Sunday, December 27, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
When I took this picture, I didn't know if was a no-no to take photos inside the store so I snapped it surreptitiously. And don't you just love how I used a baby word "no-no" in the same sentence as "surreptitiously"?
It seems like my 2 favorite topics is about food in Mexico and driving or other modes of transportation in Mexico. I need to find more interesting topics. Anyhoo, I went to a small local grocery story in a small town nearby Reynosa. I had met some friends for lunch and was heading back when I saw the store. I only needed to pick up a few items. It looked like a fairly new store and everything was so neat and the milk cost about 50 pesos. Not cheap. It looked like a miniature HEB (that would be HY VEE to you Iowa folks) and fairly normal. Then I got to the oil aisle. Notice I did not say oil section. This little country store had an entire side of an aisle devoted to cooking oil. Next time I head to HEB, SMart or Soriana in Reynosa, I am going to check out the store size vs. oil aisle ratio. Dang! Is that why I can't lose the weight I've put on this past year? Am I consuming so much you can put a rig on me and drill for oil?
I've got to stop eating out and hitting the gym more often.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Last Friday when the temperature high was somewhere in the 40's and it rained all day, I had 7 students out of 34 show up for classes. Most northerners would call us out with shouts of "Pansies!"
I can just hear my northern friends and family wondering what kind of pansy I've turned into. The horror! Highs only in the 40's? That would be considered a heat wave in Iowa. Well, dear northerners, let me tell you the difference between Iowa and Mexico. You all have heat inside. Most Mexican homes do not. I was freezing most of last week. It was cold and rainy and I've been suffering from a nasty gripa with chills to the bone and a hacking cough. I swear I almost coughed up a lung. Then I discovered the air conditioning unit that was installed in my apartment is also a heating unit. Totally cool! I mean totally hot! I am feeling soooo much better.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign
I might be immune to the seeing all the signs in the United States, but in Mexico there seems to be a sign for everything on the highway. I bet I have counted over 100 different types of road signs. Most of them are typical like "Curva Peligrosa" warning that a dangerous curve is ahead. However, there are some that makes you wonder if the Mexican version of the DOT is in cahoots with the sign makers. In other words its like some official said "Hey, let's get a kickback by putting a sign every 10 feet telling the drivers the most absurd things."
Below is just a sample of some of the more interesting ones.
No Destruya Las Señales - Don't Destroy The Signs (I swear this is an invitation to make sure the sign is destroyed, hence, the need for more road signs)
No Transite Sobre Franja Separadora Central - Don't Drive Down the Middle of the Road (I would say, DUH!, but you need to see my other post about driving in Mexico)
Maneje Con Precaucion - Drive With Caution (as opposed to driving without caution????)
Si Toma No Maneje - If You Drink, Don't Drive (and I thought drinking and driving was considered a national sport in Mexico)
Obedezca Las Señales - Obey the Signs (I guess it is necessary to have a sign telling drivers to obey the signs)
and my personal favorite....
No Deje Las Piedras Sobre El Acotamiento - Don't Leave Rocks On The Road
This last one is just plain puzzling. When was the last time you left rocks on the road? Did anyone ever have to tell you not to leave rocks on the road? Mexico has a sign telling you not to do this. I'll make double sure that I never leave rocks on the road just because the sign told me so.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
We had another "balacera" last Saturday night. We were at a birthday party for the son of our friends and we could hear the machine guns going at it. The gun battles are barely mentioned, if at all, in the news anymore. I've heard that the reporters are afraid of retaliation. I'm not sure of the real reason, but, at any rate, it is weird to sit around with balloons, a piñata and birthday cake and then watch the mothers come running for their children yelling, "Balacera!" The normal person would run and duck inside the hacienda, but, NO, not us. We sat outside so we could hear the tat-tat-tat of the rapid fire machine guns. Sh*t for brains, yes we are.
Last night I had the grand experience of going to the hospital. I was miserably ill with 103 degree fever. Normally I would have toughed it out but, sheesh, with all the influenza stuff going around I thought it best to get it checked out. I don't think all the mommies want me passing around influenza germs to their precious darlings. The staff was efficient and I didn't have to wait long at all. Amazing! And I don't have the flu. I'm still not sure what I have. I'm not sure what medicine they put in the IV last night. All I know is with my insurance card through the school, the hospital bill was a grand total of $437 pesos. For all the friends and family who have no idea how much that is, divide by 13 for American dollars. And for my math deficient sister who is a nurse, it is easier to divide by 10 and take an extra 1/3 off that. Or just use your calculator that you take with you wherever you go.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
October, the beautiful month of harvest. The air is crisp and clean in Iowa. Farmers are bringing in the crops. The annual Swisher Men's Club Haunted Hayrack Ride occurs the weekend before Halloween. And it is the weekend I fell off the wagon back in 1995. Literally.
Every year my friends, family and I usually celebrate by bringing a bottle of wine to share while waiting to ride on the haunted hayrack ride. One bottle of wine is usually enough to keep us warm while waiting about the usual 1 hour in line. Two things happened in October 1995 different from other years. The wait in line turned out to be 4 hours and my sister's friends brought a trailer with a keg of beer and an assortment of other alcoholic beverages. You can do the math. Time + mega amounts of alcohol = Rita in a drunken stupor. Let's just say I wasn't feeling the pain or the cold when we got on the hayrack ride at about 1 AM.
The ride was great with the usual scary monsters out in the field and other frightening scenery. I believe that was the year they set up a train track with railroad signs. The wagon was stopped on the tracks when suddenly a bright light was shined on the wagon with the sound of a train barreling down the tracks. Then we saw it coming. I'm telling you, folks, the train front looked real and appeared like it would hit the wagon. Anyway, we made it through safe and sound and the tractor started heading back. Everyone was calming down and it seemed like the ride was almost over. But, wait! Here comes the chainsaw murderer! And he had a real chainsaw (minus the chain, of course). He jumped on the wagon and ripped the cord started the unmistakable sound of the chainsaw motor. All the people surged forward and there I sat at the front of the wagon, loose as a goose, when I was pushed off the wagon. I landed on the ground with a THUD between the tractor and wagon. No one saw me fall. They were too worried about that dang chainsaw to notice that poor ol' Rita was pushed overboard. This all took place very quickly, but my alcohol infused brain made it feel like it was an eternity. And the tractor driver did not stop.
I remember thinking as I saw the wagon wheels slowly moving in my direction, "Oh, shit, I am going to be run over. Well, let's see, I could roll out of the way. NAHHHH! I'm too drunk. How about if I grab the tongue of the wagon? OK, I got one arm hanging around the tongue as I am being dragged to my death. OK, I've two arms holding on now so I'm dragging along nicely. Hey, wait a sec, how about if I wrap my legs around the tongue too so I can hang like a possum on a tree branch? Cool, this is working pretty good and only my butt is dragging on the ground now."
Finally, one of the men from the club saw me and ran to stop the tractor driver. I had so much adrenaline pumping in my blood that I bounced up and announced to everyone, "I'm OK, I'm OK, I'm OK." I received a sitting ovation from everyone on the wagon. By the way, I was wearing a bug costume and in the process of the fall, dragging and possum hanging, I never even lost my antennas. They were still attached to my head. Then the pain set in. I must have smacked my ankle on the tongue during the fall and the pain was excruciating. One of the club members packed my ankle in ice while I waited for my husband to bring the car around. One the way home, the husband asked me if I wanted to go the emergency room. My sister, who is a nurse at the hospital, always tells me some of the juicier ER stories. I was imagining how it would play out.....
A drunken bug with antennas limps into the emergency room around 2 AM and is asked, "How did this happen, ma'am?"
"Well, it started after waiting in a long line with an unlimited supply of alcohol while waiting to get on a haunted hayrack ride during which the chainsaw man poked everyone in the heinie causing me to fall off the wagon so that I was almost run over until I had the brilliant idea to hang like a possum from the tongue of the wagon."
I told the husband I would wait until later that morning to see if I really needed to go to the ER. And that, my friends, was how I fell off the wagon. Like my friend Lindy said, I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Way, way back in time before 1972, my family never ate exotic or ethnic foods like lasagna or tacos. We ate roast pork, potatoes, gravy and bread. Lots of bread. For desert we might have kolaches, a Czech pastry filled with fruit. Then in August 1972, my family and I embarked on our fateful trip to Tucson, Arizona to visit my dad's brother and his family. During this trip, my mother and her infamous shortcut in New Mexico found us on a dirt path with grass growing between tire tracks for at least 100 miles. Picture this... One green Ford LTD with the mom, the dad, and three children, 12, 7, and 2 years old, pulling a fold down camper bumping along a dirt path to shorten the trip by 50 miles. It probably took us an extra 2 hours to navigate the holes in the road/cow path. The only people we saw during the entire 100 miles were ranch hands on horseback. You should have seen the crazy stares we received. The best part was at the end of the trail. There was a big ditch and steep incline up to the interstate highway and Dad declared, "I'll be goddamned if you think I am going to turn around." He roared the engine and barely made it up to the highway. Anyway, I'm off topic... again. Sorry, Mom, you knew someday that the cow path story was going to be in print, however you didn't know it would be on the internet where millions could read it!
During this trip to Tucson, I discovered a couple things. Cheech & Chong with Sister Mary Elephant who yelled, "Class, Class, Class, SHUT UP! Thank you." And tacos. Tacos was the first meal I ever learned to cook. I learned from my cousin Candi who told me the secret ingredient was adding garlic salt to the hamburger meat. The taco meal I learned to cook came in a kit minus the hamburger meat. Brown the hamburger meat, drain (except the time my sister forgot), add garlic salt and the package of seasonings from the kit with a little water. Heat the taco shells in the oven for 5 minutes so they become crispy to the point of breaking any time you tried to stuff meat, cheese, lettuce, onion or tomato in them. Voila! A taco dinner.
Fast forward to 2005 when I first came to the Rio Grande Valley. Instead of the crispy U-shaped yellow shells like back home, you can stuff a soft flour tortillas with just about anything imaginable. Potatoes and eggs (breakfast tacos), nopales (cactus), or any part of the cow that isn't mooing. When I first tried the corn tortillas, the smell reminded me of my dad's old musty leisure suit from 1975 that still hangs in his closet.
Then I went to Durango in 2007. It was my first trip to the interior of Mexico. I learned that Durango is called "Taco Town" and if you want to eat, you better like tacos. Unlike the border area, you are not asked if you prefer flour or corn for tortillas. Tacos are stuffed with everything that can be chopped, sliced or shredded as long as it is classified as meat but always in a corn tortilla along with cilantro, salsa verde and avocados. Yum, yum. I guess I got so used to eating corn tortillas that now I think the flour ones taste funny.
Even tacos in Texas are fairly basic, but my first trip to Mexico City blew my mind with the variety of tacos on the menu. As I stared at the menu of 30 taco choices, Sergio asked me, "What do you want?" I hadn't the faintest idea. I told him, "This is your town so you choose." Again, he asked me what I wanted. This time I told him that I had no freaking idea what was the difference between tacos saudero or tacos longaniza. Again, he asked me what I wanted..........."ARRRGGGHHH! Just order something," I hissed between gritted teeth.
So, here is a list of types of tacos that I know about. I am sure it is just the tip of the iceberg but as you have read, attaining taco knowledge has been a 37 year process for me. Surely I will learn more in the next 37 years. Oh, by the way, there is a pastry shop in McAllen called the Kolache Factory and they do indeed sell the Czech pastry. I was shocked. But not as shocked as I was when I found out they sell jalapeno stuffed kolaches. That's just wrong.
Tacos al carbon (meat is grilled)
Tacos al pastor (pork meat on a rotisserie)
Tacos de trompo or tacos arabe ( I think these are the same as tacos al pastor)
Tacos de carnitas (cuts of pork)
Tacos de carne asada (roast beef)
Tacos saudero (brisket)
Tacos de bistec (sirloin)
Tacos adobada (marinated mystery meat, maybe pork)
Tacos de tripas (intestines)
Tacos de barbacoa (can be from head or cheek of cow)
Tacos de pescado (fish)
Tacos deshebrada (shredded beef)
Tacos de cecina (salted beef)
Tacos de sesos (brains)
Tacos de chorizo (some kind of sausage)
Tacos de longaniza (pork sausage)
Tacos de lengua (cow tongue)
Monday, October 19, 2009
While I'm on the subject about toilets, what's up with the toilet paper? I'm not talking about the lack of toilet paper in the stalls. That's a given. It's BYOTP in many places or in some places it is rationed out at the entrance for a small fee. I'm talking about the signs in the stalls requesting that the toilet paper be thrown into the trash bin so it is not flushed. Eeeewww! I understand the reasoning.... poor plumbing and substandard sewers. But that doesn't make it more palatable. (OK, that's a gross choice of word considering I am talking about used toilet paper!) Since the signs are usually in Spanish, maybe this is another good time to pretend I do not understand Spanish and happily flush the toilet paper away without a care in the world. Especially since my landlord, who only speaks Spanish, told me to be sure I don't flush the toilet paper. I just smiled and said, "Si."
Friday, October 16, 2009
To get a Mexican driver's license, please answer the following questions correctly.
When driving in Mexico, the yellow dotted line on the road is:
A. the divider between traffic travelling in opposite directions.
B. to show you where to position your car so you can straddle it in the center for miles on end as a permanent passing lane.
The right side of the white dotted line that is only wide enough for a micro compact car is for:
A. parking emergencies only.
B. the slower traffic lane.
Use of a left turn signal by the car in front of you means:
A. impending left turn.
B. it is the driver's esteemed opinion that it is safe to pass him even though there is an impending 90 degree turn in the road and he is going 70 MPH.
If you answered B to all questions, then you are on your way to qualifying as a driver in Mexico. Some other rules include having the ability to create your own lane within a millimeter between two cars, using stop signs as suggestions and pulling out in front of other traffic. The most important thing I've learned about driving in Mexico is that it isn't so critical to obey traffic laws. It's more important to watch what other drivers are doing so you can avoid them. One last item that grates my gills about driving in Mexico is the crappy, or lack thereof, road signs. Especially since people park in any direction on the street, I never know for sure if I am driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
I could go on and on about the potholes the size of meteor craters or the "topes" AKA speedbumps to control traffic, but that is entirely a new post in itself. In fact, these topics may require their own blog.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
And speaking of shoes, there are as many boot stores for men as there are shoe stores for women in Mexico. Maybe more. This isn't just a local area thing. I was in Durango a couple years ago and I think there were MORE shoe stores for men than women. The boots come in all kinds of colors too. I saw hot pink boots in Durango and I thought they were for women. But NO! They were men's boots. Please tell me what self-respecting macho Mexican man would ever wear hot pink boots? If I ever see a Mexican man wearing hot pink boots, it's certain his photo will show up on this blog. It isn't enough that the men's boots are hot pink or lime green or have diamond-shaped patterns, but they accessorize with a matching belt and a Panama hat with a scorpion logo. If you see such a man dressed in this manner, he's ready to party!
I'm used to see beggars on the street near the bus station or in the center, but tonight was a first for me. A woman and small child were going door-to-door begging. I saw the woman across the street give her some food. Mexicans are not short on empathy. They willingly give a few pesos to the poor mother with a child that is disabled or the old man in the wheelchair. The cynic in me just hopes the money isn't going home to the old man so he can buy beer.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I thought many of my 16 posts were positive or at least funny. OK, I realize funny is a subjective term. What may be funny to me may not be funny to you. But I wrote about my wanting to teach in Mexico, my birthday party, classroom rules, school elections, and posted a really cute photo of another teacher leading the kindergarten class. Nothing negative there. I asked a question about something I saw in the city center with skulls and tarot cards wanting to know what it was that I saw. Just curiosity. No complaints. OK, I concede it might sound complainish (is that a word?) when I wrote of the creepy, dirty old man who wanted to kiss my legs. That's just gross and disgusting. And so are cockroaches.
The two main purposes for writing the blog are to inform my family of my daily life and to let anyone who is interested in living or working what it is really like to live here. I am 1350 miles away from my loved ones. If anyone is interested in moving to Mexico, they should make a well-informed decision and not just by reading my blog but looking at other sources as well. I do have positive things to write about living here in Reynosa which I will soon. Unfortunately, today is not soon.
With all of that said, there is something I want to post here. Two weeks ago, I would have told you that I felt fairly safe here in Reynosa. I'm afraid I can't say that at the moment. There have been two gun battles in two weeks between the soldiers and the bad guys. Finding news and information has been difficult. It seems everyone is tight-lipped. One of the teachers at the school was a witness to the latest gun battle last Saturday. Luckily the teacher was able to run for cover inside the HEB where they locked the doors and everyone hid in the aisles. This is the same HEB where I've shopped several times. Across the street at Carls, Jr., a hamburger joint, the restaurant was peppered with bullet holes including the playground area for the children.
To my family: I am fine. I don't go out at night. I don't go the bars. I'm not even drinking much more than a beer or two in the comfort of my own home or at a friend's home. I will find another HEB to shop. Apparently the HEB I used to frequent is next to a hotel where the federal police have been staying. I'll be careful. Don't worry. Just think of it this way... We all go to Chicago but there are certain areas where we don't go to, right? Well, there are certain areas to stay away from in Reynosa too. The areas would be any place where the soldiers are coming. And if I see the soldiers coming, I'll run the opposite direction.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
I can not take two left turns from the apartment because there are 3 large labrador type dogs at that corner. I can take a right turn and walk a block to the canal street except Daisy chases large diesel trucks so we usually turn around at that point. At the other end of our street is a big fuzzball chow. He seems harmless enough but I've decided it's not worth $1500 to take a chance. Many nights we end up walking up and down our street about 10 times. My neighbors think I am crazy or have an OCD, but if I don't walk that darn dog she whines until I give in.
Oh, by the way, where can I buy pepper spray? The neighbor's rottweiler might develop a sneezing habit.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
How does one campaign for student council offices at a school in Mexico? Easy! Have a party complete with clowns, lucha libre and a mechanical bull. My first thought as a good American was this could never happen in an American school. I could just smell the lawsuits and American lawyers standing in line waiting for a chance to sue somebody. The lack of liability is one of the things I find charming in Mexico... unless something bad happens to me, of course! Anyway, it was great watching my 5th graders being thrown from the mechanical bull like rag dolls. And that ain't no bull!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
I illegally transported Daisy and Sam with me to Mexico. According to the law, animals brought into Mexico not only need current vaccines, but they also need a certificate of health. I did bring papers for Daisy but her rabies vaccine expired in August. She is now in Mexico illegally until my friend Efren gives her the vaccine. I forgot Sam's papers that are stuffed inside a desk in the back of a storage facility so he entered Mexico without any documentation. His vaccines also expired in August so I went on the hunt for a veterinarian in Reynosa. A neighbor gave me directions to his veterinarian so I went on the hunt. After wandering the curvy, nameless streets of Reynosa, I found a veterinarian close to Morelos Blvd. I went inside and spoke to the receptionist. She sent me into see Dr. Rubalcabal and as I tried to explain to him in Spanish what I needed for Sam, he answered me in perfect English. He gave Sammy a quick exam, a shot in the butt and told me to watch for kidney failure since he is now going on 18 years of age. The bill at the end? About $10 US dollars.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
The game requires three shells (thimbles, walnut shells, bottle caps, and even match boxes have been used), and a small, soft round ball, about the size of a pea, and often referred to as such. It can be played on almost any flat surface, but on the streets it is often seen played on a mat lying on the ground, or on a cardboard box. The person perpetrating the swindle (called the thimblerigger, operator, or shell man) begins the game by placing the pea under one of the shells, then quickly shuffles the shells around.
Once done shuffling, the operator takes bets from his audience on the location of the pea. The audience is told that if a player bets and guesses correctly, the player will win back double his bet (that is, he will double his money); otherwise he loses his money. However, in the hands of a skilled operator, it is not possible for the game to be won, unless the operator wants the player to win.
When an individual not familiar with the shell game encounters a game on the streets, it appears that bets are being placed by numerous players, when in reality, these persons around the game are shills who are all part of the confidence trick.
I was fascinated to watch this game and it seemed like I could always pick out exactly where the small ball was located. There were a lot of bets with a lot of money. The next thing I know I was pushed to the center and "another player" was trying to encourage me to play and even gave me 500 pesos. I handed the money back to him and told him I only wanted to watch and that I did not bring any money with me so I could not play. I think I saved myself a lot of money.
Back in Iowa we have to watch for deer that cross the road even within the city limits. Apparently in Reynosa we have to watch out for horses on the road even in the city next to busy roads.
A few brews and something to eat was a great way to celebrate my birthday on August 19. We went to a microbrewery called Sierra Madre. There are 6 native English teachers at the school for 4th grade, 5th grade (me), 6th grade, middle school literature, conversation and physical education. The 4th grade teacher is from Canada. The 6th grade teacher is from the Solomon Islands and he is not in this photo. I'm not 100% sure if he qualifies as a native English teacher technically, but his English is very good and to me his accent sounds American with a few words that sound British. The conversation teacher is from Australia. The literature teacher is from the United States. One of the physical education teachers is from London, England. I'd say we are quite an international group. Can you pick out the native English speakers in the photo? I'll give you a hint. There are more than 6 because the physical education teacher had 2 buddies visiting him from London.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
I always wanted to live in a foreign country. I had thought about teaching in the Czech Republic, the land of my grandparents. I've been there 3 times and I love the lifestyle, the beautiful country and I do know a few words of the language. But something about Mexico keeps pulling me over the border. I've been to Mexico City 5 times since August 2008 and have visited Durango and Morelos. I'm not even going to mention the 100's of trips to Nuevo Progreso, Matamoros and Reynosa.
So how did a middle-aged woman from Iowa end up getting a teaching job at a private school in Reynosa? I graduated in 1991 from a small private college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with a degree in elementary education. At the time I had two little ones and was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom until the youngest started kindergarten. In 1994 I got a job in the IT department of a large manufacturing company. I would still be working for the company but in 2005 some hotshot IT vice-president decided to grease the palms of his golf buddy and award his buddy's company a contract to perform all the IT functions. More than 50 of us in North America found ourselves without a job. My youngest was about to finish high school and I decided then it was a good time to move to Texas and find a teaching position. I took the TEXES exams (EC-4, Generalist & PPR Professional Pedagogy and Responsibilities) and I passed both on the first attempt. Little did I know that the area I selected to live, the Rio Grande Valley, would make changes to their hiring policies and require that elementary teachers pass the EC-4, Bilingual exam. Not all districts require it, but more and more do and that leaves few non-bilingual positions. I had not studied Spanish since college and didn't remember too much beyond asking for the location of the bathroom. With this knowledge, I enrolled in an accelerated Intermediate Spanish I & II class. It just about kicked me, but I studied hard and earned an A- with one point to spare. Now I can read Spanish very well and I take a lot of opportunities to practice speaking. Well, I tried the bilingual portion of the exam called the TOPT. My first question asked me to explain to a student in Spanish how to use the card catalog in a library. It may be due to my age, but at least I remember (barely) using a card catalog. Can you imagine if this question was given to a 20-year-old? For the first time in my life, I flunked something. I am too stubborn to admit defeat and I will improve my Spanish and take the exam again.
After substitute teaching for a couple of years and no luck finding a full-time teaching position, I heard that Mexico wants to hire native English speakers. The pay isn't that great, but, really, if I was after money, I'd go find myself another IT position. I found a reputable recruiter that didn't require me to pay them. It pays to do your homework on the internet and check out the recruiters and the schools before accepting anything! I said I would consider Mexico City or Reynosa. The recruiter told me a private school in Reynosa had an open position so I applied and got the job.
Before signing the contract, I wanted to check out the school, classrooms, campus and other teachers. I met the teacher from Canada, another middle-aged woman like myself, and the young man from Great Britain. The campus was neat and clean but the classrooms seemed bare compared to US classrooms. It could be that it was the end of the school year and the rooms were already cleaned up. The hiring director showed me the reading program and workbooks. Basically it is the same reading program used in most elementary schools in the US. She wants me to teach 5th grade and I will start August 10.