I am not your typical expat, or what many people stereotype an expat to be. Many of my friends back in Winnipeg have this image in their heads of what my life is like here in Mexico.
Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed I haven’t seen a beach in over a year now. Guadalajara is more than five hours away from Puerto Vallarta.
My life here is not lying on a beach all day or suntanning on a terrace. I’m up early two mornings a week and heading for the bus before the sun is even close to rising. And three nights a week I return home from work long after the sun has set.
No, I do not have to contend with snow and freezing temperatures. And I do teach considerably fewer hours than I would if I still lived in Canada. Despite the numerous concessions I have made in adapting to this lifestyle, I am quite content with my life here in Mexico. And I enjoy hilarious discussions with others when we compare situations that have arisen and we compare them with how they would have been handled in the USA or Canada.
Of particular note is the Mexicans fascination with paperwork. After all, why complete only one form with a multitude of information when it is possible to fill out several repetitious forms instead? And let’s not forget all those absolutely necessary photocopies that are not required after all. And when it comes to proof of identification…………..well, I won’t even go there!
Let’s apply for a work visa, or a bank account, or health insurance. Why should you make only one visit to that office when it’s possible to return for several visits? The security staff become your friends, you talk to complete strangers in endless lineups and the hours pass by not so quickly.
And while we’re on the subject of paper, toilet paper has some other incredible uses here in Mexico. It is often prominently displayed on tabletops in lieu of napkins or serviettes. It doubles as paper towels in the kitchen. It is often seen on the dashboards of cars and buses. But it is often missing in the bathrooms, along with the toilet seats.
I admit it. I drink juice with a straw out of a plastic bag. And I eat lollipops in class with my students. I also suck candies out of a straw. I eat potato chips with crema and salsa. I sprinkle tajin on cucumber slices. And of course I squeeze lime into soup or whatever else I’m eating. Tamales and tacos have become breakfast foods. But I still can’t bring myself to drown my pizza in ketchup or salad dressing.
Riding the buses in Guadalajara is rather wild when I compare it with the experience back in Canada. I have yet to ride a bus here that would pass a safety inspection and be allowed on the streets in Winnipeg. The vehicles here are ancient, dilapidated and dangerous. The drivers are not paid a salary but receive a percentage of the take, so they race each other from stop to stop, trying to cram as many people as they can on board. Although certain areas are marked “parada”, the drivers often fly by as they want to get the green light. If there is too much traffic, drivers impatiently change the route to accommodate their mood. Obviously there are no schedules either.
What I enjoy is watching what people carry with them on the bus. I have seen everything from car parts to live animals. Yesterday a woman had a decorative castle that took up two seats. Vendors on their way to market get on with flowers, clothing, jewelry and food. People get on selling candy or religious items, or occasionally just begging for money telling a tale of their health problems. But what I like best are the people with guitars, harmonicas, violins or drums who serenade us. Some of them are actually quite talented. The ones I dislike are the face-painted clowns who natter on endlessly in Spanish with jokes that are far from amusing.
Of course the long distance buses are a completely different story. I use the first class buses whenever possible. These air-conditioned buses are extremely comfortable with reclining seats and computer terminals where I can watch movies or concerts and listen to music of my choice. And these buses all have Wifi. And you are given a bag with a sandwich, potato chips, a cookie and a drink as well.
Mexicans love to protest and demonstrate. There are often very peaceful marches throughout the downtown area that snarl vehicular traffic as they stretch for blocks on end, complete with banners and flags. On one occasion, I joined the bus driver and other passengers at a taco stand as we waited for this parade of people to pass by.
The odd time these events are not so peaceful. The day I first arrived in Guadalajara back in 2011, twenty-five heads rolled down the main street in Centro. And on occasion, buses have been burned although passengers are always escorted to safety before these vehicles are set on fire. Unfortunately the Canadian media tends to sensationalize these occurrences in order to dissuade people from coming to Mexico. This is laughable to me as my hometown in Canada has been the murder capital of the country for many years. When I return to visit, I dare not wander the streets alone at night although here in Mexico I do it all the time. I feel safer in the Centro area here in Guadalajara than I do in downtown Winnipeg, day and night.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Centro Tlaquepaque to hear the Gritto associated with September 16th, Independence Day. Thousands of people swarmed the square on this occasion, voices ringing out loudly the Mexican national anthem. An incredible fireworks display followed and entertainment continued way into the wee hours of the morning.
Yes, I love my life in the land of manana. I have immersed myself in the culture and have met some amazing people. I have ridden in the back of pickup trucks and have taken a thrilling train ride up in the mountains. I have basked on beaches and gazed at magnificent pyramids. And many more exciting adventures await me here. Now if only the Spanish language didn’t have so many verb tenses………….