STRADDLING THE NEW YEAR.


Straddling the new year, soon taking the plunge, and out with the old one.

 

 

Time to catch up with my blog posts. I finished my first week in Mexico this winter. It is always different each time, but never exactly what I anticipated. This time it was quite busy from the first day on. My transit went great and no problems this time with the requirements for bringing a cat. The direct flight to PV of five hours was full, mostly with retired people, snow birds. It shocks me every time when it smacks me in the face I am part of the silver wave.

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I stayed one night with my best friends, wintering over in PV to give Mimi a break. This time I took it easy for the last leg from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara to my casa in the village by the lake on the next day. I booked a flight, instead of a long bus ride. It lasted all in all 4 hours: fifty minutes in the air, plus time going through the check-in and security, and the cab ride to my place. 10 am to the airport, home in Ajijic at 2 pm.

My plan was to possibly make a trip somewhere else in Mexico while I am in the Chapala area, so only booked one way. I didn’t want to be tied down to a return date. As it happens, more people travel with their pets nowadays. Each plane is only allowed to book 2 pets in the cabin and I knew that all direct flights end in early April. That was too early for me last year. That time, I booked a flight home to Canada around March for departure in May. I had to fly through Calgary, with an extra 2 hours tagged onto the flight. Not so nice for Mimi, stuck in her cage without drink and a bathroom.

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I was going to improve on that this time around. As I was booking my flight home yesterday—I thought this was early—I found out that there’s a reason why people book return flights all in one shot on the same day: predictability. All pet spaces for all of April and most of March on direct flights were taken. So, I will have to come home this time really early: in the second week of March. I learned my lesson now: don’t be doing things differently. There’s a reason why people become sheep. Next time I’ll be in the herd.

 

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My first day in my village was a day in which I had to do something I didn’t look forward to: attend a prayer service for a friend who unexpectedly passed away a few days earlier and had already been buried. I had to attend, because it is respectful to the survivors, and it is expected. I wanted to go, as the family has been very generous and friendly, and welcoming to this gringa. At a previous funeral, I had observed that the casket wasn’t closed until the very last minute at the panteon—the cemetery, where the family says goodbye with a last kiss or touch, as the casket sits on a cement pedestal before the lid is screwed shut and taken to the site. The friends have already dug the hole the night before, or in early morning.

 

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The Mexican custom is to bury people immediately after an all-night wake the next day, or the day after. Then nine days of prayers—novenasat the home of the departed take place in the late afternoons, where the neighbours, family and friends take part in, and afterwards eat a bite at the deceased home. It is custom for the guests/mourners to bring flowers, food, or/and money to help with the costs. It was good that when I arrived, the prayers were already in progress. People were occupying the chairs, set out in the street along the sidewalk. Most seats were occupied, and many more people sat inside the little casa. The lady closest to the door gestured for me to go inside to meet the bereaved spouse in the middle of the prayers. With a hug and my lo siento—I’m so sorry—we met and I handed over my tokens of support. Nothing else needed to be said. I went outside and sat through the prayers on a chair. I am one of those people who tears up involuntarily at funerals and memorials, so also this time. I find it shocking and cannot easily comprehend that someone is not there anymore. The event of death is incomprehensible. One day here, next day gone. We usually live our lives as if life is endless.

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A handmade sign on the wall announced a church service would take place on Sunday in the temple of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and everyone was invited to accompany the family in it. It struck me that all people at the novenawere serious, but also matter-of-fact. This is the difference with my usual world. Death is an uncommon social thing in our North American lives and is kept away from us. Here in Mexico, death is a part of life and can be seen everywhere. Although the grief is just as sorrowful, it is socially allowed to talk and to grief openly with extended prescribed times for mourning. It is keeping the family very busy, with evidence of wide support from the community. The effect as I see it, is more acceptance and going through the shock at a death of a loved one, and less resulting trauma.

 

 

At the end of the novena I slipped away. I hadn’t had anything to eat besides breakfast that day and was very hungry. I went into town to eat at a simple place without walls where I had never been before. Two tables were occupied: a few Mexican young people, and one other gringa. I had a delicious hamburger and a beer. I fell in bed and was asleep in no time, my Mimi next to me on the pillows.

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The next day I got in touch with my other resident friends. My social life had started. At a shared dinner I was offering my condolences to another mutual friend for an unexpected death of a loved one: to a mother of my age who lost her son. We could talk about it and again, the heaviness that death seems to have in Canada, was absent here.

The nights are cool right now and the average temperature is around 15 degrees. Without heating in the house, you really need a good blanket on your bed. As soon as the sun shines in the morning, it warms up and by eleven is it balmy and twenty-two degrees. The cucarachas are absent and the house is clean and dust free. Mimi remembers where she last saw a cucaracha (more than a year ago) and sits in front of the wardrobe. Disappointed, she leaves after a while.

 

Properties are selling now. The realtor I saw today together with a friend said that everyone is buying, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans. Values are up too. I had an evaluation from the realtor today, but decided it is not the right time yet to say goodbye to my casa. I first must leave my tourist status behind, or else I will pay a hefty capital gains tax to the Mexican government. He gave me some good advice and number of a contractor to call to address a minor problem with the rain water seeping between my wall and the neighbour’s wall, causing dampness inside at some spots. One shelf of my kitchen cabinets has a termite colony. I ripped out the shelf and got rid of the wood. Just to be sure, I also contracted an exterminator to drill holes to underground where termite colonies build their nest.

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I didn’t witness it, but a local youth sitting on the stone bench next to the Virgin across my home pointed out to me that there was a problem somewhere with the roof, but I couldn’t understand him. Later that day, I noticed my internet wasn’t working. I went outside and the cable lay on the cobblestones in the street. One of those damned large trucks must have snagged it. I managed to explain to the non-English speaking service person of the Telmex help centre what the problem was and he got me an English-speaking service person on the phone. Three days to fix it. Indeed, it was fixed on the third day.

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Netflix is a welcome entertainment for me at night. I saw a few great movies. The one for anyone to see who travels to Mexico, is the latest movie of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, currently in the theatres in Mexico, but already on Netflix: Roma. It will break your heart. Although it depicts an earlier generation, the class differences are still relevant and exist in the present time. You’ll recognize it, once you saw the movie.

Another movie I saw on Netflix was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Why is it that movies about the Nazi atrocities fare so well when narrated from the point of view of a (German) child? The movie made its point with a sledgehammer.

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Sun is up at 7 and so am I, as Mimi wakes me up. Sundown is at 6 pm. Most social activities were in the daytime, although may end after dark. I went to a movie today in the local theatre: Aquaman. A bit short on story and character development, but somebody went to town on costume and set designs. I am not sure how movie theatres can survive: only at the most four other people besides us attending. It was in English with Spanish subtitles.

It takes about a week before I feel at home again. Things change in town, with more restaurants popping up, others closed. More deaths fell in the city from gang activity, and policemen were targeted in the next town over. We will see how the new president AMLO fares with the promise to deal with the “troubles”. It seems that ever more gringos flood the town. The hills and protected natural areas are now in development, unless the voices of the locals and their supporters can stop it. Also here, tourism and migration from gringos to Mexico threatens the Mexican way of life and the environment. I try to fit in with my neighbourhood and am grateful for my neighbours, friends and the roof over my head in this sunny, beautiful town. Wishing you well in the new year.

 

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La montana es mi casa.   The mountain is my home.

 

IMG_1015.jpegThis exhibition (on the plaza in Ajijic) offers a connection with the concerns of the people of Ajijic with conservation of their mountains and its environment. The threat against them and their life is real.

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BECOMING A WRITER


BECOMING A WRITER

 

 

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At eight I was a devout little girl who swallowed hook line and sinker what I was taught in my parents’ small congregation of ultra-Christians. By age 12 I had lost all belief in fairy tales, including the bible, and had started to forge my way into the world as a critical thinker.

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What really put doubts in my mind if I could believe adults was an event for the Saint Nicholas celebration, for short Sinterklaas. That year on December 5th Sinterklaas came to visit our home with his helper to hand out gifts. I was getting more observant and the thought was taking hold that I had heard those voices before. Afterwards, I commented to my mom how much the voice of Sinterklaas’ helper, Black Pete, sounded like my brother’s. “Is that right? I hadn’t noticed,” she said. The next day I discovered in my parents’ bedroom the book of Sinterklaas, from which the good bishop of Myrah had read to us about the good things—and especially the bad things—everybody had perpetrated over the year. The old man had been shaking his head, and his hands shook too, just like my friend Phyllis’ father, who—I now understand—had Parkinson’s disease. Then the penny dropped. I ran downstairs and asked my mom: “Was Sinterklaas Mr. Klaassen? And Pete Gus?” She laughed. “What makes you think that?” I told her. She then admitted that Sint and Pete were dressed up and don’t really exist, and the charade was an excuse for creating funny gifts and writing cheeky rhymes for one another.

Below a photo from a spoof on the Sinterklaas celebration at the addiction treatment centre. I am the black female Sinterklaas with the blond wig to the right.

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That awkward time when your front teeth are missing and your mother cut your bangs.

 

It was the start of my loss of trust in anything that sounded magical or miraculous. I won’t bore the reader with the details of the next five years, other than that I started to scrutinize every statement of any adult, the stories in books, and definitively in the bible. I scrutinized the rules and started seeing the hypocrisy among people in our congregation. My conversion started with discovering that adults are imperfect, can and will lie, and are sometimes unfair.

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As soon as I could read, I started reading books after bedtime under the covers with a flashlight, reading everything I could get my hands on. Especially interesting were the books of my eldest sister—eight-years-older. I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover at ten years old. Angelique of the Angels gave me a great education about female power exerted through her beauty and smarts, and through sexual favours, of course. Although the complete lack of sex education of children was the norm then, I started to understand love, physical attraction, and the beauty of equality from books. The idealist in me was taking shape, in spite of the reality of observing my elder sisters going through their adolescence, and my parents’ extremely controlling response, almost as bad as the father in the Rapunzel story. Only now I understand that their parental need to control may have been their way of dealing with their own traumas, in the aftermath of the dangerous war years.

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My hunger for my own experiences rapidly increased. As I grew older, I continued exploring my own sexuality with a number of boyfriends. Unable to broach the subject with any adults, I got sidetracked, and started failing in school, where my presence was a mere nuisance to teachers. At my Christian high school, gender-discrimination was the norm in the 1960’s. The worst of it was my chemistry teacher, who refused to learn their names, calling every girl in the class simply Dora, but he loved the boys and knew them all by name. If he even spoke to a girl, it was with derision; they were becoming housewives anyway, and he went further by targeting me—a lively sort of student. As soon as I opened my mouth to chat with my neighbour, he would send me to the principal. This pattern continued throughout the year, leading to my suspension. I started skipping school. The VP wanted to pray with me. I politely declined the favour.

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In my last year, my boyfriend was four years older, a poet and unemployed. Shortly after I went on the birth control pill— introduced 1968—I started running away from home. Birth control and medical exams were free for members of the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform. My mother had found the package in my room and went berserk. Like so many girls of my generation, I became the proverbial adolescent running away from home under the influence of a boyfriend. Make love, not war. Under great self-constraint, I stopped running, I managed to graduate, left home soon afterwards, and moved to Amsterdam together with my “unsuitable” boyfriend.

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Those years have long gone. I participate responsibly in society like everybody else. I became obsessed with acquiring factualinformation. I work hard to match my decisions to the facts, constantly checking the integrity of my beliefs by reading a number of newspapers, watching different news channels online, and trying to debate world issues with my mostly reluctant Canadian friends. We can’t control the news; it happens. My escape from all this reality is to write stories, making it all up: disasters and happy endings, created from what is contained in the vast archive of my head. Doris Lessing said it aptly: “There’s no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth”.

 

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Writing fiction takes me back to my childhood love of books. It allows me to take all I have learned, mix it up, and create a new narrative. I assign imaginary people with the roles that must be played as I want them to be played in the story. I can use all of my gifts. With my somewhat unusual experiences of living within various cultures on different continents, and understanding several languages, my frame of reference is different from the mainstream. Some of my friends noticed they cannot verify my words. More than once I heard: “You’re making that up” when I related a fact. “How do you know that?” requires me to be accountable about what I know, and I gladly explain.

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I first wrote creative non-fiction stories about the people around me and their adventures, staying close to facts. That opened the gate to sharing my vision and world view. I ventured into fiction, “making it all up”.

Before I could fall into the abyss of feeling useless after my retirement, I was well on my way with my second novel.

My third novel—a story about World War II—is finished in two languages, which I am currently shopping around. To my delight, I am well on my way of becoming a novelist. Life is good. Creating is the life-giving force that allows me to live many lives, all within one lifetime. I can highly recommend it.

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 An event will take place on October 11 at 6:30 pm at the KELOWNA REGIONAL LIBRARY  on Ellis Street. I hope to see you there. GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL will be available. Cash only. 

MEET THE AUTHOR: Johanna Van Zanten.

LISTEN TO HER READING FROM THE BOOK, ASK QUESTIONS,  FIND OUT HOW IT CAME ABOUT.

 

Link to Amazon:

 

Link to Readers’ Favorite

https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/guardians-betrayal

 

Link to Bookbaby:

https://store.bookbaby.com/book/guardians-betrayal

Link to KIRKUS review:

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/johanna-van-zanten/guardians-betrayal/

Review by Barbara Morrison, blogger

http://www.bmorrison.com/guardians-betrayal-by-johanna-van-zanten/

 

 

 

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SELF-HARMING


SELF-HARMING by young girls

 

This is a copy from The Guardian’s article about mental health in the UK and the trend of young girls for self-harming: Quarter of Young Girls in UK have self-harmed. My novel Guardians’ Betrayal came out last November and treats the subject of self-harming in a sensitive, exploratory manner, and is easy to read for its target readers: mature young adults and their parents.

GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL Guardians’ Betrayal  is a story of an adopted girl, who self-harms by cutting superficial cuts on her underarms when things get really difficult for her in her adoptive family.

The subject of self-harming is difficult for parents to stomach and often they are in complete denial, and refuse to accept that their child is doing such a thing. So also the parents of Shayla in my novel.

The article quoted from The British The Guardian lets a girl say what she wants to say about it in her own words, and I am placing a copy below:

“…

Case study: ‘If we’re not perfect we punish ourselves’

Jessica, from south Wales.
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Jessica, from south Wales. Photograph: Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

“I started self-harming when I was 13. I don’t really know why I started doing it. I guess I had a lot going on and wanted to feel in control of something. The first time I did it I was in the bath and I accidentally cut myself shaving. At first I was panicking but then it felt kind of nice so I started doing it on purpose with various different objects. I would do it all the time, it became addictive.

“I would feel euphoric afterwards. I found physical pain easier to control than what was going on in my mind. The moments I felt pain were the moments my thoughts stopped and all I focused on was the physical discomfort.

“I thought I was the only one doing it, but my friends were too. It came up in conversation and I tried to help them. I encouraged them to seek help, although I never told them I was also doing the same. As well as cutting myself I also developed issues with food. I think both things stemmed from all the pressure I was feeling. Girls feel pressure from a younger and younger age these days. We feel pressure to be perfect and when they don’t achieve that they punish themselves.

“I am not sure why girls are more prone to this, perhaps it is because there is more pressure on us to look a certain way. You tend to see more female models, and girls strive to be like them. The gender stereotype is that boys are manly and girls have to be pretty. This leads to people feeling self-conscious and like they need to look and act a certain way. It makes you feel like you cannot be yourself. I saw a girl this weekend and she was so young but plastered in makeup and fake tan and acrylic nails. She was way too young to feel that pressure.

“The solution is better education about mental health, so people know where to go if they are struggling. There needs to be more resources. I am getting better now and on the road back to recovery but it’s been a long journey. The most important part of getting better for me was knowing I am not alone and others have experienced this.”
Jessica
, 18, from south Wales

So far from the article.

Read the book GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL, an easy read for mature young adults and highly educational if you like to know more about circumstances around self-harming and how to deal effectively with the young woman in your life. The book is available from most distributors as an eBook and in print. The first link below takes you to the self-publishing website to order.

Guardians’ Betrayal

https://www.store.bookbaby.com/book/guardians-betrayal

or if in the USA: https://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Betrayal-Happens-Seven-Adoption-ebook/dp/B076HCPNZB

In Print Amazon:

In Print Amazon

To read its KIRKUS review:

Kirkus Review

https://wwww.Kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/johanna-van-zanten/Guardians-betrayal/

 

 

 

Posted in adolescents, alcohol abuse, book review, Children, Children and child protection, E Books, eBook, EU, Mental health, Parenting, sexual politics, Uncategorized, women's issues; torture of women, Young Adult books | Leave a comment

(THE BEACHES OF) PUERTO VALLARTA WRECKED BY RESORTS


(THE BEACHES OF) PUERTO VALLARTA WRECKED BY RESORTS

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It took me this long to realize how tourism has wrecked much of the beachfront in the lovely town of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, on the Pacific coast. I usually stay in the old town to spend one night on my transit from Guadalajara, where I live part of the year, to, and from Canada. The very first time I did that trip, I had selected the cheapest hotel I could find and that still looked acceptable on the photos online. As I rode a taxi to the address after arrival at the Primera Plus bus terminal on my way to the hotel, the driver seemed a bit concerned and offered to drive me to a much nicer hotel for only a slightly higher rate. I declined and responded not to worry as it was only for one night.

The hotel was old and really Mexican, built in the style of an old hacienda where the guest rooms are built around a courtyard stacked with many plants and no roof over the yard. As the building was 3 stories high, it was shady in the courtyard and the sun was unable to shine down to the bottom. I am taking a stab at guessing how old it was: at least 60 years old. It was primitive. The single bed in the middle of the small room consisted of a tiled pedestal of cement with a rather hard, but clean matrass on top of it. The bathroom in one corner of the room had an opaque glass door, a shower and a toilet. Everything tiled and in working shape. It needed an update and some tiles were broken, but it was adequate. It was only for one night after all and dirt cheap.

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It is important to know that the peoples in this land existed already centuries before the hordes of modern-day tourists came down on the area like a cloud of all-consuming locusts in biblical times. I observed so much self-assuredness and feelings of entitlement on the cement patios among North American (white) tourists, hanging out on their lounge chairs surrounding the numerous swimming pools at the exclusive, all-inclusive resorts, not realizing that they and their ilk were not even around until recently in this part of the world. Tourism also ruined the village as it is. PV has become a cheap tourist mecca, just for the tourist.

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Back to me. When I stayed at the Azteca Hotel, or at another place, 2-steps up from the Azteca Hotel called the Porto Nuevo Hotel—both located in old-town-PV—I used to pop in on the beach scene in the morning before catching a flight or the bus, had my coffee and breakfast, and if I was really energetic, went for a walk on the malecon.  It was always lovely with lots to see in terms of people-watching, and the occasional pod of dolphins could be spotted in the bay. PV is too crowded with tourists for me, but still an interesting spot for one day. Until I searched for a pet-friendly hotel.

The year before—my first winter with my cat in Mexico—I had a surprise on my return to Canada. The cheap and quick hotel right outside the PV airport, called One, had booked me with my cat Mimi, but on my return to Canada One wouldn’t let me stay again: no pets allowed. I had a heck of time finding a room right that same afternoon. Mimi sat in her cage all this time from early that morning through the 5-hour bus trip and could not hold her pee any longer; she sprayed right through the mesh of the kennel onto my skirt while I was arguing with the receptionist of Hotel One. So now I was not only tired and irritated, but smelly too. After a long time of haggling on the phone with hotel owners, I decided to try the old standby: the Azteca Hotel. No problem: they let me bring Mimi with me. I had my usual stroll on the beach and breakie while Mimi stayed in the room, and we left in the late afternoon for the flight back to Canada.

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This year I didn’t want to be surprised. I stayed at the Azteca on my way in.  On my return to Canada, I decided to try out the so-called pet-friendly hotels. I found one online in the “Hotela Zona” for a reasonable rate. The write-up online looked lovely with pictures of a swimming pool and a dining room and supposedly close to the beach and other amenities. My Spanish-speaking friend booked it for me and Mimi, well in advance. On my arrival everything was hunky-dory. This time I had flown in to PV instead of bussing it, and had more energy left. I went out to grab a bite to eat.

 

IMG_3018.jpgOn the property adjacent to the hotel was a lot that had been converted to a food court with a number of converted steel containers arranged around the seating areas in its centre. The offerings were a mix of American and Mexican fast food, which is really what Mexican street food is.  It may not be fast cooking it, but the slow-cooked meats are cooked in advance (except the Al Pastor meat) and then steamed or reheated on the grill, just like the soft tacos and other receptacles for the fillings.  It was for the place and the time more than acceptable and the clientele came streaming in shortly afterwards. No surprise these customers were all tourists from outside Mexico—Norte-Americanos.

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The next morning, I went out to have my breakfast on the beach as usual. I was wrong in my assumption but didn’t know that yet! I went across the busy street—the main drag into PV—and bumped into security guards standing by the barriers blocking access to the 5-star resorts on that side of the street—hotel after hotel—who would not let me pass to go to the beach. Finally, I asked one guard what the heck is going on and where the public access to the beaches is. He laughed and said “Down that way, keep walking, because this access is only for hotel guests”.

Indeed, further down at the bridge across the small river that flowed ocean-wards, I saw a small paved path underneath trees and shrubs along the river going westwards, where the beach was supposed to be. I walked down that walkway. Obviously, this was not a very “resort-worthy” trail with a lot of garbage strewn in the stinky river and beer and liquor empties on the path. This must be the place where unsavory things happen. High fences and walls blocked the access to the properties along it on the other side of the river. One young man was hanging out next to a bag of beer bottles who was talking on a phone. He noticed this lone woman walking along the path and followed me with his eyes until it was clear I was no danger to him. At the end of the walkway I saw the ocean and a sign: watch for crocodiles.

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When I walked onto the beach I saw right away more uniformed Mexican guards. They did let me onto the beach however. When I walked along the sand, looking for restaurants or a beach shack for my breakfast, there weren’t any. Just more hotels with more elevated cement patios off the beach, populated with chunky white folks lolling around the many pools on lounge chairs. No fishing boats on the beach, no locals and their children playing, nothing that indicates participation by locals at all, (except as service personnel) just gringos strolling along on an immaculately groomed beach, and more Mexican guards.

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On the beach itself each property border between resorts was defined with stacked up rocks, so you couldn’t easily keep walking, and more uniformed guards, and sometimes a fence or a net. Crazy! I argued with one guard that the beach is public and should be free for everybody to walk along. He smiled and kept his mouth shut, apparently well trained in dealing with these loco gringos. The guards let me walk on, watching me as I went by.

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Lovely beach-side dinner location some other time in old town PV

 

These resorts reminded me of Bali and the ocean-side resort I stayed in more than ten years ago. People could not enter from the street and all people on the beach were resort guests. That was Bali, Indonesia, were the year before my visit a bomb had destroyed a nightclub, and other bombs had gone off including close to the American embassy, with many dead tourists as result, followed by a serious downturn in tourism. Revolutionaries or suspected activist/terrorists of the local resistance group had been trying to oppose the brutal administration, which is led (or controlled) by the military with a puppet president. Indonesia is a third world nation. But I am in Mexico, which is a member of our North American Free Trade Agreement, a democracy and not a third world country. Mexico, where millions of Americans and also Canadians have resettled year-round, and where an intense exchange of workers between the three countries happens, legal or otherwise. We, North-Americans are familiar with Mexicans; they are our partners. What gives? Why are these tourists so keen on white leisure ghettos? The cartels do not usually attack foreigners; they are a scourge for Mexicans.

I got hungry and the sun was burning on my skin. Alright then, I would eat in an American-style restaurant if there wasn’t anything else to be had. Wrong again! When I walked with my white face into one of the elevated patios and made my way along the guests without being stopped by guards and entered a building that seemed to be a restaurant, I asked the hostess at the desk for a seat. The girl’s face showed hesitation and she asked if I was a hotel guest.  I said no and asked if that mattered, and that it is a restaurant, no? I added that I would pay for my food, or something like that. Immediately a manager of some kind—male of course—came hurrying to us. I repeated my request. He explained that the restaurant is only for guests. I asked for the way out to the street, but he refused that too, and told me I have to go back the way I came in. Only guests were allowed to be in the resort. Damn!

So, I walked on along the beach, hot and hungry and really annoyed, and yet there was no access to the street. After having walked a few kilometres, I passed a sort of shack in between two resorts. Hurray, a Mexican place. It was indeed a sort of bar with a patio of planks and umbrellas with a few tables and chairs, but it was still closed, the woman there told me. I asked her if there a way to the street and she pointed me into the direction behind the shack. The property widened into a large, mostly empty and very dusty parking lot, where some tour busses were parked. A narrow exit/entrance appeared before me at the end of it and I saw the main highway. To speak in Gilead lingo: praise be! I saw a restaurant across the highway.

Happily, and near a heatstroke, I crossed the road and threw my body down on a chair in the half-empty restaurant. It turned out to be a traditional Mexican breakfast/lunch place. With a large class of fresh squeezed orange juice and water in front of me I ordered my meal, sweaty and strangely out of place as I must have looked to the young Mexican waiter. I was the only gringa of course. All the other gringos eat in their (relatively cheap) all-exclusive resort—prisoners in their all-white ghetto.

Now I know and understand what tourist resort travel does to the beaches and the beach towns. I assume this indeed goes on at other coastlines and villages with those all-inclusive resorts. It is devastating; nobody else can use the beaches anymore where the resorts take over. The locals had to make way to the gringos, who are overly concerned about their safety in this “dangerous” country, so guards are needed and boundaries drawn around them.

If there any locals left that can even afford to live there after the raised costs of living expelled most locals, they would have to travel all the way to old-town to be able to sit on their area’s beach and use a relatively small area that is already full-up with gringos. I remember at an earlier time at the beach talking to an elderly local man, sitting on a bench in old-town PV. I asked him if he thought whether tourism was good for the locals. He was quietly not positive about it but wouldn’t elaborate. Now I understand.

To me it looks like another form of colonialism, even if a few rich Mexicans also use the resorts.

In another post I will write on the history of Puerto Vallarta.

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Posted in Babyboomer, Dealing with aging and dating, Diversity issues, elections, Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, Global immigration, Hitler, Immigration, Mexican life, Relocation to mexico, tourism, travel, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

CHILD SEPARATIONS


CHILD SEPARATIONS

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Separating children from their parent or their caregiver is in the news a lot. For most people to take away a child from their parent doesn’t sound like a good idea, although the true impact is not well understood, unless one was removed from a parent as a child in a past life. The thing to remember is that a child usually has her or his primary attachment to a parent, needed ultimately for emotional and physical safety. Without it, the child cannot grow up and develop into a healthy adult. Breaking that bond is devastating.

As many child protection social workers can confirm, even if the parent was a harsh or an imperfect parent, removal of a child from that parent is a traumatic event for the child. Yes, an abused child may experience short-lived relief, knowing that there will be no more beatings or that s(he) doesn’t have to care for the incapacitated parent anymore, but the child often would trade the safety and adequate care of a foster home readily for the return to an abusive or neglectful parent, if given the choice. Attachment to its parent is the reason for that. Attachment is a strong, life-giving bond, necessary for a baby’s survival.

Attachment to a mother starts as soon as the child is born, and many think it starts even before birth, when the foetus can hear the voice of its mother while developing inside her. After birth, physical closeness and responsive care from the mother form the basis of that attachment for the child, which means knowing physically who the mother is by smell and sound enhanced by being breastfed, and emotionally by being attended to for all of her or his needs. Emotional and physical safety must be provided from where a child can explore the world and grow. Not only the mother, others can join the circle of adults to whom a child can form secure attachments.

A child’s brain development depends on not having great spikes of adrenalin coursing through its system, and on spending its first months in a steady and quiet environment, but with enough stimulation and child-sensitive interaction with others to allow further development of its brain and its muscles.  Children of abuse if being born addicted, or ill at a young age, have a disadvantage. Having spent time in hospital away from the tender care of a mother/father with alien and unhealthy chemicals wreaking havoc in the child will interfere with healthy growth. They cannot completely catch up later in life, as their central nervous system is already primed and developed greater sensitivity to the brain chemicals (caused by withdrawal from substances and/or the withdrawal from safe care). This condition can later manifest itself in behaviours, such as anxiety.

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Not all separations are traumatic. Children of working mothers who leave the child behind to go to work are not necessarily detrimentally affected, as long as a second caring adult provides this sort of responsive and consistent care while the mother is at work. These children fare just as well as those of stay-at-home moms. A child can learn to attach to others quite easily with some preparation and a transition time. Although the number of adults a child can ultimately attach to is limited, the primary attachment can well be supplemented by attachment to other adults and children without causing emotional harm to the child.

This can work, as long as the child has the experience and can trust that the mother (or another person with whom the primary attachment is made) returns within a limited timeframe. It is important that in the meantime baby does not feel unsafe, or abandoned by the safe person of attachment, and all will be fine for baby. Baby should not work herself up into anxiety. Attachment to a primary person is like an elastic band that can be stretched, but not so far that it breaks.

 

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In cases of child protection, all will be undertaken to prevent removal of a child from the person with whom the child has her primary attachment. If a removal looks unavoidable because of the dangerous situation the child lives in, the social workers look for another close relative who could possibly take the place of the primary caregiver/parent. Although far from ideal, it is better than the alternative: foster care.

If nobody is available and a child is placed with a total stranger, the child will experience anxiety with likely damage to her attachment–an attachment injury–within a really short time after the child feels abandoned. The younger the child, the less resilient s/he is for separation damage. If the child has siblings, the family group ideally should stay together to avoid more injuries through additional experiences of loss. Daily contact with the mother/father with whom the attachment is made is extremely important to assure the child s/he is not abandoned.

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What harm will be caused if the safe person doesn’t come back at all?

 Attachment injury can take many different forms and children express that extreme emotional injury–the worst psychological injury possible–in a great variety of dysfunctional or unexplained behaviours, even many years later. A child that has experienced abandonment and has an attachment injury has difficulty with trusting all adults, blames herself for being abandoned, and her self-image is diminished. She (or he) carries this injury into adulthood and it affects the development of the child, her (his) mental health, and all future relationships as an adult.

From the article of Inge Bretherton below: “Several attachment patterns were observed: Securely attached infants cried little and seemed content to explore in the presence of mother; insecurely attached infants cried frequently, even when held by their mothers, and explored little; and not-yet attached infants manifested no differential behavior to the mother.”

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Attachment injury is often the underlying reason that adoptions break down and that foster homes give up caring for the child. In adulthood they cannot form intimate relationships, which may lead to a number of mental health issues, such as depression, development of personality disorders, displaced anger, substance use and addiction. The psychologist Bowlby (1975) discovered the importance of the attachment of a child to a primary caregiver and its consequences for their life as an adult. It led the psychologists and child development professionals away from psychotherapy and introduced attachment theory and developmental psychology. Inge Bretherton explained Bowlby’s theory in her article online, link attached.

http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/online/inge_origins.pdf

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In the USA, a patchwork system of private and public child organisations provides help to families who are confronted with an attachment-injured child. The American Academy of Child and Youth Psychiatry has a guide online to educate about the various forms of the disorder. The link below will take you there.

https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Attachment-Disorders-085.aspx

In Canada, the government’s child and youth mental health offices can be approached through a referral from your doctor. Suicide is a most prevalent result of attachment injury especially in adolescence, and it is the number one mental health issue for youth.

But not only for children. Many adults make it through life for many years, until the final straw that breaks the camel’s back lands. Depression. We have seen some startling examples of successful people who were in the public eye and still committed suicide. Life was no longer worth living. We do well to take up the conversation and educate ourselves, so we will not have to wonder: Did I do enough to stop it?

Now what about the children of refugees?

Many argue that their life is a dangerous trip already and that their parents expose them to much danger. That the parent is engaged in a criminal act (crossing borders illegally) and deserves to be separated from the child. To them I will say: the real danger of the trip is mitigated by the child’s protector. As long as their mother or father is there with them and protects them (or the auntie who fulfills that role), the children will be alright.

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The real damage begins when the government removes them from the parent without preparation and without the assurance that the child will ever be reunited, and without continuing (daily) contact with their parent in any form. How cruel and criminal this latest US government policy is! It creates long-lasting detrimental results. It may be considered a war crime, had there be a war. Now it’s just a ZERO-Tolerance Government Policy. It breaks a child before it even has a chance at life. The rights of any refugee to apply for refugee status though an approved process should be protected and it exists also in the USA, even if its president is unaware of them  or wants the break those laws and processes.

From Inge Bretherton’s article: “A good society, according to Marris, would be one which, as far as is humanly possible, minimizes disruptive events, protects each child’s experience of attachment from harm, and supports family coping.”

 

Where are the American psychological associations and the physicians in all of this?  What do they think about treatment of refugees and the separation of thousands of children of refugees and unaccompanied minors held in the USA?

Posted in adolescents, Babyboomer, Children, Children and child protection, Diversity issues, Global immigration, Immigration, International politics, latest news items, Mexican life, Parenting, Relocation to mexico, The truth, Trump, Uncategorized, victims, war and resistance, war crimes | Leave a comment

THE THREE SOCIAL TABOOS: Religion, Sex, Politics


THE THREE SOCIAL TABOOS: Religion, Sex, Politics

(This is a post without photos. I don’t want to exploit the misery of others. No photo of this crying little girl in a red top and red shoes. Fox took the opportunity to say the photo was fake as this girl was in the end not removed from her mother, missing the point that she had been already exposed to grief of the treatment at the border).

At age eight, I was a devout little girl that swallowed hook line and sinker what I was taught in my parents’ small congregation of ultra-Christians, until I lost all belief in fairy tales including the bible at age 12. Until then, Jesus seemed like a sort of magician, like a nice uncle who would give you everything you wanted, if you prayed long and hard. God was more like a distant father who left the day-to-day business of dealing with the small stuff to Jesus, just like my dad did with my mom.

I had never really understood the idea of the Holy Spirit but took it to be a back-up who kept followers out of trouble after Jesus had died and had gone to heaven, and to inspire them without the Man-God around. We children believed in ghosts and fairies already, so the resurrection of Jesus and an official Holy Ghost doing ‘tricks’ was not a stretch for us.

How gullible one is as a child.

I was always safe at night, but dutifully knelt by the bed anyway, citing the little rhyming verse, praying for protection for the night, but I did also look under the bed when I was in that phase of believing in monsters.

The rules of not stealing and always telling the truth were easy, as long as I had everything I needed. Until it wasn’t that easy anymore. When everyone else in my neighbourhood went to that children’ movie, a presentation that only came along once a year for the entry fee of one guilder, I stole the guilder from my mother’s purse. The film had not even started when in front of all the children in the hall she pulled me out of the audience and dragged me home. I cried loudly for the rest of that day grounded in my bedroom, convinced my mother treated me unfairly.

On entering grade school, I wanted to be part of the clan of other children that freely roamed the neighbourhood. Telling the truth to my parents became harder and the sin of lying by omission became a habit of mine. Not stealing and not causing mischief would mean saying ‘no’ to friends and staying behind, alone, which was too hard for a seven-year-old. We perpetrated our childhood misdeeds communally. I learned not to tell my parents about everything my friends and I were up to. We all knew we should not raid gardens and break into sheds and greenhouses, but those pears and apples tasted multiple times more delicious than those at home. We knew that our playing-doctor-game was maybe not what we should be doing. If we stayed silent, it was as if nothing untoward had happened.

In the fourth grade as a would-be publisher and provider of the resources with my printing kit, I was the leader of the newspaper club we called the Seven-Star in a misunderstood reference to a pentagram; we just liked that drawing. I learned that blocking some kids from joining the club led to being ousted myself as an unfair dictator: they didn’t need my printing kit to be a club. I learned the leader could not be a despot: might doesn’t make right. I gave in and was allowed back into the club. It was a lesson in humility and group dynamics I learned at an early age and taught me what a democracy is.

It also dawned on me that the unilateral and despotic rules handed down by God for his believers did seem somehow out of touch with the real world and could not be copied for use by mere mortals. Why others (including my parents and the congregation) would accept that as the law in their world anyway, seemed weird.

What really put doubts in my mind whether adults can be believed was an event in December we call Saint Nicholas, for short Sinterklaas, celebrated on December 5th. Our Santa came to visit our home with his helper. I was getting more observant and commented afterwards to my mom how much the voice of Saint Nick’s helper, Black Pete, sounded like my brother’s. “Is that right? I hadn’t noticed,” she said.

The next day I discovered in my parents’ bedroom the book of St. Nicholas, from which the bishop had read to us about all the good things—and especially the bad things—everybody had perpetrated over the year. Slowly, the thought that I had heard that voice of Saint Nick before was taking hold. The old man had been shaking his head, and his hands shook too, just like my friend Phyllis’ elderly father, who I now understand had Parkinson’s disease. Then the penny dropped: Sinterklaas had been Phyllis’ father, and Black Pete, my brother!  I ran downstairs and asked my mom: “Was Sinterklaas Mr. Klaassen?” She laughed. “What makes you think that?” I told her. To my surprise she then admitted that Sinterklaas was not real and that it is to make kids happy and have a night of fun and have an excuse for making funny gifts for each other.

The loss of my belief in Saint Nick’s existence left me disillusioned. After that episode, my seven-year-old former self became an independent thinker, in incremental steps. It was the start of my loss of trust in anything that sounded magical or miraculous. I started to scrutinise every statement of any adult and also the stories in books, and definitively the bible.

I started seeing the hypocrisy among people in our congregation, especially of course in my parents. I noticed their thoughtless prejudices and easy judgments about people who looked different or who were not of our ‘class’. The contrast between Jesus’ messages and what people within our congregation made of it in daily life seemed like day and night. I discovered two kinds of people: those who actually tried to apply the principles of Jesus and those who just wanted to be part of the club. I wasn’t sure yet where I belonged.

As I grew older, I questioned and debated the principles of the religion in catechism class and at home. My dad told me to just stop arguing and be more like my eldest sister, sweet and obedient. I knew that she was doing everything on the sly and I took my dad’s advice: since open opposition was discouraged, I went my own way, mostly silently. My road to conversion from a believer to becoming an agnostic was one of incremental disbelief and of discovering that adults lie and are unfair. It took about four years. When I entered high school by the age of 12, I had pretty much turned into an agnostic to the desperation of my Philosophy teacher at my Christian school. I argued with quite a lot of vehemence in his class, leaving the other students speechless. Critical thinking, we call it now. This teacher was also a minister and occasionally led the service in our church. To his credit, he was the only adult in my world who took my questions and my search for the truth seriously and he tried to respond honestly, but still he could not stop my conversion. Eventually, I laid low, as that was a lot easier to maintain. I meekly went to church but took off from my seat as soon as the service was about to start, to return by sermon’s end and stand outside, chatting, as my parents exited.

Learning about sexuality took much longer. One afternoon around this time, our neighbours’ son who was about 5 years older than me showed me his swollen penis behind the garden shed. I suspected that it was probably not the right thing to do, although nobody had actually said so. I touched an erect penis for the first time when I was eight. The thing felt soft and hard at the same time. Nobody ever talked about penises, vaginas, or breasts in my childhood world. I was just told to cover up and not to run naked through the garden with the hose and at the pool everyone wears a swimsuit. No sexual education took place anywhere. It was believed that keeping kids in the dark would delay sexual maturity: let sleeping dogs lie was the motto. To have intimacy—for procreation—there was to be married first; I knew that much.

I had no idea about the actual act of sex and procreation, until I saw a mare being bred on a farm; I was around nine years old. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that the long appendix under the stallion’s belly could fit into that girl horse. Although it did not look like anything the teenager next door had showed me, it dawned on me that his member might have been the same body part as the horse’s.

The whole affair kept me thinking for weeks as I was trying to figure out what that event could be for, and once I was told, I wondered if that was also how humans made babies. When I asked my mom, she started talking about the ewes next door in the orchard, and how they went away to meet men-sheep. They came back a week or so later, pregnant, and had lambs a few months later. However cryptic, nothing was explicitly said about a penis into a vagina.

My friends did not really know the facts either, so a variety of vague beliefs, myths and old wife’s tales gathered from various sources among us kept me curious, until I reached adolescence and started dating.

I started reading fiction as soon as I could read, under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime, reading everything I could get my hands on. Especially interesting were the books of my eldest sister—eight-years-older; I had to often reach to understand the contents. I must have been ten when I read Lady Chatterley’s lover.  Angelique of the Angels was another great novel about a memorable woman who exerted power through her beauty and smarts, and sex, of course. I started to understand love, physical attraction, and the beauty of equal but different powers between people: the idealist in me was taking shape.

But I also saw how my older sisters fared throughout their adolescence and how my parents responded: extremely controlling, almost as bad as in the Rapunzel story. I can forgive them now: this need to control may have been the aftermath of living through the dangerous war years. By that time, I knew I was better off laying low and just not tell my parents what I was up to.

I continued exploring my sexuality with a number of boyfriends and started failing in school. I had boyfriends. I also was gender-discriminated by a number of instructors. The worst was my chemistry teacher, who called every girl in the class simply Dora and who didn’t bother to learn their names but he loved the boys and knew them all by name. As soon as I opened my mouth to chat with my neighbour, he sent me to the principal. This continued throughout the year with this guy. I started skipping school. I got suspended. The VP wanted to pray with me. I politely declined the favour.

I ended up with an interesting boyfriend, someone four years older than me who was unemployed—a poet. I ran away from home a few times, the first time when a big confrontation happened shortly after I went on the birth control pill. That godsend little pill had recently been introduced to the women in my country and free for members of the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform. My mother had found the pill package in my room and went berserk. I became the adolescent running away from home under the influence of a ‘bad’ boyfriend. I did manage to graduate and left home that summer, to move to Amsterdam together with my boyfriend, and to an apprentice job in a hospital. My physical freedom was hard-fought. My sexual freedom took much longer and only arrived after I met my next boyfriend.

I still like the world of imagination very much, where I can explore the inner world of humans without restraint of dogmas or a prescribed worldview. I do miss the magic of believing. It felt so safe to believe as a child. Now as an adult, I have to act like an adult and, like everybody else, take up my adult responsibilities. I participate responsibly in society casting my vote in elections, and I try to follow the law and most social rules, to a certain extent, as long as these are reasonable, but I also like to debate, exchange ideas. I make a living, respect my neighbours and the rights of others–not always easy to do. Most of all as an adult I became obsessed with information: I have to research the facts and knowwhat is going on in the world. The facts have to match with my decisions and vice versa. I became a socialist and a social worker.

Yes, the truth is becoming ever harder to find. Journalist are trying to get at the truth and most upstanding reporters bring the facts. Their job is to fact-check what political orators and religious leaders are saying about public policies.

The leaders of the religious right base their policies on irrational, religious-based arguments, and defend their statements with the accusation that dissenting journalists are making up facts. The religious right has reporters who mindlessly repeat what they hear from their affiliated leaders. The religious right doesn’t want us to know the facts. They want to continue to deceive us: we should believe them unconditionally. It is important to know which voice one choses as the source for information.

The easily-led rely on somebody else for their information (relatives, husband, wife, political leader, minister/priest).  Without knowing the facts, it becomes very difficult to determine what to believe; without the facts one cannot chart one’s own course. Many people don’t want to know the facts and react from an emotional place. Of course, it is so much easier to just repeat what your chosen leader or your chosen TV news program says, compared to trying to figure out what is going on in the world.

MIXING RELIGION WITH POLITICS

Whomever assumes the existence of God as a fact, is in itself irrational. There are no hard, scientific facts that prove a god exists. To assume that everybody else operates from that same belief in God is also irrational. As the basis for a worldview that belief system leaves no room for people who do notbelieve in God, and who prefer to rely on science and the facts. However, that seems exactly to be the current state of affairs, when the Attorney General of the USA quotes the Bible as justification for an inhuman (and in my eyes criminal) measure—separating children from parents in an attempt to try to stop the flow of migrants into that country, many among them asylum-seekers.

In spite of the USA being a secular nation and not a religious-based state, (like Iran) it becomes clear that in fact the USA seems to base its immigration policies on a narrow-minded world view informed by a religious bias for interpreting the current laws, and also wrongheadedly applied. The Trump administration has dropped all ethical principles and the human rights of others and lost its respect for internationally adhered principles of dealing with refugees. It has divided the country between people that believe in ethical government conduct versus those that are led by religious dogmas based on a mainly old testament God-as-a vengeful God.

If Sessions wants to apply his religious beliefs, he could take Jesus’ words instead of Paul’s: to treat one’s neighbour as he would like to be treated himself. Raised as a Christian, I see Sessions distort the bible, a book from two thousand years (and more) ago and many authors talking about sometimes barbaric practices of that time. Does Sessions really want to go back to those barbaric laws born out of ignorance and harsh circumstances of survival in those times? Surely, people with a religion better debate their religious opinions and how they see the world with other, religious people, not adopt these as the tenets for public policy!

In a secular society, religion has no place in politics.

Sessions does not speak for most Americans, I suspect. Neither is Sarah Sanders. I feel sorry for Americans who see this and feel helpless to stop the erosion of their national government and its values. Their head of state is knitting lie after lie into a mantel that suits many believers fine. He and his minions use the name of God to touch an irrational cord in potential followers—his disciples. The consequences are clearly going to be the development of more policies based on fallacies. These destructive policies will destroy any society in which truth and facts have become immaterial and where anti-Other sentiments prevail. The beast has been unleashed!

I mourn for the loss of the USA as a friend and ally against dictators and common enemies. In my neighbouring country, too many Americans have put religion over facts, and racism over compassion. The USA is turning into a force for destruction of the local and international world; its administration lost its compassion, and One-eye is leading the blind.

I come from a country where debating is a national pastime. I love to debate issues and exchange ideas: I might learn something new in the process. The Netherlands has many political parties to offer the electorate choices, and the Dutch do not believe in the two-party system. Although quite a religious country, the denominational parties keep their God to themselves, although unfortunately, the neo-Nazis have become a substantial force. The Dutch government consists of a coalition—very democratically put together after an election. Neonazi Geert Wilders became a well-known oppositional force; he is a friend of the GOP and of Trump and got money from them to broaden his influence in the Netherlands.

In my adopted country of Canada, three parties (at the most) vie for votes in elections. Canadians are not very used to debating their political opinions, or about which church they belong to, and they play their affiliations close to their chest. In life, the warning ‘don’t talk about religion, politics or sex’ is generally accepted, good advice in Canada. The safe way is to just chitchat, have polite social intercourse, and talk about the things we have in common. My need for honest exchange of ideas will have to wait for my visits to the home country. I stay away from religious believers and events. I resent the Jehovah Witnessed who aggressively still come to my door, trying to tell me they have the only truth in their pocket. The best I can do in such situations is to tell them that I believe in facts and not in religion, and to ask to be scratched from their list. Then I close the door.

The subject of discussion has become Trump. We in Canada have found a common enemy about whose policies it is save to become upset and whom to denounce. I have an inkling that is what Trump tried to do in his own country: find a common enemy and unite the country behind him. Unfortunately, he is achieving the opposite in his own nation. However, he is uniting the world against him.

Posted in adolescents, Children, Children and child protection, Diversity issues, elections, Global immigration, Hitler, Immigration, International politics, memoir writing, Mexican life, Parenting, Pubic Relations, Relocation to mexico, the Netherlands, The truth, travel, Trump, Uncategorized, victims, war crimes, world issues | Leave a comment

RETURNING TO MY NORTHERN COUNTRY


RETURNING TO MY NORTHERN COUNTRY

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After having spent about six months in Mexico, I hoped it wouldn’t be as cold in my province as it had been last year in April on my arrival. This time, I came back a month later to ensure spring would have arrived, and it had indeed done so with a bang. It was the same temperature at my arrival at the Kelowna airport as where I came from, a balmy 24 degrees at 11 p.m.

 

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My cat in her travel kennel didn’t have to shiver at all (after having left her warm second home), and when I let her out at home after 9 hours in her “prison”, she happily started scratching her nails on the steps of my carpeted stairs as soon as she was out of the cage.

 

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Photos of my neighbour washing his horse. This was about the last scene in my calle before I left Mexico.

 

Adjusting from my calle, where I live in Mexico where people wash their horse in the street, to the very clean streets and very organized life in my Canadian middle-class, conservative city takes some doing. It took me a few weeks to get back into a routine and to resume my life here. My home was not as dusty as I had expected, but the deck was dirty from old snow melts and dust, so cleaning up that section became my first mission. As I am hoping to sell my place this summer, I started with prep for emptying and tidying up articles and furniture that I cannot keep in my newly constructed, 700 square feet condo that, with some luck, will be ready in the fall.

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My deck, cleaned up and new plantings of Hibiscus.

 

One of my beefs in my environment, wherever I am, is smell, as  I have a well-working nose with an acute sense of smell. In my Mexican neighbourhood I smell my neighbours at lunch and supper times, when the small fires of barbecues start up with some initial fire-starting liquids and the sharp smell of charcoal burning.  I close the window on that side, until they are done with the cooking. No problem.

In my Canadian home, banning the unpleasant smells is not so easy to do.  Closing my open window and patio door doesn’t do the trick to stop the smoke of marijuana and tobacco coming in from my neighbours’ homes. If that was the only source, it would be not a problem, but the smell also enters my home through their exhaust system that deposits their used air  right next to my fresh air intake in the adjoining breezeway. My stove hood and bathroom fan exhaust systems are located right beside my neighbours’ exhaust outlets. When my exhaust fans are not running, the exhaust openings in the breezeway outside allows the neighbours’ smoke to waft back into my apartment. I have to accept the constant smell of tobacco and marijuana in my home, or have my exhaust fans running all day to vent out the smells and block passive air coming in. This is basically the reason for my move to new digs, beside the thrill of moving into a brand-new home  for the first time in my life that is even built with the highest standard of environmentally responsible construction (LEED).

 

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When I arrived, the deciduous trees were all out and the flowering shrubs wafted their sweet smells throughout the neighbourhood. I started walking again; the swimming pool was opened soon afterwards. Although I have to share it with my neighbours, often there is nobody in the pool, and the water is heated to a balmy 25 degrees.  To compare it with my Mexican home: I have a small solar-heated pool there with high walls around it for privacy, so I have taken up the habit of skinny-dipping there in water of up to 29 degrees centigrade.  It makes me feel ten years younger to be able to shed my clothes and not having to care  what my body looks like nowadays.

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Photo of pool.

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At about five minutes walking distance from my complex, I can turn onto a dead-end road that stops at the end at the back entrance of a gated housing development. From that point on, a system of gravel paths leads to a pond (Munson Pond) with a protective area around it, where no dogs are allowed in protection for the wildlife. Another path where dogs are allowed leads to the next major thoroughfare, KLO Road. By Munson Pond are signs that indicate with pictures (drawing of a dog with a red cross over it) and text that dogs are not allowed, and yet, more than a few times I encountered people with dogs. Recently, even a guy on a bike was racing over the narrow hiking trails with a dog that wasn’t even on a leash trailing behind him). When I pointed out to them that dogs aren’t allowed here, they breezily wave my objection away, and the guy on the bike even called “why not”, as if his dog wouldn’t have it in him to chase geese or quail.

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Believe it or not, but I found that Canadians are often just as loathe to follow rules as any other people—they only do it in a politer manner than, let’s say, Dutch people. These friendly people in the wildlife-protected area gave me the impression that they are convinced they are right, or somehow have a status that puts them above the rules, and nobody can convince them otherwise.

By comparison, in Mexico, the free-running dogs are often not leashed and they do their business anywhere. Nobody seems to pick up after the (unleashed) dogs in the streets. In the morning, most women sweep the street in the barrios and for special occasions the water hose is coming out. Living in Mexico’s villages is like returning to my old stomping grounds in Amsterdam of thirty years ago, where the walk in the street on the sidewalks was a dance between the dog piles. I have to say, the residents in my apartment complex and in the Canadian streets do pick up after their dogs.
I guess everything is relative, seen in their context.

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We live in a nice and neat development with open access on all sides with lawns all around. The strata fees pay for: fertilizer, irrigation and maintenance/repair, mowing at least weekly and trimming of the edges. Cedar hedges separate the lawns from the parking lot of the business section and the mall. When car owners park in reverse (I have noticed mostly men do that) and start up and run their vehicle stationary, the hedges get the full blast. Every year some have to be replaced as they are burnt from the car exhaust.  I don’t know why men have to park backing up in reverse, if not to get a quick get-away when they leave in a hurry after some offence, or is it just on accord of the rat-race—always in a hurry?

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Beaver and goose trail to the pond.

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Mock-Orange shrub

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Wildrose

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The flower for butterflies. I hope there will be many of them this summer. Next time in Mexico, I am planning on visiting the Monarch butterfly sanctuary.

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Well, anyway, after having lived and adjustment to my narrow calle in Mexico, where the drivers have to possess extraordinary skills and much patience to squeeze by parked cars at both sides, or a coca cola truck stops all traffic, and the rules seems optional,  the Kelowna fast and busy traffic seems very organized and the streets very wide, and some of the drivers are extremely rude and selfish.

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The garbage truck coming by in my calle.

I have to conclude that people are in the rat race in the city of Kelowna—as it now feels to me—since I have all the time in the world and have relaxed to a slower pace in retirement.  It suits me well.

Having been raised in another world in The Netherlands, and now living in two different worlds in Canada and Mexico, makes one realize there is no perfect way and not one way of doing things. I have taken up my walks and yoga class again, and play Mah Jongg at the recreational centre for seniors, and to occasional visits with friends.

Each country and lifestyle has its advantages and disadvantages.  We just have to adjust to the change in scenery.  One thing that didn’t change is the talk about Trump and I am getting tired of it!

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DIA DE LA CRUZ


DIA DE LA CRUZ

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Dia de la Cruz is a holiday for the Mexicans in which they celebrate the construction workers with a ritual that has been going on literally for centuries. There are a lot of myths about the origin of the day and its name. From the Spanish articles online, I picked the most likely and least superstitious.

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Mexico adopted the cross as the symbol for its celebration of the masons on May 3. This tradition dates from the colonial era with the formation of the guilds—we would now call unions—and according to old chronicles, the incorporation of the cross was impelled by Fray Pedro de Gante. In spite of the suppression of this celebration (and it was not included in the liturgical calendar by Pope John XXIII), the masons of Mexico kept this tradition alive. Given the religious fervor of the locals, the Mexican Episcopate eventually made the arrangements themselves, so that in Mexico the celebration of the Holy Cross would continue, with or without the pope’s permission.

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It is also believed that the celebration of the Day of the Holy Cross was inherited from pre-Hispanic times. In Mexico, Spanish and pre-Hispanic cultures are mixed. The day of the cross had its antecedent in the rituals practiced by the pre-Columbian cultures for the request to the gods for rains and good harvests which took place at the beginning of the agricultural cycle, around the first days of May.

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(Back entrance to the Panteon-cemetery)

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(Mural: If you wondered what’s behind the wall…by Javier Zaragoza)

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(A curious gringo looking in?)

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(Ceramic plate by Salvador Vasques: the introduction of horses with the Spanish soldiers)

 

When the Spanish priests (and not to forget: the soldiers) arrived in the old Mexican territory, they modified some of the old Roman Catholic beliefs, so that the converts would easier accept it when it had more similarities with their old beliefs. Thus, during the time of the Spanish Colony (1521-1821), the pre-Hispanic ritual for the request of rain to Tláloc, god of the rain, was transformed into prayers for good harvests and was incorporated into the devotion of the Holy Cross. This used to be on the first Sunday of May within the Catholic calendar. The day on the so-called Marian calendar (inspired on what the mother of Jesus Christ did on any given day in the year) was the day on which the Virgin Mary made the request to her son Jesus, but I am unaware what the request was. From the twentieth century on, the great feast of prayer for a good harvest became linked more strongly to the activity of all construction workers, both in rural towns and cities. The day is now always on May 3.

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Ajijic, Jalisco.

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Other sources indicate that the celebration of Day of the Holy Cross in Mexico dates back to the sixteenth century, when Captain Juan de Grijalva named the Island of Cozumel, (in the state of Quintana Roo) Isla de la Santa Cruz. The masons took the name of the Cruz celebration as their own, due to a legend that in a village of Tabasco the villagers carried out a procession with a cross, but in the end, the cross always returned to its place of origin.

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(Aztec dancer, photo by Dane Strom).

 

Whatever the origin, currently the celebration to the masons on the Day of the Holy Cross is intended to express  the value of their work as one of the worthiest trades, because this union builds not only the homes we inhabit but also public buildings and many more works that are indicative of the progress of the cities. The workers place a decorated cross (made by their wives) on top of anything under construction on that day.

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The stations with the crosses (in the streets) become the collection stations for fruit and baked good and vegetables for those neighbors which happen to collect those for an hour or so before the start of the festivities. At the end of the day, the neighbors gather, drink refreshments (I was offered a fresh fruit drink from guayabas), and share treats.

I went out to see what it all was about. My next door neighbor turned out to be one of the committee members, and she invited me to sit and enjoy with them. The men get their stronger drinks themselves from inside the homes—if they have to drink—and the whole street is full of people including many children of all ages, adolescents too, and of course a dog or two. Further up in the street were mariachis playing.

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Watercolor painting Torrito by Dionicio.

 

The committee of three neighbors record the gifts and which family is on the receiving end, so the next year those roles will be reversed. It is a true neighborhood party, with everybody hanging out, some of them sitting on the sidewalks (which are quite hight, connected to the rainy season when rivers run down to the lake!) or on stools or plastic chairs. It reminded me of the custom of the potlatch of our indigenous Canadians.

(Sources: noticierostelevisa.esmas.com, zocalo.com.mx, elsiglodetorreon.com.mx)

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The masons and other construction laborers work long hours under the hot sun, their physical activity far exceeds any exercise in a gym and their mathematical ability would be the envy of a high school student.  May 3 is their day, called the celebration of the holy cross.

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(Earlier that day I had seen the “torritos” in the yard of a fire technician who constructs the body of paper-mache and bamboo and attaches fireworks to it. A daring young buck hauls the contraption on his shoulders and runs through the streets with the fireworks lit. Much fun is had by all. Not something that is allowed anywhere but in Mexico!

 

I asked what he would charge for one torrito: 2500 pesos. Later that night I saw a couple of them sitting in my street at the festivities, but I didn’t end up seeing them run the torritos; I probably was in bed—after 11 pm).

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In the time of houses constructed from plywood, gyprock board, pressed chipboard and two by fours, the value and the understanding of the craft of masons is for the most part lost on residents of our North American society. It takes to actually see the boveda ceilings being constructed out of brick to believe that those bricks won’t fall down on your head. Basically, it is based on the construction of arches.

From Wikipedia: The construction of arches is an old craft: its inherent strength and the underlying principle of internal balance that keeps the bricks in place dates back to the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamian brick architecture. The systematic use started with the ancient Romans, who were the first to apply the technique to a wide range of structures.

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The strength of the ceiling is in the bricks, arranged in rows of four bricks with mortar between them, and held up by iron beams as the only external support system. It still boggles my mind to see it actually working. These ceilings are so strong that a grown man can stand on top of it. This is how Mexican boveda ceilings and the roofs are built, and the more intricate cupulas.

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Just for fun, I am adding a photo of a mural with the whole family of the owner of Viva Mexico, a restaurant in the next town over, San Juan Cosala. In Mexico, the family is the most important entity in a person’s life.

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In the tradition of painting the advertising right on walls, this is a photo of a new ad for a mural-painting business.

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A new arch for the benefit of tourists that might need directions called the Gate to the Lake —  Heart of Ajijic: Puerta del Lago — Corazon de Ajijic.

This is the latest modification, together with the extra-wide flagstones on this road that is closed for cars on the weekends that makes it easier to stroll down to the lake. Restaurants put their tables right in the street. Some other day I’ll take the photo with the tourists too.

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LAZY SATURDAY


LAZY SATURDAY

 

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On this Saturday afternoon towards the end of siesta time on a hot 30 degree C/86 F day, I am relaxing in my second-story, darkened room, when I suddenly hear the mariachi performing a live concert in a backyard garden, a few houses further up the calle. So lovely how the trumpet is skilfully dancing its tune, after which the violins and guitars are answering with a slightly different variation of the leading trumpet’s melody, line after line. This is a musical discussion between the brass and the string sections. Unfortunately, I cannot hear the singers’ voices from this distance, but I do hear the ‘ole’s and ‘bravo’s from the audience and the firecrackers.

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Mexico, you know how to have a party; your fiestas are joyful, always musical, and creative in many other ways.  I want to put that all in my suitcase when I will prepare to leave for the cold climate in Canada in two weeks, and take it with me.

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(Fiesta of Chapala 2016)

After having lived for six months in my little town in Mexico I am returning to my other home. Most of the snowbirds have already left. It doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference, as more Americans than before seem to stay year-round now. Weekends are very busy here with the crowds from Guadalajara flooding the town. The carretera (the highway through town that connects the lakeside villages) is slow going with bumper-to-bumper traffic, like the highway 97 through Kelowna, but luckily still just two lanes, although that undoubtedly will also change in the future. (Have you also noticed that this expression—in the future—is not used anymore? Media commentators now say: going forward. I wonder what happened that the future has become so unpopular.)

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There is a building boom going on. Many young men are working, and since the work is here much more often manual or completed with less mechanical appliances, and lots of crafts still are used in the construction of the houses, lots of men are working, and still, more men are needed.

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I did manage to get the befriended painter-artist to make me a set of wardrobes with paintings on the doors.  But  I can’t get my handyman to finish the job of hanging the sunshade back up on the second floor. He doesn’t answer my call about when this is going to happen. He likely has his hands full with other work, now that there is no difference anymore for him between ‘the season’ and ‘off-season.’ Well, it’s not an emergency. It can wait.

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Money is streaming into Ajijic: foreign money and local money, and from Mexicans living elsewhere. I read on the CNN online publication that Mexicans in the USA sent home $26.1 billion from January to November 2017, according to figures released by the central bank of Mexico. That’s the most ever recorded and better than the $24.1 billion sent in 2016 over the same period. The total annual figure for 2017 is on pace to hit another record high. Remittances are one of Mexico’s top sources of foreign income, outpacing oil exports, which totaled $18.5 billion between January and October, according to the most recent figures available at the Bank of Mexico. Manufacturing exports are the top source of foreign income for Mexico.

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(Mexico is growing and becoming an economic powerhouse. Photos from 1950s.)

Trump, eat your heart out. That wall is not being built and not being paid for by Mexico. And by the way, if Mexican cartels would not buy your American weapons, the gun dealers would have to close their stores. A U of San Diego study into guns in the USA stated that if US dealers couldn’t sell to Mexico, 47% of gun dealers would go out of business. I think Mexico would be better off if there was a wall and if it kept those guns out. I never heard Trump own up to the fact that his nation’s gun dealers are a liability for Mexico.

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(History is not going to be repeated where white invaders and their clergy could exploit the people of Mexico – mural in Chapala’s town hall).

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At the same time, federal and municipal elections are in the works. The push for voters’ allegiance is on. It is really noticeable that the public works budgets are being spent right now on public projects to impress the public. At the local level, the main street has new, even, sidewalks of embossed concrete, and even a bicycle path is laid from the Walmart site on the edge of town to right in the center of town and stops by my turn-off on Juarez. A reporter from the Ojo de Lago (an English-language monthly magazine) had done research and knew that the municipality of Chapala had hired twice as many employees as the previous mayor. All businesses were asked to paint their fronts. The place looks outright clean, tidy, and better maintained.

 

 

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Hola! The mariachis have started up their gig again, probably with a cevesa or tequila or two in them. I hear singing now too. Wonderful. I am beginning to recognize the melodies lately. It’s time I get myself a drink too.

 

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If you have a thought about visiting me between December and May, you are welcome. Just know and understand that I live in a Mexican neighborhood, not a cleaned up version of it where mostly gringos live, and definitively not a gated community. It would help to feel comfortable if you learn some basic Spanish, like hola, buenos dias, and buenas noches, and gracias, haha, and Quiero un margarita por favor. I heard my American friend (who has spent a good part of her youth here and lives here most of the year) complain that lately there are too many gringos, and she misses the Mexicans. Not at my place: I definitively live in the barrio.

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And January/February can be cold, relatively speaking, so take warm clothes too. No, not your minus 20 coat, but jeans, socks, and a sweater or puffy will do. And bring good shoes, because all the other streets are still built with uneven sidewalks and cobblestones from the 17thcentury—not the civilized, uniformly shaped, manufactured cobbles from Europe and from your landscape place—but uneven and natural rocks (even in the sidewalk).

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Too bad, the mariachis are done. I have enjoyed the two sets of each 45 minutes. That is a costly affair. Must be an important anniversary or birthday. I should be starting to think how I want to celebrate my next birthday here—the big one: 70!

 

Time for my dip in my little pool to cool off and have that drink. This April was hotter here than ever, people told me. I bought a lounge chair today for sitting on the patio. The music is already taken care of: modern music now, don’t know who plays it, but likely my neighbor behind me.

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MEXICAN STYLE PATIO


MEXICAN STYLE PATIO

My friend lives in the cutest casa and she is a master in decorating Mexican style and gardening;  I just had to take photos of her work.  With her permission, I post them here. Her companion is Jezebel.

 

IMG_0481Jezebel is waiting for her mistress to come along to the patio.

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A mobile statue: the weight of the stone bodies cause a pendulum movement when set in motion and then the mother starts rocking her child.

 

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The ladder wasn’t meant to be decorative, but it is!

 

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TOO FUNNY.

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