Daily Life

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

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Flag of Mexico  , Oaxaca,
Thursday, December 6, 2012

As I begin typing this entry, Leah is presenting a paper at a conference in Berlin.  This weekend, she’ll hop over to Copenhagen to visit a friend.  We’ll be Skyping with her – she on our tablet and we on my laptop.  Tomorrow night, the kids and I are hoping we can get access to a live stream of the Montana State Bobcats quarterfinal playoff football game.  It’s a small world, indeed.

I’ve written a fair amount about our Oaxaca highlights.  Now, I’d like to write about the more mundane, or rich, depending on your perspective, parts of our daily life here.  

What better place to start than with taking out the trash.  Three times a week, usually around 8 a.m., a garbage truck drives down our street.  A man standing on the back of the truck manually rings a bell to announce its arrival.  Sometimes the man is wearing earmuffs so as not to walk away with permanent ringing in his ears.  Sometimes, but not always.  Like Pavlov’s dogs without the salivation, people emerge from their dwellings, trash bags in hand, and throw them in the back of the garbage truck.  Yard waste goes in, too.  There are a few small bags hanging off the side of the garbage truck for recycling which don’t appear to get much use.  During our first month here, hearing the bell sent me into a flurry as I shoved my feet into shoes and raced up our driveway, shoelaces flailing.  Now that I know the truck sits at the top of our driveway for about five minutes before moving on, taking out the garbage is a much mellower experience.  

I just got back from paying our water bill.  Forget paying the bill online, sending in a check, or calling a number to pay with a credit card.  I took the bill to our local grocery store and paid the bill in cash.  It works the same way with the phone bill and the electricity bill.  The electricity bill does offer the potential for higher tech payment - a kind of energy company ATM.  Drive up, scan the bar code on the bill, insert cash, get a receipt and drive off.  If the gas tank at our house needs filling, we call up the gas company and make an appointment.  They show up (usually not on time) with a big truck, run a hose to our tank, fill it up, and accept either cash or credit card on the spot.  There’s something to be said for the simplicity of it all.

While I buy much of our food at markets and mom-and-pop stands, I also make weekly trips to more conventional supermarkets.  There are two supermarkets that I use regularly, and they are not much different than supermarkets in the States.  That’s where I buy things like milk, butter, cooking oil, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and the like.  One of the supermarkets I frequent also has a section of imported items such as hummus, pickles, bleu cheese, wine, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella cheese.  They have a bakery, a deli, a butcher, and a small in-store cafeteria.  I can pay with a credit card.  Much the same.

When we first arrived in Oaxaca, Leah and I were overwhelmed by the drivers.  Anytime we walked along streets with Micah and Zola we held their hands tight.  Slowly, I’ve begun to understand how things work around here, and have become much more comfortable with traffic.  Much of this understanding has come via my own experience driving in Oaxaca.  I’ve reached the conclusion that it is next to impossible to not be paying attention when behind the wheel.  While we have problems with texting and driving in the States, I can’t even imagine a Oaxacan driver attempting to text while driving.  Not only is the driving often faster paced, but there are countless numbers of obstacles a driver needs to be on the lookout for – potholes, speed bumps galore (also known as sleeping policemen), stray dogs, stopped cars, tight spots, unmarked road construction…   Drivers have to pay attention.  Drivers need to be on their games.  Their ability to react quickly to other drivers, pedestrians, and changing conditions is what keeps them out of accidents.  I find that reassuring. 

I was driving home a few weeks ago when I noticed a bus backing down our neighborhood cobblestone street toward me.  So, I, too, started backing up, as did the car behind me.  It turns out that some people had decided that they needed to do some work that entailed digging up a section of the road up ahead.  They had put a couple of buckets on the road to indicate that the street was now impassable.  There were no detour signs.  There were not dozens of fluorescent orange pylons directing traffic to turn.  There was no flagman.  But, we just rolled with it, as people here do.  If someone is driving along a busy road and can’t find a parking spot, they may just double park, put on their hazard lights, and run into a store to do a quick, or not so quick, errand.  Never mind that the busy two lane traffic is then bottlenecked into one lane.  That’s just how it’s done.  I’ve seen some occasional road rage, but most drivers just seem to take things as they come.  

Walking down the street can be an interesting experience as well.  On our walk to school, the kids often enjoy meeting cows, goats, and donkeys along the way, sometimes without any guardian nearby.   Dogs are a given.  It’s important to always watch where you step, both to steer clear of poop and to be sure you won’t step into a random, deep, unmarked hole.  We regularly see busses hurtling down narrow roads, a family of four riding a motor scooter, and expensive vehicles gently maneuvering speed bumps.  Some drivers view red lights as discretionary, so as a pedestrian, it’s important to be aware.  It’s a rare day when, on a twenty minute walk, we aren’t passed by a car or truck with speakers mounted on top, selling or promoting or announcing something.  We often hear pre-recorded jingles, but I have also seen drivers with microphones in their hands, driving slowly and projecting their voices far and wide.  There seems to be no such a thing as a noise ordinance.  

A few weeks ago, our landlady called to tell us that our shared neighbors were going to be celebrating their 15-year-old’s birthday.  Now, this is a big deal in Mexico, but I didn’t realize how big.  Our landlady said she and her husband were going to spend the night in a hotel.  I thought, “How bad could it be?  She must be being dramatic.”  Well, when Leah and I returned home after a wonderful date in downtown Oaxaca (Micah and Zola were at a sleepover with their friends), we learned how wrong I was.  It was 11 p.m. and as we approached our house we looked at each other in amazement.   The reverberations from the subwoofers were rattling our windows.  The music and bright lights penetrated everything.  In shared disbelief, we went about our bedtime routine, and eventually yelled “goodnight” to one another, hoping that the music might stop soon or that our three months of sleeping through dogs barking, roosters crowing, and hearing fireworks throughout the night might have hardened us and given us the ability to fall asleep amidst the din.  I lay in bed appreciating our 10 p.m. noise ordinance in Bozeman.  At 3 a.m., early by many Mexican’s standards, the music finally stopped for the night. 

We’ve now had our first experience with the medical system in Oaxaca, and it was as smooth as could be.  While at our friends house, Micah was walking atop a five-foot dirt wall when a rock gave way and sent him tumbling down the wall.  He was banged up in a few places, but the worst pain was coming from just above his right wrist.  The pain was manageable, so we decided to wait until the next morning to assess the injury and decide what to do.   After he was asleep for the night, Leah contacted our friends in Oaxaca and got some referrals.  Micah woke up early and said the pain was still there, so at 8:30 a.m., Leah called the office of a pediatric orthopedist given to us by our landlady/neighbor and was able to make a 10 a.m. appointment.  We dropped Zola off at school (not the easiest drop-off we’ve ever had, as Zola was feeling pretty vulnerable herself), drove to the doctor’s office, and walked in the door at 9:45.  We were greeted by friendly employees and sat down in a no-frills reception area.  Less than two minutes later, we were ushered in to see the doctor.  The friendly doctor spoke to Micah in Spanish, and threw in some English words when Micah seemed confused.  The doc looked at Micah's wrist, said he didn’t think it was broken, but asked us to get an x-ray to be sure.  As if writing a prescription, he wrote some x-ray instructions on a piece of paper and directed us to walk down the block and around the corner to a radiologist, a separate business.   We walked in, handed them the piece of paper, and sat for another two minutes before a young woman came for Micah.  Less than five minutes later, we had paid the US$20 bill in cash and were walking back to the doctor’s office with an x-ray in hand.  Again, after a very short wait, we were motioned to see the doctor, who took the x-ray, put it up on a light board, and showed us that Micah had indeed sustained a small compression fracture.  It was not very serious, but he would need to wear a brace on his wrist for three weeks.  After making an appointment for three weeks later, and paying roughly US$27 for the doctor’s visit and US$7 for the wrist brace, we went on our way, less than 45 minutes after we had arrived.  Under the circumstances, it had been a pleasant experience.  

One more story.  This doesn’t fit into the theme of the blog, but it’s too good for me to pass up.   Micah and Zola have been enjoying Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, which we are able to check out at our local lending library.  As one might guess, their play with one another reflects this interest in mysteries.  One day, while I was cleaning up after breakfast, a note slid under the kitchen door that leads outside to our laundry area.  Now, Micah has been reading and writing more and more, and isn’t shy about trying his hand at tricky or unfamiliar words.   This note read, “GO TOO THE TUNL”.  So, smiling, I walked around the house to the tunnel-like area that leads from our parking area to our backyard.  Empty.  I traipsed back to the kitchen, sure I could hear some giggling coming from somewhere.  Soon, another note slid under the door.  It read, “GO TOO THE PATTEEOE”.  I walked to the patio and looked around.  Empty again.  When I got back to the kitchen, I found another note, along with a small person cut out of paper and colored with markers.  This note read, “THE KICHIN IS HONTID”.  Playing along, I gave a loud gasp and ran out of the kitchen.  The giggling turned to laughter.  I again returned to the kitchen and shortly thereafter received my final note.  “I CAN NOT BYLV U RAN AWT UV THE KICHIN SO FAST.” (I cannot believe you ran out of the kitchen so fast)  I love my kids!

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Heidi on

Love, love, love this! From the garbage take out (very interesting) to the doctor's visit (how nice) to the hontid kitchen (hi-freakin-larious), you write a very entertaining blog. Keep 'em coming.

Uncle Bob on

The story about access to medical care is remarkable. In Virginia, we would wait an hour at each place and pay a lot more for the care. Best wishes to Micah for quick healing.

Patricia on

I love these stories! Hope Micah heals fast and that you aren't too scared of the haunted kitchen!!

Ladi on

Great stories again. Thanks! Speedy recovery to Micah.

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