Saturday, January 24, 2009

A birth, a death, and life inbetween

It's been a monumental few weeks here in Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla, Mexico.

A Baptism

A very nervous godmother accepted her responsibilities to Devani on Sunday at the Catholic Church in La Manzanilla. I wasn't nervous about helping Devani -- we've been involved with her since before she was born, and her mother, Mimi, and her grandmother, Irma, have become close friends. And her great-grandfather is Xavier, who has taken care of many of us when we've stayed at Santana's in La Manzanilla.

The problem was the thought of the ceremony in Spanish (no, I'm not fluent yet) in a church service in which I'm unfamiliar. Several of the Mexican children in the village had advised me that the Padre would ask me many questions and just say 'si'.


We took our 11-year-old neighbor, Brianda, with us, with a request to nod or shake her head if I turned to her during the ceremony with a look of panic.

Fortunately, the Padre decided to ask all the questions of the padrinos --- the godfathers. So Michael got to squirm for a bit but did fine. And, yes, he's now official a Godfather...

One of his most important responsibilities was throwing pesos and candy to the children (and adults!) waiting in front of the church after the baptism. He handled it like a pro, of course. Our neighbors say that if you don't throw gifts, the children will fart at you --- I guess a Mexican concept of 'trick or treat'?

The loss of a friend, Isabel Jordan

Some of you have heard that a good friend of my cousin Lynn and her partner Suzanne had taken a bad fall from some stairs the first night she was visiting in them in La Manzanilla. Michael and I were called upon to take her to the emergency service north of us in Careyes, where the doctor confirmed she had two fractured ribs and some internal bleeding. We were told to drive her on up to Puerto Vallarta to the hospital where a surgeon would be waiting. Careyes has two ambulances but no paramedics or drivers.

After a week in the hospital, two surgeries, dialysis and other interventions, Isabel passed away from a heart attack at 81.

Should any of you think, well, she was 81, she wasn't like any 81 year old that I've known. The Monday I drove them all down from Puerto Vallarta to La Manzanilla, I had bought two low water, high volocity toilets, chairs, and a lot of other provisions for our Arroyo Seco compound. When we arrived in Arroyo Seco, Isabel and Michael unloaded the truck into the bodega, our California garage. She was stronger and more sure footed than I am --- and probably more than most of all of you.

I only met Isabel this winter when she officiated at Lynn and Suzanne's wedding in Marin, just days before Prop. 8 (to ban gay marriages) was officially approved by the voters. She was an icon in Yalapa and will be missed by many.

What Isabel taught me in my short time of knowing her is that 81 doesn't have to look like what I thought it would look like, that I should remember to live each day like it's my last, and that those of us who live in rural areas of developing countries have given up the luxury of 911.

All good reminders.

In other news...

An apprentice

It's been lovely getting to know our construction maestro again this year. He built our wall and the palapa last season. This year he brought his 16-year-old son, Antonio, with him while his son is on a long holiday from school (they go back mid-February). Antonio works side by side with his father, learning a trade –– and much more –– from dawn until past dark. Their home is in Sayula, where the Maestro and his son return by bus every 10 days for a three day visit. While they're working, they live in a small rental house in Arroyo Seco.

The constant murmur of conversation while they work is a delight --- sometimes I see them stop and laugh and talk if one of them is making an important point. If I'm moving something heavy, one of them races over to help. Sometimes they will stay for a late, light supper and talk with us.

It's a joy to see a father apprentice a son --- maybe it's something our country could relearn as we try to strengthen the fabric of our American culture.

No mas construction!

We're closing in on this year's construction in Arroyo Seco --- fortunately our money has run out at the same time as my patience. Everything has gone exceptionally well. It's just that I hadn't realized the full impact of having people in your home making a lot of dust and noise from dawn 'til dark and the constant lack of privacy. So whatever we've built by February 1, that's it for me this year.

Sure hope the new toilets flush by then. Because it's time to start going back to the beach.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

An 'open mic night' in the Pink Flamingo palapa

Tonight we were so happy to have our palapa (our big, covered pavillion) finally finished that we skipped the open mic night at Palapa Joe's in La Manzanilla to enjoy a quiet evening at our new home in Arroyo Seco.

It had been a long day.

We took Lucky Dog to his second visit with the vet, which is a whole 'nother story. It was almost 4 by the time we got home and hopped on the Honda 4WD quad for long ride down the beach towards Tenacatita to a freshwater lagoon for a late afternoon swim.

By early evening were back at the palapa with our 12 year old neighbor Brianda, who was attempting to give me some Spanish language lessons –– but she doesn't speak English. Since I can't speak Spanish, it was challenging and worth a few laughs. Finally Michael came out and rescued us --- his fluency is rapidly improving.

Somehow that morphed into my grabbing my violin and Michael's ukulele to play a tune or two for Brianda. Before we knew it, we had a gaggle of kids at our table pretty much vibrating with excitement about the music, the new gringos, finally sneaking into the palapa, who knows what else?

The 10 or so kids were generous with their applause –– they danced, asked millions of questions, tried strumming and fiddling and were so uniformly enthusiastic that it was enough to make me laugh aloud.

They want to learn to speak English, they want to learn to play rock n' roll, they want to know all about everything. And when it was time to go home, every single one came up to me to say buenas noches –– good night –– and shake my hand.

It was exactly the kind of evening I had imagined when Michael and I decided to build the palapa in the front of the property, before we had a plan for whatever else we might do here. We're still unsure of what the heck we're doing, but whatever it is, for tonight, it's more than enough.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hoping to find a verb for my sentence

Today I was reminded how the heck Michael and I have come to live in this little rancho of Arroyo Seco, Mexico when a friend asked how we made the decision to move here and build a home in 'el centro'.

When Michael and I decided to sell our beloved boat, Sabbatical, it took us both about a year to figure out 'what's next?'. We were back in Sacramento, back at our jobs at the university and kind of flailing about. We knew pretty much since the day we met that we would go cruising and traveling. Now that we had done it -- had pretty much sucked the marrow out of that experience -- the question lingered: What else do we want to do?

Eventually I came up with my short list:
I wanted to live in another country.
I wanted to learn another language.
I wanted to learn to play the fiddle.

This is our second year living in Mexico, our first year in Arroyo Seco. If I wanted immersion, if I want to learn the language, learn the culture, well.... be careful what you wish for?

It's exhausting. Fun! But mentally exhausting.

Tonight we had dinner with our neighbors and friends, Chena and Chon, and their children Brianda, Dani and Juliet. No English spoken at this table, por favor.

I vacillate between frustration and progress. Tonight I asked a question in a complete sentence and it was just about a conversation stopper.

Muy sorpresa!

We've only been here for about two weeks and Michael assures me I'm making progress. I can't tell. But now that the parties are slowing down a bit, I'm going to find a tutor to work with me every morning until a verb slips naturally off my tongue.

The hardest part for me as I learn to communicate in Espanol, poco a poco, is my inability to make small talk, to break the ice with people, to include people in conversation. Here I feel standoffish because I don't know what to say or how to say it, especially as I'm simply walking down the street near our house. I don't have the vocabulary to comfortably get past the morning salutations.

Upcoming events include a baptism (we're the godparents!), a housewarming and a wedding. I don't know how long it will take before social dialogue can be part of my new language rather than 'where are the bathrooms?' but motivation is high.

As to the third item on my list, I've been learning to play the fiddle for almost three years now. The hardest part, at first, was that it takes exactly the same part of my brain to learn the violin as it does to learn a language. Really a strange sensation.

Now that I'm a little more confident in my fiddle playing, I'm hoping that part of my brain can be diverted to language learning.

My immediate goal? To sound less like a toddler and more like a teenager by the time we head north in June.

I'll keep you posted. Wish me 'buena suerte!'
Dani and Juliet, Brianda this Christmas.