Mia Tia (My Aunt)

20120529-163049.jpg

I am pretty enamored with this sweet little girl named, Britney. She is three–and Victor’s niece. All day long Britney stays with her grandma at the house while her mom is at work. She becomes another girl (so the family says) when her mama arrives home. I witnessed this side of her when she woke up Blakley style: growling and snapping at anyone who dares to talk the first fifteen minutes.

Tia she calls me–as if it were my first name. I kinda love it.

20120529-163403.jpg

As the children arrive to the common area, they greet the adults by touching their foreheads to the back of the adult’s hand. As an adult, you hold your hand out (palm inward) and the kids approach you. I haven’t seen this tradition where I am living, but apparently it is very common where Victor’s family lives. Perhaps amongst the indigenous people of the area. When Victor was younger, apparently it really bothered him when someone ignored him, and he would pick up their hands and move them to his forehead. “Some child forgot to greet their uncle,” it was told, “Only pigs go about their day without paying respect. Greet your uncle, Pig.” Unaware of the true meaning of that command, the little boy approached his uncle and said, “Good morning, Uncle Pig.” This of course was told when Britney Bear refused to sayBuenos dias to us.

It didn’t take long before she warmed up to me again (I bribed her with a stuffed animal the first time I visited…), and soon she followed me around like my own baby chick. Victor gives her a hard time about everything under the sun, and last time she told him that HE could leave, but Tia could stay. She went with us as we visited the market to buy meat for the day–and chatted and danced away like a carefree little girl!

20120529-163308.jpg

That afternoon was trip one to the brand new pool. I was a bit nervous: I knew that my new bathing suit was inappropriate for Mexico. I knew that people swim in clothes at the river. But what about the pool? Was I going to stand out as the only person not wearing a bathing suit? I should have known better… This is a new pool in a rather poor community. The fifteen peso admission as well as a pricey menu for a full service restaurant attached makes it a narrow clientel. The little boys sneak in the side gate and watch the other children swim–but really, who has time to take their kids to the pool in Jaltenango?

Just me and Victor.

20120529-163132.jpg

And it sure was fun. Britney was a champ! She dunked her head under water–and blew bubbles with the best of us. She even knew that pushing someone else under water could be quite the comic event. It’s a good thing that she’s three, because that little girl is merciless!

20120529-163215.jpg

Muchos Taxi-os!

20120528-193146.jpg

Friday afternoon found me in Tuxtla at a cab station. This was not just any ol’ taxi service–but the kind that would take me from city puebla to puebla until I reached my destination.

Victor’s family currently lives in Jaltenango and this is where he spent most of his childhood. I don’t know where the expression “one horse town” came from, but perhaps one ATM town would more appropriately fit. (We found this out the hard way when the one ATM was no funciona–and all we had was 200 pesos…)

My first leg of my trip I ended up in the back seat. I recoiled as I got into the car–realizing that someone has been sweating profusely on the way to Tuxtla. The days have been incredibly hot, and this is intensified if you remember that air conditioning is NOT the norm here… Plus, I think that Mexicans have adapted to hot temperatures, and they seem to sweat a lot. Even my little boys have beads of sweat on their foreheads and upper lips by the time recess is over. Finally I settled back into it, accepting that there was nothing I could do. I dozed off with one arm thrown above my head as the rather rotund couple sharing the back seat spread out. When I awoke, I realized that the señor-next-door was laying on me at each turn.

I was happy to arrive in Revoluciona Mexicana, and switch to the front seat (woo hoo!) of my next taxi. This was short-lived when I realized the young taxi driver had a concerning cough. My imagination went into overtime. What disease had he contracted? Should I hand out advice like a real Mexican? I decided it would be best to sit quietly and enjoy the scenery as the car either swerved (to avoid potholes) or jerked wildly (as potholes were ignored). The lady had a baby in the backseat, and Mexican women are perhaps not overly precautious of their infants. The do tend to worry about gripa and such. I rolled up my window to respect her mama-hoodness–aware that more danger was present in whatever was causing the driver to cough every two seconds.

My last leg of the journey was where Victor met me. I was happy to see him–and then we shared the front passenger seat of the taxi. This was okay since he’s my sweetheart, but it isn’t abnormal for that to happen with strangers on these trips… The rain cooled our journey, and quickly we arrived to the small town of Jaltenango.

Ahh…cool night breeze, home-grown coffee, and the company of my new Mexican family. Totally worth that four-hour/four taxi trip!

Talk the Talk

I’ve been mulling this over.  I can tell that I am learning more Spanish, because it is no long just about surviving.  I don’t carry my dictionary with me anymore.  And I can usually get my point across with a combination of body language and words.  Take last night, for instance.  I took the taxi to the home of the girl I tutor.  I knew before I got there that the guy was going to ask more than was normal.  Sure enough.  And I got all feisty on him before you could blink an eye.

Now though, I find myself listening to expressions and filing them away with a great desire to use them.  Claro!  Clearly!  Que bonito! How pretty! Que padre! How cool! This goes a bit beyond Ay, bueno!  Also cute and so desirable is the ability to stress the importance of an item.  Muchisimo!  I just found out that you can do this with size and color too!  Grandisimo!  My favorite change to words with size is when -ito or -ita is added to a word.  Pastelito was used today to describe a little cake.  I´ve decided that I need to make sure my kids have good names that I can use this on: Josito, Adrianita, etc.  Of course, gordita can totally be used too…

On Tuesday, my taxi driver was younger than usual.  He was a normal nosy Mexican–asking how long I lived here, how long I would stay, and of course, do I have a husband.  “No,” I explained, “I have a Chiapaneco for a boyfriend.”  “Que suerte!” (How lucky!) he kept saying, but I just chalked it up to another Mexican expression.  He asked about the other girls from the States.  Do they have eyes as pretty as mine?  Oh, much prettier, I assured him.  Shortly before I arrived at my destination, he mumbled a handful of words and touched his little dimple on his cheek.  I made out beso and got the idea.  He was asking to kiss me! (I wish I knew how to say, “How bold!”) Kisses on the cheek are nothing special here, and what do you say?  Then it progressed.  He wanted a kiss on the lips.  That is where I drew the line.  If you give a Mexican man man an inch, he wants a mile.  Que suerte indeed…  I couldn’t accept the free ride he offered either–I know how much those guys make and pay for the taxi business.

Today was the cutest:  I was reading the kids this book about a fish with fingers.  (Obviously, this is quality literature…)  The fish saves the day when he gives a “hairy, scary monster” a haircut.  Immediately when the “monster” is uncovered, and a cute seahorse is under that mop of hair, a student yelled, “Ahhh!  Que bonita!”  A chorus of “How Beautifuls” followed.  Apparently, I am not the only one that wants to use these expressions…  Ay, que bueño!

Just Call Me General

I have some boys I could sell you for a fair price.  No, really.  I have a classroom FULL of boys.  I don’t know why, but this week I have been more aware of that fact.  Today I had twenty boys and four girls.  Imagine.  Can you?  Let me help:

My boys come to class sweaty.  It doesn’t matter if it is the first thing in the morning, they’ve already been playing soccer or tag.  They have their hair semi-slicked down, in some mama’s attempt to present her son as a well-mannered child.  The presentation falls flat.  Maybe it is the permanent grass, paint, who-knows-what stains that sully the otherwise white school uniform.  Maybe it’s the clip-on monster hanging from his belt loop.  In any case, he looks like trouble.

Trouble briefly takes a pause as he sweetly says good morning, and then returns as he pushes past his friend into the classroom.  Trouble rears his ugly head, as he begins yelling and listening to his voice echo around the concrete and tile.  Throwing his supply box onto his desk, he thenproceeds to propel himself onto the floor.  Or onto his friend.  Which ever seems to strike his fancy.  His friend responds by grasping him in a headlock, and they proceed to roll around on the floor.  Momentarily angry, they pout and tattle, but are friends in seconds.

While standing on the rectangle that was once taped onto the floor (he’s already peeled off as much as he can to throw at his friend), he shuffles his feet, dances, or pretends to shoot his friend across the circle.  His friend responds with a machine gun made by his supply box, “Thrrr-rrr-rrr! chick!  Thrrrrr-rrrrrrr-rrrrr!!”  Another friend joins with some artillery, “PSh! pSH!” Oh, yes, it is a war zone in my classroom.

Calming the boys down with threats of missing recess momentarily works.

We proceed with greeting one another.  “Good morning, ____.” Hooray!  My caballeros (gentlemen) have returned!  I compliment them on such fine english.  The next thing I know, someone is holding out his hand–then quickly walking to the next person–tricking the previous student into believing they were going to be greeted.  Giggles erupt.  I shoot a warning glance that is ignored.  Finally, a public example must be made, and the boys continue saying hello.  When every boy has been greeted, they grudgingly shake hands with the first girl.

I begin to sing the song of the day, and eager boys sprint close to me to show what they know.  Someone in the back who loves to sing (but rarely knows the words) loudly bellows noise that sounds similar to the words.  Two boys to his side aren’t singing.  They’re hitting one another and trying to hide it.  Peering up at me as I send my you-better-settle-down-or-else look their way, they stop hitting, and pretend to put their arms around one another.  As they begin dancing away from each other, it is apparent that the hits have turn to behind-the-back pinches.  One sneaks a foot stomp in for good measure.

I begin to give directions for the day, and most of the boys join me.  This is because my stories that I write on the board are either about them, animals, adventures, or fantasies where they turn into frogs.  Yes!  I have their attention!  They aid me in filling in details.  Who was the detective?  What did they want?  Who had it?   The boy who is my helper for the day, causes problems when he hands out papers to his friends first.  The child that accidentally gets a paper complains because he snatches it from her.  “He’s just a boy–ignore him,” I whisper–as if we share a secret because we are both girls.

They eagerly head off to write their own stories, and soon are back asking me words in english.  How do you say ladrón?  I don’t know this word.  The boy behind acts it out by stealing a headband and sneaking away.  Ahhhh….robber!  Next thing I know, someone is asking a word and helping me to understand by drawing a picture on the board.  Bombs.  Explode.  Cages.  Dragon.  Fire.  You get the point?

As I am helping one boy find the english translation for a word he needs, a loud eruption of noise comes from Group Six.  Again, one boy has snuck to steal the monkey shaped pencil sharpener his friend brought to class this week.  His friend has responded by chasing him around the classroom.  Other boys step in to run interference.  Looks of indignation are thrown like daggers as someone knocks over a pencil box and markers scatter across the floor.  As I calm down that skirmish, another boy steps up to ask a question.  His nose is blue.  I do not ask why.  He has been sniffing scented markers that his classmate brought to class today.  He also has cookie crumbles and chocolate smudged around his mouth.  Ahhh…this is why he asked to go to the bathroom…

I line the students up for music class, then promptly ask them to sit again.  They may be boys, but I expect better.  Quietly and proudly they line up.  Punches, pinches, and machine guns are silenced as they wait to be released from my custody.  Sweet smiles and high fives (followed by fist bumps) remind me why I leave feeling a dull headache partnered with total satisfaction for a day well done.  Everyone survived my war zone today.  Mission accomplished. Until tomorrow…

Something Good’s a Cookin’!

I have a friend from Knoxville. It’s interesting to tell people about him, because they always think that I met him before I came to Mexico. He’s a total sweetheart–and I also like to say that he is a male version of me. I really think it is because we are southern to the core.

We decided a couple of weeks ago that we should have a southern supper. Mainly because who doesn’t like some delicious home cooking when they are thousands of miles from home? Unfortunately, it didn’t work out due to my silly schedule/sickness. Finally, last night was the night.

I was surprised. I am so used to people not coming to gatherings, that I really forget who I have invited. We had a house full last night!! In addition to Robert and I, there were nine other people who came. My table seats six. We were squeezed together, sharing seats, swapping seats, and piling on nearby living room furniture.

I decided what better southern food then fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and sweet dinner rolls. yum! Now, here is the catch: Yes, I am from the south. Yes, I love to cook. Including last night, that was the second time I have ever made fried chicken. And I am twenty-eight years old! How does that happen?!?! I actually had to call Mama last week (the first time I made fried chicken) to see what I should do. It was really easier than I thought it would be.

Now, mashed potatoes I have down to a fine art–but the rolls were really a sensation. I also was able to tell people my baking/quarter-life crisis story. I don’t do it justice anymore. It’s one of the benefits of forgetting bad things: I can hardly remember why life was so tough. I mean, if I think about it, it all comes back, but why do that? I do know this: the best thing (or one of the best things) to come from freaking out and learning to live is when I decided to make bread. I am no longer scared of making bread, and more often than not–it really turns out amazing!

The highlight part of the night is when I tasted the tea. “Robert, I don’t know–it might need more sugar.” Grabbing the same ladle I used to take a sip, Robert says, “Yeah, it needs more sugar. I like my tea like Cracker Barrel syrup!” Gotta love a southerner…and his sweet tea.

Taking a Shower (Mexican Style)

My little sister likes to say that she looks a mess in Mexico because she can’t take a shower there.  It is difficult when you are used to modern luxuries of the first world (i.e. hot water upon demand).

I, however, have been lucky.  My last house had a normal(ish) shower.  The only tricky thing was that I had to fire up the boiler before I could have warm water.  This is done by lighting a gas water heater.  We had to light it because the tanks are small–and to leave the pilot light burning is a waste of gas!  I didn’t have a shower head, but it was okay.  I just had to detangle my hair after a stream of hard water matted it each day.

My new house also has a shower, but I have had a few problems.  For the most part, hot water heaters haven’t been necessary.  It is super warm here, and the water is pumped to a holding tank on top of the house.  Entonces, when I come home the water has been heating up for me all day!  This isn’t always good thing–for example, sometimes you are so hot, you NEED a cold shower.  Lukewarm water drizzling out over you isn’t the most pleasant experience.

That brings me to my Mexican shower.  When we visited Victor’s mom, I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place.  I wanted to be easy-going–everyone expects Americans to be uptight.  I also really needed a shower, but didn’t quite have the tough Mexican skin attitude necessary to take a bucket shower without hollering.

Bucket showers are taken like this:

  1. Haul water to the showering area in a bucket.  Make sure you have plenty.  Running out in the middle of the shower can’t be an option.
  2. Pour frigid water over you (without screaming) with a smaller bucket.
  3. Suds up.
  4. Repeat the frigid water experience.

Sounds easy, eh?  I suggest you try it.  It isn’t as easy as one would think.  Especially when you have to be conscious of how much water you’re using…

I had a repeat of this experience the other day, only this time I received a tiny reprieve.  Days have been cooler and rainy with the tropical storm heading towards Mexico.  The water hasn’t been heating up–and the hot water heater wasn’t working.  That means freezing cold water came out of pipes on a chilly(ish) night.  I am tough though, and I have a new method for cold showers.  I back it up.  It works!  You just slowly back into the stream of cold water (I forgot to mention, I say stream because the shower head doesn’t sprinkle water…) making sure that the cold water slowly works its way up your legs and back.  This is the reverse of what I used to do.  Slowly moving into the water with your whole body doesn’t cut it.

So, I started my shower.  I get all sudsy, when all of a sudden the water stops.  I forgot to mention, the water is pumped into underground tanks a couple of times a week.  We have our own bomba water pump that we turn on to send the water to the rooftop.  If we fail to do that, the water stops.  In the middle of someone’s shower.  Victor went to heat me up some water on the stove.  That’s right, just like the old days…  It made my Mexican Shower soooo much easier to bear.  I didn’t even scream  (that much…)

Torn

You know when people say that they really feel torn?  Usually it is when they are making a decision, and both choices are really great.  That’s me.

I love Mexico.  I love the people, my job, and the lifestyle here.  I am a Mexican (as I have often declared in the last three months).  Unfortunately, like many Mexicans, I am debating a move to the United States for the sole purpose of making more money.  And it isn’t completely unappealing–to live near my family again would be great!

I’ve heard many stereotypes about the Mexicans living and working the United States–some say they are moving there to take advantage of the system.  Well, here’s a newsflash, friends:  The system doesn’t do much for our south-of-the-border-neighbors.  Some say that they don’t really want to become Americans.  They just want to live there and work.  Ahem.  I’ve always been red, white and blue through and through.  But I’ve got to tell you–I am starting to understand why.

This place is amazing.  Even in my current state, with the struggles I’ve had with healthcare, I love it here.  I don’t even feel like I can put it into words how it feels.  Relieved?  Free?  At home?

And yet, I am having to make a tough decision.  My heart is here.  I know, I know–you’ve heard that before.  I was heartbroken to leave Virginia.  I honestly can’t quite imagine what it will be like to return to the States.  To teach again in the States?  To travel again in the States.  To attempt to live in the States…

I get it!  I understand why Mexicans live together, work together, and hang on to their culture with tight grips.

Oh, money, why do I need you?  School loans, why must you be paid?

Oh, heart, cease your aching. 

Te Quiero Mucho, Mami

20120514-174727.jpg

Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the United States. Mothers and mothers-to-be were living it up on Facebook. Not my mom. She was hiding out at my Mamaw’s house sin telefono.

I saw this contest that someone posted on Facebook yesterday–it was a photo contest with the question, “What is the greatest thing your mom taught you?” That’s the easiest question I’ve ever answered. To love.

She says that it isn’t something I can understand until I have my own children, and maybe she’s right. But I sure do have a good idea about what it looks like...

Unconditional love. It means that even if you’ve screwed up or lied or done something despicable, she’s there. That doesn’t mean that you don’t hear about it–but rarely do you need to hear about it. You’ve been raised to know right from wrong. The shame of knowing that you have disappointed someone so dear is enough of a punishment. Oh, the shame… If I can go the rest of my life without experiencing that ever again, it would be great.

That love isn’t just for the people in our lives: it’s for God as well. I am pretty sure that if you asked her, she would say that is her most important job. To teach us how to serve God. It’s all there in the love.

Unselfish love. I remember when it hit me. I was twenty. I left home in a fury. I had waited all my life to get out and experience the world. I loaded up my Lumina and headed to Minnesota. Remember, I found that job, applied, interview and arrived to Bearskin Lodge all in the same week. It was the first time I lived anywhere without my family close by, and it was an experience. I did everything I had been taught not to do in a period of two months. I spent the next four months trying to get my life back on track. I also realized then that my parents had made a ton of sacrifices for me.

Just love. Mama made me read Tuesdays With Morrie when I was home last year. The most important thing we can leave behind is love. We live in a world where things are placed in high esteem. Things get broken. Things get lost. Things get put on shelves and collect dust. Love is the only thing that matters. Love is what memories are made of when things and people fade away. He says it, but she lives it…

Oh, to be like my Mama.  Te quiero mucho, Mami.

20120514-174758.jpg

We bought these mugs the other day for our moms, but since my mom is in the States–I just drink out of it instead…

Coming to You Live From Chiapas, Mexico!

I remember sometime last year hanging out in Jenny’s apartment on South Washington.  SOMEONE got out the computer.  SOMEONE found karaoke on YouTube.  SOMEONE sang all night.  Or at least until the neighbor downstairs banged on the ceiling…

Last night I had a repeat of that night, only no neighbor downstairs to complain!  Only Victor, and while he seemed to lose interest quite frequently, I was able to reel him back in with my womanly ways amazing singing talents.

This is a progression of the night:

I always like to start out with some easy listening.  This was when Victor was interested.  He not so secretly can really belt out some Spanish country music.  English was a little tougher.  Especially when you don’t know the songs.  I have to give it to him though–he really tried!  Jason Mraz “I’m Your’s” Video (<——- Mom and Dad, you have to click on that!)

I then moved on to some country songs.  I sang a couple Reba songs, belted out Alison Krauss, and finally sang “Mama He’s Crazy.”   By this point I still had Victor’s attention.  It must be something other than my looks (I look a mess…) and ability to sing The Judds (yikes!) that makes him crazy over me.  “Mama, He’s Crazy” Video

We sang “Hotel California” (I was actually pretty proud of myself for that one–considering that I have apparently never really known the words to that song…).  Then, he lost interest.

As he wondered away, I asked where he was going.  Then I serenaded him with the sweet lyrics of Bryan Adams.  This is personally one of my favorites.  Especially when I had to start throwing things to get him to pay attention.  “Everything I Do–I Do it for You” Video  Yes!  Success!  He’s back!

Finally, we decided to sing some Spanish songs.  Or English songs with a little Spanish thrown in for good measure.  We first sang the one Spanish song I know.  Can you guess what it is?  “La Bamba” Video  We sang that “how far is heaven” song that I remember downloading when I moved to Minnesota.  As he lost interest again, I quickly found the song that we listen to aaaalllll the time.  It proved to be hard for both of us to sing.  You can see the part that we really know is, in fact, the English part of the song…  “Yo Tengo Tu Love” Video

I was forced to sing another love song to him, as he crawled back over to play on the iPad.  Luckily Rachel and I watched the 20/20 episode after TGIF one Friday night not long after Selena died.  I feel like I was really able to channel my inner Mexican here.  “Dreaming of You” Video  The best part are my mad Spanish skills at the end of the video…

This probably seems like a lot of singing to you.  Rest assured, I was still able to sing both parts of duets including “Whiskey Lullaby”, “Picture”, and “Estoy Enamorada.”  I sang until I was afraid I needed to take Victor’s clues of non-interest as a hint.  Then I proceeded to watch the videos of myself and laugh until the wee hours of the morning.

A Life Faithfully Lived

It is hard to be here and receive updates of faithful men and women dying at home.  Pillars in God’s kingdom have finished the course that was set before them.  I just received news today of the death of Ray White.  Many know of Ray’s blog, as he has received recognition for being America’s oldest blogger.  He was 98 years old.  I love to read his posts, because it is like a little bit of encouragement–a testimony, if you will– in each one.  You can see what is truly important in Ray’s life.

Monday Ray posted his last post. Before I share it with you, I want to share another thought. I love reading the last words before someone’s death in the bible.  The prayer of Jesus in the garden is oh-so-precious to see his love for others.  I also love the words in 1 Kings when David is dying.  It was the last advice that a father gave to his son.

1 Kings 2

2 Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying,

2 I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man;

3 And keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself.

What good advice for us all!  Of course David, as king, also continued to tell Solomon who he needed to show kindness to, and who he needed to deal with strongly…

Ray’s last blogging words have good advice for us all as well:

Good Morning,

Let’s try to begin the week with God, and continue and end the week with him.  This day of the week is my day.  I love Mondays.  It is a day that I am glad to get out of the house, and get my hands and clothes dirty.

We speak a lot about the clean, unspotted sheet that God gives us each morning.  We need to do out best to keep it clean and white until the end of the week.  And we can with God’s help and not in ourselves, and by the Grace of God, live a life that God will be pleased with.  We should live this week for others.

Dad–the Tomato Man

Time is so precious–do not waste it living only yourself.  Give a little of your(self) to others.

I encourage you to read other words of advice that Ray imparted–but the life that he lived was the greatest testimony of all.  Again I am reminded of Psalms 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints…”

http://tomatogardeningwithdad.blogspot.mx/  Click to visit Ray’s blog.