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The Mexico We Have Found.. Two Years LaterVic Pittman Salem-News.com
Community input is taken seriously here. An obnoxious neighbor can actually be voted out of the neighborhood.
(SAN BLAS, Mexico) - "They come up here with no money, they can't speak the language, and they expect to find work and a comfortable life. Maybe you should go down to Mexico with no money, not speaking any Spanish, and see if they welcome you with open arms... you wouldn't last six months let alone a year, and that's if you weren't killed first!" Advice/idea I received while arguing with an anti-immigrant racist in Oregon, May 2008.
Today makes two years since my wife Glenda and I rolled into this central Mexican coastal town of San Blas, Nayarit, our entire lives condensed to the area contained in our 95 Ford cargo van. We arrived on Christmas Eve, 2009, with $2000 US. (all the money we owned), sticker-making machine, signmaking tools, metal working tools, a welder, music equipment and other things that we thought we might be able to make a living with.
We spoke Spanish at the level of a three year old child. We had no possessions back in the US, no pension, no savings account to fall back on, no SS. We agreed that no matter how things went, we would not consider leaving for one year. A year earlier, we had never heard of San Blas, would have thought Nayarit (the state we are in) was probably somewhere in Indonesia, and had not even really seriously considered living anywhere other than Oregon, let alone the Mexican tropics. Our decision to move to Mexico, as monumental as it was, is one that we cannot pinpoint the exact time of.
It just seemed right and we were ready for an adventure, among other things. Our children were all adults and doing well, so we were free to go. The only downside was that we would have to sell our house in order to do this..we could not continue to make house payments if we were barely subsisting, which we fully expected to be the case.
Of course, the banks are not giving loans for older farmhouses, so we ended up selling our house for much less than expected, our little nest egg that we hoped to start our new life with reduced to nearly nothing. I began to wonder just how primitive our life would be. I know nothing about fishing, but figured if we were on the water, we could eat anyways. We crossed the border and drove South until we got to Mazatlan.
Our first night there, we had our first bout of "What in God's name have we done?", fueled by cheap Tequila and a fear of the vague unknown, and the realization that we could not just go back to our house in Oregon. The second day in Mazatlan, having recovered our wits a bit, we looked on a map and saw San Blas, an unassuming dot on the coast North of Puerto Vallarta.
The next morning, we left Mazatlan, happy to at least have a possible destination, and six hours later, crossed the bridge that leads into San Blas. The two years since have been tough at times, but wonderful. I miss my loved ones, and I occasionally miss the hauntingly beautiful rainy, overcast days of Oregon, but that is about it. After being down here, American society and all it's trappings remind me of a tired old whore... all show and glitter and padding on the outside, but bitter, frail and empty on the inside and terrified of the many things it perceives to be "failures", I see so much more strength and power in the little old man here, a victim of childhood polio who can barely walk, who every day loads his cart with coconuts and pushes them through town to sell, than all the medal-chested US/NATO Generals and their WMD's and their nukes, cluster bombs and cruise missiles put together. They are nothing but malicious, ignorant children in comparison to him.
Our first year here was tough..there were times that we wanted to call it quits, but were determined to give it a year, no matter what.
Our Spanish was so poor that finding work was nearly impossible. I found painting jobs through friends, and we made and sold stickers of various types, but the going was slow. We did not bring anything down here with the intent of selling it. It was a daunting enough task to get our whole life in one cargo van, let alone bring "extra" stuff. However, as our economic situation began to falter, we had to re-examine our priorities. First to go was a Victor cutting torch kit..hoses, regulators and guages. Not too long after that we sold a Peavy PA and set of congas, then a kayak, hydraulic jack, stereo amplifier, bench grinder, chop saw, fishing poles and a microphone. Eventually we sold our van, as we no longer really needed it. So we got through the first year, but lost a lot of the things we thought we could use to make money with.
I wrote this back in April, 2010.
"We have been drinking more than usual lately. Our brew of choice is Pacifico. We are running out of money and are unable to do anything about it. We have less than a months rent money left and work is coming in much much slower than needed. So we drink beer to relax while we can and ignore the freight train of destitution bearing down on us. However, drinking beer in Mexico is not cheap.
The average worker has to work a little over an hour to earn enough to get one quart of beer. We both are aware of the irony of our spending money on beer to help us relax and stop worrying about money. The toughest thing for me is not knowing what to do about our situation. Legally I cannot work here, but I know I will have to, regardless of the consequences. I have never felt so helpless and without options.
My Spanish is so limited that just bidding on a job is nearly impossible without a translator. I really did not realize what a handicap not speaking the language would be. (Looking back, that sounds incredibly naive, and it was.) Fortunately, our friends occasionally locate work for us and serve as the middlemen..we give them commission. But more has to be done and we are going to have to take chances and be more visible in order to bring in more money.
This was all expected, of course, but the reality of it is huge. Of course the more visible we are to customers, the greater the chances are that we will be asked to show our work permits and visas. People say that we would be deported unless we struck a deal or were able to get enough people from the community to vouch for us.
Community input is taken seriously here. An obnoxious neighbor can actually be voted out of the neighborhood. On the other hand, a person who is of benefit to the community and well liked will receive special consideration. I like this flexibility and hope to be on the good end of it should the need arise."
From July, 2010...
" As the name implies, Pharmacia El Centro is right in the middle of town. The good news was that I got the job of re-lettering the building, but the bad news was that I would be very very visible, and I am working illegally. I wished that I could blend in more, but I dont stand a chance of that. I am white, taller than most everyone here, and have a shaved head. People are used to seeing gringos here, but rarely do they see them working. I really am worried about getting deported. My friends tell me that in the past, it never happened unless you got into trouble, but since the US started cracking down, so has the Mexican govt. I cant say I blame them. This is incredibly nerve-wracking"...
Since then, we have gotten our legal status here in order, it was only lack of money that kept us from taking care of that in the first place. We have found Mexican laws to be quite fair and have no desire to disregard them.
I wrote the following in the fall of 2010...We were going through hard times and I was literally angry at God " As an American, I never experienced being out of food, nor even worried about it. I think of the many times that I looked in the fridge and exclaimed "There's nothing to eat !" when in fact, there was plenty. The fact is, we are now living like most of the people of the world do...hand to mouth. We did not come down here expecting an easy life. Everyone here works hard for not nearly enough, it seems.
Friends and community become very important for people who struggle. I know that right now I could go down to the playita and get a fish from one of my fishermen friends if I had to.I know that if I went to the place where we buy our vegetables and asked, they would give me something. I havent had to yet, but I know I could. It is humbling and incredibly frustrating to be in that place..and again, there is something miraculous about it. It is transforming. More than ever I tend to see all of us as the basic organisms that we are, needing and wanting the same things..food, shelter, feeling loved, needed and respected.
The world is a different place when you are out of money. Everything you see is a reminder that you cannot afford it, and at the same time it seems like everyone else can. People are surprised to hear of a gringo down here struggling. They assume that like most of the others here, that we have a pension, SS or something to live on. Yesterday I got my box of stickers and went out walking around selling them. I did pretty good and before too long had 70 pesos, enough to get dinner and coffee for in the morning.
When my children were growing up, just about every time we went out to eat I reminded them of the fact that only the wealthiest 6% of the people on earth could afford to do what we were doing. If you can afford to drive to a restaurant and order a meal, you are indeed in the top 6%. I have always been in that category..now for the most part, I am among the other 94%. Most Americans go not realize how fortunate they are. If a severe depression ever hits The US, the effects will be immense.
Americans are used to a standard of living that the vast majority of the people of the world can only dream of. Take that away and there will be unprecedented chaos. A study by The Hunger Project showed that if the US took one third of the energy and money now devoted to war and weaponry and applied to to food production, it could feed the world...twice. I guess the profit margin is not large enough for that to happen.
Every minute of every day, thirty children under the age of 6 die from starvation or malnutrition-related illness. Yet this means nothing to the war profiteers and their bought and paid for politicians. And, it means nothing to most Americans...not our problem. In a just world, Boeing, Lockheed/Martin, United Technologies,General Electric, General Atomics, Honeywell and all the other companies that grow fat and rich off the death and misery of others would be charged with murder for not only the victims of their shiny overpriced weapons, but also for every starvation death. I remember in Sunday School hearing that "the meek shall inherit the Earth"...
All I see the meek inheriting is grief and misery. I see the arrogant, hateful and genocidal sociopaths of the world taking the Earth and whatever they want in it, while the good people suffer and struggle for the crumbs.. God loves us, we are told..more than we love our own children, yet he allows babies to starve, entire families to be blown to bits by drones operated by twenty/something punks with joysticks out of Creech AFB in Nevada. He allows the rich to plunder and kill the poor and poison the survivors with depleted uranium. If there is a God, I say he is heartless and absolutely worthless. He blesses murderers and evil and punishes good. In my mind, God has become the Devil. In this world anyways, God is Evil."
From October. 2010
"Woke up today to a bleak situation..no money, no coffee, no food other than some rice and flour. Tried to make pancakes with flour and water, but were terrible. About 10, our neighbor, Abel called me over and gave me a stalk of bananas and some fish. Our vecinos, neighbors, have been great. We never discuss our financial situation, but they know we have to work for a living, and I think they perceive that it must be tough with our limited Spanish.
The people here are so sharing, it is quite touching. Most everyone here has next to nothing by American standards, yet they are quick to share whatever they have...even with strangers. The two men who walk through town selling bags of peanuts came by today, as I am usually a reliable customer. I told them that I would get a bag but I have no money..not even the ten pesos for a bag..They just gave me one for free.
I said that I would pay them next time, but they said no, it was.a regalo, gift. The average worker here has to work half an hour to earn enough for a 12 oz bottle of beer, yet dozens of times friends and even strangers have given me beer, usually insisting I have at least a couple.. "Uno cerveza is nada" (One beer is nothing.) We love this society ! Sometimes, however, we toy with the idea of calling it quits and going back to Oregon."
From November 2010
"It was on "Wild Kingdom", back in the late 60s, when I first saw footage of a crocodile attack..the usual water buffalo crossing the river thing..it may have been zebra. I was blown away at how the crocs would just come up out of nowhere in an explosion of water, jaws, teeth and dark green death, the victims not standing a chance. I remember as a kid, hating the crocodiles and thinking that if I were the cameraman, I'd shoot some of those bastards. I remember thinking that I wouldnt even go near the rivers in a place like that...who would? Well..someone who needs 200 pesos ($15) would.
So far, all my boat lettering jobs have been on the beach, which works out great. I keep track of the tides, go at low tide and letter them while they are sitting on the beach, high and dry. Last week tho, things changed. The boat to be lettered was in the river. In order to letter the back of it, I had to wade waist deep into the river..the very river where on any given day, you can see crocodiles basking along the banks. People are sometimes surprised to hear of crocodiles in Mexico, but here in the tropical part they are abundant. I asked the owner of the boat "What about the crocodiles?" and he told me not to worry, because there were "only a couple, and they weren't hungry right now "..I was not reassured, but we needed the money, so I quickly and nervously did the job...."
"Moved to a house down on the playita - "little beach". The house is rough but the view and location is incredible. Our rent is 750 pesos per month, about $65 US. We go to sleep with the sound of the ocean, watch the fishing boats unloading their catch during the day, plus I am getting a lot of work lettering fishing boats. Some people tell us that this is the "bad" part of town, which we find ridiculous.
Our neighbors here are awesome, our many fisherman friends wonderful and always ready to share fish, shrimp or whatever they have. They know that we are struggling just like they are and they respect that. They appreciate that I letter their boats for around half what anyone else charges. Several of them have made it clear that if we ever needed food and had no money, they would be offended if we didnt ask them for a fish or two. It feels good to be included and feel a sense of community.
Glenda is treated very respectfully by everyone here. Back during the Christmas holiday she was walking to the store when four drunks in a car with out of state plates drove by and began hassling her, trying to get her to go with them, etc. Immediately, one of our neighbors who was on a bicycle rode up while another friend of ours, a Samoan giant of a man, came out of his house and stood there watching, letting it be known that this was not going to be tolerated. The drunks left... Things are going well.
Between Glenda's cooking, my sign painting and tattoos, we are living more comfortably than ever, We still are hand to mouth, but as long as we continue to have work, that is fine. "
"Things going better than ever for us. Our Spanish is much better, and we are getting much more work. Glenda is well known in this town for her cooking and has a loyal following, and I am getting more sign work than ever. We are so glad that we stuck out the hard times and didn't give up. We feel like we belong here."
There are so many things about this place that we love..the climate, the year round fresh fruit and vegetables, the fresh seafood. But the reason we are staying here is because we love the Mexican people and their society. The Mexican people are a joy to be around..Every day here seems to be a happy celebration of life, family and food....seriously ! Our friends and neighbors go out of their way to make us feel included. People are happy to hear how much we value and admire their society.
With very, very few exceptions, we have found the Mexican people to be incredibly nice, courteous, graceful, non-judgmental, respectful, sharing and honest. Aggression towards others is almost non existent from what we have seen here...even raising one's voice or yelling at someone is viewed as very extreme and troubling. Violence towards others is not tolerated. The bar for happiness is much lower here.
I virtually never hear anyone complain, and everyone seems quick to smile and find happiness in the little they do have rather than dwell on what they do not have. Family is very important and I see a lot more families doing things together than I did back in the US. Old people are treated with respect, included and cared for. There are no "nursing homes" in San Blas. Even in the capital city of Tepic, which has a population of around 350,000 people, you would be hard pressed to find a single "nursing home".
It is an accepted fact here that when you can, you work hard and do your best for your family, and when you are old and unable to take care of yourself, your family returns the favor. I did not have any tolerance for the anti-Mexican crowd of losers before and I certainly do not now. We have been treated so wonderfully by the people here, it almost brings tears to my eyes just to think about it. I feel that I have become a better person by simply being around these gentle and patient people. We do not know if we will live here the rest of our lives, but are so content here that it is entirely possible.
This "experiment" has turned out much better than we had even hoped. If I could pass anything on from this, it would be that "things"..beyond the basics, do not bring happiness. Being happy or not is simply a choice. I often say jokingly that people here do not realize that they are not supposed to be as happy as they are. The media and Madison Avenue are constantly reminding Americans that we will be happy only if we have this or that new gadget, car or medicine.
The rich are revered, even if their riches come from the blood of others, while those who choose a simple way of life or even through no fault of their own are poor are looked down on. Possessions and money are so often the driving force behind American life, so we drop off our kids at day care and our parents get dumped off at nursing homes and we wonder why we feel empty even when we have a new car in the garage and a big flat screen TV on the wall. And that TV continues to show and tell us what we need to get next, how much better the wealthy are living and why we should feel inadequate.
We are bombarded with prescription medicine ads, some of which seem to be remedies for diseases that were only recently invented, constantly reaffirming our frailty and faulty construction. (The United States, BTW, is the ONLY country in the world that allows prescription medicine ads on television.
Maybe the rest of the world is aware that the power of suggestion can and will be abused by those who ruthlessly seek wealth at other's expense.) In closing, our two years here have been a mixture of emotions and experiences, some not so good, but mostly all wonderful. To that "see how long you'd last down there" racist that I quoted at the beginning of the srticle, I have to say Gracias! for planting the idea in my mind.
It has been awesome experiencing being a minority, the handicap of not being able to talk or communicate, even having to do without at times, and seeing firsthand that happiness is a choice not dependent on things or money. I appreciate seeing how a non aggressive society behaves and deals with problems. Mexican society is proud, yet not arrogant... strong but not aggressive.
All the racist stereotypes I had heard have been blown out of the water. For those interested in reading more, here are links to other Salem-News.com stories from San Blas. The Mexico we have found..Day in the Life Anarchy in the Streets of Mexico.
For now, Amigos, Adios!
Vic Pittman is a freelance writer from Scotts Mills, Oregon who resides in Mexico today. He is the holder of no literary awards, journalistic awards or college degrees. He has at one time or another been a honor student, inmate, biker, Christian, pothead, father, radical, pacifist, anarchist, artist, heavy metal guitarist, model citizen, lawbreaker, business owner, illegal marijuana grower, and volunteer for various causes. He is proud to be a "common man" and be among those striving to make this world a better place if at all possible. He was fortunate enough to have been raised by awesome parents who instilled what he feels to be essential values and encouraged him to feel a kinship with not just family or Oregonians or Americans or whites, but every person on Earth, and to act accordingly. He and his wife Glenda currently live in Nayarit Mexico.
You can write to Vic at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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