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?
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.
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)
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
I taught 5th grade for 2 years in Mexico near the border of Texas. Unfortunately, gun battles, grenades, narco-blockades, and thieves ran me out of town. Then, by a twist of fate, I became the guardian to my orphaned nephews and moved to the safer, saner, and much colder state of Iowa.