Sunday, December 27, 2009

Me and the Guapo Vaquero

I was invited to Ciudad Valles in San Luis Potosi for the holidays.  It's been 3 parties in 3 days and tomorrow it will be 4 parties in 4 days.  So we were at this party last night when my friend Amanda said, "Oh, look at what is coming down the road!"

This man showed up at the fiesta in his finest party clothes complete with spurs.  Needless to say, the photo tells the story more than words.  Ride 'em cowboy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fried and Refried

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

Brrrrrr, It's Cold

I've lived in Iowa most of my life where traffic doesn't stop when we get a little snowfall (6 inches or less = no cancellations).  I lived in Minneapolis for a few years and I can remember driving from Fargo, ND in a snowstorm that dumped 18 inches.  Minneapolis never cancels any events for any amount of snow. Ever. 

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

Thanksgiving in Mexico

20 lb bird from Walmart at .40 per pound = $8.00
2 boxes of stove top stuffing = $1.82
1 can of candied cranberries = .78
1 bag of potatoes = $3.00

Thanksgiving dinner outside on the terrace with good friends and family = pricele$$

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sergio's Sock Puppet

I found out tonight that Sergio has another skill that I didn't know he had.  He can sew sock puppets.  His daughter needed to make a rat sock puppet for school.  I figured this would be a chore automatically turned over to me, but NOOOOO... he took over the duty himself.  He threaded the needle and tied a knot with the expertise of a seasoned seamstress.  What is the male version of a seamstress?  A tailor?  At any rate, he cut up an old sock, sewed up the ends, added eyes, and a nose.  I can't give him all credit because I did the ears.  It was his brilliant idea to cut a few of the strands from the broom to make whiskers.  He wouldn't allow me to photograph him as he was sewing but I got a shot of him with the finished product laying on his head.  I was truly impressed. I'm so proud of him.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Sign Sign everywhere a sign
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

Desaparecida - I've disappeared

I've disappeared from the blogging scene for a while.  A few things have happened to keep me away from my computer.  Sergio and his daughter Angeles arrived from Mexico City on Friday, October 30, just in time for me to take off on an airplane for Iowa.  I had to make a quick trip to my hometown to help my mom and dad drive to Texas. The parents bought a home in Edinburg which is exactly 25 miles from my apartment in Reynosa. I am lucky to have family living near me.  And now I've got Sergio and Angeles.  Well, at least Angeles.  She is attending school here in Reynosa.  Sergio left for Mexico City last Sunday and should be returning tomorrow.  That means mañana. You all know what mañana means in Spanish.  Maybe he'll be back next week. I need Angeles's birth certificate and school papers to get her properly enrolled in school.    Do you think he will remember to bring the documents?  Stay tuned, folks.

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

Estrella Finds a New Home

It all started out with the teacher who lives below me feeding this adorable kitten.  I started calling her Spot because of the white spot on her neck.  She called her Star because the spot looked like a star.  I had to agree that Spot is not a good name for this little beauty.  On the following Saturday after she started feeding her, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to let the dog out. Or should I say the damn dog woke me up to demand I let her out. Anyway, there she was saying, "Feed me."  And I did, because she was too cute but skinny.  I fell for her... hook, line and sinker.  I took to the vet and had her dewormed and her first set of vaccinations.  Thank God the vets are so inexpensive here in Mexico.  The vet put Estrella as her name on the vaccination card because it means star in Spanish. Then I brought her home.  She loved being inside. She loved getting attention.  She loved my bed.  But she didn't love Daisy Dog or Sam Cat.  And I wasn't ready for another cat. I already have one - for the past 18 years.  Yes, that is correct. Old Sam is 18 years old.  I found Estrella a good home. She is living with her new family and she will be loved.  I miss her.  Maybe I can file for visitation rights?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Fell Off The Wagon

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

My Evolution as a Taco Eater or How I Learned to Love Corn Tortillas

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

Help! Someone stole all the toilet seats!

I'd like to know what's up with missing toilet seats in Mexico?  The first time I went to Durango, Mexico in December 2007, I found it rare to find a toilet with an actual toilet seat.  OK, one might argue, "Who wants to sit on a toilet seat in Mexico? Or in any public restroom in the USA?"  True enough.  But I've found that this doesn't only occur in public restrooms but in private homes as well.  Sergio lives in Mexico City and I've been to several of his siblings' homes that lack toilet seats.  In Sergio's rented apartment, he did not have a toilet seat until I insisted that I spring the $15 for one.  Oh, my God, he has a daughter.  How could he possibly expect his daughter to live without a toilet seat?  A long time ago I read a blog that taught women how to prepare to pee in Mexico.  Do leg squats to build thigh muscles so you can hover your butt over the toilet seat in a semi-squat position while pulling the crotch of your pants forward so you don't pee all over them.

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

Driving Test

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

No Hablo Español

Dear Fellow Bloggers Who Know Even a Smidgen of Spanish,

Have any of you ever pretended not to know Spanish?  I mean not a word!  My level of Spanish, while not quite 100% fluent, is good enough to get by.  However, I've found myself in a position or two where it seems better not to know Spanish at all.  Here's my list so far:

1. Getting the custom's red light at the bridge. I explained I am a teacher at Colegio Mexicano, a highfalutin private school where they just named a city street after the owner and had a highfalutin honors ceremony for him.
2. Being pulled over by the transito in Reynosa. (See reason #1)
3. Being pulled over by the policia in Reynosa. (See reason #1)
4. In a restaurant in the center of town where the waiter who never offered to refill my ice tea or asked if I needed anything and then made a joke about the guera sitting alone at the table.  As I paid, I looked at him and said in English, "I'm so sorry that I didn't leave you a tip.  The joke is on you."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mexican Bandera

I snapped this photo of the Mexican bandera tonight after the game. To my non-Spanish speaking family and friends, a bandera is not a group of Mexicans looking to tag their gang sign on the side of a building. It is a flag. I bought one tonight in honor of Mexico's soccer team beating El Salvador to win a World Cup berth. I can not bring myself to calling the game futbol.  It sounds too much like football and like any good American I know that football is really the sport where 11 players in helmets try to move a oval shaped ball across the end zone. Yes, I am American. I will always be American and very proud of it. I have issues about saluting the Mexican flag during Honors at the school where I teach, especially since one of their salutes reminds me of "Heil Hitler" with the raised arm. Don't get me wrong. I don't think the Mexicans are trying to imitate Nazis or anything like that. In fact, in 1942 Mexico declared war on Germany and Japan. I think my issues are deep-rooted from my primary school days when all schoolchildren in the good ol' USA were indoctrinated to say the Pledge of Allegiance to our American flag.  Anyhoo, I am way off the topic now. So I bought a Mexican flag. I like the colors; red, white and green. The next time Mexico plays, I will happily wave the flag and cheer Mexico on.  I hope they take the World Cup.  Heck, I may even salute the flag.  OK, let's not get crazy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Beggars, Boots, and Boredom

I decided the blog needed a new look.  You know how women are.  If we aren't changing our hair color, or trying on a 1000 pairs of shoes before MAYBE buying one pair, then we are trying to redesign or redecorate everything.

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

Purpose of the Blog and Gun Battles of Reynosa

A friend of mine told me that my blog was full of complaining.  I was shocked to hear this.  Blogging was not to be an outlet of complaints. Maybe my title I Must Be Crazy To Live In Mexico might have something to do with the negative connotation. There's a story about that.  When I was trying to create the blog and had to create a name, it took me a dozen tries to find something that wasn't already taken.  I think the title came out of frustration to find something original.

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

Dog Gone It!

Dogs. Everywhere. They are behind property gates, rooftops, on the street, but not in the house. I can't walk the Daisy Dog in this town without encountering several free-range mongrels.  My dog is a small rat terrier (AKA terror) and she has no fear.  A year ago in Texas the neighbor had their husky tied up on the property line.  Daisy, being the no-brain, fearless, estupida perrita promptly got into the husky's face and was nearly chewed to pieces.  Two surgeries and $1500 later, she still bears the scars and a hernia from the attack. And she STILL hasn't learned that it's not a brilliant idea to pick on someone bigger.  The neighbor's rottweiler would love to make a taco out of Daisy.

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

Can Anyone Explain This To Me?

I decided to do a little walking through the center of town today. Besides seeing the usual dirty old men, the infirm, a couple of filthy clowns and mothers with babies all looking for a few pesos, today I witnessed something I can not explain.  A man had a small blanket spread on the ground.  The blanket was adorned with skulls.  He had tarot cards laid out on the blanket along with some scary looking photos.  There was also some sort of figure with a skull head next to the blanket.  He handed everyone surrounding him something and then held up a glass of water and glass of Coke.  Please, can anyone explain the significance of this to me?  Was he telling people their future, and, if so, why the skulls and other stuff?  I am so ignorant.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Election campaign at the school... the Mexican way

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

Oh, Where Art Thou Manhole Covers?

From the beginning of my Mexico experience I was not surprised that manhole covers would 'pop up' missing. I was thinking that just a few pesos in scrap metal probably can buy a Mexican family of 13 muchos tacos for dinner.

I have been wanting to write about the missing manhole covers for several weeks. I noticed a pattern. As soon as it rained, the manhole cover near my apartment would go missing and a tire would be stuffed into the hole. After a couple days the manhole cover would reappear until the next rain storm. I didn't really understand this phenomenom until I read my new friend Lindy's blog. She wrote that the manhole covers are removed to allow the water to drain during and after a rain. Even after a little rain here in Reynosa, the streets are flooded. I thought they were being sold for scrap metal, but now it all makes sense. It also makes sense that tires are stuffed into the gaping hole for safety reasons. Uh, oh, I've only been in Mexico for a little over a month and things are starting to make sense to me!

Matt and his babies

This photo is just too adorable. I snapped it today while Matt was leading the kinder class.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha, la la la la la la laaaa...

Now I understand why the La Cucaracha song is the national anthem for Mexico. Those freakin' things are everywhere just after dusk and they are the size of alley cats. Probably have fangs too. I can deal with them as long as they stay outside. But the second one takes a misstep inside the apartment, it is going to be muerto. I keep a can of Raid with the fresh pine scent handy for just such an occasion. So one morning I go to take a shower and there is the biggest, nastiest cockroach waving its antennas at me like it was giving me the finger. With my industrial size can of Raid I give it a generous shot. Still flipping me off, it scurries to the back of the shower prompting me to empty half the can on my shower invader. My can of Raid is a liar! The label says "Kills on Contact". I guess this really means "Kills on Contact with the Bottom of my Shoe." But at least my bathroom smells like fresh pine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Illegal and Paperless Dog and Cat in Mexico

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

Creepy Man and The Man Who Wanted To Marry Me

A couple weeks ago, I went to the market to buy my weekly supplies of fruits and vegetables. I noticed a man following me. I went into the market and bought my supplies. As I walked to the area of taxis, the man followed me again. This time he spoke to me. He spoke very little English and seemed happy when I spoke to him in Spanish. He told me he was a truck driver and he goes to McAllen daily and his wife and children live in Monterrey. I enjoy being able to practice Spanish so it was a pleasant conversation until he asked me, "Como haces el amor?" It means, "How do you make the love?" My reaction was to say "What?" so, of course, he repeated it. I informed him that one does not ask a woman such a question and he apologized. The first taxi comes around and it is full. Darn! Then this jerk has the nerve to say to me, all in Spanish, he would like to be alone with me for 20 or 30 minutes so he can kiss my legs. That did it. "Vete!", I told him which means GO AWAY! "Vete con los de cien pesos!" which roughly mean go to the ones that charge 100 pesos for such services. Then I got into the taxi. Creep!

Everyday I pass by another high school as I walk to work. There are a couple different security guards outside and I always speak to them for a few seconds. On my way home, I spoke to one of the guards one afternoon. He asked me if he could ask me for a favor. I gave him my usual response to this question, "Depends on the favor." He asked me if I could help him get his papers for a visa to the United States. I asked him how I could possibly help him. He wanted to know if I would marry him. Oh, my God! Never mind the fact that he is already married with a 6 year old and and 3 month old baby! I politely told him that it would never work because the US government would do a background check and find out he is already married and his visa would be denied and the application money would be lost.

Donde Quedó La Bolita

Last Saturday I went downtown to buy fruits and veggies at the market. I witnessed a man who was taking bets on the "shell game". Here is the definition from wikipedia:

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.

The Classroom

I've been teaching my darling 5th grades for 3 weeks now. I have one class of 17 and another class of 16. One class receives instruction in Spanish while I teach English and then the classes switch at noon. Most are basically functional in English, some better than others. I did my student teaching in 5th grade years ago and just like American 5th graders, they love to talk. On the first day, I asked the students to give me the rules and here is the list they gave me.

1. Respect yourself and others. This is a big one because it incorporates so many things like don't call others bad names, don't speak when others are speaking, be a good listener, don't touch the teacher's whiteboard, desk, cabinet, etc.
2. Be prepared. Do the homework on time and bring supplies to class. I gave up on trying to make them wait for breaks to use the restroom and I got tired of being interrupted for every request to go to the bathroom. So now we have 2 bathroom passes. One for the boys and one for the girls. They just take it and go without asking. I had to make new rules about bathroom passes like no passes during quizes and no passes during our story reading time. The system is working well although yesterday we needed a practice session about how to open and close the classroom door quietly. Slamming the door goes back to Rule #1 about respect.
3. Practice safety. Most do fairly well although I caught one of my boys walking over the desk instead of going around it. He must be good in math because he knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
4. No Spanish. There is no Spanish allowed in the English classroom even when talking with friends. This is the hardest rule for me to enforce. I can just imagine if I were thrown into a situation where I am not allowed to speak English amongst my friends who do speak English. It is so hard for them to express themselves in English. Their parents pay the big bucks for the students to go to this school so they can learn English so I must keep reminding them about the No Spanish rule.
5. No eating or drinking in the classroom except water in a closable container. This is an obvious rule. Children like to eat and drink sticky stuff and they are constantly spilling things. I caught a few students in the classroom today with popsicles. I wish the cafeteria would not sell those horrible things. They have no nutritional value and they are too messy for school. I didn't make them throw them out. They were dismissed from their previous class late and barely had time for the noon break. I did make them go outside because there is No Eating and Drinking in the classroom!

There Should Be A Road Sign That Says "Watch For Horses"

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.

It's My Birthday Bash

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.

More apartment photos

More apartment photos.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tim and the apartment

The apartment is decent and, remember, This Is Mexico! (Tim, for short)

The Good:
1. It is has 3 bedrooms.
2. All the rooms are big.
3. It has a lot of closet space and shelves inside the closets.
4. There is a beautiful, huge terrace outside my door with a covered area.
5. It is on the second floor so I feel secure.
6. It has bars on every window so I feel secure.
7. It has a metal screen door that would take a blow torch to open so I feel secure.
8. It is in a nice and quiet neighborhood of Reynosa so I feel a little bit secure.
9. It has a new air conditioning unit that is awesome and cools down the entire apartment. I have more later on how I got the air conditioning unit.
10. Lemon tree right outside the office bedroom.

The Bad:
1. I never have water after midnight until sometime before 6 AM. My neighbor downstairs has water, but not me.
2. I often don't have water at other times. I hate this when I need to get ready for school.
3. When I do have water, the pressure is often low. It can take 10 minutes to spit enough water from the showerhead just to wash my hair and another 10 for the rest of the body.
4. The light goes out often on the water heater. 6 AM cold showers are no fun.
5. The toilet is in serious need of help and it is slated to be replaced. I don't know what's growing around the base of the toilet but it might be the source of the H1N1 virus. The maintenance people were here yesterday to change it but they ordered a toilet too small. So I am still waiting.
6. It's too dangerous to take Daisy Dog out for a walk. The danger isn't because of the violence of being in a border town, but there are a lot of big, stray dogs wandering around that would love to make a taco out of Daisy. So I walk her up and down our street only. My neighbors must think I'm crazy pacing up and down the street with the taco meat on a leash.

I moved in just before August 10. For the first several days, I had no air conditioning. I have no idea how the natives live without air, but after 4 days of non-stop sweating I walked into my school and demanded that something be done. It worked! That very day I got air conditioning. Now if I could get Tim to work on the toilet and make sure I always had hot water for showering in the morning, I'd be a very happy camper. Tim, being Tim, we can't expect miracles.

How Not To Move To Mexico

Hello from Reynosa, Mexico. I finally moved in just before August 10 and I started my new job on August 10. However, it took me until September 5 to get internet and a couple more days to get the wireless working. I am back online!!!!

It took me 7 trips with my mini-van to move all the "stuff" I wanted to bring with me to live a comfortable existence here in Reynosa. In short, the necessities include my queen size bed, love chair and seat, coffee table, TV and entertainment center, clothers, dishes and other kitchen utensils, computer (duh, of course), printer and a folding table for the computer stuff. Oh, yeah, my dog and cat and all their related paraphernalia. I didn't need dressers because my apartment is not short on closets and shelving. In fact, the apartment is large and has 3 bedrooms. I do not share the apartment with anyone.

The proper process for moving to Mexico is to get a "Menaje de Casa". Basically, it is a paper on which you list every single possession you are taking to Mexico and the boxes you bring to Mexico also must list every single item. To get a Menaje de Casa, you must have an appropriate visa. Well, I don't have my FM3 visa yet so I am still here on a tourist visa. And with a tourist visa, you are not allowed to bring in a desktop computer, TV and most anything else. In fact, with a tourist visa you are only allowed to bring your clothes, laptop computer and some personal items. I decided to take a chance of not getting caught 7 times since I was not going past the next checkpoint which is about 25 miles beyond Reynosa. When crossing the bridge into Mexico, the first that happens is the Red Light/Green Light game. If you get a Green Light, it's a go. If you get a Red Light, you have to pull over and be inspected by customs. On my 3rd trip, I got a Red Light and I was carrying the computer, laserjet printer and flat screen TV with a mattress covering the stuff. Uh, oh! Electronics are a no-no! The reason is electronic stuff is typically cheaper in the United States and can be sold for a profit in Mexico. I pulled over and the Mexican customs agent looked in the back of my car, pulled up the mattress and then asked me if I spoke Spanish. I looked him in the eye and said, "Sorry, I don't not speak Spanish." Yes, my pants are burning because they are on fire. The agent then asked me, "Where you go?" I answered truthfully this time and said I am starting a new job as a teacher in Reynosa. "Adelante", he replied. I couldn't believe it. He let me go. So now I am living fairly comfortable in my own apartment and sleeping in my OWN bed. Life is great.

Next post: The apartment

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 19, 2009 - My First Mexico Blog!

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.

Next time I would like to write about the apartment in Reynosa and my impression of teaching 5th grade in Mexico versus 5th grade in the US. I taught 5th grade during my student teaching so I have some experience with this age. I’m looking forward to a new challenge in my life.