Archive | April, 2018

Good News/Bad News; Mangos and Politics

20 Apr

Do you prefer the good news or the bad news first? The bad news is that it’s election season. The good news is that it’s also mango season!! So you can be a hapless bystander at a politically-motivated shooting, but afterwards you can buy a whole bag full of mangos for just 10 pesos! I’m drooling right now just talking about it. 30703725_1775046295885743_4088949457251467264_n

Ten pesos of mangos!

Now, if you’re from the US you’ll appreciate the good news about elections here. The season is relatively short- just a couple of months of people paying attention, putting up billboards, driving around with annoying songs pouring from loudspeakers. I mean, it’s mid-April, and we’re just now starting to be inundated with madness; elections are all over on the first of July! It’s not like in the US where you start hearing about candidates more than a year in advance.

The bad news, however, is that this year’s election season is big time; this year there are presidential elections here in Mexico. Which means they up the ante on the already-high levels of political passion, corruption, and violence.

Who are the candidates? I don’t really know. I’ve seen their names and all, but after almost six years here I’m still not clear on politics. There’s a guy from the ruling party whose name looks English, and now some people are purposely pronouncing it like you would in English, because otherwise it’s too close to a word in Spanish that’s like “pissed-himself.” Teeheehee. This ruling party seems to me to be the more elite, for-the-rich political party, although many a poor person supports them, because their family supports them, and they’ve always supported that party, and therefore it’s just the right thing to do! Plus they might give you a bag full of staple foods for your house if you vote for them. And maybe a t-shirt to boot. So, obviously they have your best interests in mind. This party is responsible for having privatized a lot of Mexico’s wealth, including the gasoline. They’re also responsible for the recent Education Reform (which I wrote a little about here), so you know that teachers are not voting for them. This party’s big political theme translates to something like, “Making progress, with you.” We don’t know what they propose to make progress on, but they’re going to do so- with you!

There’s some other big-time party that doesn’t seem all that different from the ruling party, except obviously they have less money currently because I don’t see their billboards up everywhere. This party, however, seems about equally as likely to give you a t-shirt and some rice and assure you that they’re going to take care of you.

Then there’s some other party that touts itself as more for-the-people, but who knows what they actually do for the people. Even their name, Morena, literally can mean dark-skinned woman, so it sounds pretty appealing. This party supposedly has a candidate who’s run for president a bunch of times and never even come close, which reminds me of Salvador Allende in Chile and gives me all the warm fuzzies even though I know zilch about this candidate’s politics. That’s the sum total of my savvy political gringa knowledge. (Don’t judge me; I warned you that I know nothing. The good news is that I’m not allowed to vote, so I can’t harm anyone with my ignorance!)

In other good news, despite hearing quite a few bullets, not only was my family not shot, but apparently no one was actually shot. No one was killed. I didn’t even hear of any hospitalizations. I guess someone just wanted to break up the protest. The ruling party’s “pissed-himself” presidential candidate was in town, for some unknown reason. Why Coastal Oaxaca? Shoulder shrug. Of course the teachers and some other folks were there to say, “Hell no.”

The bad news, however, is that at a protest that included a lot of teachers, they couldn’t put correct accents on their fanciest signs. “Mexico Ya Desperto” the sign said, which should mean Mexico Woke Up…. but not quite. I know, I’m being petty. But this was a sign they’d paid to have made, not just some scribbles on poster board. And some of y’all are teachers! Get your signs right! You’re not making your case well.

In case you were wondering, I was not actually attending the protest. I have taken my kids to protests and other political actions before. I did not take them to a protest here during election season, however. Some folks were there with kids, and that’s their right, and I respect that. Personally, I don’t have enough faith or investment in the political process here to go protest about that. Now if we’re protesting the health care system, or the lack of basic services, or treatment of women during childbirth here, count me in! But I digress. We ended up in the blatantly wrong place at the wrong time because I needed caldo, a fantastic broth-based soup. I had an exemplary, nourishing caldo made with farm-raised chicken and a bunch of veggies. The downside of that is that my need for caldo to soothe my sore throat was what allowed my cold-addled brain to think it was okay to be within stone-throwing distance from a protest during election season.

So we’re leaving the restaurant and right as we were getting into the car, I heard a driver coming from the direction our car was pointed in telling a taxi driver not to go that way. “That’s where the (something muffled I didn’t distinguish) is,” he told him, shaking his head. I saw a bunch of folks in pairs and small groups walking quickly in the opposite direction. “Go the other way!” I told Conan, even though he was already doing it. Then we heard gun shots. People were running instead of walking. I made the kids lower their heads in the back seat, pushing Khalil’s down for him because that child never wants to obey without a good explanation. (Where does he get it from?) Then more shots.

Here’s the other good news: random public gun violence is not the norm here. I don’t usually have to worry about these straight white male terrorists- like we have in such excess in the states- going around shooting people on a regular basis. I know, you’ve probably heard about the extreme violence happening in some Mexican states due to the drug trade (and lots of political corruption). And that’s definitely happening in some places. Where I live we’re mostly pretty removed from all that. And outside of the obvious “bad guys” selling drugs or being politicians or being cops, Mexico doesn’t have a general culture of gun violence. There are no school shootings. No workplace shootings. No church shootings. Granted, people like to get out their guns and shoot up into the sky to celebrate things, which may not be my style. But in general I feel way safer from gun violence here than in the US.

And did I mention the mangos? Election season may be in full swing, but so is mango season. In the span of just one week, the same week that billboards and bad music started happening, that magical thing occurred where the price dropped from 20 to 10 pesos for a bag bursting with fresh, juicy mangos of all kinds. That makes it official. Corrupt elections happen all over the place, but not everyplace has this quality of life.

Mishaps on the Mountain

7 Apr

It’s never good when you hear a loud pop and smoke pours out from the hood of your car. It’s especially not good when you are on a windy, two-lane mountain road in the middle of nowhere. With two little kids in the car.

I promptly pulled the kids out of the car, in case something else exploded or caught fire in the following moments. Of course, then I had to keep them in the practically non-existent area between the road and the cliff drop-off. Fun times, especially for the adventurous three year old.

This is precisely why I don’t plan to ever drive this stretch of road by myself with the kids. I do love a good adventure, and often, I admit, I even love a good misadventure. But it’s a bit more stressful and much less exciting with the kids involved. We were on our way to Juquila to visit their abuela. It’s not an especially fun trip to begin with, but it is always nice to see my fabulous mother-in-law, and the kids were thrilled, of course. Breaking down on the mountain is even less of my idea of a good time, though. At least Conan was there, though, and it was still daytime. There are always pluses in every silly situation.

Almost immediately after Conan lifted the hood, another car stopped to see if we needed help. A man assessed the situation with Conan. They decided it was some kind of problem with the radiator. Solution: let it cool down, pour lots of water into it and try to get further down the road (which means up the mountain, in this case).

The car did not agree with our proposed solution, however. We did get slightly further up the mountain, slowly, sputtering and chugging along like a long freight train desperately trying to pick up speed. We got to the next safe-ish spot to stop- a spot not right on a curve, so other cars have time to see us and go around us. And there we stopped. And sat for a bit. Conan popped the hood and flagged down a truck to give us more water. Since we’d only managed to drive for about three minutes, at a snail’s pace, this just-add-water plan didn’t seem very promising. The kind folks in the truck promised to tow us to the next town if this extra water didn’t take us far enough.

Indeed, the car was more incredulous about the idea than I was. We barely made it a minute up the road when it became glaringly obvious that it was not a sufficient solution. I was also slightly incredulous about the truck pulling us up the mountain, because the truck was already overloaded with palm branches, probably headed to make someone’s roof. There were a couple guys up on top of the palms, too. It wasn’t a truck made for towning, either, and it looked older and more overworked than our car. I wasn’t completely convinced they could make it with us, but it sounded great. And we didn’t have other options. There’s no AAA car service on the road to Juquila. There’s not even cell phone service, even if something like AAA existed. Besides, this is Mexico; where there’s a will there’s a way. Anything’s possible, especially with duck tape and a prayer. Sí se puede!

And it worked. It was slow going, but faster than walking with the kids and the suitcase and Khalil’s three big toy trucks that he insisted on bringing. The thick rope that they had tied to something under our car and something on their truck broke at one point. But no bother. They retied it. We continued, Conan braking furiously during the downhill parts to not hit truck and send palms cascading on top of us. (Perhaps the palm free-fall was my unrealistic concern, but you can see from the pictures below why I imagined that possibility.)

The view from inside the car while being towed by this truck:



Khalil, of course, was pleased as punch when he realized we were being towed. Because tow trucks are cool. Even if this wasn’t an actual tow truck. Pesky details. It was a definite bonus for him. Lucia kept asking why we were going so slow and if we were ever going to get to Juquila.

We made it to the next town, which is so small that we might even call it a village. They only have cell phone service in this one spot of town, when the wind isn’t blowing too hard in the wrong direction. Conan set off on his quest for super glue, aka Plan #2. There certainly wasn’t a mechanic in town or any kind of car parts shop. It’s the town of the Piedra Mujer (yes, you translated that right- the woman stone). Unfortunately, that’s about all they have there- the stone that looks like a vulva that helps you find a partner. And unfortunately, we were in search of super glue and not romantic partners at the moment. There was no super glue to be found.

We left the car near the cliff where you can sometimes get cell phone service and went to wait for one of the passenger vans that go back and forth from Juquila to Rio Grande, the bigger town at the bottom of the mountain.

While we waited, we watched the local folks who were standing on the road taking advantage of the spring break traffic to stop all the cars and ask for donations to build a new church. They stopped cars by holding up a rope across the road, a common and very effective strategy. It was entertaining for a couple of minutes and then that wore off. Several people walking by gaped and talked about our light-skinned children, especially little blonde Khalil. “No soy bebé” Khalil kept saying, (I’m not a baby), overhearing them say, “look at the baby!” We bought the kids quesadillas that a lady was making on the hot comal in front of us. We all used a bathroom with no toilet paper but that at least had soap. (I had forgotten the cardinal rule of traveling with my own toilet paper. I did have soap in my bag, of course, since it wasn’t necessary.)

Finally the van came and had two open seats for us. Well, we had to walk a few feet down the road to where they were dropping off someone else, but we got two legitimate seats, not like the extra sitting-on-a-suitcase or on a bucket seats. So one kid on each lap and we were off again.

We had a lovely home-cooked meal upon arriving (breakfast at 1 in the afternoon for Conan and me), and Conan set off to find some kind of glue to get the radiator semi-functioning again. The plan was to make it back down the mountain to Rio Grande, where there are mechanics and car parts and all. He found some glue in Juquila that’s not actually for car repair but that promised to withstand high temperatures and set off back towards the car, about 45 minutes away.

He came back about 3 or 4 hours later when the glue still hadn’t dried. So much for him making it to work that night. We spent the night in Juquila and set off the next morning to see if the glue had dried. We left the kids with their abuela for spring break, so I felt way less stressed about how things might or might not work out for us and the car. Mishaps without children and their tears and their bathroom necessities are much easier to cope with.

There was one little spot where the glue wasn’t completely dry, but the radiator bust seemed mostly sealed up. We poured in tons of water, I said my prayer to the patron saint of travelers (and Barga, Italy), and we headed down the road. We stopped and poured in more water every few miles, and the car continued to chug along.

Happily, magically perhaps, we made it to Rio Grande. By then, however, the mechanic who my father-in-law had called to help us out was no longer available, since we’d said we’d be there early in the morning, and it was certainly late morning by then. “Did he expect us to be on time? Where does he think we are? This is Mexico!” I complained to Conan, only mildly bitterly.

Luckily, however, Conan remembered another place down the street with a sign for radiators. And the mechanic was home and ready to work on a Sunday. He got us the part we needed, which luckily was not a whole new radiator, and fixed it in an hour and a half. And best of all, we had exactly enough cash on us to fix the car and have a couple tacos for breakfast. (Because of course there’s no ATM in this “bigger” town, either.) Complete success! The good life! Thank you, Saint Christopher and super glue! Until our next mishap!