Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting ready to Head to Maine

The hibiscus is blooming, the rain has arrived, and we are getting ready to fly to Maine on Thursday. We are preparing for our annual pilgrimage back to the mother country to see our family and friends. The rainy season has arrived, and with it we are glad to see the cooler temperatures and greening of the mountains.

I wanted to share some special photos of friends and activities here the last several weeks. Below is a photo of my poet friend, Jim Tipton, left, with Tom Ramsey, center, also a writer from our writers' group who is leaving the Lake Chapala area to return to his native Mississippi. This has been a bittersweet goodbye because Tom has had to say goodbye to his sweetheart and wife of seven years, Marianna, who has returned to her native Switzerland, suffering from Alzheimer's and cancer, to live her final days, while Tom, because of his health problems, is moving to an assisted living facility in Madison, Mississippi. We will miss Tom here in Mexico!

Jim Rambo, another writer friend of mine, and his wife, Linda, are also attached to Shi Tzu's as Pixie and I are. They recently brought their girl, ironically named Maggie, over to have a play date with Chuy. The play date was only a moderate success, but we enjoyed watching them together and caught a few photos for posterity. Jim with Maggie, and below, Chuy's on the left.

They look alike, don't they??!!

Well, another phenomenon which occurs when living outside the United States is the World Cup. Mexico, like the rest of the world outside the US, is consumed with the World Cup football tournament. Mexico upset France yesterday; the streets were empty as all televisions in Mexico were turned to "the game!" When the game ended, everything came alive with cohetes (bottle rockets) exploding everywhere. Now the big game is on Tuesday against Uruguay to see if Mexico advances to the next round. I have become a fan, and have watched England and the US play two games (one against each other) to a draw, surprising everyone. Spain even lost to lowly Switzerland, imagine? Anyway, Lew Crippen, a friend from our unitarian fellowship invited all the men over for dinner the other night. On the right, I am posing with Lew in my Mexican football jersey.

We enjoyed a visit this week from some friends of one of my good Brown U friends, Dennis Sykes. Sue and Tom were here from Ohio to check out the area and we connected for dinner last week.

And, of course, we had a few "challenges" this week as well. Last Saturday night, our front wall was hit by grafitti, a regular occurrence around here, but a bit dispiriting nonetheless. We quickly painted it over, of course, but here is a photo of the damage:

We also experienced a sudden leak in the pipe leading into our underground water tank, or ajibe (a hee' bey) which led to a potential mess. As the water came in from the city into the ajibe, with the pipe broken, the water would keep running and overflow the ajibe, flooding our entire garage area. We found a cut off valve, pictured below, and dug it up, but found it was not connected. Luckily, Jose, our stellar plumber, was able to install another shut off valve (with the water running!!) and save the day.

Good news, we finally got our visa renewals processed today. We spent the better part of the day in a hot office in Guadalajara waiting, but we finally were successful. So now we're free to leave the country and know we can get back in legally!

So, lots of surprises living in Mexico every day, just about. But now we are preparing to leave on Thursday to fly to Boston and drive to Waldoboro, Maine to visit my dad and step mom. My dad is celebrating his 90th birthday on Saturday, June 26! After a week there, we are heading down to Kennebunk on July 1 to our rented condo for four weeks. We'll be returning to Mexico on July 31. I will not be posting much on the trip, but will return to my regular posts from Mexico in August.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mexico Census

Just as in the United States, Mexico is conducting its ten-year census now. The local newspaper included a long story educating people here about why the census is necessary and how to identify the census workers. Just as in the US, this census is used to allocate federal funds for a variety of programs at the local level. It's interesting that most social welfare programs are funded by the federal, and sometimes the state, government. There are few funds raised by local governments. (With property taxes often under $1000 pesos per year, less than $100US, there is not much money made available locally.)

The census worker, Luis, stopped by our house on Thursday, and filled out a fairly straightforward form for the census. Most of the questions were about where we were from, what we did for work before we retired, whether we are enrolled in the Social Security (IMSS) system here, how old we were, what our education level is, etc, similar to the US census. We gave Luis a coke and chatted with him for awhile. He speaks fairly good English. When Mexicans speak English well it often means they have spent some time living in the United States. In Luis'case, he has not, but has been studying English on his own. Here is the sticker Luis put on our outside wall to indicate that we had been "counted."

According to Geo-Mexico, the population of Mexico during the 200 census was 108.4 million. The population has been increasing between one and two percent every ten years. It will be interesting to see if the population increases more this time because of the greater influx of American and Canadian retirees and because so many undocumented Mexican workers have been deported from the United States. Also, the poor economic conditions seem to have discouraged many workers form trying to emigrate to the US. We shall see.

An update from the last post: we have applied for our FM3 visa renewal. We use a Mexican lawyer, Adriana, to process our application. Usually you can apply for the visa in Chapala by going to the City Hall on Wednesday mornings when the immigration officials come down from Guadalajara. They were even in the process of opening a permanent immigration office in Chapala. It's kind of a pain, because you have to go on three separate Wednesdays, get a number at 8:00 AM, then return at 10 to wait in the courtyard until they call your number. The first time you get the information and forms to fill out, the next Wednesday you can turn in your forms, and the final Wednesday, you pick up your new visa IF it's ready. The problem is you cannot begin this process until 30 days before your current visa expires, so it can get a little dicey if there are many delays.

This year they are changing from a passport type booklet to a picture ID card. Conceptually, this is a great idea and will modernize the system, and allow you to carry around your FM3 for ID purposes. But practically, like many things in this very bureaucratic government, every time they change a system, which is fairly often, it leads to many delays and problems which have to be worked out. As a result, they have temporarily suspended the immigration services in Chapala, requiring you to go into the Guadalajara immigration office if you want to do it yourself. We are happy to pay Adriana to process our visas. She will take us to Guadalajara to pick up our finished visas. The total cost this year is about $400US, about $80 for her fee. We are hoping that the system is working well enough to assure that our visas are ready by the time we leave on June 24. If they are not, we will have to get a special permit to use instead when leaving and reentering Mexico. We cannot apply for that until five days before we leave, and must get new photos taken for it and pay $800MX apiece (about $65US). This is the type of thing you just have to deal with. In the end it all works out, but it is not very efficient. Once the new system is up and operating, we should be able to apply online! We'll see.

Speaking of long waits we have a friend who needs hip replacement surgery. She is enrolled in the Mexican medical system, IMSS, which we have decided not to renew. She has been going to the IMSS doctors for evaluation. She finally went in last week for her final blood work and was hoping to have her surgery scheduled soon. Unfortunately, she discovered that there are about 1000 non-emergency orthopedic surgeries scheduled before her's, and she received a surgery date of August 27. Unless her hip becomes an emergency for some reason, she will have a long summer of waiting. Her name is Sue, and she's a very optimistic thinker. Her reaction was, "Well, at least it will be cooler. IMMS hospitals are not air conditioned, and it will be more comfortable!" Apparently, the physicians are generally good at the IMSS hospitals, although the facilities are bare bones and often very crowded.

We had kind of a funny problem develop with our garden. We planted a very prolific vine on the west side of our terrace to block the sun in the afternoon. It grew very well and did a great job. The problem is that as the vines got bigger, they grew up over our roof, which is not a problem, but the leaves started to drop off the lower branches, exactly where we needed them to block the sun. After consultation with Horacio, we decided to plant a new vine in front. It is a very popular plant, Thunbergia, which has beautiful blue flowers, and is very prolific. We'll see. It's fragile when you first plant it, and we had a couple of plants die right away, but at 45 pesos apiece, it was not expensive to replace them. Here is a photo of the new plants in front of the old vines:

Chuy recovered quickly from is involuntary emasculation surgery, and seems not to have been traumatized. Here he is checking out smells in the front garden:

Finally, we have been watching the swallows building a nest in the rafters of our garage, as they do every year. Here is a rather blurry photo of the mother sitting on the soon-to-be-hatched eggs.

The only problem with this is that the birds poop all over the car when they sit by their nest. I tried, earlier in the nesting process to urge them to build their nest elsewhere. Every day I'd hose down the first piece of nest, thinking they'd get the idea. They were more persistent. My poem, The Swallow War, documents this epic struggle:

The Swallow War
Every spring the swallows come
Beautiful, graceful,
Rusty heads.
They build their mud nest
In the beams of our garage.
Every morning, annoyed, I’d clean
The white bird poop
From the windows and roof
Of my violated vehicle.

This year, I declared war.

As soon as I could see
Bits of mud on the beam,
I hosed it away.
And every day, they returned,
Non-plussed, to deliver more mud,
And every day, cruelly, I hosed.

Why do they return
Every day
To violent destruction?

Three weeks,
More mud, more hosing.
And finally I stood
Hose in hand, defeated!

Why did I think
I could prevail
Over such instinct?

Would they persist,
And threaten their eggs?

So now, every morning,
I admire the ever-growing nest
And realize how my will
Is no match for nesting birds,
As I wipe away
More white poop.