Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest Blog: Living la Vida Mexico

Hi, I'm Melanie Avila. Some of you know me from my blog, What Am I Doing In Mexico?, but for those of you who don't, let me catch you up. My husband, Ibis, and I live in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, a small fishing village on the Pacific, three hours north of Acapulco. We moved to Mexico at the beginning of 2007 and are waiting for his visa so we can return to the US.

image On my blog, I talk about, well, what I'm doing in Mexico. Everyday things that don't seem "every day" to me, a Midwest girl who finds herself very out of place in the tropics. Many of my posts touch on the fact that I can't wait to leave Mexico and get back to the US (or Canada, depending on how the visa goes), but in the midst of my hurry to leave, there are things that I will miss about out current home. That's what I'd like to share with you today.


(Spy went nuts and raided Melanie's photo book for this post. This is their view of Zihuatanejo Bay, with the cruise ship in the distance, nearly as tall as a mountain, it seems!)

The Community

image I'm continually amazed by the number of people walking around town. Sure, most of them are running errands and would think I'd lost my marbles if they knew I liked watching them shuffle around town, but I do. Policemen stand on each busy intersection, blowing their whistles to hurry the cars along or stop them for pedestrians. Cars often stop on their own – I've never had to wait more than three or four cars for someone to stop - and traffic can get pretty tied up with a steady flow of people crossing the street.

image A tourist once commented to me that Zihua (as locals call it) is a very fertile town. One look around and you'll agree - there are babies everywhere! On a five minute drive through town, on average, five pregnant women will cross in front of us. Very few parents use strollers and I'm often struck by the interaction mothers have with their children here. Despite the heat, they hold them close and keep them protected, often shielding them from the sun while carrying heavy bags in their other hand. I think most people don't have strollers because of the cost, but I believe there's a stronger bond between mother and child because of it. (I'm not saying strollers are bad. I fully intend to use one when my time comes; I'm just sharing my observations.)

image Every Sunday night the plaza fills with people of all ages who come together to eat, talk, and watch performances by local groups. Teenagers mix with elderly couples, children dart between the legs of vendors, and lately, glow-in-the-dark toys fly high above everyone's heads. We try to join the festivities every couple weeks, where we grab a tamale or taco and sit on the steps surrounding the basketball court to watch the dancers. No other place I've ever lived has had such a strong sense of community, where everyone looks out for their neighbor (and their kids) and welcomes newcomers with a smile and a slice of flan.

Less Discrimination

Ibis is Mexican, and when we lived in the US, there were certain things that I was in charge of because people treated me better than they did him. Sometimes they'd see his face and assume he was a poor immigrant who was only there to waste their time. Or they'd think he wouldn't know English and it would take too long to help him. In fact, he made a decent living and speaks English fluently, but sometimes it was easier just to have me go into the store instead.

image Here, we don't have that problem. If anything, it's the reverse. Zihua relies heavily on tourism and the prices are much higher if you don't look like you're from here. When we were shopping for furniture and appliances for our condo, Ibis would often leave me in the car until he got a price, then he'd have me come look at the item. The shopkeepers were often surprised to see a white face (especially in some of the small towns where we bought our handmade furniture) but they treated me with respect.

When I'm shopping on my own I sometimes have to argue over the price (or haggle, bargain, whatever). I hate doing it but I know Ibis will never let me hear the end of it if I paid the first price they tell me. I learned early on to say "No soy turista, yo vivo aqui" – I'm not a tourist, I live here. We then have a five minute conversation about where Ibis works and what neighborhood I live in, then they drop the price in half. Even then, there are some things Ibis has to shop for because they refuse to lower the price. Despite this, seeing him treated with the respect he deserves makes me appreciate Mexico.

Way of Life

image How many people have joked that they want to quit their job and move to a beach town in Mexico? There's a good reason for that. Zihua is on a small bay that empties into the Pacific, and we're surrounded by mountains and palm tree plantations. Fishing is the main industry so fresh seafood is available every day. The market it overflowing with fresh produce, all for pennies apiece.

image We live in a fourth-floor condo that sits on a hill, and we have a breathtaking view of the mountains and the bay. The sun rises over the eastern ridge, right into our bedroom, then sets over the ocean, sending colorful clouds dancing over the entire town. There are plenty of bars and restaurants – this is a tourist destination – but most places shut down by 10 or 11 at night. 

image There's a sense of calm here that I've never experienced before. No one is in a hurry, things will happen when they happen. It took some getting used to, but now I just plan in the extra time when I need to get something done. As much as I look forward to returning to "civilization," I sometimes wonder how hard it will be to readjust to my old way of life. I know the life lessons I've learned here will stay with me for the rest of my life, I just hope I can bring this Mexican mentality back with me.

Thanks for the awesome post, Melanie! Please visit her blog, What Am I Doing in Mexico? And finally, lookee at the view outside her bedroom window every morning: 


13 bonus scribbles:

Zoe Winters 12/24/2008 08:50:00 AM  

hehehe awwww. I love this post! :D

And I love that phrase you have to say about not being a tourist hahahaha.

lainey bancroft 12/24/2008 09:00:00 AM  

Sounds like a wonderful community, Melanie. What an experience, and gorgeous pictures, but I can certainly understand how frustrating it must be to stay there because you HAVE to, not because you CHOOSE to.

Wishing you and Ibis a speedy resolution in 2009. Happy Holidays!

((You and Glenn, too, Natasha))

Melanie Avila 12/24/2008 09:43:00 AM  

Zoe, I have to say it a lot. They always try to sell me t-shirts!

Melanie Avila 12/24/2008 09:44:00 AM  

Thanks Lainey! I tend to gripe a lot about being here but there really are a lot of wonderful things about living here. When people are surprised we don't want to stay, we just remind them that we aren't ready to retire. :)

Janna Qualman 12/24/2008 10:53:00 AM  

I'm no stranger to Melanie, but I really appreciate this post! Well done, Melanie - and thanks for hosting her as a guest blogger, Spy.

Melanie Avila 12/24/2008 10:57:00 AM  

Hi Janna! I figured it was time for something a little more uplifting. :)

Melanie Avila 12/24/2008 10:57:00 AM  

Oh, I thought I should mention - the "community" shot is actually my family and that's me playing dominos in the front of the picture. I'm not sure if Spy knew than when she grabbed it.

spyscribbler 12/24/2008 12:21:00 PM  

Yeah, LOL, I knew that, but I needed an excuse to use more of your cool pictures! I only wish I could have posted your entire photo book! :-)

Merry Christmas, Melanie!

Melanie Avila 12/24/2008 01:12:00 PM  

Spy, you're so funny. Thanks for having me today!

Edie 12/24/2008 01:54:00 PM  

Melanie, thanks for sharing your la vida Mexico life! It was fascinating. If I ever write a scene set in Mexico, I'll come back to this blog to get down some of your details.

Melanie Avila 12/24/2008 03:55:00 PM  

Thanks Edie. I have lots of stories on my blog about the strange things that happen to me here. Feel free to pick my brain if you ever need anything!

Dominique 12/28/2008 10:20:00 AM  

I've only read some of Melanie's later posts, so it was interesting to read the back story here!

Thanks for sharing!