Mexicans have a lot of the same problems we do in our neighborhoods. Often the cars, motorcycles, and taxis go speeding down the narrow streets where people are walking with children, with dogs, and with goods they are trying to sell.
Starting a new life in a new country is an exciting adventure. As with all adventures, there are amazing, over-the-top days and there are some days that leave you wondering what in the world you were thinking when you chose to embark on the journey. I'd been to SMA three times before I moved here, but being a resident is very different from being a visitor. I am only now getting used to calling this city home. That means dealing with the kinds of things I would be dealing with wherever I am living, but with the added challenge of learning a new language. I am no longer on vacation. I have to pay a phone bill, put the garbage out, go to the shoe repair, buy groceries and cook.
I have a friend in SMA who will often say, "Well, it is what it is," after describing an incident that would typically leave one feeling rather befuddled or exasperated. My friend has come to understand, after living here for the past 30 years, that there is no sense getting worked up about some of the things that we feel should be a certain way, but are not.
Someone else said this to me the other day too, and I asked how that sentiment would be expressed in Spanish. "Es lo que es," she said. I don't know if this is a common saying here and, granted, former President Trump used it thoughtlessly when referencing the escalating Covid-19 numbers in the U.S., but I find it sticks with me now that I have made my home in a foreign country.
There are a lot of little things to get used to. I consider myself to be a "When in Rome" person. There are situations that I won't tolerate in the U.S. that I overlook when I travel to other countries. And now I feel as if I have a handy saying that, if nothing else, will help me keep my patience when something seems odd or leaves me feeling frustrated.
Watch your step.
Like many people, I fell in love with the cobblestone streets and sidewalks in SMA. It's part of what gives many colonial cities their charm. But these streets can also be treacherous and you really need to pay attention when you walk. This is especially tricky with my not-so-streetwise dog, Jack (Jack follows his nose to any microscopic morsel, wherever it may be, oblivious to oncoming cars).
The sidewalks in SMA are mostly narrow and uneven, and sometimes there are steps or poles right in the middle of them. It's important to learn how to share. My policy is to yield to the elderly, the handicapped, children, and animals. Often this means that I am stepping down into the street or attempting to flatten myself against the side of a wall. And I've made some impressive maneuvers to dodge cars backing out of driveways. Sometimes I am stuck behind a train of people and I have to resign myself to the fact that I am not going to get errands done as quickly as I would like to. Es lo que es. I need to learn to be okay with moving at a slower pace. Isn't that one of the reasons I moved to SMA in the first place?
Notice the obstacles here. Can you pick out the sidewalk? In SMA, the saying goes "You never know what's behind a closed door." It's common to see large, metal, double doors with a driveway to the street that doesn't flatten out into a level sidewalk (unless you step into the street, you are walking at an angle).Those doors may be hiding a tienda, a restaurant, or a hacienda.
Business owners, and residents alike, do a really good job of keeping the area around their doorways clean, and this can create a further hazard as you walk across stones slippery from soapy water.
But I love walking up and down these streets, especially in the morning when they are empty and quiet.
Recently I had coffee with a friend and afterwards, as we were heading downhill toward our next destination, she cautioned me about walking on the particular stretch we were on. She called my attention to the pinkish stones and said to avoid stepping on them when it rains, because they are the most slippery! She told me about the alternate route she takes to get to the cafe in order to avoid this street. After walking gingerly for just a few minutes, I thought, "You won't need to tell me twice!" I will be doing the same from now on. But it struck me that there are a lot of these pinkish stones throughout the city! How many detours would I need to take? Es lo que es. I will become one of those slow, deliberate walkers.
SMA is known for having a great sense of community, which is a big reason people enjoy retirement here. There's a club, committee, group, or charitable organization for almost everything. Apparently, now there is a support group for people who have slipped on the cobblestone here.
What is that noise?
The first time I visited SMA, my Airbnb host mentioned that Mexico is a very noisy country. I quickly learned what he meant when early one morning I heard a vehicle on the street below. About six or seven notes, of what I guess was part of a song, blared from the truck, followed by a garbled voice saying something in Spanish over and over and over. I was already awake, but the noise was piercing the calm of my beautiful new morning. I found out that this was the gas man making deliveries.
Gas trucks make their rounds through the neighborhoods on a regular basis alerting people of their presence over loudspeakers.
This truck also drives through the neighborhood each week, a woman's voice blaring over the loudspeaker (I think it must be pre-recorded). They pick up scrap metal and wood, old appliances and parts, and they will also take away old mattresses which they cut open to remove the springs for the metal.
Now that I live here, I have learned how to handle getting rid of my trash. In my neighborhood, garbage is collected three times a week. You open your door and put your garbage bags on the sidewalk. Don't leave them out the night before because street dogs may rip into them. If you happen to forget or oversleep, the clanging of metal on metal will send you scurrying. The first time I heard this sound and opened the door to see what was going on, I couldn't believe it. There is a guy whose job it is to walk ahead of the garbage truck and hit a short metal piece against a flat metal piece to alert everyone that it's garbage day. En serio!? I am going to have to listen to this three days a week? Sigh. Es lo que es.
I have to admit, though, it's effective because there is no way that a large, automated garbage truck can wind its way through these streets. And the process is actually less noisy than it was in my neighborhood in the U.S. After the trucks have made their rounds, the sweepers come out. Because I leave my house early in the morning to take Jack to the park, I come across all sorts of debris in the streets. By the time I get home, the streets and sidewalks have been swept clean.
I'm still getting used to barking dogs. There are a lot of them in SMA. Because some of them are aggressive street dogs, I recently became the proud owner of pepper spray and a stun gun. That freaks me out a bit, and I haven't removed either from their packaging yet. I've heard several detailed accounts of vicious dog attacks, and been cautioned about irresponsible owners, so it is to be taken seriously.
Many dogs are kept on the roof, and I suppose it might be because these owners don't have yards, but I've been told that it is also because they are used as guard dogs to discourage would-be thieves from jumping roof-to-roof looking for ways to break into homes. Some of these dogs don't get socialized and when they are finally let out, they can be quite menacing. It is a bit disconcerting to take Jack for a walk down my street and have dogs peering at us from above, barking ferociously. I half expect them to leap right off the top of the roofs and onto our heads. But, es lo que es. I'm not going to stop walking down my street and I'm sure they will go on barking.
This guy can never let us walk by without barking up a storm. And to Jack's credit, he does not egg him on.
And then there are the vendors who walk through neighborhoods yelling and knocking on doors in the afternoons and early evenings, selling everything from fresh flowers to jicama to candies and tortillas.
I just discovered another vendor who walks up and down the street, blowing a distinctive whistle, with a smallish piece of equipment on his shoulder. He is a knife-sharpener.
"Miel! Miel!" A man was yelling yesterday, drawing out the syllables of the words, and I had no idea what he was saying until I got close and saw that he was carrying jars of honey and bee pollen. There he was, walking up and down the streets in the warm sun. The box had to be pretty heavy. Times are tough for many locals. I admire them for doing whatever it takes to earn money. Most of the time I end up saying, "No, gracias," but I do try to support some of the vendors when I get the chance.
I buy my avocados from Julio, one of the vendedores in my neighborhood. He comes to the neighborhood three times a week. I don't know his story yet. He was dressed up on this day. Normally he is in jeans. He's very friendly. When I asked if I could take his picture, he adopted a more formal stance.
I don't know if he was transporting the chairs to a store or a restaurant, but he called out to me and asked if I wanted to buy one. I politely declined.
Es muy mal gringa!
One day I was in a hurry, on my way to Spanish class and I came across a young kid selling flowers. I keep fresh flowers in the house, and I thought it would be nice if I bought them from this young wandering vendor, rather than at the flower stand I normally frequent. He told me the price and I said I wanted two bunches. I pulled out a 100 peso bill and stood there waiting for my change. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and finally he gave me some change.
It was only later that I realized I had underpaid him. I had given him enough money for one bunch, rather than two. I was mortified and surprised that he didn't say anything. It must have been because he was young, which made me feel worse.
I told my Spanish teacher what I had done. "Ah, si, es muy mal," she said. After my class, I walked up and down the streets in my neighborhood to look for him. I stopped at stores and homes where the doors were open, explained the situation, and asked if they knew where I could find the young flower vendor who had come by earlier in the day.
Finally, an older woman told me that he would be at the nearby church plaza very early in the morning. The next morning when I went to the church plaza, he was not there. I walked to another flower stand that I knew of to see if perhaps he worked for them. Nope. Then I went into a business next door and relayed my tale. I found out that he walks throughout the city selling his flowers, so it may be a long time before I ever see him again. I don't know if we would even recognize each other. "Es lo que es," I thought. And at the same time,"Ugh, es muy mal, gringa."
I had to laugh.....
After the holidays, when SMA experienced a surge in Covid cases, I decided to start ordering groceries online, but I didn't quite understand the ordering process at that point. Should I be checking the box indicating the number of pieces or the box indicating how many kilograms I wanted? Plus, items are often called by different names when I try to translate. I attempted to order salmon one day,
thinking that I would receive a couple of filets, and they delivered half of a good-sized fish. I cut it up, froze 3/4 of it, and ate salmon 5 nights that week.
Another time, I ordered some red grapes. As the delivery man was reviewing the order with me, we discovered a few items were missing, including my grapes. But when he removed the last item from the carton, a package of chicken, I heard him laugh. Underneath was a clear plastic bag that he held up for me to see. Inside was one large grape. Someone's idea of a joke, I guess, and I had to laugh too, even though I was also annoyed. Es lo que es. Like I said, that saying comes in handy.