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.
There’s the noise level. Dear god, the noise. The neighbor (who has a four-year-old son, mind you) who turns his surround sound on full blast most evenings in order to listen to bad 80s music and horror movies so that the whole coto turns into his own personal drive-in theatre. And the other neighbor who has the bass in his car turned up so high that when he comes home at night, the windows and floors in our house shake. And Anna wakes up. Or the other neighbor whose car alarm goes off religiously every night between 7 and 10pm, and yet despite this fact, it always takes him at least 10 minutes to find his keys, and another five to figure out how to turn the alarm off. And don’t even get me started on the yapping dogs. What is the appeal of these little shits?
There’s the loose relationship with time. The schedule says school will be open until 4pm this weekend? That might mean it’s open, or it might mean that at 1:30pm, after walking there in the blazing sun eight-months pregnant, you discover that someone decided to close up shop already. Doctor’s appointment at 5pm? Might as well budget the whole evening for hanging out at the office. Handyman said he’ll be there at 10am on Saturday? Best to wait for him all weekend because you’re never quite sure when (if) he might arrive.
And really, how hard is it to obey traffic laws? There are only so many times that I can almost get plowed down by someone going the wrong way down a street, blowing a red light, or going double the speed limit. There are only so many times I can slam on my brakes while making a left-hand turn (on the arrow, mind you) because someone in one of the far right lanes decides to pull out and turn in front of me. There are only so many times I can tolerate being cut off because I dared to use my turn signal. There are only so many times before I really dislike Mexican drivers.
And then there are my students. Sweet as can be. Polite, friendly, warm, gregarious. No attitude directed at me as the teacher, ever. But they never. stop. talking. Ever. About 50% of them can’t remember to bring their materials (Ahem, a pen! The textbook!) to class on a regular basis. And getting them to complete work is like pulling teeth. No, no, not your average middle school slackerdom, but some whole other level of nonchalance about the work part of school work.
Some days, I am so exasperated by Mexico that not only do I think my head might explode, Exorcist-style, but I find my internal dialogue is disturbingly arrogant, self-satisfied, culturally superior. It is, after all, really hard not to compare my new home to my old home. Where I could pay bills on-line, no problem. Where there are noise ordinances. Where there are hefty tickets for blatant traffic violations. Where when I can’t find what I need in a store, I can order it on-line. Where promptness is important. It is hard not to look at the two worlds and conclude that back home is better.
Of course, when I write out my complaints, I have to scoff at myself. What am I complaining about? These are first-world problems if ever there were. Seriously: So what if the water guy doesn’t have a consistent schedule? At least I have reliable access to clean drinking water. So what if doctor’s appointments take an eternity? At least I have access to affordable, high-quality health care. So what if paying tuition is a hassle? At least I can afford excellent child care and have educational choices. When I put it into perspective, I can laugh at myself and the smoldering pit of frustration I feel on a daily basis. Because really, I am lucky lucky lucky to live in a beautiful, spacious home with friendly and kind neighbors who watch out for my family. I am lucky lucky lucky to have a well-paying job teaching sweet students who only require that I teach them–not feed and clothe them, not act as their social worker or therapist, not single-handedly surmount a system of inequity. I am lucky lucky lucky to be able to afford the cable bill that always comes late, to have access to vaccines for my daughter so that she may be spared life-threatening illnesses, to drive a car so safe and reliable that crazy driving is little more than an annoyance, to drive on streets and highways that are well maintained and well connected, to have access to more food than I need, and to speak enough of multiple languages that I can survive in the topsy turvy world that is Mexico.
But I also know that I am exasperated because…I miss home. Four months in Mexico and I am forced to acknowledge what an American I am (and how deeply my German ancestry must have inscribed my genes because, man! Am I anal). And that at 35, I am not nearly the adaptable, flexible, unflappable girl I was when I moved to Paris at 18 or when I traveled around the world throughout my 20s. I have rhythms, preferences, opinions, cultural norms, and I like it my way, thankyouverymuch. (Dear god, have I gotten old?!)
I am also forced to acknowledge that, while I may like to think of myself as open-minded and culturally accepting and enlightened and worldly, I have just as strong a sense of cultural superiority (and dare I say, chauvinism) as many of the folks at whom I would look down my nose at home. On the days when I am most exasperated and frustrated and Exorcist-head spinning, I am also most ashamed of myself. Because the mean little monster who rears her hormonally imbalanced head is not who I would like to be.
There are many unexpected blessings in this move to Mexico. Becoming bilingual. Time for my family. The luxury of beach vacations, whenever we want them. Our nanny, our doctors, our friends. Happy cats. Sunshine, every day. There are many gifts that this move has given us. But learning how to be more patient and accepting, learning how to be less anal and stuck in my ways, and learning how to embrace what I love about a new culture and let go of the ridiculously unimportant minutiae may be the biggest gift of all.
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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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