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Living Half a Life

September 30th, 2009

Maybe I should explain why I haven’t been blogging. The reason is that I’ve misplaced my humor about living in Cancun. I’m just sick and tired of it. It’s not funny anymore. And I don’t feel right using my blog to bitch and moan about all the things I’ve already bitched and moaned about in the past.

It would be redundant. Redundant is boring.

I’ve come to realize that Cancun is, and forever will be, a hustler’s city. Heavy tourism breeds a lack of respect for the land, the people and the animals. Cancun is a very troubled frontier town that is governed by backward-thinking corrupted officials. People come here from other places to escape things; it’s a city full of people who ran away from something. In short, it’s a troubled place full of troubled and unhealthy people.

These are not my peers.

Because Cancun is new it lacks culture. Every time I fly back to Cancun from some place that actually has art museums or science museums I die a little bit. Or a lot. I can’t believe people willingly raise children in this backward place. The world doesn’t need more adults who think like people do here.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not unhappy here, that is, I have close friendships with some lovely people here. And I enjoy the volunteering I do. And I enjoy my Book Club. And I like how cheap my house was to buy because it means I can live on next to nothing with no debt. I like my little life here.

My problem is that my life is little here. I’m not made to live a little tiny half a life.

I’ve resisted blogging because I don’t want tell the truth about life in Cancun any more. I just want to do my work, get coffee with my friends, and plan my trips back to civilization.

And I hope that one day soon we will be able to make plans to move from here. I’ve never wanted anything more than to move from here.

I look forward to missing my half-life in Cancun.

My Summer Reading List

August 23rd, 2009

I’ve just this hour finished a book that I think everyone should read. It’s called The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time and it was written by economist and visionary thinker Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. This book is easily the most important book I’ve read in ten years and I will certainly pick it up and read it again at some point. Next up I’m going to read Dr. Sach’s follow up book, called Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet.

This summer I also made my way through two long novels, both over 900 pages. The first was a reread of Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I read this book first when it came out, more than ten years ago, but it’s the kind of book you want to read over again, it’s dense and nerdy like all good books should be.

Next I read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. This book was hard to put down, it’s a real page-turner. But I have to say that sometimes I found myself yelling at the characters for the daft choices they were making. Sometimes it seemed that a character was having things done to them by the author in order to set things up so that later other things could happen. I guess what I’m saying is that the construction of the story was pretty obvious, and sometimes frustrating. But I did enjoy the book enough that I plan to read the sequel which is called World Without End.

I’ve just started reading A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. I’m excited to read this because I loved Haddon’s previous book, called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Haddon’s writing is dry and witty and I’m sure I will giggle all the way through this book.

So what books have YOU been reading this summer? Got any I should add to my reading list?

She’s So OLD!

July 28th, 2009

Today is my daughter’s birthday. She’s 15. I can’t believe it. And she spent her birthday in a Driver’s Education class, it’s a week-long class and she’ll have her Learner’s Permit by Friday. OMG! How did she get this old? It feels like she’ll be in college before I can catch my breath.

I remember when she was little. It felt like she would be little forever. Those first few years seemed endless. But then when she hit about age 5 it was as if she started to race through life, and the years started to tick by so fast that it made my head spin.

And now she’s 15. And the airlines will let her fly to visit me unaccompanied (yay) and she’ll be driving soon (scary) and I’m wondering where the years went. Wow, time flies.

She comes to visit next week, so we’ll have a little time together before she heads of for 10th grade in the Fall. But seriously, I’m pinching myself, I can’t believe she’s so OLD! OMG!

Back from Good Old Maine

July 9th, 2009

I’ve just returned from my once yearly summer trip to Maine. I have family there so it’s no-brainer to go there in the summertime. Next year I swear I’ll go a week or two later though because for the last two summers I’ve been there too early for blueberry picking. Blueberries rule, so next year I’ll plan better.

Maine is a gorgeous state. The land is beautiful and many of the buildings there have lovely architecture. And the culture there, at least among my family and friends there, is very oriented around art and creativity. I think we discussed art or dance or film or music at least once every single day. And more than half the people I know in Maine are artists. It’s refreshing for the soul to hang out with people who can hold up their end of a conversation about the merits of color field painting. I really miss living near a vibrant art scene.

But Maine, at least where my family lives in the mid-coast, is also really WHITE. White as in the color of people’s skin. And that feels really, really weird to me. And it feels wrong. It makes me uncomfortable to go day after day without seeing anyone who is anything but white.

The exception to Maine being white is the city of Portland. Whenever I’m in Portland, Maine for even 2 minutes I’m struck by how diverse the people are there. The city has a large immigrant population and it seems you can’t walk 5 feet there without hearing some language other than English come out of someone’s mouth. It’s refreshing. And a quick glance at the local papers shows that there are vibrant art and music scenes there too. I’m not sure I could do the Portland winter, but every time I visit Portland I ponder whether or not I could live there.

Poverty in Cancun

June 7th, 2009

We were driving home from the beach at Isla Blanca the other day and ended up passing through a very, very poor area on the north side of Cancun. I thought I would share some of the photos I took.

Next time someone tells you that there isn’t real poverty in Cancun you can tell them they are dead wrong. By the time we drove out of this area I was in tears. I can’t imagine raising a child in a place like this.

Poverty in Cancun Mexico

Poverty in Cancun Mexico

Poverty in Cancun Mexico

Poverty in Cancun Mexico

Poverty in Cancun Mexico

Poverty in Cancun Mexico

If you are interested in finding ways to help fight poverty in Cancun I recommend getting in touch with the City of Joy Foundation (Fundación Ciudad de la Alegría, A.C.). City of Joy Foundation has a number of effective programs that work to help Cancun’s poor.

Learning about the Massacre in Tlatelolco

May 17th, 2009

The other day my husband brought home the movie “Rojo Amanecer” for us to watch. The title means “red dawn” in English, but this isn’t the cheesy American-made Red Dawn movie about the U.S. getting into WWIII with the Soviet Union. Instead this is a Mexican movie about the 1968 Massacre in Tlatelolco, a neighborhood in Mexico City.

My husband lived in Tlatelolco as a child. He took his First Communion in the church of Santiago Tlatelolco right there in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where the massacre began. And for years he has been telling me bits and pieces of what he remembers of that night. Mostly what he seems to remember is the sound of the tanks rolling in and falling asleep to the sound of endless gunfire. He told me that it took him a long time to fall asleep that night and that “the gunfire went on and on and didn’t stop.” I can’t imagine what that must have been like for a young child.

The movie Rojo Amanecer won a Silver Ariel award and starred important Mexican actors. It was and is an important movie. It’s also cheesy as all get-out, with nearly non-stop over-acting and unrealistic-looking and generous displays of ketchup. Its characters also have an incredible number of meals in a short amount of time, they never stop eating. But when I watched it what I was seeing was a missing piece of my husband’s childhood. I was learning something important about why he is the way he is and why he thinks the way he thinks.

Watching this movie taught me something about why so many Mexicans, especially my husband, don’t trust their own government. If a government can massacre a crowd, in the middle of it’s capital city, and then cover it up, what else can they do? I think that there is a whole generation of Mexicans who’ve grown up wondering just that. And I think this goes a long way to explaining some of the wild conspiracy theories that get passed around in Mexico. A whole generation of people don’t trust the government and won’t put anything past it.

I recommend Rojo Amanecer to anyone who is a student of Mexican culture or is an expat living here. It goes a long way towards explaining the very real fear so many people in Mexico have of their government’s power.

Swine Flu Fears in Cancun

April 30th, 2009

Swine flu isn’t here yet. As I write this we have no confirmed cases of Swine Flu in Cancun. But everyone is sure acting like it’s already here. I won’t bore you with details since my friend CancunCanuck has already laid it all out. Suffice to say that Mexican authorities are working very hard to stop the spread of this flu.

I’m getting emails every day from tourists wondering if they should cancel upcoming vacations to Cancun or the Riviera Maya. I’m telling everyone to wait as long as they can to make those decisions.

Something which has become clear to me in the last week is that Mexico has a significant lag time between finding a flu case “suspicious” and getting actual confirmation that a case is or is not Swine Flu. The reason for this is that there is not a lab in all of Mexico which can properly identify Swine Flu. So all samples have to be sent out of the country for identification and that takes time.

I don’t know how fast Swine Flu cases in the U.S. or Canada are confirmed, but I’ll bet it’s faster than here in Mexico. And I’m worried that this difference in identification time is skewing the data. Data which is being used by all sorts of people to make all sorts of decisions.

The fatality rate of the Swine Flu probably can’t be extrapolated until more cases are confirmed. And it’s likely that many cases in Mexico are simply not going to be reported at all, because they were so mild as to not warrant a hospital visit. Many are suspecting that when the data is fully collected this flu may not be more dangerous (in its present mutation) than a “regular” flu. But time and data will tell us this.

In the mean time I continue to tell tourists the truth, which is that it’s not here yet. And I continue to encourage them to wait as long as possible to make their decisions to change or cancel their trips to Cancun. There will only be more data later.

Easing of Cuba Travel Restrictions Will Cut Bribe-Taking in Mexico

April 13th, 2009

Today the Obama administration lifted the travel restriction for Cubans traveling to Cuba from the U.S. This will have the effect of helping to cut bribe-taking in Mexican Immigration in Mexican cities with direct flights to Cuba.

Under the old rules Cubans who wished to travel from the U.S. to Cuba more often than they were allowed to under U.S. law would commonly try to bribe Mexican Immigration officials to prevent the officials from stamping their passports with a second (and to U.S. officials suspicious) entry stamp.

The typical scenario worked like this: A Cuban (or an American traveling illegally to Cuba) flies to Mexico from the U.S. In Mexico their passport is stamped showing an entrance to Mexico via air on a certain day. Then the passenger generally travels on to Cuba the same day, on a later flight, never leaving the airport.

Cuba is known to be ‘nice’ to people in this situation, so Immigration officials there do not stamp these passengers’ passports, leaving no record of their entry to Cuba.

Returning to the U.S. the passenger flies back to Mexico where the Mexican Immigration official is required by law to place another entry to Mexico stamp in the person’s passport. U.S. Immigration officials know to look for two Mexican Immigration entry stamps within a short time frame, this alerts them that the passenger may have traveled from Mexico to Cuba.

And so upon return to Mexico from Cuba it is very common for Cubans who reside in the U.S., and for Americans who have traveled to Cuba illegally, to try to convince the Mexican Immigration officials not to give their passports that second suspicious Mexican entry stamp. As you can imagine, the convincing part often involves money changing hands.

It’s hard to blame Mexican Immigration agents for taking these easy bribes. The passengers are often VERY interested in NOT getting that second stamp and are willing to pay well to avoid it. And Mexico doesn’t pay its Immigration agents a living wage. Currently the pay rate for most agents is something around $8000 MXP per month after tax (which is less than $500 USD at current exchange rates).

With the cost of living here and that salary you can’t maintain a vehicle, let alone a decent home. People living on less than $500 USD per month here in Mexico can forget about anything except meeting their basic needs and an occasional stop at a street vendor for cheap tacos. There is no extra money in that equation, none. So it’s very easy to see why these poorly paid agents would be willing to take easy money from someone desperate to avoid having their passport stamped.

Taking a bribe is not without risk for an Immigration agent in Mexico. Agents have gone to prison for taking just a $20 USD bribe. But travelers rushing through airports are almost universally not interested in taking the time to report their abuse at the hands of Immigration officials. And if you are guilty of giving the bribe you are not about to turn yourself and the agent in, because you’ve received a benefit. So while there is a risk to the agents for taking bribes they know that their chances of getting turned in for bribe-taking are very small.

The easing of the U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba will mean that the Cubans, at least, who travel through Mexico en route to Cuba, will have no reason to try to bribe Mexican Immigration agents. This is good. Other Americans, who are traveling to Cuba illegally will still have reason to avoid that second stamp, however. So the corruption will be reduced but will continue.

Until such time as Mexico sees fit to pay its Immigration agents a decent salary, a salary that represents a wage that allows more than just subsistence living, many agents will embrace the easy money that is a side-effect of illegal travel to Cuba by Americans.

For Mexico’s sake, it is my hope that the U.S. will completely remove the restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. This would completely eliminate a huge source of bribe money for Mexican Immigration agents. I also hope that the Mexican government will recognize that it can’t hope to fight corruption in Mexican Immigration until it pays those agents a decent wage.

Telling You What You Want To Hear

April 11th, 2009

This is also known as lying to you and it’s an institution here in Mexico.

Ever since I moved to Mexico I’ve been noticing that people would tell me one thing and then go off and do another. This happens with construction workers, with acquaintances, with store employees, it happens all through out society here from what I can see. The first few times it happened to me I was incredulous. Surely being culturally sensitive to and adapting to my new country didn’t mean I had to put up with this kind of bullshit?!? Ah, but it did.

After a few years I began to see that people here tell you what you want to hear because it’s polite. Or because it would be impolite to tell you what you don’t want to hear. Either way it amounts to people saying things are possible when they are not, and telling you that they will make things happen which won’t ever happen.

Recently my husband and I had two experiences back to back in which we were the very frustrated victims of people here telling us what we want to hear.

In one case numerous Bancomer bank employees promised us something over and over, which in the end, after waiting patiently for 4 weeks, didn’t happen. When we challenged the bank, telling them that x, y, z employees had told us this would happen Bancomer came back with “let’s review it again, it should happen,” which leads to another 3 week review process (which we are still in the middle of). At this point I’m just about certain that Bancomer’s strategy is to wear us out so we give up the fight.

We had another experience where we hired an attorney to do some work for us. There were 2 possible routes to resolving our legal issue. One route involved a slow-as-molasses process that involves filing gobs of papers with the Cancun city government. We decided against this route because the lawyer stated that his other proposed route would net results much faster. We met with the attorney on a Friday and he said he could do the needed work the following Monday. That was over 3 weeks ago. And so far the lawyer hasn’t done the work we’ve paid him for. But does he tell us what’s going on? No, he tells us what we want to hear (when he answers the phone).

Now I appreciate that people do not want to hurt me by having to tell me things are not possible. I appreciate that being the bearer of bad news is not polite in Mexico. But where I come from NOT telling people the reality of their situation is extremely impolite. And lying to people is RUDE. So it has been a big adjustment for me to learn not to just get mad when I find someone telling me just what I want to hear. I’ve learned not to believe things until I see them. And I’ve learned to listen for a “yes” that comes to easily.

My Word Cloud

March 21st, 2009

I got this idea from Joyce (thanks girl). The image below is a Wordle that was created using the words I commonly write on this blog…not too many surprises here:

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