Archive | September, 2014

The Bare Necessities of Health Care

28 Sep

“It’s the last place I want to go if I’m sick, unless I want to get sicker,” was my coworker’s concise intent at putting a damper on my enthusiasm. But after several years of my adult life with no health or dental insurance, pretty much nothing could talk me out of my optimism over my new employment-based health (AND DENTAL!) insurance.

I had also very recently become pregnant, so I figured even less-than-ideal health insurance was better than forking over half my paycheck for prenatal care. So while all the non-Pollyanna types around me warned me about the disorganization and the inconvenience, while they griped about the long waits and people cutting in front of you in line, I just listened and nodded, readying myself to collect my own story about it.

Bracing myself to fight for a morning appointment... okay, really it's a gratuitous picture of Lucia and me making funny faces.

Bracing myself to fight for a morning appointment… okay, really it’s a gratuitous picture of Lucia and me making funny faces.

On my first visit, to activate my insurance, I got there right when the office opened at 8AM, ready to fend people off to take my turn. But the other new teacher and I were the only ones in line for the getting-registered service, and it was really easy.  Then we went to wait for the introductory preventative health services, which we were also the first ones in line for. I was feeling extra-optimistic at the mere idea of a check-up. A trip to the doctor when I’m not feeling near-death! Instant triumph, in my book.

All was going well until the nurses were attempting to give me my annual gynecological exam. It was taking way too long and it was starting to make me a bit nervous. There were two nurses- surely between the two of them they could work a speculum? They started whispering between themselves- never a good sign. “Is everything ok?” I asked, barely covered, legs spread, at their mercy. “Yeah, everything’s fine,” they futilely tried to reassure me between covert eyebrow-raising and more whispering. “Have you had an operation?” they asked me. “Um, no.” I told them, much less reassured. I was about to insist that they give me the damn speculum, when finally they got it right.

Things pretty much went downhill from there. I saw blood on the slide and freaked out. I told them I was pregnant and they scolded me for not telling them sooner, telling me I shouldn’t have a pap smear while pregnant (which my gynecologist in the U.S. didn’t tell me when she gave me a pap smear while I was pregnant.) And so began my doubts about the usefulness of my health insurance, although I remained optimistic. But maybe then I was a little less like Pollyanna and a little more like Wendy in Peter Pan- really wanting to believe, but just a little too observant to hope blindly.

The nice, semi-competent but possibly misinformed nurses then sent me to my new consultorio- one of three offices in the building that’s your permanent doctor’s office. There’s no switching doctors if you don’t like one, or changing to a provider closer to you, or any of that business. You are assigned your consultorio 1, 2, or 3, and that’s where you go. Period.

I approached the nurse’s desk for consultorio 1 and told her I needed to set up an appointment because I was pregnant. There was nothing available for a month, but she insisted that I be seen before then. Which meant returning the next day before 7AM to get in line for an appointment the same day. Which meant asking off from work another morning, as well. But at least I wouldn’t lose pay over it! Life was still definitely good.

I got up at 5:30 the next morning so I could leave a little after six. Even though buses and colectivos run at that hour, it was still dark and I was scared to walk past all the mean guard dogs in the dark. So I called a cab and waited on the corner, rock in hand just in case. I figured the cost of the taxi was like a co-pay, so I couldn’t complain. I got there at 6:30 and approached the large group of folks standing outside the doors. “Do I take a number or something?” I asked a lady nearby. “What consultorio are you?” she asked. I told her, and she kindly shouted out for me, “Who’s the last person in line for consultorio #1?” Nobody said anything, so I excitedly assumed I was the first one in line. That meant I was sure to get an appointment.

The doors opened at 7 and everyone pushed and rushed their way in at once. I got to my consultorio and suddenly three other people were there claiming that they were first. “But I was the first one here! A lady asked for me!” I tried to insist. “No, no,” one older lady told me, “I was already here when you got here.” And so it went, and I ended up third in line, which I figured was good enough since it still meant I’d be seen that day. I loathed the idea of having to do it all again the next day, so I decided to be content with third place. We put our little identity/insurance card-booklet things (cartillas) in reverse order on the desk and waited for the nurse to show up. About 7:30 she arrived and gave the first five of us appointments, at 15 minute intervals starting at 8:00.

I’d brought a book, so waiting from 6:30 to 8:30 wasn’t too bad a deal. Finally I saw the doctor, who didn’t introduce herself or ask me my name, either. She looked at my cartilla and made some notes on the computer. She didn’t get up from her desk the whole time, except to briefly feel my abdomen to check uterine size. She told me to make an appointment to leave a urine sample, gave me a prescription for folic acid, and told me to come back in a week.

The only easy thing in those three tasks was getting my folic acid. There’s a pharmacy on site, and whatever they prescribe you is free. So at least there was that. Of course there were no appointments a week later, so I was told to come back for the same jockeying-with-the-other-sick-people wait as that morning. And to make an appointment for a urine sample? Lab appointments can only be made at 2 in the afternoon. You go and take a number and wait to get your appointment assigned, and then you go back yet another day for the lab appointment. On the day of your lab appointment you take yet another number to see when you’ll be able to turn in your sample. And it’s not the same day as your doctor’s appointment. And they don’t even supply you with the cup to pee in! I was starting to see why this insurance might not be all that I’d imagined it to be.

After those first few awkward, getting-the-hang-of-the-system appointments it started to get better. At least I know what I’m heading into. And as long as I don’t get sick with less than a month’s notice, I can just go to my scheduled appointment with no pushing my way through the crowd. Although after that first visit, I got better at dealing with the take-a-number-without-a-number game. So it’s something. ]

And I can handle all the inconvenience. It’s still free health insurance, and it’s still better than nothing. What does bug me, however, is the doctor’s bedside manner, and the fact that I have no other options, unless I want to pay big money for a private doctor. Conan accompanied me to my most recent appointment, and when I asked him what he thought of the doctor, he shrugged and said “She spent more time looking at the computer than at you.” Which pretty much sums it up, except it’s even worse than that because I think she hates that I ask so many questions.

For example, when she gave me the form to schedule my second ultrasound, I tried to discuss it with her. I wanted to know what it was for, for one. “So, you don’t do the 12 week ultrasound that checks for some abnormalities, then?” I asked, since she was giving me an ultrasound date where I’d be 18 weeks along. “Here at this insurance,” she explained, “you get three ultrasounds throughout your pregnancy. Every three months,” she tried to spell out for me. “So, if I only get three, can we wait on this next one until I’m 20 weeks? So they can do the whole anatomy check?” I asked. “No, no, this will be fine.” She said, trying to close the conversation. “But will they be able to check all of the anatomy and all of that?” I tried to explain what I meant, the reason they do this second-trimester ultrasound in the U.S.* “No, this will be fine.” She told me again, definitively ending the conversation. This is a good example of a typical conversation between us. I try not to antagonize her because she is my only choice. But I refuse to stop asking questions, too.

This is how Lucia and I feel about apathetic care providers.

This is how Lucia and I feel about apathetic care providers.

I am making the best of it. I have health insurance, which is way better than nothing. I appreciate the fact that I don’t lose time at work for going to the doctor. That I’m going to get some paid maternity leave (something y’all in the U.S. mostly don’t have at all!)

The Pollyanna that’s still left in me is also extremely grateful that I had a fantastic doctor for my first pregnancy. She always asked how I was doing, explained everything in detail, asked if I had any more questions even after I’d gone over all the doubts scribbled in my notebook. She gave me options, she gave me tips and tried to prep me with all the general info that I’d need between that and my next appointment. There was a phone number to call for emergency questions and doubts in the middle of the night. And, thanks to the way that insurance works in the U.S., if I decided my doctor wasn’t right for me, I could change at any time.

It seems so distant from this service I’m receiving. What I’m getting is bureaucracy. Health care that doesn’t give a damn. But I remind myself that there are lots of crappy doctors in the U.S., too, that hate questions and patients who read books. There are lots of long waits and inconveniences and probably even nurses who can’t find a cervix. It could be worse.

I think I was never meant to last long as Pollyanna. In this scenario, I’ve even given up on Wendy and wanting to believe in a free lunch. At this point, my goal is just to be a good enough person that I don’t cut in line in front of anybody else, that I don’t have to try to screw anybody else just to get mine. I just want to take care of and appreciate my individual body (and its growing individual parasite in my uterus) in the face of all the paperwork and bureaucracy. I want to push for the best and most individualized care that a bored, passionless paper-pusher of a doctor could possibly give. I want to advocate for myself without purposely antagonizing or insulting, and I will commit myself to shelling out the cash to go elsewhere when it’s called for. So maybe I’m a determined optimist after all. Maybe I’m like Baloo in the Jungle Book movie, and I can be happy with my bare necessities in health care; as long as they’re the ones I decide I need.

*I think that they don’t have the equipment to do the same kind of anatomy scan like they do in the U.S. around 20 weeks. 18 weeks is far enough along to have that check, but they did a much simpler, quicker version, and I think it’s because of their equipment. Although the ultrasound tech was really grumpy so I didn’t bother to ask him. He almost wouldn’t even do the ultrasound because I had lost the paper my doctor had given me to turn in to him. I had to go get the nurse at consultorio 1 to finagle me another copy at the last minute. Such adventures!

Amigos, It’s Not Cinco de Mayo

21 Sep

There’s something about a big group of gringos walking around with giant sombreros and big black mustaches that instantly rubbed me wrong. As the group walked by, Conan and I looked at each other, me with my nose all scrunched up, Conan with his eyebrows raised, both of us disapproving. But it took a minute to decide if I was just irritated by their ridiculousness- black bushy ‘staches clashing furiously with blonde hair, sombreros making way through the crowd like they owned the place- or if there was actually something offensive in the scenario. Are Conan and I just getting old and crotchety? I wondered.

We were at our town’s celebration of Independence Day. Yes, my amigos, Mexican independence happened in September, NOT on Cinco de Mayo.* (Skip the next couple lines if you already know about Mexican history.) Technically, what’s celebrated on September 16 is the declaration of a war for independence, called “El Grito de Dolores” (loosely translated as “the Cry of Dolores,” named after the small town of Dolores where it happened). The celebration usually begins on the evening/at night of the fifteenth, with the “grito” happening at midnight. In many towns, people go out and fire their guns into the air, I suppose in a sort of reveling-in-the-rebellion fashion. (And yes, every year people are injured by the falling bullets and other gun-related mishaps, just like every fourth of July people go to the hospital for fireworks injuries. But bless tradition for its tenacity!) Supposedly, in Puerto, nobody fires their gun at the town celebration, although some folks do in their neighborhoods. We didn’t stick around to find out, though, because the grito was happening much too far past Lucia’s (and my) bedtime (yikes, maybe I am old!). 

The celebration we attended was pretty entertaining, mustachioed gringos and all. Despite not starting till about 8pm, it was definitely a whole-family activity. There were rides- nothing wilder than those big chairs that spin in circles and the whole ride spins in another circle, and only one tame enough for my two year old. Lucia rode the merry-go-round twice since that was all there was for her, once with Mommy and once with Papi, which pleased her nicely. There was lots of food and drink- tlayudas and tacos and tostadas and atole and agua de sabor and of course beer (Corona or Victoria only, por supuesto). And there was entertainment galore! Singers and traditional dancers and bands abounded. We shared a tlayuda and hibiscus water, watched some of the events, had some roasted plantains with lechera (sweet, thick vanilla-flavored milk substance) to round out the night. It was definitely a good independence celebration. Although the best part of all was my four-day weekend, brought to me by those wondrous revolutionaries and the labor movements that came after them. (Thanks, Señor Villa and all activists after you. I finally caught up on sleep.)

Lucia on the merry go round, celebrating one of her countries' independence

Meanwhile, Conan and I discussed the situation and decided that no, we’re not just old and grumpy, and yes, the gringos walking around in that attire really were a bit offensive, despite the fact that the sombreros and fake mustaches were sold to them at the event by Mexican people. Perhaps if the sombrero thing weren’t such a raging stereotype of Mexicans to this day –nearly a century after the image’s origin- it wouldn’t be such a sore spot.

I think the problem is that the image of some short, stocky, bushy-mustached,dark-haired man wearing an oversized sombrero and slinging a rifle is still the image the U.S. has of the average, modern-day Mexican. While this is the image that was sold to the U.S. when rebel factions were asking for support during the revolution in the early 1900s, it is not even necessarily the real face of all revolutionaries at the time. And it certainly has zero to do with Mexicans today. But it’s become this big stereotype that’s remained since then, the sombrero especially, and every Mexican restaurant has one. Every beer store and bar acquires one, or at least a picture of one, for the 5th of May, although that’s not even Independence Day! The people going out drinking tequila and Corona in the U.S. mostly don’t even know what they’re celebrating, besides the drink specials (and I’m not begrudging you your drink specials; don’t get me wrong! But it’s good to know why.) Although the outstanding marketing tactics that promote “Cinco de Mayo” in the U.S. might have led you to believe that it was Mexican Independence Day, and understandably so.

Watching this mass of young gringos go by in their “I’m so Mexican” costumes was a bit like putting a sombrero on my business door for May 5th to sell an extra Corona. Maybe this group consisted of very sensitive and enlightened folks that were just dying to don mustaches, but it felt a bit like basking in ignorance. It looked a bit like making fun of the Mexican revolutionary image, which, as Conan said, is okay if you’re Mexican, but not so nice when you’re a foreigner. I don’t know how many other people actually even noticed this group, or if anyone else was offended. But since Conan doesn’t offend easily, I imagine he wasn’t the only one. And no, it’s not something horrible or totally racist. But it was probably pretty thoughtless.

It’s not like I expect people in the U.S. to know their Mexican history, when we usually only learn bits and pieces of U.S. history as it is. I don’t expect everyone to take classes in Mexican history, not even before they come for a visit. Just a little bit of consciousness, though, of stopping to think about what they were saying by participating in that way, could have gone a long way. Respect is such a little thing, that makes such a big difference, on Cinco de Mayo, Independence Day, and every other day of the year. So viva Mexico, outdated sombreros, gunshots, and all! And think about keeping your sombrero in the closet this year. 

*The fifth of May, aka “cinco de mayo” celebrates a battle in which the Mexican Army was particularly triumphant. It took place post-independence, against the French, in Puebla. It is mostly only celebrated in the U.S. and in the state of Puebla, Mexico.

An image from the War… Now the Ultimate Mexican Stereotype

La Guera con El Moreno- The Dangers of Parenting with “Mismatched” Skin

15 Sep

“Do you have identification for this child?” Five police officers were swarming around Conan, who was holding Lucia and walking with Pancho, the guy who sold us our new car. It was a Thursday afternoon and I was at work, as usual. I’m sure that it doesn’t help that fathers out with their kids- without the mother- is not all that common, like I talked about in the post about Conan’s venture in stay-at-home fatherhood. But it does happen; it’s not like it’s totally unseen. The police later told him that they were looking for a missing two year old that fit Lucia’s description- light-skin, curly hair. Hopefully they really were looking for a missing child, although it doesn’t make the situation more pleasant regardless.

“No,” replied Conan, about having her ID, “She’s two years old,” he explained. “How can you prove that this is your child?” One of the officers asked Conan. “Well, I’m holding her and she’s not protesting,” he offered. They were not at all satisfied by that, although perhaps if they had tried to talk to Lucia or (goodness forbid) tried to hold her and seen how resistant and panicked she could get, Conan’s explanation might have had more credibility. This is the child who sometimes hides her head and yells “no” when people ask what her name is, who sometimes pushes people if they try to pat her arm. My daughter is very outgoing and loves to play with and talk to strangers if they are kids, or if she’s decided to interact with them- not if they’ve decided to interact with her. So no, I didn’t really want the cops to try to hold Lucia, and Conan certainly wasn’t going to offer that, but it might have clued them in that she doesn’t take kindly to any old kidnapper.

They asked Conan for his ID and they all walked back to where the car was parked. There the cops started taking pictures of the car, its license plate, and anything else they deemed relevant, and calling in information on their radios. “What’s the child’s name?” the cops asked Pancho, but of course he didn’t know, because he’s just the guy selling us the car, not our friend. He explained this to the cops, who were still not satisfied. They asked about the location of “the child’s” mother, which Conan explained. He told them Lucia’s full name, complete with her second last name, the hard-to-pronounce foreign one (mine), and mentioned that her mother is not from here. It was a round-about way of explaining Lucia’s whiteness. Not that Lucia is “white” the way we define that and talk about it in the U.S. Due to our U.S. legacy of slavery and the ever-lasting discrimination following slavery, anyone who has a drop of not-white blood is not “caucasian.” We say that people like Lucia “pass for white,” which is a very “polite” racism-based way to say that she doesn’t look “colored” (all non-white is in the same category of tainted non-good in U.S. cultural context, although there tends to be more discrimination for people the darker their skin is).

In Mexico, there is a different legacy of oppression, and thus a different system for talking about skin color and race, a different way of discriminating against and privileging different people. In Mexico people will often tell you that there is no racism, and they believe it because they don’t have the same black/white issues and history like we do in the U.S. They believe it, maybe, because they talk about skin color in a nonchalant way. They call their darker-skinned friends and loved ones “negro” or “negra” like it were a name, with affection. For light-skinned folks, they use the term “guero” or “guera” (pronounced kind of like where-oh or where-ah, the g sound is very light- a very Mexican term and who knows where it comes from). So sometimes I suspect their ease with which they point out skin color in a way that’s neither awkward nor insulting helps to perpetuate this idea that there’s no racism down here in Mexico.

But all you need to do is check out ten minutes of Mexican soap operas (practically the only thing on the three public TV channels down here) to see very clearly that racism exists. Most people on television, and all of the “good guys” are very light-skinned, often light-eyed, sometimes blonde folks. (And before you say something about them not being Mexican, check out your own assumptions about race. Mexican people come in a wide array of skin colors.) The “bad guys” and the servants are darker-skinned.

If you don’t believe that TV imitates life, if TV isn’t enough proof that racism exists here, then all you have to do is observe the situation of many indigenous peoples down here, or listen to the way people talk about them. Listen to the insult “indio,” used as a synonym for ignorant idiot. For the most part, people don’t value indigenous culture, language, or people, outside of museums. Indigenous communities tend to be very economically poor, and have very limited opportunities. And of course the discrimination they face is partially a class issue, (I don’t think anyone in Mexico denies the existence of classism) but lots of the class and poverty issues are inherited from times of colonization and caste systems that privilege people based on how much white European blood they had. Pure indigenous folks were at the bottom of the barrel, and they still are, caste system or no. And the darker your skin is, the closer you are to indigenous, the more likely you are to be poor and discriminated against.

So back to Conan and his brown skin, carrying around his white-looking daughter. Since her birth, people down here have insinuated that she doesn’t look like him because her skin is so light, although as a baby she was pretty much the spitting image of him (except for my nose; she’s always had my nose). They’d even say stuff like “Oh, she looks just like her mom,” although at the time she looked way more like Conan, except for her skin tone. (And yes, of course stubborn Julia tried to set them straight, sometimes rudely, sometimes politely, but I doubt it did any good.)

Papi and daughter: Peas in a pod

Papi and daughter: Peas in a pod

There he was, in a parent’s nightmare, with police threatening to take away his child because she doesn’t look like him in the right way. Finally he remembered that he had his iPod in the car, with its thousands of photos of Lucia and our family over the past two years of life. So he showed them the pictures, which he said they viewed for a good while, and finally they were satisfied. They didn’t take Lucia away, and Conan didn’t have a heart attack, although I think he was pretty shaken up for the rest of the day.

Before this, it hadn’t occurred to either one of us that something like that could happen here. We’ve both read parts of a book on raising multiracial/multicultural kids, and talked about dealing with people’s rude comments and things.  We’ve talked about responses when you’re the parent who “doesn’t look like” the child, and good responses when you’re the parent who does. But we hadn’t thought about or discussed this kind of danger, that some authority could actually take our child away because of “mismatched” skin colors. I imagine that if they did, it would be temporary, but can you imagine the trauma? For Lucia? For Conan? For me? It’s horrifying.

“Yeah, my friend so-and-so used to carry around a copy of his kids’ birth certificates” my mom told me when I recounted the incident to her. It made me realize that this problem is not new, and it’s not unique to us. Somehow I thought there would be less racism against Conan here in Mexico than in the U.S. That’s probably true, but by no means does racism not apply to him here. So we will deal with this, too, knowing we’re not the first generation to face this, but hoping that maybe, just maybe, we could be the last. 

The Twelve Days of Wonderland

7 Sep

I had my first successful return to “my” culture when I went back to the US in May. It was my first real visit since moving down here, because I don’t think four and 1/2 months working/living/visiting in the US counts exactly as a “visit”- it’s some other kind of gray, vague unnamed thing. So this time, for the first time ever, I knew that I couldn’t waste time in the world of culture shock, feeling bizarre and out of place and slightly appalled. It was only a 12 day visit, so I steeled myself to enjoy it all.

Lucia looking out the airplane window. She is ever ready for an adventure.

Lucia looking out the airplane window. She is ever ready for an adventure.

True, I didn’t quite succeed at enjoying the chilly weather when we first arrived (what do you guys not understand about my unfulfilled destiny to be born and raised on a tropical island?!), but I salvaged my goal of not being grumpy by enjoying the wearing of pants, by basking in Lucia’s joy at getting to wear her long-sleeved “hola” pajamas-aka Dora the Explorer- (her PJs here usually consist of a diaper- sometimes with a t-shirt). I thoroughly appreciated that Lucia didn’t wake up at 3 in the morning, sweating and asking for water.


Lucia in a hoody! Enjoying her own private slide in Paw-Paw and Gamma's yard.

Lucia in a hoody! Enjoying her own private slide in Paw-Paw and Gamma’s yard.

This time around, instead of feeling completely overwhelmed and slightly disgusted at the absurd amount of food and choices in the supermarket, I pointed and clapped my hands at the foods I wanted to eat that we don’t get down here. “Look, Lucia, butternut squash! Oooh oooh let’s get kale!” I might have even jumped up and down, excited about each selection. “Oh my goodness, please can we get organic grapes?” Lucia didn’t even know what half of those foods were, but I got her and my mom excited with my contagious giddiness. Lucia and I also invented the “happy asparagus” song and dance, which we still dance when we manage to find and afford asparagus down here.

I was pleased with organic labeling in the supermarket, too. While I’ve never been able to buy everything organic or local, I used to diligently follow the rules on buying organic for the “dirty dozen” at least- the most contaminated non-organic produce. Here, though, I don’t have that option. I can either eat spinach or not each spinach. There’s no option to buy organic or even know where it comes from, most of the time. There are foods that are organic, despite the lack of labeling. Typically if you’re buying from some señora selling on the street, it’s probably local and organic. Native foods and wild foods (which they eat way more of here than there- cool kinds of mushrooms and seeds and other “bizarre” foods, plus Mexican staples like nopales- cactus- and chepiles) you can usually count on to be chemical-free. But I don’t want to limit my vegetable intake to those. So we buy what’s available and hope it doesn’t do us too much harm (especially to my ever-growing-and-developing Lucia).

Brussel sprouts to my heart's content!

Brussel sprouts to my heart’s content!


Giant ice creams with flavors like hazelnut and pistachio also help create an enjoyable experience!

Giant ice creams with flavors like hazelnut and pistachio also help create an enjoyable experience!


So our journey of seemingly limitless options continued with choice after choice of beer and bourbon! Yes, since bourbon is made in my old Kentucky home it wasn’t exactly a surprise to find a plethora of good and affordable choices everywhere I turned, but it didn’t minimize the pleasure of it. But the beer options are pretty amazing, too! There are local microbrews, microbrews from all over the country, tons and tons of imported and national beers of all kinds- stouts and pale ales and wheat beers and oh so much more. Coming from a town where often the only choice is Corona or Victoria- two lagers that taste nearly identical, it was close to miraculous. I didn’t even drink very much in my twelve days there, but just seeing all the options and savoring a couple different kinds was its own special treat.

Lots of magical stuff happens in the U.S., too. I must’ve spent five minutes looking all over my dad’s kitchen for the matches to light the stove, before I realized you just turn the knob to the “light” part and it lights itself! Just like magic. There were microwaves and dishwashers and washers and dryers, a whole other brand of convenient magic! And coffee makers! Plus staying at my mom’s house is instant morning magic, since she gets up at the crack of dawn and thus coffee is always already-made. While we waited in the airport, Lucia and I played on the “magic stairs” (escalators) and the “magic sidewalk” (the moving sidewalk). Granted, some of these things (like microwaves and coffee makers) exist here, but not in my world, and they are certainly not the everybody-has-them items that they are in the U.S. So we accepted the magic  as such instead of fretting over our carbon footprint and the sheer triviality of it all, and a good and convenient time was had by all.

I drove a car all over town, wherever and whenever I wanted ( my almost-two-year-old allowing). When I had access to a car on my four-month living-visit, I felt stifled and stuck because there’s was nowhere to walk to and I couldn’t bike with Lucia. I had to drive everywhere, and it made me crazy. But this twelve day car adventure was fun and liberating, thanks to the novelty not wearing off. Especially since there are only paved roads, almost no giant potholes, and insanely rapid travel on these things called highways. (We do have “highways” in my neck of the woods down here, but the fastest one is a two lane affair- one lane each direction- where you might go like 40 mph.)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much I appreciate the water situation there, too. Both the consumption of and subsequent relinquishing of water in the body is such a sweet set up! First of all, Louisville, Kentucky has some delicious, very safe and clean water, straight out of the tap, practically free. There’s even FREE water, if you order that to drink in a restaurant, or if you swing by one of those magical machines called water fountains. Here, the water from the tap is drinkable if you boil it (we use it for cooking and the coffee or tea we boil on the stove). Treated drinking water is bought in 8 gallon plastic jugs (approx 8 gallons). The jugs are in various states of decomposition because they are reused, left out in the sun so the passing truck will stop and sell you a new one. When you’re in a restaurant or out on the street, you’re only real option for drinking water, if you haven’t brought enough from home, is to buy plastic bottles. I despise all this plastic use, and it angers me to have to pay for water that is not even proven to be safe (who certifies the water? the company that treats it!), which probably also has nasty chemicals leaking into it thanks to all this plastic. So I was grateful as always about the water situation in Louisville. The only almost-damper on my enjoyment of it was seeing an excessive amount of people with their plastic water bottles. Why, people, why??? It’s so easy to have safe, free drinking water all the time if you just carry a reusable bottle. Okay, tirade over.

On the other side of the water situation is the free public restroom situation. If there’s anything wonderful about the USA that doesn’t really exist anywhere else on the planet, it’s the amount of and access to clean restrooms at no cost, no matter where you are. Sure, there’s no paid maternity leave. Yes, there is rampant and systemic racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination. But you can use the potty any damn where the mood takes you! Especially for folks like myself, after drinking lots of free, clean water, this is a truly fabulous situation.  

In the spaces between all these miracles and magic, there are also lots of aspects that are neither here nor there, a mix of good and bad. I ate shrimp with no heads, already peeled and everything (peeled, but worlds away from fresh). We ate square fish, totally unrecognizable as fish (but delicious on rye bread). We walked in grass. Lucia and I discussed all the different kinds of machines and trucks and big equipment that’s everywhere. We saw multiple airplanes every day. Lucia got to swing in baby swings all by herself, instead of sitting on the swing with a parent (although now she’s finally old enough to start holding on by herself on the big kid swings). It was fascinating and pleasant, and I’m so glad we went.

Lucia's big enough to hold on to the swings now; good because that's the only option here!

Lucia’s big enough to hold on to the swings now; good, because that’s the only option here!

spinach pizza! good for every day of the week? no. good for today? yes!

spinach pizza! good for every day of the week? no. good for today? yes!


This was by far the best and easiest transition between cultures I’ve ever had. Perhaps because it was so short, forcing me to go with the flow. Perhaps because I’m learning from Lucia, who switches back and forth from culture to culture, from Spanish to English, from tortillas to pasta, like nobody’s business. Perhaps because I’ve finally learned that there is no good or bad, just a series of trade-offs and advantages and disadvantages, and it’s all so temporary, so fleeting, like our lives. Perhaps I’m finally really internalizing my belief that each of us gets to decide how we react to our circumstances, every single moment. So I’m trying to keep this visit in mind. I want the next visit to be like this/ with me this open to everything, able to focus on the bright side of all of it. But more than everything, I want my everyday life to be like this. I want to believe in magic everywhere, and appreciate it all.