Tag Archives: moving

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!



My Kentucky Heart, Sautéed, Not Fried

26 Jun

Kentucky Fried Chicken has ruined my state’s good name. I don’t actively despise KFC when I’m in my hometown; it’s just one of so many fast food joints, a place for mass-produced, cheap, low-quality, low-nutrition eats prepared and served to you by under-paid workers. It is not a place I typically eat (okay, pretty much never), but I understand it’s purpose and I don’t hold it against anyone who eats there. I would not, however, say it is any part of what I want people to know about my great state.

Unfortunately, outside of my state, and especially outside of my country, it’s the only damn thing anybody knows about where I’m from. In Italy, in Chile, and lots of other places in between, people bring up fried chicken like I’m supposed to be pleased and feel recognized. “Ah, como el pollo,” (Oh, like the chicken,) my students say when I tell them I’m from Kentucky. Luckily, the actual restaurant doesn’t even exist down here in Oaxaca, so people just know it as a style of cooking chicken- breaded and fried. That makes it less appalling for me, but it still wounds my Kentucky pride. We have all this amazing culture and incredible nature and wonderful people, but nobody knows about any of that. Instead they’re applauding a stupid fast food chain.

I do my part to educate the public about Kentucky. Down here I take advantage of my job as a teacher to consistently plug facts about Kentucky wherever I can fit them in the curriculum. Like when we read an article about mammoths, I told the students about Mammoth Cave (the world’s largest known cave system, for those of you who don’t know). In the unit about pirates, when we’d discuss movies about pirates, I used to always mention that Johnny Depp is from my state (although he’s officially been cut out of my Kentucky pride spiels, now that I know he’s abusive). I am determined to leave the Oaxacan people with a better impression of my culture than some breaded fried foul.

This semester I taught a particularly sweet group of computer science kids in level one who were always asking questions about me and my life. For the most part students are a bit curious because they don’t get to have conversations with foreigners on a regular basis, so all of us on the English-teaching staff are a bit exotic and exciting. (You guys should see all the girls drooling on my Scottish, red-haired, blue-eyed coworker. Talk about exotic!) This group said they really wanted to hear more about Kentucky, so of course I had to oblige them. I sat down and wrote a list of my favorite things and turned it into a power point, which you can see here. Kentucky Home presentation

Granted, I had to put some things on the list which I don’t really care about or downright dislike, just for the sake of honesty. Despite my personal opinion, my state really is famous for the Kentucky Derby, also known as “the greatest two minutes in sports.” Although I think that horse racing is exploitative to the horses and the underpaid folks who train them, it is a big part of our economy and claim to fame. I also had to mention the 30 minute fireworks show, Thunder Over Louisville, even though I think fireworks are mostly absurd noise and air pollution, not to mention terrifying for some people and animals. I’d much rather have included festivities like KenDucky Derby or that race where servers see how fast they can open a bottle of wine and run with a tray full of wine glasses. But I had to put a limit on the amount of information to inundate the students with, so, you know, some of the more mainstream events won out over my preferences.

For the most part, though, I got to talk about things that I love. That my city, Louisville, is such a close-knit, friendly place. I tried to explain about the miles and miles of beautiful park space- not just a little playground and a bench, but so much green, right inside of a big(gish) city. I got to highlight the good food, the hundreds of restaurants which do not serve fried chicken. I explained about the injera at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant (injera bread is a not so foreign concept here in the land of corn tortillas with everything). I tried not to drool when I mentioned the avocado milkshakes at Vietnam Kitchen. I didn’t even mention the Japanese/Mexican fusion food at Dragon King’s Daughter, or about 15 other of my absolute favorites.

I got to talk about the best part of my city- that it’s full of beautiful immigrants and refugees, constantly adding to our culture. When I looked up the statistics, it said that the foreign-born population accounted for less than 5% of the total, although I am pretty sure that is an underestimate. Even if it’s not, the foreign-born population of Louisville, Kentucky, take up something like 70% of my Kentucky heart, so screw the official stats on this one. In Louisville, teaching English to the grown-up immigrant and refugee community, I learned that being a teacher means constant learning- on my part. I had the grand privilege of teaching professional folks from Mexico and Taiwan; brilliant, wise, multilingual yet illiterate women from Sudan; a father of 10 from the Democratic Republic of Congo; loving and tough mamas from Guatemala; a funny, adorable couple from Cuba, and so many others from so many cultures. And that was just my professional, English-teaching life! Aside from that I worked in restaurants with cooks from Senegal and various Mexican states. In my free time I hung out with generous, smart, nice, world-changing folks from Peru, Guatemala, and so many other places. Even though there is a foreign population in Puerto, being let in to the foreign-born community in Louisville is one of the things that I miss most.

In general, what I miss most is the intimacy of my community there. I sat in my office and cried watching all the outpourings of love in my city when Muhammed Ali died. I miss my family there- the ones I was born with and the ones I’ve chosen since then. I’m coming up on 4 years of living outside of Louisville, and luckily, I find myself feeling nostalgic and homesick less and less often. Especially now that my dad’s gone, the aunt I’m named for is always off on her boating adventures, and some of my other favorite people have moved away. My mind is less and less set on Louisville, because I know that it could never be the same place it was for me before. You can never go back to the past, so even if I went back tomorrow, it would be a readjustment and adaptation process all over again, even though it’s where I was born and raised. But big pieces of my heart still reside there, so creating and sharing my little Kentucky presentation was a good moment of catharsis for my eternally-divided little heart.

And most of all, I did the world some good in showing students that bourbon, annual zombie walks, and a moonbow at Cumberland Falls are all way, way cooler than fried chicken. Take that, impersonal capitalism! My state will rise above Kentucky Friend Chicken! Click on the presentation for lots of pictures!

A Little Dose of Positivity

8 Oct

ImageThis blog could use some positivity, as could I. To take some time to focus on the good things in my new environment. Because some days you might believe- and I might, too- that it’s all difficult and crappy. And it’s just not true. (And yes that rainbow is in our backyard.)

So I made a little list of things that make me feel like sunshine on a cloudy day. Number one on that list is my family here- my daughter, my partner, my awesome mother-in-law. But this is more of a cultural list, stuff that I like specifically about this place, not about the people around me.

Granted, the things that I love are mostly food-related. But I am, after all, that girl that prefers the kitchen above all other places in the house. “The kitchen is the heart of a home” said my friend Luis de Leon, and food is like glue that further binds people into loving friendships and family relationships. So I hope you enjoy my little rainbow list, and I’ll cook something for you if you come to visit!

Please not that my list is not in order of importance.

-Epazote… And you thought cilantro was exciting. Epazote is another fragrant and delicious herb that for some reason I could rarely find in Louisville. I especially recommend it for chilaquiles and for black beans. And while we’re on the subject, yerba santa (especially in black bean tamales) is pretty exquisite as well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_auritum -go here for more yerba santa info. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysphania_ambrosioides -go here for more epazote info.

-Chepiles… Looks like spinach, tastes like artichokes. Not like vinegar-soaked canned artichoke hearts- like artichoke leaves. If you’ve never had a whole artichoke, you need to immediately go buy one. Boil for 45-60 minutes. Melt some butter and squeeze the juice of a lemon- a real lemon. Add salt to the lemon juice. Take an artichoke leaf, dip the edge in either butter or lemon juice, then scrape off the meaty part, now dripping in butter, with your teeth. Repeat until you get to the heart, which is a seriously orgasmic example of a vegetable. Then you’ll have an idea what chepiles taste like. Here’s a chepiles tamal:


-Tropical fruit…. including mango, pineapple, coconut, different kinds of banana, and much more are all close by, accessible, and fairly cheap (definitely cheap compared to Kentucky).

-Organic produce is cheaper than commercial pesticide-covered, genetically-modified shit…. Although it’s not labeled or anything, (and there’s no supermarket, either, but this will NOT be a complainy post), the ladies who sit on the ground in the plaza to sell produce are selling the stuff that they grow in their town, which is chemical-free, delicious, local, and cheap.

-The view of the river and the mountains from my window is gorgeous. Look! The picture doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.


-Almost everything is local business…. People put whatever business they feel like in the front part of their house. This is how many families make a living. So while in the cities you might have a supermarket or other big corporations, most businesses there and all businesses in towns are the businesses of the people who live there. I both love and hate the chaos and randomness of it, trying to figure out where to go to buy what we need. You might have to ask around and get sent to several different places before you find what you’re looking for- like a mosquito net we got to put around Lucia’s bed. You might have to go to a place 3 different times before you catch them open, like when we wanted to get a key made. You also might have 10 different places in the plaza that sell practically the same thing, which is just a little ridiculous. But at least it’s local. And in some ways, it’s more convenient- like you can count on there being all kinds of necessities (basic food products like tomato, hot peppers, rice, beans, eggs, etc.) right around the corner- most of the time.

-Loudspeaker announcements… okay I don’t actually love this but it does amuse the hell out of me. The local government has a loudspeaker that they put on top of a car and drive around making important announcements. Unfortunately, to my untrained ear (and Conan’s too), it mostly sounds like the parents on Charlie Brown. I hear something like “wha wha brr wha arrr importante…. Wha wha brr ig colonia 3 de mayo…. Wha wha pa arr 20 de septiembre ” The other day I caught  only the words “papanicolau” (pap smear) and “mamografia” (mammogram). But I have no idea when, where, or for whom. Oh, well.

-The products people sell via drive-by/walk-by…. First of all, there’s a bunch of fantastic street food- tamales, chiles rellenos, breads, sweets, etc.- that passes by our house every day. People walk by selling whatever it is that they’ve made (including fresh tortillas twice a day), which is unbelievably convenient when we need a snack or don’t have time to cook. And then there are the things that get sold via truck- the gas we use for the stove and the hot water heater, the big bottles of drinking water, pizza, mattresses, and more. We woke up our first morning in Mexico to a car driving by announcing “Atole! Atole!” (which is an oatmeal-based drink), and realized we were definitely in Mexico after all. Selling heavy stuff via truck is great because we (and many other folks) don’t have a car to go pick stuff up and bring it back. The downside is you have to be home and paying attention to get those things. The gas truck at least makes a weird moo-like sound, then plays some music, and announces “gas de Oaxaca”.  I refuse to buy pizza because the announcement/song is too irritating. But many things aren’t announced- you just have to watch for them, which is how we missed the water truck that has the water that tastes good for like 3 days in a row.

-Cheap(er) access to medical and dental care. What’s not to love about not stressing out about whether you can afford to go to the doctor or not?

-There’s not a lot of processed food (also a downside occasionally!).

-Breastfeeding wherever, whenever, with no dirty looks, rude comments, or even the bat of an eye…yep. I know, all you breastfeeding moms in the U.S. are jealous now.

-Street-life exists…. The town feels alive. There are always people walking to get places (and horses and cars, too). Big events happen outside, usually in the plaza. Houses are open. The environment is more public, open, not private, shut out.  

-Handmade, fresh tortillas every day…. Yes, I mentioned this in the products people sell via walk-by section. But it’s worth mentioning again. It’s pretty great.

-No lawnmowers- only machetes… First of all, people don’t have stupid lawns like they do in the U.S.  (and not a lot of grass that’s not eaten by cows and such anyway). But when there is excess grass you cut it with a machete. That’s right. No lawnmowers. No leaf-blowers (the bane of my existence/the epitome of US waste and laziness, in my humble opinion). None of that ridiculous noise and poor use of petroleum. And you can even hire someone to cut your grass. We had some insanely overgrown mess all around the back of the house and a guy cut it down for like 15 bucks (US).  I know, you wish you had a machete.

-No tornados…. That’s right, I can finally enjoy a storm in peace. No sirens. No National Weather Service beep beeps giving me panic attacks. It’s just a simple storm.

-Patriotism is reasonable and for a limited time only… Mexican independence is celebrated in September, and the whole month you’ll find flags everywhere, and other signs of patriotism. But then, it’s over. October 1 rolls around and all that blatant national pride disappears from view. Sure, people still love their country. But they’re not all up in your face about it, and they don’t go around insisting to everyone and their mom that they’re country is better than everyone else’s. It’s patriotism I can respect. Fancy that. 

….I’m sure there are other aspects of life here that I appreciate and enjoy that haven’t occurred to me in time for this post, so I’ll keep you updated, and try to keep busting out these little rays of sunshine from time to time. Since we’re almost out of the rainy season, and I’ve been here over two months now, I’m sure sharing the positivity will get easier. Stay tuned! 

Epic Burgers

5 Sep

I didn’t plan to come to Mexico to eat burgers. Yes, burgers. Not burritos. Not chimichangas (which aren’t real Mexican food anyway). No. Burgers. Go figure. I’ve been a vegetarian, most of the time, since I was 11 years old. The exceptions have been mostly when I’ve been out of the U.S., which has been quite a bit in the past 10 years. Even so, the past several countries have all been in Latin America, and while I’ve eaten meat there (even Chilean versions of hot dogs!), I have not eaten a burger in at least 7 years. I believe the last time I ate a burger I was in Italy, with a horrendous case of boot-rot, and in an effort to avoid walking my travel partner got us McDonald’s, since it was the only very close food available where we were staying. (We swore each other to secrecy from the shame and irony.)I don’t even like burgers, or most meat, really. I eat it when I’m away because I want to try all the typical food in a country, because it’s convenient and I don’t always have access to what I would normally cook for myself, because I don’t want to reject food that kind people offer me. But I don’t get excited about meat, especially burgers.
But we walk down the street to visit Epic (whose name is actually Epigmenio, who people call Epig, which sounds more like Epic). I am not planning on eating a burger. But I am desperate to get out of the house, so I gladly accompany Conan, with Lucia wrapped up against my chest, of course. Epic is friendly. He speaks directly to me. He smiles- and has very cute dimples, by the way. He has that idiosyncratic I’m-super-busy-working-very-fast-but-it’s-all-cake-to-me, laid-back attitude that experts in the service industry do so well. It’s the first time I’ve seen that attitude here in Mexico, where tips do not prevail. It takes me back to that camaraderie of the restaurant business in Louisville. He chats with us despite the blaring volume of telenovelas, which he glimpses at from time to time- super multitasking, as busy as he is that night.
I can’t believe how many people come for his burgers. That night he runs out of burgers, so many people come, but he still has some hotdogs left…. More than the sheer quantity of burgers, I can’t believe what these burgers look like. I watch him prepare plenty of them before he gets around to taking our order- and by then I’ve decided that yes, I have to have one. Because these are Mexican burgers, after all. And not just Mexican burgers- these are fucking epic burgers.
Let’s see if I can manage to name all the ingredients:
-the burger (which I might add, is local beef, ground the same day, formed into patties by hand that afternoon- although I didn’t learn that till later)
-american cheese (or some equivalent of gross orange-yellow version of cheese, ew)
-pineapple (for the Hawaiian burger, which I ordered)
-quesillo (delicious Oaxacan melty cheese)
-fried onions
-ketchup AND mustard AND mayonnaise
And the verdict is in…. they’re fantastic! (Okay, so I got mine without bacon or American cheese. Even when doing as the Romans do and all that, you gotta have some standards.) You might think I can’t make a fair comparison, since I hadn’t had a burger in years. But come on, converting a vegetarian is a pretty impressive feat.  I advise you all to abandon your fast food burgers immediately, and high tail it to Juquila.
Even more important than the burgers (and what, you ask, could be more important than burgers?), I’m turning Epic into my first friend in Juquila. Call it instinct, sixth sense, intuition, whatever- Epic exudes friend-material energy; he’s friendly but also, I think, sarcastic and skeptical, he’s funny and giggles easily, and I think he’s strong and tough and nice and lovely. I don’t actually know him, especially not that first night when I go and eat his hamburgers, but I warn him that same night that he’s gonna end up being my friend. More details on that later, but I will mention that so far so good- he’s even the first visitor that’s come to the house to see ME (not for Conan, not for Lucia- but to talk to me!)…. I think it’s gonna be an epic friendship.

Lucia in the sky with diamond… earrings? Or not. And other mama drama

5 Sep

Lucia, being a baby of not-quite 2 months old (at the time of writing this), looks pretty androgynous.  In the U.S., the color of baby clothing is what tends to identify a baby’s sex. I even had a nurse think that what was on the medical chart identifying my baby as a girl must have been wrong, since the baby was wearing green. In Mexico, apparently what identifies sex is earrings, or the lack thereof. So since Lucia doesn’t have her ears pierced, everyone assumes she’s a boy. When we say she’s a girl, people are shocked and dismayed. “When are you gonna do her little holes?” they ask. “When she asks for it,” we reply.  That stops some folks, but others insist that that’s silly; she really needs some earrings.
People also believe that babies here are cold all the time and must be totally bundled up, even in sunny, 80-degree weather. “Where are her socks? Where’s her hat?” someone scolded me (this is a theme, really). “It’s hot out,” I asserted. “When did she tell you she was hot?” Around the same time she told you she was cold- I didn’t say. What’s even better (“better” being more ironic and irritating) is when strangers insist on holding my child, and then when she cries they tell me it’s because she’s cold, or for some other reason which is surely my fault. It couldn’t be because she doesn’t want to be in their arms, even though she was not crying in my arms just 3 seconds ago and now that you’ve given her back to me she’s stopped crying again. No, no, you, the stranger, surely know better than I what’s wrong with my baby. Thank you.
Which brings us to another baby mama drama of mine: strangers snatching my baby from me. I realize it’s probably universal that people like to hold babies. I don’t normally mind other people holding Lucia. In fact, it’s often a nice little break for me and her papi. But my mama-bear instincts kick into high gear when people who haven’t even introduced themselves to me come up and try to take my baby out of my arms. There’s no, “oh, can I hold the baby?” or even, “hello, my name is so-and-so”. They just come and reach out their arms, and I’m a big bitch for not wanting to hand over my baby. I don’t care if they know Conan, or Conan’s mom Paulina. I don’t know them. And I am (one of two people) responsible for Lucia’s wellbeing. Even if it weren’t dangerous (and parents, you try telling me you like to hand your newborn off to strangers on a regular basis), it’s still exceedingly rude. I can’t imagine trying to take someone’s baby out of their arms without a) asking them if it’s okay, and b) INTRODUCING MYSELF, if it’s not already a friend of mine. Part of this is, I believe, another symptom of me not being a real human being here (or maybe there’s another reason why so few people will speak directly to me?). For example, day 2 in Juquila, I go to the corner store with Paulina, with Lucia in her wrap as usual. People in the store come make a fuss about Lucia (Okay, cool. She is an adorable baby and all that.), but they ask Paulina if it’s her baby. Ummm, have you seen Paulina pregnant in the past year? Is Paulina carrying this baby around wrapped up against her body? You obviously can’t really mean to ask if this is Paulina’s baby, so why are you asking that? Is it that important to not acknowledge my existence? We could make a comic book character out of me- the invisible mommy. Look! There’s a floating nipple feeding that baby! Look! That baby is walking down the street held up by thin air! Bless their little hearts, they surely just want to help poor Lucia, as it must seem that she’s all alone.
And then I have culture shock around safety. Car seats are practically non-existent, for example. We went out to eat tlayudas a couple days after arriving. A friend of Conan’s picked us up in their car, so we had our car seat ready to go. The friend rolled down the window and his 7 month old daughter was sitting on his lap. He says he’s teaching her to drive, and doesn’t understand why we’d want to use the car seat. Granted, I understand better as we drive around town- between all the hills and curves and speed bumps, the random livestock and the people in the street, you never actually pick up speed. But in this case my cultural idea of safety is soooo deeply ingrained that I can’t help but feel nervous and upset. All I can think is that of course it’s fine to ride around without a car seat- unless something happens. So I wrap her tightly in her wrap, pressed up against my body, put a seat belt around us both, and throw a prayer to the wind. What else can I do?
Being a mom in a foreign country adds a whole new dimension to what it means to adapt. I have always considered myself such a chameleon, so capable of accepting whatever happens as an interesting story, if nothing else. But between the fact that I live here now, that I’m not just passing through, and the fact that I have this adorable, precious, teeny-tiny being to take care of, it’s a whole new ballpark deciding where and how to stand my ground, where and how to refuse to adapt, and how to do it graciously. No one said that motherhood would be easy.

That was then, this is now: the move

27 Aug

I was walking through the airport, pushing one of those carts that you can rent. It was almost overflowing, with 2 carry-on-sized suitcases, a backpack, a laptop, and a diaper bag. And those were just our carry-ons; we had 5 other full-sized suitcases we’d checked. It seemed absurd and excessive almost, but when you think about packing up your entire life- for you, your partner, and a 7 week old baby- getting it down to just a few suitcases isn’t really so bad.
But I was thinking more about 10 years before. I saw myself, barely 18 years old, headed off to spend 6 months in Europe, waking through the airport alone, my hair a mix of purple, red, and blue, a scowl on my face, hung over from my good-bye party that had lasted into early that morning, with nothing but a backpack. Not a backpacker backpack, mind you, but rather a school backpack. And that was all. No checked luggage. No purse. Just me and my backpack, and all my hopes and fears. I was sure I had everything I needed- essentially a couple changes of clothes, a toothbrush, a book, and a raging sense of adventure. What I lacked in packed items I more than made up for with my blank-slate-open mind and heart.
Ten years later, I’d like to think I’m just as adaptable. But I know I’m not. My life is different; I’m different. I’ve got way more baggage, in more ways than one. But that baggage is a mixed bag; it also means I have way more to bring to the table. And so this new phase begins.




Here we are on the plane:



27 Aug

Essentially, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement kicked all 3 of us out of the country: Conan, a citizen of Mexico who’d lived in the U.S. for almost his entire adult life thus far; me, Julia, a U.S. citizen scathingly skeptical about the land of the free; and Lucia, our newborn daughter, a little bitty dual citizen. So here we are, on our grand adventure in transition from Louisville, Kentucky (population approx. 1 million, or a bit less) to Juquila, Oaxaca, Mexico (population approx. 14,000, plus a whole bunch of pilgrims paying homage to the Virgin of Juquila).  It promises to bring very different kinds of joys and challenges for each of us. And it seems certain to be interesting, one way or another. Let our exile begin!