HAPPY NEW YEAR IN AJIJI, MEXICO
To all readers, I wish you a Happy 2018.
Another year has started. For me, it is the last year before I’ll hit the septuagenarian age. Right now I am sitting on my second-floor balcony with a misty view of the lake that stretches before me from east to west, a ten-minute walk downhill.
The haze over Lake Chapala may be moisture, or more likely, smoke, since the community has spent several nights this week celebrating Christmas Eve and New Years Eve by joining their neighbours, friends, and children, sitting around small warming wood fires during these still-cool nights, talking, snacking, and listening to the romantic Mexican music with a strong beat coming from the speakers extended to the street.
And the farmers are burning off the dead grass before planting, contributing to the cloud hanging between the hills, waiting for a breeze.
I am living the dream, they say because I am spending my time doing what I want, not worrying about how I shall provide for my daily basic needs. Of course, not all of what I want and need is met here. Life is just a collection of needs and wants and the balance is sometimes precarious, and hard to detect which is which. In this adopted country I see that many needs of the locals may not be met, and wants often have to take a backseat due to poverty. It doesn’t seem to me that the autochthones live any less happy, or less fulfilled lives than the rich gringos. I admire their way of mixing fun with the realities of life and taking everything out of it: working hard and celebrate at certain times.
I admire the abandon with which the locals undertook these past days of celebration in this small Mexican village of hundreds of years old (established around 1500 as it now is). With small luxuries—a bottle of tequila, or a crate of beer, a few pieces of fireworks, and a few bags of chips, and sometimes fried stuff—they create a twelve-hour-plus marathon of leisure that apparently fulfills the need so they can carry on everyday life for a while afterward.
The fiestas are happening frequently enough that this routine is repeated many times, each time for a different purpose and with different details and rituals. Most of it is centered around the Catholic calendar and became a mix of old customs, from before the missionaries hit Mexico, with the Catholic symbolism.
If the setting would be anywhere else, say in my Canadian neighbourhood, fights would break out between drunk celebrants and the police called by grumbling neighbours to intervene and to break up the party. Not here in Mexico. Quietly, at the end of it all at eight in the morning, after the last song blared through the speaker box, the group gathers all the garbage, kicks apart the embers of the fire, and take the plastic chairs and the speaker box home. Only a charred spot on the cobblestones remains to witness that something took place here.
The foreign visitors and expatriate-residents know what to expect. If we don’t like it, we’d better leave town, and many do indeed go to the coast when the longest fiesta—the ten-day celebration of the village’s patron saint, San Andres—is in progress. I don’t mind it and participated some of it with a group of friends.
It so happens that one of the traditional party locations is located on the corner in front of my house, where the members of a whole neighbourhood behind me in a privada (private road) meet the residents of the street.
To get some sleep, I plug my only working ear with silicone, close the windows and doors and go to sleep when I am tired. I intend to join them soon on my own when my confidence is up and I know enough Spanish to have somewhat of a conversation beyond how are you and what’s your name. I am a bit hesitant about it and probably will only join when there are other women around the fire, just to preserve my reputation, LOL.
In two weeks my days here have pretty much fallen into a routine; I created a structure, which most of us need in our lives. I break it whenever something else and more interesting comes along.
After I get up—my cat wakes me up—I get my coffee, make some toast and have fruit, often taking it up to my second-floor balcony in the emerging sunshine. I am writing in the mornings. From my study, I can observe the neighbourhood routines of delivery trucks stopping by, and people popping into the convenience store, and the daily trip of the basura (garbage) truck picking up the bags by the roadside.
Yes, the Mexicans do recycle, although I heard gringos saying they do not. But I think the visitors didn’t see the basura workers in action inside the truck. Every day they come by with their trucks, so the streets are cleaned up daily. (It used to be that the women swept their street daily as well.) I have been told there are others who comb through the refuse at the dumpsite too, but these people are likely the very poor that aren’t paid to do that.
The men on the truck (4) take the small and large garbage bags, pull them apart right on the truck and sort the materials, then tuck each category of refuse in large, separate bags hanging from the truck. So if you want to help them, you could sort your own garbage in separate bags: glassware and cans; bathroom paper and diapers/sanitary refuse; paper and cardboard; clothes and linen; food; garden refuse; plastic bags and containers. It is custom to give the basura men a Christmas tip, for which they stick a small envelope on your door. It is a lousy job, but somebody has to do it.
It takes time to get settled again after a long absence—since April–and now after two weeks, I feel at home again. The house was cleaned by a daughter-in-law of a friend’s cousin who lives just around the corner and whom I paid to stop into my place once in a while. To my delight, the potted plants were all still alive. Being able to leave plants outside year-round is one of the surprising (to me) benefits of this moderate climate in the mountains.
The utility services continued during my absence, but now needed to be paid, and topped up (gas) and some repairs paid. With persistence I got my Canadian service provider to unlock my iPhone for free, and here it works great with a local SIM card and a TelMec plan for only $14 per month.
I was on the look-out for cockroaches but found only a few dead ones in locked rooms. Hurray. My biological methods worked: bay leaves spread around the house as a repellant of the smell-sensitive creatures, and plastic lids with some baking soda on it, shoved underneath the appliances and in cabinets. They get a belly-ache after dinner and die. With a cat and me in the house, I don’t want any poisons in mi casa.
We have a fluctuating electricity system and my sensitive water pump didn’t like it, so that still needs to be fixed. I also discovered little wood-loving creates in the wooden ceiling of my study. It can be treated.
Now that I am alone here without the distraction of company, I noticed for the first time the difference in altitude and its effects. When I get up in the morning, I have to slowly get up and let my circulation adjust if I don’t want to feel dizzy. Eggs take longer to boil too. My breathing is harder; the low-grade hill I take from town to my casa is noticeable. Walking down the hill on the other hand—well you get the idea.
Without a car, I notice everything, and others notice me. There are merchants that recognize me, or just maybe they’re friendly to every lone gringa. The neighbourhood store owner is Rosa and she is very nice; her staff is a very young lady without any English, so I practice my Spanish. I buy my daily things there: bread, eggs, milk, beer, etc.
My neighbours going downhill are all locals and I am the first one to say hello ((h)ola, buenas dias/tardes/noches) and they always reply, often with smiles. My typical Mexican neighbourhood, barrio Tio Domingo, (although the realtor likes to locate my casa in Las Salvias), north of the carretera (highway), runs west from Juarez to the La Salvias barrio, and across from the San Sebastian barrio, which is east from Juarez. There are no tourist shops. Horses and dogs live here too, LOL. The Rojas bakery (and friend, Chelis) is located on Juarez.
My neighbours going uphill—except a couple of houses close to me—are gringos and Mexicans in large homes, rented out, or owned. You never see them outside in the streets. That posh area is called La Salvias after the spiked, purplish-blue plant.
This year I arrived late, in mid December, as I couldn’t get a ticket for my cat (only 2 pets on board per Westjet flight). Before December, a lot of fiestas already took place. The following is a citation from the Chapala.com site and its member k2tog, who appears not so fond of some of the local customs.
“Actually, the Virgin who resides in the little chapel on the Northwest side of the Plaza in Ajijic goes on a walkabout around Sept 29/30th to visit her namesake chapel near Six Corners for mass, she spends the night there and then she is walked from there to the Parroquia on Marcos Castellanos and she stays there for the entire month of October. Barrios share the responsibility of shooting off cohetes and neighbors walk together in the wee hours of each morning to say the Rosary. At the end of October she will go on another walkabout (parade) to return to her permanent home, and sometimes she is joined by The Virgin of Zapopan, or other Virgins who are visiting the area. She doesn’t have a parade every day just at the beginning of October and at the end. If you live in the village of Ajijic you probably live in one of the barrios who will participate…so depending on where you are in the “hood” you may be startled awake like Valerie described or you may not hear much of anything. I always look forward to the weeks when they are not in my barrio.”
So far the lady k2tog.
Those who read my blog already know that the Virgin of Guadalupe has an altar across from my house, so in her week I do get the celebrations and the bombs (cohetes, pronunciation sounds like coitus, pun intended) going off in the early mornings to wake us up for mass, and the band playing in front of each corner and, of course, in front of the Virgin, and volunteers handing out hot tea, with something stronger, if you wish. Then off to mass, where musicians serenade the Virgin and the church is overfull with real flowers. To me, it’s a joyous and respectful celebration and I love it. I suspect this mix of the secular and the sacred is why the Mexicans stay with the church and the religion.
For my life here, I need to make more connections yet, beyond the few people I have known from before, as life can get lonely without automatic access to friends. I miss my Mah Jong club. Luckily some of my Canadian friends are also in Mexico and I hope to see them at some point.
To get more contacts and, possibly, like-minded friends I will join de Chapala writers club. For developing my writing skills, I plan to attend two conferences, one in February in San Miguel de Allende, and one in March in Ajijic.
I hope to take Spanish lessons and have made an effort to locate teachers.
There is a large Chapala association for foreigners, but I am hesitant to be swallowed up by that group. Who knows, I might join. I hear that recently many more people settle in the area from the USA, eager to escape the current state of affairs there with a less than popular president. The local service people have been kept busy all year round now. A happy migration for both sides of the future wall, in this case at least, I suppose.
My early mornings usually are quiet, unless there is a market— the tenguis on Wednesdays, the biological market on Tuesdays, both full of anything you ever wanted, food not the least of it.
My late mornings or early afternoons are some/most times spent with a siesta first and/or reading. I have lots of time to read and am currently reading books by 2 key presenters at the SMA writers conference, hoping to have a chat with them.
Later some shopping, or visiting, and walking. The lakeside boulevard (malecon) is a nice spot to do that and to get there I walk downhill for ten minutes. I cook most of my meals, from all fresh, unprocessed foods, delicious! My evenings are quiet most days, just like my life in Canada. Occasionally, I go out for supper, or a margarita, or a michelada, although I drink those at home too.
In late January the UBC course online Polishing and Editing Your Manuscript will start up and I will use the instructors and materials to edit my manuscript. I am working hard on a Dutch translation of my third book—the war story—and am waiting for the rejections from Canadian publishers to come in before I will send it to the American and UK publishers.
Now, this is the quiet life of this writer so far. The next time I will post some new photos.
I am looking forward to your comments or questions. Please rate the post on the blog’s top.
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