Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Well, we found our first black widow spider this morning. Actually Maria Elena, our maid, found it when she was dusting around the fireplace. It was bigger than I thought, and very much alive with a web with a baby in it. I was, however, able to overcome my Buddhist instincts and killed them both! We have been spraying the house once a month which has just about eliminated cockroaches and we've seen no more scorpions, but spiders seem to be less affected by the spraying. Anyway, I think this is a cool picture.

Last time I wrote about our maid, Maria Elena and our gardener, Horacio. I finally took photos of them.
Horacio has been helping us do more in our garden. Plants are very inexpensive with lots of viveros (nurseries) in the area. So it's a good deal: We buy the plants and he does the heavy work!
Here are two of the garden projects we've been working on. On the left are the "cupo de oros" we have planted next to our terrace to eventually provide shade in the late afternoon. Now the sun streams in. On the right is Pixie's new rose garden.


Maria Elena comes every Thursday to clean, but she does a little bit of everything. When we were putting on a dinner party with Mexican food one night, she jumped right in to show us how to prepare the chilis. We needed some sheets fitted to our bed, and she altered them for us. She's now started cutting my hair too. I, of course, pay her more for this, but she does a beautiful job, and it beats waiting in line at a Pelequeria (barber shop).
We have been experiencing a few water/sewer-related problems lately. The water comes from municipal wells here in Riberas, but the water has a lot of sediment and is very hard water. We have been having some problems with the water having a sulfur smell. It's not dangerous; we haven't become sick, but it is an unpleasant smell. It comes and goes, but we can't seem to get rid of it. I've been changing the filters on the water purification system and putting chlorine into the underground water tank (ajibe), but we have switched to bottled water for drinking, although we use the tap water for cooking and washing.

The other unpleasant problem is with our septic system. Our leech field is under our back yard. When the septic system, which is on an automatic pump, pumps the effluent into the leech field, we can smell it. It is unpleasant, but it only lasts a short time. But when we moved in, we did not have the problem. After talking to a septic professional, he told me it's because of the soil here. During the rainy season, the ground is saturated, so it takes longer for the effluent to percolate out. Once the rainy season is over next month, the problem should resolve itself. I hope so. Whew. Ultimately, we are supposed to get a sewer system here, so that will solve it.

The other big news for me is that I published a volume of my poetry. My friend Vicente did the cover illustration, and his partner Donna translated my title
poem, "Sacred Lake" into Spanish. Here's the cover:
And here is the title poem:

Sacred Lake

I have come to a place where rivers

Flow from all directions

Into an ancient sacred lake

Which draws those

Searching and yearning, craving

Its cool waters and blood-red sunsets

To calm their souls and please their gods.

I was not looking for a lake

For I had traveled to many lakes

And I did not feel thirsty.

Yet, as I came upon this lake

So resplendent with spirits

Of many lives lived, I found my muse

And it quenched a thirst

I never felt till I fell at its bank

And drank deeply of its richness.

And I sense the presence of stunning

Aztec youth sacrificed to Quetzalcoatl,

Their fluids draining, with their lives,

From the mountains into the limpid waters

Far below. As now I see the old men

Casting their nets, content in their solitude,

Hoping to catch their dreams here.

And now as I drink from this lake

I taste the blood and desperate tears

Of those who cry and bleed for moments lost

Yet their fluids still seep

Into my heart; I embrace my muse

Finding my deep trembling voice

To create every moment anew.

And I bask in the heat of everyone

Who has learned to love again

By this ancient sacred lake.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Day In the Life (continued)

Continuing the theme from the last post, I'll discuss more about "what we do all day." I hesitate to write much about this, because I don't want this to turn into a ridiculous diary of our life here, self-indulgent and not so interesting (as SO MANY blogs turn out to be), but I figure if you're not at least somewhat interested in this, you won't be reading it.

One of the benefits of living here, and one that took me a long time to get used to, is the opportunity to hire people to help with the cleaning and maintenance around the house. When we bought our house, the previous owners employed Maria Elena as a maid. She came once a week for five hours, and had a specific routine for keeping the house clean. They also employed a young man as a gardener, Horacio, who worked 2-3 hours a week. The yard looked superb. We decided to keep them on, so now they work for us.

There are some interesting issues, though, with hiring domestic help. First of all, you are considered their patron, which means you are assuming some responsibility for them. Accordingly, when we go away, like we did in the spring, we still pay them to come and work, at the same wage, so they don't lose any money. We are expected to help them, as we can, if they get sick, etc, by paying them even if they have to miss work. Mexican law requires that we pay a Christmas bonus, according to a specific formula. We also need to pay generous severance pay if we terminate their employment or sell the house. This, too, is determined by their length of service. In the case of several years of employment, the severance pay could amount to several thousand dollars! On the other hand, the pay is very reasonable. Maria Elena was earning $150 pesos ($15 USD) per five hour week. We immediately gave her a raise to $200 pesos, very cheap. Horacio earns between $80-120 pesos per week, depending on how much work there is to do. So, for us, the bottom line is that for about $120USD a month, we have the house thoroughly cleaned every week and the yard and gardens tended to.

Now Maria Elena and Horacio will do whatever we ask, but my experience is that they have been taking care of this house and yard for a number of years before we arrived, so I try not to get in their way. We do ask Horacio to plant plants which we buy, move or remove other plants, and he freely gives us advice on what/where to plant things. But generally, we let him do his thing. Maria Elena, who is in her early 50's is a whirlwind. She starts every day by slapping the furniture and window areas with a towel. This is how she dusts. I'm not sure she's getting rid of the dust or just moving it around, but it does look good when she's done. I try to stay out of the way to avoid getting slapped with the towel! She sweeps, mops, cleans, shakes rugs, scours, all with energy. If I put music on, she dances while she works. The other thing she loves to do is talk, enthusiastically, in Spanish, as though we understand every word she is saying. (As a result, we are learning more, and can 'hear' Spanish better. Pixie often understands better what she's saying form the context than I do.) If she sees us unloading groceries, she helps, and gives us advice about how to cook the items she is unloading. She brings us crafts she makes, and sometimes food. If we have any type of pain or illness, she goes outside and finds herbs to make us a medicinal tea. She gives us decorating advice to help us make our house "muy bonita." ....Sometimes we need to leave while she's here because she's exhausting. But she's a wonderful woman and we love being her patron. We gave her some plants the other day, so we drove her home (she usually takes the bus) and got to see her little house and garden in Chapala and met her family; we were, of course, introduced as her patrons.

So, we DO have housework to do, and some maintenance outside. But the heavy work is taken care of. This is an amazing advantage for us. And we get lots of care and loving advice along the way.

We both have activities we do, which I have written about before. Pixie takes her water aerobics in the mornings, has several women's groups she meets with, is taking Spanish with a group of women in the area, and will be working at an orphanage in the fall. I teach English two afternoons a week, participate in a men's film group, and participate in the Ajijic Writers' Group. We both participate in a political discussion group over dinner at a local restaurant, a Great Books discussion group, and are active participants in our Unitarian Universalist fellowship each Sunday. So, we're busy, but can always skip something if we are tired or feel like doing something else.

The afternoons are usually the warmest parts of the day, especially in the spring, and we like to take siesta time when we can. Pixie often just reads and relaxes, and I read then nap. For dinner, when we eat in, we usually either cook on the grill or prepare vegetables and fish or something inside. We tend to eat light in the evening. We have several options for eating food prepared elsewhere. There is a Taiwanese buffet here in Riberas with enough food for both of us for $38 pesos. Or for $35 pesos we can buy half a roasted chicken with potatoes, salad, salsa, and tortillas. As I've written about before, this area has many restaurants and the cost is affordable. We can easily eat out at a nice place for about $200 pesos. But, because it still adds up, and because it's harder to eat healthy food (or more tempting not to) we eat in a lot.

In the evenings, if we're not out with friends socializing, we tend to watch movies (which we usually buy at the market for $35 pesos, borrow from friends, or rent from the Lake Chapala Society library). We recently picked up a Rummikub game at a yard sale, and enjoy playing that or gin. We bought a scrabble game too, my particular favorite, but, of course, it's a Mexican version, so the letter distributions, and even some letters are different ("ll", "ch" "rr" and the "enyay," --the "n" with the squiggle over it-- are separate letters), but we manage.

We're usually up until after 11, mas o menos, reading. I usually conk out before Pixie.

Addendum: last night we went to celebrate Jesus' and Dora's birthdays. As usual, we were the only gringos at their family party. It was a fun night with Dora's tamales, two pinatas, and cake. Here are some photos: