friend of Conan’s picked us up in their car, so we had our car seat ready to go. The friend rolled down the window and his 7 month old daughter was sitting on his lap. He says he’s teaching her to drive, and doesn’t understand why we’d want to use the car seat. Granted, I understand better as we drive around town- between all the hills and curves and speed bumps, the random livestock and the people in the street, you never actually pick up speed. But in this case my cultural idea of safety is soooo deeply ingrained that I can’t help but feel nervous and upset. All I can think is that of course it’s fine to ride around without a car seat- unless something happens. So I wrap her tightly in her wrap, pressed up against my body, put a seat belt around us both, and throw a prayer to the wind. What else can I do?
Being a mom in a foreign country adds a whole new dimension to what it means to adapt. I have always considered myself such a chameleon, so capable of accepting whatever happens as an interesting story, if nothing else. But between the fact that I live here now, that I’m not just passing through, and the fact that I have this adorable, precious, teeny-tiny being to take care of, it’s a whole new ballpark deciding where and how to stand my ground, where and how to refuse to adapt, and how to do it graciously. No one said that motherhood would be easy.