Tag Archives: visit from family

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.


the swimming beach


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


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.


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.”)


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!


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

Presents and Presence

30 Nov

My mom and her fabulous partner, Dee, are here visiting us this week. They arrived like Santa Claus last Friday, overdressed for the heat, two big suitcases nearly full of stuff and things for us. Much of it was stuff to improve our lives that we can’t get here. They brought more of those foldable cloth boxes for storing stuff (along with colorful duct tape to cover them in so the crickets don’t eat holes in them!). Dee brought us all kinds of new solar toys- including a solar-powered battery recharger, and some beautiful “garden decorations” that light up in different colors at night, which we’ll use to decorate Lucia’s room. My mom brought some other cool and yet inexpensive stuff to decorate Lucia’s room, all part of my wicked plan to lure her into sleeping in her own room before this new baby is born. 

happy visiting!

happy visiting!

“Nonna bring me book?” Lucia asked before she went to the airport to pick them up. “Probably so,” I told her, laughing at how well my two year old knows her Nonna’s habits and joys already. And indeed, despite having just sent Lucia a new book in the mail, her Nonna still had another one in her suitcase, among the other toys and surprises for my little one. (And I love how my sweet kiddo gets excited about anything we call a present.)

They brought things from other people, like hand-me-down maternity clothes from my best friend, and used baby clothes and some Lucia-size clothes from a friend of my mom’s. My dad and stepmom sent me some maternity clothes, and tons of stuff for Lucia- clothes, Elmo underwear, shoes, and a monkey that uses velcro to strap onto her neck, which Lucia hasn’t let go of since.

Lucia and her monkey from Paw-Paw and Gamma

Lucia and her monkey from Paw-Paw and Gamma

They brought things we don’t actually need which are just for fun and pleasure- TV series on DVD for Conan, a giant box of nutritional yeast for me and Lucia (Lucia insists that pasta must have both parmesan cheese and nutritional yeast), natural peanut butter (yes, most of the things I wanted were food-related), a small Woodford Reserve for Conan (I doubt the bourbon will last until after I give birth), puppets for Lucia, and all kinds of other small delights.

It was definitely like Christmas already last Saturday, like Christmas always was at my house as a kid- you’d get new sheets and other things you needed, and it was just as exciting as the fun new toy or the skateboard you’d dreamed of.

And then to top it all off, when we’d already had more than enough presents, they swooped in and rescued us from a severe financial stress. Our car was getting flats like every other day, running off some sad wheels from ten years ago. We kept getting them patched or replacing them with another cheap used tire that would bust on us soon. Conan and Dee and my mom conspired and researched and surprised me on Thursday with four brand-new quality tires, totally relieving a giant stressor from our life- yet another huge gift on top of the plethora of gifts they’d brought!

All of this help- the presents, the meals out, the new tires- was nothing compared to the joy of having them here. Conan’s mom visiting from Juquila is about the only visitor we’ve had since our wedding in February, so a visit from the north was feeling very overdue. I was nervous about how it would work with my crappy work schedule. We pulled off as much visiting as we could in the hours of my lunch break and the couple hours between when I get off and when I fall over in bed from exhaustion at night. They’ve come over to our house some for homecooking, and they’ve bought us lots of meals out. They’ve hung out with Lucia and let Conan get some work done while I’m at work. They kept Lucia over night. Last weekend and now this one, too, they’ve shared their hotel room with us, so it’s been like having a special beach vacation away from home. A vacation with internet, electricity, a refrigerator, a pool, and most of all, really good company.

Dee and Conan have had lots of good talks and male bonding adventures since Dee arrived. Dee is also great with Lucia and a general pleasure to be around. And of course, my mom is my mama, who I’ve always been super close to and have missed horribly since I moved. The past few months, as some things have gotten more difficult in my life, she’s been awesome at keeping in touch with me by phone and by email almost daily, which helps tremendously. But there is nothing like having your mama in the same town as you, talking and chatting live and in person, eating a meal together, hugging.

Today is the last full day they will be here, and I’m kind of in denial about it. I don’t want to think about the goodbye, now or later. I don’t want to think of another Christmas I won’t see most of my family. I don’t want to think about giving birth and my mama not being there the same day. It won’t be too many months before their next visit, but it still stinks to have all my family so far away. It’s fabulous to have Conan’s wonderful family close, but it doesn’t replace mine by a long shot. Presence is more powerful and more rewarding than all of the presents combined- even our new tires, which we would’ve gotten eventually without them.

The best gift is their presence, and the memories I’ll hold onto in these coming months while we wait for the next visit- from them, from my dad and stepmom, and who knows who else. Second to that, though, is another material thing that my mama brought me. I don’t know how much money it cost, and it doesn’t have any concrete purpose like the duct tape or the DVDs. But symbolism has a powerful effect on our lives and can carry us through moments of loneliness, heartache, and worse. This is what she brought me:

circle of women

It is a circle of women- my womenfolk, my strength, my source, much of my joy in life. It is a representation of all who can’t be physically here with me in this moment- because of geography, or death- but who are always with me. It is a reminder of their presence in my life, which, short of their physical presence, is the best present I could dream of.