Monday, October 22, 2007

Dancing Queen

As of late I have acquired a bit of an independent streak: I get strong urges to help Mommy and Daddy around the house with chores as mundane as wiping down the sink after brushing my teeth, to cleaning up the toys in my room, by announcing, “Asha do it.” I also have very strong opinions about what I want to wear each day, and often dress in layers of clothes that do not match because, even though I want to wear a new item of clothing, I cannot bear to remove what I was already wearing. So there are days I walk around the house wearing a bathing suit over my pajamas, go to the park wearing a pink Dora shirt over a blue princess shirt and blindingly bright pink socks. Or, I go to school wearing the same princess shirt I wore to the park the previous day and slept in the night before. I figure cleanliness is overrated, though I suspect it is torturing the obsessive-compulsive side of Mommy's nature to allow me to be seen in public this way, so I think my dirty shirt days are numbered . . . .
I have also acquired some new hobbies: I absolutely love coloring and drawing – on paper, on the dining table and all over the hardwood floors. (Mommy is counting on this addiction to help get us through a five hour flight back home with our sanity intact.) I also love to dance, a skill I am practicing every time I hear any bit of music anywhere. As you can see, I love to shake my little tushy . . . .

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My Inner Competitiveness

Anyone who has crossed my path over the past couple of months knows that I am taking Spanish classes at UNAM (Universidad Autonoma de Mexico). After having tried out Berlitz and International House, this is my third attempt at learning Spanish since we decided to move to Mexico. And I have to admit that I absolutely love my class over at UNAM – for one thing, this satellite “campus” (i.e., building) where I take the classes is a mere four blocks from my apartment (with Starbucks on the way). Plus, my instructor is wonderful, and the material is interesting and easy to follow. The biggest draw for me, though, was the ability to meet a bunch of other English speakers in my class. Of course nothing ever goes according to the image in my head, so the first day of class I walk in to find 5 Koreans, 6 Japanese women and 4 Haitian musicians – none of whom speak any English.

Despite this little glitch, I really like the people in my class, and am forced to practice my Spanish (and my ever-so-quickly-fading French with the Haitian guys) since I can't communicate in English. I also really love being in a classroom again and learning something that requires more brain power than “The Wheels on the Bus.” So I am really into this class, and despite having to endure Sonny’s teasing about how I need to get a life and am taking this class way too seriously, I want to do really well. No, I don’t mean really well. I mean better than everyone else.

All of a sudden I find myself taken over by this overwhelming need to kick everyone else’s butt in the class. I didn’t know that after being out of school for seven years I still had this petty competitiveness in me, but apparently I do. Must be from all those years of law school and private practice alongside some very serious and aggressive individuals. And the fact that I have not had any intellectual stimulation since I stopped working a year and a half ago. But I refuse to hide this shameful, petty part of me any longer, even though I know that someday soon I will need to reign in this unsightly part of my personality for Asha's sake.

But in the meantime, I’m off to work on my oral presentation, because I must make sure that mine is the absolute best one in the class . . . .

Thursday, October 11, 2007

*Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

It probably comes as no surprise that Sonny and I eat out pretty often, even here in Mexico City, where finding vegetarian food – let alone good vegetarian food – is difficult. The weather here is temperate year round so most of the restaurants in Polanco offer sidewalk, café-like seating. One thing that comes along with that, though, is the barrage of vendors who walk past the sidewalk tables every few minutes trying to sell everything from Mexican shawls to plants to lottery tickets. At first this was really annoying – ok, it is still really annoying – but lately it makes me more sad than irritated.

Last weekend we went out to breakfast and throughout the meal robotically replied “Gracias, no” to the various merchants trying to sell us tacky cell phone accessories. As Sonny was checking the bill, I noticed a shawl vendor looking over in our direction. I’m not sure if he was looking at us or was just lost in thought, but I suddenly felt curious about him and others like him. What must he think as, day in and day out as he watches customers eating overpriced meals at trendy restaurants, putting down 500 pesos for a meal without thinking twice? What are the lives like of these men and women who travel from shanty towns to the more affluent neighborhoods of Mexico City calculating how much bargaining they can afford with customers? And how can these people possibly make ends meet by selling relatively inexpensive items which, during the course of our 45-minute meal, it seemed no one was interested in buying?

Poverty is not a new sight to me – after all, I have visited India enough to have many vivid memories of emaciated beggars in tattered clothing, some carrying clearly famished children in their arms. In fact, the impoverished people I see every day in my little area of Mexico City could probably be classified as middle class compared with the abjectly poor people I have encountered in Mumbai, not to mention in rural parts of India. Still, it breaks my heart to see these peddlers, and even children no older than 6 or 7, with dirty hands and faces, trying to sell a pack of gum to restaurant patrons for 4 pesos (40 U.S. cents) while we feed Asha spoonfuls of imported ice-cream. (I won’t even get into the panhandlers sitting outside Lincoln Park, hands outstretched, while their children nap under a bench.)

One of these days I am going to come home from a restaurant not just with leftover food, but with an ugly plant, a gaudy shawl, or a fake leather cell phone case just to ease my conscience for saying “Gracias, no” all those times with a mouth full of $8 pancakes.

*E.Y. Harper

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

They Say It's My Birthday

Yesterday I officially turned two years old, although the celebrations began on Monday when Mommy brought a birthday cake to school for me. After lunch all the children in my class sang “Happy Birthday” and “Las Mañanitas” (the Mexican Birthday Song). Unfortunately Mommy was too enamored with me and all my classmates sitting at our lunch tables and looking so cute that she forgot to videotape the singing, but she did manage to get a few pictures.

Yesterday, on my actual birthday, I awoke to a house decorated with balloons and Dora. Mommy being Mommy, obsessed a bit about not finding any Dora decorations, so she bought a huge Dora drawing book, colored some pictures and hung them around the apartment. (Yes, she knows she needs to get a life, as Daddy has repeatedly told her). It was well worth her and Daddy’s efforts, though, because when I saw everything I was so excited I couldn’t stop squealing in delight.

Then in the afternoon, we had a little birthday party at home. It was very low key by Mexican standards (which usually includes huge piñatas, inflatable castles and/or live animals) – just 7 of my buddies ranging from the ages of 2 ½ to 10 weeks over for cake, ice cream and toys. There were no toddler meltdowns but I think all the excitement of the past two days got to me, because I was feeling a bit cranky and whiny. Luckily I didn’t totally lose it until just after everyone left.

Although I didn’t get to see my grandparents on my birthday, I did talk to them, and I got a bunch of birthday messages from my Mama, Kaka, Mommy’s cousins, aunts and uncles, and even from Daddy’s relatives all the way in India! Plus I got some really cool birthday presents from my amigos, like books and art supplies. Too bad this birthday thing only comes around once a year . . . .