Tag Archives: mexico

A New Round of Culture-Induced Confusion

2 Aug

The cultural “surprises” this year were all fun and games up until the grilled cheese sandwiches.

Before that it was all questions like, “Why does it have these things on the window?” (They’re a different form of curtains called blinds.)

“What are these boxes? Can I see what’s inside all of them?” (They’re mailboxes and don’t touch them unless you want us to get arrested.) Followed by, “What’s mail?”

“Why do you put the bread in there?” (It heats it on both sides much faster than the comal.)

“Are these for climbing?” (They’re fire hydrants and you can climb them as long as you move if the fire truck comes.)

“How come they have videos at the library?” (Because some libraries have lots of different things, and activities, too!) We were very impressed with the small library by Nonna and Dee’s new house, with it’s table of Legos and tables covered in butcher paper to let kids color on the table. I had totally forgotten how much this country caters to children. On our first dinner out, in which I planned to have long talks with my Aunt Julia and Uncle Terry, I brought my usual backpack full of tricks for the kids so they could keep themselves entertained. But lo and behold, the restaurant provided them with paper menus and crayons! Such a thing would never be provided where we live- both because of a lack of resources in our area and because people just don’t center their lives around children in the same way we do here.

Despite all this indulging the children, of course there had been a couple of complaints even before the grilled cheese.

“Why do we have to wear seat belts every time? Why can’t we switch seats?” (Mandatory seat belt laws and fast driving that require effectual kid seating and restraints, my dears.)

“Why do we have to wear shoes everywhere?” (Ummm, because we’re not on the coast of Oaxaca. People here think it’s important to wear shoes.)

“But it’s taking a long time to get there!” (Well, that’s the price you pay to live in the city.)

“Why is it so cold?” (I fluctuate between a simple, ‘air conditioning’ and a disapproving head shake with, ‘who understands these people, baby’- depending on how much I’m suffering from the air conditioning cold.

So we’re on the kids’ first ever car-based road trip inside the 48 contiguous states, and it all starts out lovely. Approximately every 27 seconds, Khalil (age 2) shouts, “Mamaaaa! Mamaaaa! Mamaaaa!” Mommy looks around to see what Khalil is pointing at. “Yes, Khalil, it’s another semi-truck. Yes, it’s yellow, Lucia’s color. Yes, Khalil, a bulldozer. Yes, you’re a bulldozer. Yes, another semi-truck. Papi’s color? Now his favorite color is blue? Okay, yes, I’ll tell him his new favorite color is blue.” Meanwhile, Lucia is playing this incredibly annoying, repetitive circus music that is a button on her doll, but we’ve started using reverse psychology very effectively. “Oh, it’s our favorite song!” My mom and I exclaim. We invent lyrics to go with it which annoys Lucia. So now she only plays it for a couple of seconds before she sees how much we’re enjoying it and turns it off.

Then we found ourselves inside the old people’s home of the highway, also known as Cracker Barrel. My mom, who knows about these road trip things, reluctantly assured me that it did actually have more options than just about any place on the highway. And it’s true; they have a very extensive menu that includes lots of veggies. All of which are either breaded and deep fried or cooked with ham hocks. Welcome to the USA, folks.

Because in Oaxaca we live in a place where kids just eat food, not special kid food, I normally either share my plate with them or we order them a regular dish to share between the two of them. But, “What the hell,” I thought! When in Rome, order the kids some food from the kids’ menu!

“Mommy, I don’t really like the bread,” said Lucia after a couple bites. “And the cheese isn’t very good, either.” She whined. Lest you believe I have not acculturated my children to the wonders of my country’s childhood comfort food, let me assert that my kids have grown up with grilled cheese sandwiches. We almost always have them with our cream of beet soup. But they are always on wheat bread (well, that cheap ass soft wheat bread, because there aren’t many bread options to begin with in Puerto, and even less on our budget). And they are typically made with Gouda cheese, since that is the only decent melting cheese I can find. (Neither queso fresco nor quesillo, the two types of local cheese, work well for melting in a sandwich.) Long story short, though- I got zero thanks for what I thought was going to be an exciting change of routine.

They also didn’t like the cornbread as much as my version (which kind of thrilled me). And my big pasta-obsessed kiddo wouldn’t touch Mac n cheese. (This so-called American cheese- are you guys sure it’s actually cheese? Or is it “cheese food product”?) I was kind of pleased but also kind of appalled that my kids were so not into this type of convenience food.

 

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So they are more used to statues of strange animals than alive strange animals. And they were unimpressed with the petting zoo full of goats, since there’s a whole yard full of goats down the street from our house in Puerto. Despite the cultural obstacles, they had a great time at the zoo.

This trip back to the US, I had more or less refrained from complaining about my home country until we spent two days driving through it. By day two of our journey, after Waffle House, after pizza, after gas station tuna sandwich, after Cracker Barrel, I couldn’t shut my mouth. “Did you see the size of that large coffee they gave me?” I asked my mom. “It was like 4 coffees! I had no idea!” I was incredulous, even as I continued guzzling, so it wouldn’t go to waste. “And when I asked for sweetener, the waiter brought me like 5 packets! Five! I only use a half of one! Although it did take a whole one for this monster-sized coffee! No wonder we have an obesity problem! They are determined to give gobs and gobs and giant-sized everything, and to make it free or crazy low-cost. It’s disgusting!” Even as I give in to it myself, drinking coffee till my stomach hurts, I rant and rave about it.

In Oaxaca, we are accustomed to road food meaning more or less home cooked fare. Okay, not the quantity of veggies that I might cook at home, but definitely from-scratch kind of fare. Where are the beans, and perhaps a quesadilla on the road here? When I got to my first stop back home, that’s exactly what I made- an Americanized version, albeit- beans from a can that I fried up and a quesadilla made with flour tortilla and processed cheese. Both my kids turned up their noses at the quesadilla (although maybe if I called it by another name they’d be into it), but all three of us relished those deliciously-fried beans. See “Authentic” Mexican Recipes- Southern Oaxaca Style

Seafood here in Georgia (perhaps in the whole country?) is also all deep-fried like the veggies, apparently. Dee was taken aback when I tried oysters breaded and fried for the first time. I’d only ever had them raw before, and I had no idea that it wasn’t the norm. Also in the food news, the kids are in hog heaven over ketchup; Khalil dipped everything in it and I caught Lucia eating it by itself with her finger. (“What is this called?” She keeps asking me while dipping her finger in it.) These kids are still certainly Mexican, though; they both prefer mayonnaise rather than butter on their corn on the cob.

 

Despite my years and my number of trips, there are still things that catch me off guard every year. I’ll never forget the time I was newly arrived from several months in South America (pre-children), hanging out with a friend who was just back from Central America, and we were convinced we had to buy the cans and not bottles of beer in the liquor store because we hadn’t brought any bottles to return. Ooops!

This trip I found myself buttering the kids’ bagels with a fork for I don’t know how many days before I remembered that butter knives exist precisely to spread butter on things. I keep forgetting that I could just put those leftovers in the microwave. But more than anything, I am crazy impressed with these talking phones.

My mom talks to her phone all the time, and her phone talks back. It gets us around town. It sends messages. It tells us what things are. It is some serious business that I sure as hell don’t have where I live. When we were on the highway, I delayed making a phone call because I assumed that there wouldn’t be cell phone signals on the highway. It took me the whole day on the road to really process that I could make phone calls and even surf the internet anywhere on the expressway! Y’all don’t have a clue about the magic and privilege of this world, far beyond the airport’s magic moving sidewalk even. Lucia, for her part, always feels the need to talk over and navigate over Nonna’s fancy phone. She says stuff like, “Turn left on Abapoopies street, Savannah, Georgia,” which makes me ridiculously content, for whatever reason. Everyone deals with culture shock in their own special way.

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What surprises and shocks you upon return from travel? Inquiring minds want to know!

 

 

Blue-Gown Daydreams

4 Jun

There’s nothing like being naked under a half-open blue robe, laid out in a hallway with a bunch of helpless sick and injured folks, to make you feel like the exact opposite of WonderWoman. I kept pondering to myself, “Julia, you’re not sick or injured. Why would you choose to come here?”

Then I forcefully pushed those pesky rational thoughts out of my little head and daydreamed about glorious sex without the risk of making more babies. Oh yeah, that’s why I’m here. Goals and dreams. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Plus I was there on principle. I mean, the insurance company takes money out of every paycheck, so I have every right to this. Just as compellingly, it would have cost more than a month’s pay to get the surgery done privately. When I asked a private doctor whom I trust if I was crazy for going to IMSS, my insurance company, for this surgery, he assured me that I wasn’t. IMSS is the Mexican Institute of Social Security, and it provides health insurance to a large portion of folks who have formal jobs. In many ways, it is much better than in the US because many more people are covered, and aside from whatever monthly cut they take out, there are no other, extra costs. It gave me 12 weeks paid maternity leave, which is 12 weeks more than what I got in the states. The main downside is that it is a giant institution that sees you and treats you as just another number in the system. It is slower than molasses in January, stressful, dehumanizing, often inadequate or just plain wrong.

But still, a free surgery is a free surgery. “The same doctors who work in IMSS also work in the private sector,” my doctor reminded me. “It’s perfectly safe. The only thing that might be bad is how big of a scar they leave you. It’s kind of the luck of the draw, depending on the doctor. He might leave you a tiny scar or he might leave you looking like you had a C-Section.”

“Good thing I wasn’t dreaming of a career in pornography,” I told my husband, because sure enough, the doctor left me a giant scar. It’s longer than my friend’s C-Section scar, as a matter of fact. It kind of looks like a kindergartener who cut their own bangs, except on my pubic region instead of my forehead. Luckily, I’m not concerned about the aesthetic of it. I think scars are just visual reminders of a life lived, a show of how bad ass and interesting someone is. On another level, though, the excessive size of my scar makes me feel expendable and dehumanized. The surgeon couldn’t be bothered to take care with me (or anyone else, I’m sure). My body is so unimportant and inconsequential to him that he cut what must be the maximum possible, for what? Just because he can? To make the surgery part as easy as possible for him?

The gynecologist didn’t even acknowledge me when he came into the room, or at any point before I passed out. I didn’t even realize that I was going to be knocked out for the surgery, since I signed up for local anesthetic. I had to fight to have anything explained to me, and I neglected to realize that I needed that part explained. I just can’t imagine treating people like that, and it makes me sick to my stomach thinking about all the people these doctors and nurses are in charge of who aren’t getting quality and humanized care.

It’s not just this doctor, either; it’s the whole system. I mean, this is the insurance company that thousands (millions, I think) of people are paying into, and the best they can do is beds in the hallway? There are some overcrowded rooms as well, and I suppose I can be grateful that I was the only one in the surgical room while my surgery was happening (as far as I know). But geez.

And heavens forbid you are there without a family member. One poor guy was brought in by his coworkers, who called family members immediately, but no one had arrived yet when a nurse came by with a tray of food for him. “You don’t have family here?” She asked him and everyone else around, incredulously, about 8 times. I wanted to scream at her by the 5th time. She couldn’t figure out what to do with his breakfast. She asked him to sit up, but he couldn’t sit up on his own. Then she tried to get the wheelchair attendant to sit him up, but for some reason they aborted that mission as well. Finally, after being assured yet again that he was all by his lonesome, helpless, vulnerable, defenseless self, she carefully balanced the tray on top of his chest and walked away. He was totally unable to eat anything from the tray at that angle. And it couldn’t have been comfortable. But there you have it. The nurse officially did her job of delivering the breakfast tray to the patient. Eventually the wheelchair attendant took pity on the man and removed the stupid tray from his chest. I closed my eyes some more and continued to daydream about a better universe.

Hopefully you’re also not a child in need of emergency services at my insurance company. A small, tough girl with her chin up walked past me into a room at one point. She must have been about 4 or 5- my daughter’s age. Of course she wasn’t stoked about giving a blood sample or whatever needle-related thing they were doing to her in there. But the nurses had zero tact or style about calming or convincing her. Instead they used various threats and near-impossible deals, none of which helped anybody achieve their goals. They even brought in one of the security guards to scare her into submission. Bless her, it did not pacify her in the slightest. She just cried out more for her mama, who I think was nearby, but who I got the impression wasn’t allowed to be with her or touch her or something? I couldn’t see anything, so it was purely aural clues that painted the painful picture for me. At one point they told her if she was quiet and cooperative that her mommy could come and be with her, but how the hell do you expect her to calm down without her calming person in the first place? It reminded me of the clueless (or purposely mean?) nurse when Lucia had to be hospitalized for an asthma attack; the nurse thought they were going to be able to stick a tube in her arm with me out of the room, leaving her all alone. Yeah, being alone with strangers who seem to want to hurt you is always great for small children. They calm right down and obey. Gosh, even using sarcasm to deal with the situation doesn’t make it less distressing. I know that kids are going to scream and cry over pain and new situations, but it seems like the hospital tactics just escalate the fear and pain for kids. It was pretty disheartening, to say the least. (Also, my dear, dear friends, please don’t threaten your kids that a police officer is going to come and get them for not obeying you. UGH! Have some compassion for these lovely, little human beings, please! Imagine how terrifying that must be!)

Also on this grand adventure, I learned that soap and toilet paper are luxuries far beyond what one deserves in this insurance hospital. Not one bathroom of the three that I visited while there was stocked with soap (or toilet paper). I was sharing my outrage and disgust about it with my mother-in-law, Paulina, who matter-of-factly said you have to bring your own soap to a hospital. However, I remain stubbornly indignant about it because a) Nobody tells you that; b) It’s totally impractical to expect you to carry it around the hospital with you. What are you going to do? Tie it to your gown? it’s not like you have your own bathroom to put your soap in; and c) This is BAD public health policy! It’s supposed to be a hospital, a beacon of health and wellbeing, not a hotbed of reckless germ-spreading!

By the time they wheeled me on my hallway hospital bed back towards surgery, I’d had a nap and managed to psyche myself up despite all the circumstances. Eyes on the prize. No more never-ending months of pregnancy (seriously, both times I’ve been pregnant for more like 10 months- and twice is enough for me!). No more diapers as soon as this little one is all the way potty trained. No more painful/tedious/expensive forms of birth control. No potential need for abortion. (Okay 99-point-something sure.) You got this! Let’s do it!

The anesthesiologist seemed like a nice enough person, except she left my butt completely hanging out while she was putting that bizarre stuff into my back. I get it. They’ve seen it all, blah blah blah. But are you not allowed any shred of modesty, any tiny sense of privacy or autonomy over your body? There was no need for my ass to be uncovered. There was a cover for my use that was just being used inadequately. It was unnecessary and inconsiderate, and I felt too vulnerable to say anything about it. (You don’t want to piss off the anesthesiologist, right?)

The last thing I remember before the surgery, after the doctor came in and ignored me, was the anesthesiologist asking me if my legs felt tingly yet. And then I was down for the count. Nobody told me that I was going to be asleep for the surgery, though. I thought that because I was getting an epidural, it would be like getting a C-section. I wouldn’t feel anything below my waist but I could be awake and aware. (Isn’t that how it happens? Something like that?) Nope. Nothing of the sort. The first time I woke up I felt drunk/high and totally giddy. “This is great!” I think I told the nurses. They asked me if I drank wine. “Sometimes,” I said. They must have taken me for a raging wino because they proceeded to ask me how many cups it took to make me feel like this. “A lot?” They asked. If only they knew what a light weight I am! But my mind was too cloudy to explain. I got it together to ask if the surgery was already over. And I demanded to know how in the world anyone could give birth on this epidural business! Nobody would answer me. I went back under.

At some point I woke up again in the hallway right outside of the surgery area to the gynecologist giving me my instructions for care. I mumbled in response, trying to reaffirm and think of relevant questions. “So everything will be like normal in 7 days?” Yes, he assured me. (Umm, that was not true for me, by the way.) He also promised someone would come around with written instructions before I left. He left the very important paper that would be my paycheck for my week off of work in my hands, and I carefully laid it on my belly and passed back out.

When I woke up again, still in the surgery hallway, I could feel the pain in my abdomen and I did not feel giddy. I asked for some water. The nurse told me it would be just a little longer. He’d already let the hallway nurses know I was ready to return to my spot in the hallway, but they were really busy, he explained. I asked several more times for water and received nothing. Finally he said he would send my family member for some food and drink. I was too wiped out to tell him that I didn’t want any food. I just wanted water. I felt like a camel after months in the desert. Finally they brought me some orange juice and yogurt that they’d sent Conan off to buy. Apparently they didn’t ask him to buy water, which was my lone request and hope for life in that moment. I was feeling very nauseous and I asked if I could have anti-vomiting medicine like they’d given me before surgery. He said no; they’d already given that to me before surgery. I drank a little orange juice and almost immediately threw it up.

Then they let Conan come back, because supposedly I was ready to be sent home. Basically, the anesthesia had worn off and my legs were working fine. That makes you ready for home. The nurse realized I wasn’t really okay. I kept throwing up and could barely walk from the nausea. But he didn’t know what to do, because I understood from Conan that they were short on beds. The nurse checked in with the anesthesiologist and assured us that I was sick from the pain meds and not the epidural. They’d given me morphine or something equivalent. I had forgotten to try to negotiate over pain meds, which never, ever sit well with me. “You can stay here and wait for it to wear off,” the nurse explained, “but we’ll have to put the tube back in your arm and change back into the hospital gown.” (I’d already gotten other clothes on to leave, with Conan’s help, in between vomiting.) He told me technically he couldn’t let me leave without eating something. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat for a long time. I ate a couple bites of yogurt and threw it up. Mission accomplished. He then said I could wait out the effects of the meds there or somewhere else; “It doesn’t really make a difference.” So of course I opted to get the hell out of there.

We were in Huatulco, about two and a half hours from home. There was no way I was gonna stomach that journey, though, in the state I was in. I am so, so grateful that we had the money to go get a hotel room. I can’t imagine having stayed longer in that hellhole. Already Conan had been sitting out in the waiting room from 7am to 5pm and had picked up some stomach problems from some dodgy street food meanwhile. (We’d had to arrive at 7, although my surgery hadn’t happened till about noon.) I am also eternally grateful that my mother-in-law was staying with my kids and didn’t mind staying an extra night. I couldn’t even hold down water until sometime in the middle of the night; I can’t imagine how I would have survived a bus ride like that.

Although I’m complaining about this very specific problem with IMSS in Mexico, I realize that many of these things aren’t unique to my insurance company or to Mexico. You can get rude doctors and nurses anywhere. Overcrowded hospitals happen. Planned surgeries, folks have told me, are a big, routine, impersonal business most everywhere. It’s also easy for people to treat children and helpless adults as less-than-human in any setting. It doesn’t make it okay, though. And when the whole system is designed to dehumanize us all, and we’re the ones paying for it? It’s time for an insurance uprising, in my humble opinion. And after the health revolution? There will be soap in every bathroom, dammit! Soap, humane treatment, and health justice for all. Amen.

Our Mexerican Christmas Spirit

8 Jan

 

“But Santa didn’t come to my house!” one of my students jokingly complained when I told her my new shoes (“princess shoes” as Lucia calls them) were from Santa Claus. “Sometimes, especially when you’re an adult,” I replied, “you just have to make your own magic.” I told her how I even took the time to wrap them up, even though I’d bought them for myself. I acted like it was a surprising gift when I opened it- not to trick my kids, but rather to enjoy myself.

 

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My princess shoes from Santa Claus

This year was by far my best Christmas as a grown up. It was very much not USA-style and also not Mexican-style. It was very much ours, a lovely mix of traditions and inventions and doing what feels good and makes people happy. (Satisfied Sigh.)

 

As Christmas neared here in Puerto, I remained blissfully isolated from all the consumerist, excessively capitalist culture that overwhelms the holiday season in the US. Plus the temperature is in the 80s every day, so it’s easy to feel blissful, or at least generous and optimistic.

 

I was excessively lucky in the capitalism department this Christmas, so I tried to spread the wealth-based joy around (nope, wealth and joy are not the same thing, but sometimes a thoughtfully purchased thing can bring great joy). I got my Christmas bonus from work (Thank you, Mexico!) I got money from family to spend on Christmas (a shit-pot-full when you convert those dollars into pesos!! Thank you, family!) I immediately went out and got WILD AND CRAZY! I was a spending machine. I bought all three of the books I liked for the kids instead of deciding on two! I bought a tree-topper star that cost 1/3 of what the tree cost, just because it was the best and I knew Lucia would love it. It was a major shopping extravaganza, at least compared to my usual non-spending, thrifty self.

 

When it came time to open presents, it didn’t seem like I had been on a wild and savage shopping binge. The kids each got six presents, plus two stocking stuffers from the elves. Six presents is a lot around here, although it’s practically nothing in the US. Some of their presents were items that they needed anyway, like a new towel for Khalil, and new shoes for Lucia. They each got two new books, because, you know, priorities. Khalil got a new puzzle, with an easy part he can do himself and a harder part that Lucia has to help him with (I patted myself on the back extra on that one). The elves brought us new mugs, including mini-sized mugs (delicate glass, says Lucia) for the kiddos. I immediately made hot chocolate to break them in, of course. The elves also brought us new bath sponges, with different colored squares meshed into the loufa part- and that continues to totally thrill the children, even days later.

 

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Our tree,  complete with presents (guitar is an old present)

Aha, I said to myself! This is what makes giving gifts so marvelous! When it makes somebody sincerely excited or pleased because of this useful or interesting thing that you thought of for them, gift-giving is utterly joyful. Sitting around drinking hot chocolate with our matching mugs was so surprisingly fulfilling. Watching Khalil be able to open presents for the first time, appreciating his rapture in tearing paper, was so gratifying. Even when Lucia cast aside the book I had ordered her off of Amazon for the more graphically-enticing one, it was okay. Days later, once she finally wanted to read it, she asked to read it about 7 times straight. It’s so endorphin-producing, this gifting thing done well. When giving gifts is obligatory, when you’re too strapped for cash or don’t have a clue about what someone would truly enjoy, that’s when gift-giving is a nightmare. But this having small children who are stoked about everything? Gift-giving nirvana.

 

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Khalil showing me how he’s going to drink from his new mug

So I’ve willingly spent more money on non-emergency items in the past two weeks than I have possibly in the past few years. But I’m not worrying about spoiling my kids. I have zero worries about my kids becoming thing-obsessed Me!Me!Me!Monsters. First and foremost because they don’t watch TV. No ads = less implanted desire for crap. Number two, because they aren’t surrounded by kids who have everything they want and another 82 billion things they might or might not even want. Number three, because I am their mother and Conan is their father and neither of us are especially materialistic. Number four, because they already have a room full of toys strewn about everywhere, thanks to birthday parties and grandparents and whatnot. We’ve probably bought about 10 of the 100 items currently being showcased on the bedroom floor. They have plenty, but they don’t get new stuff all the time; mostly only on their birthday, Christmas, and certain grandparent visits. I feel like it’s a pretty happy medium, and I’m grateful that my “village” is there to help make some of my kids’ material dreams happen.

 

So what else did I buy with my Christmas bonus money, besides these few gifts for the kids? I bought them a #$%^damn Christmas tree, for the first time, finally. Since it was the first Christmas we spent here, at our house with electricity and not in Juquila at my mother-in-law’s, I decided it was time. Well, maybe I bought it mostly because my four year old asked me relentlessly if we were going to decorate the Christmas tree yet, until finally I just had to make time to run out and buy one. Every single morning she’d ask, “Are we going to decorate the Christmas tree? Can we do it now? No? After school?” And every day I’d be like, “I still have to buy the Christmas tree. We can only decorate it on the weekend.” (Because we literally have about 10 minutes of time where all four of us are together and awake on week days.) So finally I made time to go select our permanent plastic tree.  A fake one, mind you, because there are not a lot of real pine trees around here, and they don’t cut them down and sell them for Christmas.

 

After I bought it, I still had to listen to a couple more days of whining about decorating it now, today, right now. “We can do it with Papi while you’re at work,” she reassured me on Friday morning, trying to convince me it didn’t require the whole family. (“I don’t think so, my darling. I want to do it with you.” I countered.)  “We don’t need to wait for Papi,” she insisted on Saturday morning, and I insisted that we could indeed wait a few more hours.

 

Once it was a reality, Lucia told me about 20 times that day some version of, “I’m so happy we decorated the Christmas tree!” Thankfully, Conan weighed down one side of our tree with a concrete block, which made it last several days longer than the 16 hours that I estimated before the nearly-two year-old destroyed it or got destroyed by it. It has zero breakable ornaments on it, so I’m also winning there. (Perhaps it’s a blessing that I can’t find the Xmas decorations I bought the first year we were in Mexico?)

 

What else did I lavishly purchase, you ask? I got all the ingredients to make Christmas cookies, including sprinkles and glittery edible stuff and store-bought icing, because, sorry, Martha Stewart, some of your recipes are too damned hard. It took me (us?) about 4 days to make cookies this year, mostly because the little one is neither little enough for lots of nap time nor big enough to actually help. Mostly he wreaked his usual havoc upon the process, until I got smart and gave him and Lucia their own bowl of flour and measuring spoons and such to work with on their own, AWAY from the big-girl cookies. Even then, I only made two dozen cookies before I officially declared that they had done a great job, and we are finished now. I refrigerated the rest of the dough. I ended up making cookies late at night and early in the morning in the days that followed so that we’d have enough to give everyone. I let Lucia decorate enough for everyone to get one decorated one. That was all I could handle, since each cookie took about 7 minutes to decorate, all the while fighting off Khalil who immediately devoured the cookies I gave him to decorate. He is right at the perfect age of being big enough to understand that he is not supposed to eat the cookies (he’d point to his mouth and shake his head no) but unable to actually resist the impulse, shoveling the cookie into his mouth immediately after telling himself not to.

 

More than anything, it was important to me to make cookies so that the kids get excited about giving gifts almost as much as receiving. I don’t think they are capable of appreciating the giving quite as much as us adults can be, but at least if they get in the habit and have a good time doing it, it’s a start. “I’m going to give them the bag of cookies and they’re going to hug me and say, ‘Gracias,’” Lucia told me, smiling and giddy after we sorted them. It’s a start.

 

So what else, you ask, did I purchase on my rampage? I got gifts for the parents who have covered our butts by fearlessly, selflessly driven Lucia to school this whole school year so far. I donated to the White Helmets in Syria (Dear universe, it’s the least I could do). I determined what gift I plan to give when my buddy in the copy room has his (and his wife’s) twins in spring. I chipped in on the massage gifts for Lucia’s teachers (thanks, other parents, for organizing that business). I’ve spent almost all of my Xmas money on local vendors, carefully avoiding our two or three big-time department stores (yep, only a few in existence here).

 

I’m feeling pretty damned satisfied about my overall Christmas experience- perhaps for the first time in my adult life. Besides being excited about gift-giving, I was also feeling extra good this Christmas for various other reasons. For one, I made awesome lists and got a large portion of my shopping done in one day, even with Khalil strapped to me (high-five to myself!). Some other random good stuff happened, but mostly the thing is that this year I was pretty much thrilled with everything. I adopted the attitude of my children that everything is fabulous.

 

In part, it’s that I’m for-real in my 30s and I don’t have to wait around for someone else to give me permission to do something, or to join me in my joy. I know what my mission is and I will figure out how to accomplish it, mostly on my own, and still enjoy the hell out of it, thank you. So, for example, when the four year old won’t shut up about decorating a Christmas tree, but you don’t even have a tree to decorate? Go out and buy one on your lunch break. (Or do like we did last year and get a tree stub with various branches to decorate. It totally works.) Plastic trees even fit on the bus. Your coparent doesn’t like shopping? Great. Make your list and go. When there’s no one to ask, you can make yourself be more decisive in your purchases without anyone being upset about it. No one around who’s a brilliant gift-chooser and you don’t want to be disappointed? Buy it for yourself and wrap it. Or at least snap a photo of what you want and send it to someone who might buy you a gift. You are kind of a grinch but kind of a jolly old person? Figure out what traditions reflect your values and hopes, what things bring meaning and joy to your family’s life, and make a valiant effort to follow through with those. Throw the rest out the window. Don’t kill yourself doing even the things that you think are worthwhile. This year, just making cookies was so hectic that the craft-making/gifting I planned with Lucia was over the top. Maybe another time. All of this is my teensy-tiny tidbit of self-wisdom as I near my 33rd birthday. It was so helpful for me. (Who in the world really wants to go back in time? Ugh.)

 

Despite some of my concerns, I decided to do the whole Santa Claus thing with the kids, for now, while it can still be somewhat vague magic. Once Lucia starts asking intense questions (beyond the current, “What’s a chimney?”), I’m gonna have to give her a more-real explanation. But I’m already thinking about how to phrase it all, because we are not giving up on magic. Magic there will be- every Christmas and all kinds of days in between. Because sometimes, or maybe usually, when you’re a grown-up, you have to make it for yourself. You have to make it for other people, too. That is the magic. Sharing the joy. Sharing the power of our love. So better “late” than never, happy holidays and Happy, Happy Magic-making and Joy-sharing, from my Mexerican family to yours!

A Gratitude Interlude

8 Nov

Lately I’ve pretty much been one giant ball of stress, chaos, and anxiety, so…. We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important announcement:

These things only happen to the living. (like my Nonna always said)

I write at least three things to be grateful for every morning as I drink my coffee. It’s a good way to start my day, and over time it’s augmented the fabulousness in my life tenfold. But sometimes the morning gratitudes are just not enough. I need a bit more focus on the gratitude. A bit less wallowing in my problems, pulling my hair out trying to find solutions that don’t exist. So here goes.

First off, our car is permanently dead-to-us (RIP Poderoso), despite all our valiant efforts. So I’m incredibly, madly grateful to the parents with functioning cars who are schlepping Lucia to school and back with their kids. (Thank you, thank you, thank you; it is the difference between our kid going to school or not.) I’m grateful that public transportation exists to get Lucia to the car pool pick-up spot so she can get a ride. I’m grateful that Lucia gets to go to a school that she is thrilled about every day of the week, and that it’s a school that’s also totally in-line with our parenting values (more on that to come). Even though sometimes I feel bad about needing help, I know that we would do the same for someone else, and that makes me feel better about it.

I’m grateful that Conan has a paying job outside of the house! It means more work and more stress for both of us, but the economic stress is already greatly lessoned. “Conan,” I said, “we’re halfway through my pay period and I haven’t had a panic attack about money! This is serious progress!!”

I’m insanely, intensely grateful that we’ve turned in the first step of our paperwork for immigration. That people threw a benefit karaoke potluck for us, and more folks keep donating, keep sending us their wishes and energy and hope and love. Can’t even tell you how awesome it is.

I’m majorly grateful that Arturo is lending us his truck for Conan to get to work and back. I’m grateful that there were no accidents in the week that Conan spent driving it with nearly non-existant brakes until we had enough money for repairs. I’m grateful that the bald tires are holding out so far (keep your fingers crossed for us- it’s next on the list).

I’m grateful for the obligatory quality time I have with Khalil every day that we go to pick up Lucia from the carpool drop-off spot. I used to spend a good portion of my lunch break getting lunch ready, but now Khalil and I go for a walk to catch a bus or a colectivo (shared taxi) and we have a big adventure to pick up the big sister. The whole ride there, he shouts about every big vehicle that he sees, which is approximately every three seconds. “Yes, dump truck,” I agree. “Yes, another big semi.” He barely says words- except more, his first and most important word- but he make a vroom vroom noise, and a buuuuhhhh deep rumbling in his throat noise that means ‘big.’ This child is determined to communicate. We continue our fun if Lucia’s not at the spot yet, playing with sticks or leaves, or throwing rocks or reading a book. It’s truly a pleasant time that I used to not have on a daily basis.

I’m grateful that at least the three of us still get to eat lunch together, and that I have a crock pot! It has rescued me in a big big way. Otherwise we might be eating tuna sandwiches every other day.

I’m grateful that we’re not totally destitute. I’m grateful that we have nutritious food to eat and a safe and sturdy shelter. A man was working on a neighbor’s yard the other day, “cutting the grass” like they do here- by hand, with a machete, slowly wacking away, in the sweltering heat and humidity, for two days, at the tall weeds that had overtaken the landscape. While we talked, he inquired about the casita– the “little house” on our property. “This building?” I asked him, pointing again at our shed. Yep, he meant the shed- the tiny tin shack where Conan slept while the house was being built. He wanted to live there for a while with his family. “Got my perspective back in check,” I told my mom, “when I realized that we are ‘rich’ enough to have a garage that could be someone’s house.”

I’m grateful that we have a home- not just a shelter, but a refuge. It’s an appealing, spacious-enough-for-four, comfortable, comforting place that’s all our own. Even though it’s unfinished and might never be finished, even though we still don’t have doors separating rooms, even though half the time it’s a hurricane-style disaster of toys and clothes strewn about and dishes left undone, it’s ours and I love it.

I’m grateful for this past weekend’s few calm minutes to sit by the back door and look out at the world with my littler firecracker. For smoothies made of strawberries and Oaxacan chocolate, and a surprise afternoon storm.

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Khalil’s favorite spot- looking out the door… Normally he likes to sit in this little chair, but when I sat on the floor with him, he decided to sit on the floor, too.

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Cheers! To chocolate and children.

I’m grateful that thus far my rambunctious, determined, fiercely excited littler one hasn’t injured himself in any dire way yet (I’m pretty sure it’s going to be inevitable with this one). That so far we’ve managed to keep him from ingesting bleachy cleaning water; he only dumped a little bit on top of himself that one time. That the soapy dirty bath water he drinks on the sly sometimes doesn’t seem to do much damage (and let me remind you, tap water here is not drinking water to begin with). That just yesterday he only drank about 1ml of Lucia’s steroid dose that he grabbed off the table in the .2 seconds that I turned my back; glad it was not the whole thing (especially since it was right after he’d had his full dose). That despite several falls (off the bed, against the concrete wall from throwing himself in playful abandon, etc.) he seems to have avoided concussions so far. That he has so many moments of random tenderness and hugging and loving and smiling to make up for wrecking the entire house every 15 minutes of every single day.

I’m grateful that my wild thing older one has such a strong, unstoppable imagination. That she can play by herself and create an entire complex little world for sometimes hours at a time. I love that she’s never seen a whole princess movie and yet she proclaims herself an expert in princesses. I love the rules she makes up about them. “Princesses are always nice, right?” she says. Or she refuses to brush her hair because apparently that’s princess-style. Even though I thought I was anti-princess, I love the conversations we have thanks to this princess obsession. She puts on one of her fancy dresses and says how pretty she is, and we talk about how everyone’s pretty in different ways, for example. She told me the other day, “Mommy, you’re the prettiest, because your hair do like this,” and she fluffed out my hair and made little wispys like it does. “Your hair is the funnest,” she said, and my heart totally melted. Every other day, between bouts of screaming at her brother and throwing tantrums, she says fun and interesting and tender stuff that makes me glad to keep her. More love in my heart than I thought I could stand- thank you, universe, for this.

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Lucia’s make-believe time: always an elaborate affair

 

I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to buy a nebulizer to treat our kids’ asthma. That Khalil doesn’t mind wearing a mask over his face because we read so many books while we do it. That we have such a fabulous pediatrician, who’s very experienced in asthma treatments, and who doesn’t even get pissed at me for calling in the middle of the night in a panic. (Read more about how great she is here.) That both of our kids are now going to be on daily asthma preventative medication (WHAT did people do before all these treatments existed?). We just had a crazy week with the both of them with asthma attacks- even though Lucia already takes preventative medication, and it’s been so stressful and anxiety-inducing. But I’m so grateful that they’re okay, and they’re going to be okay.

I’m grateful that my kids are awesome, healthy eaters. It kind of makes up for them being such crappy sleepers. When Lucia practically begged me to share my broccoli snack the other day, and then Khalil ate a bunch later on, I laughed maniacally to myself, thinking, “Yes, I accept this sure-to-be-temporary victory!”

I’m grateful for about a kajillion other things, but this has been enough to stem the tide of chaos and woe for a bit. I’ll leave it at that and give you time to think about your own “gratitudes.” Thanks, universe, and thanks, friends. I’m happy to be here with you.

Rejecting Compliments, Resisting White Privilege: A Call for Help

1 Nov

I first realized just how disgustingly prized and privileged being light-skinned is here when we lived in Juquila. When people commented about my appearance, I could never quite separate out how much of their impression was just because I was foreign. A gringa living amongst us! Can you imagine! Men would congratulate Conan in the street for bringing home this rare, first-class acquisition. (I know. Patriarchy on top of it all. Sigh.) That was bad enough, but at least I could blame some of my ill-gotten fame on the small town, we’ve-never-seen-foreigners factor.

When people complimented baby Lucia, though, it made me particularly uncomfortable and embarrassed. “Look at her!” They’d say, “Just like the Gerber Baby! So adorable!” Which might seem innocuous enough, until you saw the larger trend of comments. “She looks just like her mama,” they’d say, totally negating all the obvious facial features that she inherited from her Papi, which to us were plain as day. “She got the light-skin from her mama; how beautiful!” and even things like, “Look how white she is! It’s a shame she didn’t get her mama’s eye color, though!”

Just look at these two. There’s no way you could deny their resemblance. Except people did!

I couldn’t say thank you, because it felt awful. It was like they were negating my husband. Like they were lessening themselves. Like they were denying part of Lucia- specifically the Mexican part of her. Like they or their child’s brown skin, brown eyes, black hair wasn’t as beautiful. How could I say thank you for that? I needed to respond, and I didn’t know how.

I still don’t know how. “Look at that precious guerito!” people gush over Khalil. When it’s another parent and they’re with their child, I am quick to pay some adoring compliment to their child, but beyond that I’m not sure what to do. I second-guess every compliment aimed at my kids. Obviously, I think they are adorable, because they’re my kids and I adore them, but I don’t want them to be taught that they’re good-looking because they’re “white.”

If it sounds like I’m over-reacting, let me give you a clearer example of the problem:

“I wish I were guerita (light-skinned) like Lucia,” Evelyn, one of the kids’ cousins, told me one day. It wasn’t the first time our 8 year old niece had mentioned skin color to me, but it was the moment that it was painfully obvious to me just how deeply society’s systemic racism had penetrated her little-girl psyche already. Just in case I didn’t get it, she bemoaned herself further, complaining, “I don’t want to be morena (dark-skinned). It’s ugly.”

The ambulance in my head switched on the siren and roared into gear. Help! Emergency! Pre-pubescent girl already hating herself! Code red! All hands on deck! (Okay, obviously I’ve never worked in health care and I know zero emergency slang. Forgive me. This is totally the kind of blubbering idiot that I am when in a panic. Which I was.) “What?!” I asked her, trying not to yell and shake her.

I took a breath and tried to talk and look normal. “You don’t need to be guera,” I started. “You’re already beautiful, just like you are.” Cliché, I know. But it’s true, it’s so true- Evelyn with her friendly, extroverted spirit. She’s who always comes and takes the hand of whatever family member of mine is visiting, to lead them around, to show them all they need to know, entrusting them with her wide open heart. Evelyn who’s curious and unapologetically opinionated. Evelyn who also has gorgeous wide eyes and a lovely smirk, among other radiant attributes. Evelyn who is brown-skinned and beautiful.

“Yeah?” she asked, sounding as hopeful as I felt disheartened by her remark. “I’m beautiful?” I reiterated that she was, and that I love her. She smiled and swept me away to show me something her parents had bought her.

I wanted to sit her down to talk about all the shades of beautiful. I wanted to talk about beauty’s source, about how it’s what’s on the inside, and how you feel about yourself that makes or breaks beauty. I wanted to say that society’s views on beauty are a total load of horseshit anyway. I wanted to sit down and have a long, age-appropriate talk about racism and prejudice and discrimination. I wanted to find time to walk around together, surf the internet together, and point out all the beautiful women with skin like hers. I wanted to find princesses and doctors and fairy godmothers and warriors and presidents and other Wonderful Women with brown skin like hers, and talk about how beautiful they are, to discuss the different forms of beauty. I wanted to rant and rave about the system and how fucked up it is that an 8 year old girl has already gotten the message that she’s not worth as much as another little girl. I started to say a whole lot of stuff to her, but I was so overwhelmed with how to go about it all, and she had already changed the subject.

Race in Mexico is fairly homogenous, in the sense that the grand majority of Mexicans are a mix of indigenous genes and European genes, with some African and some Asian genes in a few places. Despite this theoretical “sameness” there is a huge variation in skin tones and other aspects of appearance that people attribute to race. And there is absolutely a racism problem in Mexico. This is what racism looks like here. It has a different history than in the US, but the resulting prizing and privileging of all that is white is the same. It’s deeply rooted and entrenched in the culture, just like in the US.

So what does it matter, that I, the exotic foreign white girl auntie, am trying to tell Evelyn that she’s beautiful and valued? It’s so far from sufficient. She’s already learned and internalized the message that she’s not beautiful, because of her lovely brown eyes, because of her shiny black hair, because of her very own skin, the blanket enveloping her beautiful existence, that’s already betraying her, making her other, less-than beautiful. And if here in Mexico, where some shade or another of brown skin is the majority and the norm, if even here her brown skin is not valued, what must it be like in the U.S., in England, in Ireland, in all the places where brown skin is “other?” The injustice of it is maddening.

I’m not worrying about her beauty in terms of how many people might ask her out to dance, but I am worried about her feeling as valued and worthy as anybody. Even if it were “just” about a little girl’s body image, it still wouldn’t be okay to teach a girl to hate herself in the body that she lives in. But it’s so far beyond that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his book Between the World and Me, talks about how it’s absolutely that kind of prejudice that is part of what leads us down the path to the devaluing and dehumanizing of a whole people. It really struck a chord with me when I read that he realized that “…the larger culture’s erasure of black beauty was intimately connected to the destruction of black bodies.”

This has severe consequences. It’s why people of color are constantly being killed by police officers in the US. It’s why there are so many cases of indigenous women here giving birth on the lawn or in the bathroom of the hospital, because no one could be bothered to receive their precious baby, who’s already being valued and cared for less, starting at birth. It’s why Conan got stopped by the police for walking with his own daughter (read about it here). It’s the kind of thing that they talk about in this study, where they found that teachers expect more bad behavior from African American boys in preschool. The effects of prejudice are so far-reaching, so consequential.

And prejudice starts with precisely this kind of attitude: that the lighter your skin is, the better-looking you are. I’m not blaming the entire institution of racism on friends’ and family’s comments, but I do think that what we say- especially in front of children- makes a difference. These seemingly well-intentioned compliments about my kids’ light skin perpetuates racism. I still don’t know exactly what to say when I hear it, but I know it’s imperative that I say something. Help me, please! I need suggestions! I realize now that it’s not enough to have conversations with my kids about it in private; I need to confront this racism in the moment- in a nice way, but in a way that expresses that I don’t agree, for example, that they’re cute because of their skin color. This is important not just for my children, but also for Evelyn, and all the other beautiful, valued, worthy people of all shades of skin, who need to get the message that they ARE beautiful.

There are lots of other ways I think we can make a difference. Please leave comments with suggestions!

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.

 

conan pole

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

conan pole down

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.