Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wrapping Up Our Lives - Part Two

It was 20 months ago – almost to the day – when we started this blog to account for our first expat experience. And it was 20 months ago that the movers were packing up my house as I sat in my den blogging and pondering what it meant to wrap up our lives in NJ and move away from everything I know and love.

Well, I guess the old saying is true - the more things change, the more they stay the same – because here we are again, nearly two years later doing almost the exact same thing. My movers are packing up my apartment as I sit here pondering what it means to return home after one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life in another country and culture, away from family and friends and everything I love.

After months of uncertainty, we are finally on our way home to the U.S.

And while I am excited to be home for Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, as well as the birth of the baby, I cannot ignore the moments of sadness that nearly overwhelm me at times. Pregnancy hormones aside, I am truly going to miss my life here, because I really did have a life here. This experience wasn’t just some long vacation or time-pass until we went home again. I was determined to make the most of my stay here and to feel at home, and that is just what I did.

Me - who hates change, finds it difficult to meet people and make friends, has a million food restrictions and isn’t always a glass-half-full kind of gal. I was able to create a good life here for myself – to make great friends, try new foods, experience and appreciate new customs and cultures, learn the roads, become President of a 300 member expat club and even (sometimes) handle the frustrations that come with Mexican life. It is not so easy to leave all that behind.

Not to mention the fact that we will never – and I mean never – live this well again. Even if we go expat again, I highly doubt that my apartment will be this big, that I will have a live-in maid who does everything from clean to cook to be a nanny, that I will be able to afford personal trainers and in-home masseuses, that I will be able to walk everywhere and live in a city atmosphere but still have the luxury of a car for when I am running late or need to go someplace far, that I will have a driver who does handy work around the house, goes to pay our bills, buys the groceries, runs all our errands, etc., etc. etc. Such is life in Latin America, and I doubt it can be duplicated anywhere else – perhaps not even Asia.

So why exactly are we leaving all this behind? Clearly, it is not the smartest lifestyle decision, and it is probably among the dumber financial decisions we could make.

But this is why we need to be home for now: Because when my Thanksgiving plans fell through at the last minute I emailed Sonny’s cousin to tell him – not ask him – that we would be coming to their house, increasing the guest count from 22 to 24. And within 45 seconds I got an email back, saying “do you really have to ask – just show up.”

Because my mom is rearranging her entire house for a room for Asha and giving Sonny and me the master bedroom until we find our own place. Because my in-laws are counting down the days until Asha gets home so they can drive her to and from school every day in order to help me out. Because Asha needs to know her cousins, and have steady friends and ride her bike outside. Because the baby needs to feel the same love and attention from her grandparents that Asha did from the day she was born, and to go to story time at the library and playgroup once a week, and be raised by a mother who cannot get away with letting the maid give her a bottle. Because our brothers miss us and our parents are healthy and we never know what the future holds.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Me First

After having lived in Mexico City for a year and a half, there is one thing that I can no longer deny about the culture here in general: people tend to have a “me first” attitude. Now before anyone gets all crazy about how this is a generalization and that there are people in every culture throughout the world who behave similarly, I will admit that this is all true. I am generalizing from my own experience, and there are a number of Mexicans who are kind and considerate of others, and moreover there are a number of Americans who also fall into “me first” tendencies (anyone who has ever driven at rush hour in northern New Jersey will know what I mean). Still, some of the actions and attitudes here confound me because it often feels like inconsiderate behavior is the norm and accepted by society in general.

For instance, if you are a pedestrian trying to cross the street, it is your job to avoid being hit by any oncoming traffic. Even in crosswalks. Often there are no traffic lights or stop signs where they ought to be (i.e., in major intersections), but even where they do exist, cars come barreling down the road, turning corners at 35 miles per hour, and one often has to jump back to avoid being hit. Twice I narrowly escaped injury (once when crossing the street with Asha in her stroller, requiring me to push it out of the way to avoid her being hit by the car that screeched to a halt a mere 3 inches away from my knees; the other when I was 6 months pregnant and the driver literally drove into me face first to try and secure a parking spot, forcing me to jump back and nearly trip on the curb). Both times the pedestrian had the right of way, and both times the driver showed absolutely no remorse, and probably thought that I was in the wrong for daring to step onto the road at all. I would have thought these incidents were simply flukes, had our driver not reprimanded me time and again for slowing the car down in order to permit pedestrians to cross the street. Apparently it is very dangerous to slow down for pedestrians because we could be hit by cars behind us who are not accustomed to such courtesies (or what we in the US would consider the law).

A violation of traffic laws is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to courtesy. Inconsiderate behavior abounds when it comes to people thinking about their needs and either not realizing or, I think, more commonly not caring about how their needs and wants may affect others around them. For instance, a few months back, someone living in the apartment building next to ours had a roof party on a Saturday night – that started around 11:00pm and lasted until 4:00 a.m. This would have been fine, if they had not hired a DJ who blasted music from the roof – the sound of which rose up to our bedroom window - all night long. Given how commonplace such parties are here, and the fact that they often occur on weeknights as well as weekends, I suppose I should consider myself lucky that even though there was no one to whom we could complain – police are of no help in that there are no laws to prevent such inconsiderate behavior – I only had to deal with such a party once in 18 months of living here. A good friend of mine lives in a house whose next door neighbors have such parties twice a month – typically on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and she has to resort to using a very loud air purifier in her baby’s room to partially drown out the noise.

Still, I figure all the construction above our heads that we have had to put up with for the past six months (8 hours a day, 6 days a week), is even worse than the semi-monthly party. Since apartments here are more like condos, where each unit is owned by an individual, there are no building landlords who are responsible to all the tenants/residents. This leaves the owner of the penthouse upstairs from us free from any legal obligation to prevent or reduce noise from the constant banging, drilling, sawing, and hammering, as well as falling dust, cracking walls or leaking ceilings. Sure they may have to ultimately pay the owner of apartment for any physical damage as a result of their construction, but they feel no duty or even consideration to those of us living here in reducing the aggravation such problems are causing in the interim. Nor do they feel any remorse (at least they did not exhibit any on the few occasions we spoke to them). Since there are no laws (at least not any that are being enforced) regarding nuisances, such as those we have in the U.S., there is little we as the aggrieved party can do. This ultimately perpetuates such behavior in this society.

It probably seems like these are extraordinary events, but in fact nearly everyone I know who has lived here has faced similar issues at some point. And if they have not had not been subjected to these exact ones, they have had people cut in front of them on lines at the bank, cafes, valet parking and even waiting for the bathroom at the gym (while obviously very pregnant and in dire need of the facilities).

This is not at all to say that all Mexicans are inconsiderate or bear the "me first" mindset. In fact, many of the ones we have met have been generous, courteous and kind. Unfortunately, they get overshadowed by those who exhibit such strong discourtesy to others – and I think it is because most of the time they face no consequences for their actions, so to the aggrieved party it feels like this is a society where such rudeness and selfishness is acceptable. And this gives all Mexicans a bad name.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Ghost of Halloween Past

Since we finally got around to posting this year's Halloween pictures, we thought it might be fun to revisit my Halloween looks from years past. Each year I was lucky enough to go trick-or-treating with a different group of friends.

Here I am on very first Halloween - I was only 3 weeks old, so M&D didn't dress me up (nothing much fit anyway) or go out for candy. It was ok - clearly I didn't care about much besides the nap I was taking.
The following year I dressed up as a bumble bee for my first trick-or-treat. Mommy figured it was her one chance to dress me the way she wanted, and I went out with my Morristown playgroup to just enough houses to get the feel for trick-or-treating.

You could say that last year was my first appreciation for this amazing holiday. I figured out what all the fuss was about when I got a bucket full of candy with my pals Johnny & Dylan. Here we are about to go out - and then just loving the adventure.

And of course you have all seen my Cinderella costume. This was the first time I went trick-or-treating in Mexico, and I have to admit it was not as fun as it in the US. It is just not the same going up and down elevators or stairwells in buildings, only to have half the residents have no candy, while the bigger kids helped themselves to so many handfuls of candy that there was often none left for the rest of us littler ones. I was lucky enough that my Brynn (who happens to be 5 and better at grabbing) shared some with me. Still, chile flavored candy is not something I will miss next year.

I did forget to mention in my last post that I have adopted the method acting school of Halloween dress-up - I am so into being Cinderella that I constantly take off one shoe in attempt to "lose" it - just like Cinderella loses her shoe at the ball. It makes for a very annoyed Mommy, who has to stop every few minutes when we go out to ensure that I have not thrown my shoe out of my stroller.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Longest Halloween

You may be wondering why we are posting our Halloween pictures so late – 7 days late to be exact. It has nothing to do with Mommy’s laziness, or the fact that she has been quite stressed out with the move (the months of uncertainty regarding if/when we are returning, of (not) having a house upon return, and timing the arrival of the household goods before the arrival of the baby), or her exhaustion from trying to sort out the ridiculous US Embassy websites to interpret labor and immigration laws in an effort to bring Yaneth back to the States with us, or even her hormonal emotional fluctuations about leaving behind her pampered life here in Mexico.

No, our tardiness has only to do with the fact that in our house we still have not completed our Halloween celebrations. While the candy is almost gone, the sugar skulls were packed in boxes and mental preparations for Thanksgiving are underway, I have yet to retire my Halloween costume. I actually started wearing it two weeks before Halloween, when Nani bought me my Cinderella dress and slippers from the Disney Store during my visit to New Jersey. And I have barely removed it since – insisting on wearing it nearly every day, starting with the Diwali party Dadi had at her house in mid October.

I then wore it to the Newcomers Halloween Party, which was Mommy’s last big event as President. I’m really glad that we made it back from the US in time for it because all the kids and parents who attended had a real blast. There were probably 150 people there, dressed in all kinds of costumes from princesses to witches to monsters and more. They also had all kinds of Mexican goodies to eat, like papas en espiral and quesadillas, plus tons and tons of American Halloween candy (which Mommy and Daddy pilfered from me for themselves when they thought I wasn’t looking). It was a packed three hours filled with craft making – from popcorn hands to mask decorating to cupcake garnishing – as well as a modified version of trick-or-treating, a magician and even a bouncy house (something that is apparently a must-have at any Mexican fiesta)!

A few days later I got to wear my Cinderella costume to school. Mommy tried for weeks to convince me to wear my Tinkerbell costume from last year, but I refused to give up my Cinderella dress. At first she wanted to use last year’s costume because she was trying to be cheap economically practical (in preparation for our new life in NJ) by not buying something new, since no one in Mexico had seen the Tinkerbell costume, and it fits much better this year than last year anyway. But even after Nani bought me the new costume as a birthday present, I realized that deep down Mommy just wanted me to look like the toddler/little girl from last year. She and Daddy are having a hard time accepting the fact that I look like – and actually am – a big girl princess now. And everyone knows that big girl princesses don’t wear last year’s outfits.

We do, however, have no qualms about wearing the same Cinderella dress every single day around the house, to the park, to the supermarket and even to bed.