Building My Own Yellow Brick Road

14 Apr

“Envy has some pretty major flaws,” I thought when folks expressed that they’d love to be in my shoes. I was pretty sure that none of my friends would kill to be in my dusty, worn-out Chucks, scrubbing their family’s clothes on a washing board with a scrub brush, constantly trying to sweep the sand and dirt and dust out of their sleeping and living area, battling the onslaught of mosquitos at dusk so intense it sounds like an oncoming freight train, spending like 3 hours just to make coffee and breakfast in the morning because only 1 burner on the crappy camping-style stove works at a time. Although if you are, indeed, dying for that authentic Mexican* experience, by all means, come on down to my house.

my lavadero (washing board)

my lavadero (washing board) – with my bike in the background!

In fairness, I think my Facebook friends and family must’ve seen one of our pictures from the beach (the few times we’ve gone to the beach) and mistaken our life here in Puerto Escondido for the life of some of the gringo bloggers I read before moving down here, the people writing (and living) stuff like it’s so great to live in Mexico because we can afford all the domestic help we want for practically nothing. Or maybe they imagine us as semi-retired snowbirds, drinking some cafe con leche by the beach in the morning, spending the suffocating afternoon hours in the pool or the air conditioned house, and then… um… what else would we be doing? Lounging around? Biding our time till we go out to dinner with the other ex-pat friends? Getting our nails done? …Have you guys met me?

But the truth about my life here lies somewhere between these lines, neither in the depths of abject poverty nor in the blissful ignorance of material wealth. I could feed you all kinds of anecdotes to wash away any twinges of jealousy, tell you all the gory details about things we’ve had to do or things we’ve had to do without in this journey of moving and building a house, but really I want to tell you about all the things that make me head-over-heels happy with my little space in the universe. Today I am gonna revel in the confidence of knowing that I am exactly where I need to be.

So lemme tell you that yes, it is sunny and hot most of the time (while you’re freezing your butts off, dear gringo compatriots), and then even after that it’s still hot and mostly sunny with a bit of rain or a couple hours of coolness. This means I can wear skirts and tank tops most any day of the year, which already practically proves I was meant for this place.

And lemme tell you that I, the walking-talking PSA for seatbelts, have discovered that it’s exhilarating to ride in the back of a pickup truck, with the wind blowing my hair everywhere (and my skirt, too, a la Marilyn Monroe if I’m not careful), seeing all the scenery up-close-and-personal, grabbing leaves off of trees in a contest with 7 year old Emmanuel. (Yes, seatbelts save lives still. They are also mostly not an option here, so you might as well enjoy it.)

Lili -pictured with Uriel- demonstrating how I feel riding in the truck

Lili -pictured with Uriel- demonstrating how I feel riding in the truck

And lemme tell you that my sense of accomplishment is off the charts when I arrive somewhere on my bicycle, without hitting any sheep or goats, or being bit by disgruntled dogs, or flipping over on any of the plethora of speed bumps that I may or may not have seen first, or having been discouraged by the sand and dirt and rocks that is my road. I feel like me when I get home from the supermarket (“Me hunter/gatherer,” I grunt at Conan), my thigh muscles pounding from the uphill first half of the ride with umpteen pounds on my back, my heart racing and my smile plastered on crooked from the downhill second half of the ride, bathed in equal parts sweat and triumph.

And lemme tell you how I smirk at the Julia of four months ago who couldn’t get to and from her own house by herself, not even by taxi, much less any other way. Because the Julia of today goes all over town by micro (bus) and colectivo (shared taxi, 3 people in back and 2 in the front seat), by bike, by foot, or haggling with taxi drivers trying to charge me the tourist price. This right-at-home-here-thank-you-very-much Julia can tenderly make fun of the anxious woman who thought Puerto was so big and complicated, when it’s really so much smaller than my small hometown city of Louisville, Kentucky.

And lemme tell you how I marvel at subtle cultural things that contrast so sharply with Juquila, things someone who hasn’t lived in a town that’s like an emotional and intellectual coffin would surely take for granted. For instance, many people rest on Sundays. You have to go farther away to get tortillas because even the women that normally make and sell them give themselves a little break. Brilliant! People often walk down the street together as a family; it’s not just women and children doing their thing and men doing their own thing. Miraculous! Friends and family randomly drop in on each other for visits on a regular basis. Amazing! Strangers mostly refrain from unabashedly gawking at you and asking pertinent personal questions about you, addressing questions about you to persons whom are not you. This is madness, I tell you! Here in Puerto, there are universities and poetic graffiti and playgrounds and a million other things that add meaning and spark to life, and every time I notice all these beautiful details it adds to my sense of belonging here.

And lemme tell you how I feel tsunami sized moments of joy when I stand outside on our (still-in-the-works) porch and look at the incredible amount of stars in the universe that I can see right outside my door, when Lucia says “home” as we’re coming up the path to our house, when I can hear the giant waves from the comfort of my bed (even though we’re relatively far from the ocean), when Conan and Lucia walk around our yard calling out to all the lizards to come out and play, when I eat a hot pepper or a watermelon from our magical garden (that sprang up from spitting seeds without any work on our part), when I’ve got fresh mango or papaya or pineapple juice dripping down my chin, when I spend 100 pesos at the market and come home with an overflowing bag of vegetables, when Lucia makes a b-line for the ocean and screams giddily as she is nearly carried off by a wave, tethered to the land only by my arm. In all of these moments and many more, I feel sure and secure in our decisions to come live here, to raise our family here. (So secure, in fact, that I won’t even edit my run-on sentences! Take that, perfectionism! Ka-zam! Right in the kisser!)

the first ripe tomatoes from our magic garden

the first ripe tomatoes from our magic garden

And lemme tell you, sometimes my battle with the ants in my kitchen feels like it could devour me, sometimes the lack of electricity makes me bleak and weary inside, sometimes I miss people and past routines so much that I stumble, unsure of my path. Some days I want to turn back. But the real problem with envy, even envy over your own past, is that it distracts you from this adventure here and now, from forging ahead on your path, rugged and unpaved as it may be. And lemme tell you, some things and some days are horrendously miserable, and some moments are astoundingly fabulous, and then there’s everything in between. In the end, it’s just like your life, except it’s mine. So don’t be jealous, ‘cause my Chucks wouldn’t fit you anyway, and you’ll get your sunshine when it’s your time.

*I don’t mean this is the experience of all Mexicans in all of Mexico, by any stretch. Mexico is a vast and diverse country. I mean that it is a singular experience taking place in Mexico and that it is not like a tourist’s experience in Mexico.

an iguana visiting our house... Conan using the banana to show to-scale size of iguana, not to feed the beast ; )

an iguana visiting our house… Conan using the banana to show to-scale size of iguana, not to feed the beast ; )

beautifully  melodramatic poetry on the street

beautifully melodramatic poetry on the street

more graffiti makes me happy

more graffiti makes me happy

my chile tusta

my chile tusta from the garden

the beginnings of our porch

the beginnings of our porch

the view from a truck one day

the view from Arturo’s truck one day

holding on tight as Lucia prepares to throw herself into another wave

holding on tight as Lucia prepares to throw herself into another wave

a float from the carnaval celebration

a float from the carnival celebration- another reason Puerto’s great

2 Responses to “Building My Own Yellow Brick Road”

  1. lee1978 April 14, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    I don’t envy your life, but it is fascinating and I admire you for embracing your new life so fully. If I was going to live in Mexico, I’d want to do it the way you are, warts and all, so to speak. My time in Mexico with my Spanish class wound up way too touristy. And even then, at 16 I had HUGE first world guilt over the way the people who worked in the hotels that we stayed at lived. . . Oh and I loved the melodramatic poetry! 🙂

    • exiletomexico April 15, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

      I´m so glad you liked the poetry! There are possibly 2 people that write this really romantic poetry all over town and I adore it!
      As far as visiting Mexico as a tourist, there´s not much you can do to change the system so to speak when you´re just visiting. but I think just talking to people and observing with your eyes wide open, being nice and respectful and open to people is already more than many tourists do, and sometimes it´s a lot. Obviously at 16 you were already really aware so might as well not feel guilty about it. : )
      Maybe you´ll come back and visit sometime! ?
      Thanks for reading and commenting! Take care!

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