Archive | October, 2012

A New Flavor of Popsicle

28 Oct

We have a regular customer who buys a bolis (pronounced bowl-ees) just about every day. A bolis is an awesome homemade popsicle. You use real fruit and blend it with either water or milk (depending on what kind of fruit it is) and a little sugar, then you put it in a small plastic bag, tie a knot in it, and freeze it. You eat it straight from the bag, tearing a little hole with your teeth to suck the juice out.
Since Arturo (Conan’s step dad) often brings coconuts from the coast, Paulina makes some delicious coconut bolis- it’s the water from the coconut, plus the coconut “meat”, plus milk and sugar. The finished product looks like this:

Arturo was in the store alone the other day, and he sold a bolis to our regular customer. A couple minutes later, Paulina goes back to the store, right as the customer comes back with the bolis in hand. “I don’t think this is a bolis,” he says, handing it back. “Oh, sorry,” Paulina says, putting it back in the freezer. She grabs a different one and hands it over to the customer, who quickly goes on his way.
“Arturo, what did you do?” she asks. “What? That wasn’t a bolis? What was it then?” he asks, a little indignant. “Really? You can’t see the difference between this bag and this bag?” She holds up the two bags. Here’s what the other bag looks like:

“I just grabbed it out of the freezer,” he says. “But what is it?”
“It’s Lucia’s milk. That Julia has been pumping and saving up just in case. She keeps it down here because there’s more room than in the kitchen freezer.” The bag even says Lucia, and has a date on it, unlike the bags for bolis. It has “mother’s milk” printed on the bag as well, albeit in English. You would think our regular customer would have noticed that it was different from the bolis he buys every day. But apparently he didn’t notice until after he had opened the bag and started to eat his breastmilk “bolis.”
And nonetheless he came back for more the next day!

A Little Dose of Positivity

8 Oct

ImageThis blog could use some positivity, as could I. To take some time to focus on the good things in my new environment. Because some days you might believe- and I might, too- that it’s all difficult and crappy. And it’s just not true. (And yes that rainbow is in our backyard.)

So I made a little list of things that make me feel like sunshine on a cloudy day. Number one on that list is my family here- my daughter, my partner, my awesome mother-in-law. But this is more of a cultural list, stuff that I like specifically about this place, not about the people around me.

Granted, the things that I love are mostly food-related. But I am, after all, that girl that prefers the kitchen above all other places in the house. “The kitchen is the heart of a home” said my friend Luis de Leon, and food is like glue that further binds people into loving friendships and family relationships. So I hope you enjoy my little rainbow list, and I’ll cook something for you if you come to visit!

Please not that my list is not in order of importance.

-Epazote… And you thought cilantro was exciting. Epazote is another fragrant and delicious herb that for some reason I could rarely find in Louisville. I especially recommend it for chilaquiles and for black beans. And while we’re on the subject, yerba santa (especially in black bean tamales) is pretty exquisite as well. -go here for more yerba santa info. -go here for more epazote info.

-Chepiles… Looks like spinach, tastes like artichokes. Not like vinegar-soaked canned artichoke hearts- like artichoke leaves. If you’ve never had a whole artichoke, you need to immediately go buy one. Boil for 45-60 minutes. Melt some butter and squeeze the juice of a lemon- a real lemon. Add salt to the lemon juice. Take an artichoke leaf, dip the edge in either butter or lemon juice, then scrape off the meaty part, now dripping in butter, with your teeth. Repeat until you get to the heart, which is a seriously orgasmic example of a vegetable. Then you’ll have an idea what chepiles taste like. Here’s a chepiles tamal:


-Tropical fruit…. including mango, pineapple, coconut, different kinds of banana, and much more are all close by, accessible, and fairly cheap (definitely cheap compared to Kentucky).

-Organic produce is cheaper than commercial pesticide-covered, genetically-modified shit…. Although it’s not labeled or anything, (and there’s no supermarket, either, but this will NOT be a complainy post), the ladies who sit on the ground in the plaza to sell produce are selling the stuff that they grow in their town, which is chemical-free, delicious, local, and cheap.

-The view of the river and the mountains from my window is gorgeous. Look! The picture doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.


-Almost everything is local business…. People put whatever business they feel like in the front part of their house. This is how many families make a living. So while in the cities you might have a supermarket or other big corporations, most businesses there and all businesses in towns are the businesses of the people who live there. I both love and hate the chaos and randomness of it, trying to figure out where to go to buy what we need. You might have to ask around and get sent to several different places before you find what you’re looking for- like a mosquito net we got to put around Lucia’s bed. You might have to go to a place 3 different times before you catch them open, like when we wanted to get a key made. You also might have 10 different places in the plaza that sell practically the same thing, which is just a little ridiculous. But at least it’s local. And in some ways, it’s more convenient- like you can count on there being all kinds of necessities (basic food products like tomato, hot peppers, rice, beans, eggs, etc.) right around the corner- most of the time.

-Loudspeaker announcements… okay I don’t actually love this but it does amuse the hell out of me. The local government has a loudspeaker that they put on top of a car and drive around making important announcements. Unfortunately, to my untrained ear (and Conan’s too), it mostly sounds like the parents on Charlie Brown. I hear something like “wha wha brr wha arrr importante…. Wha wha brr ig colonia 3 de mayo…. Wha wha pa arr 20 de septiembre ” The other day I caught  only the words “papanicolau” (pap smear) and “mamografia” (mammogram). But I have no idea when, where, or for whom. Oh, well.

-The products people sell via drive-by/walk-by…. First of all, there’s a bunch of fantastic street food- tamales, chiles rellenos, breads, sweets, etc.- that passes by our house every day. People walk by selling whatever it is that they’ve made (including fresh tortillas twice a day), which is unbelievably convenient when we need a snack or don’t have time to cook. And then there are the things that get sold via truck- the gas we use for the stove and the hot water heater, the big bottles of drinking water, pizza, mattresses, and more. We woke up our first morning in Mexico to a car driving by announcing “Atole! Atole!” (which is an oatmeal-based drink), and realized we were definitely in Mexico after all. Selling heavy stuff via truck is great because we (and many other folks) don’t have a car to go pick stuff up and bring it back. The downside is you have to be home and paying attention to get those things. The gas truck at least makes a weird moo-like sound, then plays some music, and announces “gas de Oaxaca”.  I refuse to buy pizza because the announcement/song is too irritating. But many things aren’t announced- you just have to watch for them, which is how we missed the water truck that has the water that tastes good for like 3 days in a row.

-Cheap(er) access to medical and dental care. What’s not to love about not stressing out about whether you can afford to go to the doctor or not?

-There’s not a lot of processed food (also a downside occasionally!).

-Breastfeeding wherever, whenever, with no dirty looks, rude comments, or even the bat of an eye…yep. I know, all you breastfeeding moms in the U.S. are jealous now.

-Street-life exists…. The town feels alive. There are always people walking to get places (and horses and cars, too). Big events happen outside, usually in the plaza. Houses are open. The environment is more public, open, not private, shut out.  

-Handmade, fresh tortillas every day…. Yes, I mentioned this in the products people sell via walk-by section. But it’s worth mentioning again. It’s pretty great.

-No lawnmowers- only machetes… First of all, people don’t have stupid lawns like they do in the U.S.  (and not a lot of grass that’s not eaten by cows and such anyway). But when there is excess grass you cut it with a machete. That’s right. No lawnmowers. No leaf-blowers (the bane of my existence/the epitome of US waste and laziness, in my humble opinion). None of that ridiculous noise and poor use of petroleum. And you can even hire someone to cut your grass. We had some insanely overgrown mess all around the back of the house and a guy cut it down for like 15 bucks (US).  I know, you wish you had a machete.

-No tornados…. That’s right, I can finally enjoy a storm in peace. No sirens. No National Weather Service beep beeps giving me panic attacks. It’s just a simple storm.

-Patriotism is reasonable and for a limited time only… Mexican independence is celebrated in September, and the whole month you’ll find flags everywhere, and other signs of patriotism. But then, it’s over. October 1 rolls around and all that blatant national pride disappears from view. Sure, people still love their country. But they’re not all up in your face about it, and they don’t go around insisting to everyone and their mom that they’re country is better than everyone else’s. It’s patriotism I can respect. Fancy that. 

….I’m sure there are other aspects of life here that I appreciate and enjoy that haven’t occurred to me in time for this post, so I’ll keep you updated, and try to keep busting out these little rays of sunshine from time to time. Since we’re almost out of the rainy season, and I’ve been here over two months now, I’m sure sharing the positivity will get easier. Stay tuned! 

Nevermind the Pharmacists

8 Oct

Part One on Health and Safety: Doctors, Medicines, and Vaccines (oh, my!)
People in the U.S. have strong opinions and culture around health and safety. I hesitate to post this, because even while I feel critical about my new adopted country, I also feel protective of it. I know that my critique could be used as more fodder for the kind of people who are already xenophobic, people who are hateful and/or fearful about Mexico, Mexicans, and/or other immigrants to the U.S. Of course, all I want is to share some anecdotes about our adjustment to this country, and probably those xenophobes are not reading my blog anyway. Nonetheless, other well intentioned folks, potentially some people who I love and who care about me, are liable to be just as appalled, just as worried and upset and condemning about this country- which, after all, is the country where my partner was raised, and the country where we are raising our daughter for now. It’s a country where my heart lives now, and one that I’m not leaving anytime soon.
It is hard to share some of the negative or difficult things about my life here. People sometimes feel bad for me, feel pity, feel dismay, want to save me from it somehow, or just can’t fathom it. But I want to share, so that someday, when I go visit my city again, someday, when potentially we move back, someday, when you and I chat on the phone, the bridge between our experiences won’t feel so vast. So I hope that people can read this, and all the other negative, critical, difficult, or just wildly different things that I post, and keep in mind that this is just where I am. Every place has serious flaws, including and especially the U.S. I am not sharing this so that people will worry, or be shocked, or feel sorry for me. Rather, I want to give you an idea of my landscape, so here goes.
My first experience with a doctor here was fantastic, since I didn’t have to leave the bed. Conan called his cousin who’s a doctor, explained my symptoms, and the cousin prescribed an antibiotic for me. Brilliant.
However, the same informality makes me nervous in terms of my baby. When we took Lucia for her first check-up, I diligently took all the paperwork from the hospital and the doctor’s office in Louisville. But the doctor didn’t even start a file for her- not a single note was taken, except by me. He also didn’t do all the same routine stuff like they do in the U.S., although maybe not all of that’s necessary? This doctor is a general practitioner, not a pediatrician, so maybe that’s the difference? I’m not sure that check-ups are the norm, so maybe that’s it? I did find out recently that there is one pediatrician (and one gynecologist!) in this town, so we’re discussing the possibility of going to see him/her for Lucia’s four month check-up.
It’s not like we have an appointment for her check-up. That’s because there are no appointments here. You just go to the doctor when you need to see a doctor. You wait if they’re not available. They have longer working hours, although they also might not be there at all, randomly. This is because most people work out of an office attached to their home. It’s nice for everyone concerned, as far as I can tell. The doctor doesn’t have to be twiddling his/her thumbs in the office if there are no patients- they can be in their house doing whatever they need or want to do there, and just slip in when a patient comes. The patient has more access to the doctor since the doctor’s “office hours” are longer, since the doctor doesn’t have to be there the whole time. The patient decides what time and day to go in. And wait times don’t seem to be longer than in the U.S., where you wait despite having an appointment.
Antibiotics and other medications don’t come with 3 pages of warnings and information, either. They come with as little information as possible, it seems. The one bit of information mine had on it said do not use while pregnant or lactating. Even though I heard Conan tell the doctor on the phone that I was breastfeeding. Even though Conan says the doctor says that he’s gonna prescribe me a not-so-strong antibiotic since I’m breastfeeding. Even though Conan says the pharmacy person looked in some textbook to make sure it was okay. So why does my package say it’s not okay?
I’m 3 days into it at this point, and almost decide to panic. I’m also in Oaxaca City, not Juquila, so I can’t just go ask the doctor. I decide to skip my dose for the night and go ask a pharmacist in the morning. So when we pass by a pharmacy the next day, I say, “Hold on. I’m just gonna go ask about the medicine real quick.” There’s a guy that looks like a teenager working behind the counter- I avoid him. Then there’s a woman who looks like she’s at least a little more in charge, and not a teenager (no offense teens, but I’m looking for medical advice).
I approach the woman and explain the situation. “Well,” she says in a school-teacher voice, “that’s right. Antibiotics are bad for babies. It damages them.” I just look at her for a minute. “Really? All antibiotics? So pregnant women and breastfeeding women can’t take any antibiotics?” I ask, catching myself before I raise my voice. “Correct. It’s dangerous.” She affirms. I want to channel my Nonna and ask her where the hell she learned that. I want to tell her that I know that’s not true, that there are different classes of antibiotics and they affect fetuses and babies in varying degrees. I want to tell her it would be insane and more dangerous if pregnant and breastfeeding women couldn’t take any antibiotics ever. I want to scream at her that she’s probably doing more damage to women telling them they can’t take antibiotics. Instead I stare at her again for a minute, controlling myself, and give her my best sarcastic “thank you,” and storm out of the pharmacy.
“How can she be a pharmacist?” I ask Conan irately. “She’s not a pharmacist, Julia. She’s just some woman who works in a pharmacy.” He explains. “Then where is the pharmacist?” There isn’t a pharmacist, he tells me. So imagine, it’s like there’s just the Walgreens clerk there doling out your medicine. Not someone who’s studied medicines. Someone who’s maybe graduated from high school. This is the norm. Fabulous.
Antibiotics also don’t come in the quantity that you need, for some reason. They’re prepackaged, so you might have to buy a couple of packages and then have some leftovers. I didn’t realize this until Conan got an antibiotic. He was prescribed to take it for 7 days but there were only enough pills for 5 days. Then when he went back to get some more they were out of it, so he went back to the doctor and got prescribed a different antibiotic to take for another 5 days. Not particularly efficient, to say the least, but surely there’s some reason for it? I guess so the non-pharmacists can’t mess it up? Any other ideas, anyone?
Before we arrived in Mexico, we researched vaccines fairly extensively. Mexico and the U.S. have pretty much the same vaccines, and more or less the same schedule, which made things a little easier. We had decided, however, to delay the Hepatitis B vaccine (routinely given at birth), and had delayed the rotavirus vaccine, and were discussing skipping it altogether. Then we arrived in Mexico, and were told by a doctor that you can’t opt out of or delay any of them. They’re obligatory- and supposedly more necessary than in the U.S., according to some.
Vaccines are also free, which is great, though it means the demand outweighs supply regularly. They are only given at hospitals and health centers, not at doctor’s offices. When we went to the hospital to get the 2 vaccines Lucia hadn’t had yet, they were out. The rotavirus vaccine can only be given within a certain time frame, and time was almost up. Since it’s slightly unpredictable when a new batch of vaccines would get to Juquila, we needed to get it elsewhere. While I wasn’t that worried about her not getting the rotavirus vaccine, I didn’t want them to make her get it outside of the time frame that’s been studied as the same time frame for the vaccine.
Luckily, Conan’s mom knows somebody- a key factor in any country, as we all know. So she called her nurse friend in the next town over and got the okay for us to go to the community health center there. I, of course, have to pee while we’re there. The bathroom looks relatively clean, but I go to wash my hands and there’s no soap.
Now, this is a situation that happens often, and I could do a whole post on the lack of public restrooms and lack of toilet paper and lack of this and that, thanks to my incredibly small bladder helping to over-inform me about these things. But we’re in a community health center! There’s a sign over the sink that explains how to wash your hands effectively and tells you about the importance of hand washing. And there’s no freaking soap. And while I’d already learned to carry hand sanitizer with me everywhere, the idea of all those sick people and no soap is enough to make me ill on the spot. (I will say that the nurse in the health center washed her hands with soap in the sink right in the exam room before giving Lucia the vaccine, for the record. Thank you, hygiene gods.)
To be continued…..