Monthly Archives: November 2015

Living With A Mexican Family

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Living With A Mexican Family

I have decided to write a post based upon my experiences living with a Mexican family here in Mazatlan. I do not believe in stereotypes. This post is based solely on my experience. I am sure that not all families live like this one did. I have heard stories far worse as well as far better than mine. But this was my reality when I first arrived here in Mazatlan. I should add that the director of the school where I was teaching when I first came here found me this accomodation as A was a close friend of hers.

I arrived in Mazatlan on a bright and sunny Saturday, very early in the morning. It took over an hour to find the house. I had been given an address that was impossible to find as there are no numbers on the houses in this low income, working class neighborhood. The street names also change every few blocks. When A finally answered her phone, she gave the taxi driver better instructions as well as a description of the house.

I was relieved when we finally found the place. From the outside the house was painted a brilliant orange and was most attractive.

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But the inside was the complete opposite. Sparsely furnished with decrepit items, it was dark and stuffy. The steps leading to the second floor had not been tiled. A white plastic table and chairs had exposed wires hanging above where a light fixture should have been. The kitchen was tiny with next to nothing in terms of cooking equipment which I will save for later in this post.

My bedroom was dark and gloomy. The bed did not have matching sheets and the pillow was a toss cushion. There was a small closet, a handful of shelves and a chest of drawers that were all missing handles. There was also a small nightstand and something that passed as a desk with another of those white plastic chairs. There was also a TV missing a remote control. The best part about the room was the ceiling fan (albeit it sported exposed wires) and the air conditioning unit mounted in the wall.

The walls themselves definitely required more than a paint job. Big chunks of plaster were missing and basically the walls were falling apart, fresh polvo on the floor every morning. There was children’s handwriting scribbled all over the walls and the closet doors.

OK Karen, don’t unpack those bags. Just turn around and walk out the door. You don’t have to live like this. And I hadn’t even seen the bathroom yet!

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But I was exhausted after two days of traveling and instead passed out on the bed for a couple of hours. I woke up and contemplated my fate. I wanted the experience of living with a Mexican family. I wanted to be immersed in the culture as well as the language. My room was on the main floor so no stairs. Give it a chance for a while until you get to know the city and decide where you want to live.

The first week was a blur of adjustment. I began teaching on the Monday. Thankfully the house was conveniently located to bus routes. There was a convenience store, Kiosko, right across the street. There was a totilleria, a hamburger stand, a chicken grill and tacos close by. I never did buy meat from the butcher just doors away. Unrefrigerated meat in soaring temperatures had no appeal.

I actually spent very little time in the house, mainly due to the disgustingly filthy kitchen. A was a single mother with a daughter aged 10 and a son aged 12 when I moved in. She would cook breakfast in the morning and leave the only two  frying pans dirty on the stove. The children left dirty dishes everywhere and the sink was always filled with dirty dishes. Saturday morning was the only time A made an attempt to wash dishes or clean the house. Because they had so few dishes they would switch to styrofoam plates and plastic cups, also left lying about. The garbage was always overflowing although it was picked up regularly if it was placed by the curb, which it seldom was. Only two burners worked on the stove. The fridge had no light and was missing shelves. Leftover food often lined the shelves uncovered when it occasionally was refrigerated.

I bought some cutlery, plates, cups and a crock pot and cooked in my room when I was home. I also bought some containers and microwaved food as well. I was probably the only one who ever cleaned the microwave. I wound up washing my crock pot in the bathroom as I could never get near the kitchen sink to wash it.

And I don’t even want to talk about the bathroom. It was supposed to be my private bathroom, but there were always other people using it. The bathroom itself had the same gouges in the stucco, broken tiles, and a sink faucet that leaked constantly. The toilet needed repair and a dirty towel hung on the rod and stayed there until the day I left. I never used it. The saving grace was the passable shower, although there was no hot water.

After a couple of months the walls starting closing in on me and I started looking around for somewhere else to live, but only halfheartedly. It was nice having A and the kids around, they had a dog, I liked the neighborhood and was starting to feel at home there. I was the only gringa in this area so I was constantly able to practice my Spanish.

But there were other problems. Like clockwork the internet always disappeared around the 10th of the month. There was no gas for over a week. The water was cut off once. A told me it was a broken pipe in the street. But when I took the water bill as I needed proof of residency to renew my health insurance, there was a disconnect and a reconnect charge. Yes, the time to pay bills was apparently when services were cut off, not when the bill was due to be paid.

But what bothered me the most was the neglected children left to their own devices for hours on end. The youngest did most of the cooking as the mother was never around, and her skills were limited to refried beans in tortillas, hotcakes and macaroni. This is definitely not a healthy diet for anyone. And the children would roam the streets with their friends at all hours of the day and night. They hardly ever ever locked doors and there were always lost keys when they did.

I was gone for the last two weeks in October. When I returned to Mazatlan I knew I had to move right away. I had a place lined up for December, but I knew I had to get out before that. I’ve met some wonderful people through my church here and one of my friends offered me a spare bedroom in his house. I eagerly accepted.

A was not at home when I left, but her son was. I left the keys with him and said goodbye. To my amazement I received a text from A asking when I was going to give her rent money for the month of November. I couldn’t believe the audacity of this woman! Not only had I always paid my rent in advance, but I had also kept a spreadsheet on my laptop with all the cash transactions for my rent. When I informed A of this, I never heard from her again.

As parents we have the huge responsibility of modelling behavior for our children and instilling certain values upon them in order to provide a safe and secure environment in which to grow and thrive.  I feel for this family and they are in my prayers.

 

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Oh! Oh! Bar Hopping Again!

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Oh! Oh! Bar Hopping Again!

Yes, I’ve been bar hopping again. Guilty as charged. But there are just so many bars in Mazatlan. And they’re all so different. They feature a variety of music. I especially like the ones right on the beach. And of course they all feature their own drink and food specials.

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Steve and I ventured out to the Chill ‘n’ Grill in the Marina area one night after I’d finished teaching. Our friend John was singing and playing guitar. We were sitting out on the terrace by the water and it was most relaxing.

Saturday night found us at Joe’s Oyster Bar in The Gold Zone. There was a popular boxing match on the jumbotron and really loud music. By ten thirty the bar was swarming with a much younger crowd and we were the only gringos. While it was nice to be by the water, we decided  to leave. I was astounded that there was a lineup to get in. This place is huge and holds hundreds. I was also quite shocked to see that they didn’t ask for identification. There were scores of teens there who were extremely underage for this type of establishment. Yep, definitely a meat market.

Off we went to GusGus, another bar in The Gold Zone. Once again the boxing match gained prominence. When it ended, a band played briefly until about 1:30 am. The music was primarily English rock ‘n’ roll, with the odd Spanish song.

Monday night Etziel, Steve and I went to an awesome little bar right on the beach, steps down from the Malecon. La Corrientes is quaint with great ambiance, and of course the sound of the waves crashing in on the shore. Yes, there is yet another hurricane approaching. It was a weeknight and the bar closed at 10 pm, my only complaint.

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Tuesday night Steve, Patricia and I went to Vancouver Wings in Sabalo Country. Once again John was the featured artist. This bar is not on the water, but we were outside on the terrace, one of the things I love about Mexico.

Today is American Thanksgiving. Etziel, Steve, Patricia and I are headed to a restaurant for a turkey dinner. Etziel and Patricia are Mexican, Steve is American and I am Canadian. But turkey day is turkey day, so we’re taking a break from bars today.

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Ciudad De Los Ninos De Mazatlan

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Ciudad De Los Ninos De Mazatlan

My friend Steve volunteers his time at Ciudad De Los Ninos. Last Monday was a holiday and I wasn’t working, so I decided to tag along. I have never been to an orphanage before, and my experience has been solely what I have viewed in movies or on televison. I was completely blown away by what I saw here in Mexico.

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Ciudad De Los Ninos is a Catholic orphanage that was founded decades ago by a priest and a nun. While the priest moved away years ago, the nun still resides here. Her name is Velia and she is in charge of the organization. Here she is in a photo with Nalleli, my guide for the day.

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Velia left a good administrative position with the government at age 26 and her life changed forever when she helped to found this orphanage. She had worked for the government since the age of 15.

Ciudad De Los Ninos was initially a one room operation in the colonia of Juarez. It moved to the present location in 1970. The nuns all live on site. Each nun is a mother figure to a group of children.

The children sometimes arrive here immediately after birth as well as when they are older. Children who live here cannot be adopted out. They stay for varying periods of time. If a family is in financial distress the children may stay here until the situation is resolved. Occasionally parents are incarcerated and are then reunited when they are released from jail.

The ages vary and children are welcome to stay as long as they want. Nalleli told me that she and her two sisters have been here for over ten years. She is now 24 and works in customer service at a hotel in Mazatlan. She is hoping to move out soon along with her sisters into a place of their own. She has already bought a fridge, table and some kitchen utensils. Nalleli learned English when the Rotary Club sponsored her to live in California for a year to attend school.

The children attend either private or public school where they also learn English. Boys and girls have separate dorms that are strictly supervised by the nuns. The dormitories are colorfully decorated and feature both ample closet space and washrooms.

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The kitchen facilities are amazing! The kitchen itself is huge and there is a utility room off the kitchen that contains a variety of pots, pans and other cooking utensils.

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There are two dining halls, one for the nuns and one for the children. This photo is the children’s, bright and cheerfully decorated.

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There is also a beautiful sanctuary where daily masses are held as well as a lovely garden adjacent to it.

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The statue in the above picture is the founding priest.

I was deeply moved by Nalleli’s story and am in awe of Velia’s dedication to this institution and to the children. I look forward to visiting Ciudad De Los Ninos again soon.

Revolution Day ,,,,,,,Dia de la Revolucion

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Revolution Day ,,,,,,,Dia de la Revolucion

This coming Monday is a holiday in Mexico. Revolution Day (Dia de la Revolucion) is celebrated on the third Monday in November although the exact date is November 20th. In 1910 a revolution began against the president, Porfirio Diaz. This opposition was led by Francisco I. Madero. This armed conflict lasted for almost a decade and ended in 1920. It also brought about significant political changes throughout the country.

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Pancho Villa was a general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. He was from the northern state of Chihuahua, a large area rich in mineral wealth and close to the USA. He made an agreement with the Mexican government to retire from hostilities in 1920 after conducting raids on border towns. As the election in 1923 drew near, he did once again become involved in politics. Although at first not recognized as a hero, movies and books extol his virtue.

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Other prominent figures in the Mexican Revolution included Pascual Orozco and Emiliano Zapata. The rebel groups all demanded political reforms which were initially drafted into a constitution in 1917. Unfortunately a great deal of violence still continued well into the 1930’s.

Revolution Day is a national public holiday. Government offices, banks and schools are closed. Depending on where you live in Mexico the day may be marked by parades or bazaars. In my five years of teaching here in Mexico, I have found that it is mostly just a day off, and an excuse for a long weekend. Having said that, Mexicans are also very proud of their heritage and are very conscious of the ramifications brought about by the revolution. Mexicans have a rich and colorful history, and I am determined to build on my knowledge of these commemorations as I am always intrigued by the holidays celebrated here.

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Reunion in Toronto

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Reunion in Toronto

On my way to my daughter’s wedding in Punta Cana last month, my travels found me in Toronto. It’s been decades since I’ve been there. As a teenager I always loved this city and even at one point had aspirations of moving there, until a boyfriend and marriage intervened.

My friend Deb lives in Toronto and we hadn’t seen each other in almost ten years. Deb was my supervisor for a few months when we worked together at Hope Centre in Winnipeg. She left and pursued another career in a different city. We emailed and sent messages on Facebook, but it was great to finally get together again.

Deb and her boyfriend live in a charming apartment in Long Branch. They are only three blocks away from the lake in a a quaint neighborhood. We went for a walk and I realized just how much I miss autumn in Canada. The leaves were turning brilliant colors while others already fallen and crunched beneath our feet. That night we all enjoyed a wonderful dinner at The Keg Mansion. An additional treat was watching the Blue Jays win their game.

Deb and I sat up into the wee hours of the night, sipping wine and talking. Our lives had both changed so much since we worked together in Winnipeg. We had both pursued new careers. Deb had broken off an engagement and my marriage had come to an end. She had settled down in Toronto and I had moved to Mexico. We talked about our kids and how they had grown up, become independent and were now leading lives of their own.  And of course we talked about the many adventures we’d had throughout the years.

The next day we went to a delightful Greek restaurant for lunch. We did a little shopping and then it was time for me to move to the hotel to be with my daughter. I was supposed to spend another night with Deb on the way back from the wedding, but Westjet had another idea when the plane had mechanical problems and our flight back to Toronto was delayed by a day. I arrived back in Toronto just in time to get my flight to Puerto Vallarta via Regina.

Deb and I never did around to taking a selfie together, and my purchases from shopping that day are still at her apartment in Toronto. But here are some photos and memories.

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Halloween Versus Day Of The Dead

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Halloween Versus Day Of The Dead

Halloween falls on October 31st and Day Of The Dead is close on its heels on November 2nd. While Halloween is celebrated in some areas in Mexico, Day Of The Dead is the more popular of the two.

Halloween began as a pagan ritual, and has evolved into a celebration including costumes and candy treats. It was also believed that Halloween, a day that marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, was not only a transition between seasons but also a bridge to the world of the dead.

Day Of The Dead asserts that the souls of the deceased are allowed to leave heaven and reunite with their families on this day. Families gather in cemeteries and adorn their loved ones’ memorials with beautiful wreaths of flowers. This celebration also involves food, drink and music.

Although Day Of The Dead is a government holiday, restaurants and retail proceed as on any other day. I actually went grocery shopping in the morning and had dinner out with a friend on Monday.

When I lived in Guadalajara, this was Day Of The Dead central. In Centro in the Plaza Del Armas there was a huge display of Katrinas. In Tlaquepaque the streets were colorfully decorated and Calle Independencia was lined with altars. El Refugio also had an array of altars and Katrinas.

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Here in Mazatlan there was a huge parade in the Centro Historico, and people flocked to Plaza Machado in elaborate costumes. There were also festivities at the Angela Peralta Theater. On Sunday a friend took me to the Municipal Cemetery and I was amazed by the activity there.

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Instead of candy, sugar skulls and special bread are the norm.

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I was disappointed that I only saw one altar here in Mazatlan. Families build altars in their homes and in the streets to honor their ancestors. Here are some pics from Tlaquepaque.

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In Mazatlan I did see a few children in costumes going door to door in the Zona Dorada and they were quite young and looked adorable. Unfortunately we drove by them in a car and I was unable to get any photos. Where I’m from in Canada the streets are filled with young children and teenagers on Halloween but Day of the Dead is not celebrated. But here I have the best of both worlds!

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So My Baby Got Married…………….

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So My Baby Got Married…………….

From the moment my daughter was born, I always envisioned my little princess getting married and dreamed of preparing for her wedding. My idea of a fairytale wedding and her idea were miles apart. Although we live in two different countries, thanks to What’s App, Facebook and Google Hangouts, Kimmy sent me photos of her gown and told me all about the many other plans for this celebration. My daughter planned a sensational week in Punta Cana for all of her family and friends. It was extra-special for me as I hadn’t seen her in more than two years and it was the first time our entire family had been together in almost seven years.

Many of us met at the Toronto airport early Wednesday morning, October 21st and flew to Punta Cana together. A few had arrived earlier, some were coming later, but there were forty of us who spent the week together and attended the wedding.

I live in Mazatlan which I call paradise, but I truly enjoyed the festivities in Punta Cana. The Now Larimar is a lovely resort. We had requested a main floor room and we had a delightful little terrace. We spent many happy hours around the pool and at the swim-up bar. The beach was nice although I still feel that Mazatlan is the most beautiful beach in the world.

On Friday Kimmy had organized a group excursion. It was awesome! We saw a school, a typical home, sugar cane plantation, coffee and chocolate processing and cigar making. Our guide showed us cinnamon and vanilla growing as well as several other fruits and interesting vegetation. We enjoyed a buffet lunch and many people in our group went horseback riding. The last stop was at another beach. On Saturday there was a bachelorette party that included dinner at an Italian restaurant and then dancing at a disco. Here is a pic of Kimmy at the dinner.

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On Sunday there was a rehearsal dinner at a Japanese restaurant for the family and attendants. And then Monday arrived……………the big day! It was time for the wedding!

At noon I arrived at the bridal room in the spa and joined my daughter, her future mother-in-law and her maids of honor. We sipped champagne while having our hair and make-up done. Then it was time to get dressed and to help Kimmy get into her gown. The photographer arrived and the photo session began. I love this picture of Kimmy and me.

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My daughter is gorgeous and she radiated happiness. I was overwhelmed with emotion and it was quite difficult to keep my tears in check. Mother of the bride is an incredible experience, second only to the day I gave birth to my daughter. Wherever have the years gone? And it was soon time to head for the beach for the ceremony.

The sky was slightly overcast and there was a light breeze. My son escorted me down the aisle, which on the beach was sand.

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And soon my daughter made her grand entrance. This shot shows the lovely train on her gown as well as the guests standing amidst the colorfully decorated chairs.

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One of Kimmy’s friends from Canada performed the ceremony. Another friend did a reading. Rings were exchanged and vows were made. And once again I struggled to control my tears.

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Kimmy and Tarrant, I wish you all the best for years filled with happiness and good health. Los quiero y que Dios los bendiga!