Friday, October 23, 2009

What's Going on in Mexico Now?

The clouds over Chapala are persisting as the rain continues occasionally. Tonight we had a major downpour, although most days are now rain-free. Soon there will be no rain at all and the mountains will once again turn brown and dusty. Right now wildflowers grace the mountains and provide beautiful color on our daily walks, like this scene I snapped the other day on my morning walk in Riberas del Pilar.

Pixie and I have been working off and on most of the week to get our home, and our lives, back in order after our long summer absence. Besides unpacking the RAV4 with all the odds and ends we brought back, we had to replace our very old washing machine which bit the dust as soon as we got back. This is an example of higher prices in Mexico. The cheapest decent washer we could find was about 4100 pesos, or about $340 USD. But at least now we can wash all those dirty clothes we brought home!

We also had to clean our ajibe (ah hee bay), our underground water stone water tank. The water which is pumped into it by the city had sat stagnant for several months while we were gone, and it was turning green! For about 900 pesos ($72) we had a gang come in, drain the ajibe, scrub it down and let it refill. We replaced all the filters too, so now our water is purified and we're ready to shower and cook. We still drink bottled water because we prefer the taste.

We also had to prune our large queen palms in the back yard. This is a big task, and we hire professionals to do it for 350 pesos per tree. Here is a photo.

So, we're just about back to normal and fitting into our previous life. Since I got back late, I am not teaching now. The semester already started and they found a substitute for my class. That's okay though. I am planning to take some time off and explore some other volunteer opportunities. My new book of poems, Agave Blood, has gone to the printers in Guadalajara and should be ready soon.

When I got back, I was very grateful to see that our friends Susan and Steve Barr had saved all the issues of the Guadalajara Reporter I had missed, so I could catch up on all the local and Mexican news from the period I was away. As I skimmed the papers, I noticed a few big stories which might be interesting to share.

Perhaps the biggest Mexican news over the summer was the July mid-term election. For over 40 years, I think, the PRI party had ruled Mexico. Other parties competed but never won. There was widespread election corruption and Mexican democracy suffered as a result. In 2000, the PRI party was finally ousted when the PAN candidate, Vicente Fox, won the election for president. The PAN party is a conservative, pro-business, pro-NAFTA party generally friendly to the United States. The current president, Felipe Calderon, elected in 2006, is also a member of PAN. In that election, the old PRI party finished a poor third to PAN and the new leftist PRD party. PRI was in disrepute and weak. In this year's July midterm elections, PRI surprisingly surged back into power in the legislature. I think Calderon's popularity has suffered because of the strong war he has been fighting with the drug cartels which has resulted in a large spike in violence, mostly in the border areas. The economic downturn has also hurt the ruling PAN party. Many poorer Mexicans I have spoken with feel an emotional affinity for PRI, crediting them with many of the social reforms like starting the IMSS pension and medical program, limiting the influence of the Catholic church, and building schools and hospitals. Although Jalisco is conservative, Jorge Sandoval, the PRI candidate for mayor of Guadalajara, easily beat the PAN candidate by 48 to 32 percent. This sets up an interesting government for the next three years as PRI will likely block many of Calderon's programs as both parties jockey for the 2012 presidential elections. Mexican presidents are limited to one six-year term. Who knows what will happen if the leftist PRD party also grows stronger?Many Latin American countries now have leftist governments.

The big news in today's paper is about a planned fumigation of all of Guadalajara to kill mosquito eggs to limit the spread of dengue fever, which I mentioned in the last post. Sixty nebulizer-equipped pick up trucks will drive around Guadalajara over the next 4 weeks "fumigating" all areas of the city. Residents are urged to open their windows when the trucks come to their neighborhoods to allow their houses to be fumigated as well. They must be using some type of pesticide for this process, but there was no mention in the article about the health concerns of such a practice. The thinking must be that the danger of dengue fever is more of a health threat.

Another interesting piece in today's paper relates to people self-medicating themselves to treat the swine flu. Mexico allows virtually all prescription strength drugs to be sold over-the-counter with no prescription. This can be a dangerous practice as Mexican people, strapped for cash, try to treat themselves with antibiotics which, of course, do nothing to treat a viral disease like the flu. I have also read about people suffering ill effects from using the wrong medication or causing serious drug interactions. Some politicians in Mexico are suggesting the law allowing these over-the-counter drug sales be repealed. By the way, Mexico has also recently decriminalized small amounts of most illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Interesting. Will the US follow suit? Not likely, although some form of legalization might be the only way to curb the drug violence.

I'll cover some other interesting news stories in future posts. Today I'll include one final happy photo. Lisa, Steve and Susan's daughter visited Lakeside last week with her boyfriend, Buck. Here is the happy couple.

Friday, October 16, 2009

South of the Border, Again...At Last!

Well, we have finally made it back to Mexico after a long and eventful visit north to Maine. Pixie drove down, with help from our son Eric, to Muncie, Indiana; alone from Muncie to Memphis; and with our friend Trudy from Memphis to Ajijc. They arrived here Sunday evening after a long drive from Saltillo, and I flew down Tuesday.

We are very grateful to be back home again. Our house is still wonderful. Our friends
Lynn and Gary, who were storing some of their stuff here (they will relocate back to Mexico in a few more years), had a yard sale and sold most of their stuff while we were gone. We bought a few pieces of furniture from them and now have a fully-furnished guest room. They generously left us a few unexpected items which we found upon our return. The garden is green and lush. Our young gardener, Horacio, took excellent care of all the plants in our absence, with some help from our maid, Maria Elena. The weather is in the 80's and sunny, and it was especially good to see so many of our friends here.

Pixie and Trudy had a good drive down. They enjoyed some shopping. Trudy used to live in Dallas and was able to show Pixie around a bit. In Texas they stopped at Willie Nelson's place. Here they are:

The first night after I arrived home, we attended a 70th birthday party for our friend Fred Harland. They hosted a French dinner at a local restaurant, and many people "roasted" Fred. He is not that easy to roast since he is such a perfect guy. Here are Fred and his wife, Mardele:

We are now at the end of the rainy season. The mountains are green and the wildflowers are out. This year's season produced less rain than most years. This raises a concern since this area of Mexico depends on the rainfall from June through October for virtually all its rain for the year. We will see how the deficit of rain will play out in terms of the lake and the underground aquifers from which we draw our water. Speaking of the lake, as you can see from the photo above, the invasive hyacinth they call "lirio," is back. For the last year, since the end of the last rainy season in 2008, there has been almost no lirio on the lake. The rain brings it back, to some degree, but we were surprised to see the amount on the lake now. Here is a closer shot which shows the plant better: keep in mind that this entire area was open water when we left:

Another legacy of the rainy season here is a rise in the number of cases of the tropical disease, Dengue Fever. This is a disease many of us northerners are unfamiliar with, but it can potentially be serious, even deadly. It is a mosquito-borne virus which is more rampant during the time mosquitoes are breeding. The rainy season creates standing water which allows them to breed. The majority of cases are mild to moderate and go unreported. A few cases, however, are of the hemorrhagic type, similar to the Ebola virus in Africa. The local paper reported last week that the government has reported that there may have been as many as 20,000 cases of Dengue in our State of Jalisco. Since this disease is preventable with some common-sense precautions, like cleaning up standing water and turning over garbage cans, there is a big public health effort, especially in coastal areas, to get people to take the mosquito threat seriously.

Our son, Eric, came to Maine with his family in late September to help drive Pixie back to Muncie, but also to enable my dad and stepmom, Joy, to see their great grandaughter. Here is a happy photo:

And while I am in the business of providing happy photos, here is a great one of our three children (from left) Cassie, Eric, and Wendy, with Isabelle, posing in front one of their favorite stores, when they were children visiting thier grandparents, the Granite Hall Store, purveyor of many types of"penny" candy.

This morning I was able to finally return to the Ajijic Writers' group. Today was a special day was we celebrated Alejandro Grattan's 75th birthday. I was also awarded this year's literary award for the best poem published in El Ojo del Lago. My photos came out abit blurry, but here''s one of Ken Clark, one of our fellow writers, congratulating Alex.
So. we are getting back to our Mexican life. However, while I was at the Writers' Group this morning, Pixie received word that her brother, Dallas, has suffered a heart attack and received a stent overnight. He seems to be resting comfortably today, as far as we can tell, and should remain in the hospital for several days. This has been a difficult year, as we are reminded once again how precious life is and how quickly things can change. I send Dallas the very best and wish him a speedy recovery!