Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year, New Journey

As the weeks have ticked by without much word, yours truly has decided to do what most folks do when traffic is slow, inspiration low, and interests have waned. They close up shop.

This leave of absence will only be seasonal, however. We will reopen when the time is right again.

When I'm back in Mexico. When baby stops eating all brainpower and creativity. When I can sleep longer than 2-hour intervals. When I start having complete thoughts again....could be a while.

But we'd rather prepare the populace ahead of time instead of prolonging the silence.

We will write again.

In a new year. And on a completely new journey.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Couvade syndrome: Sympathy or Psycho?

Back in July and August, yours truly was wracked with sickness. Morning sickness, mostly.

Nasty nausea, dizziness, fatigue on top of a stubborn upper respiratory tract infection left me pretty whipped. Compound the everyday rain, cool temps and subsequent humidity (read mold), and you have one pretty miserable pregnant lady.

Hubby was great through all of this. He shouldered everything - from the household responsibilities to my weird moods and meal requests. Handled it all with a smile. Nary a complaint. But then it started.

"I'm not feeling so good. Feeling a little dizzy..."

"I'm so tired...think I need a nap..."

"That upset my stomach last night, better not eat that..."

And then he said it, "I think I can feel your pregnancy symptoms."


"In Mexico sometimes the man can feel the pregnancy symptoms too and I think that's what I have."

Needless to say, I was not so sympathetic. "Honey, I am certain you are NOT feeling my pregnancy symptoms."

"But I am! Look, I even found the name of it..." (points to an article about couvade syndrome). "See, it's a real condition!"

Rolling my eyes and skimming the text, I was sure to point out psychosomatic in the article.

"Know what that means? That means it's all in your head!" I said, thumping my index finger against the right temple.

Silence. A sly smile before starting out a "But I-".

I wasn't having it. Telling a pregnant wife that you feel what she feels when she is in the throes of morning sickness, wacky hormones, and brutal bronchitis - all of which she can take next to no medications for, will win zero sympathy points.

No doubt, my dear husband may have felt something, but not what I felt. Lay down if you're tired. Take a Tums if your tummy hurts. That's normal. It's not pregnancy.

Hubby's "condition" has since been a good source of smiles.

I recommended he begin taking prenatal vitamins and folic acid supplements immediately. Cut out the caffeine and raw milk. Better start looking for Men's maternity clothes. And next time we visit the doctor we'll ask him to keep the transducer warm so he can do his ultrasound.

He's taken the teasing well.

We'll see if he starts having contractions in a couple months.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Self-Talk, Stateside

Ahhh...It's so nice to drive here.
Police are not looking for lunch money. I need not fear them.
Trash is in the can, not all over the ground.
It's so QUIET.
Nobody here walks. Anywhere.
I am pop-culture illiterate. And I'm fine with that.

Ahhh...toilet seats.
Farm animals only transport the Amish.
Fresh food is not always affordable.
Not a stray dog in sight.
Everyone is in a hurry.
Cash is curious...better pay with plastic.
Free refills!

Ahhh...a real steak. And Starbucks.
Where are the tortillas?
This 'authentic' guacamole sucks...going to make my own.
It's SO much easier to be pregnant here!
Ugh...super stores. I miss my small shops.
FLUSH the toilet paper.

Ahhh...soft clothes. Thank you, drying machine.
Hooray for Customer Service and refund policies!
I am walking...and I have the right-of-way?
Everyone's busy...nobody has time. Everyone is in debt.
Good to be back at church.
Baby likes bland. I can eat again.

Ahhh...indoor climate control.
Thank you, cold weather. You kill cockroaches.
No cheek-kiss greetings...hug or handshake.
Salsa is not supposed to be sweet...going to make my own.
Unsupervised stuff will not be stolen, in my home or elsewhere...most of the time.
Hot water on demand!
Where do they get these bananas? They taste terrible.

Ahhh...the four seasons. And all their holidays.
Fall is beautiful.
Can't wait to see snow.
I've really missed my family and friends.
I really miss my husband.
I'll do anything to have this baby born healthy...that's why I'm here without him.

And that's what I keep telling myself.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happiest of Halloweens

Been back in the US for a couple weeks. Enjoying fall and a happy host of upcoming holidays, all of which will be spent stateside.  Missing my husband, wishing he could be here to celebrate them with me. As does he.

But I am never alone these days. A presence much more real than a spooky spirit is ever with (and within) me. And after next February, always will dios quiere.

From both of us, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ask la Gringa: Drug War Truth, Is it Safe?

Due to several emails received recently on the subject of drug violence in Veracruz, this post will attempt to answer the heart of all of them - what is really going on there concerning the drug war, and, is it safe? Can I visit/move there? With kids?

I should preface this subject by informing readers that we no longer live in Veracruz city full-time, thankfully. Although we moved for different reasons, the violence that has erupted in Veracruz this year has been astounding. Went from relative peace and quiet to what seems to be an escalating war with no end in sight. Our information and insights are limited, but our sources and experiences are reliable. My answer is based on that.

What is really going on?
Violent confrontations between rival drug cartels, Mexican military and now suspected paramilitary groups. Specifically, the drug cartel that previously controlled drug flow in Veracruz (los Zetas) were supposedly protected by the former state governor, whose term ended in 2010. New governor is not 'in' with them, so the opportunity arose to challenge the Zetas.

Army troops and the Sinaloa cartel have been the main opponents to the Zetas, who are known to be exceptionally ruthless and violent. They have expanded operation to all kinds of activity beyond drug trafficking, mainly kidnapping, assassinations, and all kinds of extortion. Politicians, police and big companies are known to be on their payroll, all of whom want their hands in the pockets of small businesses and civilians.

Plata o Ploma (Silver or Bullet)
Common saying throughout Latin America, which means, take the bribe or take a bullet. Obviously the bribe is often chosen. Drug wars feed on bribes. Drug bribes cannot be stopped or fought because drugs are illegal. This raises the product price sky-high because only the most ruthless criminals with no regard for human life, let alone the law, will run the ring. Make billions. And kill anyone who gets in their way.

They bring murder, extortion, bribes, violence, and all sorts of other evil into the industry. No amount of 'defense' dollars will defeat it. This is the root of the problem, along with rampant corruptibility in Mexican society.

Is it safe to live/travel there?
This depends on one's personal comfort level. Over 100 dead bodies have been found in the past month, with several others missing. This sounds alarming. However, the majority of these victims were involved in drug trafficking/bribes/extortion that led to their death. And, in a city of over 600,000 inhabitants, I like my odds if I'm a law-abiding civilian.

That said, the innocent do get caught in the crossfire. Had I or a family member been been amongst the killed or injured due to grenades thrown into the city's Aquarium, statistics would have been meaningless. A journalist neighbor of ours was murdered in his home, along with his wife and son. My sister-in-law received phone calls threatening kidnap if she didn't pay up, just this week. She tells our nephew that the shootings at night are fireworks, so as not to scare him. And there is a noticeable decline in traffic after dark. People lock their doors and only go out if they have to. Checkpoints, troops, and even tanks are common throughout the city.

People are fearful. Although unlikely, the threat of violence does exist in Veracruz. More so than in the past years of my residency and visits. I personally do not feel threatened during my few-day visits, although sometimes the sights are unsettling. I would not live in Veracruz should a safer city be an option. Xico is still peaceful, as are many other areas in Veracruz state and Mexico. Not all of Mexico is dangerous. We hope it stays that way.

If you would like to ask la Gringa in Veracruz a question, please use the contact form or leave an anonymous comment on the Ask la Gringa page. Ask la Gringa questions will be posted anonymously and kept confidential. Names will not be published other than what you choose to sign your message with.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Could you listen to this all day?

Barking dogs in Mexico are near equal in numbers to tortillas - they're everywhere. And every neighborhood has one that insists on being a bit more annoying that the others. No exception here in Xico.

About 15ft. separates the neighbor's wall and ours. Where from the other side comes the loudest, shrillest, most nerve-racking dog bark we've ever heard.

Non-stop. Never takes more than a 20-30min break during the day, and can go for hours. Impressive larynx and lungs. That need to be silenced very soon.

He takes the Most Annoying Dog in the Neighborhood title from the previous holder by a long shot. We thought the black lab on the roof was bad until this guy came around a couple days ago.

Now we spend the day with headphones on and earplugs in so as not to lose our sanity. We are contemplating how to soundproof this situation better. Build a high, double-layer wall? Foam padding on the interior?

I'm personally in favor of lacing a piece of meat with a strong sedative every morning. But that could get expensive. Toxins would be cheap and a one-time deal.

We have to do something. It's impossible to think let alone concentrate on work or any other task due to the shrieks of a rabid canine.

Take a listen. Could you listen to this all day?

Image of most annoying dog bark

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Starting Off Saturday

View outside my window this morning. Never gets old.

Clean house. Laundry on the line. Pulled pork in the crockpot. Sun is shining.

Good start to my Saturday so far.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Can't Fake It

She stood on the sidewalk, across the street from us. Shirt stretched tight around her belly, about to burst through its yellow and white stripes.

She shot us a glance. Stone cold expression. Hot with hatred. An old anger. Grown from the inside, decayed through the surface.

I looked away. Stared at the street, my shoes, anywhere far from her face. I couldn't do it. Couldn't look at her without my own rage rearing its ugly head.

After all, it was her. The "mother". The woman who abandoned, abused, and exploited the six children she gave birth to. The woman who prostituted her own young daughters to subsidize her habits.

The woman who had her children taken away from her. Who should be in jail. Who should be sterilized. Who is very obviously PREGNANT again.

She knew who we were. Word travels fast in small circles. She wanted eye contact. A "buenos dias". Introduction. Recognition. Connection. She received none.

Couldn't do it. The cordial greeting, the small chat that even most Mexican enemies can muster for the sake of social grace. Not this time.

Stoic stares and silence. Better than the cardinal sin of (gasp) confrontation!

What would she want me to say? That her children have nightmares and irrational fears of being alone? How I had to explain to the eldest girl what "unwanted male attention" was when she asked why I carry pepper spray on my keychain? That we hope the black, rotten teeth of the younger kids will not affect their dental health later on, but there is no money to take them all to the dentist?

Perhaps she would be glad to hear that their head lice is gone, now that they have soap and water for daily baths. Or that their ongoing psychological treatment is a work in progress. That they have learned to eat food with forks and spoons and can clean their clothes, now that they have more than one set.

Maybe she'd like to know the sores from the cigarette burns from her drunken, rapist neighbors have healed. Or that fortunately, her drug use and sexually transmitted diseases have had no long-term affects on her offspring.

Or maybe, she would like me to tell her how her children's faces are no longer hollow and sad. That they have soft smiles and big hearts. That they are happy, now that they are no longer with her.

I'm not perfect. I know I should not judge this woman. But I've seen how her children suffered at her hand. Still paying for her sins. Will continue to.

So I looked away, stared straight ahead and walked out of sight. Because I couldn't be nice to her. Couldn't pretend everything's ok.

Because it's not. I won't enable or ease her conscience. I won't save face for her faults.

Sometimes silence is best. Because sometimes I just can't fake it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Haircuts from Hell

A good hair stylist is like a good doctor. You feel lucky when you find them, and don't want to switch once you do. Hair and health are two big areas of stress for yours truly in Mexico, the former being harder to solve than the latter.

Thoughts as to why; 
  1. My hair texture, color, and volume is totally foreign to most hairdressers here. Thick, course, black hair is 99% of the population. Fine, thin, brown, hair is something seen only on TV. This results in my hair looking 'tiered' vs. layered due to the huge chunks cut at a time.
  2. I am admittedly spoiled. My best friend is my hair stylist at a salon I adore in my hometown. She knows me, my hair, and is all around awesome at what she does. So my expectations are a bit high.
I've had my share of bad hair experiences here. Recalling the first one...

Next-door neighbor with a small estetica (salon), advertised hair cuts, color, nails, etc. I went in for a trim.

Felt my stomach sink when she wet my hair with a spray bottle - no source of running water. Then pulled out a pair of what appeared to be sewing scissors. Now I was scared.

A few snips later, literally, she turned me around with a "Ya esta" (All set). Five minutes total, tops. 

With wet, matted hair cut into a few chunks, I felt like the photo above. "Didn't you just leave?", asked my husband upon walking in the door. Ugh.

Then there was the botched attempt at highlights from a well-respected (and expensive) salon downtown.

Apparently, in Mexico blonde highlights are achieved via high amounts of hydrogen peroxide. Must not have occurred to the stylist that pouring on the peroxide may react differently on lighter brown hair vs. black.

I walked out with white streaks. "I think it looks good", Saul said. God bless my husband.

Took my friend back home three long appointments to clean up the damage. She worked miracles in a very short period of time. God bless her, too.

Then there was "Gina". "He's good, but he's gay.", said my mother-in-law. So what? Sexual preferences unimportant, I just want a good haircut.

Walked into the salon, to see the back view of beautiful, long, blonde hair down her back. Skinny jeans with rhinestones, a cute, teal halter top and matching high heels.

Being the only two people in the salon, I thought for sure I was in the wrong place. Where was the gay guy? "Sorry, I think I'm in the wrong salon", I said in Spanish, and turned to walk out.

Turning to face me, a protruding Adam's apple gave him away. "Oh, no, sweetie, come one in...", Gina said in a tenor-toned voice. I later explained the difference between gay and transvestite to my MIL.

Gina didn't do too bad. Not great, but he cleaned up the split ends. Competent.

Then we moved to Xico. New town, new service professionals. Most of the hair salons look like those from the first disaster. Looks can be deceiving, not worth the risk.

One day in Xalapa, I passed by a salon that looked like it might be good. High-end products on display, washing sinks, hair dryers present. And everyone's hair in there looked really good.

So yesterday I gave it shot, and got what I expected. An acceptable haircut, ends cleaned up, feels healthy again.

Same issue persists with layering. Cutting huge chunks of fine, thin hair does not yield the results of thick, course hair. Wish I could communicate that better here.

No color, we aren't at that level of trust yet. After the white highlights I hold off until I'm back stateside for color.

It's not my beloved salon in Wooster, Ohio, but for emergencies it'll do. I'll get a clean cut.

And hopefully no more haircuts from hell.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where We've Been

Where have we been the past couple weeks?

Chasing Beauty:

Hanging out with the husband:

Hanging out with our adopted family:

Raising Funds for Mom (yes, shameless plug, please help):

And otherwise avoiding blogging. Not for lack of ideas. Rather a lack of willingness to indulge the important issues of the hour. Drug violence in Veracruz and immigration policy changes, for example.

Drug violence coverage on this blog is deferred due to a journalist neighbor in Veracruz city being murdered in his home last month, along with his wife and son. They lived a stone's throw away from our house there. A couple weeks later another Veracruz journalist was found dead, her body dumped behind a newspaper building.

Real stories are under or unreported. The media has its own interests in spinning the truth, they don't want to die for writing a real story. Neither do we. Bottom line - violence is on the rise in Veracruz, as it throughout Mexico. We are still safe in Xico.

Immigration is not discussed much here due to its inflammatory nature. Although, it's been receiving more political attention nationally, so we might touch it here, too.

Last week we spotted Chief Wahoo along the roadside:
Interesting graphical choice considering the billboard is advertising custom windows. Still, nice to see another Cleveland sports fan exists in our vicinity. If we spot an solid-orange helmet with brown stripes we will take it as a sign from God to never leave the region.

Been missing the US more than usual lately. This happens every football season. It'll pass. We're still happy in Xico. Even when we've been away.