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Cyber Purgatory

16 Mar

What’s life like without home internet? Imagine trying to get motivated for your 5:30 AM workout, five days a week, with only access to the same small handful of perfectly motivating songs to keep you going. Imagine having to pack up your small kids and drive to some public place and spend money to justify occupying their business, crossing your fingers that the connection is good and the kids stay in their seats, so that you can Skype with your family that lives in another country. Imagine having to wait days after someone gives you a book before you can read it, because you need to find time to get to some internet access to download it to your Kindle. Imagine trying to decide between your spending money going to, say, a family trip for frozen yogurt, or enough megabytes for a handful of youtube songs.

If you’re rolling your eyes at my “Developing World Problems,” rest assured you’re in good company! I’m even rolling my eyes at myself. It’s pretty absurd. My family is not starving. Our house hasn’t been destroyed by any of the earthquakes thus far. My children have shoes, even if the little one only carries them to school and back in his hands and never actually puts them on his feet. No terminal cancer happening. We even have a car that works more often than it doesn’t. All of these annoyances that come from not having internet at home are not even a step down from all those funny non-problems that people call “First World Problems.” (Just google it if you’re not familiar. You won’t be disappointed.) It’s silly, it’s minor, and yet sometimes it’s go-outside-and-hack-at-the-weeds-with-the-machete level frustrating. “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” my Dad would have asked me, but in this case, yes I do! Thanks! So grab some cheese and a glass for yourself, because I’m going to lay it out for you.

“First World” Problems*


You would think I’d be accustomed, to not having home internet. I didn’t have it in the US until 2008. And I haven’t had it here in over four years. Plus I spent that year in Juquila when we theoretically had internet but it was so slow you couldn’t do much on it except from about 3am-7am when the rest of the town was sleeping.

I should be unfazed by my lack of convenience, after spending a year and a half without electricity, but I am fazed as f@*#. On a bad day, I am mad about it like a determined two year old whose parents just won’t let him eat the cat food. I mean, I just spent months in the US with unlimited internet access! Even in a car, driving on an expressway in the middle of nowhere! You people not only have phone signals, but also wireless on the phone! It’s unbelievable! The injustice of it all! (Okay, insert a little auto-eyeroll here)

Meanwhile at my house, which is only about a mile from “downtown” of my fair adopted city, we can’t get a half decent signal. Our neighbors across the street got the fancy antennae and all that jazz and tried last summer. That’s how we know it’s not worthwhile. I have slightly more than zero knowledge on technological functions of internet signals, so I can’t explain why it doesn’t work in my neighborhood. Because the gods of capitalism hate poor people? Wait, no, that’s the wrong answer…. I don’t know why; I just know that’s how it is.

By extension, don’t bother trying to tell me all the reasons why you, in some other town or some other country or even some other neighborhood, believe that we should be able to have home internet. “But this (insert name of wireless technology) exists now! It’s everywhere! I’m sure you can get a signal via (insert name of some other internet service) if nothing else.” No. Just stop. This is my neighborhood, run mostly by chickens, goats, and small children, and therefore I’m sticking to my empirical evidence: the neighbors tried and it didn’t work. That is all. We just have to wait until things… develop more, I suppose.

For now, however, this is my big chance to complain about my limited internet access, so here are a few other annoying inconveniences:

-I can’t answer calls when people try to video message me on facebook. I can’t video call people. Which means my kids  and me keeping in touch with family members is really tricky. My biggest just lost her first tooth, but did she get to call any of the grandparents to show off? Nope, not a one.
-I can’t instantly show my kids pictures of prehistoric giant crocodiles that they’re curious about. I can’t take advantage of satisfying our quest for knowledge right away. All that info “at our fingertips,” and yet, not now, guys, sorry.

-I can’t let them watch videos so I can take a brief nap. (Apparently our DVD selection is boring them these days) Sleep is a human right! My kids are also pretty sure that a better selection of programs is in order.

-I can’t do workout videos beyond the ones I have on DVD. Health is important! I need new ideas!

-I can’t type out my electronic correspondence. I have to poke at my phone to try to send my long-winded messages back and forth to friends and family. I don’t know how people tolerate that pecking at the letters all the time.


-I can’t post my blog from home when I finish it at midnight (so often the case since that’s my only chance at private writing time).

-I can’t get updates on my computer or my phone.

-I can’t put on any song I want whenever I want. (Seriously, not having unlimited youtube might be the biggest crime, as far as I’m concerned.)

-I can’t apply for jobs, because I can’t upload my resume and all that from my phone.

-I can’t do any sort of general internet-based work nor fun when my kids are asleep or when they’re occupied playing nicely with a friend.

-I can’t practice and learn more American Sign Language.

-I can’t do research for my book. (YES you read that right!)

-I can’t take an online course or even watch my friend’s youtube videos on parenting.


That’s just the short list! Obviously, I can do all of these things when I’m somewhere with internet access, but that time is limited. Some of these things I can do somewhat on my cell phone, assuming I have internet megabytes or whatever left on my plan or from my internet-megas top-up. But anything involving video is too much for my plan for more than a few minutes.

I am glad that at least I have a Smartphone now. I am grateful for some access to the worldwide everything. I’m grateful for having a Kindle in the first place in this land of such rare access to books. I’m grateful for a computer where I can draft things and then post online. I recognize all of the things that I have going for me in this scenario, trust me. But sometimes it feels like giving me two chips out of the bag. Who the hell is satisfied with two chips? It puts the taste in your mouth and then rips it away from you! It is a limbo land of semi-access to the cyber-world. It’s an internet purgatory. I have some access; I’m not like in some technology-free hell. But I can see all the things I could be doing, just over the horizon, and I can’t quite get there.

It’s kind of like when we were living without electricity. It would have been way easier to deal with if I were living the whole-shebang lifestyle of no electricity. Like if I were living in some small old school village where everybody cooked three meals a day and didn’t need to refrigerate leftovers, where it was just the norm to go to bed at dark, or sit around a campfire talking into the night. If I lived in the kind of society where electricity wasn’t an utmost basic necessity, then I would have rocked it. As it was, however, I could see the lights on at a neighbor’s house two blocks directly in front of us, taunting me. Without electricity, but living in a society where electricity is the norm, we spent a ton of excess time and energy buying ice for a cooler and charging lamps to use at night, for example. As usual, it cost more to be poor, to have fewer services.

It’s the same with internet access. No, it’s not as necessary as electricity. But we live in an age of technology. It wouldn’t be a big deal to not have home internet, except that each year the world becomes more and more internet-based. Internet isn’t just a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity in many ways at this point. For example, my whole economic plan for coming back to Puerto post-quitting the university was to teach English online. It’s not actually practical to do that from some beachside bar or restaurant, believe it or not. It’s definitely not workable from the my normal free internet spot where every time there’s a sports event the seating area fills up with drunk cheering dudes and the internet connection slows to nearly negative numbers.

On a good day, my limbo land of partial access is smooth and nearly sufficient, signals flowing to my computer from the place that I’m teaching now, the place where I wait to pick up the kids from school (when there aren’t too many other folks), and a very kind friend’s house. On the good days, I’m stoked that I have some digital devices, and I’m satisfied with long old-school phone conversations with my friends and family. Some days it’s enough to have the self satisfaction of finishing a blog and knowing that I’ll find time and space to publish in the next day or two. Some days I can take a deep breath and roll my eyes at myself and my internet drama.

On the bad days, I console myself with toddler-style tantrums, complete with head-banging and rabid tears (I imagine myself having such tantrums, if nothing else).  Be patient with me and my “Developing World Problems.”  This, like everything else, won’t last forever.



*Yes, the whole “First World/Third World” terminology is really problematic, socially and personally. Here’s a fabulous article from those lovely, brilliant folks on NPR about who the now-never-mentioned Second World was, why these terms are problematic, and possible other descriptions. However, the “First World Problems” memes are hilarious.

The Music Interlude of English Class

8 Mar

Exile to Mexico is proud to present: music exchange week at the university! A new Throw-Back Thursday publication for this humble blog!*

What music represents your country’s culture? This was one of the questions I asked my Level 2 students this week to get their brains relating in English for our music unit. It’s been such a fun discussion and rock-out session the past couple of days of class that I thought y’all might appreciate some of the excitement. Plus I bet you’ve never heard of half the music my students think is important, just like they’ve never heard of half your music. So I’m bringing the music exchange to you.

We were preparing to read an article on hip hop, and its now-international popularity. The article included a history of the roots of hip hop that mentioned genres like blues, jazz, reggae, and rhythm and blues. Most of my students have never heard of any of the styles or artists named there, except maybe for Bob Marley’s reggae. So we spent more than a whole class reading the timeline, listening to music and discussing it. It turned out to be a blast, even if nobody understood more than two words of any song. They foolishly wanted me to sing to them, believing that my singing would help them understand. Bwahahahahaha!

Before we even got to all that music, though, I asked them what music represents Mexican culture. What do you think, dear reader, when you think of music in Mexico? If you said mariachi, some of my students would certainly agree with you. Mariachi is popular- at certain moments, at least- all over Mexico and is fairly recognized internationally. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) even declared it an important part of the national culture in 2011.

Other popular answers to this question included banda music and norteñas, which you may or may not have heard of. I certainly hear people playing banda music around here about a thousand times more often than they play mariachi music, but identity is identity and we all know mariachi is historical and famous. Perhaps it is more relevant on a daily basis in other parts of Mexico than here in coastal Oaxaca.

I am the worst in the world at describing music, so I will spare you my pathetic attempts and give you examples instead. This is some of the music that my students feel like is important to and representative of their lives and culture in Mexico.

This is Conan’s favorite ever corrido, one style of music that a lot of my students mentioned as being important. A corrido is a Mexican folk ballad that narrates something like a historical event or another important topic. It was a style that started in the gruesome, ten year long Mexican Revolution. I was much more impressed with the argument for corridos being Mexico’s music rather than mariachi music. Corridos explore a whole gamut of topic including but not limited to infidelity, immigration, poverty and oppression, folk heroes and historic events, and even violence and drugs. Norteña music, at least as far as my gringa understanding goes, is in the same style as corridos, still a narrative ballad style, but more about love and romance and cheating and all that stuff, and less about popular stories and oppression and revolution and the like. The most famous Mexican group that is classified as “norteña” music is Los Tigres del Norte. Here’s a song by them, and another, because I got a lot of recommendations by them.

Banda music is something it seems like everybody listens to around here, so of course that was named a lot as well, although I feel like that’s like saying “pop” is the national music of the United States. Here’s an example of something that I suspect is supposed to be romantic but the video itself is creepy, in my humble opinion. I can’t even listen to the lyrics. That’s how I feel about most pop music- especially “romantic” stuff, though, so it’s nothing against banda music itself. Here’s another example, just in case it’s your thing.

Not one person named mariachi when I asked what music represented culture in Oaxaca, of course. There were some more mentions of corridos and banda music by a couple people, but overall the clear consensus was a regional style of folk called chilenas, which I bet you’ve never heard of. Here’s an example of a chilena, along with the dance, at a yearly festival called the Gueleguetza that takes place in Oaxaca City. And a chilena about Puerto Escondido, my adopted town. And another popular chilena, because, really they are a major part of the culture in this state.

So does everybody here love chilenas and listen to them daily? No. But they’re guaranteed to be played at a wedding or other major party, at the town’s festivals, etc. They are THE regional folk music. Everyone knows how to dance to them, at least on the basic level, at the very least if they’re tipsy at a big party. Chilenas are heard throughout Oaxaca much more than mariachi, hands down. (I like it much more than mariachi music, too.)


People dancing a chilena in Oaxaca. (Google image, definitely not my photo)

Also, in case you’re curious, there is indeed a link between the country of Chile and the music called “chilenas” here in Oaxaca. It is a bit similar and surely comes from the folk dance in Chile called the cueca. You can see a cueca for comparison here. The little bit that I’ve been able to research about it says that chilenas probably came here through Chilean sailors and immigrants heading to California during the gold rush, stopping off and maybe sometimes staying on the coast of Oaxaca. It’s a small world! (Especially since I also used to live in Chile.)

These music discussions were extra delightful for my students because, in addition to goofing off and watching their teacher lip sink to strange music, it turns out they had a very easy time with the vocabulary and translation part. There’s no English translation for Mexican music styles. Mariachi is mariachi. Chilenas are chilenas. You just have to experience it…. and pronounce it like a gringo. “Teacher, how do you say, ‘música banda’?” “Banda music!” I tell them happily. It’s just like my Level 1 students’ joy when we talk about food. “How do you say ‘enchiladas’?” “Enchiladas,” I tell them, and they sit there and blink at me. “It’s the same?” they ask. “Not exactly,” I say, and they giggle hysterically when I pronounce it like we do in the states.  Another win for the students!

Hope you enjoy the music half as much as we did in class! Salud!

*This is a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, and failed to publish. Whoops! But look how social-media savvy I am! Finally using the term “Throw Back Thursday” just before it goes out of style! Yay for taking advantage of procrastination!

Also, thank you, YouTube, for helping out the international sharing!

Wild Child Conversations

28 Feb

“I want to be a hippo when I grow up. What about you, Mommy?” The almost-three-year-old asks me the other day. After I tell him my options, he gleefully scoffs at me. “You’re gonna still be a people. I’m going to be an animal in the zoo!” His tone of voice is mocking me, and his smile is so big it’s its own celebratory dance. These are the kinds of conversations we have. This is how my kid with severe Apraxia can express himself now, glorious sense of humor and all.

The child who worked so hard to talk is now a verbal fountain overflowing with delightful observations, fascinating questions, and creative ideas about the world. A year ago I couldn’t have imagined this explosion of expressive language. Considering that he only had four vowel sounds when he started his speech therapy, all of this is total magic, which I am grateful for daily. We were in the right place at the right time with a lot of support and the perfect speech therapist- a specialist in Apraxia, no less- and all of this talk is the mother-load payoff. So I even try really hard to feel gratitude when he is lying in bed incessantly discussing dinosaurs or construction sites with himself, after I refuse to answer more of his questions because it’s past bedtime.


These are the kinds of questions and comments that are the new norm from this kid:
-What can baby giraffes do when they are born?
-Why does the Earth only have one moon? Mommy, I want to go to Jupiter! Can I go on a spaceship tomorrow?
-Elephants have trunks. Elephants love to drink water with their big trunks!
-How does a dump truck work? How does a snow plow work? How does (x,y,z, ad infinitum) work?
-(In the car) Mommy, go fast! Red means go! (Followed by maniacal laughter because he knows it’s not true.)
-I have my dress on. Now I can go dig!
-There’s a fire somewhere! I have to go put it out with my firetruck and ladder!

Granted, he can’t pronounce a few consonant sounds. He substitutes other sounds instead of a G, K, L, or R. But he’s at age level and folks besides me can understand him most of the time.


Yeah, he almost never wears shoes.

Mostly his grammar is at a good level, but of course I correct some things. “No, baby, we say ‘give it to her,’ not ‘give it to she.’” He looks at me like he can’t believe he got something wrong. “Is that in English or in Spanish?” he asks suspiciously.

His Spanish is coming along, slowly and awkwardly, but it’s coming. His priority words in Spanish are: más (more); leche (milk); basura (trash); and adios (bye), which is followed nevertheless by an extra, “Bye! Have fun!” in English. His accent sounds foreign, and not like he was born in Mexico. But there are words coming out!

He often asks, “How do we say that in Spanish?” The other day he asks, “How do we say melón in Spanish, Mommy?” He’s flummoxed when I tell him that the word is already in Spanish. He only misses half a beat, though. “Mommy, how do we say melón in English?” my determined little language learner asks instead.

Often he just goes around speaking English to everyone, perhaps mixed with a word or two in Spanish, and leaving the onus on the rest of the world to understand or not. “Jayden, give me my chanclas,” he says, and his classmate kindly hands him his flip flops. I suppose he suffered too long in his limited world of a few sounds and lots of miming to be shamed into silence just because he’s speaking the wrong language.


He definitely uses his lexicon to get what he wants, as almost-three-year-olds are apt to do. “Mommy, can I have coffee? Give me coffee. Can I have some coffee? How about now?” Because we drink strong, highly-caffeinated coffee at my house, I don’t usually hand out coffee to my kids, despite it being a Mexican custom. I have let my kids taste my strong, bitter, black coffee, in the hopes that they’ll hate it and quit asking for it. They both loved it for some bizarre reason. So he continues to beg for coffee, especially milky sweet espresso drinks that we sometimes make or buy. I remind him again that at my house, coffee is for grown ups. So finally he says, “Mommy, I’m a grown up! Gimme coffee, Mommy!” He’s so incredibly pleased with himself, with such a wide dirt-eating grin, that I give in. “One drink of coffee for being so funny,” I tell him. That’s right, you get rewarded for a sense of humor in my house. Even with espresso. We’re a wild and crazy bunch.

He comes up with totally random stuff that appears to be important to him for unfathomable reasons. “Mommy, I want a sheep,” he tells me one morning. I ask him about seven times what he’s saying before I understand, because sheep just isn’t on my ear’s radar as something to complete the sentence ‘I want a.’ “A sheep? Like that says ‘baaah’?” I ask to confirm. Indeed. “I’m not bringing any sheep into my house,” I tell him resolutely. “Mommy, I’m going to sleep outside with the sheep then.” There, Mommy, problem solved. He lies down on the floor to demonstrate how he’ll be sleeping outside. “Can we get the sheep today?” He asks. No. “How about tomorrow?” Nope. “Can we get the sheep on Friday?” (Not that he knows when Friday is.) No. “How about for my birthday? Can we get the sheep on my birthday? I’m going to sleep outside with it. Like the other boy.” I have no idea what other boy he is talking about. Someone from a book? From a video? An actual person we’ve seen around? Not a clue, but apparently that boy made a major impression. The answer is still no. Talking can’t get you everything, kid.

He also uses his language to try to internalize our family rules and values, or sometimes just to prove to his sister that he’s in the right and she’s in the wrong. Thus at any given moment he’s walking around firmly touting things like, “We don’t bite people. We bite food.” In a register only slightly quieter than a yell, he suddenly says, “Yes means yes! And no means NO!” I have high hopes for him to be giving workshops on consent someday.

If he’s not too busy being a firefighter or a heavy machinery engineer or a trash collector or a hippo in a zoo, anyway.

Video Game Driving

15 Feb

If I were not a technological dinosaur, I would currently be raking in the dough from the brilliant video game I’d have made called “Driving in Small Town Mexico.” (Okay, maybe I need a catchier name.) As it is, however, I’m just wasting gas money living in my video game reality, trying to get from Point A to Point B without any accidents.


Driving with Abuelo 

Of course everyone driving anywhere is trying to do so accident-free. But if you’re accustomed to driving in the US, or some other place where there are rules and infrastructure relevant to driving, then you don’t really understand. Let me tell you a little about what my video game would look like. Remember, however, this is not a video game; this is actually a surreal, daily, real-life experience. Woo hoo!


Khalil practicing hailing a taxi 

You’re in the heart of the “city,” and you’re dealing with all this: A man pushing a wheelbarrow full of papaya in the street, in the lane of traffic beside the parked cars, going in the opposite direction of traffic! Speed bump! People parked halfway in the lane of traffic! A woman with a big bicycle push-cart selling fruit flavored water, with a toddler riding on top as well! Speed bump! People parked fully in the lane of traffic, with emergency blinkers on! Huge groups of teenagers leaving school with a dizzying array of junk food- popsicles, fried tacos, candy, homemade chip-like salty greasy food, homemade donuts (Don’t look! Don’t hit any of them even when they walk directly in front of your car! Remain in the middle of the intersection trying to turn despite oncoming traffic!) A motorcycle that’s swerving in and out of traffic! Speed bump! A grown woman that just decided to cross the street without looking in either direction beforehand! Another motorcycle with four people on it, also nearly crashing! A truck full of dubiously precarious bricks that look like they’re about to come crashing down on top of someone any minute! Speed bump! A bulldozer going .05 miles an hour! All of the other cars trying to go around the bulldozer even though there’s not space to safely do so! Speed bump! 


photo from bigskysouthernsky blog on wordpress. This is one kind of speed bump around here. There are several types, and there are really EVERYWHERE. 


A bicycle cart- image from Google. 

At the big intersections, you must avoid hitting any of the people standing or walking essentially in the middle of the road! The people selling pineapple juice, the people trying to wash your windshield in exchange for spare change, the traveler kids hula hooping or spinning fire for spare change, the just-out-of-the-hospital folks asking for help on crutches or with pee bags hanging out of their clothes or other major noticeable health problems, the occasional small child walking through the stopped cars selling something useless, the people in the middle of the road just trying to cross the damn busy street. Green light! Those traffic lights are great, let me tell you.

In other parts of town, however, there is the dilemma over who has the right away at many unmarked, stop-light-free, sign-free intersection. Often you know that you have the right-of-way, but does the car coming up the other street believe that as well? Who is going to stop? Then there are the intersections where neither street is bigger or more trafficked than the other, so who has any idea who has the right-away? I don’t. I drive slowly and cross my fingers a lot. At some intersections, it’s unclear even which part of the road is the lane for each direction, particularly when there are three different possible roads to turn down at the intersection. (Who planned these roads, anyway? Some of them appear to have been done by some haphazardly working drunk.) This is why there is a lot of praying on the road in Mexico. This is why there are so many religious objects in people’s cars, in taxis, even on public buses. Every day that you don’t crash is a small miracle.

But wait! The game continues! To arrive home, you must drive through a neighborhood. You might think you’re in the country, what with the dirt road once you get a couple blocks away from the main road. But you’re really less than 2 miles from downtown. There’s a one lane bridge: who goes first? Will the motorcyclist want to play chicken? Speed bump! Dog in the road! Chicken in the road! Toddler in the road! Speed bump made out of dirt! Big dip in the road- slow down! Really old guy pushing his ice cream cart in the road! Surprise dirt speed bump somebody must have made while you were out! Children out with their mama’s errand bag in the road! A big curve in the road where you can’t see an oncoming car because someone built a giant fence around their house at such a perfect angle! A whole herd of goats! More children! Slippery mud because somebody’s washing clothes and there’s nowhere else for the water to go! More adults in the road! Another car- scoot over because there’s barely enough room for both of you! 

I think that in the video game, the objective will be the same as my real-life objective: get where you are going as fast as you can without any accidents- not even a chicken hurt. Would you like this game? Should I invest? Would you, or do you, like the thrills of driving in small town Mexico? Where have you driven (or ridden around) where it feels like a wild video game?

Here’s a map of Puerto Escondido to give you an idea of the layout.

Watch out for children and piñatas in the road at all times!

Adaptation, Take 957… Action!

23 Jan

Our first week back I kind of wanted to poke my eyeballs out from all the stress and upheaval. Who signed me up for all this moving? Who thought it was a good idea to be multinational? This is too overwhelming! And then I remembered, oops! It was me that made those decisions. Alas.

By the second week back I still kind of wanted to go ahead and pour myself a drink at 10am, but I resisted, remembering that I am a billionaire rock star when it comes to adaptation (minus the billions). So I did what I do best and cranked out an even longer-than-normal list of things to be grateful for. I won’t bore you with the whole thing (you don’t need to know just how happy it makes me to never watch TV, for example), but here are some highlights for you.

Family and Feeding Time!
Finally, Conan can share the joy of being woken up early in the morning to somebody crawling on him or attempting to pull him out of bed with a crane truck. “It’s morning time, Papi. Let’s get up!” says Khalil as I laugh diabolically over my coffee cup.

Conan’s mom, the famous “Abia” (Lucia’s early mispronunciation of Abuela), spent a week in town with us, with promises of more time soon. The kids also have access to cousins, aunts and uncles galore. Mostly this means everyone is overfeeding us and the kids are running around barefoot without folks giving them dirty looks. I can’t complain. In the first two weeks we’ve already had most of our favorite local foods: mole, tamales, chepiles, all the best salsas, gaujes, chilaquiles, and like a million kilos of fresh tortillas. Now just to bide our time until mangos are practically free.


Papi Time

My future engineer/construction worker
Khalil’s first day back here, he took one look at our dirt road and started questioning his papa about it. “Why is it so bumpy? They didn’t do a good job.” He is relentless in his incredulity over the state of our roads. Everywhere he goes he lets us know about it. He gets out his trucks and insists he’s gonna “fix all the roads.”  “This is not a good road. I’m going to move all the rocks. I need to flatten this road.” All the time. Every day. With all the road repairs in the works for the upcoming elections (repairs which cause road blocks and won’t be done for months, if ever), I am praying that Khalil’s trucks and his ingenuity can actually do the trick. Regardless, his determination makes me happy consistently.

My five year old socialite
It’s been all socializing, all the time since we landed. Our first week back the kids were already invited to a kid’s birthday party (a pool party, no less). They’ve had cousins over and gone to cousins’ houses. Lucia, particularly, is invited to two different neighbors’ houses to play pretty much on the daily. She’s had friends over from school, and of course invited the neighbors to her house. She’s especially thrilled with her bestie Alin, the slightly older girl across the street. Lucia’s making up for lost social time all those months when she wasn’t in school and there were no other kids in the apartment complex outside playing. At last, she has to pencil in her introvert time on the agenda instead of having an over-abundance of alone time!


warm ocean water year round: yay!!!


The School Sent from Heaven
The kids’ first day back at their dream school, we met the new teachers for this year. The principal/director of the school made sure to send me pictures of the kids playing happily and let me know a few details of their adjustment. (How cool is that? Are you jealous yet?) When I went to pick them up, the teachers filled me in on the rest. “Don’t send any more diapers,” the lead teacher told me. “He went on the potty today. Just send some extra shorts or underwear instead.” I hesitated, and admitted, “Well, he always asks to poop on the potty, but he’s not totally potty trained about pee.”
“It’s fine,” she waved me off. “If he pees we can just clean it up. It’s too hot to be in diapers if they don’t need to be.” Where else do you get that kind of attitude about potty training at school?

Two weeks later, Khalil is potty trained. Plus, my kids are well taken care of, having a blast, and most importantly, out of my hair, for several hours a day!


Khalil in hog heaven at school 


And me? Just Here Taking All the Vitamin D
Don’t tell the immigration officials around here, but I am here to soak up ALL Y’ALL’S sunshine, dear Puerto natives.

Did I mention that immigration officials here are about the nicest people ever to have worked in a position of bureaucracy? Seriously. They are soooo nice and understanding, I am thinking about learning to bake just to go thank them.

But back to my sunshine. Not having an all-day full-time job means I get to run errands on my bicycle! Being back in Puerto means riding on the back of my friend’s scooter. It means rocking out to my CDs in the car with all the windows down, with a backseat full of small children on carpool days. It means sunglasses are my most prized daily possession. It doesn’t even matter that my fancy hair product is no match against the humidity and the breeze!

Most of all, I have proved to myself once again how necessary it is to have community, and to maintain my gratitude practice. The first week back of constant chaos and doubts, plus the lack of set plans for both short and long term future, just about crushed my little soul for a second there. But damn was the sunshine great! Damned if I didn’t take advantage of my unemployment to walk around by the beach while the kids were at school one afternoon. Damned if I didn’t find a way to get some moments of peace and joy and appreciation for so many things, amidst the chaos and doubt and indecision and scarcity. Because I’m supported by the best folks in the world. Because gratitude is work that’s always worth it. Because the sun in Puerto is always shining for me.


A surprise, too-short visit from my favorite resident of Oaxaca City!!!!! The love! The joy! The gratitude! 

Back and Forth and Homes Galore

8 Jan

We’re back! To bare feet on concrete floors. To the happy Jehovah’s Witness’ music pouring in our windows all day on Sunday. To salt tacos, because the handmade tortillas hot off the comal can’t wait for the breakfast to be ready. To coconut water straight from the coconut tree. To trucks that drive by selling oranges or propane or tortillas or drinking water. To men that come to your door with machetes to cut the overgrown weeds in the yard. To dirt roads where dogs and children roam free. To iguanas and crowing roosters and herds of goats for neighbors. To lighting the stove with matches and the absence of a microwave. To clothes hanging from the line. To only cold water in the shower. To not needing lights during daytime because the sun streams in through the over-sized windows that take up nearly half of each wall. To tank tops and cut-off shorts and walking around dancing from all the energy the heat gives me.

All this, less than twenty four hours since our return to the alternate universe that is our life in Puerto Escondido. We’re just two days and three airplanes away from the alien world called Savannah, Georgia- the one we grew accustomed to after six months. One day back here, though, and it’s hard to believe that we were just living in the United States. You can tell, though, by the fancy toothbrushes the kids have now (the electric kind Lucia begged me for, which I justified when Khalil’s speech therapist suggested it), and “whatever that thing is that you’re charging,” said Conan. I have a hair product for the first time in my life (to minimize the frizz, y’all). The kids have their own Kindle (there’s not much access to books here). The kids have a bunch of clothes that are not hand-me-downs (we don’t know that many people in Savannah yet). We might have slightly fancier stuff than when we left, but I’m sure we are not too fancy, even if I might have hollered a little at the slightly chilly water this morning.

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Air travel, by Lucia and Papi

There will be some adapting to do, though. The most obvious of which will be language for the kids. Keeping up with their Spanish proved harder than I thought. My plan was to speak it with them daily, for at least an hour a day, and slowly switch over to speaking 90% Spanish with them. However, between working part-time, homeschooling Lucia/being a stay-at-home parent with them both during the day, learning sign language, taking Khalil to speech therapy three times a week and practicing at home, and all the other important survival things for the three of us, I was not a rock star at maintaining their Spanish language skills.

In fairness to my rock star parenting (haha), Lucia did not have the best attitude about Spanish for a good bit of our US life. “Why are you speaking Spanish to me?” she’d ask like I just peed in the bathtub. I know; it’s hard for me to switch languages with some people, but she was seriously resistant for a while. I enrolled her in a kids’ Spanish class to try to make it more fun than just talking with Mommy. It helped, but by the time she liked it she’d already lost a giant portion of her expressive language. Lucia left Puerto speaking a fabulous version of Spanglish; her English strong from speaking it with both parents at home, her Spanish strong from school and all the other play with kids in Spanish. She still understands Spanish pretty well, but it’s going to cost her some time to get back to where she was. She’s nervous about seeing all her friends and not being able to communicate with them as well as she’d like to. There’s nothing to do but keep showing up, though. Like so many times in life.

With Khalil, I’m completely intrigued as to how the language struggle will go. He left here totally bilingual in his understanding, and with a few words in Spanish and a few words in English. I couldn’t be more pleased to announce that he’s totally fluent in English now! Khalil was most honorably discharged from speech therapy back in mid-December. He is a talking fool; “I can say everything now, Mommy; I’m not a baby anymore.” (Ok, there are a couple consonants he can’t do still, but it’s age-level error.) He can say a couple of things in Spanish from our occasional practice time at home, but I’m not sure how difficult his Apraxia of Speech will make it to get fluent. I’m not sure if the sound sequences will have to be practiced in the same Apraxia-specific way the English ones were, or if it’ll be similar enough for him to work it out on his own with time. We shall see!

At least my kids will not suffer the same fate as my Nonna. She had forgotten all her English when she went back to the US from Italy at one point as a child. The nuns at her school would send her home every day, with a message to not bring her back until she could speak English. Her mother, of course, kept sending her back anyway, because, as she finally pleaded her case, “Where do they think she’s going to learn English if they keep sending her home from school?!” My mom told Lucia this story when she started worrying about going back to her “old school.” My children are happily returning to their school tomorrow, where I am sure that no one will send them home, where the teachers will be patient and understanding, where the other kids will rapidly reintegrate them into the circle, because that’s the kind of wonderful environment that exists there. Their school is definitely one of the things we’ve been pining for. The kids are looking forward to a fun place to play with a lovely group of other kids, and I can’t wait to have some place to send them five days a week. I suspect that readapting to school will be a joy for us all.

I do remember all my Spanish, but I still have my adapting work cut out for me. I have to find a new job and transition into this next phase of life in Puerto. I have to figure out what our next life transition looks like, and how to make it happen. I’m constantly evaluating what home means.
On the one hand, Puerto Escondido feels more like home than Savannah, from all the time, sweat and tears of making it home from scratch. On the other hand, being in Savannah gets us so much closer to so many of the people that we love. But it’s unclear if and when Conan would be able to move there. (That’s a topic for another time.) So I’m constantly thinking about the privilege of being able to decide where I live, and the emotional weight of that decision, especially when one is making decisions for their children. I debate with myself constantly about our most important needs in life and how to make that happen. What are the things and relationships that we each most need in life to grow and be healthy and, at least some of the time, happy? I have more heartache than answers.

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Lucia obsessively draws houses these days. My little artist searching for answers in her way. 

“When you have many homes, and many people who love you,” I tell Lucia when she’s missing someone, “You get to feel very, very happy, but not always all at once.” I hold her and let her cry. “It means we’ll always be missing someone, always longing for some other piece of home. But it also means we’re really luck. We have so much family in different places! Not everyone gets to have different homes.” I console myself right along with her.

And on the hardest days, I listen to my favorite Ani DiFranco song:
“Do you prefer the easy way? No? Well then, ok, don’t cry….. I do it for the joy it brings. Because I am a joyful girl. Because the world owes us nothing. We owe each other the world.”

Home, maybe, is not a place at all, but just a state of mind.


Still Dancing to My Own Drum, Like It or Not

9 Nov

I got reprimanded in my salsa dance class.

I’ve wanted to learn for years- since I took college classes in Chile and inadvertently received two salsa lessons. I didn’t get very far with my two lessons. I know the basic steps but I can’t work it at all. The seed was planted, but every time I go to water my plants I run out of water before I get to the dance one. I never prioritize getting dance lessons. My mom even gave me a gift certificate for classes once, back in Louisville, and I still never went.

“You’ve lived in Mexico for five years and you haven’t learned to dance?” Someone asked me, incredulously, at the dance studio here. They didn’t even know that I also lived and travelled in South America. I shrugged, I laughed, I smirked. “Yep. I had to come to Savannah, Georgia, to learn salsa.” I love irony.

But there I was, recently arrived. I was all in my new-in-town-so-the-world-is-my-oyster-optimistic / Shonda Rhimes’s-style say-yes-to-everything mode when I went to this free group lesson at this ballroom studio. I told everyone, clearly and happily, that I didn’t know shit as soon as they asked me to dance, but I said yes to everyone. It was a blast! There was a cheap introductory offer presented afterwards- three lessons for just $25!- and I went for it. Finally! This was it; I could feel it. I was going to prioritize learning to dance salsa.

I want to learn to dance because I love music. I’ve already got my rock and punk rock and ska-punk dancing down, so I’m all good there. I can mosh pit with the big boys and girls. I can jump around and sway and bang my head and raise my fist and even shake my ass and my hips with abandon. Certain songs speak to me, and make it nearly impossible to keep my body still. I even sway and groove in the car because the music gets under my skin. (My kids do, too.) But there are songs that I want to move to that are way beyond my dance repertoire. Where it’d be nice to dance with a partner, which often entails knowing formal steps. Hence my deep-down burning desire to learn a little bit of salsa, cumbia, and bachata.



I didn’t go to dance lessons because I aspire to be some kind of professional. I don’t even want to be especially good at it! I just want to be not clueless. I want to be good enough to not feel like a jerk trying to dance with people who know formal steps. But I don’t need to learn the foxtrot or the swing or any of the other dances that aren’t music that I love to listen to. I don’t want to learn just because I should know these things to fulfill someone else’s idea of what a half decent dancer might be able to dance to. When I explained this to the instructor, he said, “But you never know when a waltz or a foxtrot might come on.” Ummm, yes I do. It probably won’t come on anywhere I go, and even if it does, it doesn’t give me the slightest urge to move my body in time to it. “I only get 25 mintutes a pop so quit wasting my lesson time on bullshit!” I wanted to scream at him. Instead I politely obliged during the first lesson. “Sure!” I grinned, blithely, “let’s review that.” Thinking, “Not what I came here for, but okay.” I was glowing in my positivity.

I left only a tad deflated. I felt like I didn’t learn anything. However, I analyzed the situation and resolved to improve it for the next class. Problem one: We never even had salsa music on. Another instructor was teaching at the same time in the same area, so we were just rolling with that. We weren’t trying to dance in time to the music at all. He said he was trying to teach me to follow his lead, something I am terrible at, apparently. (Ok, it wouldn’t be surprising.) Of course, in my defense, I’d like to think I would be better at if I had an idea of the tempo. I didn’t say any of that at the time, but I definitely considered it all in my empirical analysis. 

My other complaint was that he kept trying to have a conversation with me, constantly, the whole lesson. Now, don’t get me wrong; I adore conversation. Some days I am ravenous for conversation. I even love small talk in the grocery store check out line. Any and all conversation, bring it on! But not while learning to dance! I told him, clearly, more than once, “I can’t dance while having a conversation yet.” I converse with my whole body. I am all gesticulations and eyebrow raises and leaning in and out. So maybe after I’m an expert, or at least a slightly functioning dancer, then we can discuss my life circumstances. Not yet! He insisted that I should learn while talking, though, because that’s how it will work later. I’ll want to be talking to the people I’m dancing with. I’ll want it to be second nature, something automatic while I’m thinking of something else. Ummm, yes, but don’t you think you’re jumping the gun just a little bit? This is my first day! I need to concentrate on my body! I can’t talk about my kid’s speech problems and major life crises while learning to dance! SOS!! Somebody!

I went to my second lesson resolved to speak up and ask for what I want. I told him again that I couldn’t concentrate while conversing. He continued to insist. I told him that I really didn’t want to learn those other dances. I insisted three times before he gave up. He held it against me, though. He brought it up when it took me time and practice to do a twist correctly. “Well I was going to show you through those easier dances first, but you didn’t want to.” He wasn’t exactly mocking me, but it didn’t feel quite like playful teasing either. I realized he must have been mad about it. I asked him to let me practice the turn in a certain way. For him to show me just so, at this speed, please. He obliged, although I could tell it was not the way he wanted to be teaching. I started to feel fairly uncomfortable.

It was my school days rebellion all over again. Who chose this curriculum, and what does it have to do with my life?! What does it even have to do with other people’s real lives? Are the other students just coming so they can either get competitive or learn enough to bust out with the fox trot at their cousin’s wedding? Are those the only options?

It’s a private class, so for some reason I thought it could be individualized. The instructor, however- and perhaps the company in general, had a very firm definition of what I needed to learn. They already had a set plan for how I was going to learn it. I’m sure it works out well for them most of the time, but it was certainly not what I bargained for, even at the cheap introductory rate.

So I quit. Partly I knew it would be hard to justify the expense. Partly I gave up because I it’s so hard to schedule that much time without my children, now that I’m employed and playing volleyball and other such shenanigans without my needy monsters. But I didn’t even bother to go to my third dance lesson that was already paid for. I might have made more effort to continue my dance classes if I felt like the instructor understood my motives and if he were more willing to work with my style. But he didn’t and he wasn’t, so I stopped.

I get it. The teacher has x years of experience. They have a plan that they’ve spent time crafting in order to, theoretically, maximize learning. They’ve probably had many successes with that plan, with those lessons, with that style. I’m a teacher, too. I know. In most scenarios you can’t walk into the classroom and ask the students to lead the class (that’s way too radical for most). I don’t believe in a Burger King version of teaching, either, some kind of capitalistic the-customer-is-always-right education where you give all the students their own 100% individualized plan based solely on their desires and moods. “No, I don’t need any verbs,” I can picture some student telling me. So you have to be a teacher; you use your expertise and experience to guide the student down the learning path at least. There has to be a balance, though, and an equal appreciation for the student and what they bring to the table. 

If you can’t adapt your lesson plan at all, or you can’t modify your curriculum at all? It means your brilliant plan is brilliantly ineffective for all those who don’t fit your objectives to a t. Why not ask them what they most want to learn, and why and how they see themselves learning it? Why not inquire as to what brought them there? It doesn’t do any harm to know! Especially if you’re teaching an individual class. Just one person, and you can’t change your style or your curriculum a little? You feel threatened by the student’s specific requests to try things a certain way, to focus on one thing over another? Nope, that was never gonna be my class. Neither as student nor as teacher.

So here I am. Still waiting for the right dance lessons for me. I know they’re out there. I know I’ll find them because I am glowing in my positivity and unceasing in my movement. My salsa dance movements will just continue to be in private for a while longer.

Love and Solidarity from Gringolandia! I’m trying to make time to write more while I’m here, so there’s more to come soon. xoxoxo


This is not me, but it’s my level of enthusiasm. Thank you, Google, for the picture. ; )