Tag Archives: living in oaxaca

A Major Merry Xmas Parade

25 Dec

If I had studied at the university where I work, I would have been a Biology student with a lot of Animal Science and Forestry friends. Bio students are the most curious and nerdy-with-a-cause, Animal Science are the big party kids, and Forestry kids appear to be total nonconformists. But that’s not all!

I’m always studying my students anyway, but I got an extra opportunity to watch the student groups when I was asked to be a judge this year for the floats in the Christmas parade put on by the university. I agreed, even though I dislike judging in general. I am kind of one of those hippie types whining about not being able to quantify everyone’s great effort. Thank goodness most of the student tests are multiple choice, because I agonize over grading their writing. I make sure to point out something they’ve done really well and something they need to work on for every single student. I think effort and the process of learning is often more important than product, and I think it’s necessary to recognize where people are. And I don’t grade 100% “equally” because some students are at a different level of English than others, but sometimes have learned more than someone who writes it better. But when it comes to parade floats? Turns out I’m almost ruthless at judging.

As a natural sociologist aka curious people-person, I LOVED observing how these groups work. My English classes are separated by major, so I already have some general working knowledge of differences among groups. But it was really fun to see it in action in the parade. For example, my nursing students rocked it in terms of group cohesiveness. They are the kids who follow the rules, who memorize, who wear uniforms complete with the mandatory bun hairstyle for women. Many of them are golden-hearted kids who really care about helping others, but of course they’d have it together to be nearly uniform in their dress and actions.

Thus, my nursing students had their routine down pat. They had matching outfits (Mario from Mario Brothers, with a few Luigis thrown into the mix). They had dances along the parade route. They were flawlessly in-sync. Obviously, they won first prize for their performance of a dance routine at the end-of-the-parade site. Because there are so many nursing students, there was also a group who made outfits to match the parade float. They had incredibly intricate shirts with ice cream cones and candy canes and other such treats in 3D form made out of who-knows-what because I hate crafts and therefore have zero knowledge on this base. But this is how it is. Nurses have to be details-based and intricate and work well with others. They spend hours doing elaborate projects like the way they did their ice cream shirts. So it makes sense.

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The Nursing students’ float: very busy,

My Computer Science kids are the most anti-social, according to themselves. I’m pretty sure these video game lovers, online addicts, and techie introverts only participated at all because their professors made them. There are about three raging extroverts among all of the perhaps 30 Computer Science kids. Two of the three extroverts wanted to dance and all that business, but they got summarily shot down by everyone else. Thus, the CS major kids did the bare minimum, which was to have a float in the parade. Well, I guess their “extra” thing was having a dragon parade puppet thing (see pic below) behind the float so some of the shyest kids could hide under it and still be in the parade. Their float, however, was spectacular. These kids do all kinds of great work behind-the-scenes. To program and whatever else it is that computer people do (obviously this is not my field), I know they spend hours staring at screens and pecking away at keys and toiling on the intricacies to come up with one thing. And their perseverance was obvious. Their float was like three levels more well done than everyone else’s. I happen to know they spent weeks laboring over it, and you could tell. It was a total work of art, and if I had been the only judge, they absolutely would have taken first prize.

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This is the dragon-type thing I’m talking about. I didn’t get a pic in the parade, so this picture is courtesy of this pinterest page: https://es.pinterest.com/em1776/dragonlion-dance/

 

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Is this amazing, or what? All made out of recycled materials (except the balloons).

The Biology students were hands-down the most original in their creation, of course, which is probably why they walked away with first prize. These kids are always questioning and thinking outside of the box, plus they’re dedicated to whatever they set their minds to. They’re the kind of students who tell me things like, “My personal goal is to reduce the use of straws in the population.” Oh, right, isn’t that everyone’s personal goal? (Can you see why I definitely would have been a Biology student? Plus they look so sharp in their white lab coats.) Anyway, their float’s theme was Plants vs. Zombies. They even had a zombie vs. plants battle/dance at the culmination of the parade, complete with Michael Jackson songs. Even my student who says she loathes styling her hair got hers all zombified for the event. I’m telling you,dedication.

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The Forestry students had the saddest float of all, although they had the best materials. They used all kinds of wood scraps, and made their own trees and… unrecognizable other things made out of cool materials. Now don’t be fooled- I would vote these kids second most studious/dedicated, right up there with the biology students. I always have lots of super sincere kids and incredible thinkers in the Forestry groups. But it’s the major with the lowest number of students, and apparently they all refused to participate. The only reason they had a float at all was thanks to the six Forestry students who are in their first semester. All the upper level kids were AWOL through the duration. I suspect the no-nonsense head honcho of Forestry (a woman, by the way) did not make participation mandatory, and all the non-newbies had better things to do.

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The Forestry float…. very forest-y.

Last but not least were the Zoos, as I like to call the Zootecnia kids (Animal Science? Animal Husbandry? Bachelor’s in How-to-Run-a-Farm-with-other-vet-skills-mixed-in? I’m never sure how to perfectly translate Zootecnia). Calling them the Zoos is perfectly apt, since they tend to be rowdy and rambunctious all the time. Their performance in the parade was a fitting reflection of that. Their float was nothing to write home about; I don’t even understand exactly what their theme was supposed to be. There was a chair for someone to sit under some big plastic-looking bubble, surrounded by balloons. There were two students dressed as penguins, and some other random stuff. When I asked about it, none of the students could tell me any more than their individual part in the float, so perhaps there was no theme. But goodnight! they had the absolute coolest performance of all. They took it way over the top. The first thing you saw after the Forestry float was a line of bicycles, biking in sync, each bike with a letter at the helm to spell out ZOOTECNIA. After them there were a few more bikes with paper-maché (spell?) animal heads on them. After that there was a line of kids walking on stilts (they learned in about four or five days, they told me). Behind them was one of those Chinese dragon type things, but it was a unicorn, and they were taking turns running circles with it, running through the crowd at small children and everything. Then came their float, and behind the float was a whole posse of girls spinning batons with long ribbons on them. (The other roles were mostly coed, but for whatever reason, spinning ribbons was only for girls. I don’t understand these things.) It was an incredible performance! It was semi-chaos, just like it is in class with them, but they pulled off something wildly fabulous.

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The Zoo float

(Sorry, y’all, all my action shots came out terrible and blurry. These kids are just too fast for my cell phone camera.)

That was the Christmas spirit, here in sunny paradise university. Based on this description, what would your major have been at this school? Who would you have hung out with?

Traditional Cures for the Partially Lost Soul

27 Sep

In an English class of mostly Mexican moms in Kentucky, for potluck I once took a beautiful dish of locally-grown heirloom tomatoes, with chunks of mozzarella cheese, and fragrant, fresh basil. Nobody even tried it. “Maybe because the tomatoes don’t look like normal tomatoes?” suggested the other teacher; indeed, the tomatoes were orange and reddish. I was discouraged because I’d been so hyped up to share my flavorful and pretty dish (aesthetics are not my strong suit in the kitchen), and nobody told me why they weren’t eating it.

Now that I live in Mexico, it’s obvious why nobody ate my exotic appetizer. The same reason almost nobody is interested in making pesto, even though you can get a huge bunch of basil for just 5 pesos. The culprit is the basil! Here, basil is like medicine, not food. (Why can’t it be both? I’m still not sure about that one.) People put a big bunch of basil in a vase as if it were flowers for their business to attract more clientele. More importantly, basil is used to curarte de espanto– it’s part of the treatment to cure you when you’ve lost part of your soul.

Sounds dramatic, huh? Erase that part from your mind for a second. Picture a kid in the US who is not gaining weight like they should. What happens? They get a bunch of tests and some pediatric protein shakes, their parents get nutrition counseling and vague threats of involvement by Child Protective Services. Something like that, right?

Down here, in many households the first line of defense would be to take the child to the curandero or curandera (the healer- usually a woman but not always) to get curado de espanto (cured of fright). One of the tias (aunts) was just telling Conan that Lucia is too whiney- and therefore she needs curing. When I first started having troubles with Lucia’s sleeping, when she was a baby, many folks suggested that we take her to get cured. I was convinced she just needed a better sleep routine, but Conan’s womenfolk (his mom and all the aunts) were very concerned that she needed curing. You might need curing if you have a loss of appetite, if your hands and feet are cold, if you have insomnia, if you are tired all the time, if you’re pale, if you have slight fevers, if you have headaches or chest pains, if you just feel run-down, out-of-sorts, not yourself. All of those symptoms could signify that you have espanto (fear/fright) and that you need to go get cured.

Conan used to go get cured from recurring migraines, which were supposedly caused by mal de ojo (the evil eye, yes, siree!). Funnily enough, he didn’t get migraines the whole 10 years that he was in the US. Shortly after we moved to Juquila, though, he started getting one right after walking past his mean neighbor. His aunt- who is not a curandera per se, but who knows tons about herbs and massage and other healing- came over and gave him a quick limpia– a cleanse, let’s call it. And his migraine was gone.

A cleanse is like a quicker, simpler version of getting cured- just something to clean the bad energy off of you. It involves rubbing an egg over you (no, you cannot eat the egg later- it makes the egg bad), brushing you with a big bunch of basil, and using rubbing alcohol or alcohol like mezcal, among other things.

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See? That egg is no good afterwards. Apparently.

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One of the Tías shows Khalil how it’s done.

People here have all kinds of rituals and protections woven into their daily lives, and who am I to say whether it works or not? For example, there are special charm bracelets for babies to protect them from the evil eye. Everyone in the US would surely be freaking out about them as a choking hazard, but here it’s par for the course. People also hold or touch a baby when they see one that they think is cute, because somehow touching the baby prevents you from accidentally giving the kid your bad energy.

Evil eye is not the only thing that causes these ills that require curing. The other main cause is “espanto”- a fright, let’s call it. Any moment of serious fear can cause those symptoms we talked about above, and therefore require this ritual of getting cured. It could be falling off a horse, seeing a snake, a wave knocking you down in the ocean- all kinds of stuff.* I remember that a friend of mine from Mexico was in a car accident once in Kentucky, and he called his cousin to hurry and bring him some bread to eat, so the fright of being in a car accident wouldn’t get into him (and make him lose part of his soul, I suppose- they didn’t tell me that part because they probably saw that I was already thoroughly confused. I bet it’s harder to find a decent curandero in Kentucky than here, too.) A student of mine from Mexico told me once, too, about how a fright like that is what really causes diabetes. It was one of those moments of seriously testing my abilities to show respect for a person’s culture and beliefs while also hoping to provide alternate/conflicting information that could be really important for that person’s whole family. (I’m still not sure how well I scored on that one. It’s a learning process.)

There is where the problem lies for me- and why I didn’t send Lucia to get cured when everyone told me too. I am never going to believe that one episode of shock causes someone to have diabetes. I think that many cases of “unexplained” symptoms might have a clear explanation, like anemia or poor circulation. My concern would always be about using a curandero exclusively and perhaps missing out on something important that needs a different type of cure.

Being open to this type of healing, however, without excluding other possibilities or treatment options, is absolutely fine by me. While Conan and I both revere science and reason, while we feel a bit dubious some of this evil eye business, we also respect and appreciate the power of energy, and the ways that it can be used positively or negatively. It’s not incredible to think that someone’s negative energy can make you feel bad. Conversely, if just suggestion can make someone feel better- just a placebo, for example- it’s not the slightest bit outlandish to think that a person’s benevolent touch and attention wouldn’t make us feel better, too. Both of us can accept that it might not be the egg or the basil exactly, so much as the ritual of it that focuses the person’s attention and energy, the healing touch, and a little bit of the placebo effect.

So after Conan got his big head injury a few weeks ago, he was happy to take off for Juquila, for a full-scale curing. He’d spent the week attempting to recover and rest amidst the chaos that is our household- kid problems, car problems, money problems, etc.- the usual workweek. He was still tired and dizzy with bouts of confusion. He had bags under his eyes from not enough sleep. Added to that was the fact that he’d lost weight lately. (His weight loss was absolutely due to a positive lifestyle change, but all of his aunts were walking around acting like I was forcibly starving him- although that’s another story.) “You look terrible;” his womenfolk told him. “Go and get yourself cured!” Even his mechanic buddy (the very honest but not very knowledgeable one) had told him that he really needed a cleansing, at least, to improve things with our car, too. We decided that a whole weekend without responsibility and caretaking might be enough cure in itself. So off he went to see the curandera in Juquila.

Getting curado de espanto is a much more elaborate ritual than the simple egg/basil/alcohol business that I’ve seen. A cleanse can be done by anybody who knows the ritual, but getting cured has to be done by an official healer. In Conan’s case, it involved crosses made of palm, many candles, and “some awful green drink,” among the other routine cleansing tools. The curandera analyzed the candle wax to determine what caused his fright, and whether or not he’d been cured after the first session.

The curandero also calls your spirit to return to you- which is part of the difference in this curing versus just getting rid of the bad energy of the evil eye. This ritual is to cleanse you and also bring this lost part of your soul back to you. This soul-seeking part totally makes me think of Peter Pan and his lost shadow. I picture Conan there trying to sew it back on himself and a little old lady laughing and shaking her head. The idea of a lost shadow- this lost part of the soul- sparked my thinking about the shadow parts of ourselves. Now I can see more clearly the beautiful and wise symbolism in this kind of ritual.

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Peter Pan trying to capture his shadow, all by his lonesome. Somebody go find that boy a curandera!

It took two curing sessions for the lost part of Conan’s soul to return. He also got a massage and a bath of rose petals. (I admit I was a bit jealous about that part.) The best part, though, according to Conan, was getting all that special attention- from the curandera, from his aunt, with whom he had good, long talks. I mean, imagine! A whole two days devoted to receiving TLC and being taken care of. Granted, you have to do what they tell you and stay under the covers in bed for like a whole day (not sure if I’m capable of that), but I can see how it could be worth it.

Conan conjectures that getting cured probably works so often in part because of the care and attention involved. Imagine being in the turmoil of adolescence and having some “fright” symptoms (aka normal teenage madness). Imagine your mama saying, “Come on- I’m worried about you; let’s go cure you. Stay home from school today, maybe tomorrow, too.” She cooks your favorite foods, she doesn’t ask you to do anything. Your whole family is extra nice to you, or at the minimum doesn’t bother you. You rest and relax for a couple of days, getting massages and special baths. You get the full dose of a placebo effect, too. That surely would cure me from an ailment or two.

I don’t think it’s going to cure diabetes, no. But what if it helped a person in a way that addressed the shadow parts of their spirit that were causing them to overeat and thus contributing to diabetes? I can see how it could be beneficial, even while I can doubt that it would be beneficial enough to be a complete treatment for diabetes. And I have no doubt that it can work for many types of problems. I don’t by any stretch think that all these curanderos are quacks, either. Some of them are herbalists, and I suspect that some probably have lots of other wisdom and healing knowledge to boot.

So did the curandera cure Conan? Her healing did not help our car continue to run. But Conan is certainly much better than he was, even if he’s still too skinny for his aunties’ liking. Can we chalk it up to the curandera’s powers? Who am I to say- it certainly didn’t hurt him, anyway.

Maybe I will get Lucia cured after all. If there’s a possibility my four year old will sleep better and whine less, what have I got to lose?

*I got examples of causes and some other good info from this really insightful page, which is for medical doctors and discusses respecting curanderos. It’s in Spanish.

 

 

A Deluge of Generosity

20 Sep

Last Monday, my hands were shaking as I prepared to publish my weekly blog post. They trembled like the first few times I tried out my college Spanish on actual Spanish speakers. My heartbeat fluttered erratically like it does when I’ve gotten on a bus in a foreign country- sure I’m not doing it quite right and doubting I’ll end up where I was planning to go, but determined to go anyway.

I was scared because I knew this was important, and I wanted to get it right. I sensed that later I would recognize it as one of those moments that would separate major eras in my life. The same way there’s a before and after I got pregnant with Lucia, for example. There will be a “before” and “after” we announced our intentions to move back to the states. I knew this was monumental.

I was also nervous as hell because of fear and anxiety. I worried that our family and friends in Puerto would feel like we don’t care about them. I worried that people would say shame on me for wanting to leave after I’d spent four years building a life here. They’d say I was giving up on Oaxaca, or that I haven’t tried hard enough, that doing my best isn’t good enough. I was also feeling really guilty about asking people for financial help, because I know there are so many great causes and people who need funds as much as or more than we do. Because publicly stating that you need help, in our culture, is often mixed with all kinds of ugly, deep-rooted ideas about human worth and value- things I don’t believe, but they’re there, threatening me anyway.

With a lot of encouragement from some key folks, though, I hit “publish” on my blog. I posted to Facebook. Holly posted the GoFundMe campaign to Facebook. And there was no going back, no matter what people might think about my worth.

The fundraising campaign netted over $400 in the first hour after publishing- enough to retain our lawyer. Within 24 hours, the fund- you guys- raised enough for the whole first step in our immigration process- lawyer fee and immigration fee. Woo hoo! We’re already starting the process! We have a contract in hand and hope to have our first file sent in to US Immigration by early October. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone for that, first of all.

More importantly, though, I was astounded by the seemingly limitless support. In addition to all the folks who were able to donate, people sent so much love and encouragement our way. People talked about being happy and excited to have us come back. People said our family deserves support. (Oh how marvelous it is to be called worthy, right? We are all worthy. An important note.) Folks assured us that we will make this happen! Some people shared details of their own migration process, and expressed their solidarity. People reminded us of something good we’d done for someone else at some point, which was a really helpful reminder that receiving help is part of the same beautiful cycle that is giving help. Folks called us out as part of their family- “Conan, my brother!” or “One of my favorite people, Julia”. One of my two favorite sociology profs from college publicly called me “an awesome sociologist.”

People shared my blog post like nobody’s business- and complimented my writing. My mouth was hanging open as I looked at stats from hundreds of readers, including folks in like 10 different countries, reading my blog. People I don’t even know shared my blog, and called me names like “amazing writer.” I didn’t even really believe that people who don’t know me actually read my blog, before this. I got all teary eyed thinking how proud my Nonna, the great storyteller, would be, when a friend publicly invited people to read some of my “incredible storytelling.”

I was Floored. Shocked. Almost speechless. Overwhelmed with gratitude. My cup was all runneth-over-style with love and joy. I almost woke up the kids that first night, running/dancing around the house, trying to “whisper-scream” to Conan, something that sounded like : “So!Many!People!F*#/ing!Love!Us!We!Are!So!F*/#ing!Lucky!”

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Imagine: Me, shouting for joy “really quietly” just like this little girl.

I am not very good at shouting in a soft and quiet voice, for the record. Not shouting was out of the question, however, because I was jubilant, EXPLODING with cheer. Gratitude and glee were radiating out of my pores.

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This was me, all last week.

It turned the tides for me in terms of my feelings about this process, too. If you read Ending our Exile you can probably feel the angst and anxiety broadcasting from my very words. I was already giving myself panic attacks before we’d even begun. I debated with myself about cancelling everything and living in Mexico forever, because it just felt like too much struggle for something that is no guarantee.

After we shared our dreams with all you lovely people, though, after we asked for help, you guys produced such a storm of support that  y’all lifted some of the burden from  our shoulders. Now my attitude and energy are more like: “Of course we can do this! Look at everyone who has our back! This has to happen. That’s all there is to it. Take that, bureaucracy! We got a whole lotta love!”

My community-induced endorphins were so intense that when I woke up to cat poop on the kids’ toys the next morning, I took it in stride. I washed Khalil’s diapers with a smile on my face all week. Lucia threw her typical irrational dictator tantrum about seating arrangements in the kitchen and I didn’t even groan. I was on a love high like I haven’t been on since Conan and I first got together.

I admit, I faltered a bit in my joy-fest when the baby had his first serious asthma attack towards the end of the week. I might have cursed our car as more punishment than transportation when it broke down AGAIN yesterday. And okay, I reverted back to the crying-in-my-office thing when faced with more evidence of state-sanctioned genocide happening in my country- wondering how many more Black lives are going to be lost before it’s enough evidence to change the system, feeling an enormous dread as I worry about my loved ones who are not only living with discrimination (as if that were a small thing) but also knowing that they and their beautiful, precious children are likely to be killed just for existing. In my country. The one I’m dying to go back to.

And yet I am dying to go back. For those very friends I’m worrying about, and loving and missing from afar. For all of you folks who are worrying about me and Conan, and sending so much love from afar. Because I have support. Because I give support. Generosity is a cycle. We have to continue to support and love on each other- not even just to make positive change, but also just because that’s what makes life really worth living.

And now I’m hungry for more; I want to do more! Your all’s gifts have made me more determined than ever to be exactly where I am and trust that it’s right. Even if it seems we’re always short on time and money, I can still find more ways to give. I can give a few pesos to that guy by the market with his drum and his eery voice. I can give more understanding to my students when they can’t get it together to study. I can keep trying to make my classes a rich and welcoming learning environment for all my students. I can bake an extra loaf of corn bread every time I bake, to have some extra for sharing. (Because maybe my dad was right about food being love.) I can be nice, amable, because it doesn’t cost a thing and it makes such a big difference sometimes. I’ll keep my eyes and heart open for more and more opportunities to do right by the world. Every day I can learn more, I can work more towards being the person that I dream of being- a person overflowing with love and generosity.

So the euphoric effects of everyone’s well-wishes, encouragement and assistance haven’t disappeared just because I’m not explosively elated 24/7. I’ve incorporated your energy into my being. Life is hard and unfair, true. There is so much suffering happening all the time. So much hardship in any given day. Days like today, when the negative seems overwhelming, I am somber but more sure than ever about my place in the world. I am more sure than ever of the world’s beauty, too. That I’ll get through this. That we’ll get through this- all of this hard and wonderful and important stuff- together.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am eternally grateful.

Love,

Julia

As an extra note, I want to share with you my reminder to myself, that I’ve posted in my office to keep me from crying excessively (or at least too loudly) when I read the news:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – from the Talmud

 

 

Some Irreverent Cheer, in T form

2 Sep

I needed to focus on some silliness after 7 days of melodrama and frustrations, and what’s cheerier than irreverent and inappropriate t-shirt messages? Some superb ones can be found all over town here and I’ve been jotting them down for ages. Finally it’s time to share.

With Mexico being a neighbor to the US, you see lots and lots of people with shirts in English. Some things are new clothing that has something written in English because it makes it cooler- or something. I’m not really sure what the motivation is for making baby onesies, for example, that say “Handsome” instead of “Guapo.” We’re in Mexico, guys! Speak Spanish! Stop making stupid crap in English! Is there so much obligatory diffusion of ‘Murican culture happening that you can’t even get new clothes in Mexico in the national language? Geez.

Occasionally it becomes fun, though, when they start putting totally random English on shirts. I used to have a shirt that somebody bought me from the Canary Islands that was covered in words as if you were supposed to read it, but it was something like: Freedom butterfly go spider fly love pacore fun forever (totally unrelated crap with a totally made-up word for good measure). But it’s in English! Super cool.

Here are some other good examples of these kinds of shirts (from the interwebs, not from my camera, because I suspect it’s rude and an invasion of privacy to snap photos of people in their t-shirts all the time):

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I secretly hope that some aspiring English language learners sit around and make up these t-shirts. Like they just open up a dictionary and pick out words that sound nice to them. Or they open different youtube pages and the first word of each video is what goes on the shirt. However they come up with it, they obviously don’t care whether your English t-shirt is credible or not. It is the reason why I will never, ever get a tattoo in a language I don’t speak. Imagine getting something really deep written on you, only for it to be something like, “permited to going” or “vintage gonna” or so many much worse things. Okay, maybe it would be funny enough later to make it worthwhile. I won’t say never. Just probably not. 1527898-980x

Then there are the t-shirts in English that are second-hand, presumably from the US, usually with more legitimate English. Some of the ones I appreciate are messages that are a bit incongruous with the person wearing them, like the wasted-drunk guy outside the market wearing his “Franklin Elementary PTA” t-shirt. Or the grumpy old lady in the shop wearing her shirt that says “My heart is all his!” (Although, okay, maybe she felt passion in her cold little heart once upon a time.) There’s the construction worker with his Harvard Alumni t-shirt or the harried mom with her Mini Marathon for Parkinson’s Disease shirt. Sure, maybe they did those things, but it looks a little out of place in the moment.

I like the meant-to-be sarcastic ones, like Conan’s t-shirt that says, “I’m just one freaking ray of sunshine, aren’t I?” (But we bought it in the US, so maybe it doesn’t count.) “Everybody loves me” also falls into the “surely this is sarcasm” category, because who makes these slogans up? Could you be serious about that?

Usually when I ask my students about their clothes’ messages in English, they don’t know or they’re not totally sure what it says. Even when theoretically they know all the words on their shirt, they haven’t really bothered to decipher the message. I like to talk about them in class sometimes. “I’m not from Ireland but you can still kiss me for luck” was one that we all translated together, and then I tried to explain the significance. Other common messages include things like “I’m not short, I’m fun-sized” (totally apt on that particular wearer), or “chocoholic” (we agreed that yes, that was appropriate for her character).

There are accidentally ironic t-shirts, like my student who tripped on the sidewalk one day because she was focusing so hard on her phone. I helped her up and then I laughed at her, because her shirt that day said, “Textaholic” with a big cartoony cell phone on it. “Do you know what your shirt means?” I asked her. “No, what?” she said. Oops.

Hands down, though, the t-shirts that most cause my hysterics are the wildly improper and inappropriate ones, especially when the user seems completely oblivious. Like the seemingly nice and attentive father walking down the street one day holding his kids hand and talking to him in a gentle voice. He was wearing a shirt that said in big bold, all-capital letters, “Shut up and take it in the butt”- I am not even exaggerating; that’s what it said! I thought, “Surely he’s clueless. He has to be in the dark. Should I fill him in? What if he already knows?”  How many other English-speakers are walking around in shock about his t-shirt? Let us all be in shock; it’s kinda fun.

I also love that students in the strict, conservative university where I work wear outrageous messages on their clothing.  I’m always wondering, “Do you not get it, or are you using people’s assumed lack of English to wear really semi-scandalous or risqué things?” They get away with it, I imagine, because it’s in English. Like one of my little 18 year old newbies this semester that showed up the other day wearing a shirt with some cartoon character on it, but in all caps above the image it said, “FUCK!!!!!!!!!!” (Seriously, with like 10 exclamation marks) And below the image it said “I’m high” with another 18 exclamation marks. Based on what I know of her so far, I bet this student has never even seen illegal drugs in her life, but I love the accidental audacity of her wearing this in front of all these uptight administrators, these folks checking their clipboards, making sure nobody’s sitting on the lawn. Bless. It’s a bit like this shirt below, so inappropriate that it’s kind of awesome:

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A more mildly inappropriate one from a student has a picture of a toaster and a slice of bread in conversation. The toaster says, “I want you inside me.” The bread is saying “That’s hot.” Nice and cheeky. Unfortunately, since my students often don’t know what their shirt means, it lowers the cool factor a bit in my eyes. When it’s a naughty or outlandish message, I now prefer not to ask if they get it. I let myself assume that they know so I can appreciate their small rebellion.

Because the internet never ceases with its capacity to add to my cheer (thank you, Google images, thank you!), I found some more fun stuff to make my day. Below are some shirts I’m totally getting for my next trip to the US.

How about you guys? What ridiculous shirts make your day? Shirts in English? Spanish? Share the giggles!

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This reminds me of how my Nonna used to pronounce the video game system Neen-TEEN-do. I’m gonna sport it so all the Spanish speakers in the US can wonder if I have a clue what it says (it means, I don’t even understand). 

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Eres un pendejo means “you’re an idiot” hehehehe

My Oaxacan Reality Show

30 Aug

Have you ever approached the mirror expecting to see a cockroach, because things are so bad you’re sure you’re living out a Kafka novel? I started my Monday timidly glancing towards the mirror, convinced someone had come along in the night and boofed-up my hair, maybe wiped excessive blush and three layers of mascara on me, because I undoubtedly am living some bad reality TV. Or perhaps the previous days were supposed to be motivation for me to write about my life for The Onion, everyone’s favorite satirical paper. I knew my life wasn’t a sitcom because it was too preposterous to be made-up.

 

This was my reality show script this past weekend:

 

Friday: The Absurd Car Saga Continues

 

We’re driving down the coastal “highway” (a highway covered in topes, aka speed bumps), cruising along nicely because we’ve already stopped twice since leaving our house to put water in and cool down the car. That’s the state of our car currently- the motor’s been totally rebuilt now, along with about 15 other things, but anything that we haven’t put in new in the 2 years that we’ve owned it is just waiting for its moment to break down. I could write 3 different blog posts about this lemon of a car and all the idiot/liar mechanics and how every time we fix something they break something else or something else breaks right afterwards. I could write about how it tricked us by not breaking down for a couple of months, and so we decided to do some more major repairs on it to make it last us, and it hasn’t lasted a full week since then. But Conan’s made me promise not to blog about the car. “It’s bad enough I have to live this experience;” he explained, “I really don’t want to read about it.” But the car was the start of this mad-house weekend, so, sorry, Conan, but I’ve got to tell a little bit.

 

So we’re driving to Lucia’s school to pick her up. Now, luckily, we haven’t had to make the trek to take Lucia to school and back every day, thanks to a super nice lady, J’s mom, who lives a couple miles from us. Lucia’s new school, which is fabulous for her, is like light years away from us. It’s as far as you could possibly get from our house and still be in the same small town. Taking a taxi there is prohibitively expensive. It takes two buses and a good amount of walking on both ends just to get there without a car, and then there’s the trip back for Conan and Khalil. So all the days when our car doesn’t work (usually, thus far), Conan takes Lucia down the road to J’s mom’s house. J’s mom takes her and brings her back to there in the afternoon.

 

Three weeks in, Lucia is used to going with J’s mom. She showed me the other day how she and Papi speed-walk down the street to the collectivo stop in the mornings. Conan showed me the video that he showed Lucia to stop her complaining, a video of some kids who scale a cliff to get to school and back. This is good, I thought. My kids in no danger of growing up too privileged for her own good. But J’s mom now has to start taking her older kids to school as well, which means she needs to leave an hour earlier. I refuse to think about the problem till Monday, though, because our life is a twelve-step program and we’re already dealing with this tricky moment.

 

We’re driving in our radically unreliable car because the plan changed too much in one day. Lucia was supposed to be getting a ride with a different mom because she was going to her new bestie’s house to play after school. Unfortunately, there was a problem on the other mom’s end and she had to reschedule. We’d already cancelled Lucia’s normal ride with J’s mom, and I knew Lucia was going to be madly disappointed. Thus, I thought it might soften the blow if I went to get her. I told Conan I was going to take the buses and such to get her, but he convinced me it’d be better to all go in the car- we’d just put water in along the way. So here we are.

 

The car makes it all the way to the school! J’s mom had had car trouble herself earlier in the day, so she arrives in a borrowed car. The borrowed car gets a flat tire right on the corner by school, so Conan tries to fix it. The car’s spare needs air and our spare doesn’t fit. J’s mom calls the flat-tire car’s owner and he comes quickly in J’s mom’s now-fixed car (how’d she get a mechanic to work so quickly!? I gasp). She has to go pick up more kids, so we take the flat-tire-car-owner to the gas station to get air in his spare. When we arrive at the gas station, we hear a big pop! from our car. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I yell, about to pull my hair out.

 

It’s not a flat tire, at least. Conan opens the hood. Some belt has snapped. But not completely- only part of it is torn. Conan gets out the dirty steak knife he apparently keeps handy and cuts off the busted part. We take off back down the road to the school where the other car is. We make a deal with the flat-tire-car-owner that he’ll pick up me and the kids off the side of the road if he sees us there on the way back to our side of town. With only a couple of stops to cool the car down- one of those stops to buy quick food, we make it home just in time for me to go back to work. Well, I’m late for the 8th time this week, but I get there.

 

Speaking of late, Conan’s going to be late to an important prayer service. The babysitter calls while we’re on the road, saying she can’t watch the kids that afternoon. That means Conan can’t leave as planned for Pinotepa, a coastal town a few hours down the road where his stepdad Arturo is from.

 

Here in Oaxaca, when somebody dies, there are nine days of evening prayer services for the deceased, with the ninth one culminating in an all-night sort of wake/prayer service. They repeat the process a year later, and this is the year anniversary. We already missed the original service for Arturo’s mom, so it’s important that we go. But I couldn’t even handle the mental images of a weekend purgatory with my insomniac children, all sleep-deprived and exhausted and expected to sleep on straw bedrolls when there’s an exciting wake going on around them. Plus we are all in the throes of a cold, just to exacerbate the potential misery. Conan was going to go alone, but this is like another sign from the universe. He decides to stay home and try to figure out the car situation.

 

 

Saturday: Blood and Gore and Electrical Outlets

 

Our most trusted and honest mechanic is unavailable. Sadly, this guy is slower than molasses in January AND the least experienced and least knowledgeable of the dozen mechanics we know down here, but at least we’re sure he’s not trying to rip us off, ever. We wait, as usual.

 

We decide on a family field trip to the library before our weekly venture to buy fruit and vegetables at the market. At the library, Khalil’s pulling books off the shelf with glee. I look at Lucia for a second and when I look back at Khalil he’s got his finger on an electrical socket and is trying to shove it in there. WTF? Who puts an electrical outlet in the children’s books? Or who puts the small kids’ books where the outlet is? Geez, Mexico, Geez!!! I know that safety is a joke here, but it’s a library, which really should be a universal safe space, don’t you think? Sure, they don’t have those convenient plastic outlet-cover things with that specific purpose down here, but this is a land of genius inventions!  Put some duct tape over that shit like I do, people! No wonder a kid’s third birthday is such a big deal here: if your kid survives that long, it’s obviously a miracle.

 

The rest of our outing is blissfully uneventful, not including Lucia’s meltdown in the taxi because I told her I’d buy her a treat “later” and then later never happened. “I wanted ice cream, too, but I bought fruit for you little people instead!” I want to scream, if only I could have my own meltdown. Instead I limit myself to furtive eye-rolling while I console her. Life is really hard.

 

Tensions remain high at home due to hunger and exhaustion. Voracious snacking happens while I prepare official lunch. Later Conan and I get in a fight over who is supposed to rinse Khalil’s poopy diapers. Conan escapes outside to do yard work. I attempt to put Khalil down for a nap.

 

I’m lying in the bed with Khalil when Conan comes up and asks if we have peroxide. I look up at him and there’s blood all over his shoulder and on one side of his chest. It’s coming from his head and it’s still flowing out swimmingly.

 

“What happened!” I shriek at him. “Do. We. Have. Peroxide.” He repeats. Then Calm Julia starts a wrestling match with Hysterical Julia. “Go in the bathroom,” I tell him, breathing deeply while my hands shake. “Bring some ice,” he says. I grab peroxide, ice, and the small, worn white “Él” (His) towel that was a wedding present, which just happens to be in the kitchen. I douse his head in soap and water and try to guess how bad it is. He holds the towel with ice in it on his head. The bleeding continues.

 

I’m flapping around like a chicken, trying to get things together to schlep him and the kids to a clinic. “Get your shoes on,” I tell Lucia. “Because we’re going to the hospital?” she asks, having overheard me tell Conan that I’m taking him. “Yes,” I confirm, and she is remarkably obedient. “I’m ready, Mommy,” she says, stunningly cool and calm.

 

Of course our car is not working. I am also out of minutes on my phone, and in my agitated state I appear to be unable to use Conan’s phone to call a taxi. Conan feels dizzy, which puts me almost over the edge. “Don’t pass out on me!” I tell him sternly.

 

“The neighbor,” Conan says, reminding me that we have a helpful neighbor. I try to call him instead of a taxi but my phone hasn’t miraculously gotten a top-up on minutes in the past 30 seconds. I can’t work Conan’s contact list still, either, and as I’m trying to push in the buttons and becoming less and less dexterous and sharp-witted (you’d think I got my head busted open, too), Conan says, “Go.To.The.Neighbor’s.House.” OH, right! I snatch the baby and go.

 

Luckily, the neighbors are home. The papá, Sergio, comes over to help. “It doesn’t look too bad,” he says, and Conan says, “Yeah, I don’t feel so dizzy now,” as if to say “Let’s just forget about all this.” I’m on the verge of screaming, “Your head got busted open by a heavy wooden beam! Have you already lost your mind?!” Instead I limit myself to a determined, “We’re getting you checked out.” The neighbor offers to give us a ride to the worthless pharmacy doctor down the street. That’s better than nothing, so we get in the car. Lucia stays with the mamá neighbor and their three kids to play, thankfully.

 

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Conan demonstrates how the beam was (we recently did some construction on the house and this beam was stuck extra tight until this moment)

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This is how the beam fell, except Conan was kneeling down to pick up the bucket right there. He has some amazingly bad luck. But better him than the kids, we agreed.

 

The pharmacy doctor is closed at the pharmacy in our neighborhood. The less-busy one downtown is also closed. We get out of the car at the next one, pleased because it looks like there’s no line. We tell the neighbor we’ll catch a taxi back and thanks for the ride. Turns out there’s no line because the doctor has just gone to lunch and won’t be back for an hour. Ooops. Now what?

 

The Red Cross is just a couple blocks away, so we start walking. I’m carrying the sleeping Khalil in my arms and Conan is shirtless and still messy with blood, holding the bloodied white towel with ice in it over his head. He says he feels “fine.” I am not assured.

 

At the Red Cross they clean and examine his injury and tell us he needs stitches, but they’ll have to charge us for the materials- a couple hundred pesos. They work off of donations, so that’s that. And they’re not doctors, so they explain that they can’t give us a prescription or any other care, so we might prefer to go to the Health Center (Centro de Salud). “They’re government run, so they don’t have any reason to charge you a peso,” the paramedic says. (I suppose he’s a paramedic. Whatever he is. Random guy who knows how to sew people up? Friendly apprentice to a Silence of the Lambs-style murderer? Who knows?)

 

We take a taxi to the Health Center and go in the Emergency doors. You remember the Centro de Salud, the one that was on strike for months? They’re not on strike anymore, thank goodness. Someone is in the exam room and there’s another couple waiting. The other guy’s having chest pains and he gets seen first. Conan tells the nurse he had an accident and got hit in the head. She glances in his direction. Analysis complete.

 

While we’re still waiting, the nurse comes over and asks, “Did you guys bring a vehicle?” I’m thinking “Did someone park illegally on the nearly-empty dirt road outside? Why are they asking this?” I give her a simple no, although I’m tempted to disclose too much information about the useless state of our vehicle.

 

“Well, it looks like we’re out of the thread for stitches, so you’re going to have to go to a pharmacy and buy it.” She informs us casually. The nearest pharmacy is something like 10 blocks away. I look slowly at Conan with his head injury and I look down at the sleeping baby in my arms. Do I go on this outing with the baby, which will take longer but be safer? Do I leave the baby with the head-injury patient? Do I send the injured party to buy his own medical supplies, with his bloody towel and topless, bloody chest, because our first walk-around wasn’t quite fun enough? IS THIS A SICK JOKE?

 

Of course it’s not a joke, though; it’s just how it is. This is not as bad as the time that a doctor sent us home during Lucia’s crisis asthma attack with her blood oxygen level still at a dangerous 89% and not responding to treatment. It’s not nearly as bad as my friend’s birth story. She’s a negative blood type and her baby’s positive, so you need a special shot, which you can get anytime between 28 weeks pregnancy to 72 hours after birth. Otherwise it’s dangerous if you might ever want to get pregnant again. The hospital where she gave birth (yep, those same scary fools that are my insurance company) kept telling her they’d get it for her soon, until her 72 hours were almost up and finally they admitted that they didn’t have it. Her husband had to drive hours away to go buy it and race back to get it to her in time. So, I think, this is not that bad.

 

Luck is on our side! The director finds a little bit stashed away in a closet somewhere. Hallelujah, amen.

 

The nurse won’t let me accompany Conan, probably because she doesn’t want anyone with non-injured heads to hear her inappropriate commentary or to be a witness to who-knows-what. “These glasses just don’t let me see right anymore,” is among her pertinent remarks. That was after she discussed with the other lady (nurse’s aide? Who knows?) this being her 2nd time giving stitches. When Conan asks, incredulously, “Really? Second time ever?” she explains that it was her second time with the other lady. Conan’s hoping that’s true, but it’s too late to back out of this anyway.

 

Meanwhile, the director, who’s the only doctor on site, takes me to a different room to complete some minimal paperwork. I give him basic info about Conan and what happened. He tells me he’s writing a prescription for an antibiotic and pain pills.

 

The doctor still hasn’t actually examined Conan, so I’m trying not to scoff about his antibiotics. When I ask him if antibiotics are necessary in this case, he assures me that they are, just like all the doctors here do, no matter the circumstances. They don’t even diagnose you; one doctor I saw limited herself to the question, “Injection or pills?” like they used to ask, “Paper or plastic?” in the grocery store. You have a cough? Antibiotics! Diarrhea? Antibiotics! It’s a miracle that there are still antibiotics that kill off actual bacterial infections here since they’re used for everything else instead. But I digress.

 

If I had known that my moment with the doctor would be the only moment for questions, I would have gotten it together to inquire a little more. If I had a peso for every time I thought “If I had known this sooner,” since we moved here, we would be filthy rich enough to improve doctors’ training in the entire state of Oaxaca. Although we’d only do that if we could ALSO buy a car that works.

 

Conan survives the dodgy nurse’s handiwork and we go to the reception/cashier area with a piece of paper. The receptionist charges us 85 pesos. I ask if that’s how much it costs despite his having this insurance- the Seguro Popular (insurance that covers you at this type of public health clinic). She’s like, “Oh, you have Seguro Popular?” Conan explains that he does but his paper is at home. Because that’s all it is- a printed piece of paper. It’s not like it’s something you carry around with you everywhere, or it’d be unreadable once you needed to use it. “Can’t you look him up in the system?” I ask, to which she probably should have burst out laughing. But instead she politely tells us that there’s no system like that; he just needs his scrappy piece of paper that anybody could print from a computer. I guess they’re counting on the fact that not enough poor people have the means to make their own ridiculous document for insurance coverage. Or they just don’t care.

 

“Welcome to Oaxaca!” I think, land where you better be at home with your shoddy print-out proof of insurance when anything happens or else it’s no use. What’s more of a joke, though, is that at no point did the doctor examine Conan’s injury, and no medical professional has given him any medical advice or instructions on follow-up care. No one has given us any idea of potential complications, what to watch for, tips on keeping it clean, or even when to get the stitches taken out. Nothing. I kind of assumed the nurse had told Conan some of that information. I must be somewhat in shock myself because I am not on my A-game with the demanding questions, and therefore we get zero information. At least he got seen, I guess.

 

conan busted head

It doesn’t look too bad after it’s all stitched up. Too bad it feels really bad still. We go out for ice cream down the street from the clinic before we get a taxi home. There’s the silver lining. 

 

Sunday: Dry like a Desert, No Oasis in Sight

 

Conan acts like he feels fine and starts to refill leaking fluids, add extra water, and beat on something to make the tail lights come on (oh, yeah, we have some electrical problems, too) so we can take the car out. We go to inquire about brand-new cars, because at this point I’m convinced that it will be cheaper than trying to maintain a car that never works. Unfortunately, the facts and numbers demonstrate my miscalculation. A new car is still unattainable. But my kids have fun playing hide and seek around the Volkswagon showroom and jumping on their couch. That’s what matters on a Sunday, right?

 

We drop the car off at the mechanic’s, who hopes to get to it today. He calls Conan right as we’re about to sit down to dinner that evening, because he’s about to get started working on it. Conan rushes off to the mechanic’s house. As soon as they start working, it starts pouring down rain and nothing can be done till the next day. (What, do you expect mechanics to have garages here? Bwahahaha.)

 

While Conan is out, we run out of drinking water. I still don’t have any minutes on my phone, so I can’t call him to bring some home. I’m worried that it’ll be too late to get any from the house on the corner by the time he gets back. I could leave the sleeping children alone in the house for a minute, but I’m scared of the dogs once it’s dark out and they get more aggressive. So I’m stuck, with my ragingly sore throat, and no water. I need tea now! Worse still, how will I get out of bed in the morning if there’s no coffee? I blow up a balloon for my imaginary pity party. For some reason, this small inconvenience feels like the worst thing yet.

 

Then I remember that it’s not my first day in the illustrious state of Oaxaca. It’s not even my first time with this particular problem. I get a big pot and put tap water on to boil. “It’ll be better coffee,” I think, “I’ll add some cinnamon to the pot!” I make my coffee the traditional way, letting the grinds sink to the bottom. It’s all ready for me to reheat when I get up the next day, thus assuring my 5AM wake up will be executed successfully. I make ginger tea with some of the boiled water, and it’s the perfect soother.

 

I plan the meals for the next day. Conan has a plan for Lucia’s school transportation for the next day. No further plans can be made. We’ve made it through this day. That is all. There’s no moral to the story, nothing special to be learned, because this is a REALITY show, folks. I go to sleep hoping for a better script and better hair tomorrow.

A Spike for the Ego

21 Aug

I gave up being a stellar young volleyball player when I was thirteen, because it no longer fit my budding rebel image. I’d been the hot-shot player on my team, because I loved it and therefore I practiced relentlessly. But I traded it in for tentative puffs of smoke, for dancing in the mosh pit, for spoken word poetry. Sports were for jocks and that wasn’t me, I declared, with all of my tentacles extended to speculate and conjecture about my identity. Little did I know that years later, volleyball would save my life, imparting me with a concrete expression of myself as a real human being, when nothing and no one else around me acknowledged me as a distinct and singular individual.

 
Volleyball as refuge for me started in the itty-bitty mountain town of Juquila, Oaxaca, during that year of my life when I was lost in the abyss. I was whisked away in the shock, in the wonder and delight, in the anguish and growing pains of becoming a mother. I was in semi-exile from my home, trying to clench my fist around some solid piece of myself. I was locked away in solitary confinement, with an infant who couldn’t talk, a very depressed partner who wasn’t talking to me, and a small town full of folks who acted like I was an alien species.

 
Then I found a place to play volleyball.

 
It was at the hospital, up one of Juquila’s many steep hills. Everyone else who played regularly was staff from the hospital, but a neighbor who worked at the hospital told me it wasn’t exclusive, and I leapt at the non-invitation as if it were a red carpet leading me to my very own party. They were mostly younger folks hired from other parts of the state, and they were mostly a little more open-minded than many of the locals in Juquila.

 
Usually Conan would come with me to bring baby Lucia- who refused to take a bottle- in case she needed to nurse. Even though I wasn’t 100% free of my mother role, at least I was somewhere in my own right. It was a place to go with a legitimate purpose all about me, as a person who played this sport, as opposed to being Conan’s partner, or Paulina’s daughter-in-law, or just “la gringa,” a strange specimen to inspect and marvel at. It was a respite from both being ignored and being a side-show freak.

 
Not that I found a new bestie or something from going to volleyball once a week. We never had deep or intimate or intellectual conversation, nor many other things that I was longing for. Nobody ever invited me for anything but volleyball- and there wasn’t really anything else to do in Juquila anyway, except perhaps have a drink. But I got to use my body for something besides walking to the market and nursing the baby, and I got to be  part of a team. Being accepted into the volleyball games was enough. I eventually even got invited to be on their team for a big tournament. That was the most recognized and autonomous I ever felt in Juquila.

 

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Proof of my existence: My shirt even had my name on it for the tournament! Thank you, hospital volleyball players of Juquila.

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An action shot

When we moved to Puerto Escondido, I started from scratch again with my search for a social existence. There are a lot more people and options, as well as a different attitude, in Puerto. People are so much more open- it’s palpable. When I talk about Juquila, when I describe things and some people there, my shoulders hunch up, I shrink in on myself, fighting off the cold. But when I think about Puerto, my arms extend like wings, or like the surfer I’m not, out, open, free. What a difference.

I was invited to a volleyball team at the university where I work, too, but my existence in Puerto doesn’t start and end with volleyball. Granted, I still don’t have the incredibly fulfilling social life I pine for. But I am recognized in so many ways and spaces. I have a house that’s all ours, with electricity and everything, where I can be totally me and blast my music at 7AM. I’m not a novice Mommy-in-the-making anymore; I’m full-fledged, parenting with my eyes closed half the time. I’m a teacher with more than 5 years spent in classrooms, including two years under my belt using a curriculum that I helped invent. I get along royally with my students and I’m generally pleased to be at work, enjoying what I do. I have fabulous coworkers who I love to hang out with, at work and beyond. I know some other really cool folks who I almost never get to see because of this busy life- but at least I know really cool people! They know me. We exist in this social universe!

And I play volleyball, every Friday after work. I play to be outside of my Mommy role, outside of my Teacher role, to just be me, me and my body, little autonomous Julia. My muscles work hard and I feel sweaty and strong and glorious. My laughter erupts time and again, like yet another oil spill in the ocean, uncontainable, uncontrollable, its effects diffusing into all the realms of my being. I feel so alive, every single week. I feel like I belong, goofing off with staff and students and thesis candidates, other people shirking their normal roles to have a good time.

My volleyball skills are not what they used to be, although I’ve still got a surprisingly wicked underhand serve on a good day. More importantly, I feel legitimate and whole and right when I’m on the court: secure in my body, sure of my identity and place in the universe.

So I found myself getting pretty irritated with a small group of new students and their hot-shot egos who found their way to our games. See, in August and September, the university has a special introductory semester for new students while everyone else is on vacation. So right now there are just a few of us regulars and several enthusiastic new students. Bless their little hearts.

There is this group of those guys (almost always male, especially down here). We all know them: the guys who are confident that they’re more important than you. In volleyball, they are rampant, unapologetic ball-hogs. They’re flagrant court stealers, trying to play every position at once. They’re not only sexist (if you’re good, you’re good for a girl) because they also steal the ball from other men who aren’t as good/aggressive as they are- they’re equal opportunity in their discounting of all us “inferior” players.

They’re not amazing players in reality, though. At least half of these boys’ skill is brute force. They lose the point at least as much as they get it. Sometimes they blow the point because they hit it way too hard. Often they blow it because they’re so busy making sure some less-skilled player doesn’t mess up that they abandoned their own position and can get the ball when it lands there. And sometimes they just mess up, just because they’re human. But because they can spike, because they’ve got great hustle, because they’re overzealous, they’re really impressed with each other and uninspired by the rest of us. They’d like to think that it’s they’re game and we’re just there for show.

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Conan captured perfectly this ball-hog in Juquila stealing the ball from right in front of me. These guys are international, after all.

I am not there for show, however, thank you very much, chicos. I’m not a star volleyball player, but I’ve got thirty two years of budding and blooming personality under my belt, and no one can diminish that in me now. When I call the ball, I’m going to hit it, even if they get in my way. When they scoot in to my position before the ball’s even been served, I politely tell them to scoot on back out of my space. “I might miss it, but you might, too,” I told one of them this past week. Or when one of them tried to switch into the setter’s spot without asking me about it, I told him nicely, “Sorry, I like this position, too.”

I was feeling all irked about their presence, until I realized that those boys and I both have our egos all tied up in this game. Their stake is all about performing well for their buddies, whereas my stake is all about having a space to “perform” myself. I’m old enough now to not pen myself into a category. I can be an avid volleyball player and not worry about being a jock. I can be a devoted Mommy and still be a wild child rebel in my own ways and time. I can just be all of who I am now and most days I don’t give myself any complexes about it, thank the universe.

These poor boys, though, are not even having fun! They’re so busy trying to prove that they’re bad-asses that they can’t even laugh when they mess up. They either try to put the blame on someone else or they beat themselves up over it. Granted, it doesn’t make their behavior any more acceptable. They still need to learn that we all have a right to play, regardless of sex, regardless of skill level. But it does give me a little more  compassion for them. Here they are, many of them, separated from their old friends, out of their parents’ house, in a new town, for the first time in their lives. They’re trying to hang on to and continue recreating their own social identities. It’s hard. I get it. Maybe, with time, with more of us insisting that we all belong equally on the court, they’ll get that part, too. Maybe they’ll even learn to respect themselves more when they learn to respect others. Maybe they’ll even have fun during volleyball someday. We can only hope.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep holding space and pushing back at their infringement on my territory. For myself, for the other women who play, for the other not-so-aggressive players, and even for team macho themselves. It’s what my more-grown-up ego demands of me- to keep claiming my right to exist, to respect other people’s right to exist, on the volleyball court and elsewhere. Thank you, sports, and fellow players, for helping me rediscover my place.

P.S.   Semi-related bonus story: Recently Conan found out how it felt to live in the shadow of someone else and I don’t think he cared much for it. Some students of mine came up to him and the baby outside of my work and asked, “Is this the teacher Julia’s son?” (in Spanish). He said it was and they smiled at each other, said something between themselves, and walked off. “It was like I didn’t exist,” he complained to me.

My ego is too mature these days (maybe) to gloat about something like that, although it was kind of nice to feel understood. Luckily for him that’s not his whole existence in this town, because it’s no way to live. Love and solidarity, folks. Take care of each other, and hold space for yourself, and for others. xoxoxo, Your Humble Gringuita in Oaxaca

The Oaxaca-Kentucky Culture Jolt Extravaganza, Take Four

8 Aug

 

You know you’ve been living in small-town Southern Mexico for four years when your two-week-long visit to your hometown in the USA means….

You’re in the airport and…

-Your four year old is totally baffled as to why there are moving vehicles allowed INSIDE a building. We do love the “magic” moving sidewalk, though.

-Same four year old giggles her butt off because everyone is taking off their shoes (aka going through US security).  You try to make her calm down because you remember that these people take themselves very, very seriously. You watch them take away a lady’s new fancy, unopened lotions that she just bought in the other airport, and you turn away so that you can roll your eyes at how incredible safe that makes us all.

-You can’t figure out how to get one of those handy baggage carts out of their slot because there are no instructions on it. Why are there no instructions? Are you just given the gene of knowing how to work airport carts when you are born in the US?! You look around frantically for an appropriate person to ask, but people just keep walking by, averting their eyes at your pleading face. You start to question whether this really is your home country or if you are actually a foreigner now, and they’ve taken away your knowing-how-to-work-convenient-machines gene.

You’re at the grocery store and…

-You’re children are jumping up and down with joy about a grocery cart with a toy car attached to it. Seven minutes later they become overwhelmed with all the excitement and the 537 kinds of yogurt, and demand to be held instead. (Oh, wait, maybe that was the grown-up overwhelmed by all the products- but the kids most certainly did get overwhelmed by something and demand to be held.)

-It’s now part of  your homecoming routine to be in awe about the access to asparagus, brussell sprouts, “stinky” cheese, and blueberries.

-The almond milk and other things you can never afford where you live are a reasonable price, possibly because they are no longer considered fancy imports.

-Your children eat their first ever chicken nuggets because they are in total hunger/exhaustion meltdown mode and that is the best option in the deli section.

-You can’t drive this giant, stupid car cart. Who thought this was a good idea, anyway?

-You and your children are putting on hoodies even though it’s the middle of summer because it’s FREEZING in there.

Here are the monsters, having happy moments in the car cart before the meltdown:

You’re at your family’s house and….

-You’re wrapped up in heavy blankets because it’s FREEZING in there, too. It’s the same temperature as the average in your town’s “winter” weather, which seems to be shorts and t-shirts temperature for everyone else.

– It’s 95 degrees (F) outside and yet your four year old asks you, “Mommy, why is it cold in Kentucky?”

(Really, I cannot overstate how much of a shock to our little systems all the air conditioning was. It was nice to not be sweaty all the time, but if we had air conditioning at our house, we would probably keep it at around 82- certainly not in the 70s like everyone else in Louisville.)

louisville trip 2016 lu

complaining about the cold, so they gave her a bathrobe : )

-Your kid starts talking to another kid in Spanish- because that’s the language she speaks with all the kids at home. It takes her a beat to realize the other kid doesn’t understand and to then translate herself.

-Your kid says “Daddy” instead of “Papi” for the first time ever in reference to her father.

You’re in the car and….

-The baby is pounding on your chest to be nursed. He’s thinking, “If you’re in the back seat with us, you’re not driving. Why can’t you get me out of my carseat already?!”

-You’re driving and get on the expressway. Suddenly you realize that you are not wearing a seatbelt. Yikes! You and everyone else are driving about 40mph faster than you ever drive at home and you have zero protection happening. Whoops! You forget that most cars have seatbelts in each seat, not like in your car where only the kids’ seats are secure.

-Your four year old keeps excitedly insisting that the rental car, the fanciest car you’ve ever driven in your life, is the family’s new car. You try to break the news to her that it’s not, but you don’t really want to believe it, either.

-You are momentarily frightened by the speed with which you are supposed to drive, until you remember that 60mph is not so scary when drivers know that there are rules and try to follow them. You are impressed by what a smooth experience it is to, say, approach an intersection and know who has the right-of-way, all the while with other drivers also being informed on these matters. You are also happily shocked by the lack of speed bumps, rocks, ditches, and potholes all around you on the road.

-You let the car cool down by blasting the air conditioning before you even put the kids in it. You don’t even think about the environment, since you know it’s only for this short, little vacation before you go back to the reality of your busted car without A/C, which is always like an oven in the eternal summer that is your adopted town. The car seems to be the one place your four year old appreciates air conditioning, especially since it prevents the wind blowing hair in her face. “What the hell,” you think, “they’ll believe it was all a dream later.”

You’re here and there out in the big city and….

-You realize it might not be the norm to wear cut-off shorts and tank tops everywhere. You check to see if you brought any non-cut-off shorts, or shirts with sleeves. One outfit. It’s something until you make it to Goodwill.

-You spend three and a half hours at the thrift store to buy your year’s wardrobe. You are tempted to worship at the workers’ feet, in thanks for organizing everything so beautifully- NOT just thrown into one giant bin- separated by sizes and all. Then you decide it might put your clothing and accessory selection in jeopardy, in case they misinterpret your intentions, and so you pay for your clothes like a normal resident.

-Your four year old starts saying, “Well,” before everything. You’re surprised because at home she only picks up English speaking habits from her parents, and “well” doesn’t happen to be one of our habits. (“WTF” on the other hand, I absolutely take the blame for.)

-You buy all kinds of junky things in the dollar bins because it’ll be so useful! Or because another nephew of your husband’s will just love it! And it’s only a dollar! And even the junky dollar stuff is better quality than the junky ten pesos crap you get in your adopted town, for some reason. Then you take all your prizes to check out and realize you’ve racked up more than a hundred dollars on one- and five- dollar random things. You’re pleased as punch that you can pay with fake money! A credit card! Then you remember you still have to use real money to pay your credit card someday, and you return half the crap. Because they take returns, too! It’s like an alternate universe.

-You can’t stop staring at all the people. There are so many people! A wealth of different people! So many different skin shades! People of varying religious backgrounds! People who speak different languages!  And there are so many different fashion styles! Shoes that aren’t sandals!  You had forgotten what this was like- to see people from many varying backgrounds in one place. It feels so energizing, to be surrounded by such variation. You think of all the interesting conversations you could have if you could talk to all of these people here in the park. You realize that you might have a condition- something like Extroverts Trapped in a Small Town Syndrome. You fail to stop staring, despite reminding yourself not to everyday.

-You take your kids to their first ever protest! You’re so stoked to see community getting together in support of each other- and against racism- that you almost pee your pants. (But thank goodness for unlimited bathroom access in the USA!!! I can’t tell you how great that is- constantly.) Your four year old looks worried about the shouting till you shout-dance-smile it out, then she’s stoked, too, and trying to repeat the words.

-You go with some family members to scatter some of your father’s ashes, and you realize that closure doesn’t ever happen when someone you love dies. It’s just a long series of different kinds of goodbyes, of different adjustments to life without them.

-You visit with certain old friends and pick up the conversation like it ended yesterday. You get one-on-one time with certain family members. You speak openly, honestly, knowingly, powerfully- because you know each other, deeply, lovingly. These moments are are a feast after a famine. These moments- the kid-free ones especially, when you get to be totally you and not just Mommy with a side order of You- are the nutrients to replinish your malnourished soul. These people and the beautiful intimacy they share with you are the kindling for all of your chispa, your inner spark. This limited but glorious vacation social life- this basic necessity of conversation and recognition- is sustenance for your spirit. It’s medicine to eradicate the distance, and you soak it all up, hoping to store it away like vitamin D.

louisville trip 2016

Grown-up time with my dear Aunt Julia- the locally brewed beers were an added bonus.

……..

Going back and forth annually is not so much of a culture shock anymore. It’s more like a little jolt, like that sudden sensation after a shot of liquor- sometimes sweet and warming, sometimes sending you directly to the toilet bowl.

All in all, I think I’m becoming relatively adept at taking it in stride these days, in both parts of the continent.  (Thank goodness for that. Sorry to all my friends who remember me being heart-wrenchingly awkward and desubicada after long trips to other places.)

There’s plenty more I’m leaving out from this year’s stories- other fascinating experiences that can only come from leaving home and coming back.  Four years being more away than there gives such ample perspective. And I hope for even more next trip.

Till next time, my dear home country! Thank goodness we don’t have car carts and dollar bins down here!

xoxox