Thursday, January 28, 2010

Construction, speaking Spanish, Dengue and Dogs

I have a minute to update the blog because I'm unexpectedly Home Alone for the second time since we've been in Mexico this season (if you don't count the four workers building our patio and painting the walls).

It's been the normal whirlwind time in Mexico with many friends and family visiting while they escape the terrible winter in the U.S. and Canada. We've started our language school for the children of the village to study English. And we still manage to get to the beach, to Tenacatita, to La Manzanilla to meet friends for dinner or a sunset.

Here's a glimpse of the idle musings bouncing around my head for the past few days:


I now dream in Spanish but only the words (las palabras?), not the meaning. Very confusing. This morning I woke up trying to create the correct sentence to tell the teenage painters to make sure I have electricity to power the internet for a conference call from 9 to 10.

My sentence structure was undoubtly incorrect but at least this season I'm getting past the toddler stage of throwing out verbs or commands --- and they actually sometimes seem to understand me. And they didn't unplug my DSL box while they painted around the outlet.


The 24/7 immersion of living in the village is helping, as is our teacher, roommate and friend, Maestra Laura, who encourages me one word at a time.


It's official. We hate it.

We're not doing much this year, scaled way back from the original plan of building the guest casitas. (Sorry, everybody. Maybe next year). This year we finished the stucco on the remaining two walls of the compound, which required us to redo the electric (of course!). We also had to redo some plumbing (of course!). The walls are now sealed and halfway painted, with about another day of labor before completion.

In the meantime, we launched what we thought was a small project --- and, really, it is --- by putting a cobblestone step at the bottom of the first step of the palapa to keep dirt off the lovely tile floor. The maestro loads his truck up with the small round rocks from the riverbed next to the town and sets it artistically in the concrete.

We liked it so much --- and it went down so quickly --- that we decided to build the patio in front of our place with cobblestones out of the river, rather than the planned brick. And while he's at it, why not cobblestone the landing the length of the bathrooms so we carry less dust up onto the beautiful white tiles?

You get the drift. It's endless, small project after small project.

Our challenge is remaining close enough to home to be able to answer questions, provide supplies, make sure it looks like what we think it's supposed to look like without getting tied to being at home.

We're losing that challenge but we're determined that this will be the last project of the season. Right after we have someone build the bamboo privacy screen to shield the bathroom sink from the rest of the property....


We've never had to worry about dengue here on the Jalisco coast before. It's always been here and I've heard of occasional cases over the years, but it just wasn't an issue. You didn't live in fear of getting a bite by a daytime mosquito.

Today I saw the statistics of dengue for the state of Jalisco for the first time.

In 2007, 953 confirmed cases.
In 2009, 4,835 confirmed cases.

I knew it was bad because so many of our friends have come down with it. And dengue's tough. No vaccination, no cure. Just treat the symptoms of a soaring fever, bone crushing aches and pains, no energy. And it lasts, often for two weeks, then several more weeks of getting your energy back.

I don't want it. We live coated with insect repellent, hoping for the best.

So far as I've heard, no one knows why it's soaring. Perhaps climate change?


Our surfer friend, Julien, who also lives in Arroyo Seco, has been a longtime friend of Samba, a village dog. I normally would say he's adopted Samba, but that's not the relationship. They're friends --- equals --- who choose to spend time together.

I can understand the relationship more after reading the wonderful book, Merle's Door, about an 'rescued' dog who lives with Ted Kerasote, who comes to the realization that a doggy door is the only thing that Merle needs for his autonomy and independence.

That's Samba. She adores Julien and the feeling is mutual.
But Julien has been terribly sick with dengue and our best-in-the-world neighbors, Chena and Chon, put him to bed in their house and ministered to him around the clock with poultices and Tempra and everything they knew to do.

Samba couldn't stay with him because they have a load of Chihuahuas that are incompatible with this great big Alpha village dog. After about three days of separation, Julien ended up in our trailer for the night. And by 11 p.m., Samba showed up at our place, burrowing her way under the gate, putting her front paws up so her claws clicked on the metal step of the trailer. Her version of knock, knock. She knew she had found her amigo Julien.

The reunion would bring tears even to a cynic's eyes.

I hate dengue, but I sure love knowing that this dog --- and so many animals --- are aware of so much more than we are aware, relying on so many senses rather than being able to simply ask someone, Yo! Where's Julien?

This morning Samba showed up at around 5 a.m. from a long trek from the beach house where Julien is now staying. Once again we heard her claws hit the metal of the first step of the trailer, her announcement that's she's come back to town.

Why? Who knows. She thought she'd visit? Because Julien is boring because he's sick, but she no longer is worried about him because he's getting better? Because she's hungry? I have no idea. But I know Samba does. I guess that's the point. And lucky Samba lives in a safe enough community that she can follow her nose, follow her instincts.

So, today, in my world that feels a little more complicated and a little more unsafe than normal, that's my bright spot. She spent the morning laying on a carpet next to me out in the breezy palapa after chowing down some chicken scraps from the homemade soup I made for Julien.

Then she heard his voice out in the street in front, and zoom! She's gone. Back to spending the rest of the day with her friend Julien. As it should be.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Mexican amigo finally goes home --- to the U.S.

Tonight we're celebrating a friend's return to his home in the United States.

Some of you who have visited us in Arroyo Seco, Mexico have met our friend, Francisco, and his sister, Veronica.

We were introduced when we first moved here because they were the only other English-speakers in the village. Francisco is a gifted translator and he's been on call as we struggled to converse in Spanish. He'd race down from his home at his grandmother's house and take as much time as needed, usually refusing any compensation, despite the lack of work in the village.

He's also the guy we'd call to take Dylan fishing, or to help us cook when we were having a load of guests in for dinner.

But Francisco's is an interesting story -- especially for those of us who only hear about U.S. immigration from U.S. media reports. And until I met Francisco and his sister Veronica, that was the only side of the story I knew.

During the George W. Bush administration, government officials started doing immigration sweeps (perhaps meeting quotas?), quickly deporting what we would consider the 'low hanging fruit' --- the easy pickings, but not necessarily the people we would hope to have deported from our country: criminals, drug dealers, violent offenders. Instead, they were deporting the citizens who had glitches in their paperwork. The easy ones to track. And the ones who were not hiding... They were working, paying taxes, etc...

This is his story as I understand it: Francisco was brought into the country without documentation when he was a child. Eventually he was able to get a driver's license, work papers and paid social security. He married a U.S. citizen, a bank administrator in Napa. He had a decent job in a restaurant. His two sons were born there. The U.S. was the only home he really knew or remembered.

But one day the new equivalent of INS showed up and gave him a choice. Go immediately to jail, --- or --- you can have one hour to pack your bags and get on an airplane to Mexico. They escorted him to the airport where he returned to his extended family in Arroyo Seco, to a family and a culture he barely knew.

Apparently his lawyer, who had been paid to continue to filing the paperwork to apply for citizenship, took the money but didn't file the paperwork.

His 25-year-old sister, Veronica, was deported in exactly the same manner. One day she day she was living in the U.S., working at a Napa restaurant, going to dances at night. The next day she's sleeping on a bed on the front porch of a grandmother's house in a remote Mexican village of 300 people.

Veronica said she cried for the first three months. Then she started to look around, started getting to know people, found new ways to entertain herself without going to a mall or going to a dance. Two years later she married a handsome, sweet man from the village in a storybook wedding. They are expecting their first child in May.

But Francisco stayed on the paper trail, working to get home to Napa and his family. This past Wednesday, nearly three years later, Francisco crossed the border one more time --- this time with documentation --- to return home to his wife and his two sons.

Francisco and Veronica are not the only cases we've learned about since we moved here. A neighbor has a contractor who says he was deported from Southern California in exactly the same manner and same circumstances. One days he's living with his wife and four children (all U.S. citizens). He goes to work at the two restaurants he opened. He owns a five bedroom home. Then one day he's deported. The options: A plane ride or jail.

We've heard of others.

Francisco's been through a lot over the past few years. And he's learned a lot. The celebration Michael and I will have tonight in our palapa in Arroyo Seco is knowing that he's reunited with his family, but that he can come back here any time he wants.

It's about time.