Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Truth About Mexico

Here is our friend Teo, the only Mexican member of our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.  He is the weaver who makes beautiful tapetas, or tapestries, which I have highlighted on this blog before.  He is a very sweet, gentle and kind man who represents, to me, what I love most about Mexico: its people.  Teo lived and worked as an agricultural worker in California for many years, traveling back and forth between Ajijic and California each year.  The work was back breaking and sometimes humiliating.  Once he found his life partner, Janice Kimball, an expat artist from Detroit, she convinced Teo that he could make a living with his amazing weavings.  They now live in Ajijic and own a joint Aztec Studio, where Janice sells her paintings, they sell tapetas designed by Janice and made by Teo, and now Teo's son, Francisco, also makes more modern tapetas which he sells as well.  They are a beautiful family making their living with their art and add so much to this Mexican-Gringo community.  This photo of Teo was taken a couple of weeks ago when Pixie and I hosted a pot luck lunch for our Fellowship in our back yard.  

Pixie left for Maine yesterday and arrived safely in Gray, Maine at the home of her sister, Liana.  She reports that she had to pay $8.00 for a lousy sandwich on Delta Airlines and arrived to mucho snow in Maine, but moderate temperatures in the 30's.  She will be in Maine for an indeterminite period, and I will be fending for myself for awhile.   

The title of this entry came from my reaction to some very bad publicity Mexico has been receiving the last few weeks, which I believe is unwarranted.  The LA Times 
reported a week or two ago that Drug Czar Barry McAfferty, among others, has warned that Mexico may become a failed state, similar to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This analyis is based on three trends.  The Narco Gangs are proliferating, especially in the northern Mexican states near the US border, and over 5000 people were murdered last year in drug-related violence.  Although President Calderon hascommited Mexican troops  and federal police to fight this problem, these efforts seem to be increasing the violence.  Second, the oil reserves owned here by Pemex, the national oil company, are diminishing which, combined with lower oil prices, will decrease revenue substantially for Mexico in the next decade.  Finally, the economic recession in the US is drastically dimishing remittances from the US, a significant source of Mexican income.  All this is true.  Nevertheless, Mexico remains a vibrant democracy which demonstrated in 2006 that it could handle a close presidential election without violence.  I see evidence of government efforts to fight corruption and rebuild Mexico's infrastructure every day.  I am now able to read, with reasonable accuracy, Mexican newspapers which report political and cultural events regularly.  Mexico has problems; there is violence; and the future will be economically challenging.  Nevertheless, those of us who are living here by choice, as foreign nationals feel safe and secure here.  The US certainly struggles with violence and economic insecurity as well.  But in this culture, where people are used to surviving, despite long odds, there is an expectation that they will survive this too.  The peso is falling (as of today, 14.2 pesos to the dollar down from about 10.00), trade with the US is diminishing, and NAFTA continues to raise  the prices of tortillas and other corn and bean products here.  But the people are resiliant.    The less you have, the less problem is caused by an economic downturn.  

I received an email from one of the readers of this blog about a comment I made suggesting that I feel as though I may be running out of things to write about.  He suggested that I should continue to write about what it's like to simply live here, even something as simple as a trip to the grocery store, which, he said, would be interesting to him, because he does not live here.    Well, it may be a bit repetitive, but I will try to follow his advice.  So, in coming posts, I will revisit things like prices, availability of products, and healthcare here in Jalisco.  I just read in the local newspaper that Jalisco has the most number of scorpion stings in all of Mexico; the good news is I have yet to become a statistic!

We have sent for our South Dakota license plates.  Why, you may ask, did I do such a thing?  Because...our Maine plates have long ago expired.  We cannot register our car here becuase we did not buy it here.  (Don't ask, I do not know why.)  The only state which, apparently, will grant auto registration to non-residents is South Dakota.  (When we first got here I was astounded at how many people had migrated here from South Dakota,of all places!)   So, since we are planning a road trip back to Maine next summer, we have sent for our SD plates.  The total cost: only $63 USD.  Beats Maine!  So soon we'll be sporting Mount Rushmore on our car.  

I've been invited over for dinner tonight by our next door neighbors from Montreal, Ron and Pat. They are great friends and the best neighbors.  They have a key to our house and keep an eye on things when we are gone.  Ron taught me how to spray for scorpions and chlorinate the ajibe (undergrouond water tank).  Here's a photo of Ron and his dog, and Maggie's friend, Layla: 


I'll end this post with a photo I recently took of a marvelous mural painted of the goddess of the lake byJesus Lopez Vega, a local artist, at the Ajijic Cultural Center:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Taking the Bad with the Good

(Photo by our friend, Carol Bowman)

As I write this, Pixie is preparing to return to Maine at the end of January to be with her mother who is ill.  She will be staying with her sister in Gray.  We don't know how long she'll be there, but I will be staying in Mexico.  Not ideal, but as Pixie says, "You gotta do what you gotta do."

I lost a friend on New Year's Eve.  His name was Terry Hogan.  He was an interesting man who I met in the Ajijic Writers' Group.  He was Irish. He's been a fisherman, a woodsman, a car mechanic, and he lived on a Greek Island for awhile.  He lived around the other side of the lake and loved Mexico.  He was very kind and encouraged me with my poetry. We gathered in Jocotepec for a celebration of his life last week, and I was able to learn more about the rich life he had led.  It was sad, but I was glad to have known him.  I wrote a poem about the fact that I am meeting interesting people here, but towards the end of their lives.  I find myself wondering what they were like when they were younger.  Here it is:

Meeting You at Twilight  


I am glad to have come across you

Even as the sun sets over the western shore

For you are a beacon to light my way

As I head into my dusk.


Where I feel unsure, you step deliberately

Where I am new, you show me your scars.

You are not like those I do not want to become

Who die slowly every day.

You live in the sun and bask in the heat.


How did you get to this twilight today?

What were you like at noon?

I can only guess.

Were you always walking in front?

Were you like me?

What have you lost in the dark afternoon?


Would that I could walk with you

For just one day in the sun

To look into your face

To see what you feared

And see what you loved

When the sun cast no shadows

On your fresh life.


For now I do not have

Long hours to walk with you,

I know as the sun drops over the trees

That darkness will descend

For you, and for me,

And I am glad to have

Seen you smile and heard your voice

In the evening light. 

We visited a friend's home last week, and she has decorated it with beautiful Mexican art.  I thought I'd post some photos.  Her name is Bebe.  She is from California, has liv ed in Mexico for almost 20 years, and has become a Mexican citizen.  She poses below with her life-sized Katrna: 

Here are some photos I took around her very Mexican home:


Lakeside is more crowded these days as the snowbirds have arrived, mostly from Canada, to escape the cold and snow.  Walmart is open and busy, new businesses are opening, and the peso is still weak against the American dollar.  The drug wars, which are mostly up around the border, touched lakeside last week when a couple of young Mexican men were shot and killed on the Carreterra, the main road through all the north shore towns, a couple of blocks from our house, in the middle of the night, a likely drug-related execution.  But, of course, this kind of thing happens all the time in American cities.  But, sadly, it can happen here too.  

We are all awaiting the historic inauguration of Barack Obama on Tuesday.  Mexicans and Canadians alike are intrigued at the prospect of this new kind of American president.  I'll end this entry with a poem I wrote about Obama which appears in this month's Ojo del Lago:


(Upon Your Election, November 2008)


You have reached

Deep into the

Unspeakable shame

Of a people

And pulled out the strands

Which transcend hate.

And now you stand

Above the raw wound

Grasping the fragile tissue

Of redemption.


And we are waiting.

We can see,

Like Plato’s shadows

Insubstantial fragments

Of truth

On which we reflect

Our hopes

Cast unfairly onto you,

So beautiful

And wise

Beyond your years,

So it’s easy

To think we see

A great man



Our jaded eyes.




As you once stood

And wept

Over your black

Father’s grave,

You now stand

Over a land

Cast in many colors

Which has lost its way

Amid the glut

Of excess

And loud cries

Of tribal hate.



Will you help us

Save modernity

From itself?

Can we live up

To the hope

Of your black brothers

And white sisters

Who want

To see

Abraham and Franklin

In your

Honey brown face?



Can you help us

See ourselves anew,

Not as God’s children

Chosen to rule

The earth,

But as citizens

Of the world

Who can think

And reason

And love

And share

And survive




I do not know

Your destiny

Nor ours.

But your kind eyes

Reflect the hopes

We have

For the children

Who will inherit

What we

Have wrought.