Obamacare? No Gracias: An American’s View on Healthcare Options in Mexico

A few people have asked me about healthcare in Mexico.  I will admit to you right now that we have no health insurance here in Mexico.  I often worry about being uncovered.  I believe this worried state stems from the fact that I have never been without some sort of health coverage.  Being without health insurance in America carries a great risk and an even bigger one having a small child.  Honestly, from my experiences, there is really no reason to have health insurance in Mexico.  I do; however, thank God every day that all three of us do not have any health conditions that cause us to have regular doctor visits or prescriptions that must be filled to ensure our health.

I have been blessed with a healthy child.  He just turned two right before Christmas, and he has only had a couple of colds and one night of a stomach bug.  He has not had any illness that could not be cured with a little bit of Tylenol.  When we arrived here, my son had just turned four months old so naturally I had those moments when I would wake up in the middle of the night and worry about keeping him healthy.  Before we left, my son Isa (a nickname for the Spanish-pronounced Isaac), was almost due for his four-month shots.  I was in a panic because when I called his doctor in Texas before we left for Mexico, the receptionist informed me that they could not give him his shots until he was a complete four months old.  My son ended up turning four months during our long trek to Central Mexico.  When we got to San Miguel, my husband set out on a mission to find a place for my baby to get his immunizations.  I am not educated in the medical profession at all, but I have several family members who are highly educated in medicine, and all of them profess strong beliefs in regular vaccinations so I knew it was something we had to make a priority. Honestly, it was not that difficult to find a place to get my son updated on his shots.  From my loose research I have done online and from what I have seen with my own eyes,  Mexico is actually very strict on vaccinations.  I have read that a van will show up at the schools and if a child is not up to date on his or her shots, they will provide the shots.  The information I read did not indicate whether the parents were made aware or not if this should happen.  When my husband found a clinic that offered the vaccinations, I thought, “Okay, so how much is this going to cost?”  My “American mind” automatically thought it would cost $100 per shot mainly because my son is an American citizen and possessed an American shot record. Nope!  It was free!  FREE!  This was even with my son’s shot record which was quite different from the shot record they give to parents of newborns in Mexico.  We just took my little boy into the clinic, waited in line while the nurse asked for our information, and about ten minutes later, my husband took him into the room where he received his needed shots.  The nurse then recorded the shots my son had received that day, and we were done until the next round of vaccinations rolled around.  When comparing my son’s American shot record with the Mexican record, I found that there really were not that many differences.  The only difference I found was that Mexico did not offer the Varicella (Chicken Pox) vaccination nor did they offer the Hepatitis A shot in the public clinics. We were told that Mexico had the vaccinations, but we would have to go to a private doctor and purchase the shots.  I also found out that Mexico is at the top of the list of the countries not to visit (or live) until you and your loved ones have had the Hep A shot. I called the health department in Marshall, Texas, and they told me they could get my Isa caught up on his shots for $10.  Fortunately at that time, I had already booked a trip home so we opted to just wait until then to get the two shots my son was missing.  We have also taken him for a couple of general check-ups as well.  The doctor we chose was an older gentleman and was very informative on what my son should be eating and the habitual changes we should be seeing. As for the physical check-up, the Mexican doctor performed everything that Isa’s doctor in the United States did.  I was satisfied with his examination and I will admit, embarrassingly surprised.

A lot of media has reported on the availability of prescription drugs here in Mexico as compared to the United States.  I will admit, it is a lot easier to get certain prescriptions.  Some medications that require prescriptions from a doctor in the States do not require them here.  You just walk up to the counter and tell them what you want.  Now, don’t get all excited and start comparing flight prices. You cannot just prance up to the counter and tell them you need Valium or Vicodin…sorry.  For instance, I am able to get my migraine pills over the counter here whereas I had to have a prescription in the U.S.  As for any medication that is “controlled” here, you must have a prescription from a doctor.  Of course, this includes all narcotic pain killers and antibiotics.  Usually a doctor is located right next door to the pharmacy, and you can just walk in without an appointment.  Obviously, it goes without saying, if one should walk into the “waiting room” for the doctor, and there is a lady there with five kids under ten with snotty noses and hacking coughs, he or she may want to proceed on to the next doctor’s office because it will most likely be a long wait.  Doctors can be found pretty much everywhere. Where we took my son for his check-up, the pediatrician was housed in the same building with many other physicians.  From what I remember, there was an OB-GYN, several pediatricians other than the one we chose for my son, and several General Practitioners.

I am ashamed to admit that it had been quite some time since my last visit to the dentist so I knew it was definitely time to start the hunt for one.  Like doctors, dentists down here are rather easy to find.  My husband knew of a dentist through some of his family so we went to her office, and they did not have an opening that day so they told us to come back the next day.  Since we were already out and about, we went to another dentist to see if we could get in, but the looks of the place did not exactly impress me.  Call me a snob, but if someone is going to be poking around in my mouth, I want to ensure that the atmosphere is clean, and I did not get that impression.  The next day when we went back to our first choice of dentists, I was relieved we went with this option. Her office was impeccably clean, and her office staff was very accomodating.  Of course my husband had to translate every now and then for me, but the dentist performed every part of a regular cleaning I was used to in the U.S.  She took her time and answered my questions about some phantom pain I had been experiencing from wisdom teeth extractions I had done a few years ago while in the U.S.  I felt like she actually cared about me as her patient which, to be honest, I did not always feel in the past dentist visits in America.  In the U.S., I would wait in the waiting room for at least thirty minutes after my appointment was scheduled for, and then they would rush me through so they could get on to the next money-maker.  This rushed consultation and cleaning would almost always be accompanied with a few suggestions for preventative care for my teeth that would never be covered by insurance.  At the end of the appointment here in San Miguel, I was prepared to pay the dentist 300 pesos which is roughly $18.  Hey!  I’m fine with that.  Much to my surprise, she insisted I only owed her 200 pesos because my teeth were well taken care of, and she did not have to do any intense cleaning.  This amount converts to around $12.  WOW!  I was very happy, and my teeth were shiny and clean.

The payment process was also a surprise to me when going to the doctor for my son and receiving a cleaning and consultation at the dentist.  Rather than dealing with the dreaded insurance policies and being sure that I was at least familiar with every stipulation, we simply paid a flat fee to the practicing physician and dentist.  Every time I went to the doctor or dentist in the U.S., there was always that period of time when I hated to check the mailbox because a lot of times after a doctor or dentist’s visit, there would be a bill waiting there for me because my insurance had not covered everything.  Then there was always the trouble of carving at least two hours out of a day to call the insurance company to attempt to dispute the charges.  I became accustomed to the reply from the insurance company that I needed to call the doctor or dentist’s office, and when I would call them, I would get the reply that I needed to take my questions up with the insurance company.   This entire back and forth process was infuriating and would often leave me in a pissed off mood for the rest of the day.  This painful experience is nonexistent for me down here.  I do often worry that something will come up that will put us in a bind, and I have researched options for expatriate insurance, but the prices are exorbitant, and I am assuming they come with countless stipulations.

I have also genetically been “blessed” (sorry Mama) with bad eyesight.  I have had glasses since I was seven years old, and I upgraded to contacts when I was about twelve.  I was fortunately allowed to order a six month supply of contacts when I was in the U.S. in March because it had not quite reached the one year mark of my last eye exam.  From what I understand, one cannot order contacts and/or glasses in the U.S. without a yearly eye exam.  Well, the other day I thought I had dropped one of my last contacts down the sink only to find it the next day crinkled up on the floor so I knew it was about that time to seek out an optometrist.  We were in the grocery store the other day and happened to pass by the small optometrist’s office on our way out, and my husband checked in to see when I could get in for an exam and also on pricing.  Believe it or not, I was able to get in for the exam right then.  The exam itself was free. The only money out of pocket was the fee for my contacts.  The price for contacts were around what I would pay in the U.S.  It came to about 100 USD, and I got the exact brand I have used for about five years.  I explained to the eye doctor that I had astigmatism, and he assured me that he would have the correct contacts ordered.  The optometrist performed everything I was used to from the many years of eye doctor vists I have experienced, and he spoke English rather well.  He even put these funny-looking glasses on me with the prescription he had gotten from my examination to ensure that it was correct.  Of course, it was perfect.  The only slight problem I had was actually getting my contacts.  What many people do not understand about Mexico is that there are many holidays.  While America’s winter or end-of-year holidays start a little before Christmas and if you are lucky, last until New Year’s Day with everyone grudgingly returning to work immdiately after these celebrated holidays, Mexico has a slight extension.  Their holiday season stretches until around January 7th.  This means that basically everything shuts down from right at Christmas until well after the New Year.  Unfortunately for me, this also meant my contacts would not be ordered until after this long stretch of “holiday.”  Also, it would add another week to my wait for the product that allows me to see two feet in front of me to actually arrive.  Along with my bitching, I must say that I am very thankful for Mexico’s service that allows me to order what some may consider to be cosmetic in a somewhat timely and convenient manner.

As a mother, my child’s health is at the top of my priority list, and being this magnificent child’s mother also causes me to worry about my own health.  Sometimes I worry that our situation puts my child in a high-risk category because he is not insured in America.  All I can do at this point is hope and pray my worst fear of my child becoming unhealthy will not come true.  While being an American and being told that Mexico’s level of expertise in medicine is lacking compared to the medical services available in America, I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised in the service and pricing associated with all of the health services we have utilized in Mexico. I must also remind you once again that my son and I are American Citizens.  While we possess the legal requirements to be present in Mexico, we are not considered residents of the country.  Our use of Mexican medical services has proceeded rather smoothly considering that my son and I are foreign.  Our current situation has motivated me to do intense research on health options and quality of medical services. Like I said before, I am in no way educated in medicine, but this hardship, as I cannot help but call it occasionally, has led me to be proactive and keep up to date on all health concerns.  My child is healthy as are his parents.  At this time, this is something to be grateful for and also something that gives us strength to continue the fight to return home.

Is Life Fair? No. Grow Up and Deal With It

We have all heard the saying, “Well, life isn’t fair.”  I know I have many times with most of those times coming from my youth. Now; however, I can truly say I understand the saying whereas when I was younger, it was somewhat disregarded with an eyeroll and a deep sigh.  I have also heard many times that we all have to do things we truly do not want to do, and that is just part of growing up.  This is also true.  Did I want to move to Mexico?  Umm…no.  Do I think it is fair?  Not really.  I have come to the realization that life is not fair, and yes, we have to do things that we do not want to do.  I do not intend to write something full of inspirational quotes and reasons why I have been chosen to embark on this “magnificent journey.”  I want to be honest.  I have had feelings of sadness, despair, and have often found myself engulfed in waves of downright anger which I really had not experienced since I arrived here.  I want to explain to you the reasons why and how these raw emotions have affected me.  Some will not agree and some will not understand, but as I have mentioned in earlier posts, writing has become my therapy, and you, my dear friend, have become my therapist.

I will not bore you with all of the ins and outs of the legal immigration process.  It is truly the most confusing and often contradictory system I have ever had to deal with.  There are countless forms to fill out and of course, many checks to write, and writing these checks does not automatically guarantee that whatever task one is attempting to complete will be handled in a timely manner.  We have often been told by my husband’s attorney that she made an inquiry about whatever part of the process we were dealing with, and the government was unable to answer our question because they had a “large backlog.”  Oh, and she would not be allowed to make another inquiry until a certain time had elapsed.  We definitely would not want to aggravate those hard-working people with our simple-minded questions, but I am pretty sure, they would come to a complete standstill if our payments were not up to date.  Better yet, I have a feeling our file would probably be thrown into the trash.  The “large backlog” response really baffles me. I think back to when I was employed as a Buyer.  If my superior came to me to inquire on why my work was not complete, and I replied with “Oh, I’m sorry,  I have a large backlog.  Please get back to me in no earlier than forty-five days,” he or she would have most likely given me a disgusted look and told me to stay until my work was done, and that is only because I have only ever worked for stern but tolerating people.  If it would have been someone else at another company, I may have been told to pack my belongings, leave and not return or the more believable response of “Pack your shit and get the hell out.”  Any one of these three responses would be deemed acceptable and fair. So why don’t certain people have to live up to the same standards when they come to work? When you are being paid to complete a series of tasks, that is what you do.  You do not make excuses and you do not shun people that are paying to have you complete your assigned tasks by telling them to get back with you in a specified amount of time.  By making this statement, I am not implying that I am the government’s superior (God forbid I do that), but I am merely attempting to connect the dots between the responsibility a person has to finish his or her work to the individual that is paying him or her to do so. What is the point of paying ungodly amounts of money and filling out stupid forms with the same information over and over if nobody is going to make it a priority?

Apologetically, I realize that this post has become somewhat of a bitch fest so I will continue with the theme.  Another thing that has really annoyed me during this entire process is the willingness of people who obviously think they are one credit away from being Immigration Attorneys to offer up their unsolicited advice regarding our case.  I am in no way bashing the people who have been by our side the whole time and offered to help us in any way they could or people who are curious about the process and simply have asked questions.  I am talking about the people who have no idea what they are talking about and think they are doing us a favor by letting us in on their pertinent information. For instance, we have been told by several people that I needed to “call immigration,” and tell them that we are tired of waiting.  Well hell, why did I not think of that before?  Also, I have had arguments with people about the laws and processes.  A couple of days before my husband had to leave the country, a person told me that he could not be deported because he was married to an American Citizen.  This individual was not asking a question like, “Well, he cannot be deported because he is married to an American Citizen right?” No. He was telling me basically that we were wrong in our assumption that my husband would actually be kicked out of the country.   I had to hold my tongue before the words, “Well guess what dummy, it’s about to happen!” came out. Once again, I am not making negative comments toward people curious about our situation or people who have offered assistance to us whether it has been writing letters to better our case or simply offering encouraging words during the extremely difficult times.

With the current situation of the Syrian refugee crisis going on in the U.S., I am guessing you have figured out what has led me to compose a post like this.  I will first tell you that I am not going to say that I agree that accepting all people fleeing Syria into the United States is beneficial to the country nor will I make uneducated remarks filled with racial slurs and bad grammar.  I do; however, have concerns about the safety of Americans if the proper checks and balances are not put in place to ensure that terrorists are not present in the loads of Syrians spilling into the country.  I have said before that my political standings always reflect how it will affect my family.  The simple fact is that  after all that we have been through and the difficulties we have faced, it is “not fair” to allow these people to spill into the U.S. and receive all sorts of assistance while we are currently in the middle of filling out various forms proving my husband will not seek government assistance if they should allow him to return.  I will make the statment that my husband has never been on any type of assistance and most likely will never be. I know some people will argue that the majority of the Syrian people seeking refuge are doing so because they are unsafe which is actually a form of relief available for all immigrants seeking permanent residence and eventually citizenship, but from what I have researched, this is an extremely difficult hardship to prove.  I am sure it involves stacks of paperwork, supporting documents and of course, plenty of check writing to even apply for refuge.  From the information the media has provided, I sincerely doubt that these people have had to go through all the nonsense and waiting around for the government to approve their seek for refuge.  I will say that we are not in any type of danger. We live in a safe neighborhood and probably one of the safest cities in Mexico.  In fact, I sometimes feel safer here than I did in Marshall, Texas.  With that being said, I still find it unjustifiable to require certain people seeking residence to go through the proper channels to come to the U.S. while others are allowed into the country automatically. I am sure that I will receive some replies challenging my opinion or implying that my take on the situation is incorrect.  I welcome any response or suggestion, but I must ask you, have you ever been in the situation that my family is currently in? Would you find it fair that your spouse has been banned from a country after paying that country’s government thousands of dollars and waiting almost two years for the possibility to return without much progress while you sit and watch news coverage of people spilling into that country?

I realize that this post is filled with negative connotations that I hope you will forgive me for, but our lives are often negatively influenced because we see how certain laws and regulations do not apply to all people.  We fall into fits of anger and depression because it seems like no matter what we do or how hard we work to resolve a negative situation, it does not always turn out the way we want it to.  I have been told by many friends and family members that there is a reason we are being faced with this adversity.  Has it made us stronger?  Yes.  Has it made us appreciate things we once took for granted?  Of course.  I have not completely figured out why we were chosen to take on this fight, but I am hoping the realization will present itself soon enough.  We will continue to fill out the forms and write the checks, we will fight the feelings of worthlessness and anger, and we will make the decision to be happy.  We will not give up.

The Struggle is Real: My Examination of Working Conditions in Mexico

This subject has been something I wanted to provide commentary on for quite some time now.  I must first let you know, I have not done any concrete research so there will be no references coming from other sources outside of my own observations. I have currently been in Mexico for about a year and a half, and I must say I am not impressed with the working conditions. The pay provided for work is often terrible and disheartening.  When we first arrived, my husband found a company that was hiring.  From what I understood, it was an American auto parts factory.  He went to an interview for a machine operating position which would earn an individual at least ten dollars per hour in America.  Here; however, the job would pay the equivalent of about sixty-five USD per week.  The job was eight hours a day, six days a week.  What the hell?  That used to be half of what I spent on my weekly trek through Wal-Mart before my son even came along.  How can someone live on this pay? The famous line “That’s like a dollar an hour!” from Napoleon Dynamite comes to mind.  No, it’s not exactly a dollar an hour, but it’s pretty darn close.  Also, you must remember, this is considered a “skilled labor” job.  I was frightened to even know how much a regular assembly line worker brought home at the end of the week.  Needless to say, my husband politely turned the position down.  As I have mentioned before, he sells items at a local market one day a week, and even on a bad day, he makes more than he would make in a week at this job.

Many will say “Well, it’s a lot cheaper to live in Mexico.”  Yes, I must say certain things are much cheaper here.  The utility bills are very low, and food is relatively cheap.  However, San Miguel de Allende is not “that” cheap. Many natives of the area will tell you that living here is much more expensive than some of the other areas of Mexico.  San Miguel is considered a tourist town. There are tons of people from America, Canada and a few other countries who reside here at least part of the year, and there are always many people who vacation here from all over the world.  I can only assume that this is why some of the prices here are higher than other areas of Mexico while still being cheaper than what I was used to paying in the US.  The discovery of the fact of how much money a skilled worker typically takes home for a week’s work led me to curiously seek out other salaries and work conditions.

Our subdivision, at one time, had a full security force.  The security guards were paid by the residents of the community; however, as I have mentioned, extra money is not always readily available.  The fee was two hundred pesos per month, per household which comes to about twelve or thirteen USD.  This is nothing right?  Well, obviously, even this small amount of money was too much for some.  After a few months, the security guards were let go from our neighborhood because not all of the residents were paying.  Our current circuito elected to keep one guard just for our area.  Our security guard is awesome, and I am grateful we have him.  He works from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M Monday through Friday and 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. on Saturdays.  After sometimes walking from his home a few miles away, he walks around our small area for twelve straight hours making sure everything is safe and there are no unidentified persons present.  He is always happy to lend a helping hand to my husband with different things he has been working on.   I believe his salary is 1000 pesos per week which calculates to about sixty dollars.  Once again, sixty dollars for an entire week, and might I also add that this is not the typical work week some of us are used to in the US.  He does get a short break for lunch, but I know he probably still keeps an eye on things around the area.  He has provided his own plastic table and chair that he uses during his break time, and he always dresses very professionally.  From what I understand, he is actually a retired police officer.  Out of all of the security guards we used to have when there were several per day patrolling the entire neighborhood, I am thankful we landed him as ours.  I once witnessed him chase teenage boys on bicycles out of the neighborhood.  At first, I thought this was a little harsh, but I was later informed that one of the boys of the pack was seen trying to steal water hoses out of people’s yards.  This is another reason I am thankful for our dedicated security guard.  Some people here will steal anything they can get their hands on.  A few months ago, two men were doing concrete work in the back of our house.  I commented to my husband that one of the guys looked a little sketchy.  In my opinion, my husband is way too trusting while he thinks I am just mean. In my defense, this individual was one of those wannabe gangsta-looking young guys that you will often see in the crappy parts of the city. My husband, being the overly trusting guy he is, dismissed my comment, but lo and behold, one of his power tools came up missing after the first day the guys were here.  Of course, he had no concrete proof that the gangsta-gangsta stole his tool, but who else could have snatched it up? I brought up this point to prove that our security guard is important, and in my opinion, I believe his salary should reflect that which it does not.

One aspect of living here that I have had to get used to without rudely staring is the things people will do to make money.  They do not care what they look like to others nor do they have too much pride to do anything to make money so they can feed and clothe their families. There are many beggars on the busy streets, and there are people selling basically anything they can from a couple of pairs of old shoes to drains for your shower to trash bags and fly swatters.  People will go door to door selling food or offering extermination services for your home.  Also, the garbage collectors that work for the city have a different job description than what I am accustomed to.  Instead of having the big trucks with the automatic crushers on them,  the city uses open-top dump trucks to haul away trash.  One day while we were stuck behind one of these trucks, I began to wonder how they kept the trash from blowing over the sides of the truck into the road.  It was then that I saw a few heads pop up from inside the truck where the trash is thrown.  Yes, there are usually about three or four people sitting on top of the trash holding it down.  I know how nasty our trash can be with leftover food that my child has turned his nose up at and his horribly rank dirty diapers.  Multiply that by about 500, and this is what these people endure every day.  My husband recently talked to a guy who worked as a garbage collector, and he said he does not rely on his paycheck alone which I can only assume is horribly low.  He actually puts his entire paycheck into his bank account. He instead uses the money he gets from collecting plastic, cardboard, glass, etc. from the trash and then taking it to the recycling center for his every day expenses.  These guys not only handle trash and sit on top of it, they also dig through it.  I guess, one glass bottle may be what feeds their child that night or contributes to their water bill that month.  I tell myself that my liquor bottles and Coke cans make up for those poor guys having to dig through my toddler’s diapers.  One day, when I was feeling sorry for myself for missing my family and being without friends, I witnessed a few young girls digging though one of the trash receptacles in our neighborhood.  I immediately scolded myself for being so selfish as I did when I saw a young couple downtown with a little girl.  The man had a janitorial uniform on showing me he worked as one of the people who kept the downtown area clean and beautiful.  He must have met his family for dinner, and the dinner consisted of tortillas and a few pieces of lunch meat.  The man and the little girl were eating like they had not eaten all day.  The lady was not eating at all.  Something told me she was allowing her daughter to eat all she wanted, and then she would eat what was left, if any.  Since we have been here, we have had to cut back on some things and be a little more frugal about other things, but never have I had to worry if my child would go to bed hungry.  This is a feeling I hope to never be forced to experience.

While there are many things that are cheaper here when compared to prices in America, there are also some things that are more expensive.  Our ever-faithful stroller, that has logged more miles than some cars, took its last stroll a couple of weeks ago, and I went into a state of panic.  I MUST have a stroller.  My child is not the type who will walk nicely beside me nor will he hold my hand and casually walk down the sidewalk.  He takes off running wherever he goes and falls to the ground in a screaming fit if we do anything to stop him.  Not having a stroller was out of the question.  Our first stroller was a jogger with bicycle tires which is a necessity on a stroller here.  The terrain will tear up the wheels of those fifteen-dollar umbrella strollers in a matter of minutes.  We went to a store in town that can be compared to the American Dillard’s.  The stroller there that mostly resembled our old one came to about $350.  Umm…no that wasn’t going to work, and none of the other stores had strollers that would stand the test of the bumpy cobblestone streets.  Luckily, we found one to hold us over a while at the local flea market or as the locals call it, La Placita.  This market is a little different from the ones we’re used to in America.  There are not many quirky or artsy decorative wall hangings or antique pieces of furniture. Most of the things you will find here are daily essentials at cheaper prices than you will find in the big grocery stores. There are tons of booths bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and other snacks I haven’t yet figured out what they are exactly.  A lot of the booths sell clothes or shoes.  Of course, they’re mostly second-hand, but a lot of the time, if you have the energy to dig through the piles, you can find some clothes in good shape at a pretty good price.  I have purchased several pairs of high-dollar jeans for $8 that I would pay about $75 for second-hand in America. Most of the time, the seller has no idea these jeans are such a commodity because the only high-dollar (well, high-dollar to me) brand I have seen here is True Religion.  I have found that buying new clothes in department stores here is not a good idea.  The stores really never have good sales like they do in the U.S so while shopping and of course doing the gringa conversion of pesos to dollars, I have found that most, if not all of the new clothes and shoes are around the full price or sometimes more than what you would pay in America.  When I was in America I rarely paid full price for clothes because of the many sales that occurred often.  Another thing that I am forced to purchase in the U.S. while I’m there or purchase online and have them sent to us are toys for my child.  His birthday is right around Christmas so we usually have huge shipments coming in with stuff I have purchased or gifts our families send around this time.  They have the cutesy little souvenir toys at competitive prices here in San Miguel, but they often are constructed with nails or in a way that my destructive son would have obliterated in a matter of minutes.  Electronics are crazy expensive here as well.  I just happened to look at a TV yesterday while we were at the store.  It was a basic 42″ TV with no special features included, and the price was 20,000 pesos which is about $1200 USD.  When making purchases online for those things I cannot find at a low enough price here, I also have to factor in the cost of having it shipped to us, but the total usually comes to a lower cost.

Another thing that has blared its ugly head at me several times here is the lack of encouragement for young individuals to finish school.  I must provide a disclaimer: There are many highly educated people in Mexico.  I am in no way implying there are not.  The families I have been introduced to; however, do not seem to view education as an important aspect of life.  When I was growing up, there was definitely never a question whether I would finish high school, and the subject never came up where my parents would talk about my not going onto college or not pursuing some type of higher education that would hopefully aid in my success.  Here from what I’ve seen, so many families struggle to make ends meet because of the horrible wages that a young person that is enrolled in high school may be needed to help provide for the family’s well-being. This, of course, requires said young person to drop out of high school and go to work.  From my observations, I have come to the conclusion that many Mexican families depend on each other meaning that if one person does well with his or herself, it is his or her responsibility to ensure that the other members of the family are taken care of.  This not only includes his or her own spouse and children but also siblings and even further into his or her extended family like cousins or nieces and nephews.  Several people have made the comment that a lot of the family tendencies I have been introduced to while here closely resemble what America’s tendencies were about fifty or sixty years ago.

My goal in writing this piece is to show the way some people struggle in Mexico to survive.  I; however, do not wish to provide points to show how much better America is than Mexico, and I hope my writing has not implied that.  When people ask if I intend to return to America, my answer is always yes.  San Miguel de Allende is beautiful, the weather is amazing, and the people are kind, but as I’ve said before to my family and friends, if you do not already have money coming in from other sources outside of Mexico, or if you were not born into a wealthy family, building a life here can be difficult.  As in America, some people here have a “go get it” attitude while others seem like they have given up or most likely, they think there is no point in striving to make a better life for themselves because it is unachievable.  Also, from what I understand, Mexico does not offer the same amount of public assistance available to those struggling in America so actual poverty is something you see every day.  The money people make by working has to pay for food and living expenses while this is not often the case in America. One thing that this experience has taught me is that I really do not have it that bad.  Yes, I have my usual pity parties, but I always bring myself back to the point of realizing that my child is healthy, he has plenty of food to eat, he lives in a safe neighborhood, and he has a pretty good life compared to many others.  As a parent, I hold my child’s happiness and well-being higher than anything else in my life.  Observing the struggles the people I have mentioned above go through every day leads me to be thankful for what I do have to make sure my son is taken care of and happy.

One of the Many Gems: My Discovery of La Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende

After being in San Miguel de Allende for a couple of months, I found myself needing something.  At that moment, I did not know what this hole in my soul was nor did I know how to fill it. We were of course busy settling in and taking care of those utterly detested errands that as I mentioned in one of my earlier posts usually took several attempts to complete.  My husband had to get his truck he had bought in the states properly registered here, he had to get a driver’s license, and we were looking for places to get my baby his needed immunizations.  After all of these detestable things were taken care of, I felt like there was definitely something missing.

I have always been a reader.  When I was younger, I read many books in The Babysitter’s Club series, I tore through The Boxcar Children series, and when I would receive money for Christmas or my birthday, I found myself using some of it to make a trip to the bookstore to pick up the latest Full House: Stephanie book or the biographies of Prince William and Leonardo DiCaprio.  I bought countless copies of those “tween” gossip magazines of the ’90’s  to see what my favorite boys were up to which of course included the person I thought would eventually become my husband:  Jonathan Taylor Thomas.  Reading was always important to me.  I would see teachers begging and pleading with my fellow students to read while I was always worried I would finish my book before my class’ next scheduled library session.  I remember one teacher I had in either second or third grade telling my mother that I had brought my dad’s Readers’ Digest to read during free time. I loved movies and TV, but books provided something entirely different.  My mother told me when I was really young, she would try to read to me, and I would snatch the book away from her and “read to her” instead.  When I actually did learn to read, it allowed me to escape, and books became somewhat of a therapist to me.  I don’t remember actually learning to read.  I just did it.

As I ventured into the teen years, sometimes my reading would take a backseat to the usual teen activities, but I would always find my way back and definitely make up for that time spent away from those soothing words that had once been a huge part of my life.  I worked at a Books-A-Million during the summer after my Senior year of high school and found it preposterous the money people would spend on books.  Hadn’t they ever heard of a library?  You know, where you can get books for FREE!  Oh well.  Although the pay for this particular job was horrible, and I had to actually work and not spend my entire day browsing the shelves for new stories, it was a rewarding job, and I got to experience many people’s reading preferences.  The soccer mom would pile books with very explicit sex scenes on the counter, students and their parents would present their summer reading lists two days before school started back in a state of panic, and I even had a man ask me one time if I knew of any books that would “make him smart.”  I don’t remember how I answered that question exactly, but I probably led him to the section of British Classics. Little did I know that reading would soon become an even bigger part of my life.

As I entered college, I had no idea what I was going to major in.  I had some ideas:  Education, Political Science, or basically anything I could sail through college with that would not require me to take Trigonometry or Organic Chemistry.  After I transferred to Louisiana State University in Shreveport after being at a community college for a year, I found myself still enrolled in basic courses, but this time I realized I thoroughly enjoyed my English classes, and these classes were the ones I did well in.  I then decided to pursue a degree in English.  When people outside of my beloved English Department would ask what I was majoring in, their response would often be a puzzled look accompanied with “What are you gong to do with that?”  Ugh…I don’t know fool!  Write, read, teach.  Teaching was always an option and one that some of my fellow English Majors pursued, but this would also entail my gaining a teaching certificate since I would eventually only gain an English Degree and not an English Education Degree.  There are many teachers in my family.  My mother was a teacher for thirty years, and most of her family were also in some type of career in education.  Somehow I thought that this just was not for me.  So, I just focused on getting out of school and actually receiving a decent paycheck.  I graduated Cum Laude in 2007, but as I was strolling across the stage with my degree in hand, the idea of “what the hell am I going to now” presented itself in my mind.  Luckily, a couple of months later, some very gracious people decided to take a chance on a newly graduated, 22-year-old gal with no experience whatsoever in their field.  I stayed employed with this company until fate forced me to pack up my office and move South of the Border.

Like I mentioned before, after the chaos of moving to another country simmered down, there was something I longed for, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  The first time I entered La Biblioteca, that feeling came to light.  Ah yes.  This is what it was.  I needed the “written word” back in my life.  I needed that feeling of knowing I had a good book waiting for me when I felt miserable about my family’s situation.  I needed something to engage myself in other than watching the very limited English-speaking shows on TV.  You may be thinking that a library in Central Mexico could not possibly cater to someone who had grown up in America.  Au contraireLa Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende is like something out of a romantic movie.  It is huge and unlike any other library I had ever seen.  It not only houses tons of books in English, the atmosphere is absolutely breath-taking.  After you walk from the sidewalk into the front door and up a few stairs, the library opens into a beautiful courtyard.  In the center of the courtyard is a beautiful wishing fountain where, if you look inside of it, you will find both pesos and pennies.  You will find students dressed in their pristine school uniforms studying, young children enjoying a class in the children’s section, and many expatriates utilizing the many resources the library offers in English.  As you walk further into the library,  there are several small sections housing different genres of books in English along with a huge room with many more.  There is another equally large section for books in Spanish. The library has a full theater and café in one part, and the upstairs area is used for children and adult art classes.  My mother and I actually looked in on a painting class for children around the age of eight or nine while she was visiting.  The first time I saw the library, I knew I had to see about getting a library card to place in my collection of library cards in my wallet.  I was a little nervous about asking how much it would cost. Because of our situation, I knew that spending money on “extras” was not a great idea.  I was very relieved to find out that the cost equaled about seven American dollars per calendar year.  YESSS!!! Finally.

As I have mentioned, the library in San Miguel has many different English-written genres to choose from. I have read a couple of memoirs, a lot of books with extremely dramatic plots, and have even checked out a couple of classics I missed out on during my college experience.  When I was in college, I was required to take Advanced American and British Literature, Victorian Novels (ugh…sorry peeps, not my fave) along with a class dedicated entirely to Shakespeare.  I also took a Contemporary Novels class which introduced me to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit which eventually became the subject of my Senior Presentation. I must say that it is much easier to read a classic when you are alone without a baby or toddler to take care of.  I attempted to read Anna Karenina when I got here which was a big flop.  Yes, I understand that this work is very respected and should always be taken seriously, but I simply could not do it.  Oh yes, I did finish the book; however, that meant, one day, after becoming frustrated with the slowly moving plot, taking a considerably large handful of pages and flipping them to the left.  Surprisingly after skipping that “handful,” I still understood what was going on.  It was like I had missed nothing.  I then realized that I could not delve into those same works that I had in my earlier years in the quiet atmosphere of my university’s library. I had to find books that I could read with background noise of a screaming toddler, the often annoying and loud noises of Nick Jr. en Español playing, and books that would allow me to lay them down after reading only a paragraph to tend to a dirty diaper or feed my always-hungry child another snack and come back to it without confusion.  This led me to scout out those “guilty pleasure” books that I often felt ashamed of reading as an person holding an English Degree.  But oh how fun it was! I have read pretty much every Jodi Picoult book known to man along with all of the “chick-lit” writer Jennifer Weiner’s works.  I tore through Gone Girl in a day, and I have become acquainted with several authors I had never heard of.  Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is another “chick-lit” writer who writes novels mostly about Latina women living in the U.S., and her writing often throws in a few words in Spanish along with English.  I am very proud to tell you that since I am an expatriate living in Mexico, I actually understood these simple Spanish phrases…..Oh, and there were a few I had to ask my husband about.

Throughout my life of being an avid reader, I have developed certain preferences when it comes to choosing something that will keep my full attention.  If I am not interested in a plot within the first couple of chapters, I will put the book down never to return to it.  I do not have the patience to appreciate extremely long, descriptive passages describing every thread present in the current setting.  I do not care what color the curtains are nor do I care to know the length of the male character’s nose hairs.  I guess this is why some of the novels I was required to read in college were also accompanied with visits to Spark Notes. I am somewhat ashamed to admit this, but like I said, I have to be entertained, and some of the books I was required to read were simply unentertaining.  I like scandals, I like action, and I do not appreciate cheesy love story plots.  When choosing books to check out at the library in San Miguel, I have learned to closely examine the plot, the setting, and the comments often included within the first few pages from Literary Critics.  If I have the time, I will also read a few pages just to see if the author’s words capture me.  I have always had something against an author writing in the present tense.  I don’t know why, but it bugs the hell out of me.  Yes, I have read some great books written in the present tense, but I prefer works written in the past tense.  I like the element of reflection to be present in a plot.  Reflection really is impossible if one is writing in present tense.  I absolutely love when an author writes about seemingly different characters and somehow cleverly connects them.  I refuse to watch a movie based on a book before I read the book unless it’s not something I’m interested in reading.  For instance, I did not read any of the Twilight  books, but of course, I watched the movies.  This falls into that “something I am not interested in reading” categories.  I do not enjoy reading about vampires, the supernatural or anything like that.  I like real-life stuff—-you know the stuff that could happen in real-life, but you hope to God it does not happen in your life.  I hate when authors churn out what seems to be 100 books a year that all have basically the same plot—Sorry Danielle Steel lovers.  While reading these books, I always have a sense the author is rushing to wrap it up so he or she can start on the next bestseller.  The ending of a novel is the most important part to me, and I hate feeling that the author is rushed to get it over with.  I like intense words with clever dialogue, and I absolutely despise milksop female characters.  I always research my library trips beforehand to make the trips more successful.  I have an app on my iPad that suggests different authors based on the books I have enjoyed in the past, and I make a list of those authors. Often, the authors I have on my list are not housed in the San Miguel library. I still do my research just in case.  I am the weirdo gringa with a chicken-scratched list of various authors on the back of a grocery store receipt or pizza napkin wandering around the different English sections of La Biblioteca. 

As you can see, reading has always been a big part of my life from the time I first began reading up to present day.  Yes, I have developed my idiosyncratic preferences throughout the years, but the goal of reading for pleasure is actually having pleasure in what one is reading.  Writing is a unique art form that requires the artist to draw someone into his or her work through words only.  In most books written for adults, there are no pictures, and there is no audio so the artist has the responsibility of using words as a medium just as painters and sculptors use their mediums.  I have come to realize this can be extremely difficult especially when presenting art to a picky reader like me.  Words have the ability to be boring and annoying while they can also be moving, entertaining or simply magical.   Throughout my life, books have taken on the role of entertainer, therapist and companion.  I will always be thankful that I possess the love of reading.  I am always reminded to be thankful for this love of mine by remembering that I am currently in a beautiful city that is totally foreign to me that holds one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen.  ¡Gracias a Dios por La Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende!  After all, what more does one need than breath-taking views, a toddler digging around in stuff he is not supposed to be in, a sweating glass of cheap rum and Coca-Cola Light and a good book to make a night enjoyable!

From East Texas to Central Mexico: An Educational Journey

One thing that people like to say about The United States of America is that is very diverse.  While San Miguel de Allende may not be quite as diverse as the entire U.S., it is definitely more diverse than the small area I hail from. I must say that while being forced into the differences in the Mexican culture, I have also met some very interesting people.  I have become acquainted with many more people from all over the U.S. than I ever did in East Texas.  There are many expatriates that have chosen to retire here, and there are the elite that own multi-million dollar homes they visit a few weeks out of the year.  Before we moved to our current location, we used to frequently escape the ghetto by walking downtown to sit in the tranquil Jardín that is right in front of the amazing and beautiful Parroquia which is seen in basically every photo of San Miguel.  As we would sit there admiring the beautiful architecture and basking in the unbelievable weather, I would always have my ears open.  This action was because I longed to hear just one syllable spoken in English.  Always being the dummy that could not speak Spanish while living in Mexico was becoming extremely tiring.  It was always an excuse to skip out on the often long and drawn-out conversations that I really did not wish to participate in, but I did miss actually speaking to people.  More times than not, I would hear some English being spoken in our usual spot downtown.  I absolutely loved eavesdropping on people’s conversations. You see, people always have often mistaken me for being Mexican or at least from some other ethnic origin than Caucasian.  For one thing, my husband is un-mistakenly of Latino descent, and my child inherited a little bit of his coloring with my nose and hair.  I have dark hair, light brown eyes, and skin that tans rather easily so when people see us all sitting together, they automatically assume that I am also Mexican or at least can speak Spanish.  The times we have been sitting next to an American or Canadian, their surprise is very humorous the minute I open my mouth and out comes the East Texas twang that I could not hide even if I wanted to.  I clung to these people in my mind because they would speak, and I would instantly understand instead of my brain being put into overload trying to quickly translate Spanish into English which would ultimately lead to my giving up and asking my husband what they were talking about. One time, I overheard two retiree-aged men, dressed in clean, pressed collared shirts tucked into khaki shorts, discussing the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.  I tried not to be too obvious that I was listening to their very animated conversation about how the legal marijuana was ten times better than the “street stuff” and the ways in which they replenished their stashes when they were in the U.S.  My husband and I discreetly exchanged smiles while they kept talking about the often, highly debated subject.  It was refreshing to see obviously educated people not spout off small-minded rants about how marijuana was a gateway drug, and that people who engaged in this dangerous “drug” had no self-control.  Instead of eating their way into morbid obesity or downing two bottles of wine every night, they used their “stash” to unwind after a day of hard work.  They of course had no idea they were being eavesdropped on, but honestly, I don’t think they would have cared if they knew.  I remember meeting two ladies a little older than my mother that were on vacation from Houston.  They were both obviously the type that did not enjoy the late-night partying or clubbing that goes on downtown but instead were there to simply enjoy the beauty and of course the weather.  I gathered this by the statement they made that by 7 o’clock in the evening, they were usually back in their hotel room in their pajamas.  They asked about where we lived and how long we had been here, and of course I could see the question in their eyes when I said we had moved from the U.S.  I do not like to share my husband’s bouts with the crappy-ass immigration system with everyone because I do not want them to think less of us nor do I want to see their disapproving looks and wonder what they will say about us once we are out of earshot so I have developed a way to conveniently compose my conversations without blurting out our true situation. I also do not wish to simply make up lies and stories so I used my well-rehearsed response to answer the lady’s innocent questions about what led us here.

In the early days of “my adventure,” when vacationers would ask about touristy things to see and do my husband would always answer their questions, but after a while, I found myself being able to answer their questions.  I could tell them where the good places to shop were and different activities they could engage themselves in.  I even showed an American lady to the correct street she was looking for while I was downtown with my sister without my husband.  There was also the polite and cute couple from Missouri who were on a two-month vacation (must be nice) that thought the main ingredient in a Bloody Mary was celery and not vodka.  This was their first time being in San Miguel, and they had many questions.  I was surprisingly able to answer their questions while making a few recommendations.  I have met and had conversations with many English-speaking people who have nothing but marvelous things to say about San Miguel.  When my mother visited for the first time,  we were relaxing at one of the many spa-type resorts that house swimming pools heated from water from the natural hot springs in the area.  Being the natural extrovert my mother is, she started talking with a couple from Pennsylvania.  I think they thought her accent was amusing, but we were also talking about their accents later.  Yes, my fellow Americans from the Northeast, “y’all” have accents too.  This couple was very nice and relaxed, but they warned my mother not to go back to Texas bragging about how great San Miguel is because they wanted to keep it a secret.  I think a lot of the expatriates along with the natives here prefer it not to become one of those party-like atmospheres where you always hear the bass from a stereo thumping like many of the vacation resorts in Mexico.  Believe me, there are many places to drink and party, but it seems as if people are respectful enough of the city not to let it get out of hand.  It would be a terrible shame if the beautifully constructed sidewalks and superb streets started reeking of urine and vomit.  People here want to keep San Miguel artsy and peaceful.  They do not want the city to lose its magnificent historical touch.

My goal in writing this is to prove that there are many different people in San Miguel.  You have your low-life drunks with no ambition which I am convinced all lived on the street we used to live on. You have your Middle-Class Americans, Mexicans, Canadians, etc. on vacation or have retired here, and then you have your very wealthy people from all over who own unbelievably gorgeous and sprawling mansions.  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I wandered up to their door and asked if I could come in just to view their magnificent home.  Believe it or not, judging by the incredibly friendly and cordial nature of the people I have met who obviously are in a much higher tax bracket than I will ever be, there may be a chance that they would humor me and let me in.  The thing about the homes here is that you never know what a home holds on the inside because it is pretty much shut off from the road.  Usually, there is a high wall with a garage door so until you happen to drive by when the owner is pulling in or backing out, you never know what is on the inside nor do you know how big it may be.  The wall off the sidewalk usually not only houses the actual home, it also holds the what we Americans term “the yard,” but it is usually a courtyard with unbelievable landscaping. Vibrantly colored flowers hang from the tops of roof-top decks, and my mind begins to wonder what kind of beautiful furniture and exquisite decorative architecture the home holds.  There have been times when I have almost sprained my neck trying to peer into the garage doors just to get a peek.

As in the U.S., there are many people here that cause people to look at and then turn around and look again.  Yes, there are many gorgeous ladies and “muy guapo” men here; however, there are also the people who work very hard at being one of these “beautiful people,” but just cannot seem to get a hold of it.  I am in no way suggesting that I am one of these people.  Yes I would like to be, but I was not born with a body that automatically shrunk back to a size two a day after child birth like “some people.”  Actually, I think I was probably a size two when I WAS two so that statement does not apply to me at all.  I remember having a conversation with one of our friends visiting from America, and we were commenting on how small a lot of the people are here.  A woman who could most likely shop for her clothes at Baby Gap or The Children’s Place will be walking down the street with her five kids.  I hate to know how all those kids came out of her itty-bitty body.  Anyway, there are many small people, but there are also the people who think they’re small.  Yes, there are plenty.  My husband sells clothes at a local market, and one day we were at the park, and he pointed to a rather rotund woman who, when I took a closer look, rocked an exposed, large belly that was hanging out under her way-too-small shirt.  My husband then told me that she had bought the shirt she was wearing from him.  My husband can be rather blunt sometimes, and he said the day she visited his booth, he told her that he had some X-Large shirts for sale–I must add that I wear about a size ten in jeans (sometimes an eight if I’m lucky and have the energy to fight and dance my way into my clothes and vow not to eat anything that day), and an X-Large is the size I wear in the certain brand he sells.  I have man shoulders and I prefer for my stomach to be conveniently hidden under my shirt.   Anyway, this particular woman angrily claimed that she wore a Medium to my husband.  Whoa!  Really?  No biggie smalls, you are in no way, shape, or form a size Medium, and you might want to consider that the shirt that you affirm you wear a Medium in should also cover your bulging mid-section.  It is very common to see women in clothes that are about two sizes too small here.  If she is one of the naturally small ladies, it’s not that big of a deal, but if the woman in question is unknowingly reppin’ for the hefty side, it’s just not flattering.  I am definitely in no position to judge someone on being heavy, but as a person who has struggled with her weight all her life, I want to grab some of these hot mammas and tell them they would look so much better in clothes that actually fit.  I know some of you are thinking that I am being “beechy” again, and you may say, “Hanna, that may be all she has to wear.”  I know, cálmate!  In my own defense, the particular woman I mentioned above obviously had the money to buy clothes as I’m pretty sure some of the other ladies I am referring to have.  Money is often hard to come by here which is a subject that deserves its own post so I will elaborate on it later.   All I am saying is that if one saves up the money to buy new clothes,  in my opinion, it would be best to spend it on clothes that will flatter.

I must touch on our own little neighborhood.  Ahhhh…our neighborhood.  Not only do we have magnificent views and hard-working employees who keep the area impeccably clean, we have some of the nicest and friendliest neighbors.  You never pass anyone on the sidewalk without he or she quietly uttering a polite salutation.  My toddler has found a friend that is one day younger than he is, and he is gradually working on successful social interacting. Maybe he will one day let his amiga give him a hug without running away from her.  As this post is mainly focused on the diversity of the people in San Miguel, our neighborhood does exhibit this as well.  There is a very friendly man from Haiti who speaks fluent Spanish and lives in Mexico City but also owns a house a few doors down with his little fuzzy dog.  There are a few people from Spain, and the wife of one of my husband’s good friends in the neighborhood is from Cuba.  Oh yeah, and there is also none other than little (or kind of big) American me!  I think I really add to the neighborhood with my hilarious attempts to speak Spanish and the American  music floating out of my windows.  I can speak what people refer to as “survival Spanish.”  I know common phrases, nouns and am gradually struggling through learning the different conjugations of verbs; however, I definitely have a long way to go before I am able to carry on an intense conversation with someone.  Instead of making me feel inadequate for not being able to speak fluent Spanish, all of the people I have met in our neighborhood are very tolerant and go out of their way to accommodate me.  In fact, a lot of people find it interesting that English is my first language, and often request I teach them a few words “en Inglés.”  My husband builds cabinets, and we are constantly having people visiting our home to view the cabinets he has built, and one thing that seems to puzzle them is that we don’t have a formal dining room table.  I don’t see the importance of having “un comedor” (dining room).  The houses are very small in our neighborhood, and many people (I’ve noticed as I nosily peer into their houses when they leave their doors standing open) choose to go without a living room and instead have a complete dining room set—I’m talking the big ones with a huge table and ten chairs.  I’m sorry, but I’d rather have a couch to sprawl out on to eat my guacamole and watch my limited English-speaking TV channels than to sit in a rigid, uncomfortable chair at a table.  We have a small bar off of our kitchen, but my husband is the only one that uses that.  My child has his high chair but a lot of times prefers to wander around the house eating which leaves nice trails of crumbs all over the place.  Yes, maybe if  I had a larger family, the idea of a large dining table would be more appealing, but that most likely will not come any time soon.

Diversity is often a loosely based term. In this case, when I refer to “diversity,” I am not only referring to a person’s nationality or religion nor do I intend to make ignorant, stereotypical remarks that lead you to believe that a;ll people of a certain grouping behave in a certain way.  I am referring to the diversity that exists within all broad groupings of people.  You have your intelligent, high-achieving individuals in every culture as you have your low-life, lazy pieces of ca-ca that everyone looks at with disgust.  You have people who, while they may be struggling to make it, always have a smile on their faces and would give you the shirt off their backs even if it were the last shirt they owned. I have learned that it is important to insert oneself into a sometimes uncomfortable existence to better one’s knowledge of the world.  This is a big world filled with many interesting people, and unless a person is willing to explore outside his or her own “bubble,” he or she may never know what all is out there.  Most importantly if this person chooses to remain in his or her own self-proclaimed bubble, the regret of missing out on developing long-lasting relationships that will affect his or her life in ways that were once unimaginable will always be present.

Hay Muchas Diferencias: The Good, The Bad, and the OMG’s

This post is dedicated to pointing out the many differences I have faced during my transition from living in the U.S. to living in Mexico.  Some may surprise you as they have surprised me.  As many people coming from small-town USA, I was taught that Mexico was nothing but dirt roads and drug cartels with a few outstanding beachfront resorts.  There are dirt roads, but there are also beautiful cobblestone streets. The drug cartels exist, but they are not a threat in many areas of Mexico, and HELLO, not all of Mexico is on the beach.  This has been a common misconception that I have dealt with.  The only places in Mexico people tend to think of are places like Cozumel, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.  There is SO much more.  Where I am currently residing is the historical city of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato which is about 170 miles north of Mexico City.  First of all, I must touch on one of the most amazing aspects of living here:  The fantastic views!  I look out the window in my living room and wonder if the view is actually real.  You know how people pay thousands, sometimes even millions, in the U.S. to see a great view from their high-rise condo or huge amounts of money to have a mountain view?  Well, I can assure you, I do not have that kind of money, but I have a pretty amazing view sitting on my couch in my stretchy shorts and t-shirt drinking my off-brand white rum with Coca-Cola Light.  I live about five minutes outside of the city, and I have beautiful views of the city along with the mountains touching the surreal clouds surrounding them.

The views are wonderful, but so is the weather.  As a lifetime East Texas girl, I know all about those miserable days where the temperature reaches over 100 degrees, and I also know how stressful it can be when an unexpected ice storm hits during the winter and you’re wondering how in the hell you’re going to get to work without your car sliding off into the ditch.  I have been here for almost a year and a half, and I can honestly say that the weather does not change that much.  You have your hotter days, and you have your cooler days, but it’s never at those unbearable temperatures I have experienced in Texas.  The hottest months are April and May where the hottest it will get is a little above ninety degrees.  When May turns into June, it starts cooling off at night.  When my mother visited me for the first time, it was around the end of July, and we were preparing to go on a trek around the city. I told her she may need a light jacket.  She looked at me like I was crazy, but this is the reality.  The wind starts picking up and produces this heavenly breeze that can sometimes turn cold.  I dress my toddler in long pants and t-shirts at night in the middle of the summer because I know it will end up being chilly.  This leads me into my next topic.  We do not have air conditioning or heating here.  It may sound crazy, but it really is not needed.  There have been a couple of days when I thought an air conditioner may be nice, but it has never gotten so hot that it is unbearable.  We have fans, and we keep the windows open, and that is pretty much all we need.  In fact, when late September hits, we find ourselves closing the windows because it gets a little too chilly.  When it gets to those chillier temperatures, wearing my beloved sweatpants and a light hoodie is all that is needed.  Another positive aspect of not having central air and heat is the extremely low utility bill.  We pay around 25 USD per month for electricity which is nothing compared to the exorbitant bills we were paying living in East Texas during the miserable summer and also during the few months we had low temperatures, and it seemed like our heater was running non-stop.

One thing that I love to tell people about living here is the way things work.  This statement may seem a little “mickey-mouse,” but it really is interesting.  Our stove/oven, and water heater are run on gas which may be nothing different from what some people use in the U.S., but the way the gas runs into the house is different.  We use large tanks that are hooked up in the back, and that tank powers the fore-mentioned appliances.  Our water heater is a little bigger than a laptop computer, and when you turn the hot water on, it immediately ignites and begins heating the water.  There is no tank; however, when we were residing in our previous residence here in San Miguel, there was a tank, and the gas powered it, but you had to be conservative about leaving it on.  If you left the water heater on all day, it would use up all of your gas.  So, what we were forced to do before taking a shower was turn the water heater on, wait about thirty minutes, take our shower, and then turn the heater off.  This pretty much sucked because we always had to plan when we were going to need hot water.  I am very thankful for my automatic water heater now. There are several gas companies that have trucks that come by every day blaring their advertisements over their loudspeakers like they’re the ice cream truck.  In fact, my toddler often mistakes the gas truck for the ice cream truck. Once he starts mouthing his incredibly adorable “MMmmmm!,” I have to remind him that it is only the gas man and not the ice cream man.

Another aspect I have had to get used to is not owning a dryer.  This may seem like a horror to some people especially my fellow mothers to young children.  It really isn’t that bad, but I cannot and must not get behind on laundry, or I will be sorry.  The problem with not having a dryer is that once the laundry is washed, it goes on the line to dry.  This process may take only a couple of hours, or it may take all day.  Plus, there are a few things that I prefer the feel of out of the dryer like towels.  It has been hard, but I have gotten used to the stiff, crunchy towels instead of the soft, billowy towels fresh out of the dryer. There are people who own dryers here, but from what I’ve seen, the dryers do not get much use.  It’s kind of like the air conditioner thing:  There have been a few times when I had wished I had a dryer like when it rained for a straight week.  The laundry was piling up more and more every day, and a dryer would have been amazing, but hey, we got through it.

I absolutely must mention something that may cause people to shake their heads and call me a complete lush.  It is the amazing fact that alcohol is comparably very cheap here.  That bottle that I used to pay $20 for is now a little over $6. Oh, and you must never miss out on the sales on alcohol. Luckily, one of the grocery stores we are frequent patrons of has three for two deals on different items each week during the entire month of July, and yes, the last week of July this year was three for two liquor and wine!  Whoop Whoop!  While sales in America often never include things like liquor, the sales in Mexico do so it’s best to stock up.  Also, one can get liquor anywhere.  It is accessible during the weekly trip to the grocery store or one can get it while getting gas at the local gas station.  As I have mentioned in one of my previous posts, the purchasing of alcohol may be accompanied with a disapproving look from a teetotaler spouse, but who cares? One of the advantageous parts of being in San Miguel is that you always feel like you’re on vacation, and what do “normal” people do on vacation?  They eat, drink and are merry!  So I say live it up!

One of the things that people automatically think is that Mexico is “behind the times” on some aspects of life that many Americans have become unable to live without.  I will tell you, I believed the same thing, but from the minute we arrived here to the present time I am sitting here writing this, I have always had WiFi.  We stream movies and music, I use the WiFi for work, and of course we must have it to keep up with our loved ones in the U.S. on Facebook.  When we first got the WiFi connected, we had a few problems with it, but it was resolved, and we have not had problems since then.  One thing that has been a tad bit difficult is transitioning from having my smart phone with internet to having a phone that is just a phone outside of our home.  We still use our smart phones, but the fees for data are outrageous so we have opted to give up that luxury and only use the internet on our phones when we are at home or if we are somewhere in the city that offers free WiFi.  Another advantage to living where we live now is that all of the power lines are underground so there are no ugly lines distorting your view of the beautiful mountains or the surprise of a hot air balloon floating right above you on weekend mornings.  However, I must add that not all power lines are buried here.  When we lived in the stank ghetto, the power lines were just a bundle of mess hanging overhead, and of course what ghetto neighborhood would be complete without ratty tennis shoes thrown over the power lines?  That always adds something to the décor of the neighborhood. It goes well with crappy graffiti and dirty, drunk men.

Another aspect of life in Mexico I have had to adjust to is the currency exchange rate.  Right now, the current exchange rate is little over 16 pesos per U.S. Dollar.  When I first got here, I was totally confused when we went to the store, and to this day, I always have my phone out doing calculations on what the prices are equal to in American dollars.  I would think, “What the crap? A bag of chips is $47??….Oh wait, (pull out the calculator), that’s only like $3 American.”  Living in America for thirty years caused my mind to only think in American currency, and although my husband was born here, he has also had to adjust to pesos instead of dollars because dollars are what he was used to.  There are many financial institutions in the city that will exchange money for Americans, Canadians, etc.  It is always best to check online for the actual exchange rate to make sure the financial institution is not charging a crazy rate for exchanging currency.  For example, they have kiosks at the airport for exchanging money, but their rates are ridiculous compared to the banks inside of the city.

The slow-moving, relaxed atmosphere of San Miguel can be very beneficial at times, but there are other times when I want to scream. People do not get in a hurry to get anything accomplished.  My husband is very talented in the area of wood-working, and when we first got here, my husband’s uncle said he had hired someone to build a cabinet for him, and it took him six months.  Six months??!!   When we go to the grocery store, sometimes we have to stand there for several minutes waiting for the thirteen-year-old sacker to wander around and look for change if we use a larger bill or if we don’t have coins of small currency to round out the amount.  The urge to yell out loudly ” Could you move ANY slower?” enters my mind a lot, but then of course not many people would understand me and would most likely shrug their shoulders and characterize me as just another crazy, spoiled gringa.  You know the things that Americans can usually take care of on their lunch break like car registration, drivers’ license renewal and stuff like that?  Well, don’t expect to get that done in a short amount of time here.  Time really does not exist here compared to our always-in-a-hurry lives in the U.S.  People working as customer service representatives here are as slow as Christmas, and the person that is in front of you in line will most likely take what seems like three hours to complete what he or she came there to do. Oh and there are always those hated “cutters.”  You know, the people who butt in front of you so they can ask the cashier a very important question instead of getting in line behind of you?  I witnessed this while my husband was making a purchase at a mall in a neighboring city.  A lady who obviously thought she was hot-you-know-what butted in while my husband was attempting to complete his transaction to ask the cashier some dumb question that could have been answered by simply reading the signs posted all over the section of the store.  As long as the said person butts in with a polite smile and a generous “Disculpe,” I guess the person they push to the side is automatically expected to accept their rudeness.  I was in line for the bathroom one day, and this older woman just cut in front of like five people to get into a stall.  What the hell?  I guess because she was old, we were all supposed to allow her to waddle her old butt into the stall.  I had no idea what the correct cultural response was, and then again, I had no idea how to express my feelings without speaking English so I just stood there towering over all of the other petite ladies at my five feet, six inches (which is not tall by any standards in America) fuming about how rude she was. I suppose this scenario is another part of Mexican culture I need to get used to; however, it is difficult for me.  I am by no means claiming that Americans do not possess excessive amounts of rudeness, but one thing I have learned since I’ve been here is that most Mexican people are blessed with the virtue of patience. I feel like my level of patience has improved since I have become a mother, especially since my son is now in the often dreaded toddler stage, but I really don’t think my level of tolerance for rude and ignorant people will ever change.

While there are many differences I have experienced coming from a small, East Texas town, I am gradually learning to accept the changes I have had to endure.  Some of them I have adjusted to quite naturally, and others have pushed my anger to rise to the top of my big American head.  One thing I must always remember is that this is a learning experience that I will most-likely be thankful for in the future.

Painfully Thin or Fat and Happy: Confessions of a Lifetime Chubster

I want to start out by saying I am not writing this post to make people feel sorry for me.  My weight has been something I have struggled with since I can even remember.  My mom was forced to potty train me just after I turned two because I was getting too big for diapers.  I was always the big girl in the back of the class school picture, and I wore cartoon character T-shirts from the ladies’ section on the first day of school rather than the cute little outfits my female peers wore.  I wore a ladies’ size 16 when I was in fifth grade which made me considerably larger than most of my peers’ mothers,  and before the days of digital photos when you could conveniently hit the delete button right after the picture was taken, I hated to see what was waiting for me when I opened the envelope from the one-hour photo developing center.  While many times these kind of posts come with horrible stories of bullying and self-loathing, I actually do not have many of these tales to tell.  There were a few times when I was called fat.  I was never asked to dance at school dances, and I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 17 years old.  Once again, while these statements may cause you to make a frowny face and say, “Awww,”  that is not my intention in writing this.   I want you to laugh with me because that is what I have learned to do.  I also want to make it clear that I don’t blame anyone but myself for my weight problem.  I secretly knew that my family worried about my expanding waistline, but they never really showed it.  My parents made a point to emphasize how smart I was and that I was beautiful.  My younger sister was really sensitive about my weight.  She has never had a weight problem.  She was always skinny when she was a little girl, and then as she got older, she would eat whatever she wanted while her stomach stayed hard and flat. She never persecuted me for my weight problem unless she really wanted to hurt my feelings which more times than not, I probably deserved because of my own older-sister torturing directed at her.  When she was really young, I remember seeing the pain in her eyes when she told me a story about when she was staying with my grandmother and grandfather.  An older lady from my grandfather’s church came up to her and asked her if she was Hanna.  When she said no and that she was Hanna’s younger sister, the lady said “Oh yeah, Hanna’s the fat one.”  In the earlier days, those kind of remarks would tear me up inside, but I didn’t let it show.  My mother comes from a large family, and I had quite a few cousins to hang out with. Most of them are girls, and of course all of them were thin.  However, they never made fun of me.  We would go to the pool, and they would wear their cute little two-piece bathing suits while I emerged with my grandma one-piece. While most pre-teen girls loved shopping for clothes, I absolutely loathed it.  I would start sweating in the fitting room and pray that the clothes I was about to try on would fit because I didn’t want to confess that I needed to go up a size because that size probably did not exist but more importantly, I didn’t want to feel like a failure.  I remember being able to miraculously fit into an X-Large shirt from the Juniors’ Department at JcPenney the summer before my sixth-grade school year.  I wore that damn shirt until it got holes in the armpits because it was one of the only shirts I owned that was somewhat fashionable.  When I think back to these times, I remember how hard it was to be the “fat girl,” but I also think of how much stronger it has made me.  I could always hold my own about other things, but the minute I was called fat, the tears would well up in my eyes, and I would not be able to fight back.  The threat of being deemed “fat” now really doesn’t bother me.

As I got older, I would think of ways to diet or exercise, and sometimes I would lose quite a bit of weight.  Of course, once I got tired of my regiment, the weight would come back with a vengeance.  When I started my first “real job” at the cabinet company I worked at for seven years, I quickly figured out how incredibly easy it is to gain weight when the only movement your body engages itself in all day is picking up the phone or rolling your wheelie chair over to your printer to pick up your pages.  Also, it is very easy to snack when you’re sitting on your ass all day, not to mention, there are many options available in the vending machine that will add to your always-expanding booty and waist.  When I went to the doctor, it got real.  The worst part of going to the doctor for me has never been the possible shots, poking and prodding or sitting in the waiting room for an hour after your appointment was set for, it was stepping on that humongous scale and watching the nurse keep moving the balance weight over.  Ugh, it was torment.  Well, this time, the scale finally balanced at a weight I was not proud of.  Oh well, something must be wrong with the scale or maybe I drank too much water that morning.  I told myself that until I talked to the tiny, in-shape Nurse Practitioner, and she shamed my weight.  Okay, so then I decided to do something.  I made better choices and began walking faithfully every night. I even bought one of those goofy-looking headband, headlight things so I could walk after work when the time changed and it got dark earlier.  Soon, I began noticing a difference, and my clothes began to bag off of me.  It was rewarding.  About a year after that revelation, I found myself being separated from my first husband which only added to the weight falling off of me.  I remember the power I felt when I squeezed myself into some of my sister’s clothes, and confidence came easier.  I vowed that I would never put myself in the situation that I was at that dreadful doctor’s appointment.  Easier said than done.  Once I began dating my present husband, our dates would always involve eating out plus I was a Buyer so I had vendors offering to take me to lunch at least once a week. Then, there were the days when I would be so ravenous when it was time for my lunch break, going to eat a full bowl of chips and salsa along with an entrée with my work peeps would be tempting and more times than not, I would give in.  The weight soon began to creep back, but I would put my slowly tightening work clothes on in the morning, and I started having to add a full squat to my getting-ready-for-work routine to stretch them to where I didn’t feel like I was going to explode.  Every now and then, I would implement some sort of fad diet that would result in the loosening of my clothes again, but that would usually last only a couple of weeks. Then in April of 2013,  I learned I was pregnant with my first child.  I had actually been trying to get pregnant for about four months, but it became a reality when I took three pregnancy tests, and they were all positive.  The regular Hanna was elated!  A baby!  I was going to be a mother.  The fat Hanna; however, was scared to death. I had heard horror stories of people I thought to be naturally skinny ballooning out and not being able to lose the baby weight.  I knew there was nothing I could do about gaining weight.  I was supposed to gain weight to ensure I had a healthy baby and a successful pregnancy.  I did not want to put my baby in danger by implementing one of my crazy diets so I just had to accept it.  Okay, so I would eat healthily, engage myself in regular exercise, and I committed that my diet would begin the day my baby came into the world.  At first, I was very faithful to this regiment.  I felt somewhat queasy the first few months so I really did not eat a lot, I managed to make wise decisions, and I would come home from work and walk on my treadmill.  Actually, I didn’t gain much weight the first few months.  I gained what the doctor said was the healthy amount to gain, and I wore my regular jeans until I was about five months pregnant.  Well then came that doctor’s appointment when I was about six months pregnant, and I had begun to wear those very forgiving maternity jeans with the big spandex panel in the front.  Also, I was no longer feeling the queasiness I had felt earlier so shoveling food with exorbitant amounts of calories and carbs was no longer a problem.  I was ashamed to find out I had gained a whopping twenty pounds in the course of a month.  I remember crying when my sister posted pictures of my first baby shower because I closely resembled an elephant, and my husband looked like he had to struggle to even fit in the frame of the pictures.  I ended up having four baby showers throughout the course of my pregnancy, and the pictures only got worse.  I was surprised I was even able to walk at my last baby shower.  Plus, I didn’t even look pregnant until I was a good seven months along.  I just looked like an overweight woman stuffing chips, Mexican sweet bread, and baby shower cake into her mouth.  I wanted to be one of those cute pregnant women:  The ones that wore their regular jeans up until the drive to the hospital and would have to unbutton the top button when they hit nine months.  Ugh…nope, not in the cards for me.  I gained weight EVERYWHERE.  Of course I gained in my mid-section, but I also gained weight in my thighs, my arms, and my face looked like I had stuck my head in a raging beehive.  I don’t think I could smile and see at the same time.  When I would smile for a picture, my bloating cheeks would push my eyes into thin slits that looked like they were drawn on my face with a Sharpie.  My feet looked like sausages by the end of the day which led to my purchasing some amazing Skechers that were so squishy comfortable, and they allowed my feet to swell without cutting off the circulation to the sausages.  Fashionable they were not, but I didn’t give a flying you-know-what by that time.  I rocked them with my stretchy pregnancy leggings, and my very-stretchy BIG maternity jeans I was forced to buy by the last couple of months.  When I got home from work, I could not wait to take my big-mama bra off and change into my huge sports bra and stretchy shorts.  By the time I waddled into the hospital on December 19th to be induced, I was tipping the scales at a weight I had never seen even in my fattest days.  Little did I know that after my adorable child was born, the fear of losing weight would be pushed to the back of my mind.  I was responsible for a gorgeous, healthy baby boy, and I did not have time to worry about losing the many pounds that had appeared during my pregnancy. I lost about thirty pounds almost immediately, but those last twenty pounds lingered and lingered.  I tried to be active. I attempted to limit my caloric intake, but I was also breast-feeding so I had to eat a specific amount of calories, or my always-hungry little man would have nothing to eat.  After I stopped breast-feeding, I thought the weight might come off on its own.  HA!  NO!  I still was holding onto those ugly twenty pounds.  Then came the day when I learned I would be moving to Mexico. Little did I know that this would be the best post-baby diet ever.  When we got to San Miguel de Allende, with all the walking, puking and crappy food, I was gradually reaching my pre-pregnancy weight and oh….wait for it….passing my pre-pregnancy weight up and becoming smaller than I was before I got pregnant!  With all the stress that went with living in a foreign country, I was secretly feeling pretty accomplished for my weight loss. Also, there are way fewer unhealthy options here.  The chocolate I have eaten tastes like chalk, and the grocery stores didn’t stock aisles and aisles of boxes and bags of those processed foods I loved in the U.S.  The frozen food section was a complete disappointment.  Along with being considerably more expensive because most of the foods were imported from the U.S., in my opinion, it lacked some very important food options.  What was wrong with these people?  Had they never felt the intense joy of bubbly pizza rolls?  Had they ever tasted the goodness of microwavable hot wings with 1000 calories worth of ranch dressing poured over them?  Did they not know the happiness that went with throwing a 99 cent frozen pizza into the oven and only having to wait eleven minutes to scarf the whole thing down? On particularly fancy nights, had they had the feeling of purchasing a huge pizza from the Wal-Mart deli and crediting themselves as talented chefs after throwing it into the oven for twenty minutes because they added a few of their own ingredients to it?  So I no longer had my huge bags of chips with canned bean dip and a jar of cheese dip,  I no longer had my boxed pasta salad nor did I have my fore-mentioned frozen goodies so I taught myself to eat what was offered which was also much healthier.  The fresh eggs and rich fruits and vegetables taste good now. I snack on things like corn and garbanzo beans instead of salty, sugary processed snacks.  I do; however, occasionally miss the feeling of a good 12,000 calorie meal so there are always those anticipated trips home where I can indulge in my missed foods.

I am thirty years old, but I can honestly say that I think bigger ladies are more accepted now than they were fifteen years ago.  In the media, there are many curvy women in show business along with the music industry.  Of course, I wonder how they can be so curvy or “thick” and have absolutely no flab.  Is that possible?  Who knows, but I guess if I made millions of dollars a year, I would find a way to make myself curvy and tight…very tight.  Oh and there’s always the magic of Spanx.  I will be honest, I love Spanx.  I had a pair of pregnant woman Spanx for when I hit the whale stage of my pregnancy, and before I gave birth, I made sure I had my regular Spanx ready.  Thank goodness for that act of preparation.  I did not know at that time that I would be having a C-Section, and C-Section bellies can be quite horrendous right after giving birth.  Mine definitely was.  Spanx are also helpful for someone like me whose weight has yo-yoed so much that now I have a lovely amount of jiggly skin that doesn’t quit.  I could weigh 100 pounds and probably still have jiggly thighs and flabby arms.  Oh well, I tell myself that although I may jiggle a bit, I am healthier now than I have probably ever been.  With that being said, I will probably always hate stepping on the scale.  Even when I have tortured myself with fad diets or even come close to starving, I have never been able to get below 150 pounds which classifies me as still being “overweight” according to those stupid charts in the doctor’s office.  I choose to disregard all the charts and all the rigamarole.  I hate to sound cliché, but people come in all shapes and sizes, and while many may disagree, I think the media and Hollywood are actually doing a good job at enforcing this.  Do I still hate seeing a perfectly shaped lady on TV after she has had like 10 kids and has a full-time job? Yes, but I think to myself, if I worked out like she did or had the willpower to only eat raw vegetables, and had enough money to visit my plastic surgeon regularly, I might look like that too.  I also tend to think how unhappy these “perfect women” must be not being able to actually enjoy eating, but most likely they are not unhappy because they probably don’t have the same addiction to food as I have.  As you may have noticed, I love to eat!  If I’m hungry, I become monstrous.  My husband says when I’m hungry, I become “beechy,” which is the word “bitchy” paired with a Mexican accent.  It’s all relative as well. To one person, I may be a fat heifer, to another, I may be a little chubby and could stand to lose fifteen more pounds, and to another person, I may be considered a thin woman–I am still waiting on this person to come forward……just kiddin’…….kind of.  With that being said, the purpose of my writing this is to clue people in on this part of my journey.  Although weight-loss and weight-management was once a large part of my life, it’s not so important to me anymore. I have learned through many, many acts of trial and error what I need to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  I may not always look great in a bathing suit nor will I ever be able to turn down those certain foods I have mentioned above.  The fear of gaining 100 pounds overnight haunts me and probably always will.  Although it has always been a dream of mine, I will never be one of those people who can eat anything and stay thin.  It will always be a struggle, but what is important is that I am healthy and happy being the person I am.

Housewife…Wait! What? An Exploration of my Transition from Corporate America to Homemaking in Mexico

When I started as a Buyer for a cabinet company in 2007,  I had no earthly idea what I was doing.  I had graduated from college with an English Degree for starters so I had only completed two Math courses the entire time I was in college.  I knew nothing about negotiation and nothing about cabinet materials for sure. Cabinets were made of wood right?  They had to be painted and shipped correct?  This was the extent of my knowledge of cabinets, but I was suddenly responsible for buying many of the itty-bitty parts that went into a cabinet.  I was responsible for keeping inventory low, but never, under any circumstances, running out of material.  It was a difficult pill to swallow.  I would go home every night mentally exhausted.  My brain was overloaded with information.  But this was my job.  This was what I was being paid to do.  I had to perform, or I would find myself unemployed again.  So the rat race began!  A year later, the 2008 economic decline hit the company I worked for hard.  There were layoffs.  People were dropping like flies, there were always crazy rumors floating around, and when someone would weirdly disappear from his or her office, you didn’t dare ask where he or she went.  You already knew.  I always kept my purse and my few other personal belongings close so I could make a quick get-away if HR showed up unexpectedly.  Surprisingly, my layoff never came, but others in my department were laid off which resulted in my having to learn even more pressing information.  So the mental overload became worse until one day I realized that I was used to it.  I could do this, and I even began to even enjoy it.  As a few of my bosses moved on to greener pastures, I stayed in my position as Buyer.  I learned about pretty much every material that goes into a cabinet and/or laminate countertop.  I was in touch with Salesmen and Field Managers every day.  I got phone calls from all departments in the company.  I communicated daily with plant workers along with executives.  After about five years, I felt confident of my knowledge of materials.  I was married to my 2nd husband in October of 2012, and as you have read in my previous posts, this marriage came with a lot of strings attached.  I knew that when I married him, I could possibly be moving to another country, but I did not let this enter my mind while I was working nor did I clue anyone I worked with of my worries and concerns.  Once I found out I was pregnant, the worrying slipped its head above the surface.  It was always there bobbing around in my mind. Not only was I worried about my husband’s pending deportation and how that would affect my child, but I also worried about juggling a newborn with the work schedule that I had so faithfully engorged myself in for the past six years.  I came to the realization that maybe I needed a break.  It was decided that I would take the full three months off (unpaid I should add) that was allowed by the FMLA .  My son made his appearance on the morning of December 20, 2013 after about 24 hours of labor and a non-scheduled C-Section.  We came home on Christmas Eve and thus I began the journey of being a new mother.  My days during maternity leave were the usual.  My TV stayed on all day.  I used the TV shows to judge what time it was. I was getting enough sleep, but at weird times and for short intervals.  My baby and I developed a schedule, and I was thankful for the time I was getting to spend with him.  Three months flew by, and before I knew it, it was the morning of my first day back to work.  As many working mothers will agree, this was one of the hardest things I had been through.  I balled for about fifteen straight minutes after my husband left to take my baby to parents’.  After that, I pulled myself together and went on into work.  I was happy to see everyone and anxious to get back to work, but I did notice my focus was not what it used to be.  I found myself thinking about my baby all day and counting down the hours until I could go home to see him.  When I got home from work, my time was spent cleaning bottles, giving my little man a bath, and if I was lucky, I would get to play with him or just hold him for a little while before it was time for him to go to bed.  Honestly, I was not happy with this situation.  Little did I know, it wouldn’t be like this for long.  A week later, my husband got his letter telling him he had three weeks to leave the country.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, my plan was always for my son and I to accompany him to Mexico if he ever had to leave.  I broke the news to my boss while blubbering like an idiot. My bosses made me feel a lot better about my decision and let me know that I had their support.   I won’t give you a replay of everything that happened the next couple of weeks.  The packing and the goodbyes contributed to the hopelessness I could not help but feel.  After our horrific journey to Mexico, when we got to San Miguel, I had no idea what I was going to do.  I was used to working and bringing home money.  I was used to handling the bills and making sure we were contributing significant amounts to our savings.  Now I was at the mercy of my husband.  I didn’t know the language, I couldn’t drive legally, and I couldn’t work in Mexico because I only had a tourist visa.  I was one of those women that I had never wanted to be. After many years of being a completely independent woman, I was now dependent.  What was I supposed to do now?  Learn to cook authentic Mexican food and wear one of those muumuu-looking aprons with the pockets on the front that the older Mexican ladies wore?  Am I supposed to let my husband sit at the table barking orders while I bring him his plate?  If you know me at all, you are probably laughing right now.  I would rather be dead than be “that” woman.  I am not looking to offend anyone by these remarks, but this is real-life, and these are my honest feelings.  When I got to Mexico, I witnessed these very things.  I think people are surprised when my husband tells them I don’t cook for him.  I can just hear them saying, “Poor Isaac, that gringa doesn’t do anything for him.”  I have talked to my husband several times about it, and he assured me he would not turn into one of those macho men who orders his little woman around.  I think he knew better. I was raised in a household where both of my parents were educated and held full-time jobs. My mom never stayed home with my sister and me outside of the time allowed from her employer.  My dad would often joke when my mom would ask him question about cooking or cleaning by saying “That’s not my department.”  This was a joke of course because my mother holds the same views I do on “gender roles” in the household.  It’s ridiculous and outdated right?  Well, not here.  I was used to hopping in my car to make a trip to Wal-Mart and buying whatever I needed.  Now, I had to tell my husband when I needed deodorant or tampons (which could be found in a tiny section of the store with a label on the back informing the purchaser that it would not affect one’s virginity).  It was demeaning.  As my baby got older, I also would have to ask permission to buy my “mommy medicine” which was a bottle of Bacardi that I would tuck away in the freezer for those days I felt like I was on the verge of coming unglued.  The asking to buy alcohol would come with a disapproving look from my husband who would partake in an occasional beer maybe once every six months.  In October, after being in Mexico for about six months, I was offered a part-time job where I could do all the work from home on a laptop.  I was so happy!  It gave me back a small amount of the confidence I felt I had lost.  I could work, save a little money in my American account and still spend time with my baby.  I was still a “housewife” though right?  I did not leave the home to work, and of course cleaning and disinfecting was my responsibility.  I actually did not mind this part.  I am very meticulous about cleaning especially then because my baby was beginning to get around on his own..  Plus, the hygienic conditions of where we were living at that time were way below my standards.  The metal kitchen cabinets (I guess that’s what they were supposed to be) smelled like ketchup and had a sticky film on them that we attempted to get rid of multiple times.  When we first moved in, the shower that resembled a sink-hole with mis-matched tile thrown on the bottom had about an inch of gunk stuck to it which was removed by several scrub brushes. about a bottle and a half of bleach-based cleaner, and me scrubbing so furiously that my arms were sore for two days.  I went through a bottle of mopping liquid once a week, and the bottle of bathroom cleaner with bleach was drained quite often.  I sterilized my baby’s bottles up until he was weaned off of formula because the kitchen did not have hot water.  The washing machine where I did laundry almost every day was bleached once a week.  By the end of the day, I was exhausted.  Not only exhausted mentally like I was used to when working full-time, but mentally and physically.  I am most definitely not indicating that this is more than the average working mother does. I know there are many, many women who work full-time, clean and even cook which I still had not mastered.  I still had that feeling of inadequacy, and I still lacked the confidence I had built up over time in the U.S.  The phone calls from my family would help, and honestly, we were not in that apartment much when we lived there.  It was within walking distance of the beautiful, clean downtown area which is where we escaped to almost every evening.  We would sit and watch people and secretly I would wonder if the gorgeous ladies there had to return to a crap-hole like I did. Did they have to walk by about ten drunk men standing right outside their door and try to ignore their nasty stares as their husband hurried to unlock the door?  Did they have to pray that when they turned on the light that there wouldn’t be a couple of roaches lounging on the countertop?  Did they have to worry about their baby not being able to sleep because of the inconsiderate noise made by the people upstairs? I have been told by many people that there is a reason I am here, but I struggle with the concept sometimes.  I know I am doing the right thing by keeping my family together, but sometimes I wonder the reason why we had to go through hell to get to where we are now, which is not where I want to be forever of course.  We now live in a new, clean house in a nice neighborhood, but I don’t want to be here forever.  I want to come back to America and get my job back and provide everything I can for my child. I want him to have a good education and learn the value of hard work.  Most importantly, I have absolutely no desire to be a housewife.  Once again, I want to emphasize that I am, in no way, discrediting hard-working stay-at-home mothers. I know it is hard, and I am often envious that I don’t have that natural talent to make cutesy crafts or cook nutritious snacks for the week and neatly label them in Tupperware containers.   Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the time spent with my child, but sometimes I feel like my education and my knowledge is one day going to vanish into thin air if I don’t get back.  Sometimes I feel like my time is being wasted, but then I remember that I have a beautiful, healthy child who is developing more and more every day, and unlike many mothers, I am able to witness it.  He is the reason I am here, he is the reason I have given up so much, and he is the reason I still fight every day.  I want the absolute best for him, and maybe by this sudden change in our lives, it is giving me something that I will look back one day and be extremely grateful.  So I have no choice but to press on through the madness.  It is what I have to do for my child, for my husband, and for myself.

Don’t Drink the Water!

If you have read my other blog posts, you know that I am currently in Mexico.  Yes, along with the gorgeous views and perfect weather come phobias of being up all night leaning over the toilet or let’s face it sitting on the toilet crouched over in exorbitant amounts of abdominal pain.  Oh and if you’re really lucky, sometimes both “things” happen at the same time.  Gross, yes, but it is a reality.  Better have that trusty trash can within reach!  After being here for a short week,  my first of many bouts of this horrible and nasty illness began.  I cannot say it was a lack of hygiene in the place we were staying, the fact that the food had basically every spice available floating around in it, or the stress of being 1000 miles from home. Honestly, I think all of these factors played a part.  I do not wish to provide a play-by-play of all of the times I was sick.  I’m pretty sure nobody wishes to read about that.  I wish to only touch on the reason many people are eerie about the food and the water here.  I have always used the tap water to brush my teeth, wash my hands and of course shower, but we only drink purified water from a five-gallon jug, and when that one is empty, we exchange it for a new, tightly packaged jug.  Also, I use the purified water to cook with and to wash fruits and vegetables especially if I know my son will be eating the food.  Both my sister and mom have visited us since we’ve been here, and they have fallen in love with the food.  Me, not so much.  It was good for the first couple of weeks, but the food is extremely monotonous.  Every restaurant here offers the common meat, vegetables and tortillas unless you go to a hamburger joint or American chain restaurant like McDonald’s or Dominos which are much more expensive than all of the local restaurants.  I am sick and tired of tortillas.  I have never really liked them much, but I really hate them now.  I would like to say I’m a “foodie,” but I just like to eat so I don’t think that places me in that category.  Don’t you have to like cook or something to be classified as a “foodie?”  This is another part of my misery.  As I mentioned, I love to eat, and after being deathly ill so many times and being turned off by the monotony of the food, I don’t have many choices.  When I travel to Texas, I gorge on things like chips and cheese dip, Tex-Mex (real Mexican food is nothing like it) and my grandmother’s rice and gravy.  My dad’s cooking tastes like Heaven, and I love browsing the candy aisle at Wal-Mart.  Oh yeah, the candy sucks a big fat one here too.  Also, I know that in the U.S., there are regulations that have to be followed with food preparation.  I may be wrong, but based on my experiences, Mexico does not have these regulations.  There is food everywhere.  People sell it on the street.  Ladies sell it directly out of their front door.  I must say, for the most part, the snacks people sell are much healthier than what I’m used to in America; however, one must proceed with caution.  If the fruit you are looking to buy is covered with flies, or if the person looks like he or she hasn’t bathed in two weeks, you might want to pass that cart up. One common snack here is the “Elote” which is corn on the cob or they can cut it off the cob for you into a cup. You can either get it roasted or boiled with mayonnaise and cheese added to it.  One thing that blows my mind is that people do not refrigerate the mayo.  Umm….isn’t that one of the most dangerous foods to leave sitting out all day in the sun?  That’s what I was always taught. So if you’re in Mexico and looking to partake in the cultural consumption of an Elote with mayonnaise, check to make sure the cart has a fresh jar, or pass it on up.  Or you could always go with the less dangerous roasted corn with chili powder and lime juice.  Those condiments are much less threatening than mayo.  One food I do like here is the seafood.  Believe it or not, my many illnesses have never been a result from the seafood which is surprising since that is one food that is considered deathly if not stored and prepared correctly.  They have cocktails with oysters, scallops, shrimp, octopus and other scrumptious seafood that if purchased in the U.S. would set you back $20-$30.  Here, a huge cocktail with all of the fore-mentioned seafood comes to about $6, and San Miguel de Allende is not on the coast so I’m sure they are even cheaper in the beach-front cities.  There is only one thing I can stress about the food here, and that is to trust your gut because if you don’t,  your gut will pay you back by sending you into a night filled of horror in the bathroom if you ignore its feeling of hesitation or uncertainty.  I must say, I give credit to some of the food here aiding in my losing my baby weight.  Thanks to a couple of sleepless nights trapped in the bathroom that came along with every food a few days after that looking way less than appetizing, I was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans after about 4 1/2 months, and I am smaller now than I was before I got pregnant.  HA! So that must be the silver lining!

How Did I Get Here??

Some people may ask, “How did ole Hanna from Elysian Fields, Texas end up in Central Mexico?”  Well, it’s a long story.  I became involved with my current husband in 2010.  He was completely spontaneous which was new to me.  I was used to having everything planned out and totally freaked out if something went wrong with my plans.  When the relationship got serious, I had a tough decision to make.  I loved him, but the truth was, he came with a significant amount of baggage.  He was living in the U.S. illegally and had a child with his crazier-than-hell ex.  I knew all of this but decided to continue with the relationship.  He ultimately ended up in jail because of a false accusation from the fore-mentioned crazy ex.  This of course caused the U.S. Government to realize he was not a legal resident of the U.S.  Still, I pressed on with the relationship praying that everything would be okay.  I loved him, and he made me happy.  That was all that mattered right?  Well, it’s not as easy as it seems.  We fought and fought the broken immigration system, and it didn’t work.  We were married in 2012, but that did not matter.  I gave birth to our perfect baby boy in December 2013, but that did not matter either. He was basically kicked out of the country after four long years of court dates and spending close to $10,000.  May I also mention that this money is gone.  It will not help us later down the road.  It was basically buying time which I was thankful for, but at the same time, it burned my gut. The only thing I had to be thankful for was that he was “allowed” to stay in the country for our baby’s birth and the first four months of our baby’s life.  That day though…that day that the letter came saying that he had to vacate the country was, up until now, the worst day of my life.  I always had said if he were deported, I would move with him to Mexico, but honestly, I didn’t think it would happen.  I had just gotten back to work from maternity leave, and I had a baby who was three and a half months old.  Also, he received the letter a day before my birthday.  That was great.  I spent my birthday lunch hour at home eating a crappy sandwich and crying while thinking of how I was going to break the news to my boss that although I had just come back to work, I would need to leave again, but this time it didn’t come with a promise that I would be back.  We had three weeks….three weeks to pick up our life and move it 1000 miles from home.  We threw everything from our lives into boxes, storage containers, etc.  We sold what we could, and even gave a lot of stuff away just to get rid of it.  We had been living in the house for over three years so obviously we had accumulated a lot of stuff. The hardest thing was that I was going to have to say goodbye to my parents, sister, and baby nephew.  This was not the goodbye I was used to.  I was used to the goodbye that meant I’ll see you in a few days, but not the goodbye that meant I don’t know when the next time I’ll see you.  At times, I try to look at the experience as an adventure or something that will make me a better person in the end, but it is hard sometimes. As we pulled out of my parents’ driveway, my parents, sister and nephew were leaning out of the front door waving and crying.  I was oblivious at that time that this was the turning point.  I was beginning a new life.  Now, I only had two people in my life:  My husband and my precious four-month-old son.  We began our descent into Mexico.  I had tremendous fear welling up inside of me.  I felt vulnerable for myself but also for my American-Citizen baby boy.  He was my life, my love.  If anything were to happen to him, I would never be the same.  I balled on the phone to my sister-in-law as we were about to cross the border.  I balled to my mother-in-law who, luckily for us, was accompanying us to our new world.  We crossed the border into Nuevo Laredo which is the ugliest city I have ever seen.  We spent about 6-7 hours in that hell of a border town while my husband worked on getting his papers submitted proving to the U.S. authorities that he was, in fact, vacating the country.  I saw policemen (from which I had been told, could not be trusted) with AK-47’s creeping by where we were waiting.  All I could do was hold my precious child to my chest and pray for the best.  Finally, my husband returned, and we had a choice:  We could either stay in the dangerous, nasty Nuevo Laredo, or we could continue traveling to our destination at night which was strongly discouraged by not only Americans, but also Mexicans living in Mexico.  We decided to continue traveling. There was a problem with my husband’s truck not being properly registered for Mexico at that time so we had to transfer all of the stuff we had brought with us to another truck owned by a considerate friend who would help us along the way.  Lucky for us, another friend my husband trusted offered to drive us the eight hours to San Miguel de Allende.  After several checkpoints inside of Mexico where the authorities would look into the truck suspiciously and ask us several times what our intentions were and check out passports and ID’s, we were on our way.  At about 8:30 A.M., after what seemed like endless hours of traveling, we pulled into San Miguel.  To be honest, I was not impressed.  So many people had told me how beautiful it was.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t see it.  The part we were in was not beautiful.  It was crowded and dirty.  I kept my hopes up thinking it may get better.  Well, it didn’t.  We went to the place we were to stay until we could get on our feet.  It was a graffiti-ridden, crowded neighborhood with beat-up cars and trash all over the ground.  It had a distinct smell which to this day I cannot explain.  It was like a mixture of  raw sewage and cheap floor cleaner.  We were shown into the room where all three of us would be staying.  We moved what we needed from our previous three-bedroom house into the one small room.  The bathroom we would be sharing with six other people was located  a few steps outside of the room and sectioned off by a flimsy curtain….not a door, but a curtain.  Okay, so this was it.  Surely it would get better.  We cleaned the funk that resulted from about 30 hours of travel off of us and decided to go on a tour of San Miguel.  This was when I realized what all the people were talking about when they said the city was beautiful.  As we trekked up a very long hill from the trashy place we were staying, it began to get cleaner, and the architecture was unbelievable.  The landscaping was gorgeous and there were so many beautiful people as well.  This would always be our escape when we were staying in the “ghetto.”  After six weeks of staying in the small room, we moved into a more spacious apartment downstairs.  It was not ideal.  It did not live up to my standards of cleanliness, and the layout was a little weird, but we somewhat had our own space.  This encouragement I gave myself would soon end.  When I began noticing the stomping around upstairs, the horrific sounds of roosters crowing day and night, and the smell of stank food seeping in our doors, my misery began.  Oh, and the yells and horrible singing of the drunks right outside my door didn’t help either.  There was not a day that went by that I didn’t cry, that I didn’t miss my old life, and most importantly there was not a day that went by that I didn’t feel guilty for putting my child into this situation. After we had been in this living situation for almost eight months, and I smelled marijuana smoke floating into the front window and saw a guy staggering around after huffing paint thinner, I made an ultimatum to my husband: He either gets us out of this hell-hole, or I’m packing up my baby, and we’re going home.  At that moment, he jumped up and began searching for a better place to live.  He found a reasonably-priced house in a nice neighborhood.  We pretty much drained our savings to move into this place, but at that moment, I didn’t care.  I wanted my child to be safe, and one cannot put a price on that.  Luckily, we had built up our savings before we left he U.S., and I am thankful we did that to this day.  We are currently living in what would be termed as a sub-division in the U.S.  I am happier, but I am still lonely.  I have no friends, and I still am not fluent in the language.  My confidence has built up a little, but I still get nervous when someone knocks on the door when my husband is not here.  The fear of being portrayed as “dumb” always haunts me.  I have learned the common phrases, and I can somewhat comprehend Spanish when it is spoken slowly and with hand gestures, but the nervousness is always with me.  Though I am grateful to live in a clean, quiet neighborhood where my child is safe and has places to play and enjoy his life rather than being cooped up in a semi-private apartment because his mother is afraid of the danger lurking around outside the door, the longing to return home still exists.  I try to push it to the back of my mind, but that doesn’t work all the time.  My mom and sister have visited me, and my son and I have flown to Texas a couple of times, but it’s not the same.  I miss my family, I miss my job, and I miss the daily social interactions I took for granted while I was in the U.S.  My take on Immigration Reform may surprise you.  As you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re thinking that I am all for suspending all deportations and carving out an easy path to U.S. Citizenship for illegals.  Ummm no…my concerns and political beliefs lie with how my family is affected.  Call me selfish, but that is the way it is.  After everything we have been through, I find it unfair that millions of people will ultimately be allowed to stay in the U.S. with no documentation while my son and I (both American-Born Citizens) are forced to be in another country to keep our family together.  This is another rant I will elaborate on later of course.  My husband understands he made a mistake by coming to the U.S. undocumented when he was fifteen years old, and I believe he has paid for that mistake and is continuing to pay for that mistake every day.