Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy New Year 2011 from Oaxaca: Prospero Ano Nuevo

This is a perfect, balmy day, clear with a light breeze, cool in the shadows, warm in the sun.  I am sitting in my room with the turquoise door open to the patio where the pomegranate trees are in blossom, an intense coral.  The fruit is ripening and in various stages of development.  The mature fruit is pure red/orange.  The immature fruit is avocado green with a blush of peach.

Magda is shaking out a rug, readying it for sale.  Josefina is in the kitchen preparing for the evening meal of homemade tamales.  They will be soft custard masa stuffed with bits of chicken and mole amarillo, tucked neatly into translucent tender mint green corn husks, and then steamed.  This is the traditional new year fiesta meal in Teotitlan del Valle.

A cock crows.  In the distance I hear the band — a drum roll, a horn announcing something special.  Zapotec, the indigenous tonal language spoken here, is exchanged between the women like a song.  Now, Rosalina brushes a broom across the patio.  They prepare for the new year.  It is also my birthday todayand with modest celebration, I will walk up the hill to get a shiatsu massage from my friend Annie, then raise a glass of mescal tonight in quiet tribute to a new year to come and the blessings of years past.

Happy new year to you all!  May your life be filled with the blessings of contentment, good health, intimate connection, and peace.  Each of us deserves nothing less.

Now, some photos to share:

Ixcel Guadalupe Chavez Santiago

Las Hijas de Ester y Rucio

Tapetes (rugs) de Galeria Fe y Lola

Spinning Wheel for Bobbins

Three Little Pigs

Plow Bulls in Agave Field

 

 

Want to Live in Mexico? Advice from a Wisecracker!

Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is a zany memoir by Mark Saunders (Fuze Publishing, LLC, McLean, VA, ISBN 978-0-9841412-8-9), who, with his wife Arlene Krasner, moved to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) shortly after falling in love with the place.  The book’s tag line is “Drop out.  Sell everything. Move to Mexico. Sounded like a good plan.”  Not!

Saunders’ writing is tongue-in-cheek witty, with a sprinkle of irreverent, brash, and self-deprecating thrown in for good measure.  Overall, it is an entertaining and fast read.  The book could be a primer for Baby Boomers on the eve of retirement who believe that relocating to Mexico is the answer to a less-than-adequate retirement income.   Saunders’ sardonic underlying message is a “don’t do what we did” warning to greenhorns who think they can move to Mexico on a wing and a prayer (or maybe in a 10-year old high-performance Audi Quattro) without adequate preparation (or an expert, specialized mechanic in tow).

Saunders’ memoir focuses on the couple’s experience moving from Portland, Oregon, to SMA, with their standard poodle and cat. (He’s originally from Sacramento, California, and she grew up in New York City.)  Wooed by blue skies and balmy days, bolstered by a vigorous ex-pat community, their story will resonate with anyone considering living anywhere in Mexico as an alternative to the northern part of North America.  Anecdotes and vignettes of mishaps, miscommunication, and missives fill the pages.

And, Saunders is unabashed while dissecting the realities of living in Mexico for uninitiated American and Canadian expats:  constant dust, barking dogs, lack of central heat and air, long queues to pay bills (which must be done in person) and at banks, past due utility bills and interrupted utility services, cars in need of repair, bodies in need of repair, the meaning of “manana,” and the ubiquitous language barrier.

Most importantly, Saunders raises important questions underlying the humorous pokes at himself, at “gringolandia” [a place where a lot of expats live in Mexico], and his situation.

Subtextual Questions — Self-examination BEFORE you move:

  • What are your primary reasons for the move?
  • What is your experience living in another culture?
  • How adaptable are you?
  • How dedicated will you be to learn or improve your Spanish?   How much patience do you have?
  • Do you need the same conveniences and lifestyle (food, entertainment, shopping, etc.) in Mexico as you had living in the U.S.?
  • Do you expect to live among English speakers?
  • How well can you negotiate through problems?
  • What special health care issues do you have that may require medical attention?

The book is sprinkled with Saunders’ own drawings and cartoons depicting daily gringo/a challenges and misadventures.  The ending is pure redemption  and I won’t give it away!  And remember, a sense of humor will take you a long way.

Here are my 9 Tips for Living in Mexico.

If you are an expat living in Mexico, will you share your advice with us for making the transition smoothly?  If you are a Mexican who wants to add your suggestions about ways to make the landing softer, please do so!

Soft Landing: Oaxaca, Mexico

The Continental flight from RDU to IAH to OAX was easy, fast, painless.  The plane left the gate in Raleigh-Durham at 2:30 p.m.(EDT) and arrived in Oaxaca at 8:30 p.m. (CDT).  I was welcomed into the arms of family cousin Uriel Santiago (you can find him on Facebook: Teotitlan Fruit Company [UriCorp]).  He managed to get my oversized bag stuffed with four months worth of clothing, shoes and workshop paraphernalia (LCD projector, tripod, camera lenses, writing notebooks, pens, external hard-drive, computer, iPad) into his tiny Chevy with room to spare.  Uri named his Facebook page after a Pablo Neruda poem.  In it, Uri says, “Neruda writes that ‘…and on the seventh day, God distributed the world, and South America was for the  United Fruit Company‘ [see link for poem]. Gabriel García Márquez also talks about that in his 100 años de soledad [100 Years of Solitude].”

Quite fitting, I thought, since my last post was about cultural sustainability and big agribusiness.  Zapotecs are quite good at poking sardonic fun at the disintegrating world around them as they continue to preserve culture through tight-knit communities organized and operated by self-governing, communitarian principles.  A great example for thriving and staying true to personal values, which is why I love it here.

This morning I was greeted by Federico and Dolores who had already been to the daily market.  The kitchen table was laden with huge chunks of fresh papaya, a delightful nopal cactus/tomato, onion, pepper salad, chapulines, rice, fresh steamed green beans and mushrooms,  queso fresco sautéed in olive oil with scallions, and tortillas.  I made a cup of my favorite morning beverage, that I call Choco-Cafe (Oaxaca chocolate mixed with coffee and a little sugar).

Now, it’s time to put the Oaxaca Photojournalism Workshop preparations aside (it begins this Friday evening), and take a walk in the campo (countryside) before we welcome Patricia this afternoon who will look at Federico’s extraordinary rugs he weaves with naturally dyed wool.

Cultural Continuity in Oaxaca: Survival Despite Globalization

http://wp.me/pRHvb-Ir

This post from CasitaColibri just landed in my inbox as I wait in the RDU airport to begin my “one-way” journey to Oaxaca today. It was refreshing to get my mind (and heart) centered on Oaxaca culture after having to repack (2x) my bags at the check-in counter because of extreme overweight (not me, my luggage)!  I forgot that the limit was 50 lbs.  Even for international.  Overweight fees are $200 and 3rd bag fees are $150.  Moving to Mexico for several months is not something I have done before.

Back to the important stuff:  So, the discussion focuses on the impact of external forces that influence a culture and it’s ability to change, adapt and survive. The Aztec and then Spanish conquests were only two of many in a long line of factors that create pressure that can cause a community to either disintegrate or evolve and strengthen in the process. Today, with a new Walmart under construction, with high unemployment, with the full court press of Monsanto to take over small family farms and replace indigenous corn with a genetically modified version, with the potential of fracking as a source of government revenue, there is still a strong local commitment to cultural continuity and voices speaking out against big business.

Thanks to Shannon Sheppard for bringing this to our attention.

Norma Hawthorne’s 9 Tips for Living in Mexico Successfully (Mas o Menos)

Norma Hawthorne’s 9 Tips for Living in Mexico Successfully (choose your own priority order):
  1. Speak the language. Learn to speak the language. Try to learn to speak the language. Keep trying.  Hire a tutor.  Take a class.  Don’t give up and expect Spanish-speakers to understand you!  Otherwise, you will stay isolated within the gringo community.
  2. Before driving to Mexico, sell your high-performance vehicle in the U.S. and buy something simple that Mexican mechanics know how to repair, like a Ford, a Nissan, or a Honda.  I recently sold my 10-year old Saab 900s and bought a 2003 Honda CRV in preparation for my Oaxaca move.
  3. Visit many times (at least three or four) for at least several weeks at a time before you make the commitment to even rent in a particular location.  Stay with friends.  Talk to people.  Get the “lay of the land.”  Don’t let the romantic notion of living in Mexico — where it is warm, friendly and inexpensive — turn your head too quickly.
  4. Rent, don’t buy or build immediately.  Start out with several weeks in the winter.  Then, come in the off-season – during the rains or in the hot and dusty months.  Know what you are getting into regarding the climate.   It’s not pure blue sky and balmy days year ‘round.
  5. Create a base of friends and a support system before you make the move.  Get connected with local cultural organizations or volunteer groups.  For example, expats gather at the Oaxaca Lending Library for educational infrastructure, connection, and doing good in the world of Oaxaca.
  6. Expand your multicultural lifestyle and friendship circles – get to know the locals to appreciate and share history, culture, wisdom.  Understand that you are a guest in someone else’s country.  Treat all with respect and kindness.
  7. Understand that cultural competency means accepting things the way they are rather than trying to change them or make things “better” (in our own image of what is right).  Mexicans know what is best for them in their country — they have been living this way for thousands of years.  There is a lot we can learn from them without trying to “fix” it to suit U.S. standards.
  8. Stay open to adventure, to change, to the unpredictability of what each day might bring, to opportunity and who you might meet, what unusual delicacy you might taste, an impromptu invitation.
  9. Relax and enjoy yourself.  Saving money should not be your primary motivation for moving to Mexico.  It should be to expand your cultural competency, improve your language skills, and to stretch yourself through exploration and discovery.

Want to add your tips in the Comment section?