Reversing Course: Appreciation of Things I Used to Loathe

30 Dec

Now that I am almost completely acclimated and comfortable here in Puerto Escondido, I’m ready to start thinking about leaving. Go ahead and shake your head; it might be a little crazy. Apparently I equate comfort with stagnation, or so it would seem based on the course of my life thus far.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking lots about why I love it here now, and the multitude of things and people that I’ll miss when I move back to the states. I’ve been reflecting on all the things that I disliked when I first arrived in small-town Oaxaca that now make me feel kinda warm and fuzzy.* Here are a few of the things I’ve adapted to appreciate.

Anti-Safety:

I don’t love the lack of safety, per-se. I do think that it’s nice to not need lids that caution you about hot coffee being hot. I appreciate that kids can be trusted to differentiate the chocolate in a chocolate egg from the plastic toy inside that is too big to choke on anyway. I love that nobody’s actions are based around whether or not they might get sued. It certainly makes a cliff more thrilling when there is no railing to prevent you or the cars from falling off the giant cliff into the abyss. I like the tremor of excitement from the occasional motorcycle ride, the breeze in my hair when I’m riding in the back of a pick-up truck. I’ll miss seeing folks holding on to a bar, riding the back bumper of a truck. Furthermore, I think that the safety measures in place in the US aren’t typically there to protect vulnerable people, and they don’t protect everyone equally. For example, they don’t want kids to have those chocolate eggs with toys in them, but they expect refugee kids to defend themselves in court (but that’s part of a whole ‘nuther rant, I guess).

While sometimes I think the lack of safety measures here is the opposite extreme, I’m no longer shocked by it. I might have gotten nervous watching the one year old I saw the other day, standing up and bouncing up and down on the moving motorcycle with his parents, no helmet for anyone. But I didn’t freak out at anyone. The electrical socket that my kid tried to stick his fingers in among the baby books in the library this year was a bit unreasonable, in my opinion, but I distracted my kid and kept my mouth shut. I still can’t quite appreciate the irony of not having soap in the bathroom of a hospital or clinic. But mostly I am able to laugh about it all. In the van to Juquila this trip, I was marveling at the seat belt situation. Even after years of being here, even though I’m not shocked- it’s still a little baffling. They took such pains to make sure that nobody ever uses the seat belts- folding them up neatly and putting plastic cuffs around them, just to be on the safe side (hahaha).

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Seatbelts? What are those things for?

I certainly appreciate this forcing me to go with the flow more, to just breathe my prayer into the wind and keep going, something I might never have learned to do raising kids in the US.

(Isn’t culture funny, though? This culture is not big on some kinds of safety, but people do vaccinate their kids, almost religiously- partially because it’s free. Women will totally wait in line for 3 hours, a few days postpartum, to diligently vaccinate their baby. It’s pretty impressive what public health campaigns could do if they put the resources into it. Imagine what things would look like if they gave out helmets for kids!)

Anti-Technological-Dependence:
When we first moved to Juquila, in 2012, that first month we ran out of everything. We spent a couple days with no water for washing (or flushing, etc. Yeah. Think about all the implications of no water). The electricity went out for a day and a half. We ran out of drinking water and the truck with the big jugs just wasn’t coming. Sometimes the cell phone wires were so saturated that you could’t make a phone call. The internet went down in the whole town for a week. I couldn’t imagine how all this lack of services and technology was possible. How can people live like this? I didn’t even realize then that that would be my “easy” life, compared to living in Puerto without electricity.

More than anything, living on little-to-no technology for all this time has reframed my ideas about necessity. We’ve now spent a year and a half in our house with electricity- the same amount of time we spent without it. I still feel grateful every morning that I plug in the coffee maker, every night that a fan blows on us, every time Khalil goes to flip the switch all by himself- a baby who can take electricity for granted. We’ve made so much progress, and I don’t really want to live without any of it. But I know that I can. Doing without has trained me to ask a lot of questions about what’s important in life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Google. I love my National Public Radio news. I love the Hurricane preparedness website. I love exchanging morning emails with my mom while I’m at work. I dream of all the music I would have Youtube access to with home internet. Khalil and I just did a video call with my mom while visiting in Juquila, and it was so fun! It made me think that the whole feel of my life might be different with at-home internet. Publishing a blog every week would be less of a monumental challenge, among other things. I could read all of the interesting articles that my friends post on Facebook. I could convert celsius to fahrenheit when my kid has a fever without having to call my mom.

It would be helpful to have internet. But really, I don’t need to read all of the articles on Facebook. Even the fact that this year I got a cell phone with Facebook access was another good news/bad news scenario. It’s nice to be able to “keep in touch” like that, but some days it just makes me feel more alone and isolated. I can’t actually get together with most of the people I’m friends with- even the ones who live here, thanks to stressful schedules and whatnot. Thus, I also have my doubts about the true benefits of at-home internet, as much as I pine for it sometimes.

All in all, I’m still a technological dinosaur, a bit by choice and a bit by force. But I hope I keep myself in check despite having a smartphone. I hope I never read all the articles my friends post on Facebook, even though someday I will have home internet. I hope I keep asking myself what is really necessary and what is most important with the time and resources that I have.

Anti-Fashion:

If you know me, you know that I have loved thrift stores and other discount styles forever. Y’all know that I’m staunchly against the wastefulness, expense, and tedium of following fashion rules invented by anyone but yourself. That said, I’ve always had my own version of fashion rules. Like, if you wear some color, wear plenty of black, too. No flower prints. Those sort of rules I made for myself. I didn’t apply them to anyone else, and yet other sorts of rules had seeped into me from living in the states. So I was a bit taken aback by what, in my former life, would be labeled tackiness. When I saw a group of folks in matching spray-painted Jesus shirts, for example, I raised my eyebrows. Or when people wore a polka dot shirt with striped pants. What?!

Living in the land of fashion anarchy has slowly changed my patterns and liberated me from fashion judgment I wasn’t even particularly conscious of before. Granted, you will never convince this boot-obsessed, Tank-Girl type to run around in flip flops all the time like so many folks around here. I still have my own brand of fashion. But I sure have changed my ideas of appropriate attire. I love that there is complete and utter apathy and lack of consensus about what combinations are okay. Anything goes! Sweat pants and flip flops- cool. Prom-type dresses- whenever the mood strikes. A suit with sandals- absolutely correct. Yoga pants for class- very hip. There are no rules! I love this anti-fashion!

The other day I found myself wearing blue shorts, a purple shirt with different colored polka dots, a red hairband, and pink shoes with orange laces. I glanced in the mirror before I walked out the door and decided that it totally worked, and walked out laughing at myself for ever having thought that I shouldn’t look like a rainbow all the time. I have branched out from mini-skirts to include shorts, especially cut-offs, in my out-on-the-town attire. For work, I have many different pants, including various capri-type things. I often wear jeans, a tank top, and tennis shoes to work, thrilled that this is my professional professor get-up. Only in paradise! (Somehow this is okay, women in cocktail dresses or with raging cleavage is fine, but they draw the line at male professors wearing shorts of any kind. Men showing their legs is offensive and unprofessionally. I will never understand.)

I am not looking forward to having to wear more professional clothing in the future. Also, I have really had to face the fact that using what you wear as a form of self-expression is a privilege that many, many people don’t have. It’s important food for thought.

Anti-Following-the-Guidelines and Comparing-Children:

The first time we tried to take Lucia to a doctor for a check-up, the doctor kept asking, “But what’s wrong with her? Why do you want me to see her?” There are no check-ups here. There are no guidelines about childhood development. It was very disappointing, at first. And I worried about one of Lucia’s cousins, who still wasn’t really talking at age three, when Lucia was already talking in whole paragraphs at age two. Nobody else was worried, though. Instead they proclaim, “Oh, so-and-so still couldn’t pronounce half his words correctly at 6 years old.” Big old shrug. But have they gotten him checked out for problems? Nope. He’ll be fine.

I am sure that sometimes kids do have actual health or developmental problems and it would be beneficial to be checked out by a doctor, and to have routine wellness check-ups. For example, we discovered that Khalil was anemic even though he didn’t seem to have any health problems- thanks to check-ups with our fabulous pediatrician. However, I love that there is zero competition for your kid being “advanced” in their development. There is no judgment if your kid doesn’t fall in the standard guidelines on walking/talking/getting teeth/etc. Moms may compare notes and say, “My kid only has four teeth and yours has 10 already!” But they aren’t implying that your kid is better because they have ten. If your kid already talks at a year, they might even be impressed for a split second, but nobody thinks it’s weird or wrong or bad that some other kid isn’t really talking at three. If your kid’s not walking well at a year and a half, people are like, “oh, she doesn’t want to walk yet.” And that’s it- on to the next topic.

A happy medium would be nicer, where people in small town Mexico have more access to routine check-ups and help if something actually is going wrong in the child’s development. Meanwhile, the US needs to chill out quite a bit on fitting everyone into the same developmental boxes. And parents in the US need to take a good hard look at how not to judge and compete about things that aren’t even reasonable competitions!

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my fearless little busy bee/social butterfly who’s not ready to talk at almost two

Anti-Convenience:

When we moved here, the fact that it could take days to complete a simple errand was heavily disheartening on a daily basis. The slow-lane lifestyle, of every day being completely filled just with carrying out the basic necessities of life was maddening and gut-wrenching. But I’ve adapted and learned how to make this pace more convenient now. Sure, it would still be nice to find decent frozen veggies or canned garbanzo beans that didn’t cost a day’s wage, but now I freeze my own everything for later convenience; I work with the pace of life in many ways. And there is convenience food here. I love that the only kind of “fast food” is the stuff women make at home and sling in the streets- delicious stuff like tamales, healthy stuff like cut-up fruit, and worth-the-calories treats like homemade donuts.

Also, I love the other type of conveniences that are here, especially the way that so much stuff comes right to your door. Our drinking water jugs, propane gas tanks, and sometimes even freshly made tortillas, all get delivered. People pass by selling ice cream in their little push cart, or buying your used aluminum in their beat-up truck. Women carry giant baskets of fresh bread on their heads, or someone drives around a motorcycle with fish fresh from the sea. It takes a lot of adapting, and at the end of the day it’s still not easy- but it isn’t easy anywhere, I don’t think.

This year was extra challenging because we’d gotten accustomed to having a car that worked most of the time. Then it became a car that only worked sometimes. And right after we started sending Lucia to school on the complete other side of town, our car went to transportation heaven.

Not having a car presented so many new challenges. Thanks to the good will of other parents, we were able to work out sending Lucia to school. Even then it wasn’t easy, although now I’ve learned to love my long walks with Khalil to go get the big sister. When it rained, I took my rainboots and my umbrella to work and got through it. When the clocks went back and it got dark before I left work, I faced my fears and biked home in the dark- a rock in hand for the over-aggressive dogs, flashlight in the other hand for that section with no lights- but I did it. I got sort of used to it. (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people letting mean dogs wander the streets. It just doesn’t make sense to me. But whatever.) I learned how to tell taxi drivers, “That’s not what the price is” when they tried to charge me too much.

It’s another kind of adventure, the inconvenience of not having a car, and another opportunity for lots of thinking. You can think about how much harder other people have it, like the women and girls who walk miles for a bucket of water. You can actually notice flowers and cactus shapes and lizards and birds and the colors in the sky. You can count dump trucks (okay, this is probably only exciting if you’re with small children). You can appreciate the sunlight on your face. You can observe other people in the street- because lots of people are out walking, not just you. (Something so lacking in so many spots in the US) Riding a bus is a great chance to read- to yourself or to your kids. You can play games and really talk in a way that’s much harder when you’re driving. It’s an obligatory slowing-down of life, in some ways, although in other ways it makes you more stressed-out, because something simple like an errand or picking up a kid from school takes double the time. But it has been a good constant reminder for me that so many of life’s circumstances we don’t get to choose, but that we can choose how we react to them. It’s such a cliche on one hand, but it gets said all the time because it’s so valid, too. So I wouldn’t say I totally love all the inconveniences, especially not having a car, but I definitely appreciate it for what it is.

*(Nope, I still don’t love Juquila, though. That town seeps depression into my bone marrow upon arrival and it stays in my core until I’m safely back to the humidity of the coast. You just can’t love everything in life.)

Looking at the Road Ahead/Holding that Thought about Appreciation in the Midst of Adversity

We’re not planning a move back to the states because I dislike Mexico or the life we’ve made here. In fact, I like my life here now more than ever before. I have so many moments of joy and gratitude every day that I wake up in my imperfect “paradise.”

Partly, I know, though, that my joy and gratitude about my life here are because of my weight-lifting exercises in appreciation of life. My biggest “resolution” is to carry all this with me when I go back to the states. It won’t be too hard; I am a very different person than I was when I came here four and a half years ago. My gratitude/joy/appreciation muscles are much, much bigger than my anxiety and stress muscles these days. I still have anxiety. I still get overwhelmed in stress. I still need to complain some of the time. But I’m so much better at letting it go. And I’ll need that for the culture shock and adaptation that lies ahead.

Also planned for the coming year:

Goal #1- Read and write more in Spanish! I know it seems ridiculous, but my Spanish skills diminish every year that I’m here, thanks to being an English teacher and speaking to my children in English. My conversational Spanish is still decent, but my vocabulary is shrinking from not reading and writing in español. I’ve got to remedy that.

Goal #2- Find time for poetry! I managed to give myself an hour of free-writing time the other day, thanks to vacation. I played with words with no intention to publish them or keep the same train of thought. I let my creativity soar out and oh! I hadn’t even realized how sorely that was lacking in my life. I don’t know where or how I’m going to make time for more creative writing, but somehow I have to. Art and expression should not be luxuries; they are life.

What are your plans for the coming year? What are your big lessons you want to take with you from this year? What’s something you used to dislike that you’ve learned to appreciate?

 

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