Life in Mexico seems so . . . normal to me now that sometimes I don’t take photos much any more. Then a parade will pass by or I’ll see a group of beautiful older women with their blue-ribboned braids and I’ll vow to keep a camera with me at all times.
In July, the start of the annual Guelaguetza cultural festival was marked by a huge parade of all the different ethnic groups and a free outdoor concert by homegrown Oaxacan Lila Downs. There were fireworks on a castillo, a tower where the moving firework parts fantastically spun around and showered sparks on the crowd in a way that no U.S. fire marshal would allow. Rain does not stop fireworks, by the way, just makes it messier to watch them.
I’ve been blessed with a steady stream of rent-a-kids over the years, an incredible gift with my own sons so far away. There was a group of college students from New York volunteering to teach English and another from the University of Maui with my friend Molli, a Spanish professor who comes here every summer. I get some very candid conversations with young adults the age of my own kids, they get to see someone their parents’ age living outside the box (a sort of ex-pat Auntie Mame), and I have a lot more Facebook friends to keep up with. Then there are the special ones, who make me think that I would have liked to have had daughters, but they invariably leave Oaxaca, leaving little daughter-sized holes in my heart.
There was Hugo’s high school graduation in the new high school in Teotitlán del Valle – his mom Lupita is a weaver and loan recipient in the women’s microfinancing program I’ve been teaching English for. I walked with Hugo to get his diploma, with the flowers which were a gift from me as his “representative; they announced our names as we did a prom-like turn in front the crowd. Who knew that you give flowers to a 17-year-old boy.
I’ve learned a lot of new tricks for a middle-aged broad, from embracing a new culture and language to more subtle mental exercises that seem to go along with new territory. For instance, in my rooftop tai chai classes (taught by German-born Nils in Spanish to a rainbow coalition of ages and nationalities) that non-resistance deflects aggression almost every time. Took me a long time to get that one.
Strangely enough – and I have my dad to thank that I actually enjoy this – the logistics of daily living are some of the most interesting parts of my world here. Trash pick-up only three times a week mandates the days I make kitchen messes; I cook for the week and make ice cubes on Sundays. Mornings I shop at the open market and later in the day while I’m working at home, cycle in and out of the kitchen to soak fruits and veggies in purified water with antibacterial drops.
I have to remember to ignite the water heater 15 minutes before a shower, and get the home office ready by burning anti-mosquito coils. You have to listen for the specific sounds of the garbage truck (jingling bells) and gas truck (cow-like horn) to run out to the street to catch them. The local ice cream seller plays “Alley Cat” from a recorder on his handcart.
I keep thinking since I feel more Mexican that I’ll look in the mirror and look a little less gringa, but hasn’t happened. I’ll always be a proud U.S. citizen and Texan, but I do stand at the Mexican national anthem these days and admire the way that the proper posture is a salute over the heart.
As Auntie Mame said on Broadway — probably just before launching into song and dance — life is a banquet. I couldn’t ask for much more.