"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with Mexico (Part 1)

I blame it all on a natural aptitude for languages. Way back in second grade, my school started a twice-a-week Spanish class, and my seven year old self loved it. I was GOOD at Spanish - I quickly outstripped my classmates and impressed my teacher. Being the obnoxious little show off that I was, I absolutely adored being told I was amazing and basked in praise, so I looked forward to Spanish every day and worked hard to be the best.

Spanish class didn't outlast second grade, but I did have a good memory for words, and I simply never forgot anything I had learned. So when it came time to choose a language to study in seventh grade, naturally I chose Spanish over French or German. I don't remember but most likely I looked forward to an easy A and more praise. Both of which were in fact forthcoming. I worked ahead in my book and memorized vocabulary lists like a brown-nosed demon. Everyone else in the class naturally hated my guts. I didn't care.

At the age of 19, I decided I was going to travel to Mexico, alone. I'm not sure why - I wasn't, at that point in time, particularly interested in Mexican culture or history, I think I just wanted to immerse myself in the language and see how I did. In preparation I took a few intensive courses at the Seattle Academy of Languages (great school - pioneer square) and set off into the unknown. I flew to Cancun (this was 1991, not the same place it is now at ALL) and from there took a bus down the coast to a small town called Tulum. I rented a palapa for $12/night and swam in the ocean until I was exaughsted every day. I learned to snorkel.

Well, one of the first things I learned is that I LOVED to snorkel and swim in the Caribbean. I loved truly authentic Mexican food, I loved Mexican folk art and Mexican music .... and I loved Mexican boys. Oh how I loved Mexican boys. At 19, I was a very hot little number, and I didn't lack a single minute for the company of slim, dark-eyed, quick-moving, laughing Mexican boys.

Just because I eventually went home to rainy Seattle didn't mean I had the slightest intention of giving up the sweet attention of Mexican boys I had so quickly become accustomed to. After a long interval in which I dated Americans, almost got married, and had a kid, I found myself a twenty-five year old single mother, still pretty hot, who was sick of American men. Clearly it was time to go back to my first love, Mexican boys, but how?

The answer I came up with was salsa dancing. The salsa craze had barely begun and when I went out to the clubs I found hordes of Latin men of all nationalities, and many fewer women, mostly American. Although I am a natural born klutz, there was no shortage of young men who were willing to have their toes repeatedly trampled in exchange for the chance to chat up an attractive, blonde, blue-eyed chick who actually spoke pretty good Spanish. After a couple of years I morphed into a decent dancer. Eventually, this is how I met Homero. The rest is history (or at least, a story for another day). Fast forward twelve years and here I am in Oaxaca with two new children, alternately blessing and cursing my luck.

There are so many things I love about Mexico. There are so many things I hate about Mexico.

Things I love about Mexico:

1) The food is terrific and cheap. Today I bought a gigantic bunch of bananas (Mexican bananas blow U.S. grocery store bananas all to hell), three big ripe mangoes, a few onions, some zuchinni and tomatoes all for the equivalent of $1.75. If you like fruit, this place is paradise.
If you are brave enough to eat at the Mercado, you can get a truly amazing meal for something under $3

2) Oh the Mercados! I could get lost in the Mercado (and I have) and not come out for days. The piles of spices, chiles, medicinal herbs, raw meat, flowers, fish, plastic woven bags, beautiful ceramics and gorgeous hand woven textiles! Oh the endless pirated DVDs! Oh the old ladies in colorful aprons selling weird bugs and unheard of vegetables! Oh the smell of copal and rotting garbage! The tiny children selling tortillas and the skinny lame dogs! The mixed up horror and wonder and pity and joy.

3) Baby donkeys. 'Nuff said.

4) I brought a pair of broken glasses with me that the optician at home said were beyond repair. I knew that was crap: in Mexico, NOTHING is beyond repair. The first place I walked into here fixed them for me in five minutes. They charged me a dollar.

5) Homero can get all four of his wisdom teeth removed for under $400. The little girls and I can get all of our cavities filled for less than $100. Rowan can be fitted with braces for about $200. All of these things together in the states would cost us more than a year's income, and I am not lying.

6) I believe I mentioned something about fireworks (Remote Post, 7/4/10 (Mexican Fireworks)?

7) My Mexican relatives. They are a really terrific bunch of people who would gnaw their own arms off and sell them on the black market just to be able to buy a chicken to cook for you when you come to visit. There just isn't anything they wouldn't do for me and my kids. They are fun loving, hardworking, friendly, welcoming folks and I'm very proud they have accepted me as one of their own.

This is by no means an exhaustive list: I haven't yet mentioned ruined cities in the jungle or sudden, warm downpours but those thins, along with "Things I hate about Mexico" is going to have to wait for tomorrow, because it's time for me to go downstairs and eat some more food. Homero's grandmother is making hand-formed sopes with tassajo and salsa de guajillo.


Olive said...

What's to hate? It ALL sounds wonderful.

Do you think you will want to go home?

dilli and the manthing said...

we sound so much alike that it is ridiculous.I love speaking spanish and knowing the culture. I blend very well into their society and culture for the most part I absolutely loved Mexico while there and the sense of family and community they have that we as a whole have lost. oh and I like brown people:) was married to a feller from michoacan for many years. Do enjoy your vacation and la tierra linda.

Garden Lily said...

I love your stories - keep 'em coming.

polly's path said...

this is an awesome insider's view. Thanks for sharing. I find myself wanting to jet off to Mexico this morning. And the food....and don't even start me on the markets...you have really made me want to go visit.
Reminds me somewhat of some eastern European countries I have visited...