Friday, May 15, 2009

Two Year Observations

It has now been two full years since we retired and moved to Mexico.  Therefore, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the past two years and write about the TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED SINCE RETIRING AND MOVING TO MEXICO.  So here is the list:


  1. Contrary to what I had imagined, being retired is wonderful.  Now, keep in mind, I loved my job and was more than a little reluctant to retire.  I was afraid that I would regret the decision soon after I actually retired.  Fortunately, I am very happy to be retired.  BUT, and I think this is a big BUT, I am fairly certain that the decision to move to a new culture and immediately get involved in a number of stimulating activities has made a huge difference.   For example, I was worried about missing teaching.  So I immediately volunteered to teach  English here to Mexicans.  I love the contact with my students.  In addition, I am actively involved with other writers here and am busy in our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship here.  I am learning a new language and happily adapting to a new and exciting culture.  So I am as busy as I want to be.  The hardest thing is being away from our family, but we are making regular trips twice a year back to the US, which does take much of our extra income; but it is worth the extra money, for sure.  I doubt I’d have been as happy retiring and staying in my old life. 


  1. You cannot take your health for granted.  Well, I was very fit, exercised regularly, was relatively young, and I still had some major medical problems this spring.  Go figure?  A brain hemorrhage and a deep vein thrombosis were not exactly on my radar, but both occurred.  So, despite our false feelings of invulnerability, I have learned we cannot, ever, assume that our good health will continue uninterrupted.  It’s simply too complex, and there are environmental threats we don’t even know about.  So, even as I am recovering nicely from my problems of this spring, I will not become complacent about watching my health and taking steps to stay healthy.  An important lesson!


  1. Although medical care is cheaper in Mexico, it takes time and energy to assure we are getting good care.  We are finding, as is probably true anywhere, there is a wide variety of quality in medical care here.  We recently had to change doctors because the doctor we were going to was simply not aggressive enough about treating what turned out to be a potentially serious brain hemorrhage.  We now have a medical team which, although more expensive, seems more professional and is tied into a good group of specialists.  Medical insurance is available here, but at a high price and with high deductibles.  The IMSS coverage, offered by the state, is very economical and usually good.  For example, our next door neighbor, a Canadian, recently had a hip replacement through IMSS, and it went very well.  Although we’ve heard reports that the hospitals are not as clean and overcrowded.  We have chosen to stay with private insurance and are keeping our IMSS just to cover all bases.  But there is no perfect solution.  And, along with travel, medical care takes most of our extra money. 


  1. Although poverty is never desirable, it seems as though the poor in Mexico have an easier time than the poor in Maine.  This is true for several reasons.  First, the climate is so mild that keeping warm is not difficult in Mexico.  In Maine, it takes a significant amount of labor (wood) or money (oil or gas) to stay warm.  Many of my students had to miss class or drop out of school because of high heating costs.  Another advantage of Mexico is the easy and cheap availability of public buses.  Here, most Mexican families cannot afford a car, but they can easily get to work by bus.  The buses run all day and cost about 6 pesos (about 50 cents).  Most are full of Mexicans going to and from work.  In Maine, you need to keep are car which can pass yearly inspections.  This can be prohibitively costly for poor families.  There are also many medical clinics which are very low cost here.  The care is probably not great, but it is available for poor families.  Not so in Maine, where poor familes usually show up in the ER when there is a crisis.   Finally, I think the strong extended family networks work well here.  There is not the ethic of “You’re 18, time to live on your own” here.  Many families live together, often with many people in a few rooms, because there is no other option.  It’s not ideal, but, as a result, there is very little homelessness.

  1. When you choose to move to a new culture, you must accept a some puzzling, sometimes undesirable behaviors.  This is clearly true in Mexico.  Although we love the Mexican people, they are, let’s face it, different than we are.  They tend to tell you what you want to hear,  even if it’s not true (they are not hesitant to give directions even if they have no idea where to go), they will promise you to be there by a certain time, but have no intention of following through, they throw trash on the ground regularly, they love all-night, very loud parties and loud cohetes, or rockets, and I could go on.  As an example, they throw all kinds of waste into the empty lot across from our house.  The other day they burned the field down, without warning, to keep the brush down.  In the process they burned the telephone pole which collapsed into our road overnight.  See photos below.  If you are going to survive and be happy here, you have to let go of the idea that they will ever decide to do things as they do in the US.  It is not going to happen! Those who remain happily here learn this and adapt to it.  A common phrase we here among expats is, “Oh well, it’s Mexico; what are we going to do?” 


  1.  Watch what you eat and drink.  This sounds like a stereotype: “Don’t drink the water!” but it is true.  We need to be careful to drink only purified water here.  Even though we have purified water in our house, we drink bottled water only; it simply tastes better.  We also have to be careful; where we eat.  The Mexican love these outside road food stands.  But often they do not have sanitary conditions to clean with, so we avoid them.  There is plenty of good Mexican food without eating street food.  Many people who do (and some who do not) have been infected with parasites and/or amoebae: not life threatening, but uncomfortable and difficult to treat.  We have avoided these so far by avoiding street food and soaking all our produce in a disinfectant.  Living here has it’s price!  But, of course, the food is wonderful and cheap if we take the precautions.

  1. I’ve already touched on this, but money is an issue.  It’s cheap to live here, and we can easily do it, but if we want to regularly visit our families and stay healthy, we have to devote a significant portion of our income to these.  We usually fly, but this summer, we’ll be driving back to Maine for an extended visit.  That will be expensive too, but worth it.  My medical care for my illnesses this spring have already topped $4000 easily, just for the diagnostic procedures and drugs.  Another friend of ours paid over $10,000 for a hip replacement, less than the US but a large out-of-pocket expense! 

  1. Living in a large expat community is better than I had thought.  I was reluctant to move to Mexico and live with so may gringos, but I was wrong.  The amazing variety of US, Canadians, and Europeans who live here make our lives rich and interesting.  Many have travelled all over the world and have much experience to share.  We have many friends and it’s so easy to meet new friends here.  They share our culture and interests.  On the other hand, it’s not as easy to make strong Mexican friends here; our cultures are just very different! 

  1. Finding reading material in English is much easier than I thought.  Not only does the Lake Chapala Society have a large English-language library, but we share books among friends and many restaurants have free book exchanges as well.  We have had no trouble ordering books from Amazon and having them delivered to our Mexican mailbox, duty-free.  Plus, on our frequent trips to the US, we always bring books back.  We have excellent Internet access here, so some people use Amazon’s Kindle to download books, a bit to pricey for us.  But I regularly read the New York Times and a variety of magazines as well. 

  1. The Mexican people are gregarious, courteous, and fun-loving.  We enjoy being guests in their country.  One interesting thing I have noticed is that there is a much stronger native American influence here than in the US.  Most Mexicans are Mesitzos, part white and part Indian. Most have some of the darker Indian skin.  Some of the wealthier Guadalajarans who visit here on weekends are almost entirely white, but most of the people we deal with are very much darker.  It is my unsubstantiated theory that these Indian blood Mestizos  carry in their genes a tendency to take life as it comes and find happiness despite their poverty.  They seem so happy compared to Americans, even though they may be poor.  Just my theory; but we do enjoy living among them. 


So, just some random observations after being here for two years.  

1 comment:

Leslie Limon said...

Congratulations of surviving Mexico for 2 years!!! I wish you a very Feliz Dia del Maestro!