Tag Archives: puerto escondido

What Not To Do When You Move to Small Town Southern Mexico

9 Apr

My dad always said that opinions are like assholes; everybody’s got one. So true, and yet we all still think that ours is truly valid, that we can really help someone out with our hard-earned wisdom. So I’m here today, ladies and gentlemen, to share my opinions, my own stellar advice for all of you pondering a moving to the marvelous state of Oaxaca. For those of you already in Oaxaca, this is still superb advice, but you might already know it. You guys can go ahead and laugh with me, please and thank you.

This is advice that I would have appreciated, theoretically. I mean, okay, sometimes I love to jump headfirst into things, blindfolded and grinning. But often I would prefer to research things to make the most informed decision possible. Usually that means I seek as much advice and information as possible and then jump briskly off cliff number one anyway. Sigh.

So here you go- I present you the fruits of my experience, aka some advice that you can read, reject and ignore. (I’m practicing for the kids’ adolescence.)

The first tidbit of guidance I have for you is second-hand, but it is first-rate advice nonetheless.

Don’t change your country of residence immediately after having your first child.

“Don’t plan any major life changes for a while. Transitioning to parenthood is hard enough.” Our lovely doula, the birth assistant we hired for Lucia’s birth, tried to warn us. Truer words were never spoken. But, alas, the U.S. government did not appreciate this wisdom. And you know, there’s gotta be some benefit to starting your kid off really, really early with the globe-trotting.

But it’s not a great plan for adjusting to parenthood sanely. Abandoning your entire support system and general way of life while learning how to parent is a special kind of madness. I mean, leave the country, yes! I am so glad that we live here- now. If we could have waited a year, though, it would have saved us lots and lots of heartache. So while I don’t recommend jet-setting first thing postpartum, if you find yourself doing it, you’re a special kind of badass, and I want to be your friend.

Don’t buy an automatic car that needs work.

Contrary to popular belief down here in the land of stick shifts, automatics are not bad cars. In the U.S. I owned several over the years, and a couple of them were fabulous cars. They go up hills just fine, thank you very much, when they work. The problem here is, unless your automatic is more or less new (or at least in such condition that it never needs to be worked on by a mechanic), you are screwed, because nobody knows how to fix it properly.

This advice is spawned by my current frustration- the impetus for this blog post- which is a recurring soap opera. Every time our car breaks down (which is about bimonthly) it either takes a week (or longer) to fix it, or in the process of fixing it they cause some other problem. This month both things happened.

At first I thought this phenomenon was due to having bought a lemon of a car. Then I thought it was because the mechanic we often took it to (the cheapest option, a friend of a friend) was just a slow and inexperienced mechanic. But at one point we had a problem that required about ten different mechanics. Ten! They didn’t know if it was mechanical or electrical, so we took it to all the types of mechanics. They didn’t have a clue. They took apart our car, broke other things. It was absurd. And it just keeps happening!

It was nice to use an automatic to transition into learning to drive on these bumpy dirt roads with lots of drivers who don’t follow any rules. But now I have my teacher lined up to teach me how to drive a manual car, and I’ll hook you up, too. Just say no to automatics that might need mechanics. Buy yourself a nice little Tsuru, just like the taxis and half of the rest of the population own. That’s what we’ll be doing next, if I manage to follow my own advice. (Don’t hold your breath.)
Don’t build a house to live in when there is not yet electricity in the neighborhood.

“It’s just an overgrown lot right now, there’s no electricity or water,” my in-laws warned me when we came to visit the plot of land in Puerto that Conan owned. “Right, but we can get that stuff installed, right?” I asked, thinking it was just a matter of getting things hooked up, signing a contract, paying the bill. Little did I know….

We got water hooked up just fine during the building process, thanks to some help from a family member. But with electricity, there was no “hooking up” because there was nothing to hook up to on our block. The electric company won’t set it up someplace new unless they’re paid to by the folks living in the neighborhood and/or government (and we’re talking thousands of dollars). So it was a lot of waiting and fighting and hoping and hopelessness. Perhaps someone tried to tell me beforehand, but I was too blinded by my desperation to get out of Juquila to really let it sink in. And really, if I had it to do over again? I suppose I would think about us renting a place while we waited for electricity. But would I stay in Juquila till the lights came on here? Hell, no. Hell, no. (Seriously. Double or triple hell, no.)

We got lucky that we only spent a year and a half (two years for Conan) living without electricity. I know people who spent years and years living “off the grid” by accident. So you just don’t know when you’ll get it. Don’t plan to live there unless you’re one of those amish-style hippy types who wants to go charge your iphone at someone else’s house and live without fans because your body odor just isn’t at its best in the A/C. And if that’s the case, bless your little heart, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

Don’t start a business that you know nothing about.

When we lived in Juquila, we couldn’t find decent jobs. Everyone and their mother wanted me to teach their kid English, but nobody actually wanted to commit to regular classes, or pay more than 20 pesos an hour (less than 2 US dollars). Conan’s construction skills were not in demand, either, since everything they construct here is very different. He got a job at one point, but he was working about 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for next to nothing.

So we decided to sell cell phones, accessories, and recargas (prepaid minutes) out of his mom’s storefront in the front of the house. That’s right- we sold cell phones. Imagine me selling cell phones. Me- who refused to have a cell phone until I lived in Chile in 2007. Me- who then held on to the same flip phone for like 6 years. Me- who still had cassettes until I moved down here, just to give you an idea of how resistant I am to new technology. It was totally my dream job to sell cell phones- Not! (Haha, look how backwards I am! Still using kid quotes from the early 90s- that’s me.)

In fairness, Conan knew much more about cell phones and accessories than I did (and do; I’m still clueless). But neither of us had any idea what the people of Juquila would buy, really. It was a pretty uninformed business venture, which seems to be kind of the M.O. in Juquila. There are no corporations; it’s all small business. You don’t take any classes or write up a business plan. You either have experience because your family owns something or you just scrape together some money for a small investment and get started with your tiny business that you hope will do well so you can expand. It’s a respectable way to do things in the circumstances, but it did not make us a living. Now if we had invested in statues of saints instead….

It wasn’t a total waste of money. We sold most of it over time. We used some of the phones and accessories ourselves. We earned some money, slowly. It was certainly an interesting experience. And I certainly admire the tenacity of the neighborly small business owners who just open up the front room of their house and stock some snacks and sodas along with the most common of vegetables. I mean, why not? Who says you have to have a stupid business plan? Granted, bigger small businesses down here do still have a plan, I’m sure. And maybe a small business could still work for us someday. But not in Juquila. And not cell phones. This lesson was learned, for now.

Don’t let your small child sleep in the same bed with you “just for the transition.”

Don’t do this unless you want to sleep with them forever. There is no “just for the transition.” Once they worm their way in, you will never get him or her out of your bed again. The transition just keeps on keeping on. Just say no to bed-sharing, for the health of your grown-up relationship and the sake of your ribs, which will remain bruised throughout the duration from all that kicking and thrashing these mini-monsters do. ‘Nuff said.

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this is our near future…

The Moral of this story is…..

Well, nothing, really. As you can see, I don’t have any real advice. I don’t have a clue what you should do, but I have a wealth of savvy on what not to do. Not that you should listen to me. Counsel such as this probably would have saved me lots of heartache, but that doesn’t mean I would have taken it. My dad was always futilely trying to save me from making the same mistakes that he made, but heartache is ours to find, one way or another.

Furthermore, if I had known then what I know now, would I have done things differently? In general, probably not. For one, I love rollercoasters, and I am constantly learning to appreciate this roller coaster that is my life, no matter what. Also, I’m working on not judging myself harshly, and both Conan and I have done the best we could with what we were working with, and that just has to be good enough. Not to mention that I always figure these brilliant “mistakes” are good for my character. And I’m pretty damn cool on a good day. So if you find yourself by happenstance moving to small town Oaxaca, look me up and I’ll impart more thrilling opinions. Worthwhile? Well, that and a few cents will get you a stick of gum, as my dad would say. So on second thought, come on down and I’ll give you a cup of coffee instead.

My Stupid / Stupendous Stay-cation

4 Apr

Staying home for vacation is one of those win / lose situations. At the end of it, I felt like I had been some exaggerated caricature of a manic depressive person. One second I was overjoyed, skipping around, singing about how happy I am and knowing it, with a smile plastered on, and it wasn’t even that semi-hysterical, will-this-get-the-baby-to-calm-the-hell-down smile and singing that I often do. The next second I was stretched out in bed, still in my pajamas at noon, refusing to concern myself about the baby scavenging those Cheerios he threw on the floor earlier, telling the 3 year old that sure, she could watch a 700th video in one day. I was ecstatic, energetic, blues-out, relaxed, stressed, busy, lazy, content, overwhelmed- sometimes all in the same day. It was my first-ever stay-home vacation.

 

Here’s a little breakdown of my ups and downs in this premier stay-vacation.

 

Good News: I get a paid vacation five whole weeks a year! Plus other federal holidays give me frequent three-day weekends. FIVE WEEKS! I’d never had any paid vacation before this year. This is astounding! Revolutionary! I’m the luckiest person alive!

 

Bad News: My vacation time is precisely the same time as the vacation time for every single other person in the entire country of Mexico.

 

This is part of the reason we’re on stay-cation in the first place. I had planned an exciting trip to Oaxaca City, to see a friend, go to museums, relax, and get the kids’ Mexican passports renewed. Y’all know how I love to combine work and pleasure like that. But of course, since it was holy week, nobody in any bureaucracy works either, so I couldn’t get an appointment for their passports. I fared better than a friend of mine, though, who had an appointment to get her son’s U.S. passport renewed and the consulate cancelled on the day of her appointment– after 7 hours of travel. Oh, Semana Santa, how bitter-sweet.

 

Bad News: The ubiquitous retén (police roadblock)

We also had plans to take a day trip or two to nearby places, to have adventures we never seem to have time for on the weekend. But with the influx of both national and international tourists, police are busy keeping people safe and getting bonus bribes by putting up road blocks all over the place. We are not up to date on our car’s registration, and Conan’s license is expired. Now, in the U.S. I never would have let this happen. But here it’s very common to not have your registration paid, because it’s too expensive and it’s totally meaningless. Just like licenses are meaningless. There’s not even a driving test for licenses, as witnessed by the driving that goes on around here! The only requirement is to have money and an electric bill as proof of residence. The electric bill doesn’t even have to be your own! The lady at the license office told me could bring a friend’s when I told her we didn’t have electricity. But I digress. We didn’t have money for fines or bribes, so we stayed close to home instead.

 

Bad News: Car being held together by a coat hanger

We were going to at least go to Juquila for a couple days, but our car did not get fixed in time. There’s some part that’s currently rigged together with some spare wire or something, and Conan didn’t want to risk it falling apart on a road trip to the mountains. We tried to get it fixed, but it was too late in the week- by Thursday we couldn’t get the right part sent down from Oaxaca City because everyone was already on vacation.

 

Good News: No trips means more relaxing! Not spending time in a vehicle with a baby-turned-toddler who doesn’t understand the purpose of sitting down. Not having to spend an entire day packing a bag, planning all the necessities for three people. (Conan packs his own stuff: he puts a pair of underwear in my bag and then wonders aloud why I’m not finished packing yet.)

 

“This will be awesome!” I told Conan. “I’m going to spend time with you guys and catch up on housework!” I envisioned us sitting down together playing games in a fabulously organized and relatively clean house.

 

Bad News: Getting caught up on housework is a cruel impossibility if you are currently living in said house.

I now suspect that people really go on vacation just so they can clean the house, go somewhere else, and have that fleeting joy of coming home to a totally clean house- because no one has been there in a week. (Gosh, I think I used to think differently about travel, once upon a time. Perhaps I will again someday?)

 

I called my mom about day 5 of my vacation. “I need a pep talk,” I whined into the phone. “I’ve been home for 5 days and I still don’t have the clean clothes put away. I haven’t seen an empty sink the whole time! How is it possible that I can be off work and my house be the same as if I were working?”

 

“Well,” started my wise and witty mama, “Are there still people in your household wearing clothes while on vacation?” She asked. “Are people eating and dirtying up dishes? Is somebody cooking?” Yes, yes, yes. But…. “And is half of your household unable to do their own laundry and wash their own dishes?” Oh. Right. Yeah. That.

 

It’s easy to blame it on the small creatures, and I’m sure the housework situation will improve once we can enslave them in household tasks as well. But regardless, this stuff really is a bottomless pit of essentially unfulfilling activities.

 

Good News: I invented a new song to keep myself from freaking out about housework.

You guys remember “The Song That Never Ends”? My adaptation goes: “This is the job that never ends. Yes it goes on and on, my friends. Some people started doing it not knowing what it was. But they’ll continue doing it forever just because this is the job that doesn’t end!”  You can do it with any household job. “These are the dishes that never end! Yes they get dirty and dirtier my friend! Some people started washing them not know how it was, and they’ll continue washing them forever just because these are the dishes that never end!” Pretty great, right? Don’t worry, I have no copy write issues; you guys go ahead and sing it in your own houses. You know you want to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good News: We really did make time to do some things that we don’t normally have time for.

We went to the library together. We ate most of our meals together. I tried to say yes every time Lucia asked me to read her a book, instead of telling her we could read it that night at bedtime. I sat down and played with Khalil, who’s suddenly not a baby anymore. (Geez, did I just now have time to notice?) Lucia was thrilled to wake up from her nap to find me there and not at work. I soaked up every minute of watching these two sweet siblings interact, giggling hysterically, chasing each other around the house, stealing each other’s toys.

Lucia and I had an outing, just the two of us. I carried her part of the way to the bus stop (I never get to carry her anymore, thanks to her little brother). We rode the bus, which pleases her half to death for whatever reason. We sang “The Wheels on the Bus” song while on the bus. We went to the playground and I let her play for more than 15 minutes. We went to “the big store,” the only department store in town, where she loves to check out and play with the toys, and she shocked the hell out of me by not asking to buy a single thing. (Thanks to a conversation with her Papi, apparently. Plus it helps that they don’t have a space ship, the only toy her heart desperately desires currently.)

I took time for myself, too. I did a little personal writing not just for my blog. I finished a book in the middle of the day. I watched a movie with Conan. We had a date night. Lots of wondrous things.

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Stinker #1 and #2, playing beautifully together. It’s not all the time so it’s nice to have a chance to enjoy it while it’s happening!

Good News: No alarm clock!

Okay, that Monday I still got up at 5, because I forgot to turn off my alarm. But most of the other days I slept till like SEVEN AM! I even lowered my coffee consumption because I wasn’t living on a sleep deficit!

 

Bad News: Vacation means getting out of my healthy routine.

I got lots more sleep. But not getting up till the baby gets up meant I was on-the-job immediately, struggling to drink my coffee before changing the first poopy diaper. There’s no time to exercise when you have to be constantly vigilant, getting food in little bellies, preventing consumption of toilet paper, etc.

 

I also ate more than normal, because I was home more and had time to prepare food and snacks. Which leads us to….

 

Good News: Being home means time to cook slightly more than normal.

We made popsicles. I made elaborate casseroles. I made enough to freeze a couple things, although it wasn’t as much as I’d hoped, because goodness, four people eat a lot of food. Plus I remembered what it was like when I was a stay-at-home mom in Juquila. It’s all too easy to spend all your waking hours just keeping people fed and clothed and clean. So I didn’t even cook all of our meals because it was too overwhelming. But we did have french toast, and oatmeal (haha, yes this is a beloved food for Lucia), and other exciting meals that are only for weekends.

 

Bad News: Everyone being off in the same week means that going to the beach is impossible because 2 out of 3 residents of Mexico City are also on vacation on our beaches on the same day. Going out to eat involves a wait. A wait! Here in tiny little Puerto, population 45,000.

 

Good News: We live here, so we know about places to eat that tourists don’t know about. One of our best meals was from a tiny three-table restaurant that ended up being cheap and delicious, with no wait.

 

 

Conclusion: Staycation is a lot like regular life if you’re a stay-at-home parent. (If you’re not a parent of small children, I no longer have any idea what life is like for you. My memories of such things have been wiped clean during all the butt-wiping.) If you’re not a stay-at-home parent, count your blessings that you have a job to escape back to so you can appreciate your family and your messy house again.

 

If you are a stay-at-home parent, count your blessings that you’re your own boss, and you get to spend all this time with your awesome family. It won’t last forever. From my experience / memory, it’s great as long as you can keep in mind that there is a whole universe outside your door, and that you must get out into it! Abandon the dishes! Let them eat cheese and crackers today! Finish that chapter of your book! My stay-catation was  still just like when I’m working, in terms of trying to balance it all- some basic necessity things, some pleasure things for the kids, a little time for me. It’s a balancing act whether you have an outside job or not. It’s full of ups and downs no matter what.

 

Conclusion, take two: Count your blessings, period. You only get this day, once, on vacation or not. Might as well attempt to enjoy it for the good, the bad, and the dishes, too. When you’re too bummed by last week’s laundry to enjoy it, call me up and I’ll give us both a pep talk. Or we can cry into the dishes together.

No Medicine is the Best Medicine Sometimes

26 Feb

“Oh, she’s the doctor who doesn’t give medication,” our family friend said when she realized who our pediatrician is. It amused me to hear her reputation described as such, but the good news is that it’s true- in all the right ways, anyway! We have a radical, thoughtful, socially-minded doctor for our kids now. This has been revolutionary for our life.

A while back I mentioned in a blog post that my parenting anxiety was more extreme because of not having a doctor that we had trust and confidence in. (You can read about that here: https://exiletomexico.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/just-keep-breathing/  ) But then- ta-dah!- we found our ideal pediatrician, Dr. Anja. And as we recover from another bout of Lucia’s asthma, and bask in a reassuring check-up for Khalil, I thank my lucky stars yet again for her existence in Puerto and for us finding her.

You guys just don’t know how novel it is to have a doctor who has a file on our kids, a doctor who wants to see them for check-ups. I can quit referring to old Facebook posts to check on their previous weight. I can ditch some of my excessive notes from every illness ever- because now their doctor has that info. I can ask questions and get advice on what to expect, what to watch out for, how to keep my kids safe and healthy- information specifically for my child, not generated by parental desperation, academic websites and parenting books! Her information comes from medical school in Germany, residency in New York, experience in a public hospital here in Puerto, plus her own practice here. It is a much, much wider range of experience and education than most doctors around here. (Not to mention her credentials are much, much better than mine; I don’t even have aspirations for being a doctor, guys! I just want to be healthy and informed.)

And that reputation for not giving (useless) medication? Perhaps it’s frustrating for people who believe you always need medicine, but that’s not us. For us, it’s a miracle to find a doctor here in Puerto Escondido that doesn’t want to inject a patient with antibiotics every time they cough. “It’s an infection,” they tell you, as if infection were a synonym for bacterial-problem-requiring-antibiotics. Or else it’s something like, “When they have a fever they do need antibiotics.” Really? So, the flu now requires antibiotics? Mosquito-borne illnesses, too? Give me a break, doctors. Even when they don’t give antibiotics around here, they always give you some kind of medicine to buy. Of course, if you go to one of those doctors that works in a pharmacy (which costs about a tenth of what a non-pharmacy doctor charges), they pretty much have to sell you some kind of medicine. But even when we took Lucia to a different pediatrician, he still prescribed us some symptom-relieving medicine for her virus (which I didn’t give her because he didn’t resolve my questions about it, and because I’m a mean, mean Mommy). But our pediatrician has the same philosophy that I do about medicine: You don’t need medicine that’s not going to help. Revolutionary, right?

Before finding Dr. Anja, we also had the medical establishment* here telling us that my healthy, in-the-normal-weight-range daughter is underweight and malnourished. I think they told us that because Lucia’s tall and thin now, and thus out of the very limited “healthy” range for Body Mass Index here in Mexico. I mean, they were working with limited information, bless their little hearts. They certainly couldn’t check her growth over time, since they didn’t keep files on her. By using those same limited standards, she would have been considered overweight as a baby, and they probably would have advised me to breastfeed her less or some other such insanity. I suppose the plus side of not having well visits for her as a baby here was the lack of opportunity for them to tell me she was too fat.

By the way, I did not resort to violence, thank you, and I didn’t even laugh in their face at the word malnourished applied to my healthy, often voracious eater. Both times I nodded politely and left as quickly as possible, before they could suggest I feed her chips or something to fatten her up. Yes, that is plausible; a doctor told me I needed to eat more sweets because my blood sugar was a bit low during pregnancy. If doctors prescribe candy to pregnant women, then why not chips and donuts to “malnourished” children? Sigh. The saddest thing is that these 2 different doctors didn’t recommend anything at all for Lucia. They told us she’s underweight with no suggestion as to how to remedy the supposed problem (not that I would’ve listened, but that’s beside the point).

But all that is in the past! Now we have our doctor. And did I mention that my kids like going to the doctor now? Lucia’s always excited to go there. “Are we going to my doctor? The one with the toys?” she asks. You guessed it, Dr. Anja has a waiting room with toys and books and puzzles! There are colorful things hanging from her walls. There’s a giant stuffed animal in the exam room that Lucia likes to hold during asthma treatments. Her walls are painted and her space is inviting. As an added bonus, there’s always soap for hand washing available (you can’t say that about every health center, unfortunately). We haven’t been to any other medical place with this kind of kid-friendly (or even just friendly) environment.

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The waiting room- You wish you had this doctor, too, don’t you?

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There are even more toys than what you can see in this picture.

Even if she had an ugly, boring office, though, her awesome manner with the kids would still make up for it. The first time we took Lucia there was the first time she wasn’t scared of a doctor. Our doctor knows how to get kids to take a breath before they understand what taking a breath means. She is friendly and talks to them in a respectful way, but on kid-level. She tries to be as noninvasive as possible while doing her job, not making them sit still for more time than they have to, distracting them with toys while she does some things. Of course, I’m sure it also just helps that she’s not trying to give every kid shots of antibiotics every visit.

Dr. Anja explains things to us, the parents, as well. She wants us to understand and be part of our child’s health and care, instead of assuming that we’re completely ignorant about all things health-related and that we need to be protected from ourselves.

She is also trying to reach out and make her adopted community a better place. She now has a bus she uses to take her important services to smaller towns, places where they might never see a pediatrician otherwise. (read more about it here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pediatric-mobile-clinic-in-mexico#/ ) She is also interested in maternal health and promoting more options and information about pregnancy and birth, which is another desperately needed service down here. (What’s that? You guys can sense the future collaboration happening between us? Here’s hoping!)

Being from the U.S., of course it makes me feel at ease knowing that our doctor is familiar with best practices and protocol on an international scale. It’s nice to be able to talk about health issues in my native tongue, too. But it’s not her being foreign and trilingual, or her having experience abroad, that makes her our ideal pediatrician. There are great doctors around here who are from here; for example, my gynecologist is home-grown on the Oaxacan coast, and he’s brilliant and ideal for me, too (someday I’ll write a gushing post about him). Likewise, you can find plenty of doctors in the U.S. who are just as willing as most doctors here to give you antibiotics for your virus. I’m sure Europe also has its share of doctors who think all patients are idiots because they didn’t go to medical school. So it’s definitely not her being foreign. It’s her attitude, her way of doing things, combined with her knowledge, that make her the perfect pediatrician for us.

So amen again for the peace of mind that comes from having a great doctor available. Now we just need to find a good general practitioner for us grown-ups, so the whole family can get sick whenever we want, without the stress of relying on Google and tea to cure us. Meanwhile, y’all who don’t live in Puerto can hope you find your own Dr. Anja. Good luck!

 

*I’m sure there are plenty of good doctors around here. I’m not saying other docs are all awful, but we’ve had some unpleasant consultas, and I am saying that the other doctors that we’ve visited are not a good fit for us. And, okay, I am talking bad about the many, many doctors everywhere who don’t want you to ask questions. They are bad doctors if they don’t want the patient involved in his/her own care, in my humble opinion. For more examples of the madness, you can read about my fight with my insurance company doctor during my pregnancy here: https://exiletomexico.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/me-versus-the-insurance-company-doctors-a-saga/

Toto, We’re Not in Kentucky Anymore

31 Jan

You know you’re not in Kentucky anymore when you wake up to find your coffeemaker colonized by some tiny species of ant. It had been ant-free the night before, and, as usual, I’d put in the water and coffee so I could press the button and go back to bed while my magical elixir brewed itself (oh happy day, this electricity thing!). Alas, dead ants were swimming in my coffee. Live ants were swarming the machine. Ants were struggling to survive in the water part in the back. It was just another day in Puerto Escondido. These things just didn’t happen to me in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lots of other havoc and mini-disasters did happen in Kentucky, though (like when I moved into an apartment with fleas. Bleck!) There’s no perfect place, just like there’s no perfect relationship, no perfect person. Here, I don’t worry about tornadoes every time it storms (and it rarely even storms), which is a great relief. There are no watches and warnings to keep updated on, no tornado sirens to fuel a panic attack. Instead, however, I keep abreast of the hurricane forecast from May to November (the rainy season). Earthquakes are also more frequent here than in my hometown, and don’t even talk to me about the possibility of tsunamis (terrifying!).

Mostly I love the two-season system (rainy and dry), although I miss the leaves changing in the fall. I miss the excitement of taking the plastic off of my windows in the spring (cheap insulation), but you don’t have to get excited about a warmish day when you haven’t been bummed out and trapped inside for 3 or 4 months.

What’s funny, though, is how some countries’ seasonal status quo becomes the dominant, normalized thing worldwide, even when it’s not the slightest bit relevant. Take snow on Christmas as an example. Pretty much every single image about Christmas shows snow or snowflakes or Santa in his winter outfit or whatever. Yet snow is only even possible in half of the world, since the other half is in the hemisphere where it’s summer in December. Then there are all the other places without those kinds of seasons- like here. Whenever things like spring come up in my classroom activities I have to not only translate it but also describe what it actually means, because the four seasons mean diddly squat to my students. Needless to say, it’s never going to snow here for Christmas. There are no chimneys, either, so I guess Santa just has to break in. Perhaps that’s why so few people get excited about Christmas around here.

It got me to thinking about all the things that are and will be so different for my kids growing up here, different from how things were for me in Kentucky. Not just seasonal things, but cultural and political things, like the lack of emergency vehicles. The only time we hear sirens is when some religious pilgrim group has taken charge of an ambulance and is using it to parade through the town.

I knew my kids were living a totally different reality when I rode a wild-ish ride at a fair with a 7 year old. Not only are there no official rules about how tall you have to be to ride rides, there is essentially no regard for safety (which, you know, tends to be more fun, until someone gets seriously injured). We were on this ride pictured below and the apparently teenaged boys controlling the ride are jumping up onto the ride and manually spinning us around so we go faster. It was fantastically fun, and it would never, ever, ever happen in Louisville, Kentucky. If it did there’d be a big public outcry and possibly lawsuits and everything would get shut down after the first time it happened.

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I rode this ride with a 7 year old who was not at all impressed.

Or there’s the way people in Kentucky assume that we must live out in the country (we don’t!). Perhaps it’s because all the animals in our “farm animals” book roam around our neighborhood (except pigs). Really, different neighbors boast sheep, goats, tons of chickens, and now a couple cows, in addition to the mean old dogs. And yet we live right behind the biggest public university in town, inside what’s more or less a small city.

Of course, it doesn’t help convince people we live in a city when I tell them about the lack of sidewalks, and the dirt road we live on. And yes, I hate that Lucia can’t just go outside to the sidewalk to practice on her roller skates or her bike. I hate that using a stroller is an extreme sport. It’s not like that in all neighborhoods in Puerto; lots of areas have at least paved roads if not sidewalks, but it is part of our family’s reality.

Then there’s much more stuff that’s neither good nor bad, just different from how I grew up. Like not leaving the house without mosquito repellant, but shoes being optional. Yes, I know, there’s that image of us Kentucky folks with no shoes, and indeed, I spent summers running around barefoot sometimes. But you can’t go inside ANYWHERE without shoes in Louisville. Here, it’s no problem if your flip flop blows out or your heel comes unglued from the heat or you just didn’t feel like fighting with the kid to get their shoes on. You can go to restaurants, supermarkets, just about any damn where without shoes and nobody cares.

Here, we check our shoes for scorpions before we put them on. We take showers with cold water (so much better for your skin!). Fresh coconut is a routine part of our diet. There’s no fast food but there are lots of street vendors with bicycle carts to sell you all kinds of junk food. There are so many differences that seem so normal to me now, three and a half years since our move. I’m looking forward to comparing notes with my kids when they’re older- their childhood versus mine. Assuming, that is, that we don’t get blown away by any hurricanes or devoured by ants before then!

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Ice cream carts like these even make it to the most remote neighborhoods, to the beach, wherever! All kinds of junk food vendors LOVE to post up outside of schools, of course.

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These kinds of carts are the common (and cool, in my humble opinion). 

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Homemade street food can include healthy options like fruit, jicama, popcorn, or super fried (and yummy) crap like chicharrines or pork rinds

Duct Tape & Therapy Techniques To the Rescue

10 Jan

It was all fun and games until water burst forth from the wall. Our household improvements and  reorganizing was going swimmingly, brilliantly even, in the few days since we’d been back from Juquila on my winter vacation. I’d gone through three years worth of kid clothes and organized the sales/giveaway clothes, plus reorganized the kid chest of drawers. I did laundry and put away all the clean clothes. I reorganized all the toys. I finished cleaning out my closet (I’d mostly gotten it done over a 3 day weekend but there was one little section left). Conan put up new shelves in the kid room and the kitchen. He did a ton of cleaning. We bought thrilling new gadgets, such as a napkin holder. It was feeling like a sensational vacation.

 

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Behold! A napkin holder! On our new kitchen table!!!!! We’ve moved so far beyond our piece of plywood on saw horses….

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My new spice rack!

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Okay, so I haven’t gotten to the kid books yet. But the kid toys are organized by type of toy, whether you can tell by the picture or not. It’s a miracle!

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New kitchen shelves and a new faucet to replace the leaky one!

We were a cheery and energetic bunch. It really was how I wanted to spend my vacation- at least part of it. For one thing, it felt like claiming my space, making this house even more into a home. Conan and I desperately needed the sanity from more organization. The constant clutter from not having a place for everything was driving us crazy, even though we’re not exactly super organized types.

 

Khalil was the other motivating factor. He is suddenly not a little baby- he’s a giant and active baby who can’t be contained to a small space in the living room. It was totally unsafe for him anywhere else in the house, which was frustrating for everyone. So once I reorganized and he was suddenly able to go into the kid room and play with all the big toys, it changed his whole outlook. He was ecstatic, and we were pleased as punch to watch him crawl and semi-walk around and play like the 10 month old he is. It’s so satisfying to see the toys getting used at age-appropriate times. For example, Khalil can play with all the shape shifter things and the blocks because they’re all accessible to him now. Lucia can play with her puzzles because they’re properly stored where she has to be supervised to play them so we don’t lose half the pieces. It’s earth-shatteringly wonderful, even if it may not sound like it to you (in which case you must not be the parent of small children- you don’t have an existence based around total family chaos!).

 

It was my second to last night of vacation, and most of our projects were completed when Conan started drilling to put up the last new kitchen shelf. He dropped the f-bomb, which he doesn’t do nearly as often or as easily as I do. I rushed over to see a little fountain raining down out of the wall. Yikes. “How can I help?” I asked, calm because there’s always something to do in the midst of an emergency. “Hold here,” he said, and I put my fingers over the hole in the wall (only partially effective) while Conan turned off the water.

 

Once the flooding of our house was safely averted, the black rain cloud of doom came out. I asked Conan what we’d need to do to fix it. “Bust open the concrete wall and change the pipe,” he said. Immediately, tears welled up in my eyes. My doom cloud of worst-case-scenario hovered over me. Panic squeezed my chest. I envisioned the last little bit of my Christmas bonus money, the money we were using on home repairs and some upcoming needed dentistry, going to this disaster instead. I imagined that it would send us into more debt. I lamented that all of this fabulous, life-improving repair and organization we’d done was all for naught, that this instant of miscalculated drilling had ruined everything. Not that I blamed Conan; it was the fault of bad luck, miserly fate, etc. Fault or no, though, it felt like the end of the freaking world.

 

Because I’ve now had many years of practice with these end-of-the-world moments, and thus far the world has yet to come to an end, I managed to refrain from real crying. Bless my little heart, I was even able to tell myself that yes, it felt like the worst thing ever, but it really wasn’t. It wasn’t even the worst thing this month! Plus it wasn’t even certain that all the horrible consequences that I could imagine would come to fruition from this. Thank you very much, these three decades of having a therapist for a mother is totally paying off. I finally took advantage and continued breathing. The world continued to revolve on its axis, and continues to this very day, believe it or not.

 

But welcome to Oaxaca, where two different plumbers have stood us up for days on end (and those are the recommended plumbers!). Despite this, thanks to Conan’s craftiness, we’ve had water this whole time. Even that first night, we just let the water spray out into Khalil’s plastic bathtub so we could take showers quickly (always a necessity in my tropical paradise) and then Conan turned the water off again. The next day, Conan knocked out part of the wall. But it wasn’t as much of the wall as I had imagined. Then he rigged up a fix for the pipe until a plumber deigns to visit us. And it’s the dry season, so we’ve got some time before we need to fix our wall. It definitely doesn’t negate the wonders of our other home improvements and the joy that they continue to bring to our whole family.

 

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The original quick fix for drilling into the pipe. Crafty and stylish.

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Getting even craftier as the days go by without a reliable plumber. Welcome to Oaxaca!

 

The duct tape that Conan used to fix the pipe gets the gold star award for most useful thing on the planet, by the way (brought down from Kentucky by my mom- way to go, Mama! Everyone here is jealous of my duct tape). It has not only saved the day in our renovations, but it is also my go-to fix for nearly everything. I’ve used it to cover holes in our window screens, like the hole some stray cat made trying to get at an empty can of tuna. I use it to make these cheap cloth boxes more durable and less likely to be eaten by moths and ants. I use it to put Lucia’s name on her lunchbox and other school stuff. I use it to hold my cell phone together- my oft-dropped, two-year-old, cell phone, the one I used as a flashlight at night for the year and a half we were without electricity. Now when I drop it or a child throws it to the ground, the battery doesn’t come out. And it looks cool (according to me)! We all knew duct tape was useful, but this tape with multicolored designs on it is the bee’s knees, for sure. And now we are using it to tape up the hole in our piping. It’s the most stylish house-flood-prevention ever!

 

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My too-cool-for-school cloth boxes, remade with cardboard and rockin duct tape

Thus, I’m continuing to bask in the glory of an organized and clean house. I feel all smug and satisfied every time I walk in the door, like a cat that’s just presented you with the innards of his recent kill. When I told my students that I spent 5 days of vacation binge cleaning my house and that it was fantastic, they all just kind of looked at me in disbelief. Indeed, 20 year old me would never have believed it possible, either.

 

I’m exceedingly proud of Conan and myself for getting all this done with two mini-hurricane children under foot. But I’m also still patting myself on the back about not having a major breakdown over this plumbing disaster. It was like my little rational mind made a nice cup of chamomile tea for my little emotional mind in the midst of disappointment and panic, and it was a lovely little tear-free moment for everyone. I wouldn’t exactly call it wisdom, but it’s close enough for me. So thanks again, Mama, for all these years of free therapy, and the duct tape to boot.

My First Quince Años

13 Dec

I had always thought I might barf from disgust if I went to a quince años, but this one was unavoidable. A quince años is a birthday party for a fifteen year old girl, and it’s a really, really huge deal. It’s sort of like an old fashioned “coming out” party- you know, coming out into society, being presented to the world as marriage material- mixed with being princess for a day, mixed with enough ceremony to be its own pagan ritual almost. It’s long, it’s intense, and parts of it are precisely the melodramatic patriarchal moments I envisioned. But I not only refrained from throwing up, parts of it also made me tear up (What can I say? I’m sensitive. Don’t take me to the movies.)

On one hand, I emphatically and voraciously love the idea of celebrating a girl’s coming into womanhood, and a boy’s coming into manhood, for that matter. It’s a crucial, trying, and beautiful part of our lives and we need family and the rest of our close community to stand by us, to teach us, to bring us into the fold. It’s something that’s seriously lacking about US culture (and many other cultures these days). So I love this idea of officially saying goodbye to childhood and it being this giant celebration.

On the other hand, I hate the idea of presenting a girl as marriage material, as if she were a thing being put on offer. Not that it’s exactly saying, “cool, go get married tomorrow,” and definitely not, “you’re ready for sex now” (this is a Catholic country, after all). But that is where it comes from.

According to Wikipedia (not the best source in the world, but I was curious what the interwebs had to say about it), “Quinceañeras originated from Aztec culture around 500 BC. At age fifteen boys became warriors and girls were viewed as mothers of future warriors, marking the age in which a girl became a woman.” While we don’t have Aztec warriors running around, it’s not at all uncommon for teenage girls to become mothers, or to “get married” in the unofficial way of going to live with their boyfriend. Here, if you run off to live at your boyfriends house (called robbing you, which also makes me want to vomit), you’re as good as married as far as society sees it. I certainly don’t think it’s morally wrong or any of that crap. The “problem” of teen pregnancy, for me, is not that you’re a teen who’s sexually active, or even that you’re not “grown up enough” to be a mother (who is?). For me the only problem is that it’s likely to drastically limit your options and your independence and mobility in life, and you are potentially more likely to get trapped in an abusive or otherwise awful relationship.  Becoming a mom in your 20s or 30s has a similar effect, you’ve just had a little more time to maybe get your act (and finances) together. But enough of that diatribe.

Wikipedia goes on to say that with the changes over time, the quinceañera is now a party for girls who “are honored for having maintained their virginity up to this point in their lives.” Ick. It’s 2015 and we’re still all about girls’ virginity? Enough said- you can see why I was hesitant about this whole quinceaños thing.

Down here, I think it’s also acknowledged that it’s the biggest celebration for them that they’ll ever get in their lives. Girls dream about it the way that some girls dream about their weddings. In a way, it’s cooler than a wedding, because it’s just about you. You’re not waiting around for Prince Charming or Mr. Perfect or whomever for your big day. Lots of girls know they might not get a big wedding (or any wedding at all, since when you move in with someone people say that you’re married), so if your family has enough money to give you a quince años party, this is as good as it gets.

Which brings me to my other drama with it: Part of me hates the idea that this is your crowing moment in life. I mean, if somebody told me that life at 15 was as good as it was going to get, I would have been fairly likely to go ahead and slit my wrists. Thank goodness, I wasn’t buying that bill of goods, and my life is leaps and bounds more enjoyable now than when I was 15.

Regardless, this type of celebration is definitely not anything anyone could have talked me into at 15. No, siree. I would have preferred more of a walking-over-hot-coals / vision-quest (preferably with drugs) / let’s-just-sit-around-and-drink-wine-with-my-womenfolk (and plot to change the world while laughing hysterically) kind of coming of age when I was 15 years old. You couldn’t have paid me to act out my goodbye to dolls and get lifted into the air numerous times by 8 teenage boys.

Not everybody gets a quinceaños, even if they haven’t shacked up with someone by then. It’s too outrageously expensive for many folks. But let me tell you about how this one went before I get distracted with more social commentary.

First, everyone got fed: barbacoa, which is like slow-cooked meat in a sauce that’s nothing like barbeque. Some waiting around, and then the elaborate, hours-long ceremony begins. There’s a crowning ceremony that the grandmothers do where they put a tiara on her. There’s a lot of dancing with the special boys called chambelanes. I especially liked one dance where they each bow and give her a rose, she bows and graciously accepts before tossing it aside carelessly for another boys’ rose. There’s a changing of the shoes where her cousin takes off her Chuck Taylors and puts some high heels on her. (I also loved that she wore this crazy princess dress with some Converse for most of the night.) There’s a weird doll dance where they give her her last doll. There was a thing with her dancing in front of a mirror. There were fireworks and confetti galore. A waltz with different family members, similar to the wedding waltz. I loved that at the end, she came back in a mini-skirt and did some fun dancing with one of the boys. And I loved the cake at the end, because her mama makes the best cakes.

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a princess in all respects

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part of the doll ceremony

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ceremonial dance with her chambelanes, the boys who dance with her

 

And I really did almost cry a couple of times. It was sweet and touching to see this lovely girls’ parents publicly acknowledge that their baby isn’t a little girl anymore, even though she’ll always be their baby. The father of the non-bride shed a couple tears during his speech. The quinceañera balled on her mama’s shoulder during their dance. And in this case especially, I know just how much her fabulous mama worked to give this to her daughter. She stayed up all night making the fifteen cakes. She made ALL of the recuerdos by hand- fake flower arrangements made out of mostly recycled material, dolls with green dresses like the one her daughter was wearing, the dolls encased in glass (did I mention the parents are glass makers?). I can’t imagine all the lost sleep and the debt creation that went into this party.

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Handmade table decorations that people take home as souvenirs

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Fifteen cakes, made by her mama the night before (the best 3 leches cakes ever)

No matter what I would have wanted or not wanted,  I think it was worth it for everyone concerned. Even though the fifteen year old is still a fifteen year old, and had an angsty, pained, and/or self-conscious look on her face half the time- that’s par for the course when you’re 15, even when you’re getting something you desperately wanted. You guys know I’m already planning Lucia’s alternate version to welcome her to womanhood when the time comes. I’m crossing my fingers she won’t want princess dresses and dances with dolls, but no matter what I’ll shed the same bittersweet tears as these parents.

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Me and my future 15 year old, all dressed up

 

 

Kentucky State Fair versus November Fiestas in Puerto

8 Nov

I started to feel sad about not being able to go to the jazz festival in neighboring Mazunte next weekend, but then I remembered I don’t even like jazz. I realized that really I just miss fairs and festivals. My heart aches with longing every year that I miss WorldFest, my city’s giant festival of cultures. And especially now that I have kids, I miss the Kentucky State Fair, with all its silly attractions.

The Kentucky State Fair is a serious family tradition with my mama. And it’s that way for a reason; it’s awesome. I mean, you can watch baby chicks hatch! Pet pot-bellied piglets! See border collie performances! Talk to the giant Freddy the Farmer puppet/statue/whatever you call him! See acrobats! Watch people dive into ridiculously small amounts of water! Eat gross fried food and corn on the cob! Ride a roller coaster and make out on the Ferris Wheel (okay, so it’s been a lot of years since I’ve done that, and this is not part of my mama’s tradition- but what’s wrong with including this on my list of things I miss?) Marvel over rows of livestock that secretly all look the same to you! Sample the fudge and buy roasted pecans! Hurry through the quilt exposition to humor interested family members! Dawdle in the photo expo because there are surprising amounts of moving images to see! Count the endless streams of mullets, all day and all night! Walk and point and ooh and aah from morning till after nightfall!

There’s a lot to miss, obviously. But all is not lost here in my tropical paradise. This year we are taking advantage of the Festival of November. Last year was the first year we lived here for the Festival, but I was too knee-deep in pregnancy and full-time-job exhaustion to attend much of anything, especially since so many things start in the late evening. But this year exhaustion be damned! Grumpy tired kids be damned! We’ll be arranging longer nap times and going out- some, anyway.

We went to the our first festival event last night. It was supposed to be a coffee/tostada/peanut exposition followed by a concert. I’m not sure who organized the expo but they forgot to include the coffee, tostadas and peanuts. Oops. And okay, so we left at 9ish when the concert was about to start because the baby was practically begging to be put to bed. But we had fun, dammit!

Really it was just the same sort of carnaval-esque business that always gets set up at city hall for events. But it doesn’t really get old, especially when you’re a three year old. Lucia was in hog heaven, between all the food and rides, and enjoying it all with my co-worker’s little boy who just turned five. Thanks to Darian, Lucia was suddenly fearless, even on the fast-moving little Ferris Wheel which she cried on when she’d rode it with Papi a few months ago. They “drove” a Batman car and a semi truck, and jumped around in that bouncy-house thing. We nixed the bumper cars, although I have every intention of returning sans children to drive them myself. There’s also a real adult ride among the maybe 12 total rides- a circular one where you stand up and it spins you around and tilts you up high. There are definite possibilities there for a grown up date night!

Lucia and her friend drive their first semi truck.

Lucia and her friend drive their first semi truck.

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Of course the other main attraction is the food galore (as I mentioned, though, no promised peanuts, coffee, or tostadas.) There’s all the typical street food for Oaxaca: tacos first and foremost- a soft tortilla filled with your choice of beef, chorizo, tripa, pork al pastor, you know, the usual. Don’t forget the classic requisite Oaxaca food, the tlayuda. Think of it like a giant (whole-meal-sized) semi-hard taco with black beans, Oaxaca cheese called quesillo, shredded cabbage. a smearing of some pork fat product similar to lard, salsa, and an optional meat. There are other classics from the Oaxaca region, and then there are things that almost make it look like home. There’s pizza and cotton candy, for example. There’s corn on the cob, although here it’s served with mayonnaise, queso fresco (texture like crumbled parmesan but not as distinctive in flavor), lime and chile powder. There’s ice cream, although nieves are really more like snow cones served in an ice cream cone. There are churros and their fried bread cousins, donuts- called donas, sorta like chocolate milk is called chocomil, last syllable pronounced meal more than mil from milk). I have to say, too, that the donuts in Oaxaca are actually way yummier than donuts in the US (sorry, guys, but it’s true- they took your food and greatly improved it). No one could go hungry at any event like this, that’s for sure.

half of a tlayuda

For a space that’s perhaps not-quite-a-city-block long, there’s a lot going on! Besides the rides, the food, and the stage set up for the concert (with like 2 rows of bleachers), there are also some carnival-style games, like that one where you fish for some plastic thing and win a prize. It’s not bad for our quiet little coastal town. Besides, who needs the State Fair when I already live in a neighborhood with goats, sheep, cows, chickens, and turkeys running around every day of the week. (And we’re not even in a rural area!) Take that, Kentucky festivals! We’re rocking it down here this year!

Other events we’ll be attending include- contemporary Mexican cinema, a mezcal festival, a physical activity fair, some kind of gymnastics events, and a promising final concert on the beach! Look out, Puerto, here we come!

For a full calendar of events:

http://oaxacamio.com/puertoescondido/noticias-y-eventos/item/578-fiestas-de-noviembre-2015-del-1-al-29-de-noviembre-puerto-escondido-oaxaca.html