Visitors’ Views

15 Feb

Finally, oh finally, we got our yearly visitors! First my stepmom, Karen, came- her first solo trek since my dad passed away, which made it a whole ‘nuther kind of new. Then my mom and her partner Dee arrived, this time with Dee’s son Andy, for his very first escape from Gringolandia.

There were many wondrous moments brought on by these visits, which I may or may not share with you in some future blog post. For now I will share with you some astute observations from my fantastic, fabulous family.

Okay, I will also tell you that Karen and I got to have grown-up time and took fantastically fun photos :

And that my mama and I destroyed Conan and Andy in spades!! (No pics, sorry.) Now on to our next portion, observations from all my glorious visitors:

 

“Desexualized” Swimming

While Zicatela beach is world-famous for its giant waves for surfing, it is not where anyone wants to take their children to swim. There are two other sections of beach with much calmer waters- one, Puerto Angelito, being the most preferred. (We had our annual all-family-mixer there again, complete with oysters just pulled from the sea, as usual. I got out of control and bought three kinds of cake so we could celebrate everyone’s birthday this year.)

In general around here, the beach is not spring break in Florida. There are not gobs of young women laying out in bikinis. Yes, bikinis are popular beachwear here, for folks with all sizes of bodies. Yes, some people sunbathe. But particularly at the swimming beach, people aren’t hanging out trying to look sexy. They’re just swimming. Or eating. Or having a beer. Or playing in the sand with their kids. Some people wear bikinis, some don’t. Many people don’t even wear official swimming gear. Lots of people, even folks who live here, don’t own a real bathing suit. Plus you get some folks stopping by on their way somewhere else (especially pilgrims going to or from their visit with the Virgin of Juquila) who weren’t really prepared to go to the beach. So there are people in jeans and t-shirts. There are people in other thrown-together swimwear. Nobody cares what other people are wearing or doing, as seen below.

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the swimming beach

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A lotta people I love. Only my kids and I are in official swimwear. Check out the folks in the background, too.

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foreground: my monsters with their sweet cousin. background: NOT spring break in Palm City Beach or whatever it’s called

Use of Public Spaces

“People use all the public space. People are much more present in public.” These were some important observations from Andy. “You can even lie down on the floor of the airport and nobody even looks at you,” he said.

People are constantly out in the street- on their way somewhere, chatting in the neighborhood, watering the garden, sitting on the stoop of some business to share a beer (well, men only on this one). Here it doesn’t matter if there are no sidewalks- people walk anyway, because that’s how most of us get around, at least some of the time. Thanks to there being fewer cars and there being a small corner store on every 3rd corner of residential areas, there’s always somewhere to walk to.

Pertinent to that, ideas about the public and private are radically different here. The public space is where many social events happen, rather than in a private home. People that aren’t family don’t usually just drop by your house and come on in, either. They (usually) stay in whatever outside area or public-ish open area you have, even if it’s a woman visiting another woman. I almost cried tears of joy last year when a friend came and visited us and sat in my bedroom with me, so I could play with Lucia on the bed AND talk to her at the same time (not be excluded from the social, adult world despite my parenting responsibilities in the private, off-limits realm of my bedroom). I had missed that kind of assumed intimacy, that consensual sharing of privacy that we’re into in the US.

I think that using public space more and private space less has some advantages, especially in that you don’t need a fancy home to have social time. However, I think that it gives women an automatic disadvantage at social life outside of their family. Women (pretty much universally) have more domestic responsibilities than men, and tend to spend more time at home because of it. But when your home is not a place for socializing, that means that you can’t socially multitask, like I used to do so much of the time- inviting your friends over to chat and washing your dishes while you do so, for example. Changing the baby’s diaper with your girlfriends in the US means they accompany you to whatever room so you can keep talking. In my personal experience here, that’s not the case. So this public/private cultural difference is a funny juxtaposition because on one hand, everyone being out in public, using the public space is so much more open and accessible, but it’s also less intimate in a different kind of way.

(Apparently I was dying to elaborate on this observation!)

Nature Like We Don’t Get At Home

Seeing iguanas everywhere is STILL fun for me, years later, so you can imagine how cool it is for other folks. I still giggle everytime I’m teaching class and a big ones falls from a tree with a giant clunk. For some reason, though, nobody was very excited to go see crocodiles in a lagoon, once they discovered it wasn’t a behind-the-glass, zoo-like experience. What? You don’t want to see crocodiles next to you in a small paddle boat? (Don’t worry; I was planning on leaving the kids at home for that outing.)

I didn’t even tell Andy about the scorpions, like the one that was strolling all nonchalant across my kids’ bedroom floor one evening last week. Good thing my kids never sleep in their own beds, huh?

16473866_10208290456406783_6800881647283940608_n Pictured: Our major nature adventure to the botanical gardens (obviously, it’s dry season). Andy was not thrilled to learn about the local venomous snakes and potential mountain lions around, but he braved the hike anyway.

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The Dogs Run The Streets 

Dogs around here own the streets- both strays and many pets are out running around all day and night. (Pets here are not treated like spoiled children, for better or for worse.) There’s no animal control and not a lot of campaigns to help people spay and neuter, so lots of dogs end up sad and hungry. Karen, a hardcore champion of all animals, bought a bag of dog food to carry around to feed poor, starving stray dogs, like the ones she saw in the mostly-touristy beach areas her past couple of visits. She was pleasantly surprised, however, to find a street full of lazy, chunky mutts. The business owners and residents of the neighborhood where she stayed are economically well-off enough and animal-loving enough to make a little doggie paradise, in one neighborhood at least.

Never-ending Resourcefulness 

Despite very high rates of economic poverty, folks here are ingenious. They come up with solutions for everything, as I’ve raved about before. There aren’t many people asking for change on the street, but there is lots and lots of hustling to make a living, working in the street, selling candy, popcorn, toys, juice, or washing windows or whatever. Andy didn’t even see the door-to-door salespeople walking the dusty streets to sell furniture that they are carrying on their backs, and even so, people’s resourcefulness and perseverance made an impression on him.

No “Essential” Electrical Apparatus

Both Karen and Andy were taken aback by the lack of microwaves. “When you said you were warming up beans for the kids, and then you came out to get Khalil and ran back in yelling about your beans burning, I was kinda confused for a minute,” Andy joked. Karen thought her hotel’s kitchen area was well set up but was definitely missing a microwave and coffeemaker (another electrical appliance that is far from universal down here). A microwave is just not the kind of bare necessity that it is in the US. Mostly corner stores have them if they want to sell microwave popcorn and soup-cup Ramen noodles. My mother in law has one because she used to sell that stuff, although nowadays she only uses her microwave as a storage space for bread, or as an emergency cooking device if her stove runs out of gas and she doesn’t have the money then for a new propane tank.

Also missing in action here: toasters, clothes dryers (it is in the 80s or 90s everyday here, although even in cold and wet places dryers are not “a thing.”)

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Mexican toaster- aka comal – not my photo! from FeralKitchen.com

Go, go, go

Everywhere you go, people are walking, riding bicycles, riding scooters and motorcycles, riding ATVs, riding buses, taking shared cabs called colectivos, hailing taxis, and just generally getting around one way and another. Not everyone has a car, to say the least, but there are way more options for transport. Public transportation is more common and more user-friendly than any small city or large town I’ve ever been to in the states.

Andy asked, “How does a country that’s poorer than the United States make it easier for people to get around?” This is a question that everyone in the US should be asking themselves and then asking their community and their elected officials. This question, and so many others like it, also represents to me why travel abroad* is such an eye-opening, heart-reconstructing, mind-altering, life-metamorphasing experience: you shift your paradigms of both the normal and the possible. You shatter stereotypes. You see new things that don’t work for people and new things that do work for people. You question your home culture as much as the culture you’re visiting. It’s a win-win situation for the world and you.

Keep travelling, even if you can’t leave home! Keep loving, at home and abroad!

 

*I know not everyone can physically travel to another country. Having friendships with folks from a different country, reading foreign books, even watching many foreign movies has similarly altered my consciousness and my heart for the better. It’s a global world; take advantage!

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Attempts to capture the moment with my mama and these random small children I found on the street bwahahaha

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