Welcome to the Adventure

Living in Mexico is often indescribable...you just have to live here. I have been journaling experiences for a while, and I hope you can get a feel for stupid-ass gringos trying to get it. But I am still here, and that says a lot for those of us sticking it out, as the payback is what makes life so good here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Passages with Food

Just when life was getting comfy, a paradigm shift occurs and things change. Fast. Often the best reasons for living here are the same as the worst reasons for living here. It's a small town. We listen to the stories, we see people move on, friendships change, but through all of these wonderful people, we have met an amazing array of new people. And weren't we glad we got to share the road with some of you, that we don't see so much anymore, or not at all, except by SKYPE, which you all have on your computers, right!!

Elia (sister), Claudia (chef), and Mama, Adriana Jordan

Many of you who have moved to new communities, when you retired, have certainly shared our experiences. You feel your way. You connect with people, and then you don't. Larry and I have been fortunate in making friends, but it ain't easy, as many of you have experienced. Through friends though, like an ever widening ripple, people are added to the circle. And sometimes total strangers, you met in a Cafe, or people staying across the street from you, turn out to be friends in the making.

Through friends we have met four remarkable young people that have inspired us, Claudia, Ulysses, Franco, and Monica. They have all just started new businesses here (restaurants, like the hardest business of all), or have, in Claudia's case, taken over a business. Not so easy in Huatulco, Mexico, which is a seasonal resort, for businesses to make it here. We have met many young people here with dreams that have gone towards a nightmare, sadly. Business here is sometimes akin to watching the last episode of "As the World Turns", you hope for the best, because it looks like a happy ending. (They all have assured me I can write about them and hopefully next year, or better yet five years from now, I will be celebrating their success.)

To be fair, we did know Claudia first, and she is really, what can I say, a breath of fresh air when all else seems in chaos. She was waiting tables at La Crema 5-6 years ago, summers, going to University in Chiapas the rest of the year. As they say, it was love at first sight! Her English was stunningly idiomatic, if not yet fluent. I asked, like a dumb-ass gringo, where she picked up her English. She looked at me dead on and said "Sex and the City". How could you not love her????? Fast forward. She is now here full time, and is still a breath of fresh air.

Claudia took on the unenviable task of taking over a fairly popular North American style breakfast and lunch place; a nice place to have a four hour breakfast.. The Crazy Kraut Cafe, was Marion's baby. When Marion returned to Canada, she was going to let it go, sell off stuff, etc. A business colleague stepped forward and suggested an alternative, his daughter Claudia. Our Claudia. She has actually been busy developing a hostel business for the backpackers who think they can't afford shit anywhere near here. This is to be the last hostel between here and Salina Cruz or Guatemala for that matter. Anyway, she took on the Crazy Kraut.

She did good Marion! You would be so proud of those Eggs Benedict, girl. The french toast, crepes, and a daily special, all good (BBQ ribs on Saturday). She did go to cooking school. Finally, she gets to do what she wants until the hostel business gets on its feet. Good for us too. She is funny, warm, and will not forget a customer, and she's doing the cooking right now. She'll need help, but she's off to a great start! And the four hour breakfast tradition continues, we can attest to this, with friends and strangers who joined us for coffee, then a beer (where else?) and conversation. She's nervous, eager and fabulous, and fortunately this is prime Mexican vacation time, so she's getting customers from locals and the visitors alike.

On the other side of the Hotel Michelle entrance, (Crazy Kraut is to the left of the Hotel), is a new restaurant, with a name I wouldn't have picked, but Mamma Mia... lets all of us know it is Italian. Franco and Monica, the proprietors, were introduced to us by a friend, who told us about a little gelato place in town. Well, it was really the only one, but ooooh so good. Franco and Monica are young, ambitious, and eager to succeed in the restaurant business. An opportunity came up to open a restaurant a couple of blocks from their gelato shop, and they took it. His lasagna is fabulous! They are making their own homemade Italian sausage.

Mamma Mia...
To be Continued - maybe from California (another road trip....., we're retired ☺)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Elections in Oaxaca

"The showing against the PRI in Oaxaca, a heavily indigenous state where the party was in power for eight decades, was highly symbolic. A five-month uprising erupted in 2006 over allegations that outgoing Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who was not seeking re-election, stole his election victory. Critics accused Ruiz of strong-arm politics that exemplified the coercion and corruption that the PRI used to govern Mexico for seven decades.
"These are historic victories," National Action president Cesar Nava said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Sinaloa has a fundamental significance when it comes to Mexico's security. In Puebla and Oaxaca, the victory means a significant break with entrenched strongman politics."

The official count had alliance candidate Gabino Cue leading with 50 percent of the votes, compared with 42 percent for PRI candidate Eviel Perez, with 17 percent of the vote counted early Monday." AP July 5, 2010

Elections in Mexico are not so different from the the United States, unless you count the 4 bodies hanging from a bridge, and assasination of a governor candidate, and armed military presence at most major polling places as slightly irregular, then not so different. For world watchers, most get that Mexico is an emerging democracy. It is being born as we watch and live here. For Oaxacans, a change was in the wind. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party ) the ruling party here for over 70 years, and the ruling party in Mexico until Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon won presidential elections, is seemingly in a fight for their strangle-hold on Mexico to continue. Enough so, that even here in Huatulco there were rumors of voter fraud, with the PRI buying votes.

Gabino Cue, the most likely winner here in Oaxaca for governor, represented a coalition of various political groups, including leftist, centrists and rightist in a strategy that seemed to have worked. Teachers have taken over the Zocalo in Oaxaca, in protest to the PRI and the present governor, Ulises Ruiz, who for these teachers represented the worst of the government when they went on strike in 2006, and have been protesting his governance since. With their strong voice, they have provided an impetus for change here. The city of Oaxaca was held hostage for a significant number of months, due to violence, from both sides (government and teachers and others) in the protests of 2006. That experience still lingers in Oaxaca as demonstrated by both the strike in the zocalo, the number of groups we saw on the streeets protesting, and not least of all the graffiti that is still prevalent in Oaxaca.

For all of us, citizens and expats, in Mexico, it has been an agonizing election year. The narcotraffickers have instilled so much fear in parts of Mexico, that as the gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre in Tamaulipas was assassinated, many of the voters from this state stayed away from the polls in fear for their lives. Can you imagine how that must feel? To vote could be a death warrant here, with ample evidence with the four hanging bodies on a bridge, in modern times, were we all expect some semblance of an orderly democratic process. Instead the candidates are wearing bullet proof vests, and are guarded by the federal police. It is hard to imagine, say an election in San Francisco, bodies hanging from the Golden Gate Bridge, to warn us we better not vote if we value our lives. It is a scary time for many citizens, especially in the northern part of Mexico.

The PRI is undoubtedly still the party of the times though, and has maintained significant power in most other elections in Mexico. But the election of an alliance candidate in Oaxaca is huge. The country itself had been controlled for many years by the PRI, and the elections were forgone conclusions, at least for 70+ years. The PRI controlled the country. But there are inroads to this one party rule, and alliances of other political parties seems effective, at least in the case of Gabino Cue.

For me, it has been a real learning curve, regarding politics of Mexico. The country is in the throes of celebrating 2010, two hundred years of independence, 100 years since THE revolution. We all received Viaje Por La Historia de Mexico, a book of Mexico's revolutionary history in the mail last week, detailing first the struggles for independence, and then the revolution which changed everything in Mexico: giving land back to poor people, setting up a "democracy-like" government system, and dragging Mexico into "modern" times are some of the reforms. Well known heroes like Zapata, Villa, Molina and Carranza worked hard to reform the government, help the poor of this country with agricultural reform, and create a constitutional government. But for the most part, up until maybe 15 years ago, Mexico was no democracy. It is turning though, towards something nearing a democracy.

We gringos keep our opinions to ourselves. For good reason. We haven't experienced anything like the politics of Mexico, and to express an opinion to Mexicans almost seems sacrilegious. We haven't walked in their shoes. Voting here July 4, there were long lines of people waiting to vote. In a country where a significant number of the population cannot read, they still check voters by photos, and a thumbprint, as their signature. They know the initials of political parties, and certainly have some knowledge of political positions. But the campaigning is akin to a high school class president election. Lots of visual clues, pictures, initials, music, airplanes with banners over the communidades, and party representatives, walking dirt roads, into impossibly located villages, to spread the word. But as I sit here now, I hear the radios of the workers, turned to election results, and hear the cheers, chants and shouts of the people of Oaxaca, and they have changed the course of history here, and they know it.

We are fortunate to live in the peaceful part of Mexico. Here among the mainly indigenous population, the bottom line is still "will the government change our lives for the better?" This does not mean one may be able afford a bigger house, a second or third car, or a trip every year to Europe. Change here is about basic human needs and rights. Change here is a school in their area...at least to 4th grade, if not 8th. Change is a road into their communities; electricity into their communities, water, food. I think about all we have in the US, and take for granted, basic things, that are not even a whisper of possibility here in Oaxaca yet.

This is not the sly, sniding, snipping politics of the US. These people are not whining like the teapartiers of the north who are more worried about changing demographics in their neighborhood than basic human rights. But here in Mexico voting is about the dignity of life itself, a chance to come into the modern world, to honestly change people's lives for the better. It has been an eye-opening experience, and has made me much more aware of the gifts one receives by just being born in the USA (thanks Bruce Springsteen for reminding me again of how special that is still).