Friday, November 18, 2011


Please forgive me, stranger on the plane. You sit beside me plugged into your music and I keep to myself with my nose in my book. But the unrequited love of my novel or the aerial view of expansive rows of agriculture remind me of the world I am leaving behind. My nose crinkles up and one tear escapes; but then I begin to weep full hot tears of spicy tacos and the dim lighting of our mosquito-infested Frisbee fields, of dodging horse dung and grasshoppers on the short walk to class and the meaningful talks Maggie and I would dive into on the bus rides to avert our attention from the lunacy of traffic. 

I was  feeling completely discombobulated when we disembarked the plane. Everything was shiny and flashing and on sale. I stared up at the screens displaying departures to every corner of the world until I saw him for the third time. He’d been napping on the plane a row ahead of me. He’d let me pass him in security as he juggled his shoes and luggage. Now he sidled up to my right and we fell in step as we headed for the same plane to Seattle. I got so lost in conversation with this nice guy from Cuernavaca that I forgot that I’d been overstimulated and upset...and where we were going. But getting lost in the huge terminal was of little consequence as my entire being sighed with the familiarity of our common tongue. Sometimes God sends us angels when we need them the most.

And now as my mom and I wind our way up and down the West Coast, carving out our play time for just us, I am playing my own game. I am playing tug of war between the present and the past as I embrace the fall weather and the vampires offering me Snickers bars and waterfalls and pancakes. I want to appreciate this adventure as an isolated chapter – a fantastic opportunity to pioneer the West with my best friend and my inspiration. But even in the most serene moments, life’s not as simple as mojitos and scenic drives, because this journey is bridging the gap between what was and an unknown future. Not only am I marching into unemployment in my parents’ basement, which I know will inevitably unfurl into another impactful pile of life lessons and business ventures, but I am being hurled into American life like a trans-national human cannonball. I’m learning how to adapt to hurling. So while I’m trying to savor every morsel of these pumpkin pancakes, I’m also lost in the memories of the place I just left. My heart is aching for my friend – he never stops laughing, never stopped holding me up, but he must be so exhausted from studying full time and caring full time for his ailing mother.  I left another friend in the midst of emotional turmoil and all I want to do is hug her. I close my eyes and over the Deep South accents discussing music in the seats behind us, I can hear Augustín panting as he streaks up the hill to arrive first to class, and Dona Rosa’s cow mooing off in the distance. My heart was on the mend when I left Mexico – I had scooped up the bits and held them together every night as I curled into my squeaky bunk bed, but as it had a tendency to break apart in its fragile state, I’m not sure if every fragment made it into my overweight baggage.  

On the outside it looks like we haven’t a care in the world. But you can’t see my tug of war game - my heart torn between worlds. I can’t explain why I marvel at toilets with seats that actually flush paper or why I would return to a land without them. I can’t explain why I love the smells of donkey dung, burn piles and myrrh. I can’t explain why fourteen children or teammates who may never bridge the gap of ever-lasting friendship made such a deep impression in my soul. Consequently, I can’t explain why I am testy and impatient; why I have such a profound sense of ache and longing when the scenery from this train is beautiful, the food is rich, the company is sweet and the future is bright (albeit unilluminated). The best advice I’ve gotten so far is fake it til you make it. My friend was talking about love, but I think it’s applicable here too – just power through and live in the moment and eventually the energy you pretend to have will seep into your real mindset. One can only hope.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

San Miguel de Allende

The Queretero tournament was quite an adventure. Only five of my teammates from Pachamamas went, so we were split up onto different teams rather than playing together. On Sunday, I hadn’t intended to play and really wanted to go to museums, but I kept waiting and waiting until the decision was essentially made for me. Why is it the case that moving to a foreign country doesn’t faze me, but the idea of leaving my team and going into the city for a day by myself makes my heart race? I realize that there are lots of open factors and unknowns, but that doesn’t explain my calm about big changes and neurotic anxieties about small things out of my control. Lately I’ve been trying to plan like mad – how do I get to practice next week? What will we eat when we get home from work on Wednesday? What time should we leave work to pick up tortillas? It’s like I’m clinging desperately, obsessing some might say, over things that I have some autonomy over because there is so much more swirling above me that is entirely out of my hands. It’s a very exhausting dichotomy.

Anyway, after we went to dinner in the center, I went home with Pablo, a friend from Pachamamas who’d just moved to Queretero, who was crashing at his friend’s place. He’d expressed interest in accompanying me to San Miguel and thus became my travel buddy for the rest of the weekend.  We woke up on Monday morning and headed for the bus station for the one-hour trip to San Miguel. I felt calm and free. As a background, I’d like to tell you that it was important for me to go to this city because this was the town where my mom’s friend, Joyce, lived for 10 years. It was she who inspired me, really. I had always said I wanted to go abroad and then one day she told me she and her husband picked up and moved here. And I thought, “Oh, you can just do that? Cool!” She made me realize that you don’t need an excuse to do what you want to do – just figure it out and go. So I wanted to pay a tribute to her and visit this funky pueblo.

 It was just as she described it – artsy and charming. There were expats on every corner. You could distinguish the foreigners by the way they stood, by their shoes, their maps and Ibuprofen bottles (after a long weekend and another pulled quad I secretly coveted their over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, but I kept walking).

Pablo was a fabulous travel partner – so relaxed, similar non-agenda and interests and a fabulous conversationalist.  We spontaneously hopped another bus to Atonontilco, famous for its sanctuary, but not much else. The church was known as the site where San Miguel Hidalgo assembled the community to march to San Miguel de Allende and initiate the grito (the shout) that began the War of Independence. They grabbed the flag of the Virgin Guadalupe to rally behind. This rallying point started a great conversation about how even with official separation of church and state, everything is so connected to Catholicism that the government is very similar to a theocracy. Many of my friends in Cholula resent this because they don’t practice a faith. Recently, Calderón stated that even though we may not be all practitioners or believers, we are all “Guadalupanos” (of the Virgin Guadalupe). This really upset my friend:“How can you make such blanket statements about who I am?” And yet, even those most disconnected from the church still tend to cross themselves and have confirmation ceremonies. It really is a very interesting culture of faith here.

 Anyway, we walked to the end of the world – down a long cobblestone path that led out of the town, or at least to the mezcal distillery whose owner greeted us at the elaborate iron gate. ”I’m 67 years old! I have 7 sons and daughters here and I’ve seen them grow up here!” We took a step back from his strong breath. Apparently he’d been in charge of taste-testing that day. “One day, with more calm, you can come back and have a look around!....Well, come on in!” We didn’t stay long or score any samples, but we did get a peek at his giant plantation. Then we back-tracked to the sanctuary and the other half of the town with the store, restaurant, paper shop and rows of tents selling rosaries. We leaned on an old pickup truck while doctoring our cans of Modelo Negro with salt and lime and continued talking about religion.

 We wandered a bit more around San Miguel and then got on the return bus to Queretero where we parted ways. I’m not sure what I would’ve done had Pablo not been there to offer me a bed and hold my hand. But the more hesitant I became, the more I realized how important it was for me to go. I continue to attempt to let things work themselves out, as is the Mexican way, but it may kill me first. Maybe someday I’ll be less tightly-wound. I keep doing things like jumping buses to unknown places and getting haircuts in a foreign language, throwing my agenda to the winds, but I’m not sure if it’s helping or just giving me high blood pressure. I’m having a damn good time trying to figure out the answer, though. And my hair doesn’t look too bad, either.