Monday, April 18, 2011

Living in Mexico

There’s a lot to living in Mexico that you don’t find out if you stay in hotels where everyone caters to your needs, and things get fixed and changed when you’re not around to see it. But living here is a whole other ‘trip’.

Toilets:  throughout Mexico, it’s common (and essential) to put used toilet paper into the trash basket that is usually right next to the toilet. To Americans, this is just downright gross, but if you’ve ever seen an entire town with overflowing sewage because of clogged drains, it’s a very tiny price to pay. They don’t have much in the way of sewer treatment plants and they are not always capable of handling the ever-increasing loads. TP makes it worse. Lots worse.

Pay toilets: Unlike when I was a student 40 years ago in Puebla state, public restrooms are common and usually very nice in restaurants. But for the rest of the public, it’s pay as you go.… to speak. The price varies from 1 to 5 pesos and the cleanliness of them can vary from spic and span to so disgusting you wonder who’s skimming off the proceeds. It’s common to have a woman seated at the entrance that takes the money and gives you a small ‘wrap’ of TP. Or in the bus stations, there’s a rotating grate you pay money to push through. It’s impossible to take your luggage with you thru the grate, but other people will usually lift it up and over the walls for you. People are so incredibly helpful, and often without ever having to ask. Inside, the TP is in a huge roll on the wall and you have to remember to get some before you head into the toilet, otherwise you’ll be stranded.

Toilet seats: also uncommon in pay-as-you-go places.

A really bad singer on the bus. 
Something we never see in the US is a steady stream of beggars, shoeshine boys and sales people coming in and out of restaurants doing their ‘thing’. It wouldn’t be tolerated, but in Mexico it happens all the time. I wonder how often some guy with leather shoes lets a shoeshine boy work on his shoes in the middle of a restaurant during a meal, but it must happen fairly often because they pop in and out of restaurants all the time. The Mayan women here walk all over town selling their wares and come into the restaurants too, and drift from table to table. Plus, and this is quite entertaining, street musicians come in, play a song or two in the loudest voices possible, and then pass the hat. The worst ones hop on and off buses, play for a couple of blocks and then hop off with a few donated pesos. I’ve yet to see one pay bus fare.

In San Cristobal, there is a man who is quite deformed, his legs are short, bent, and he uses crutches to get around. He’s about four feet tall, dresses like a pirate, and plays the flute better than anyone I’ve ever heard. Everyone knows him and he’ll often team up with a guitar player and make the rounds of several restaurants in the evenings. He seems to play whatever he wants, like a jazz musician, though what he plays is definitely not jazz. The guitarist provides rhythmic background, a canvas for his impromptu painting.

Other music: The house I’m renting is at the back (and up the hill) of a very long lot, and backs up to a forest-covered mountainside. The house sits right on the edge of the lot line. On the other side of the fence is a sidewalk leading straight down the hill, and serves as access to probably eight houses, all very small and filled with families. The fence is buried inside tall thin trees and bushes, so while I can hear every word said by anyone on the sidewalk, we have visual privacy. Some guy (I presume) has quite an eclectic collection of CDs. On the weekend, I hear salsa, jazz, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, marimba, reggae, and even American country-western, in random order, and loud. The rest of the week, I hear roosters and babies crying, occasionally some voices. When I was in India, 25 years ago, I commented on how odd it was that people played music so loudly, and Aroop told me that if you can afford the system and the music, it would be very selfish of you not to share. It appears to be the same in Mexico. If the guy were beating his wife, or his dog, I might object, but sharing his music is just plain neighborly.

Weather: In most of Mexico, during the summer, it rains in the afternoon or at night. San Cristobal considers summer the rainy season. I understand the rain comes and goes, not like Seattle where rain stays for weeks on end. We’re in the tropics, though you wouldn’t know it by the cool air at this high altitude. Pretty much, the temperature ranges from a low of 45 degrees at night (on a really cold night) to about 80 on a really hot day. It’s just lovely. Even hiking up and down stairs and hills, I’ve rarely broken a sweat.

The cleanup crew:  My place is out on the edge of town, almost in the ‘campo’. A Ferrier is just down the road so there are horses all over, mostly being ridden to and from his place. They are beautiful, well cared for, oft-ridden animals. In addition, neighbors on the other side ‘share’ their chickens. A little flock of one rooster and several hens wanders all over pecking through the forest floor debris for insects and the mango peelings I regularly toss out for them. The rooster is quite protective and aggressive. A large ceramic tile in front of my door is where I leave chicken skin (but not the bones) and leftovers of every kind for the stray dogs and one bob-tailed kitty. It’s licked clean every morning. Then the trash consists of only paper and plastic junk. There is a recycling center not too far away, on the bus route, and I’ve accumulated a rather large bag of bottles and plastic to take over there soon.  With little organic matter in the trash bag, the dogs typically leave the bags alone and don’t rip them open.  I’m not sure my neighbors bother to utilize the natural order of things as their bags are strewn all over the street. It’s a bit of extra work, but it works.

The landlady has this place for sale and listed with a ReMax realtor, but so far no one has come to see it. Not a place I’d pay $160,000 US dollars for, though the lot is large and impressive. The house is in dire need of repairs, and not the string and wire kind either. Inside, in some places, the plaster is peeling off the concrete block walls. When the young couple left, John and I moved upstairs. We have a lot more room, the kitchen is bigger, but there are only three electrical outlets in the entire place. We’ve had to run a 9 foot cord from the bathroom to the living room in order to plug in computers, rechargers for phones, etc. One single outlet in the kitchen is behind the fridge and it’s a single two-pronger. So, not only do we need the adapter to convert the 3-pronged plug, the fridge has to be unplugged in order to use the microwave. I’ve put the coffee pot in the living room at the end of the nine foot cord. At night, when we have the lights on, the fridge cycles on and everything dims. It’s always something….