Living Like a Local: Meeting the Locals

the view of the street where Simon and Mari live

Hi everyone, it’s me again 🙂 It’s been a week since I arrived in Mexico, and it’s been a rough 7 days because I have a big target on my back, attracting all the mosquitoes that haven’t tasted foreign blood in quite a while. I want to say I’m almost at 20 bites, which is epic for me considering I spray myself with repellent at least 2-3 times a day! Aside from the mosquitoes being the bane of my existence, I’ve been fortunate enough to not feel homesick (yet) since arriving.

Despite the negative things that some news outlets and an orange-faced, small-handed man-child say, Mexicans are one of the most friendly people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’ve been to Mexico a number of times, a few times with family for vacation, and two other times (one to volunteer in Merida, and now). They are some of the hardest working individuals I know, and live so happily even though they don’t have all the material items and luxuries that we have in the US. My host father is super funny, and we’ve joked about what a mess the US is in with a certain puppet in office, and how it’s an utterly stupid and incredible idea to build a wall, like come on, people! I can name a number of things that Mexico is so awesome for:

  • THE PEOPLE!!!!! I’ve had my fair share of some not-so pleasant Spanish-speaking individuals in NYC, but the people in Mexico are completely different (continue to read below)
  • CENOTES! These are natural sinkholes like natural pools that are pristine for people to explore and swim in 🙂
  • ANCIENT RUINS! Chichen Itza is on the list of the 7 Wonders of the World, everyone!
  • CULTURE! Mexico is comprised of 31 states and 1 federal district.
  • LANGUAGES! There are 69 recognized languages indigenous to the country.
  • FOOD! I’ve been learning so many recipes from my host mother and sister!

I just finished watching Minimalism on Netflix, and I believe that people can be, and are happier with less. Some people in my community have nothing but aluminum sheets covering their homes, tattered furniture pieces, desolate yards, and are still using houseware items that we would have thrown out the moment they had a dent or when the next new thing came out to replace it. Despite living in these conditions, probably 99% of the people I met on my morning walks always greet me with a smile when I say ¡buenos días! while passing them on the cobblestone roads.

the view from the top of the hill

On the first day when I took a walk, I was nervous because my Spanish was (and still is) rusty, but I put on my brave face and made an effort to greet everyone I saw. While many of them looked curiously at me wondering why a Chinese gringa was in their community, they immediately returned a bright, warm smile as they said hello back. This one man I passed responded to me, ¿Estás perdida? (Are you lost?) Back in NYC, I find it hard to believe that if I was walking around the city looking around and saying hi to people, that more than maybe 10% of people would say hello back, and surely none of them would be concerned enough to ask me if I was lost. Not to mention, I met a grandmother the other day with her granddaughter, and it’s like the granddaughter imprinted on me immediately (you know, the way ducklings imprint on their mamas?!) She kept reaching for me to pick her up and hold her hand to walk her on the street and wouldn’t let me leave until I was able to sneak away when she asked for her bottle. I don’t know why children like me, honestly; maybe because I’m small and unthreatening-looking hah!

La calle.JPG

In the 20+ years I’ve lived in NY, it’s been really difficult to get a smile in return if you smiled at someone in the street in passing. Most would look at you as if something was wrong with you, or maybe think there was something you were laughing at instead of accepting it as a genial gesture. So much for a smile being contagious, huh? NYC is such a fast-paced environment that very rarely do people take the time to just stop and enjoy the city and take in what’s around them, much less waste a millisecond of their day to smile back at a stranger on the street and say hello. I admit, it’s kind of weird to smile at someone who you don’t know at all, but I always try to think that a smile can brighten someone’s day and possibly make them feel good, even for a moment, especially if they’re going through a tough time.

Today was a very pleasant day, and it was super cloudy in the morning, which meant that it was nice and cool for me to spend some time at the park and draw. I later met two people as I was making my way to the Moringa germplasm site, and they were worried for my safety as there’s a house with 5 vicious dogs who guard their territory like their life depends on it! Isabel, the woman who showed me the site, spent the morning walking with me and introducing me to people we passed, and shared with me that her poor little dogs were torn apart by those evil Cujos 😥 On our last stop, we met the wife of the gardener with whom I’ll be working, and at the end of our conversation, they made it a point to tell me that everyone in the community is looking out for me, and if I ever needed help, that they’d be there for me. It’s extremely heartening to feel so welcome in a community, especially when I’ve only been here for a week!

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of Mexican culture since I’ve only been here a handful of times, but I’m determined to continue to return and keep exploring different parts of this amazing country, with my trusty guide in my backpack B)

This first week was a success:
✓ conversed with everyone in broken Spanish (but received compliments for my ability to understand a lot, woohoo!)
✓ gained maybe 1/2 a shade darker
✓ familiarized myself with the neighborhood
✓ survived my first bout of food poisoning (and learned my lesson)
✓ met 22 people in the community
✓ hiked up and down a mountain at 7am
✓ survived an ambush by 5 Cujos
✓ battled and conquered at least 5-7 different native bugs in the house

Ardilla encima mi cabeza2
It wasn’t even an hour since I arrived and a man with two pet squirrels came by our table at the restaurant and just placed this little guy on my head!
Until the next post, hasta luego 🙂

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