As soon as we left the house for Friday night paletas, I knew. I could smell it in the air. That tell-tale mix of earth, minerals and water.
The rains were coming.
I was teased into thinking they’d arrived a week earlier when, on my walk home from school, a quick drizzle sputtered down. When the first droplets hit my arms–my arms, hot and sticky after a day spent herding teenagers in classrooms that grew hotter and thicker as the day wore on–it was as if I were electrified. Every cell in my body began zinging and bouncing and reaching for those rain drops. Those precious few drizzle drops that sent me home in a skip, only to be dashed by Nico’s solemn head shake, “No, no es la lluvia. Es muy temprano. Y lluvia ahorra es muy mala, muy mala. La próxima día será más húmedo y con mucho más calor.”
I am not really the biggest fan of Mother’s Day.
It’s one of those holidays that seems to be set up for disappointment, with Hallmark-inspired fantasies of perfectly behaved children that the real world can never live up to. The very act of mothering seems to conflict with Mother’s Day dreams of a pampered day ‘off,’ despite the fact that mothering is what we’re supposed to be celebrating. Never mind when real life (read: AP exams) requires Dad to work all weekend and Mom to do double child-care duty. Or when your rambunctious toddler makes a lovely meal out (or in!) seem more stressful than that easy box of mac-and-cheese. Or when your four-month-old cries his little heart out as the soundtrack to your day (or worse: night). This year, I really could have done without Mother’s Day. I would have been happy with a Let Mom Sleep Just a Little Day.
It’s been a rough 10 weeks in the Gibwater casa.
In the 10 weeks since the Littlest One was born, it’s been what feels like a cascade of mala suerte here on Calle Colomos. We’ve become the Bad News Osos.
Time can start to drag on when you’re waiting for a baby.
Here in Mexico, that waiting begins six weeks prior to your expected due date, when the government begins your twelve-week incapacidad. The first four weeks of my maternity leave, however, were anything but a drag. Free from lesson planning and grading for the first time since August, I dove full-force into all the other things that had been put on hold in my life: I spent days working on my dissertation. I organized and arranged the Tadpole’s room. I stocked the freezer with casseroles and the pantry with homemade granola. I caught up on the household budget. I finally finished unpacking and moving into our house. I dove into some pleasure reading. I celebrated the holidays and even escaped the city for a few days. I reveled in some free time with my family.
39 weeks pregnant yesterday, the first day of 2013. As the arrival of our Mexican-American tadpole draws nearer, I find myself marveling at the differences between this pregnancy and my first.
This is why we moved to Mexico.
Okay, fine, there were loftier ideals mentioned when Fresh first proposed this move South of the Border: Learning Spanish. His career aspirations. Raising a bilingual child. Cultural immersion that could help my dissertation. Affordable childcare.
But really, when I was hemming and hawing about whether this move to Guadalajara was really a good idea, two words convinced me: The Beach.
Some days I am so exasperated by Mexico that I feel like my head is going to explode.
The simplest things are difficult. More difficult than they should be, it seems. Like making a doctor’s appointment for Anna. It usually takes at least a week of constant phone-calling to find out whether or not the vaccine we need will actually be at the doctor’s office on the day we’ve scheduled the appointment. Or paying Anna’s tuition, which involved multiple trips to the bank and school before the accountant finally gave us every number we needed to do the bank transfer correctly. Or paying rent, which is only accepted in cash, between 4-8pm, and involves a thirty-minute conversation about the minutiae of our garden. (Seriously? What ever happened to checks?!) Or finding the products you need at the grocery store, which may be there one week but then mysteriously disappear for the next three months. Or getting a straight answer out of the rocking chair makers about when, exactly, your chairs will be ready. Or the fact that bills might arrive after they were due to be paid, and well, if you didn’t know that bill’s due date, you are just out of luck when that service shuts off. The simplest things–paying bills, replacing light bulbs, checking your voice mail–seem infinitely more difficult than they need to be.
We live in a borderland.
No, no, not that border, sillies. A border between two Mexicos. We live in this netherworld of a neighborhood—Ayuntamiento, to be exact—that isn’t really a neighborhood. Even our utility companies aren’t sure where we live; each company sends our bills to a different address, although they all miraculously make it to us (you know, one day before they are due). And most people look a little askance when we even try to direct them to our neighborhood by name. We usually end up saying something like, “Ayuntamiento…you know, kind of between Providencia and Santa Tere?” We live in a barrio borderland.
I really must have ticked off Montezuma…or Quetzalcoatl…or the universe in general…because I think I might have the worst driving karma in Mexico.
No, not accidents. Nothing that banal. But I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately, and every trip seems to end poorly.
It’s strange living in a world where you only understand about 75% of what is happening around you. Okay, I understand about 75%. Anna, probably 99% — although since her only spoken words are “gato” and “agua,” not that helpful. And Fresh — maybe 50%? But that’s even less helpful since he defaults to German whenever communication moves beyond simple pleasantries. So I think the doctor said we can come in tomorrow for vaccines…but maybe not. If only my twice-weekly Spanish class covered more useful vocabulary than that associated with the films of Pedro Almodóvar…
I didn’t think I’d be homesick for Madison so quickly. There is so much to love about our new life in Mexico, one month in–I am reminded of that as a neighbor practices his accordion outside my window in the electric air of Guadalajara’s rainy season, as a poblano chile casserole keeps me from needing yet another snack for this tadpole, as the palm tree rustles in my backyard, and as my family serenely goes about our evening life. But still, I am daily reminded of the snippets of home that I miss. Our friends and family, of course, go without saying. What surprises me are the pieces of Madison that leave me longing.
All week, we’d been anticipating Mexico’s gold-medal football match. When you are dismissed from faculty meetings on your first day back at school to watch a football game (Olympic semi-finals: Mexico v. Japan), you know you are in a country that is serious about its soccer. And when that match results in a football-crazed country’s first Olympic medal…and a GOLD no less…you wonder what insanity might await. How were the Mexicans going to celebrate this monumental victory? With an impromptu party in the streets, of course–complete with drumming, singing, flag waving, and capitalist verve.
It’s been four days since Montezuma first decided to seek revenge on me. A few antibiotics later, and I’m hoping that my sacrifice proves sufficient to appease the gods—and leave the rest of my little family revenge-free.
Anna and I arrived in Guadalajara amid a tormente, not your usual rainy season thunderstorm but a monsoon that swamped streets, stalled traffic, and delayed flights. As we rode in the late-night taxi with Jorge to our new home, he excitedly told us how this tormente was so out of character for the rainy season – the lightning, the downpour, the momentary flooding. He assured us that the rainy season here is normally quite pleasant.
Unless, of course, that rainy season kills the power in your new home. For 24 hours.
Sometimes, when you’re tired or homesick or hungry or hot, it’s easy to overlook the beauty of India. All you notice is what’s different, what’s wrong: You might fixate on the lack of central heating or air, or the garbage everywhere you walk, or the touts and vendors who won’t leave you alone, or how careful you have to be about everything you eat and drink. The sheer press of humanity gets exhausting, and there are moments when nothing seems right, nothing seems enjoyable, nothing seems worth that 17-hour plane ride.
But then something will catch you by surprise: The saffron robes of a sadhu. A little girl sheepishly smiling at you from behind the folds of her mother’s sari. Marigolds placed in offering outside a shop. The smell of fresh naan. The clapping and singing of puja at a local temple. Stacks of red and orange and blue and yellow and green and purple quilts coloring the streetside. Two old men sitting side-by-side, silently reading the paper together. A new friend. The sun warming the back of your neck.
In that moment, what is wrong disappears, and you remember again why you are transfixed by this place. Even the beauty, though–both strange and familiar–can overwhelm. The jostle of a billion people can blind your American eyes to it, but when you see those details that make you gasp with pleasure and surprise, and then you look up from your narrow obsession with personal comfort to this pretty magical place, you remember: There is so much that is beautiful here.
You can never take too many pictures of the Himalayas. You just can’t. In the winter, they finally poke through the fog and haze and rain and whatever else keeps them shrouded, and then they rise on the horizon, towering over the 7000-foot ‘hills’ below. Sunrise, sunset, clouds, clear skies, from the south or the west…they never look the same twice.
We were supposed to land in Delhi around 4 a.m. But somewhere over the ‘stans, intruding into my wine-induced plane sleep, the captain in his thick Turkish accent said something about a storm and circling and a delay. Oh well, more time to nap. And I conked back out.
When I was in Japan, I could while away hours in 100 yen stores. Stationary, t-shirts, socks, bowls, candy bags, food wrappers, you name it–all were covered in ridiculously bad translations of English expressions, and in the 100 yen store, there were seemingly infinite bins of tear-inducing, gut-shakingly-funny mis-translations. In Japan, that made sense, but I guess I never really expected as much from India’s linguistic treasures.
Boy, was I wrong!
Forget all my PhD reading that I schlepped halfway around the world only to leave buried in the bottom of my backpack. In India, signage was the literary masterpiece of the trip.
Life moves a little more slowly in India. As an Indian American living in Dehra Dun reminded us, there is Central Standard Time…and then there is Indian Standard Time. And when you’re hanging out in the quiet towns ofUttarakhand, in winter nonetheless, life seems to whisper along.
Case in point: While in Rishikesh, we’d while away the first hour or so of our day sipping Nescafe in our hotel lobby, watching sensationalist Delhi news accounts and giggling over the matrimonial ads. Time inched along, not bothered by car horns or diesel fumes or much of anything, save a sadhu or two. Glancing up from our almost-coffees and newspapers, we’d spy a cow eating breakfast on our hotel stoop, ladies gathering for an early morning chat, delivery men desperately wishing cars were allowed in this part of town, monkeys making mischief. Life moved slowly (and dare I say: peacefully) on that Rishikesh street, aflutter with life at daybreak.
Ten minutes in the life of a Rishikesh street (including a cow who seemed to be inspired by our dawdling).
While other kids traveled to Washington, DC in middle school and high school or on family vacations—visiting the Air & Space Museum, touring the White House, marveling at the monuments to president-upon-president—I never did. In fact, I did not set foot in our nation’s capital until I was 30, when I spent my one day in the city traipsing around the Mall in gale-force winds, desperately trying to make my way to the FDR Memorial. A snippet of the city: It was beautiful, historical, with some edginess. I liked it. I wanted to go back.
“It’s pretty amazing to see what people have bottled up inside of them."
So Foley astutely observed at our Tuesday night outing to Rock Star Gomeroke. A Madison institution, Rock Star Gomeroke is that most authentic of karaoke experiences: you sing, rock band plays back-up.
I was married in Michigan. But aside from 24 hours once spent in Ann Arbor, a late-night drive through on the way to Canada, and a few annual weeks in August and at Christmas in our little tip of the Keweenaw, it’s a state I have little experience with. So when Fresh and I realized we had a glorious few weeks to kill this summer, I started dreaming up a Michigan road trip—inspired in no small part by those commercials from when I was a kid: “Yes, Michigan! The feeling’s forever…”
Yes! Michigan! And we were off.
When I graduated high school, I wanted nothing more than to escape the Midwest. Maybe it was just that eighteen-year-old itch to strike out on your own, far away from family, and see what happened. But maybe it was the cornfields and the summer humidity and the you-betchas that finally got to me. The way that endless expanse of sky over flatlands can suffocate with its infinity, the way the crickets and cicadas drone through hot and sticky nights, the way thunderstorms and blizzards and tornadoes swoop in with little forewarning to mess up the best-laid plans. Or maybe it was the seeming lack of glamour and excitement and culture, the provincialness and naïve sweetness.
I’ve wanted to go to the Aran Islands since I was a little girl. I think I read a book about them, where the protagonist was a red-haired girl wearing big, fluffy wool sweaters living in a thatch-roofed house on a lonely cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t remember the title or what the book was even about, but I remember that there were sheep and magical creatures and wave pounded coasts and, well, I was smitten.
It all started with a bottle of sunscreen.
My fair, cancer-prone skin is photosensitive, especially now that even higher levels of UV radiation seep through our increasingly depleted ozone. A painful rash, unfortunately, is the hallmark of any of my sun-baked vacations, thanks to the slow, pharmaceutical-industry-compromised FDA approval process that has yet to approve the necessary UV-blocking ingredients at a high enough SPF. Thank goodness for Canada! Despite the largish carbon footprint of doing so, I now import my sunscreen from Canada, where the ‘socialist’ medical system has made Mexoryl (the UV-ass-kicking ingredient) available at SPF 45 for quite a while now.
Simple enough, right?
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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