Juquila Haterade, or How Puerto Became My Paradise

4 Oct

Living in Juquila (pronounced who-keel-uh, kinda like who killed ya), a small mountain town known only for an appearance of the Virgin Mary, was like growing a tumor in my spirit. While I don’t / can’t blame all of my relationship and personal problems on Juquila, I still have lingering trauma, drama, and bitterness from my year of living there. Thank goodness it was only a year or it would’ve surely turned into terminal cancer of the soul.  It’s not an altogether awful place, but it was a terribly toxic place for me.

view from outside Paulina's house in the morning sunshine

view from outside Paulina’s house in the morning sunshine

I have to say, Conan’s family has always been great to me, and great people to boot. Really there are a lot of lovely, wonderful folks that live there. They were just all too busy and / or too reserved to have any meaningful contact with me. The culture as a whole of this one small town (not of the state in general, and certainly not of the whole country, mind you), with its general lack of intellectual or creative stimulation and its extreme sexism, truly was like a carcinogen to me.

Sound exaggerated? You go live there for a year and get back to me.  But living in Juquila was good for me for two reasons. For one, I can enjoy all the good parts when I go to visit, taking comfort in the fact that I don’t live there! I can eat the best tlayudas in the state, eat the best hamburgers in the world (Epig’s epic burgers), let my kids be temporarily spoiled by relatives, see the pretty view from my mother-in-law’s house, and move on with my life. I get to chat with the lovely folks we know who live there, because they make time to chat with us (and mostly include me) when we’re just there for a brief visit.

the beautiful view from Paulina's backyard- one of the things to appreciate about Juquila.

the beautiful view from Paulina’s backyard- one of the things to appreciate about Juquila

The other great thing about having payed my dues in Juquila is that the tiny coastal town of Puerto Escondido is miraculously, wonderfully, fantastically livable. I’m sure if I had just moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to Puerto Escondido directly I would not appreciate it the way that I do. Puerto would probably feel like purgatory instead of my little paradise.They say comparisons are odious, but for me comparing Juquila and Puerto Escondido is like (solar) radiation therapy to shrink down my tumor. So lemme drink my Juquila haterade for a minute. I can go ahead and get it out of my system, and at the same time, tell you about why Puerto Escondido is my paradise.

I’m pretty sure my friend Xian invented the term haterade, years ago. I’ve been waiting for my chance to use this brilliant word ever since, and here it is!

Food Selection

I almost forget sometimes how great Puerto is for food. I was complaining to my mom one day about the grocery store. There are two supermarkets in Puerto, but the one with the best selection has zero idea of customer service and routinely doesn’t have my favorite items for weeks or months at a time. “Well you should probably move back to Juquila,” my mom told me, deadpan, like she does. Right. The land of zero supermarkets. Where no one’s ever heard of crazy stuff like ginger or the ever-exotic red cabbage. Where salad is lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado, always and forever. Where you can thank the Virgin if there are two options for any product.

In Puerto there’s a health food store, with brown rice and local organic produce. There’s a corner store hangout spot with free wifi and imported products like dark chocolate and Sriracha. There are sit-down restaurants with foreign food like Thai and falafel. I could go on, but really that’s enough. It’s not Louisville, but my inner foodie is mostly satisfied.

Days off work for everyone

It’s so nice to live somewhere again where people mostly close up shop by 7 or 8pm. Where you have to buy machine-made tortillas on Sundays because women are giving themselves somewhat of a break. Where lots of places are closed on Sunday. I know, it seems counter-intuitive (and certainly un-´Merican) to enjoy more limited access to commodities. But when it means our community is more laid-back and less earning-obsessed, I seriously appreciate it. I like that we are in an economic situation where we don’t have to feel like we’re constantly scrambling for a couple extra pesos- where I can just go to work and get my paycheck, and not worry that by relaxing at home on a Sunday I’m losing out on potential income.

People in Juqulia almost all work 7 days a week. Especially people who have a home-based business, taxi drivers, people with their stands in the plaza, self-employed small businesspeople and those they employ- they all work long days, every day. So that covers pretty much everyone in Juquila. It’s not like that in all of Mexico or even all of Oaxaca. Yes, people work more here than in the US, certainly- longer hours in general, and the normal work week for most folks is Monday through Friday and includes a half day on Saturday. But not every town has most of the town working sunup to sundown seven days a week.

It’s a slave-driving kind of work ethic, except instead of slaving for some CEO or rich owner, people mostly enslave themselves. To me it wasn’t any more glamorous than slaving away for “the man.”

When we were living there, we were constantly “on,” too, in Paulina’s store, where we sold cell phones and top-up minutes for cell phones. It’s not that it was hard work by any stretch. It was mostly boring and annoying. Gotta go pee or change a diaper? Wait till someone else can cover for you. You don’t want the general public too see you drink coffee in your PJs (because you have the go through the store to get to the kitchen)? Then you better get up earlier than everyone else. We tried to convince Paulina to close the store on Sundays for a while, so we could have a family day, but I think we only pulled it off once. Inevitably she’d say, “well, I’m not doing anything- might as well open for a while.” The idea of taking off work (unless there’s a party) is a foreign concept in Juquila. Not so in coastal Puerto, where people are hard-working but know how to enjoy a good lounge in the hammock.

Fabulous weather

Okay, so the in-the-80s-and-humid-like-an-alligator-tank-everyday weather of Puerto Escondido isn’t for everyone. But it is the weather for me! It’s Louisville summer all year round! Skirts and tank tops every day of the week! Sunshine approx. 363 days a year! Vitamin D party time!

Juquila lovers hate on Puerto’s weather the second that they arrive- oh the terrible heat! Oh the sun! Oh dear! Where’s a good storm to keep everyone at home or work for 6 months of the year? When’s the windy season? Where are the predictable afternoon clouds? How do you survive here? But for me the constant heat and sun is ideal, especially now that we have fans in our house.

Women exist in social settings

Okay, this is not always the case in Puerto, either. There are still some people who will say hi to Conan and ignore me right beside him. But they’re much more the exception than the rule. Of course there is still rampant, raging sexism that is expressed in a ton of other ways (like everywhere), but pretending that someone doesn’t even exist, completely robbing them of any social worth, isn’t usually one of those ways.

In Puerto, not only do most people acknowledge my existence, but also there is space for women to have a social life. For many women in Puerto (unfortunately, not all women), there are options to do something fun. Because really, part of a complete existence is being a multi-dimensional human being. Not just being a mom, wife, worker. Hanging out! Chatting with your girlfriends (not just for 2 minutes when you’re run into each other running errands)! Going out with other couples and having interactions with men and women together! Playing sports! Doing something else that you enjoy for yourself!

None of those things happen in Juquila, ever- at least not for married women, and not much for single women, either. In Juquila, we went together once to the one night club, and there were about 10 other people, maybe 8 of them men. Conan had been to the club before, because groups of men go out together to drink, and their wives stay home and take care of the kids. When there’s a party or an event in the plaza (like a rodeo, or fireworks, or a band), men might deign to take their partners and children, but you mostly won’t find them interacting much. At a party women do most of the work, while men do the important job of handing out beers and mescal and drinking it with their friends.

As I mentioned, everyone is always working, but somehow men always find time to go out, to drink, to play sports, even to go to football or basketball tournaments in other towns. But the only women who ever play sports in Juquila are the nurses who work in the hospital, who are, not coincidentally, all from other towns. For women from Juquila, it’s not just sports they don’t play. They don’t play anything. They don’t go out without children. There’s really no concept of women doing anything for fun for themselves. It’s so the norm that I couldn’t talk any women into hanging out with me, unless it was to do something useful like make tamales. No one seems to question this, either.* If you question it, you’re destroying men’s maleness, making them less male. Te pegan, men say if their male friend doesn’t want to go out- implying that your wife hits you, that she has assumed the male role of control and violence. That phrase and the way it’s used pretty much sums it all up.

This is the biggest part of what nearly destroyed my spirit. I can live without sushi. I can live with crappy weather. I can’t live without meaningful connections, without real friendship, without social validation through positive interactions for my extroverted self, without acknowledgement of myself as a complete and equal human being. I can’t. Ever again.

But it sure does make me appreciate my little tropical paradise. And thanks, Juquila, for the great visit yesterday. It was actually really fun! And I love to see you guys in Puerto, so come visit anytime!

*My mother-in-law is the only exception to this rule that I know of, in terms of women from Juquila who still live in Juquila and who question this. Perhaps there are other exceptions, I just didn’t meet them or didn’t catch on that they were exceptions. There are also lots of exceptions of people from Juqulia who don’t buy into this- but they almost all now live in other places, or they’re from other places to begin with.

2 Responses to “Juquila Haterade, or How Puerto Became My Paradise”

  1. fml221 October 4, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    Oh, I reallyl ike this. It makes so much more sense than the idea that it was just the food or the weather.

    And I love “haterade.” Thanks to Xian.

    • exiletomexico October 5, 2015 at 8:20 am #

      Yeah, it was definitely not “just” anything- so many things. Of course there were lots of good moments and good aspects, too, but that whole lack of social life / lack of identity validation is more than anyone should have to deal with. I always wonder if women there, in general, are more or less content with the way things are because they grew up with that as normal, or how do they really feel? It’s not easy to talk about it in a way that’s not rude, so it remains a mystery to me.
      Still feeling grateful to be healing / recovering here in Puerto!

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