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:

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