Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What It Looks Like Here.

In the fall, I miss Missoula. How could I not miss this?

That’s what fall is supposed to look like, isn’t it? Never mind that in well over half of the habited world, it doesn’t.

It doesn’t in Oaxaca. It’s November, and the lime tree in our yard is in full bloom. Here, you could comfortably wear sandals about 350 days a year.

The first year we lived here, I kid you not, I sometimes completely forgot what month it was: no outside indicators of the seasons. It drove me a little crazy. But like most things, it’s really just a matter of paying attention.

I’m trying to plug myself in to what the seasons mean here.

Fall in Oaxaca is the mountains green fading to brown, because the rainy season has ended but not so very long ago.

It's butterflies, orange and black and yellow and white and blue, small and large, floating through an amber afternoon light that makes you sad. 

It’s strong winds, without fail, on October 31, when the departed return for Día de los Muertos.

It's a tiny beige frog crouched on a leaf of the avocado tree I grew from a pit, right outside the office window.  It's tiny beige frogs smushed into the dirt of the road, or hopping across it, invisible until they move. 

It’s cool mornings and warm afternoons with perfectly clear blue skies.

And it’s yellow: marigolds for the dead, and all the yellow wildflowers blooming in fallow fields and vacant lots and along the roadsides.

All that yellow against the green-brown mountains against all that blue, blue sky. It almost reminds me of something. Sometime. Some place.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Spectrum.

The last time I visited the U.S., I called someone "sir" in English for the first time ever.  
He helped me get my bag down from the overhead compartment, and I said, "Thank you, sir."  It just slipped out.  It was weird.  I'm from California: we address groups of elderly ladies as "you guys."  We call our parents "dude."  We don't say "sir." 
It made me realize how much I've acculturated to my adopted country: the effusive politeness, especially when dealing with an elder, has become second nature.  I don't have the entire script down, yet, though: a real, old-school resident of Tlacochahuaya can draw out a simple "thanks" into a ten-minute exchange. 
It's that way with a lot of things: I'm stuck somewhere in the middle, no longer entirely comfortable in my home culture, but nowhere near being Mexican.  Look!  I made you a poorly formatted chart!

San Jose
My Little World

Person A: Thanks.

Person B: Sure. 

Person A: Thank you, sir/ma’am.  Very nice of you. 

Person B: It was nothing. 

Person A: A thousand thanks, sir/ma'am.
Person B:  No, it is I who thank you.
Person A: You’re too kind.
Person B:  Truly, it was a pleasure. 
Etc., etc. 
Eats only pre-packaged, pre-cut, de-boned, and de-skinned meat.  (Or, optionally, vegetarian.)    
Eats meat that is clearly part of an animal’s body.  Can look at organ meat without puking.    
Chews on the chicken foot, orders brain tacos.

"I want it yesterday." 

"I want it tomorrow.  Or the day after."  
"I’d prefer to have it by next Wednesday, but I’d be willing to wait six or seven months.  While standing in line.  In the burning sun." 

iPhone, iPad, iPod, iHouse, iBrain, etc. 
$20 cell phone with no camera.  5-year-old digital camera (larger than a pack of cards).

Donkey cart. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Perils of Fluency.

I was sitting across a desk from an immigration officer the other day (because it’s my favorite time of year: Time To Renew My Immigration Document!).  Happily, the trio of women who made me cry during this process (both last year AND the year before) were gone, but now I was faced with the task of explaining various funky aspects of my immigration status to a new person, all of which boil down to the fact that the good folks in Pachuca, Hidalgo, who originally issued my FM2, messed it up. 
I began, “It’s that the people in Pachuca…” and stopped short, because the ONLY Spanish words that I could come up with to complete that sentence were “me chingaron”—they f***ed me over.  Obviously not something you really want to say to someone who has the power to deport you.        
I started again, “It’s that they…” and came up with “hicieron un desmadre”—untranslatable, but call it “they made a f***ed-up mess.” 
I made one more run at it: “The ones in Pachuca, they…”   There was a long pause while the guy looked at me oddly.  Finally I finished, “They didn’t do it right.”
“Ah,” he said, and continued shuffling through my papers. 
I started paying attention, after that, and realized that, damn, Ibis and I have some filthy mouths on us.  The difference, of course, is that he can come up with non-filthy synonyms when the occasion calls for it (just as I can control my English cursing), but my proper, college student, I’m-reading-the-works-of-Sor-Juana-NOT-in-translation Spanish has gone directly down the tubes in the last few years.   
And, well.  We have an almost-two-year-old child.  One day his four-year-old best-amigo-neighbor was watching Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron with him, and called out to me, “Doña Tere!  Este pinche caballo se pone bien chingón!”  Which we could roughly translate as, “This goddamn horse is a real badass!”  I confess that I laughed.  But I’m pretty sure that if that had come from MY child, I would have felt like a terrible mother.    
Something else to work on.  Yesssss!

Monday, August 22, 2011


So I came across this mysterious Word file in a mysterious folder-within-a-folder among the mess of random files and photos and folders scattered across my computer desktop. (Sometimes being pathetically disorganized pays off in unexpected ways.)  I don't remember writing it, though I clearly did at some point in the not-so-distant past.  It was the advice I needed to hear today, though.  And it's advice FROM MYSELF!  So I get to congratulate myself on being terribly sage and compassionate and admonish myself for being a materialistic idiot AT THE SAME TIME! 

No, really.  When my fantasy life starts to run along the lines of "wealthy benefactor treats me to a week alone in some random large American city where I know no one and can stay at a fancy hotel and go to day spas and buy myself anything I want as long as it's JUST FOR ME because those are the terms and I'm not allowed to feel guilty"...well.  That's when I need to hear this:

"Decide to be happy.  Just make the decision.  Stop fantasizing yourself out of your life, even at night, even when you’re sick, even when you’re sick and tired of everything being hard.  Live it.  Choose it again every day, all of it, everyone, every inconvenience and every bowl of beans and every scorpion and every class that goes horribly.  Choose the weariness and the backaches and the wanting to talk to someone in English.  Choose the laundry and the dishes.  Choose the traffic and the bloqueos.  Choose Ibis.  Choose his smile and his problems and everything that’s good and everything that could be better.  Choose your Little Bird, even when he doesn't let you sleep, even when he doesn't let you do ANYTHING for yourself, even eat.  Choose it and be happy.  That’s all." 
Because once I'm reminded, how could do I anything else?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

This Is the Twenty-First Century Too, or, Shove it Up Your App

"Macs, iPhones, and iPads aren't 'consumer electronics.'  They're lifestyle essentials...

...helping us get more from travel, fitness, home design, and more...

...so you can explore your passions and keep life simple." 

--text from an ad for the magazine MacLife.  Photos from Pachuca, Hidalgo, and Palestina, Chiapas, in the 21st century.   

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ten Things You Wouldn't Guess About Ibis Based On This Photo

My husband, before he was my husband, circa 2005

 1. That shirt he’s wearing? It’s pink.  (It is, in fact, just one of several predominantly pink shirts he owns, including his beloved Lucky Shirt and the legendary Shirt That Doesn't Even Match Itself.) 

2. He is not now, nor has he ever been, in any way involved with gangs or organized crime.

3. He loves baby animals. Fuzzy puppy dogs and tiny widdle baby chicks and so on.

4. He’s been known to cry.

5. He enjoys a nice cold…glass of milk.

6. If you give him a present--anything, a pair of socks, an ugly-ass stuffed animal, an I-heart-San-Francisco mug--he will treasure it forever because you gave it to him.

7. He’s a Michael Jackson fan.

8. He gets genuinely excited about any and all flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs that I manage to grow.

9. He can work the night shift, from 9 pm to 7 am, and then come home and play with the baby for hours, or take us out for breakfast.

10. He was once described by a young friend of ours as “just like The Rock , but softer."  And that was just about right.

Monday, July 25, 2011

One About Doña Charo

In my mother-in-law’s wedding photos, she looks scared, and determined, and too young, and beautiful. She was. She was seventeen, and a long way from the isolated village in Chiapas where she grew up. She had only worn shoes for the first time three years earlier.

She’s the oldest of seven. From the time she learned to walk, she was taking care of babies. There was never enough of anything but tortillas and kids and hard work and good hard trancazos for anyone who didn’t obey. Her father grew corn, and most years, sold the harvest in the city and then spent the profits on prostitutes and liquor. Her mother took in washing and scrubbed till her fingers bled.

She had to leave school after third grade, even though she wanted to study. There wasn’t enough money even to buy her pencils, much less clothes. One of her small brothers wore, for an entire year, nothing but a man’s button-down shirt that hung to his ankles. Her own dresses were lengths of cheap fabric chopped into rough dress shape with a machete. They didn’t own a pair of scissors.

She came to Salina Cruz as a teenager to live with a godmother and learn to be a seamstress. When she met her future husband, she had one question for him: “How many children would you expect your wife to have?” He said “One or two,” so she married him. Ten months after the wedding, she had Ibis; five years later, Patricia. Plenty.

She’s still beautiful, with lips any Revlon model would envy, and a smile so dazzling you don’t notice there’s a tooth missing towards the back until you’ve known her for a long time. There are lines on her face, but they’re lines of sadness and worry and laughter and resignation, not bitterness. She loves her parents, despite everything. She loves her husband, even though she didn’t, when she married him; now they go to prayer group together, and they make each other laugh. She loves her children, and her children-in-law and grandchildren, passionately. She cries more frequently than anyone I know.

Lest I appear to idealize her, let me say that she does, on occasion, drive me crazy. Still, she’s come through years of privation and pain and putting herself last, with her heart in working order—and not all her siblings were able to do that. She’s had to be strong every single day of her life.

She’s pretty amazing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Am Releasing Clothes.

I’m pretty sure these little boxers are sporting the highest density of mangled English per square inch of any article of clothing ever produced:

In case you can’t make that out, they say the following (all errors are most definitely theirs and not mine):

I am releasing clothes

The infantile madness

My interior clothes aer very enterteining

I am hungry of drivels

We are enterteining certan?

When I can't sleep at night, I sometimes try to imagine the thought process that arrived at these phrases, and then plastered them all over a tiny pair of underwear.  ("The infantile madness" I suppose could have resulted from typing "crazy kid" in Mandarin into one of those free internet translators...but "I'm hungry of drivels"?) 

Little did Isaias's Abuelita imagine she was purchasing an insomnia cure, as well as crazy cuteness for her papachi's skinny little butt.   

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Go take a walk instead."

Sometimes I amuse myself with my little students by having the boys compete against the girls. It always goes exactly the same way: I give the instructions, the girls begin talking and negotiating and deciding who will go first and who will go here and who will go there. And the boys kind of shove each other into place, and all try to push to the front of the line, and usually end up in a dogpile on the floor. These are four-year-olds. And every time I watch and shake my head and wonder just why it is that women don’t rule the world.


Our neighbor Alfredo is a guy in his early twenties. Last year he was wrecked his motorcycle while riding drunk and almost lost his hand. That sobered him up for a while. Then his girlfriend Ana came to live with him. He started going to work every morning at dawn, while Ana scrubbed the laundry by hand and cooked, and in the afternoons we’d hear them laughing together. Ibis and I would comment, carefully, “They seem happy, huh?” “Yeah.” And then look at each other and shrug and not say anything else, knowing we were both thinking, “But how long will it last?”

Last week Ana yelled for us, and Ibis went out to talk to her. Alfredo had been drinking when she left for her job at a daycare center. When she got home, he was gone, and so was the money she’d been saving from her job. She told Ibis she was leaving, and he told her she was doing the right thing, and to let us know if we could help her out.

Three days ago I saw Alfredo stumbling along the road, dumb-drunk. Ana was walking behind him, looking pissed, but when he turned around, she smiled at him.

Two days ago we were driving through the rain to visit some friends in Tlacochahuaya. Ana was walking towards the house with a bag of groceries, soaking wet and alone.

Today a remodel project that Ibis is freelancing on started construction. Alfredo was sober yesterday afternoon, and he agreed to go help with demolition today. Ana, when I saw her yesterday, was standing in the misty rain, scrubbing the laundry.


Ibis loves movies the way I love books: as a general category. I’ll read anything from my mother-in-law’s Harlequin-romance-novels-translated-into-Spanish (“Ay, Madison,” dijó Wentworth apasionadamente, “eres la mujer más bella de todo Emerald Cove.”) to dense tomes on the evolution of language. And it was not out of character for Ibis to come home from Blockbuster the other day with “Just Go With It” (starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler!) and “I Spit on Your Grave” (yeah, that’s not a romantic comedy).

So he put on his horror movie after Isaias was asleep. I half-watched the first bit (hot young female novelist rents isolated house—dumb! Is semi-unfriendly to the gas-station attendant—not nice! Drinks lots of wine—bad! Smokes a little pot—worse! Wears black underwear—skank!). When the three sketchy guys from the gas station show up at her house and begin to intimidate her, it occurred to me to read the back of the box—and, gosh, why does it not sound entertaining to me to watch them torture her (fisicamente Y psicologicamente!) and then for her to return from the dead to torture them back? I went to bed.

If I read him right the next morning, Ibis was shaken by the crudity and brutality he paid thirty pesos for (because just as I will finish a book once started, even if I have to skim and jump impatiently to make it to the end, he will watch a movie all the way through, no matter what).

Then we watched Jenn and Adam frolic and make poop and boob jokes, and I laughed, la la la. But I told Ibis, in a way (in a WAY) they’re the same movie, in a way they tell us the same thing. Adam Sandler sleeps with a different woman every Friday night and lies to them all, but he’s still a “good man”, he has “a big heart” beeeeecause…he one time teaches this little kid to swim. Jennifer Aniston is a noble single mother who wears glasses and frumpy clothes and never goes on dates and doesn’t have time to do her hair because she’s busy sacrificing herself for her kids—which is what you have to do to be a “good woman.”

The horror-movie novelist drinks and goes for a run in just a sports bra and short-shorts, and we’re (I guess?) supposed to believe that she is therefore Bad, and kinda-sorta deserves to be tortured and raped, because you’re supposed to enjoy watching it, right? And how can you enjoy it if she doesn’t deserve it?

None of this is a surprise to me. But it never stops pissing me off.


Ibis’s day job (or night job or 3-in-the-morning job, depending on the shift) is answering the 066 emergency line. The other day he got a call: a woman was sobbing, hysterical, she’d just seen her boyfriend having sex with another woman in his car. Ibis didn’t have to take the call, obviously it wasn’t a matter for the police or the firefighters, but he told her not to hang up, that he would connect her with one of the female operators.

The other operator rolled her eyes but conceded to talk to “Ibis’s crazy lady”. For a good half-hour, she listened and comforted and listened some more. Finally (as she later told Ibis) the woman calmed down, and said:

“I think I’ll be okay now. I’m going to go take down this rope that I had put up to hang myself, and go take a walk instead.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just when you think you're a mature adult...

you find yourself riding a tricycle.  Every.  Day.  Because you should never do anything in the presence of a toddler unless you are willing to do it over and over and over.  And over.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Me llamo Teresa.

I always liked my name, growing up, because I was the only Teresa I knew. I felt sorry for the dime-a-dozen Jessicas and Jennifers and Melissas and Elizabeths, who had to go by first-name-plus-last-initial. Melissa Bee! Jenny Ess! I would have been “Teresa Pee!” so I was grateful to have avoided that.

Now, in our sparsely populated Oaxaca neighborhood, there are two other Teresas—a teenager and a middle aged woman; I fit right into the chronology. The woman who runs our little local store is named Teresa. My husband’s great-grandmother—the oldest person I have met in real life—is named Teresa. The antagonist of a currently popular telenovela is named Teresa (so I’m plagued with people breathily quoting, “Eres mala, Teresa” at me at every turn). We’re a peso a dozen, and I’m okay with that. Having spent so much of my life wanting to be different, to stand out, I’ve ended up in a place where I stand out by default, and work hard at blending in. Having a quintessential Mexican name only helps.

Oddly, a lot of the popular baby names in Mexico right now are names that were popular in the U.S. in the late seventies and early eighties, so my son is the little blue-eyed boy with the old-fashioned Spanish name (people always say, “My great-grandfather was named Isaias!”), surrounded by brown-eyed kids named Rebecca and Alison and Elizabeth and Alexander.

Anyway, it’s strange how things come around. In a different country and thirty-some years later, another wave of Jennifer Arrs and Melissa Els--that is, Jennifer Err-ay and Melissa El-ay. The name that I once appreciated for its difference, I now appreciate for its sameness.

And the one thing I didn’t used to like about my name was the supposed meaning: “helper at the harvest.” Lame, I thought, because my friends would go around saying how their names meant “beloved of God” or “beautiful flower” or “of noble birth.” Now I’m all about the idea of being a helper at the harvest, both literally and metaphorically. I can only hope that the abundance of adult Teresas running around Mexico means we’re due for a massive harvest that will require lots of helpers. A bumper crop of something wonderful for Alison Oh and Rebecca El-ay and Alexander Ah, and Isaias.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


At the neighbors’ house, a sheet is draped over the window frame in lieu of glass. A dense constellation of tiny holes in the tin roof pierces the dimness inside with needles of bright afternoon light. The floor is packed dirt.

There’s a huge, creepy Christ Child doll in a white nightgown balanced on a corner shelf, and on the back wall, an uneven line of baby photos. (A long line—Doña Blanca has six kids. She can’t be much older than I am, and you can see that she was once a pretty young woman, but she looks about fifty, and worn out; her husband looks about twenty and works when he feels like it).

The youngest of the six, Edwin and Jesus and Darian, are jumping on their bed and laughing; Isaias is laughing and trying to jump, he’s almost got it figured out.  I wonder how long it will take before he figures out the differences between this house and ours, and what he'll make of them.

The first time the kids came over to our house, they looked around wide-eyed, and Edwin said, “Your house is really nice, and you have EVERYTHING.” We don’t have a couch, my desk is a piece of sheetrock atop some wooden fruit crates, our floor is brick over sand, our kitchen table and chairs are of the hideous plastic variety (complete with beer logos), there’s no running water in the kitchen, no hot water anywhere unless you heat it one the stove. And so on. Mostly, I'm able to keep it in perspective.

Ibis had a job offer this week. Had he accepted it, he’d be making three times what he’s making now. But we’d never see him: six days a week, he would be in a town four hours away. He didn’t take it. We’ll survive with makeshift furniture, together.

My teaching job ends next week, until August. June and July will be tricky—but we’ll have the garden, and the chickens. There’ll be omelets, and salads, and fresh salsa. If it comes down to it, we can eat the rooster. (God, it feels wonderfully Laura Ingalls Wilder to say that: “Don’t worry, Pa. There’re the chickens,” she said stoutly. “By Jove, you’re right, Half Pint. And the garden!”)

There’ll be enough left over to invite Jesus and Edwin and Dari for lunch now and then.

We have everything.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Notes on my first decade with Mexico.

Year One

My first conscious act upon arriving in the Mexico City airport for the first time is to lock myself in a bathroom stall and cry.

I am twenty, a college sophomore on a study abroad trip, wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and Birkenstocks and a green bandana over my hair. And the idea of not seeing my boyfriend for three whole months terrifies me. I honestly think I won’t make it.

I finish crying and return to the gate, where I pretend to be asleep until we get on our flight to Merida. Later, I’ll remember nothing of the flight. What I will remember is stepping off the plane into the night of another country. The heat, and a smell of…differentness, of who-knows-what, of possibilities, of something-as-yet-unimaginable. I breathe deep and whatever it-is-rushes into my nose and lungs and heart.

Year Two

One year ago, I was writing in my journal “Hasta la vista, Mexico!” and counting the minutes until I could go home. Already I’m back, this time with my brother in tow. We step out of the airport into a gray Mexico City afternoon, and I crow, “It smells like Mexico!”

My brother, four years younger and infinitely more practical, says, “All cities smell like this.” But that can’t be true.

We go to Pachuca, because the guidebooks make it sound cool. It’s really not, and I spend the entire first night hyperventilating and missing my boyfriend.

But the next morning, I’m up early and walk alone down a busy street that I will one day come to know well. The sun is just coming over the hills and rooftops: that soft, lemony light, with an edge of diesel exhaust. The high-heeled, sticky-haired office workers, the hunched old ladies in their embroidered gingham aprons, the strutting teenagers in school uniforms, the little girls in shiny patent leather shoes, and me.

Year Three

My life is a mess, so I buy a bikini, take a week off from being a nanny and cheating girlfriend, and meet my friend Joanne in Cancun. Cancun-whoo-hoo-spring-break isn’t the point; Mexico is. We spend the first night in a hostel and take the first morning bus to Tulum.

On the second day we decide to search for a cenote: where the underground rivers that flow beneath the thin limestone shelf of the peninsula rise to the surface. We’d read about one—you were supposed to be able to take a bus, but there aren’t any buses running.

I stop a woman on the street and ask for directions. A shy toddler peeks at us from behind her legs. She explains how to get a taxi to the cenote, and how much we should be charged. I tell her, “Gracias, muy amable”—thank you, very nice of you—and feel crazed with happiness: that I tossed off that “muy amable” like, I think, a native speaker, that we’ve understood each other, that this Mexican woman and I are smiling at each other. I wish I could follow her home.

Later, I dangle my feet in the clear water of the cenote as Joanne swims around the dark edges where the water fades into shadow. Tiny ghost-colored fish nibble at my toes and I’m glad that, even though I have to go back and do something about my life, some tiny part of me will stay swimming here.

Year Four

I’ve just spent a month in Oaxaca, drunk on Mexico: unable to sleep night after night because, ohmygod tomorrow when I wake up I get to be in Mexico! Bad things happened to me during that month, but they slid right off. Especially because every other night there was a call for me: this guy—this man—I met on the bus from Mexico City. He took me to his cousin’s wedding. He didn’t kiss me, and I was both glad and sad about that. He went back to Pachuca. He kept calling. Invited me to visit him.

So here I am, in his little turquoise rental house Pachuca—the city the guidebooks tricked my brother and I into visiting a couple years ago. It’s late, I’ve been on a bus all day. Out the window, the sparkle of street lamps all the way down into the valley. I sit in his one chair and we make happy, awkward conversation. He shows me to the bed, careful to point out the blankets he’s folded on the floor for himself.

The next night, and the night after that, we share the bed. And then I have to leave.

I’ll be back, a few months later, convinced that it’s The Last Time, that It Can’t Work, I’m Just Here to Say Goodbye. When we visit Ibis’s parents on the Oaxaca coast, I’ll stand looking at the reflection of the moon in the water tank and telling myself that I can never belong here, even as I long to. I’ll try as hard as I can not to fall in love too much, and fail. I’ll leave anyway, and immediately regret it.

Year Five

I stay away.

Sometimes, though, at night, I run through it: the flight to Mexico City, the trek through the airport to the bus terminal, the Estrella Blanca bus to Pachuca, the taxi from the bus station to downtown, the bus up the hill to La Reforma, the walk up past the playing fields, a left, a sharp right on the little rutted dirt path, and then I’d be there: the funny little turquoise house where Ibis still lives.

“I could,” I think, clutching the Virgin of Guadalupe pendant I wear to remind me. “I could get there. I could still go.”

I almost go, once. I even buy a plane ticket, but I don’t use it. I don’t go, but I don’t forget, either.

Year Six

It’s been a long time. More than a year. I’m a little stunned that Ibis is still single, that he even wanted to see me after all this time--though we’d never lost touch.

Now I’m up on the roof of the turquoise house with a blanket, trying to sleep off my cold, letting the sun soak into my bones. Ibis is working. I drift in and out of sleep, listening to roosters crow, ranchero music swing, the gas truck blast its scratchy “Gas Im-per-i-al,” the neighbor shriek for her daughter: “Baaaaaarrbaaaaaarraaaaaa!” Behind my eyelids, sunbursts and rose petals and stars. This time, I know I’ll be back.

Year Seven

At the beginning of our summer together, on the bus on the way to Salina Cruz to visit his parents, Ibis asked me to marry him. Here at the house where he grew up, in the green hammock, I told him, finally, yes. Now it’s the end of the summer, we’re back in Salina Cruz, it’s raining a warm soaking rain, and I’m curled up on the bed with hideous cramps. But I’m happy through the pain, looking around the bedroom, listening, clutching Ibis’s hand.

The huge wedding portrait of Ibis’s parents—faded, but you can still see how funny and young they look: his father, slightly dazed; his mother, scared and determined. The crucifix, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the watery turquoise walls of the bedroom, the smell of caldo de pollo, the buzz of Ibis’s mother’s sewing machine, the velvet of Pedro Infante’s voice on the radio, the pat of the rain on the roof, Ibis’s hand in mine. I think, “This is how it’s going to be.”

Year Eight
A blizzard of white confetti. Blonde Meghan and black-haired Montserrat throwing rose petals. Even my mom dancing—even my dad dancing. Ibis’s mom crying and cooking and crying and laughing. Ibis’s nephew—our nephew—shrieking for his mamá. Everybody eating and eating and eating.

A couple hours into the party it starts to rain. I hear El Ingeniero Jesus tell my dad, slowly and loudly, “La lluvia. Es. Buena. La lluvia. Es. Vida.” Rain is good. Rain is life.

Joanne and my brother drinking tequila with Ibis’s cousins. My friend Christa dancing with Ibis’s friend Gina. People we don’t even know wishing us well.

Late that night we walk my tipsy cousin up to his hotel room, and then run across the empty Zocalo, laughing. The white skirt of my dress flying. Stars. A man selling roses—“A rose for the bride?” We don’t have any money on us, but it doesn’t matter. There are stars and there are roses, and we see them.

Year Nine

We leave Pachuca for good and move in to our Oaxaca house in July. We paint the outside with the beautiful orange-brown earth of the yard, the inside butter yellow and moss green and the turquoise of the cenote in the Yucatan where I once let tiny fish nibble my toes.

We plant trees and pull up the grass. Against our will, we acquire a puppy, and then he dies and we cry for a week. Then, again against our will, we acquire another one.

I want to get out and double dig the garden and build a chicken coop, but I’m seven months pregnant and it’s unbelievably hot. I do what I can. One day I’m cutting dead leaves from the banana trees and I kill a scorpion with my machete. I’m thrilled by how hardcore that sounds, especially considering that I’m pregnant: “I killed a scorpion with a machete.”

Our baby will be born at home, in September, on the feast day of San Jeronimo, the patron saint of our new town. Later, when we get to know them, our neighbors will say we should have named him Jeronimo. We’ll name him Isaias. He’ll be a native of this place.

Year Ten

Whenever I go to California for a visit, I surprise people by kissing their cheeks in greeting—what always used to startle me, those first years in Mexico, has become reflex. Sometimes my English comes out with a Spanish accent, which I know people think is an affectation, but honestly just happens. Isaias, beginning to talk, says “mamama,” “papapa,” “dog,” “hi,” “adios,” and “muh" for either more or más—we’re not sure which one he’s trying for, but his meaning is clear.

The magic has worn off, a little. For all that I’ve acculturated, sometimes I still feel strange and outside of things—now in an annoyed, shouldn’t-I-be-on-the-inside-by-now kind of way, no longer in the oooh-how-exotic way of those first years. Sometimes Ibis and I argue about such ridiculous things, I’m embarrassed to even give an example.

But then: we’re just sitting at the gas station eating commercial ice cream bars and showing Isaias the trucks. We could be anywhere; it’s such a mundane moment, such a generic location. Later we’ll go home, past fields of corn and beans and alfalfa, Zapotec ruins, casitas de lamina and casitas de adobe, and we’ll water our little trees, collect the eggs, play soccer with the neighbor kids. We’re at the gas station, but we’re here, together, in Mexico.

There’s no one I’d rather be with. There’s no place I’d rather be.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dia de Campo

That's Isaias frolicking in the alfalfa and catching ladybugs with his frenemy Nancy and her big sister Rosy.

That's one of those moments when I feel like we're totally doing the right thing for him--for all three of us--in living where we live.     

That's me feeling a little envious of my own kid, me wanting to be two feet tall and rolling around in the alfalfa.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Sometimes it feels like too much, or not enough: too many things that can go wrong, not enough help. 

Last week, the pump stopped working again, and then when the guy came to fix it, he dropped it in the well. 

Last night, the ants (not the leaf-cutters, not the huge bitey red ones, not the viciously bitey teeny-tiny don't-see-em-until-they're-biting-the-shit-out-of-your-toes ones, but the red and black ones that don't travel in a proper, antly line, so you can't tell where they're coming from or where they're going) started making a nest in our bed. 

I haven't had a coherent thought in about a year. 

Ibis hasn't had a weekend in about a year. 

Just for instance. 

And sometimes I want to give up.  Rent.  Live someplace with normal ants.  And no scorpions.  Have time to myself, and municipal water.   

And then:


And I get through another day, and can't believe my luck.