In 2006 my Mom was living in El Paso, Tx by herself. We talked on the phone everyday so we were pretty connected. She started telling me that she was falling on her daily walks in the park. Then one night I got a call from her friend…my Mom had fallen at home, called 911 and been taken to the hospital. They determined she had a uti and released her to her friend who took her home. From that moment on my life was changed forever.
It wasn’t a uti – it was 6 meningiomas (brain tumors). I immediately flew to El Paso and so began the journey of the tumors. I brought her to Austin and eventually she had spinal and brain surgery. She only had three removed. But this made a tremendous difference in her mobility.
We (Cat – my partner and I) lived out of town in a small house and we needed a different home to facilitate her recovery. We purchased a huge house in town and moved her in with us. She lived with us for 2 years – and it was painful! Living with a parent is just not meant to be after childhood.
She progressed well and moved into her own apartment. That went pretty smoothly for a few years.
We knew the tumors had been growing slowly for about 10 years so didn’t expect them to return so quickly. After about 5 years we started seeing the same symptoms – difficulty walking was the most prevalent.
We got in home care for a few hours a day. My Mom loved her. But things got harder for my Mom and she needed more help. Thing is…have you ever looked at the price of assisted living in the United States? (Think $4500/month easy) Good grief! My Mom has some money but not ALOT.
Cat and I had been planning to leave Texas and had visited Tacoma Washington a few times to look at houses. We were excited and had looked at places for my Mom up there. THEN the US elections happened and Trump happened.
Our plans changed quickly. We decided to move to Mexico. I began my search for an assisted living center in the area we wanted to live. I found a great facility through an online connection.
We sold all our stuff including the house. It was sooo stressful. Because at the same time my Mom needed more and more help. ABout 2 weeks before we were leaving we had to move her to an assisted living facility. Better but not great. For $4500/month I expected her room to NOT smell like pee, for her bed to be made everyday, and for them to help her bathe. Guess I was asking TOO much!
Those last few weeks were like being pulled through the eye of the needle. But we finally got it all done and drove our Subaru full of our stuff down to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
About a week after arriving I flew to Austin and brough my Mom down here. We flew – it was an easy trip for both of us. We arrived at her new home and tried to settle in. It just never fit though. She stayed 2 months in a beautiful location with amazing help…but all the other residents had alzheimers and she does not. It was depressing and we all knew we had to find another solution.
Thank goodness for Be Well San Miguel. Deborah helped me find a new home for her. She is in a condo with 24/7 care. The woman running the care team is an angel from heaven! And if we didn’t already know it we would soon enough.
My Mom has fallen probably 100 times over the last 12 years and never broken anything. So when she fell in August we really didn’t think her hip was broken – but we soon realized we needed medical help.
And this is the point of this whole blog! My Mom was admitted to Hospital Mac for broken femur repair.
Her surgery was scheduled, we met her doctors, and we had our angel from heaven right by our side the entire time. She translated, supported us and loved my Mom through the whole thing.
by Cat Calhoun San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, México
We’ve endured more than a month of “heat” here in San Miguel de Allende, though I’m almost hesitant to say that since I’m from Austin, Texas where the temperature can hover in the 32˚-38˚ C range (90-100˚ F) for months on end. The heat here wasn’t nearly as debilitating as it was in Austin, but we don’t have air conditioning here, as it isn’t needed for large portions of the year. It did get hot enough, however, to make sleeping a challenge at night throughout the month of May and the fans were on 24×7.
But now it’s cool enough to keep me in jeans all day and reaching for sweaters in the morning and evening. The rains have started too, fueled and jumpstarted by Hurricane Bud (not even a euphemism – that’s really this storm’s name) in the Pacific Ocean. And with the rains come the leaks. Our stained glass doors leak when the rain comes down a certain direction and there is a leak in the dining room bóveda ceiling when it falls hard enough. I won’t lie to you. I was cursing the rains and the leaks like a sailor yesterday when I was piling towels up in front of the doors and putting a bucket under the leak in the dining room.
I was already dreading the rest of the season (which will probably stretch through October or so) when the wonderful Suzanne Bacci, a friend from my shamanic family in Austin posted this. It was a timely reminder to bless the water, as it has memory and we are formed from it.
Whatever your weather, regardless of whether you’re putting out buckets in your rain boots, or living through a drought, I wish you the blessing of and a relationship with water.
This week we had a friend in town. One day she wasn’t feeling well, so while we were out doing things in the car we decided to drop off some provisions.
This meant I drove our Subaru Forester on tiny one way cobblestone streets in downtown SMA. Now this takes a hardy soul for sure. The streets are so narrow that often times we have to bring the outside mirrors in toward the car. I was doing fine…even though we had NO idea where we were, how to get out of there and google maps couldn’t keep up. I was doing great actually. No anxiety, charging forward….and then came Insurgentes. This is a main street in SMA travelled by cabs and camiones – public buses. There are cars parked along one side, lots of folks walking on the sidewalks and many many vehicles. So the best part of the story is …..I was going downhill the WRONG way. People were yelling at me from the curb…but I thought I am just going for it! I can make it down before anymore cars need to come up. AND then came the Ruta 6 camione.
Well, you can guess what ended up happening…I had to back up the hill with that bus right in front of me and the same people on the sidewalks! And I just did it. NBD. No anxiety or uncertainty.
As I looked back on that adventure I kept thinking…this is a reflection of my whole life here. Things come at me and I just have to let them push me up the hill, ‘encourage’ me to do something. Here in Mexico it is easy to be overwhelmed with not knowing the streets, customs, where someplace is, etc… and so I often opt not to do it. But that day was so empowering…..I backed up that freaking street with the bus coming at me cars parked along side me and felt better about life after I got turned around and on my way.
Today a friend told us about a sale (we need stuff for our apt) and it was out of the city a bit. This is a situation that could intimidate me and I would just not go. But that is not what happened. We drove out of town with a google map and a few sketchy directions from 2 different people. Again google maps couldn’t keep up but we drove on. After the pedestrian bridge 4 km after the municipal building turn right. What is a km? And where is the municipal building? We found the sale. We didn’t buy anything, but we brought stuff home for a friend in our compound who knew folks out there. I was satisfied from our efforts.
Someone recently asked me if I am glad we made the move. I paused, not sure how to answer. On some level it was the only choice with the care of my Mother for sure. On other levels I struggle with the culture here. I confront my beliefs and judgements everyday. That is not easy. I am willing but it is not easy.
I am satisfied and enjoy the adventure. I am not unhappy. Is it important to be ‘happy’? I still don’t know how to answer that question.
by Cat Calhoun San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, México
Once upon a time, I had what I considered to be a big bad-ass position with a big bad-ass paycheck. OK, by some standards that wasn’t true, but I’m from a pretty poor family and the money I was making was amazing by the standards of my youth and I felt really fortunate to be making that kind of cash. It was pretty cool to go to the store and not have to add up the costs of what I was putting into the grocery cart. I could just shop, go home, have plenty and repeat all of it any time I wanted to.
It was only after I voluntarily returned to a lower standard of living that I realized just how much waste and over-consumption this had generated. During the Reign of the Big Paychecks, I had somewhat unconsciously adopted an attitude of “oh well, I can just buy another one whenever I want to.” It had become nothing to try new hobbies and buy all the gear for them only to drop them when I got bored, forget an expensive item at home and just go buy another one instead of waiting until later and using the one I had, or buy pricey technological toys on a whim to indulge my inner geek. What did it matter? The money kept flowing in as easily as it flowed out.
When I went to grad school full time however, I realized somewhat uneasily that this was no longer an option. Sure, my inner geek whined like the spoiled child it was for a little while, but I quickly returned to a more frugal lifestyle. At the time, I thought I was the master of making do…. until I got to Mexico. My experience here has taught me a lot about how far you can go down that particular rabbit hole and explore further still. There are things I took for granted as an American that are not an option here.
By way of example, I love a long, hot shower. A couple of years before we sold our house in Austin we installed a tank-less water heater, which meant that as long as there was water flowing to the house I could shower for days if I wanted to. I may very well have gone through a lake’s worth of hot water after we installed that thing. I was perhaps the cleanest person in Austin.
Fast-forward a couple of years to Mexico. Gas is not exactly cheap here and, so far as I have seen, all water heaters are gas-powered. Two 30-liter canisters (about 16 gallons total and around $50 at current prices) provide gas for our cooking stove and water heater. When we first got here we bought two full tanks and were told it should last about 60 days. It didn’t. The first tank petered out in about a week.
Turns out we had a water heater leak that was causing the gas to run 24×7. That was a major bummer. The pilot on the heater went out when the canister ran dry and we had to wait a couple of days for a fix, so we were totally without hot water. Because I loathe cold showers in general, it didn’t take me long to come up with a work-around: heat about 5 cups of water on the stove top, mix it with cold to get to a comfortable temperature, then pour it over myself from a cheap plastic drink pitcher. It only took a bit of practice to learn how to get all of me drenched, soaped, and rinsed (including my hair, mind you) and emerge from the shower squeaky clean. I have discovered it takes a little over a gallon of water for me to accomplish this task. We haven’t even bothered to replace that empty canister yet, nor to re-light the hot water heater.*
While it does take a little more preparation for my daily hygiene, I feel like I’m being hyper-environmental about life in general. I don’t feel deprived or inconvenienced. I get to wake up in Mexico, I eat good food, I see so much beauty around me, and I am getting to know lovely people. How can I complain?
*Some of you might be thinking, “But what about doing the dishes?” The same basic rules apply. Though my grandmother used scalding hot dishwater, which she insisted killed the germs, she was wrong. Unless you are using a commercial dishwasher, there is no way you can get your water hot enough to dispatch bacteria and other germs to the great beyond. While hot water will help lift off food particles and break down grease, dish soap and adequate rinsing do just as well. This is the same logic that applies to hand washing after going to the bathroom.
I am sitting in our apartment on the second floor looking out at beautiful jacaranda trees and enjoying the breeze.
Today was laundry day – that’s it. Just laundry. Not rushing from place to place to ‘do’ my jobs. Not sitting and holding space for people (my birth center moms, my teacher training students, my private students) so they can step into the transformative results of yoga. Just laundry.
Week three in Mexico has really been MY week one in Mexico. The first week we drove down, unloaded and were in travel shock to some degree. The second week I went to Austin packed my Mom up and moved her down here. Now I am in MY first week in Mexico.
How do I, a pitta out of balance, seeking my true kapha self kinda gal adjust to life in Mexico? How do I feel satiated with life without the overdrive? Without the packed schedule? Without the constant feedback of how amazing I am? (not to be braggadocius…just a reality in my Austin life).
These are real questions for me right now.
I have a couple of things on my schedule here for sure …..this week going to yoga and visiting another assisted living center. But most of my time is unoccupied.
This brings up the question of…what do Iwant to do? How do I fill my time here? There are chores to be done and those things take up time but not much.
This journey south of the border is also a journey into myself. Who am I without my job definitions? Who am I in this new world we are creating?
Here are things on my ‘to do’ list right now:
Study history of the area
Take a mexican culture class at the local organic market/cafe
Volunteer across the street (midwife school & reproductive rights group)
by DeLora Frederickson
Austin Tx to San Miguel de Allende, GTO, MX
No matter, what life keeps rolling. After being down here for a week I knew it was time to go get my Mom and bring her to her new home. She was excited and ready to make the move but I knew how much work I still had to do to get her down here. Although we had already cleared out her one bedroom apartment this teeny tiny 84 year lady still had plenty of stuff that wouldn’t be making the trip south of the border.
I booked a flight for a 4 day stay in Austin. My anxiety was front and center and I was worrying about so many details of the journey:
Who would get us to the airport with her 2 big suitcases, wheelchair and walker?
Where would I stay in Austin and how would I get around?
I had to sort her stuff and then take trips to goodwill and to get her paperwork shredded
Be sure to make the trip out to the VA to pick up her last batch of pills
Pack all her stuff into 2 big suitcases
Manage two suitcases, wheelchair with her in it, walker and my carry on through the airports
Get her on off the planes – especially in Mexico where they have stairs to deboard (which she can no longer negotiate)
Maneuvering immigration and customs with the bags, her in the wheelchair and my not knowing
Getting her on and off the van in Mexico (she can’t hoist herself up that high)
I was doing yogic breathing, mantra (focused prayers) and drinking lots of water. It was overwhelming!!
Here is a little back story. Many months ago my Mom had dug her heels in and decided she wasn’t going with us. She wanted to move to Iowa to a nursing home up there. She reasoned that was where she grew up and made her best friends and memories so it would be where she would be the happiest now. I knew this was NOT happening. First off, if you haven’t cared for anyone in the “system” in the US yet let me tell you one thing for sure – you have to be on top of EVERYTHING for your loved one. Any facility she was in (and she has been in ALOT of them) I would visit at least once a day if not twice. Iowa was too far to manage her health care. Secondly, all those friends she reminisces about are in the same shape as her or dead. In fact one of them called me because she wanted ME to tell my Mom she couldn’t come up there and expect her to do anything to take care of her, like I needed her friend to tell me this! We went round and round about this. I wasn’t sure how I would get a stubborn little woman down there but I knew it was happening. I saw xanax in my future – I will leave you wondering if it was for her or me or both of us.
Months passed (it was just over a year from when we decided to come to when we got here) and one day suddenly she was excited to go and on board with the change. I don’t know what it was but I was so grateful for the shift. I guess I will chalk it up to the meningiomas (5 last time we had a mri. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meningioma).
Getting ourselves and the cats and the stuff down here was a big enough effort but I knew I couldn’t really relax til I got Mom down here too. So off I went leaving my Beloved and our two precious furry ones to await my return.
The trip to Austin was smooth and easy. And thanks to C & J for the comfy place to stay and use of the truck for the errands and all in Austin. It was doable with minimal stress.
Shirley (my Mom) was cooperative about getting rid of the last non essentials. I took care of all my tasks and even got a haircut!
Of course throughout the time in Austin I was still playing out the details of actually getting her down here.
One by one the worries melted as everything went effortlessly on the adventure of a lifetime.
Elmcroft – her assisted living facility – drove us to the airport in a wheelchair accessible van…ahhhhhh
First stop to check in – a great United airline employee assisted me and moved our seats so we sat together on all three flights…ahhhhh
Mom dragged the wheeled carry on alongside of the wheelchair and then carried it in her lap during our walks from gate to gate…ahhhhh
A nice flight attendant ordered an aisle chair for my mom for when we arrived in Queretaro, MX (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quer%C3%A9taro_City). Shirley wanted to make sure they were good looking guys when the flight attendant told us the aisle chair had been ordered. An aisle chair is a tiny version of a wheelchair which fits down the airplane aisle. My Mom can walk with assistance so hadn’t needed it to get to her seats BUT in Queretaro we had to walk down stairs to get off the plane. So, she was strapped down into the aisle chair and carried down the stairs by 2 guys. It took about 30 seconds. All that worrying – for 30 seconds of nothing! …ahhhh
After getting her into her wheelchair in Mexico a helpful flight attendant pushed her all the way through the process of immigration and customs as I handled the documents and then picked up the bags and we went through customs. Done in 5 min’s…..ahhhhh
The van driver was out front with a sign with a list of names. We waited for 3 other riders, he wheeled the bags out, I rolled Mom out. She stepped up into the van with our assistance and off we went into the night…ahhhhh
The last obstacle was a giant accident on the main road back to San Miguel de Allende. It was so bad I had seen it from the plane and it completely closed the road. The driver was on top of it, turned around and took us a different direction. However, an hour drive turned into a 3 hr drive. We arrived at Casa Cienguita (http://casacieneguita-assisted-living.com/our-home/) at 11:30 pm. The owner/director, the dr, the nurses, the office manager ALL were waiting for us. They welcomed us with smiling faces and so much warmth. They had made food for my Mom – which she gobbled right down. I stayed overnight with her in her room and planned to unpacked her the next morning.
We woke to the sounds and smells of breakfast being made down the hall. We had a breakfast of papaya and coffee and headed back to her beautiful brand new room. I began unpacking her clothes and stuff. The staff was so helpful. I speak pretty good spanish and some of them speak a little english so we were able to communicate just fine. We were both so exhausted I headed home to nap and Mom was asleep on her bed before I walked out of the door.
by Cat Calhoun San Miguel de Allende, Gto., México
Yesterday I was in artistic creation mode, so I forgot that we are about to kick off Semana Santa (or Holy Week) here in San Miguel de Allende. DeLora has been gone all week, back in Texas to retrieve her mom. I came out of my artistic trance about 3:30 and realized that I needed to run to get some groceries so she could eat well when she got back.
I got dressed in something suitable for public consumption, grabbed my walking stick and set off down the dusty streets in our barrio of Santa Julia toward downtown. I saw some beautiful decorations, heavily featuring the color purple and remembered it was Viernes de Dolores, literally, the Friday of Pain or Sorrows.
It is the Virgin Mary who is celebrated this day, honoring her sorrow over the death of her son. House after house was decorated heavily with purple and white ribbons and paper cutouts and fresh flowers (the colors of funeral flowers), bitter oranges (representing her tears and sorrows), and candles. But alongside the sorrows and suffering, there was freshly sprouted wheat grass, and the fragrant smells of chamomile, mint, and fennel, representing rebirth and the new life of Spring.
Families that participate often clear out their whole living room, continuing the theme and remembrances into their homes, for a time transforming their dwellings into living shrines. I saw some truly beautiful altars and a couple of families even extended their tradition of handing out sweet treats to me, a foreigner.
Some of you will wonder why I’m not sharing more pictures if the visuals were so spectacular, but some things aren’t meant to be photographed by gringos. The moments are too sweet and too personal. I did take one for you though, at the request of the woman who created it.
Regardless of whether you are a practicing Catholic or a heathen like myself, happy Spring. May your tears water the soil of your life and bring you renewed joy and life this Semana Santa.
Each morning I wake to the sound of bells ringing next door at Casa Hogar, a girl’s home run by the Hermanas Dominicas de María order of nuns. A moment or two after waking and stumbling to the kitchen to open the windows, I smell delicious aromas – onions and garlic frying with eggs and various “carnes” – and am reminded of how different food is here as compared to the United States.
Americans, at least in my experience, largely shop in supermarkets or grocery stores. My family shopped at HEB (because Texas, that’s why) and, when I was very little, Piggly Wiggly. That’s definitely not how most people shop in San Miguel de Allende, nor in most of Mexico from what I can gather. Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely a few supermarkets here. Mega and Soriana Súper come to mind. There are even a few HEBs in big cities, but not where I live.
(Fill-in-the-blank)-arias, tiendas, and mercados
So how do you shop? Generally speaking, if you want to buy food here you go to a smaller store (a tienda) that specializes in what you want to buy. Need fruit or produce? Go to the verduraria. Bread? Go to the panaderia. Fish? Pescaderia. Beef or chicken? Carniceria.
If you happen to need meats, produce, beans, and bread all at the same time, then you hop on the bus for 7 pesos (about 37 cents) and go to the mercado. Mercados are big warehouse looking places with a ton of little specialized tiendas in them – bread, dried goods, produce, meats of all kinds. The San Juan de Dios market here in San Miguel is my favorite so far. Not only can you find food to cook, you can also find food stalls with people making fresh pozole, sopas/soups, tortas/sandwiches, tacos, and sweet treats.
As an added bonus, you can get all the plastic crap ever made in all of China such as laundry baskets, strainers, cups and glasses, fly swatters, and stuff I cannot yet identify. In San Juan de Dios you can get costumes, clothing, shoes, boots, hats, sporting equipment, and tons more. You can even buy minutes for your cell phone here. (But if you’re looking for all the cool ceramic Mexican dishes, rugs, or other traditional items, you have to go to the artisan’s market. The mercado is mostly about daily life.)
There are also small local corner stores where you can pick up Mexican Coke (like they’d carry any other kind!). I’m not normally a Coca-Cola fan, but we had urban hiked a lot one day last week and had run out of water in our bottles, so we snagged one from the tienda at the corner. Now I understand all the hoopla about Mexican coke! Damn, that stuff is good. 2.5 liters for 22 pesos (about a dollar). If the bottle is labeled “Retorno” they’ll give you 10 pesos back when you drop off the empties. Haven’t seen that since I was a wee little tyke.
Sorry. I got lost there – all caught up in the Mexican coke revelry. The little corner tienas also sell cookies, bandaids, aspirin, a little this and that, and they often have good-sized produce sections. You know where all the candy, chips, and processed foods are in a 7-11? Take that out and replace it with produce and you have an approximation of a local tienda.
Can you buy pre-cooked food like you do in the HEB deli? Yes, you can. These are also in specialized shops. There are tortillerias every few blocks – a small shop with a tortilla press and a couple of women making homemade corn tortillas they sell buy the kilo. How many tortillas is that? More than you can eat in a week by yourself. I fry them up with a little coconut oil and they are divine. You want flour tortillas? Well, too bad, gringo. I haven’t found those in San Miguel de Allende yet.
Yesterday I had hiked up a huge hill and stopped for a rest in front of a rosticeria (a chicken roaster) offering roasted chicken with corn tortillas and peppers – $45Mxn for half of a chicken or $85Mxn for a whole chicken. As I watched she pulled a whole chicken off of the roaster and cut it up with shears I swear could cut through bricks, packaged it with the peppers and tortillas in less than 30 seconds. Impressive.
While this is representative of how rosticerias work, this is not the one I was resting in front of.
How much food to buy
When I lived in Austin I had a big pantry and a little pickup truck that could hold enough groceries to feed a small village for a week. A very small village, but you know what I mean. I could and often did stock my pantry until the whole closet was full. We do have a car here in Mexico and I could drive down to Soriana Súper and fill it up, but both driving and parking here are challenging to say the least. Even if I did feel like driving (and no thank you), I have nowhere to put massive amounts of food.
That means I shop like most families do here. You get what you need for a few days and limit yourself to one or two shopping bags full per individual, knowing that you’re going to have to take a taxi (two shopping bags per person) or a bus (one shopping bag per person) to get back home. Buses are often crowded and but are about 6 times less expensive than taking a taxi, so guess which one I pick! Bingo. Bus it is.
The fun part – food eating!
In the United States I relied way too heavily on processed food. My household is vegan, but I won’t lie – I still miss meat in a big way even when I get plenty of protein from other sources. To quell my cravings, I fell back on Gardein’s faux meats. And while I was buying those I would stroll down the center aisles at our local food co-op or at Whole Foods and pick up vegan snacks like bagged popcorn and cookies. Whole Foods has delicious sweet/salty kettle corn, those bastards! I gained 10 lbs eating it and it made me swell up like I was on steroids. But I ate it anyway. Rarely did I eat fresh produce or fruits. As it turns out, it’s way too easy to eat junk in America and still be considered vegan or vegetarian. (Did you know Oreos and Fritos are actually vegan? True story.)
Those processed vegan crutches just aren’t available here and I’m actually relieved about that because I have no willpower. I’ve probably eaten better since I’ve been in Mexico than I have in the last 30 years of my existence. Because there is a decided lack of vegan prefab, I find myself defaulting to fresh fruits and veggies and to cooking for myself instead of eating out. I had pineapple dressed with fresh peach juice and coconut this morning for breakfast. Lunch was an egg dish (yes, I know that’s not vegan, but I splurged at the local organic market and bought a couple of fresh eggs). Tonight I dine on Spanish rice and beansthat I cooked myself, coupled with corn tortillas I purchased from the local mamacitas at the tortilleria.
(Click on the rice and beans links above for the Instant Pot recipes.)
There are a million restaurants in San Miguel and I doubt I’ll ever darken the door of most of them. Why? Most of them don’t offer much in the way of vegetarian or vegan fare and my cooking is better anyhow.
There are a few exceptions to the “Sorry, it’s all meat all the time here” rule. Last Saturday our downstairs neighbor Amy helped us get to the Saturday organic market. Amy has lived here for five years and showed us where to catch the bus and the best place to flag down a taxi. Once we got to the market we found a vegan tamale stand where we got a couple of tamales, beans and a salad. I think the total bill was less than $10, which sounds hella cheap, but those are gringo prices because the whole market caters to the local ex-pat and Mexican tourist population. I confess I’m not generally a salad eater, but this was delicious! It was garnished with dried and candied Jamaica flowers (pronounced ha-MY-kah), which you probably know as hibiscus flowers. Amazing. And the tamales? Moist and fresh. Totally worth the price, actually. Might have to go again this weekend.
For now however, the sun is setting, I hear the dinner bells ringing next door at Casa Hogar and I can’t quit thinking about the rice and beans I promised myself for the evening repast. I’m going to go cook myself some dinner.
San Miguel de Allende is deep in the throes of a three-day holiday weekend. How do I know this? Did I read it on a flyer? Find out from a neighbor? No. I woke at 5:30am from a frustratingly real nightmare to the sound of six immensely loud thundering noises in a row. In my half-asleep state I first thought it was a neighbor in the compound banging on the front gate after having forgotten keys or a drunken tryst looking for a booty call. Next I thought maybe it was a metal door being dragged across San Miguel’s cobblestone streets. Then I remembered David, our next door neighbor, saying I might wake to the sound of explosions occasionally and not to worry, just fireworks.
I got out of bed and trekked to the kitchen to peer out across the city. It’s handy having an apartment way up on a hill. For a moment I saw nothing, then white sparks shone in the sky followed by the booms a second later. I watch for a while as smoke filled the valley below then went back to bed. The booming went on for a couple of more hours, but I somehow fell asleep in the midst of it only waking with the sun streaming through the windows of my partially glass house, the thundering noises still echoing through town.
Amy, the downstairs neighbor, mentioned yesterday that it might be a good idea to get anything we need in town and then hole up because this is a 3 day weekend. I didn’t really pay attention at the time, but the fireworks drove the point home and made it worth investigating. Turns out this is the alignment of three notable holidays.
Oil Expropriation Day
We probably all know about Hernando Cortez and his merry band of slaughtering Spanish conquistadors and how they helped Spain gobble up all the wealth and life they could squeeze out of Mexico’s indigenous population. Mexicans struggled angrily and desperately for independence in the 19th century, working hard not just to fight off Spanish, but also French, and American oppression. In 1938 they took back what had been stolen from them and nationalized all of their own oilfields, pushing more modern-day foreign marauders away from the wealth they knew they would need to thrive.
Then in 2013 the Mexican government opened up the same oil fields that had been so difficult to nationalize less than 100 years earlier to foreign investment. Last year when we were here for a visit there were riots in the streets in Mexico City when the Mexican government further broke the monopoly of the national oil company (which kept prices suppressed on gasoline), allegedly seeking more green solutions. . . but really it looks like they want foreign corporations to help them go after deeper oil. Someone’s pockets are getting lined and it’s not the Mexican people’s. We were staying in Guanajuato when all this happened, but ironically visiting San Miguel de Allende the day the riots began. We were blissfully unaware of them, but we did see a number of armored personnel carriers on the streets that day filled with people in military gear and armed with assault rifles.
Benito Juárez Day
The guy was a very popular president, one of Mexico’s best actually, evidenced by the fact that there are monuments to him spanning from Chicago to Mexico. He was and is he only indigenous president of Mexico (Zapotec, specifically) and was committed to restoring rights to the indigenous peoples. He was also the guy who finally ended the serial dictatorships of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
This was no small feat: Santa Anna was dictator, overthrown and then dictator again eleven different times in the 1800’s. Benito Juárez got rid of him for good, which ended Santa Anna’s serious drain on Mexico’s wealth. Fun fact: there is a monument to Santa Anna, despite his thieving ways, of him on a horse with one hand reaching back toward Mexico City. I’ve heard Mexicans joke that his hand points to the national treasury, hoping to dip back in for one more hand full of gold.
I digress again. Benito Juárez was born on March 21, so it’s not actually his birthday yet, but who doesn’t love a long weekend? And an excuse to set off fireworks for 2 hours on a Sunday morning? Heck yeah.
So not only is it Oil Expropriation Day (which is ironically named in light of current circumstances), but also Benito Juárez Memorial Day. But that’s not all….
It’s that too. Though Mexico is majorly Catholic, the old ways are still buried deep within its’ Catholicism. This is a huge day. I hope to get to Chichen Itza for sunrise on spring equinox some day. I’m told by people who have seen it that on this day in particular you can see the shadow of what looks like a huge snake slither down the pyramid as the sun moves.
If you don’t like snakes, I hear you. I feel the same way about big spiders. But this snake is Quetzalcoatl (kayt-zuhl-KWAH-tuhl), the feathered serpent, who will some day bring salvation and peace to Mexico. The shadow on the pyramid at Chichen Itza represents the return of freedom and prosperity, the breaking of the yoke of oppression, and deliverance for Mexico’s people.
I’ve had a special affinity or Quetzalcoatl and the old deities of Mexico since I took Professor Don Chipman’s History of Mexico class at the University of North Texas. Professor Chipman had a way of bringing historical stories to life and watered the tiny seeds of my love for Mexican history until it was a beautiful flowering tree. He also contended that proof of the existence of god can be found in a flour tortilla. I never quite understood that, but when I bite into a fresh made, light and fluffy flour tortilla, I am inclined to think he might be right.
I digress yet again. (Sorry. Bad habit.)
Snakes in most cultures represent the old ways when we were more connected to the earth, in partnership with it rather than chewing it all the way down to the bone like Spain did with Mexico. Snakes represent that primal connection we know we have, deep down inside ourselves past the cultural and religious conditioning, to this earth and this universe. Snakes are life, fertility, and healing. They recall the energy of the divine snaking its’ way up from our earthly origins and connecting us to the heavens, allowing us to meld with the light, and to embrace the Kundalini energy within each of us. They remind us to channel that divine energy and work with it in a powerful partnership that can help us gracefully find our way in this world without damaging it.
Time and time again, organized religion has worked overtime to crush our own knowledge of our connection to All That Is. We are easier to control that way, you see. That’s why all the imagery about crushing snakes under the heels of Christians exists. It’s why St. George slew the dragon, another ‘face’ for snakes. It’s why St. Patrick allegedly drove the snakes out of Ireland.
Disconnecting from our own divinity and from our connection and partnership with this earth has had dire consequences. If we still saw her as our mother and our partner, we wouldn’t rip it apart and pollute it like we have. Would you do that to your own mom? No. You are part of her and she is part of you. When one is damaged, the other is too.
So bring on the fireworks, Mexico. Quetzalcoatl’s return can’t be that far off….can it?