Tag Archives: travel

A New Round of Culture-Induced Confusion

2 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IMG_0431

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

IMG_0470

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

 

 

A Flawless Foray into the Big City

17 Mar

 

Perhaps both children vomiting all over themselves in the car doesn’t sound like an auspicious beginning to an utterly delightful outing. Obviously, then, you’ve never voyaged upon the seven-plus hours of winding, two-lane “highway” between Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca City. You have no idea how bad it could have been.

Because Conan was scheduled to work on Saturday and Sunday, I originally decided I would go up in the public vans on Friday night. The last time we made this trek, when Khalil was two months old, we’d gone in a van at night and everyone had survived. Conan slept through it all that time (while I was covered in children, not sleeping), so I was sure I could do it alone. Apparently, however, I underestimated the chances of my kids waking up to vomit. So just imagine! I have been in the public vans plenty with puking children (mostly not my children), and let me tell you, half the time that driver doesn’t even slow down. It could have been so, so ugly.

But it wasn’t! Because Conan got someone to work for him on Sunday and we have a car that actually does car-like things, such as take you places. The miracles abound! So there we were, over four years in to living here, finally in our very own private transportation for this billionth trip to Oaxaca. We got baby vomit on our very own car seats at last!!!

Additionally in the “dodging bullets- aka winning” section of events, I narrowly avoided meeting a long-last family member of Conan’s when he realized we were in their neighborhood in Oaxaca City. Don’t get me wrong; meeting new in-laws is normally a rollercoaster I can ride. However, at midnight, when your eyes feel like they’re glued semi-shut and your mouth is dry like 3 day old tortillas and you’ve been in a car for 8 hours and you’re drowsy on Dramamine and your children still reek of vomit and darling, these relatives are not even expecting us– that’s not even a rollercoaster, it’s just a train wreck tale in the making.

So we continued on to our dear friends’ house, where they were totally expecting sleepy, confused, slightly smelly guests at midnight. We are so lucky to have adoring friends-turned-family who graciously accept us and our pukey children at any hour of the night with open arms and smiles. We are so ridiculously privileged to live in Oaxaca, where guests are synonymous with royalty. Our hosts greeted us lovingly, chatted for a few minutes, and left us to rest in their comfy bed. These folks are the reason I always rule out doing our bureaucratic business in Mexico City. Even as I washed vomit out of car seats the next day, I thought, “Airplanes are fun, but there’s no Argelia and Magaly in Mexico City. Totally not worth it.”

IMG-20170311-WA0000[1]

When we asked Lucia later what she liked the best about the trip, she replied, “When we ate the broccoli at Arge’s house.” Since we eat broccoli once a week at our house, and I cooked the broccoli like I do at home regularly, I have no idea why this was wondrous for her. Children are a mysterious species. Apparently Oaxaca City made a serious impression on her this time, though, because she nonchalantly told my mother-in-law later that she’s planning to move to Oaxaca. She refrained from specifying a date, so I can only speculate about her intentions.

My favorite part of the trip, in contrast, was when we did something novel. I liked it when we went to an actual park with more than three trees, and with a gorgeous view of the valley that is Oaxaca City. I loved the swings hanging from trees, swings made out of slats of wood. I loved our easy feast of quesadillas, cucumber, and watermelon.

I loved that the non-parent-people in our group didn’t get mad or upset when we didn’t do the two mile hike that we originally mentioned (ummm that was never, ever going to come to fruition with the little people). I loved that when my about-to-turn-two-year-old resolutely and rapidly took off his diaper and shook his two year old penis at the sky before peeing, all the other families thought it was funny and endearing. Nobody called the police or child protective services on my child and his rebelliously naked butt. (Granted, it was temporary nudity, but still.)

I loved loved loved fulfilling my new self-imposed obligation to seize all interesting opportunities, to try all the new things. (I’d like to thank the current political climate and brilliant author Shonda Rhimes!) It helps that our friends are so open-spirited, too. “What’s that?” I asked when I saw the zipline, “And how much does it cost?” Instantly, Argelia was already grabbing me by the elbow and leading me to the action. Magaly agreed to be the fearless distraction expert for the little ones. Arge volunteered to be our fearless leader and slide herself over the cliff first, since she’d done it before somewhere else. She wasn’t actually fearless, though; it took a little coaxing to get her to push herself out into the abyss. Even when you’ve decided to be fearless, that shit just creeps back up on you. I had to hold my breath and close my eyes, too, to convince myself. It was, in fact, really fun, and I’ll absolutely be doing it again the next chance I get!

Here we go:

 IMG_20170226_152438[1]

IMG_20170226_153145[1]

You can just barely see Arge zipping across there.

To top off a perfectly fabulous day, we finished things off by drinking beers (those of us who drink) and (gasp) playing cards! More of my favorite things!!!! Can life get any better? I suspect not.

While playing cards, we discussed the fact that this kind of fun doesn’t happen among women in small towns. Argelia is certainly not a small town girl in spirit. She’s petite but packed with a giant personality that couldn’t really fit into her tiny mountain town. Now Argelia plays cards and drinks beer, and can even play a little pool, but only thanks to all these years in Oaxaca City and Magaly’s wonderful influence and big-city girl privilege. Magaly is from Mexico City originally. I knows she’s from a big city because she knows how to do all the things the girls from small towns almost never learn. Magaly knows how to play pool. She knows how to play cards. She knows how to drive a car. She knows how to drive a motorcycle. She knows how to ride a bicycle. She likes to drink beer for fun. She was allowed to have all kinds of fun in life. I’d bet money that she knows how to play a musical instrument, too, although I forgot to ask her. Granted, it’s not that all of those things are expressly forbidden to girls in small towns. They just tend to not happen, if you want to put it in apolitical terms.

The next day was dedicated to bureaucracy and travel (aka destined for disaster). And yet it was nowhere near as disastrous as it has been in the past. I didn’t spend hours crying and agonizing over how to “forge” my own signature, for starters. Our friends whisked my mischievous two year old away to have fun outside of the consular office. The (woman) security guard was ridiculously nice, telling me that I did, indeed, have time to hurry and guzzle a coffee downstairs, just when my caffeine downer threatened to knock me out right there in the back row of hard plastic chairs. Once our turn came, it turned out that we had successfully brought the right-sized photo and all the other correct paperwork. There were no excessive questions, not even dirty looks. When the in-charge person asked about one document that looked slightly dodgy, and I shrugged and affirmed that that’s precisely how it came from the dodgy organization known as my insurance company, she accepted it without further ado. It was, by far, the least stressful passport situation we’ve dealt with thus far, considering our ridiculous number of visits and renewals and such for this multi-nationality family.

The adults in our group had started having mini-meltdowns  from hunger by the time we were finished with our obligations, but we made it to a restaurant before any violence broke out. We forgot the childrens’ balloons that Arge and Magaly bought them, but there was only a small panic attack on Lucia’s part, and we hoped that some other kids found them later.

For the trip home, I got smart and got the Dramamine for Kids. Khalil vomited his dose about 10 seconds after taking it, which was totally best case scenario! I had zero doubts about re-dosing him, plus the puke was only on his pajamas and Arge’s floor, allowing for relatively easy clean-up. Another win for our trip! Additionally, nobody puked in the car. Our car delivered us to our door without breaking down or even making new, worrisome noises (thank you, Conan, for being the fearless driver)! A good time was had by all!

May all our future outings, and yours, be as optimal as this one!

Visitors’ Views

15 Feb

Finally, oh finally, we got our yearly visitors! First my stepmom, Karen, came- her first solo trek since my dad passed away, which made it a whole ‘nuther kind of new. Then my mom and her partner Dee arrived, this time with Dee’s son Andy, for his very first escape from Gringolandia.

There were many wondrous moments brought on by these visits, which I may or may not share with you in some future blog post. For now I will share with you some astute observations from my fantastic, fabulous family.

Okay, I will also tell you that Karen and I got to have grown-up time and took fantastically fun photos :

And that my mama and I destroyed Conan and Andy in spades!! (No pics, sorry.) Now on to our next portion, observations from all my glorious visitors:

 

“Desexualized” Swimming

While Zicatela beach is world-famous for its giant waves for surfing, it is not where anyone wants to take their children to swim. There are two other sections of beach with much calmer waters- one, Puerto Angelito, being the most preferred. (We had our annual all-family-mixer there again, complete with oysters just pulled from the sea, as usual. I got out of control and bought three kinds of cake so we could celebrate everyone’s birthday this year.)

In general around here, the beach is not spring break in Florida. There are not gobs of young women laying out in bikinis. Yes, bikinis are popular beachwear here, for folks with all sizes of bodies. Yes, some people sunbathe. But particularly at the swimming beach, people aren’t hanging out trying to look sexy. They’re just swimming. Or eating. Or having a beer. Or playing in the sand with their kids. Some people wear bikinis, some don’t. Many people don’t even wear official swimming gear. Lots of people, even folks who live here, don’t own a real bathing suit. Plus you get some folks stopping by on their way somewhere else (especially pilgrims going to or from their visit with the Virgin of Juquila) who weren’t really prepared to go to the beach. So there are people in jeans and t-shirts. There are people in other thrown-together swimwear. Nobody cares what other people are wearing or doing, as seen below.

16425758_10208281914393238_8741692092338185000_n

the swimming beach

16472893_203381853469914_3123678742937684197_n

A lotta people I love. Only my kids and I are in official swimwear. Check out the folks in the background, too.

16508304_10208281920753397_5824004524049054688_n

foreground: my monsters with their sweet cousin. background: NOT spring break in Palm City Beach or whatever it’s called

Use of Public Spaces

“People use all the public space. People are much more present in public.” These were some important observations from Andy. “You can even lie down on the floor of the airport and nobody even looks at you,” he said.

People are constantly out in the street- on their way somewhere, chatting in the neighborhood, watering the garden, sitting on the stoop of some business to share a beer (well, men only on this one). Here it doesn’t matter if there are no sidewalks- people walk anyway, because that’s how most of us get around, at least some of the time. Thanks to there being fewer cars and there being a small corner store on every 3rd corner of residential areas, there’s always somewhere to walk to.

Pertinent to that, ideas about the public and private are radically different here. The public space is where many social events happen, rather than in a private home. People that aren’t family don’t usually just drop by your house and come on in, either. They (usually) stay in whatever outside area or public-ish open area you have, even if it’s a woman visiting another woman. I almost cried tears of joy last year when a friend came and visited us and sat in my bedroom with me, so I could play with Lucia on the bed AND talk to her at the same time (not be excluded from the social, adult world despite my parenting responsibilities in the private, off-limits realm of my bedroom). I had missed that kind of assumed intimacy, that consensual sharing of privacy that we’re into in the US.

I think that using public space more and private space less has some advantages, especially in that you don’t need a fancy home to have social time. However, I think that it gives women an automatic disadvantage at social life outside of their family. Women (pretty much universally) have more domestic responsibilities than men, and tend to spend more time at home because of it. But when your home is not a place for socializing, that means that you can’t socially multitask, like I used to do so much of the time- inviting your friends over to chat and washing your dishes while you do so, for example. Changing the baby’s diaper with your girlfriends in the US means they accompany you to whatever room so you can keep talking. In my personal experience here, that’s not the case. So this public/private cultural difference is a funny juxtaposition because on one hand, everyone being out in public, using the public space is so much more open and accessible, but it’s also less intimate in a different kind of way.

(Apparently I was dying to elaborate on this observation!)

Nature Like We Don’t Get At Home

Seeing iguanas everywhere is STILL fun for me, years later, so you can imagine how cool it is for other folks. I still giggle everytime I’m teaching class and a big ones falls from a tree with a giant clunk. For some reason, though, nobody was very excited to go see crocodiles in a lagoon, once they discovered it wasn’t a behind-the-glass, zoo-like experience. What? You don’t want to see crocodiles next to you in a small paddle boat? (Don’t worry; I was planning on leaving the kids at home for that outing.)

I didn’t even tell Andy about the scorpions, like the one that was strolling all nonchalant across my kids’ bedroom floor one evening last week. Good thing my kids never sleep in their own beds, huh?

16473866_10208290456406783_6800881647283940608_n Pictured: Our major nature adventure to the botanical gardens (obviously, it’s dry season). Andy was not thrilled to learn about the local venomous snakes and potential mountain lions around, but he braved the hike anyway.

16427715_10208290455726766_1807321232749987649_n

The Dogs Run The Streets 

Dogs around here own the streets- both strays and many pets are out running around all day and night. (Pets here are not treated like spoiled children, for better or for worse.) There’s no animal control and not a lot of campaigns to help people spay and neuter, so lots of dogs end up sad and hungry. Karen, a hardcore champion of all animals, bought a bag of dog food to carry around to feed poor, starving stray dogs, like the ones she saw in the mostly-touristy beach areas her past couple of visits. She was pleasantly surprised, however, to find a street full of lazy, chunky mutts. The business owners and residents of the neighborhood where she stayed are economically well-off enough and animal-loving enough to make a little doggie paradise, in one neighborhood at least.

Never-ending Resourcefulness 

Despite very high rates of economic poverty, folks here are ingenious. They come up with solutions for everything, as I’ve raved about before. There aren’t many people asking for change on the street, but there is lots and lots of hustling to make a living, working in the street, selling candy, popcorn, toys, juice, or washing windows or whatever. Andy didn’t even see the door-to-door salespeople walking the dusty streets to sell furniture that they are carrying on their backs, and even so, people’s resourcefulness and perseverance made an impression on him.

No “Essential” Electrical Apparatus

Both Karen and Andy were taken aback by the lack of microwaves. “When you said you were warming up beans for the kids, and then you came out to get Khalil and ran back in yelling about your beans burning, I was kinda confused for a minute,” Andy joked. Karen thought her hotel’s kitchen area was well set up but was definitely missing a microwave and coffeemaker (another electrical appliance that is far from universal down here). A microwave is just not the kind of bare necessity that it is in the US. Mostly corner stores have them if they want to sell microwave popcorn and soup-cup Ramen noodles. My mother in law has one because she used to sell that stuff, although nowadays she only uses her microwave as a storage space for bread, or as an emergency cooking device if her stove runs out of gas and she doesn’t have the money then for a new propane tank.

Also missing in action here: toasters, clothes dryers (it is in the 80s or 90s everyday here, although even in cold and wet places dryers are not “a thing.”)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mexican toaster- aka comal – not my photo! from FeralKitchen.com

Go, go, go

Everywhere you go, people are walking, riding bicycles, riding scooters and motorcycles, riding ATVs, riding buses, taking shared cabs called colectivos, hailing taxis, and just generally getting around one way and another. Not everyone has a car, to say the least, but there are way more options for transport. Public transportation is more common and more user-friendly than any small city or large town I’ve ever been to in the states.

Andy asked, “How does a country that’s poorer than the United States make it easier for people to get around?” This is a question that everyone in the US should be asking themselves and then asking their community and their elected officials. This question, and so many others like it, also represents to me why travel abroad* is such an eye-opening, heart-reconstructing, mind-altering, life-metamorphasing experience: you shift your paradigms of both the normal and the possible. You shatter stereotypes. You see new things that don’t work for people and new things that do work for people. You question your home culture as much as the culture you’re visiting. It’s a win-win situation for the world and you.

Keep travelling, even if you can’t leave home! Keep loving, at home and abroad!

 

*I know not everyone can physically travel to another country. Having friendships with folks from a different country, reading foreign books, even watching many foreign movies has similarly altered my consciousness and my heart for the better. It’s a global world; take advantage!

visit-2

Attempts to capture the moment with my mama and these random small children I found on the street bwahahaha

Home is where the peanut butter is… or where the queso is…. or wherever the hell I left the apple core!

2 Jun
looking out over juquila

looking out over juquila

I read somewhere once that when you are bilingual enough, you actually become “nilingue,” an invented word meaning you don’t speak anything because you’re so back-and-forth and mixed-up between the two. That’s a little how I feel about home now- that no place is really home now, because part of me constantly is missing other parts of me. It’s like someone took an apple-slicer to my heart and it can never be made whole again. Which isn’t all bad (don’t tell me to be positive, Conan, just keep reading!), but it can be painful and confusing to say the least.
Like now. It’s official. I’m going home. Kinda sorta. I’m going to one of my homes. To my hometown, anyway. To live for a very short time, or to visit for a very long time. I’m going with my kid but not with my partner. For three months! I’m ecstatic and anxious and guilty and joyful, among other things.
I’m incredibly excited to see my family, of course. My parents will get to spend some time with their littlest grandbaby, and with me. Lucia and I will finally see family members we haven’t seen since she was a few weeks old.
I’m stoked to see my friends, especially after all these months of more or less zero social engagements. There’s lots of catching up and reconnecting to be done; for instance, my best friend has twins that I have yet to meet. I’m dreaming about riding my old bicycle. I’m even vaguely excited about driving a car again. I’m dying to see the new pedestrian bridge, to look out over my river, to show Lucia my favorite parks and places to walk. I’m pleased she’ll be using a car seat and she’ll be overjoyed to ride in a shopping cart again.
I can’t wait to peruse the dozens and dozens of cheeses in Valu Market (here there are only two kinds of cheese). I’m longing for a farmer’s market and all its “obscure” vegetables like eggplant or winter squash (here you can buy local, but with much less variety in veggies). My belly does cartwheels just thinking about the Ethiopian restaurant, or the avocado milkshake at Vietnam Kitchen, or the pesto pizza and beer cheese from Richo’s. And speaking of Richo’s and their astounding selection of beer, there are only 3 types of beer in my town, and I haven’t had a beer with my best friend in two years now, thanks to one or the other of us being pregnant or out of town. And I’m drooling over the mere idea of ginger and bourbon at The Back Door.
I mostly haven’t let myself think about these things, or lots of other things, for many months now. Even as I write about it, my excitement is tinged with bitterness and anger about leaving my partner behind. Part of me feels like I’m betraying the solidarity we established in moving to Mexico together when my country kicked him out. He doesn’t feel like that, but I do. I hate that our daughter won’t see her Papi for a quarter of a year, when she’s only been alive a year herself. I hate that I won’t see him for so long. I hate that I will have to go visit some of his friends, without him. I hate that we can’t share the joy that I’m going to feel for reconnecting with my town and my “people,” which is also his, after 10 years living there.
I’m going to miss some things about here, too. For those of you who have listened to me complain and be miserable and cry and giggle hysterically about being here, thank you for listening. But now that I’ve spent 10 months adapting and trying to appreciate everything I could possibly appreciate, I’ve gotten kind of comfortable here. I mean, Lucia and I say hi to people on our errands now. We chat with the folks at our favorite produce stand. There are many people I can smile warmly at and have pleasant small talk with. I know where to go for most things I need, even though there are no street names, even though people tell you how to get somewhere based on the name of the person who lives or has a business nearby. There are folks I play volleyball with (when it’s not raining) on the occasions I can get out of the house without Lucia. Our next door neighbor started a bar with two pool tables, so Conan and I have a quick and easy date spot. It’s gone from miserable to pleasantly comfortable, finally, finally. Now that I’m leaving for a while.
Is this town the best place on earth for me? No. I’m still dying to move to Puerto Escondido, and to visit Louisville. But finally I’m comfortable enough that I’m going to be in culture shock when I get back “home”. I’m going to miss the random horses and donkeys and chickens and (unleashed) dogs walking down the street. I’ll miss the smell of just-made handmade tortillas brought to my doorstep, the taste of café de olla with cinnamon. I’ll miss the lady that sells the best toasted pumpkin seeds. I’ll miss how every corner fruit and veggie stand has cilantro and epazote. I’ll miss the all the medicinal and edible herbs and flowers that are everywhere, in people’s makeshift potted gardens, or growing up amongst the weeds. I’ll miss being able to walk to all my errands. I’ll miss seeing all the women with baskets on their heads selling bread and other goodies. I’ll miss other, harder-to-define sights and sounds and feelings.
I’m going to be in withdrawal from the lovely folks in my family circle here, too. Conan and I have gotten closer in many ways since we moved here, seeing new sides of each other, learning how to have a decent fight with each other, having to depend more on each other. He has become an excellent father for Lucia and a perfectly imperfect partner for me. He will be the biggest part of my case of Mexico withdrawal, although luckily not the only part.
While I might not have a social life here, the good company in my household, and their support and laughter makes up for a lot. We live with several people, including his cousins Liliana and Noe. Plus Conan’s Aunt Meya stops in once or twice a day, and Arturo, Lucia’s Abuelo (grandfather) is here for a few days a month when he’s not working. All of these people adore Lucia and help a lot in taking care of her. They also make up most of my social support and fun. Even Aunt Meya’s coming by to “scold” us for something or the other on her way to run an errand has become a fun family joke. Fourteen year old Noe’s rapport with Conan, who constantly makes fun of him in a sweet, teasing way, is a guaranteed giggle for everyone pretty much daily. Liliana is a staple in my life, with her fantastically shameless pot belly (“Let your body take whatever form it wants!” is her now famous motto that we all use when we want to convince someone to eat more or to eat something “bad for you”). She’s got a knack for uncontrollable laughter that can be contagious for all of us.
And of course there’s Paulina, my baby’s Abuela (grandmother), who I think is the person who gave Lucia her love of dancing. Paulina, with her feminism that feels like a breath of fresh air in a burning jungle around here, is always nice to be around. We have a blast laughing about her extremist tactics for saving money, too. “Mejor dame el efectivo- Just give me the cash instead,” is one of her famous lines now- telling us she wants cash instead of a Christmas present, so she can save instead of us spending. Her other famous line is, “Esta guardado- it’s stored away” which is what happens when she finally does spend some money to buy something. Like when we first got here and Conan invested in some new frying pans because the ones she had were scraped-up, banged-up cancer-causing beasts. He brings home the new ones and she scolds him for buying them when she’s got 3 brand new ones. “Well where are they?” Conan asks. “They’re stored away,” she says, which is what she’ll repeat about a billion other things. She’s got clothes and shoes that people have given her that she’s had for years and never worn because she’s saving it for a special occasion. You can imagine how much we poke fun at her for all this. And all this family here pokes fun back at me, and takes care of me, and nourishes me. And I’m really going to miss them.
I am an expert at missing people, at getting attached to and nostalgic for people and places and food. I’ve lived and travelled in what seems like a boatload of places now, leaving pieces of my heart here and there, taking away what generous souls give to me- salsa recipes and Cork (southern Irish) slang and a thirst for terere, Paraguay-style yerba mate, for example, not to mention some outrageous stories. My life is much richer and more colorful thanks to some wonderful people and places, and truly it is a great privilege to miss them.
My past experience also means I’ve done this tricky readjustment thing several times now, so it’s about time I shaped up and quit being so torn up about it. Yes, this time is unique and different in some ways, but at the end of the day, no matter where I am, I am leaving behind people that I love. No matter where I am, it’s only partially “home.” This means that I have an exceptional opportunity to enjoy the best things from these multiple worlds. I hope it also means that Lucia will transition between her worlds with more grace and flexibility than what I have, that she’ll teach and inspire me to be better. So be patient with me, dear friends and family. I’ll be trying to enjoy what I’ve got and where I am while the moment lasts, to let go of the melancholy and appreciate that I am lucky enough to have multiple homes, to know so many fabulous people in multiple places. If the price for all of it is having a heart cut up into apple slices, then smear on some peanut butter and pass the queso, and I’ll enjoy it both ways.

abuelo and emmanueal, lucia's neighbor/big brother

Abuelo Arturo with Lucia and Emmanuel, a neighbor and Lucia’s adopted big brother

with abuela and aunt meya on our roof

Lucia with Abuela Paulina and her aunt Tia Meya (behind Lucia) on the roof top

new arrivals, conan and lucia with paulina

New arrivals Conan and Lucia with Paulina

paw-paw's visit to mexico

Paw-Paw’s visit to Mexico (Puerto Escondido)

leaving the US as a family

 

Our new family leaving the US, on the plane (Lucia’s head is all you can see of her)