Love Always Wins

Now that tourist season is over, our little town is quieter and visitors to the Children’s Shelter where we work are fewer.  That has given me some time to think about the many families and volunteers who visit us over the winter and to ask the question that others have asked me “Is it good for strangers to visit children who come from hard places?”.  Honestly, there are many answers to this question and as a disclaimer, let me say that this post is going to contain my opinion based on my experience.  That’s it.  My personal gut feeling.  Which I think is okay because….. it’s my blog!   It’s my story.  If you have a different opinion – well that’s okay too.

Grant and I brought our daughters to visit Manos de Amor for the first time in December of 2011.  We knew we couldn’t keep vacationing in beachfront resort Mexico without also engaging in dust covered back street Mexico.  So, we googled, we went shopping and we showed up at the door that would change our lives forever.

015.jpgI will never forget that day.  We had absolutely no shared language, but we played games and colored pictures and ate soup and wiped snotty noses and honestly, we didn’t consider if our presence in their home could be hurting these little ones, we just wanted to love them.  Perhaps our motivation was more to assuage our gringo guilt, but our love was genuine, and our laughter was shared.

Top: Me and Brayan  Bottom:  Rubi, Carlos, Grant & Fernanda

Since that time, I have read books and online articles and watched videos that tell me that short-term missions projects or visits can be harmful to those we think we are helping and as a member of the Steering Committee of Manos de Amor we discuss how to best invite guests into the home in a way that is safe.  I have read strong arguments and stats on both side of the issue.   But as I reflect on my personal experience and observation, it always comes down to one simple phrase:  Love always wins.  Showing love is always good and caring for the poor is always right.  That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be healthy boundaries, and if you come to visit us, we are going to give you a brochure with some guidelines we want you to follow.  Affection and attachment and giving of gifts can be confusing to children who come from backgrounds of abuse or neglect.  It would take more than this blog post to share all my views on HOW to do this well, but I want to assure you that you CAN make a difference with your once-a-year visit to our home.  I know because it happened to us!

That first day 8 years ago I met Brayan and Carlos and Fernando and Daniella and Rubi and Jackie.  This week, as in most weeks, I waved at Jackie on Facebook while looking at pictures of her little girl.  This morning I sat in church with Fernanda and Rubi and we shared gum and hugs and Rubi reminded me to bring her prize to English class tomorrow since she finished 5 lessons this week.  She was proud of herself.  Last week I ate Tacos Pastor with Brayan and Carlos and a small thing happened that day that prompted me to write this blog.

Brothers, Brayan and Carlos, 8 years later

The past few months whenever visitors have come and wanted pictures of the children, Carlos would hang back and when I prompted him to get in the picture he would say “No Karen.  No picture”.  He is a preteen and I respect that he is setting his own boundaries.  He doesn’t want to be in pictures with strangers.  I think that is fair and I told him that.  Even when I tried to take his picture he would say “No Karen.  No picture.”   Screenshot_20190602-161803_resized (002)But on Thursday, Carlos took my phone from me and asked for a selfie with me.  He applied some filters, opened my Facebook app and posted the picture with the caption, “Carlos.  Karen.  Friend” with a bunch of emojis of smiles and heart and thumbs up.  He looked happy in the picture. And it hit me really hard.  I have known Carlos for the better part of his life.  Longer than his dad was alive with him.  Far longer than his own mom knew him before she left.    What started as an afternoon visit from strangers turned into a selfie and a caption filled with love.  A friendship.

So, if you are wondering if it is a good thing to visit us next time you are in town …. YES.  It is.  Not to fix us but to serve us.  Not to give us stuff but to show us love.  To learn as much as you teach, receive as much as you give. To empower rather than enable, to respect rather than judge.  Your heart will be broken – that I guarantee.  But in the breaking, your love will grow deeper.  And if you’re lucky, you might just find yourself living on a dusty street in my neighborhood eating tacos and taking selfies with little Mexican kids.

It’s not that complicated.  Love always wins.

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For Everything, There is a Season

shutterstock_1298850127I have had many people tell me the main reason they couldn’t live in a southern location like Mexico is because they would miss the changing of the seasons.  I know what they mean.  The crocuses and tulips popping through the ground in spring after the many months of cold.  The hot days and nights of summer with vacations and BBQs and lake swims.  The reds and golds and oranges of fall leaves.  The new crisp air and the change of wardrobes from cutoff jeans to long jeans.  From flip flops to sneakers.  Everything pumpkin spice.  And then the inevitable sudden blast of that first snow.  The beautiful frosty trees and the not so welcome blizzards and wind chills and trapped at home snow days.  Life in Canada, especially in Saskatchewan, is defined by the change of the seasons and conversation about the weather.    Good and bad.  So much talk about the weather.

I have learned that here in Mexico there are season changes too – they are just more subtle and don’t look all that much different to the untrained eye of the tourist.  But after a couple of years around the calendar, I now recognize that it is time for the shift.  We are heading into rainy season and the signs are around us.

First is the temperature.  Last week, for the first time in a few months, I felt the trickle of sweat running down my back.   My hair screamed to be tied up on top of my head rather than resting on my skin.  We turned the air conditioner on in our bedroom to give us overnight relief as we slept.   It is getting hotter.  Here in Bucerias, the change in temperature is slight – only a couple degrees higher – but the humidity makes it all feel more uncomfortable.  There is less difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, so our cement houses just do not cool down.   We are fortunate that our house stays comfortably cool – I can’t imagine those families who live in home with no fans, with thick tarps for walls and roofs.

The dust.  Oh, the dust.  It has not rained since January – and that was only a few drops.  The last real rain was in November – 6 months of closed skies.  The unpaved roads spit out giant clouds of dust every time a vehicle rolls by.   The plants are gasping for air, their leaves completely choked by the fine dirt.  And yet, amazingly, flowers still bloom.  The bougainvileas who don’t love water all that much are in their prime now – thick with every color imaginable.  And the mangoes.  The mangoes are coming! My house has not fared as well.  With windows open for needed breezes, every surface is covered with a thin coat of the fine dust.  As fast as I remove it with my soft microfiber glove, it returns.

 

 

So much dust….

 

 

And yet…. new life….

Critters emerge.  First the ants.  A couple of weeks ago we sat down for our regular breakfast in the garden and saw a GIANT pile of dirt that had been pushed up through a crack in the pavement overnight.  As we looked closer, we saw hundreds – maybe thousands – of large ants running around the hill they had created.  Coming out from their underground palace.  Some say ants sense when rain is coming.  That they are getting ready to head indoors.  That will NOT be happening in this house my little friends!

toadWe also were visited by a large poisonous cane toad last week – probably looking for water after a long period of winter drought.   As per usual, puppy Nacho needed a 3:00 a.m. visit outside.  I haven’t decided if he really needs to go peepee every night, or if he is just too bored to sleep – I strongly suspect the latter.  But I staggered down the stairs and into the garage to let him out the front door.  I could see something in the stray cat’s food dish which sits in the garage and as I bent down and looked closer, I saw the dangerous cane toad.  Nacho sniffed at is as well which could have been deadly for him.  Cane toads are extremely poisonous and dogs who touch their skin can die within 20 minutes.   Being as it was 3:00 and my superhero protector was snoring deeply upstairs, I found a pail and covered the food dish, leaving it for a morning evacuation by someone other than me.    Unfortunately, when hubby went down in the morning to bravely save his family, the little poisonous darling had escaped and now I live in fear of whether he is long gone or whether he is waiting amongst the garage stuff to reappear.  We have moved all pet food and dishes inside to keep everyone safe, and I am wondering if that was raccoon cat’s plan all along – conquering the final frontier to move from the garage and into our home for good.

The most obvious telltale sign that seasons have changed is the absence of straw hats and palm tree shirts.  The tourists have left. Our town is quiet.  Many restaurants and shops have closed until October.  Our garage is full of unrented golf carts getting bright green makeovers in preparation for fall.   Soon Mexican tourists will begin to arrive on the beaches with their giant coolers and pulsing boom boxes.

accuweather.brightspotcdn.comThese are the signs that tell us that rainy season is almost here.  Hurricane season officially began this week.  There are 19 hurricanes predicted for the Pacific side of Mexico this season.  Living in a bay, we are mostly sheltered from such occurrences, but many of our neighboring communities are at risk.  As the dangers of the hurricanes pass us by, the winds and rains of the accompanying tropical storms will make themselves known.  The clouds have started to roll in.  It is almost time.  Time for the heavens to open and the pounding rains that come quickly and stop just as quickly.  The fun of watching little children dripping with sweat, running around enjoying the cooling waters on their faces.  The deep puddles for jumping in…. and getting stuck in.  The powerful thunderstorms and mesmerizing lightning shows over the ocean.

These are now my signs of the changing of the seasons.   As I think about why that matters, why people love to see the beginning of a new season, I realize that change always brings hope.   A new season means the possibility of a new dream, a new experience, a new start to a difficult chapter.  We are wired to look for crocuses and sunshine and rains.  To rid ourselves of dust and disappointment.  To start again.  So Happy Spring to you up north and Happy Rains to me and my neighbors here!  For everything….. it is time.

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
                                                                                          Ecc 3:1-8

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We’re in Business

It was exactly 43 months ago that we found a house to rent and started to move our belongings and our lives south.  It was 28 months ago that we signed the final papers to sell our house and our business and became official residents of Mexico.  Since that time, I have continued to work at a distance as a Sport Executive for a Provincial Sport Governing Body in Canada.  I work at my desk most mornings and I don’t think most of my colleagues have really missed me much.  We still talk via email and text and phone and What’s App and Facebook Messenger and Skype almost every day.  I attend meetings or events in Canada 4 times a year. I write a LOT of reports and E Transfer money around to athletes and coaches and volunteers.  The rest of my time is spent volunteering at the local Children’s shelter here in Bucerias – teaching English, serving on the Steering Committee, helping raise funds, and hanging out with really cute – but badly scarred – kids.  Our life here is full and we are loving every bit of it.  In between the work and volunteering, we walk with our crazy puppy on the beach, eat chicken tacos and explore our town on our bright blue golf cart.

But lately Grant has been itching to get back to some kind of work.  He too loves to volunteer with the children, and he can often be found driving truckloads of them to the various surrounding villages or relentlessly pushing them on the swing in the patio.  He has spent the last year working tirelessly to raise funds to help a little deaf boy receive a cochlear implant.  He too has been busy.  But a few months ago, an idea settled in his mind and he has been nurturing this idea through the bureaucracy that is required to create anything in this country.

The idea came to us because every time we are spinning around town in our golf cart, someone stops to ask us where we got it.  Many tourists in our community do not have vehicles and love the idea of having a simple and safe way to get to the restaurants and shops and grocery stores here in Bucerias and in the neighboring community of Nuevo Vallarta.  The cobblestone streets are not easy to walk on and let’s face it – holidays are an excuse to be a bit lazy.

And that is where the idea for Banderas Bay Carts came from.  We had already set up a corporation a few years ago in anticipation of someday building houses here.  How hard could it be to get the company up and running?  It was just a matter of finding some carts; opening a bank account and a Paypal account and a credit card merchant account; creating a logo and color scheme and mascot and getting some business cards and posters and signs printed; creating a website and a Facebook page, and an Instagram page and a Twitter account;  finding an online booking system and GPS tracking systems, securing liability and accident and theft insurance, and hanging out our shingle.  You can imagine that every one of those things came with problems.  Every single one of them.   So much red tape.  Weird regulations.  Some of it still isn’t working great.  And while Grant has always been self-employed, we have never been in the retail business and definitely not in the tourism business.  Basically, we have no clue what we are doing.  But we are doing it!  It took a trip to Texas to buy 6 carts, 3 or 4 trips into Vallarta to government offices, a trip to Tepic just to get a letter stating we didn’t need to go to Tepic, many trips to our bank and to our accountant, 2 or 3 hours on hold with Paypal, and countless conversations with our Insurance broker.  And don’t even talk about all the YouTube videos Grant has watched to learn how to fix those darn things.

 

 

But my stubborn hubby didn’t give up and after 2 weeks in business, tonight I pulled up the calendar and I see that we are SOLD OUT!  Rafael just called to rent a cart for tomorrow and the Banderas Bay Carts booking guy (that’s Grant – I’m the Social Media 20190301_084400_resized.jpgguy) had to tell him we have no carts available.    We have bookings into September.  We have an Art Gallery in town acting as an agent and they also have more bookings than they can handle.  It’s still a tiny business.  It’s not exactly going to change the world.  But for Kelly whose husband can’t walk very well, it has meant they can get out of their condo and enjoy the next month of their vacation.  It means families can take their children on real Mexican adventures in a new culture, seeing more than the fake Mexico of an all-inclusive resort.  It’s a service that is welcome here and that is good for us.  It means we can earn enough to allow us to continue to give freely to the little ones we have grown to love so deeply.  It means we can finance the life that we know we have been called to.  And it means that we too can continue to jump in our own cart with our shaggy puppy and be part of the fabric of this town.

And of course, we have ideas to make Banderas Bay Carts better for our customers.  Scavenger hunt maps, and Self-Guided Food Tours and Graffiti Hunts and Art Rides.  Adventures.  Family Fun.  It might mean more long trips to Texas to buy more carts.  More bureaucracy.  More aggravation.  More possibility to fail.  But that is what keeps life fresh and keeps old people young.

So check out Banderas Bay Carts and give us a call next time you’re in town – we’ll take you for a spin and if you’re lucky, we’ll rent you the vehicle to take you to your next great adventure!

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Christmas in Oaxaca

For most of us, Christmas is unbreakably tied to long-standing,  comfort-creating traditions.  Activities, foods, songs, people, decorations, even smells – we find comfort in these familiar symbols of childhood, family, fun and belonging.  Like no other time of the year, change is unwelcome.  We cling to sentimental reminders of the times we felt the most loved.

20181126_153938When you move to another country – a really different country – traditions change and that can be hard.  Over these past 3 years, I have tried to hold loose those things that no longer work here and to cling to what is truly the most important.   I have been willing to exchange cold air for hot breezes, crispy snow for soft sand, hash brown casserole for chilaquiles, Christmas carols for tuba banda music.  This year we put up our tree and covered it with the family heirloom decorations we have been hanging since our children were babies.  But everything else was different and it was fantastic!

Oaxaca-map.jpgIn early Fall, our youngest daughter Brett suggested we travel somewhere different for Christmas this year.  She was planning a 5-month trip through Mexico, and although she could easily fly to our home, she really wanted to show us a place she had grown to love.  Her boyfriend would be there and our oldest would fly down from Canada.  Oaxaca.  Let’s all meet in Oaxaca this year.  Every part of our Christmas tradition would be different, but we would be together and that is the tradition that means the most.

So we rented a great Airbnb in Oaxaca and came together for a week to embrace Oaxacan Christmas traditions.  It was amazing, and I want to share just a few things we experienced there.

Posadas (Parades)

I have never seen so many parades.  Every night, the streets would explode with brass bands, dancers in traditional costumes, paper mache giants, and so many people.  Some were religious pilgrimages heading to the giant churches in the plazas, others were celebrating Oaxacan foods like radishes and chocolate.  Seriously, there is a parade for chocolate!

 

Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes)

Since 1897, every year on December 23rd, over 100 contestants gather in the plaza (Zocalo) to compete in a radish carving contest.  Many thousands of people gather to see the elaborate masterpieces – and when we found out the line to get close was 3-4 hours long, we decided to watch from a distance.   The atmosphere was exciting – and of course it started with a parade!

 

Check out more photos of this crazy competition here

Navidad (Christmas)

In Mexico, Christmas Eve is a much bigger family celebration than Christmas Day.  Again, we headed to the main plaza and watched 3 or 4 different parades go by.  There were at least 7 different Santas greeting children near the massive Christmas tree and 4 or 5 Baby Jesus’ going by in the parades.  We ate tamales oozing with mole and drank giant glasses of steaming hot chocolate.  It was chilly, and it was cute to watch the little Mexican children wearing wooly toques and long scarves.

 

Although they are more often associated with Easter, I purchased traditional cascarones, hollowed out eggs stuffed with confetti, and broke them on the heads of all my family members – and of course I got one too.    It is supposed to bring us good luck but I’m pretty sure I just gave Meigan a headache!

Although I had given up on the idea of a Turkey dinner, I was excited when my daughter texted on Christmas day to say she had seen a sign advertising turkey at one of the street chicken stalls.  She would bring it home for dinner.  Yay – turkey after all.  But when it arrived, it looked more like the leg of a tough old dinosaur, and the sweet macaroni salad was not exactly mashed potatoes.  But we were together, and we laughed at the sad Christmas feast!

Fireworks

Sparklers and fizzlers and cannons.  So many fireworks and noise makers.  Everywhere.  All day and all night.  If you can’t beat ‘em you may as well join ‘em.  We are now officially part of the problem!

Food

Traditional Oaxacan food is outstanding – some say the best in all of Mexico.  Over 200 kinds of mole (chile sauce), including my favorite, the thick slightly bitter black chocolate mole.  Tlayudas – crispy blue corn tortillas slathered in lard and bean paste and other vegetable and meat toppings and grilled over hot coals.  Tamales – pockets of chicken and tomatoes and peppers wrapped in corn dough, steamed in corn husks or banana leaves.  Quesillo – the mild white string cheese that is pulled off the round balls as needed.  Chapulines – grasshoppers that are eaten crispy like peanuts or are used in sauces or even in ice cream!  I can’t say I loved that – the taste was okay, but no one needs tiny grasshopper legs stuck in their teeth!  Giant plates of meat – thin beef and pork marinated in orange chiles, and small round links of spicy chorizo.  Big mugs of hot chocolate made with either milk or water to drink, or the local favorite mezcal, a smoky version of tequila.   All of it so affordable.  We ate many times a day, at the local markets or small restaurants, with no guilt because of the low price and the thousands of steps we knew would wear it all off.

 

Family Time

Most importantly, we just spent time together.  We played our traditional game of Upwords (I won…woop woop).  We went exploring throughout the grand historical city, shopping for small artisan gifts for each other.  Oaxaca is famous for its black pottery and for its colorfully painted Alebrijes, those imaginary animals that come alive in the movie Coco.  Intricately embroidered blouses and handmade jewelry.  We came home with a bit of it all.

 

We headed out of the city as well.  Mont Albán is a cluster of archaeological ruins dated to 500 BC.  We walked over 18,000 steps and climbed 78 stories as we explored these pyramid-like structures.  Another day we headed into the mountains to visit Hierve el Agua, an area that contains stunning rock formations (petrified waterfalls) and mineral springs.   We climbed to the base of the formation to see the stunning view up close, but of course what goes down…..

 

The thing with travel is that when we let go of what is familiar and embrace the experience of another person in another place, our own traditions become less rigid, more fluid.  We can build new ones.  We can see things we never knew existed and taste flavors that change our outlook.  Turkey flooded with gravy gives way to turkey bathed in black mole.  A slab of bread becomes a flat corn tortilla, my morning caffeine comes from chocolate instead of coffee.  But like every other Christmas tradition, it comes with my husband at my side and my daughters nearby.  We have grown, we have changed, we have risked….  But still we say, from our family to yours,  Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad.  Happy New Year.  And most important of all,  Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!

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The Staycation Solution

One of the strangest things about moving to your favorite vacation spot is that, well, now it’s your home.   Can it still qualify as your favorite vacation spot?  Because generally vacation is the place you go to get away from home.   Dictionary.com says vacation is “an act or instance of vacating”.   But why would I want to vacate my favorite vacation spot?  It is all a bit confusing and this week we found the perfect solution – the STAYCATION.  I know that usually means you stay home, close the blinds and turn off the phone but for us it meant packing an overnight bag and heading 10 minutes down the road to our favorite resort.  And I found out that it is still my favorite piece of beach to relax on, but now it’s even better because it’s without the crappy things that most vacationers experience:

  • Day 1 Sunburn pain – we already have a suntan, so we did not get that overeager tourist sheen that I saw on most of the other guests
  • Pushy salesmen – oh to watch the light go out of the eyes of the timeshare guys, the beach vendors, the tour operators when I said, “No we live here – not interested”. They still tried but with no conviction – they knew they had lost before they began.  And the braid lady.  She knew darn well that no one actually wears those braids in their real life.
  • The whole travel experience – getting a taxi to the airport, fighting the lines at the airport, the rushed stripping down and redressing in the security line, the lost passport, the crunched knees in the tiny seats, the lost luggage….. no, we packed in under 5 minutes, jumped in the convertible and were at the resort in 10 minutes. Already rested before we began relaxing.
  • The stuff you forgot or just can’t take – you know that giant straw hat that doesn’t fit in the suitcase but looks really stupid at the airport? Threw it in the back seat.  And the pillow.  We didn’t bring ours, but we could have – because fat pillows can ruin a vacation.  And the coffee maker.  And some snacks.  A couple of bottles of wine because you know how much they charge for that at a 5-star resort.
  • The expensive meals and fake shows. When you’re on vacation in a new spot you feel the need to experience the ‘culture’ that the hotel offers.  But I can eat real Mexican food and watch actual Mexican dancers in my town any day of the week.  Which means I felt no need to spend $59.99 on fake Mexican night.   We listened to the music on our balcony while sipping our own cheap wine and watched the tourists dance like fools with those balloon hats.   Oh no, they’re actually singing YMCA now.

Instead, I got to enjoy the parts of my favorite vacation spot that I really needed this weekend  – the alone time walking the beach, the lack of responsibilities, the absence of deadlines.  The nice housekeeping lady making my bed and cleaning my toilet.  The restaurant chef making my omelet.  There was no dust, no dogs, no chickens.  For just a couple of days I felt like I was on vacation, even though I could almost see my home as I walked.  I read lots, watched some cable TV since I don’t have that at home, enjoyed a bubble bath, laughed with my hubby.  I vacated my regular routine and to me that is a true vacation.

And the day after tomorrow I’m getting in a taxi to the airport.  I’m going to fight the lines and the security and pray that my luggage arrives.  I’m going to be a tourist and explore the city of Oaxaca with my family.  And who knows, maybe I’ll find my new favorite vacation spot!

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A Letter to Amy

Cousin Amy is coming to visit for a few days and I’m not happy about it.   Before you call the Family Counseling Services on me, the reason I’m not happy is because we’re not going to be here for most of her visit.  We’re heading to Oaxaca to meet our children for Christmas which means Amy is going to be exploring our neighborhood on her own.  While her children are away with their Dad, she’s looking forward to some “Amy time”.  She’s a musician and I’m hoping she finds inspiration here.  And peace.  I hope she finds Christmas peace.

So I’ve been thinking about what Amy needs to know on her first visit to our town.  She’s going to be house sitting and puppy sitting and both of those things have secrets.

I thought maybe you’d want to read the list too – it will give you insight into our crazy life here.

The first – and maybe most important – thing you need to know is DON’T TALK TO THE TIMESHARE SALESMEN AT THE AIRPORT.  Oh that sounds easy enough, but they’re tricky.  They act helpful.  They say they will find you a ride to wherever you’re going.  But if you ignore this first rule, you will find yourself vacationing in this area for the next 20 years.  Which is not a bad thing…. But I doubt if it’s what you want so just keep walking until you are outside.  Then you can get a taxi – the guys outside with the taxi signs are legit and they will get you to our house quickly and safely.

OUR HOUSE

20181126_153904Our house is not grand but it’s comfortable.  You can pick whichever guest room you want – you can either have a garden view or a closet.  Not both.   Of course, the closet won’t have much room for your stuff – sometimes we have foster children from the local children’s shelter staying with us, so the closet is full of little shoes and backpacks and cute dresses.  Which reminds me – if you walk around your room barefoot there is a very good chance you will be experience the pain of stepping on a Barbie shoe.  It’s like the Lego thing but it hurts more because those Barbies only wear stilettos.  Sorry.  Also, those little hair elastics are everywhere.  If you glance under the bed (please don’t) you will find enough hair elastics (called ligas here) to hook a rug big enough for Buckingham Palace.

Be careful with the doors and locks and keys.  If you close the door to the garden while in it, you’ll be stuck out there until you are rescued.  (See my Story Outsmarted by a Cucaracha).  The front door and the garage door automatically lock – keep your keys with you always!

I will be leaving the windows open to keep the house from getting stuffy, but that means there will be dust from the dirt roads.  So. Much. Dust.  Just blow it off – you don’t have asthma right?  It is getting cooler at night so having the window open keeps the house cool.  It also will keep you awake as you listen to every chicken and dog congregate at around midnight for their all-nighters.   Which brings me to the neighborhood.

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD

It’s Christmas season, so you will hear extremely loud banda music, karaoke, DJs, laughter.  It’s a fun time – just go with it.   And the cannons.  Don’t panic when you hear what sounds like loud gunshots.  It’s probably not.  It’s probably the cannons that are kind of related to religious celebrations and kind of related to bratty kids in the neighborhood.  You will jump out of your skin every time, especially the ones at 5:30 am, but El Chapo is not outside.  You are safe.

OFogoncitosur neighborhood has everything you need for a few days.  Next door is the little tienda where you can buy all of the staples – bread, milk, coke and chips.  And tortillas.  Around the corner to the left is the fruit and veggie store, the fish store (with delicious ceviche to go), the taco shop (open in the evening – get 2 tacos de pollo, take one of the tortillas off the bottom so you now have 3 tacos, cover it all with veggies and beans and sauces from the topping bar – boom, 26 pesos, about $1.50), and the other taco shop (open at noon for fish and shrimp tacos and at night for tacos pastor, the meat on the spinning thingy – also less than $5).  There’s the chicken lady selling whole flattened grilled chickens, the Taco de Cabeza stand that sells tacos made of all things ‘head’, the guy with the rolling cart of delicious drinks made of pineapple and lemon and ginger and chia.  If you need a pinata or a giant bag of candy, there’s a shop for that.  Nails, hair, clothing, pirated DVDs – new or used – it’s all there.

 

 

20181210_091409If you walk another block and dare to cross the crazy highway (if it doesn’t work out, there’s a brand-new hospital right there on the corner) there’s another whole world of restaurants and galleries and shops more geared to the gringo tourists and year-round residents.  You can walk for days looking at cool buildings and amazing flowers and stop to sample every kind of food – there’s Italian, and Sushi, and Thai and Vegan and the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted and lots of Mexican.  After all that, if you’re still hungry before nodding off at night, just listen for the blaring song driving by around 10:30 – that’s the donut lady with a van full of every kind of donut, muffin, croissant and sweet bread you might need.  Who can’t love a place that does donut drive-bys every night!

(Don’t worry, I’ll leave a detailed map to share our favorite restaurants and other must-sees.)

CRITTERS

The good news is we haven’t seen a cucaracha (cockroach) in a long time and I’m pretty sure the mouse is dead.  We do have a small bright green lizard that lives in the garage, but he doesn’t show himself very often and as far as I know he’s never come in the house.  From time to time large lizards sun themselves on our neighbor’s roof in the backyard but they’re shy and run when I open the door.   There is one pretty cool spider in the palm tree – his web is such a work of art I hate to disturb him.  And some small wasps are busy at work creating a home amongst the leaves of that same palm, but they are not like Canadian wasps – they aren’t interested in your Coke and BBQ and keep to themselves.   You will hear chirps in the house at night – those are the many tiny geckos that share our home – they are cute with giant toes that run up and down our walls with lightning speed.  If you eat your breakfast i20181128_121154n our garden, you’ll be joined by some tiny colibris (hummingbirds).  Really the only critter you have to worry about is Nacho the puppy.  He will keep you company, love you to death, and drive you crazy.  DO NOT leave any shoe at his height – or really any item that you value in any way.  Paper, pens, clothing, pencils, jewelry – he’ll take and destroy it all.  If you find yourself missing underwear, check behind the palm tree in the garden.

THE PEOPLE

20180211_135840_resizedWhatever you do while you’re here, enjoy the people you will pass on the streets and meet along your way.  The Mexican people seem shy at first, but they are watching for a smile, for you to say “Hola, Buenos dias” and then they light up.  Everyone is friendly, but they usually wait for you to say hi first  (except for those blasted Time Share guys).   The children, so very many children, all eager for some love, some attention from the gringos.   Your red hair will make you the most popular tourist on the block.   My neighbors are poor, but they are kind.  Even while having so little, they will have family over for fiestas during Christmas week.  They may set up tables in the street, chickens wandering through, fireworks exploding.  It will be fun.

And that Christmas peace I am praying for you?  Walk the beach until you find it.  For these few days, the beach can be your safe place – a soft sandy path alongside powerful ocean waves, hugged by the blue layers of surrounding mountain peaks.   Maybe you’ll see a dolphin or a whale or a tiny hatchling turtle racing for his escape in the water.  A star fish resting.  Keep walking.  Find a new song.  Rejoice in your healing.  Embrace Amy.    And have a blessed Christmas in our paradise!

 

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Giving, Kindness & Acceptance

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Recently I was invited to join a group called South of the Border Bloggers (SOTB), a group of writers who have all had experiences like mine living in Mexico and other countries south of the US border.  I have never considered myself a blogger or a writer, but I like the idea of connecting with others who have their own crazy stories to tell and of sharing ideas and thoughts and maybe even support.   Each month the group picks one topic to write about and this month, in honor of American (and Canadian?) Thanksgiving they chose the title Giving, Kindness and Acceptance.

Although I don’t have American or Canadian cable TV, I do have Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.  I hear what is happening in the world.   I know that giving and kindness and acceptance are having a difficult time right now.  Definitions are shifting.  Opinions about who deserves acceptance and who needs to give it are being debated by politicians and churches.  Kindness is being lost in polls and demonstrations and hashtags.   They say that the solution to gun violence is not more kindness but more guns and the streams of broken people seeking shelter and safety are not brothers we should give to but invaders coming to take from us.  They…. We…. are building walls to separate us rather than bridges to connect us.   No, I’m not picking on any one political party – it’s just all of us.  We all do it.

IMG_20160704_174431_edit_editI know I do it.  One of the things I have struggled with here is looking into the bitter eyes of the children I work with, and not being filled with anger and judgement towards their parents and caregivers.  Oh, how I want to judge.  Drug addiction, prostitution, poverty, alcoholism, violence, abandonment.  So many mistakes that have landed on the shoulders and hearts of these children.  It’s not hard to justify my stinkin’ judgey attitude.

 

This month as I considered this topic and as I considered Thanksgiving, I was reminded that “but for the grace of God go I”.  I know how much I have to be thankful for.  In fact, every day in 2018 I have been writing in my Lovely List – 20181113_162547_resized.jpgI have over 950 items now.  The hummingbird in the garden today, the laughter with my husband, the help of a friend, the crazy antics of a puppy, a text from a daughter, a really good taco …. So many things to be thankful for.  Family and faith and home and my daily bread.  But I also recognize that I did nothing to deserve any of it.   Where I was born, who I was born to, the education I was given, the security I have always had and always taken for granted…. I did not earn any of it and do not deserve it.  Not more than the sweet boy who lives in a one room house in the slums made of tarps, or the 5-year-old who was given an STD by a relative or the young daughter raped by her father who she trusted.

So what does acceptance look like in this place?  I don’t think it means that we accept injustice.  We must keep fighting that.  But I am trying to accept that these parents are doing the very best they can.  I accept that they were also broken as children and don’t know how to give love or guidance because they’ve never seen it.  I’m trying to believe that it is in the acceptance of the broken, that we can finally get to the giving of the kindness.

So Happy Thanksgiving to my friends North of the Border!  Enjoy the turkey and the trimmings and the love of your family.  Don’t feel a bit guilty – you have been given a great gift.  But please, take a moment to give away some kindness, to offer love and acceptance to someone who might not seem to deserve it.    Put the debates on hold and the Facebook rants on silent and the judgements in the trash can – and just go #love someone!

“Freely you have received; freely give”  Matthew 10:8

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45139569_10215621288638874_8553295776481017856_nCheck out some other thoughts on this subject by the SOTB

 

 

Posted in Challenges & Frustrations, Things I've Learned, Uncategorized, Volunteering in Mexico | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments