It’s Not a Ghost Town After All

Members of 4 generations of my family took a walk yesterday and we saw others out and about our neighborhood. We all said “hi.” Now I know that it’s not a ghost town after all.

I shocked the staff at the local Mexican restaurant today by speaking to them in Spanish. They seemed to like it, but couldn’t quite get the surprised looks off of their faces. I think they were waiting for me to get to the end of my reperotoir in Spanish and have to switch to English. Surprise, surprise I can go from ordering to requesting forks to appologizing for the mess my son has made–all in Spanish.

One person knew my family because they are regular customers at the restaurant and she asked where I lived in Mexico. It was good to get that cleared up. Looks at the U.S. through a Mexican Lens

I’m on vacation and is going to take advantage of this to look at Mexico from the outside and the U.S. from the inside. I want to get a sense of how living in Mexico changes one for the better.

The first things that I revel in upon arriving in the U.S. are the bathrooms. In the airport I was struck by the complete lack of stench in the bathrooms. Where does that smell come from in Mexican bathrooms? Even the clean ones have some kind of odor.

Enough about bathrooms! It is my job as a blogger to get beyond the obvious and push the discussion of life in Mexico to something that will benefit humanity, to something that will help us celebrate diversity and actually become better people thanks to our intercultural experiences.

Mexican Resident Walks Ghost Town in U.S.

I’m visiting family in a quiet, 60-year-old suburban neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday we went on a stroll and I was almost swept away by the space and quietness. The roads are wide. The sidewalks are smooth and clear. There was limited car traffic and you could hold a conversation in conversational tones. There are ramps on the curbs so everyone, from babies in strollers, to kids on bikes, to people in wheelchairs can move easily from place to place. The yards are lush, with flower gardens and beautiful trees—but no one was in them..

It was sunny yesterday and there was a gentle breeze; it wasn’t hot, it wasn’t cold. You could not have dreamed of a more perfect environment for a walk or a chat. (Chatting is a major pastime in Mexico and I like it.) And nobody was out there enjoying it! After an hour of strolling around I started to feel as if I was moving through a ghost town.

At the neighborhood elementary school I strolled past the windows to classrooms, empty for summer vacation. On each window was a laminated sheet of paper declaring the room number in a large, clear font. Suddenly it hit me why those were there. In an emergency someone from the outside might need to know the room number. I remembered the emergencies that had taught school staff and first responders that that information might be needed. For a moment I almost cried that children in that school were being protected in case a blood bath might happen.

Three kids were playing with skateboards and bicycles. I approached them because my son likes to say hi to other kids. In Mexico we have learned that kids tend to stop playing and come touch younger kids, saying hi to them and giggling a little. They were all under 14, probably brothers, and one of them was cussing up a blue streak—oh well, my son had heard those words before. I wondered how such little people could have soaked up so much anger. For a moment I pictured the home life that could have caused them to seem prickly from 50 yards away and felt frightened.

Only one of them even looked at me as we passed by. I said hi and he just stared. Just 4 days ago we had been in a park in Mexico and three brothers had gone by with skateboards. Two had said hi and the oldest had stopped to give my son a ball that was rolling around. What a sad contrast.

The chains on the tetherball posts clanged in the breeze and the basketball hoops stood like lone trees in a desert. Not a desert created by a lack of rain, but a lack of people. 4 hoops. I wondered if those hoops had ever seen a pick up game. For pick up games to happen lots of people have to arrive at the basketball court at about the same time of day. In Mexico hoops like that would have been busy all weekend. I made a mental note to go check out how things are at the basketball hoops this weekend. Collectively we have enough money to set up hoops at our neighborhood school, but are we too busy working to enjoy them? I hope to find people enjoying the hoops that our wealth has provided.
If I lived here, could I create an environment in which a pickup game could happen? What if I were to post signs on the school yard fence declaring that there would be a pick up game at a certain time and day? Would that work or would people be too busy and forget to come?

I saw one man throwing a ball for his two, well-trained dogs. As typical Americans we never said hi to each other (I was feeling discouraged after the kid who had stared at me), just exchanged those half smiles that say, “I want to smile and say hi, but I’m too shy to do it.” The man spoke to me then turned his attention to his dog who had lain down in the shade. I wandered away without saying goodbye because I had forgotten how to say goodbye to Americans to whom I’d never said hello to and who weren’t looking anyway. Mexicans are looking at you and it’s easier to say goodbye.

So one lesson white Americans can learn from Mexicans is that we shouldn’t be too shy. Go ahead and say hi. Go ahead and say goodbye. Even if people are taken off guard the first time, the next time they see you, they’ll surely remember you and say hi.

Live or Retire in Mexico: The Weather Runs Your Life

When you live or retire in Mexico be prepared to let the weather run your life. You usually don’t notice how closely life is tied to the weather, even in Mexico, because the weather is usually sunny, but let the weather change a bit and you really feel it. It’s a nice thing about living or retiring in Mexico that you might not think of while you are making your plans to move to Mexico. Because our climate is generally more extreme in the U.S. and Canada than it is in Mexico, we have to have houses with heating systems and insulation. We have ample electricity that is rarely cut off due to storms or other events. Our water is heated in our houses and runs through insulated pipes. All of this conspires to keep us isolated from the weather and we loose touch with the turning of the seasons. When you live or retire in Mexico, hopefully you will have enough money to live in a comfortable house that has some of these same conveniences, but even if you do, I think you will notice the effects of the weather on your life more strongly than you do up north.

Here’s how you might find that the weather affects your laundry plans when you live or retire in Mexico: 

Laundry is commonly done outside in Mexico, which, provided that you have  a shaded are in which to work, is really pleasant. The only problem comes when it rains. If it rains no laundry gets done. Sometimes we have storms of three days, so for three days, we can’t wash anything. Since there is no heat in the house, things that are wet stay wet. Dish rags and bathroom hand towels get smelly in the laundry basket or look sad and droopy hanging on the clothes line for days. Heaven forefend that you have a load of laundry to hang up when the storm starts. Then you have to figure out how to hang the items in your house and hope they will dry before they smell like mildew. Short term weather forecasting becomes part of the laundry process during the rainy season when you live or retire in Mexico.

Here’s how you might change your showering schedule when you live or retire in Mexico: 

The weather also controls showers. When it’s hot it’s best to shower in the afternoon, which is something that retired people can really take advantage of since they don’t have to be at work. It’s deliciously refreshing to remove the day’s sweat from your body then put on clean, dry clothes. The timing of the shower is important because if you take it late enough to catch the cooling trend in the afternoon or evening, you can stay fresh until the next day. When it’s cold, you again take your showers in the afternoon when it’s warmest. In the morning you might just get chilled and in the evening your wet hair could cause problems by not drying soon enough before you go to bed.

Hopefully you are pleasantly surprised by these two ways in which you can reconnect with the earth and its processes when you live or retire in Mexico.