September 21, 2010


Lately I have been reading a ton of expat blogs. I have seen such evidence of brave women who have followed their husbands to Mexico, mainly because of immigration problems and I am just amazed at them, truly amazed.

I don't feel brave. I feel kind of like a weird-o since I have chosen to be here. Lately I have kind of been wishing to pack it all up and move back to Georgia, husband or not. I mean, I figure he has his visa, he can come visit. I don't know, even after living here for so long I still have days where I just want to ram my car into whichever bus, truck, vehicle du jour that has cut me off at the moment. I find myself cursing everybody who looks at me the wrong way and especially the ones who can't understand me because of my accent.

Once a co-worker who'd lived in Paraguay and had been married to a man from there told me: "Once you've lived there (Mexico, Paraguay, etc.) you're never happy anywhere." Talk about a depressing statement. But sometimes it feels true. I know that when I go back for a visit, eventually (its been three years since i did), I will feel totally backwards and out of place for part of the visit. And I know that a lot of the time I feel so much anger here I don't even know where I had it stored. I get depressed when I think about my niece and nephew I have seen only once or twice, or never. I feel sad to be so far away from my family. I have grandparents that I will probably never see again in this is depressing. My mom is really the only one in my family who comes to dad has never been here where I live.

But this is the life I have chosen. Today it feels so gloomy to say that.

May 20, 2010


"Don't you miss your home? Don't you miss the States?" I get this question often. I mean, I have been living in Mexico for most of my adult life. Its funny because I do miss family obviously and friends back home. I also miss some things about home, like libraries and nicely kept public parks with amazing playgrounds for kids and getting great deals on clothes. Yes, there are things I miss and enjoy when I go back. I think when I am there I could eat every meal at chick-fil-a. But strangely enough when I am home, I feel foreign for at least half the time. I feel like people are so very rude, when I know they are acting totally normal. I go to a grocery store or department store and when I walk past someone I always say excuse me because it's what I do here and I'm shocked when they say nothing or go "mmmm-hmmm". It bothers me when people don't say hello to me personally at a get-together or party. The collective hello is considered rude here. I feel like a social outcast....akward a lot of the time. I find myself second guessing the way I shake hands or greet people, I always lean in to kiss the cheek and sometimes crash into people who think I wanted a hug. It's just weird. If a friend asks me to lunch, I forget how short it will be.
I guess something in me has shifted after living in Mexico so many years.

Windblown Woes

There are advantages to living in a concrete block house. One advantage is a cooler home during hot weather without using an air conditioner. And since we live in a very sunny, low humidity climate, we tend to stay cooler inside downstairs. A disadvantage to having a concrete house in a very sunny climate, is that when the sun beats down on the upstairs walls and roof all day long, even when nightfall comes and the temperature drops considerably, the upstairs rooms feel twenty degrees hotter than outside. Now combine that with a husband who cannot stand even a tiny bit of a breeze blowing on him at night because it makes him literally get a cold and you have one roasted American. I used to think it was an exaggeration, really, I didn't believe him until I saw him in air conditioning. He got the sniffles, stuffy head, and pretty much the whole gambit of cold symptoms.

Over my time here, I have realized many Mexicans have the same problem. I guess when you grow up without air conditioning and sleeping with the windows shut and all covered under blankets, you might have a bad reaction when you change that habit. There is a tendency here for mothers to completely bundle their babies even in hot weather. They won't let a breeze touch them or even unwrap a sweating baby. Obviously not all mothers do this. My friends, who are also moms, tend to do the opposite and we have all received a tongue-lashing for it from our mother-in-laws and little old ladies on the street. Beware of carrying a baby in only a onesie with no shoes or socks, even if it's 80 degrees outside.

I remember going to the beach when Alex was six weeks old. We were in a thatched roof hut-type restaurant that had giant ceiling fans. My mother, husband, mother-in-law and I were all dripping sweat because it was 100 degrees in the shade. Anyway, there was my Alex, dressed in a tiny little t-shirt and nothing else, chill-axing in the breeze from the fans. My mother-in-law looked at me and in a stern voice said, "Tápalo!". I stared back at her. Tápalo means cover him. I was like, um no I'm not going to cover my baby in this heat. When I didn't obey, she came over and covered him up. I uncovered him, then she covered him again. I uncovered him, she covered him again. This went on a while until she gave up. She had the best of intentions. She didn't want him to get sick. At the time though, it made me pretty mad.

Now, I grew up in Georgia. It is about 100% humidity there and gets very very hot in the summer. We had air conditioning but because it was so expensive, my parents tried as much as possible to turn it off. At night they would put box fans in front of our beds with a sheet cothespinned to the fan and to our beds. We called them wind-tunnels and we couldn't sleep without them. I would invite my friends over to spend the night and most of them would turn me down, they said it was too hot in my house. Needless to say, I was used to air blowing on me most of the time. And when we did use the air-conditioning, it was heavenly.

So, in my opinion, I think the whole air-blowing phenomenon could maybe be bypassed by not over-bundling babies and small children. This in not an original idea by any means. I have friends who grew up here walking barefoot in their homes; another no-no since most homes have tile floors which stay pretty cool. They didn't overdress in heat and they seldom got sick as children from what I understand. I am trying to do the same thing with my boys. I get a little interference as you can probably imagine but I'm pretty persistent. So far, so good. I mean they get colds (a normal part of childhood) but they don't seem to resent a breeze like their dad.

So, that just leaves me. I guess I will continue to roast until the rainy season.

Buenas Nachas

When I was a language learner I made a million mistakes. Wait, I still make a ton of mistakes. I speak at least half the time in Spanish everyday. My husband and I communicate mainly in Spanish and most of the people I am around only speak Spanish as well. I definitely make mistakes. In our circle of friends and community, I get made fun of regularly. I try to take it with grace and sometimes I fight back by speaking English in a broken accent, like many of our friends sound when they try to speak English. But it normally doesn't bother me. I don't mind because the attitude of most Mexicans toward people trying to learn their language is so kind and patient and helpful that after all that patience, they are entitled to poke fun just a little.

Over the past twelve years though, I have heard some funny mistakes. I came to Mexico with a short-term mission program called Spearhead. We lived with Mexican families and learned Spanish through immersion. When I arrived I had already minored in the language but some of my teammates had very little experience speaking Spanish. One girl, who was my roommate at the time, tried to pray for God to guide us on his path and instead asked him to take us on his bus: Señor, llevanos en tu camion (instead of camino). Another friend was trying to tell someone that the Bible was God's truth and instead said: "La Biblia es la verdura de Dios," which means the Bible is God's vegetable. That same girl also accidentally asked a bus driver to pull his pants down when she meant to ask him to stop the bus at the her stop, "Se bajan en panteones" she wanted to say. She really said, "Se baja el pantalon." Another girl, who I didn't know, but had only heard of, was asked to share in her church. She stood up and looked at the pastor and said, "Estoy embarazada", which means "I'm pregnant". She had obviously wanted to say, "I'm embarrassed." Then she proceeded to say, "Y es tu culpa" to the pastor, which means: "And it's your fault!" Oops! One guy told me about his roommate's gaffe. He had just arrived at his host family's house and he wanted to say goodnight, which is "Buenas Noches". As his host mother walked up the steps to go to her bedroom he yelled out, "Buenas Nachas." This means nice butt.

May 19, 2010


Since I am raising my two preschool age boys in a Spanish-speaking country, I am their main source of English. Basically they get English from me, educational shows, childrens' shows and movies. This I use to my advantage in lots of ways. For example, I hate the word fart. I think it is a gross-sounding word. My sons have always said toot since they were old enough to know what that was, and since they are boys that means since they started speaking. Once on a visit to my brother's house in the States, Alex, my older son, asked for a bedtime story that just happened to be about farts. Well, during the whole story my brother could NOT figure out why he wasn't laughing. He kept reading the book and staring at Alex like he was a little slow or had no sense of humor. That's when I leaned over and whispered to him to replace the word fart with toot. He did and Alex about fell on the floor he was laughing so hard.

I have also tried to keep the insults to a minimum by at least not giving them ammunition for name-callng. For a long time they called each other cacahuate (peanut) since I guess they couldn't find a good insult in English. They now know words like dumb and stupid although they don't often use them because they don't hear anybody using words like that. Let me rephrase that: I try not to let them hear me when I say words I wouldn't want them repeating. When Alex was a toddler I remember yelling at another driver. I called the guy stupid and then stopped short because I realized that was a word Alex had never heard before. He noticed the silence and began repeating words he thought I had said. "Toopid, coopid, soopid", he went on all the way home. He never quite got it though, and since Baby Einstein was all he watched at the time, it took him a while to learn that specific word.

Sometimes my boys make up their own words. Just recently I walked into the kitchen while they were eating breakfast and heard them saying, "I'm going to fork you!" and sword fighting with their forks. That's a new one. Also Alex has recently been saying "Holy Foxes", when something suprises him. I think he must have heard that one from something he watched.

I realize that someday their vocabulary will contain all the crass insults and words kids learn in school that parents wish they didn't. I am not into censorship or over-protecting my sons, I just figure as long as I'm the one teaching, I may as well teach things worth saying for now. Sometimes I slip up. The other day Alex was very angry about something and said, "It's just freakin'. You are freakin', Mommy." Oops.

buy buy....bye!

When I first lived in Mexico I stayed with different Mexican families. This was pivotal to my language and culture learning and I will be forever grateful to those families for showing so much patience and love to me. But after some time in my last host family's tiny apartment, in which I shared a room with a three year old, I decided I could do without the deliciously prepared meals and "convivencia" and rented a room with another American girl in the home of three Mexican sisters. We couldn't have been more different but we really enjoyed being together. They made fun of our broken Spanish and we laughed so much together that pants were peed and drinks were snorted out of noses. We became each others' family.

During the year I lived with them I noticed lots of contrasts between them (sisters), and us (the other American girl and me). We would visit the grocery store weekly and buy a ton of stuff we were probably never going to be able to consume on our own. They, on the other hand, would visit the tiendita on a daily basis, buying fresh bread or fruits and other things they planned to use that day. The fridge was full of our food but held little of theirs. When it was trash day, we normally threw out a few big bags of garbage while they would throw out a small plastic bag or two. I began to notice how we would also tend to grab a handful of napkins, while they would only take one at a time. In fact, pretty much everything thing we did was in larger quantities. We used more soap to wash dishes, more laundry detergent to wash clothes, more water to shower, etc.

Now these girls were not poor. The house had been purchased by their parents so they could go to college in the city and have their own place to live rent-free. But they had learned to use less and waste little. They didn't shop as a hobby or a pasttime. They shopped when they needed something.

I can't say that I am totally like them these days but I did learn a lot about being more responsible with what I have. I wash dishes like a Mexican: take a bowl, add a bit of dish soap and water and dip the sponge in to scrub the dishes. It uses way less soap. I try to reuse things or just buy less to start with. I even use one napkin at a time, which if you are eating a molote (fried stuffed taco with salsa and cream dripping off it) is not an easy task. Now, when I go back to the States for a visit, I am overwhelmed by how much stuff there is and how much is wasted. I walk into a Target, for example, and all of a sudden I want to buy so many random things I definitely don't need or even have space for. It's like a hypnosis comes over me. It says "buy buy buy" in the voice of Guido's friend in Life is Beautiful (dormo, dormo dormo). I'm really kind of glad to be removed from that. Yes consumerism exists here; we are neighbors after all. But people are also more frugal because there are less resources and therefore needs and wants are very well defined. I like it. My husband would tell you I am a total consumer and buy way too much. My mom would say I buy nothing. So, I guess you could say I'm smack in the middle.

May 18, 2010

If the fish stink. . .

I live in Mexico. I married a Mexican man and have been here for over a decade. What's interesting is, though I've adopted much of the culture and become so much a mixture of what is Mexican and American, there are still some things that give me a bit of culture stress (used to be called shock but I guess that word is not politically correct anymore). One example of this is the contrast between people on the street and people in their cars. It reminds me of Jekyll and Hyde. The ones on the street are excessively friendly and helpful. The ones in their cars, well not so much. It's like they're in a video game winning points for cutting people off, flipping people off and getting to every traffic light in first place.

This, I think, will never stop bothering me. But some things are more vague and just harder to explain. They make me feel uncomfortable but I don't always notice why. Take for example our two new pet fish. They stink. They're in fish bowls that get dirty five minutes after they were cleaned and they smell pretty awful. So yesterday my husband looked at them, looked at my two sons and said, "These fish stink, I'm gonna dump them in the toilet." Now, since this bothered me in a way I couldn't express completely at the moment, I said nothing and waited for my sons' reaction. They said, "Ok Papi." (Dramatic Pause)

Now, I am not your typical pet-loving American. Let me rephrase that. I like dogs and think they are great but I don't think I would let one sleep in my bed or have his own recliner in my living room. Anyway, I am definitely not an animal rights activist. But, with that being said, I was really shocked by the reaction my kids had toward their fish. And I wondered, did they have that reaction because of the way they've seen animals treated here, or because their dad said it or is it some sort of disposable mentality they have toward animals, and if so why? And one thing that has bothered me but has been hard to explain somehow is the way I have seen pets treated here in general. I mean, one thing is our American over-pampering of pets; pet spas, pet therapists, pet designer food, clothes and on and on. Those things strike me as frivolous. But on the other end of the spectrum, why have a pet if you don't plan to give it what it needs? I am purposefully leaving out details of the things I've seen. If you have lived here you know and I don't want to make responsible pet owners look bad. Also I think this speaks about taking the responsbility to follow through with something you started and that isn't so much cultural as it is personal. And, like I said, there are all kinds of pet owners, as much in the U.S. as in Mexico. Not everybody is mistreating their pets. And just so you know, my husband would never flush a dog.
In the end the fish didn't get flushed but I was called exagerada for objecting to the original plan. What do you think?