Our first two weeks

Trip Start Jul 29, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Three days after arriving in Oaxaca, Leah flew to Manzanillo, Mexico to meet her dad and drive with him back to Oaxaca.  He has a condo in Manzanillo and offered to let us use his condo car during our year in Oaxaca.  The trick was getting the car from Manzanillo to Oaxaca.  Easier said than done.  Our dear friends Jimmy and Barb, who live in Manzanillo for most of the year, serviced the car, set it up with GPS, and talked Leah and Gary through the routes, places to avoid, what to do if pulled over by the Federallies (Mexican police), etc.  Then Leah and Gary set out on an adventure of a lifetime.  If Leah weren't so engaged in her actual book writing, I’d have her write her own entry about the ordeal, a twenty hour drive, including two hours lost in Toluca (when Leah did not follow Jimmy’s explicit instructions to avoid el Centro), three hours lost in Mexico City (did I mention that there are 23 million people living in Mexico City?)  and some hair raising hours on high, narrow mountain roads.  When they arrived in Oaxaca, I directed them to our house using Google Maps and a cell phone.  Needless to say, Leah and Gary were very relieved to finally arrive at our pad.  While they marveled at the beauty of Mexico and were appreciative of the bonding the trip allowed… they said we should probably consider selling the car in Oaxaca so that nobody needs to make that drive again.  You know, it’s probably better that Leah not write about her experience here.  That might limit her retelling of the story down the road.  This way, the epic tale can have a life of its own and evolve over time. Seriously, it sounded like parts of the trip were very stressful, but we are very appreciative to have a car here for the year.  It will help us explore the areas around Oaxaca and will be very handy for other family outings in town.  And Leah and Gary will forever have an adventure to talk about. 

While Leah and Gary were driving across Mexico, I was in Oaxaca with Micah and Zola.  We decided to explore the city and stock up on some basic provisions.  Busses are a convenient, cheap ($.42 for adults and $.19 for kids) way to get around.  We can catch one into town just two blocks away.  On the way home, the bus drops us off at the top of our driveway.  Before Leah left for Manzanillo, we had taken a bus into downtown.  Not knowing any better, we had gotten off at a dense, sprawling market.  While very cool, it was a bit overwhelming.  Not the quaint, historic, pedestrian-only part of Oaxaca that we were expecting.  Leah headed to the airport wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.  Well, the kids and I found that quaint, historic part, and explored it, over the next two days.  The kids were such troopers, walking two to three miles each day.  I didn’t take a lot of photos, but did take one inside of Santo Domingo Church, where Zola said, "I think this was built by pirates.  Look at all the gold.  There’s probably lots more gold buried in here somewhere."  Makes sense to me.

While I didn’t take many photos downtown, Micah and Zola were the subject of some other photographers’ affection.  In one of the city squares, we sat down to watch some high school-aged guys playing soccer in their street clothes.  Micah was transfixed.  He occasionally leaned over and said, “Dad, did you see that move?”  Zola, meanwhile, had attracted the attention of some students who I assume were studying photography.  She loved the attention,
and went so far as to pose for the cameras.  Micah, wanting to get in on some of the attention, joined her.  I photographed the photographers.
As part of our getting-the-lay-of-the-land weekend, we did a dry run of the walk to Micah and Zola’s school and found our local city park.  We also shopped for fruit and vegetables at the market at the church square nearby.  And we ate either soft shell corn tacos or tostadas with refried black beans, tomatoes, avocado, sour cream, cheese, and salsa every night for dinner.  And we all enjoyed it.  We’re now trying to branch out.  Dinner three nights ago was a roasted chicken.

Leah and her dad made it back to Oaxaca a week ago Tuesday so that they could be here for the kids’ first day of school on Wednesday.  We had worked through our checklist of things that they needed to bring on their first day of school, had practiced the walk to school, and had done a lot of talking about how exciting it would be to go to this school in particular, a Waldorf School called Papalotes (“kites”, in English).  The kids were ready.  So on Wednesday morning, dressed in their best first-day-of-school clothes, Micah and Zola led Leah and me out the door for the walk to school.  It was a very pleasant walk – about of a mile up and down hills, through the woods, across a bridge over a small river, down and up more hills, and down a dirt road to the school.  When we arrived, the gate was locked and we were the only ones there.  It turned out we had gotten some dates mixed up.  School started the following Monday.  Wednesday was the day for the parent meeting later that afternoon.  The kids were great about it.  In fact, they were happy to walk home and spend the day with Grandpa.

When Gary got ready to fly back to Manzanillo on Thursday, our family was sitting in the Mexican immigration office, trying to finalize the FM-3 process that would allow us to live in Mexico for the year.  We had done some legwork in St. Paul to get our ducks in a row, but there were more hoops to jump through.  We left the office with a list of things to bring back to them – bank statements and pay stubs showing that Leah was earning her salary in the U.S. and not in Mexico, photocopies of every page of all of our passports, copies of Micah and Zola’s birth certificates, Leah’s and my marriage certificate, five small mug-shot photos (front and side) of each of us, and a copy of the passport or Federal ID card of the person who had officially invited Leah to be affiliated with the research institute in Oaxaca.  I think we’re set.  Leah and I will bring everything back to them in two days.  I guess I should probably try to clean myself up and make myself appear respectable before then.

Through Micah and Zola’s school we were introduced to the Zapotec notion of “tequio” (referring to collective work and community building).  For me, it took the form of two hours of volunteering at the school to help get things ready for the first day of school.  I cleaned and repainted the chalkboard and did a lot of shoveling and cleaning muck from the storage area outside the school.  While painting the chalkboard, I saw a spider on the wall just like the ones Leah had waged war against in our bedroom, and commented to one of the teachers that it was a good thing Leah wasn’t around.  Then I asked her if she knew anything about those particular spiders.  She said something like, “Oh, yes.  They’re harmless.  In fact, people here call them good luck spiders.”  Ah.  That might explain why Leah and Gary’s drive was so eventful.

On Saturday, we got a nice dose of beautiful Oaxaca – a visit to a spectacular children’s library, lunch at an organic market in a quaint neighborhood, and a tour of some of the hills around the city.  Rather than go to a supermarket with a shopping list, we stopped at small shops along the way back to our house.  A pineapple here, a roasted chicken there, a laundry basket around the bend … a pleasant way to shop if you don’t mind some uncertainty and have time to spare.  The task of shopping has also brought Leah’s and my perceptions about the relativity of time into recent discussions.  We alternate between saying, “It’s only eleven months.  We can do without (fill-in-the-blank) for eleven months", and “Eleven months is a long time.  We should probably invest in (fill-in-the-blank).”  I had been feeling very liberated about leaving so much “stuff” behind in Montana, so the acquisition of more, temporary stuff has been hard to stomach.  But, we are, after all, here so that Leah can write a book, so the printer and office chair have found a place in our home, as have towels, linens, a laundry basket, bulletin boards for the kids, a soccer ball, flip flops, glasses, napkins, an apron, a bowl … You get the idea.  If any of you visit us next June, please leave room in your luggage to bring some of our stuff home with you.

The weekend before school started, Micah and Zola's six-month-old cousin Maizy (Mabel Zelia) sent them the following poem, ghostwritten by Uncle Ben, who calls Micah "Gouda" and Zola "Rudy".

Gouda, Gouda, strong and able,
did you know my real name's Mabel?

Rudy, Rudy, brave and smart,
I love you both with all my heart.

Cousins, cousins, kind and clever,
curious always, but whiny never.

Maizy, Maizy, all smiles and drool,
wishes you good luck at your new school!

Monday brought the first day of school, this time for real. 
The kids did great.  No drama. Leah and I hung around for just a few minutes and conversed with other parents.  Then we gave Micah and Zola hugs and kisses and walked home.  Five hours later (their school day is from 9am to 2pm) we walked to pick them up and were greeted by smiles and excitement.  I knelt down and asked Micah, “So, how’d it go?”  He replied, “Awesome”.  Zola was not quite as enthusiastic, but still said she had had a good first day of school.  There are only thirteen kids in the school and there are only two girls in preschool.  The other one only attends half time.  Since Zola doesn’t speak Spanish yet, she said she preferred playing by herself.  She said she loved her teachers and was eager to tell us about the Spanish words she had learned.  Leah and I began our walk home with the feeling that we had picked the right school for our kids for the year.  (If you’re curious, the school website is http://www.papalotes.net/Papalotes/Home.html)  On our walk home, we stopped for ice cream. We listened to both of them practicing their Spanish, Micah with short phrases and the names of things he’d learned in Spanish, and Zola speaking gibberish, but rolling her “r”s marvelously along the way. 

We’ve been lucky to get to spend some time with a good friend of ours who does archival research in Oaxaca.  Yanna was a history professor at MSU before moving to Emory University, near Atlanta, three years ago.  She and her husband, Aiden have been coming to Oaxaca since 1998.  Yanna is currently in Oaxaca for three weeks and expects to be here again with her family next June.  We had Yanna over to our place for dinner on Saturday and visited her for dinner downtown last night.  After a great pizza dinner, Yanna took us to Onti’s sporting goods store so that we could get the kids each a soccer jersey.  Yanna and Aiden are friends of Onti, so we were welcomed with big smiles.  Micah and Zola both picked blue Cruz Azul soccer jerseys.  We paid, said our adioses, and were walking down the block when Micah said, “I think I changed my mind about which jersey I want.  Could we go back and get the green Mexican national jersey?”  We replied, “Sure, Micah.  How come?”  He said, “Well, the Cruz Azul jersey has advertisements for Coca-Cola on it.  I’d prefer to have one without that.”   Leah took him back to get the logo-less green soccer jersey and we both stood up a bit straighter as proud parents.
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Dave on

So fabulous, Steve! I feel like (and wish) we were there with you. Love that you've gotten to visit with Yanna. Thanks for sharing your vivid writing and experiences.

Becky on

We are so enjoying your blog posts Steve! Please keep them coming. What an incredible adventure for you all. On another note, we were happy to see Reilly Rose and Micah's photo on his friend board. Reilly and I talked about trying to do a penpal type of thing...she misses her friend, especially now that school has started. When you have a chance, could you please shoot me your mailing address so we can send some Bozeman love to Micah and Zola (you and Leah, too of course!)

Sara on

Much love to you all, and hugs to Yanna. The kids' school looks lovely, and we anxiously await more news. Guppie has had half day kindergarten this week, and starts in "for real" on Tuesday. We'll send pictures and updates from our end soon.

Hunt on

Great work Steve!! Funto keep up with you . Iwas wondering what that trip from Colima was like. Put all these blogs together and you'll have a book to rival Leah's. Su amigo

Jennie on

Thanks for keeping us updated, Steve! I'm glad Leah and her dad survived the harrowing trip and I can't wait to hear Leah's version. Zola's comment about pirates building the church was very perceptive. It looks beautiful there and it sounds like the school will provide a great experience for Micah and Zola.
We're doing well, now into the swing of things with three days of school under our belts. We missed you at the department party--Isaac had no playmates his age. He was running around doing his usual "stalking dinosaur" act and the older girls were wondering why he was acting like that (they probably thought he was 6). Elena is super mobile and climbing onto everything possible now--she has become a danger to herself.
Terrible fires and smoke here so the air quality is bad--we're staying put for Labor Day. Looking forward to a quiet weekend at home, the first time since June we've all been home together without guests here!
We miss you so much. Keep the posts coming.
Jennie and Mike

Uncle Bob on

I'm in Indonesia as I read this and understand perfectly how one's habits from a developed economy melt away as one goes farther afield into the less-developed world. Kudos to Esteban for his rich commentaries!

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