Well if you’ve been following this blog since we’ve left the USA, you will notice that we have officially come full circle. For next month’s lessons learned, we will have to start noting the titles differently to denote the differences between year one and year two. It is funny looking back on our first lessons learned post only to realize that all of those new lessons have become a part of our daily life and general understanding of Mexico. I also note a huge difference in the way we perceive Mexico by the way we report our lessons learned. Here’s to another year (+) of lessons learned!
- Getting a dose of Vitamin T for breakfast is simply the best. In Mexico, a typical breakfast is most likely leftovers or anything that falls under the category of Vitamin T: tamales, tacos, tortas, tlacoyos, tortillas, tequila or any typical Mexican food that starts with a T. [For the record, I have not had any tequila with breakfast… yet!] Actually, it’s really quite difficult to find any component of a typical American breakfast in a restaurant setting. To be honest though? I will take blackberry and queso tamales any day in lieu of eggs, bacon, and pancakes.
- Indirect communication can be thrown to the wayside when necessary. One of the most challenging components of integration to Mexican culture has not only been learning what to communicate, but how to communicate it. First, you learn textbook Spanish and then you throw that to the wayside once you realize that Mexicans don’t speak like that at all. Then, you learn how to drop your direct questions and statements to give them a nice, indirect softening around the edges. For example, instead of saying I forgot it you would say it was forgotten by me to be a little softer on yourself. After the first three stages, you finally learn how to balance direct and indirect conversation because really, Mexicans use both but in very culturally specific ways. It really is okay to tell a street vendor a direct no after they interrupt your conversation for the third time. Phew!
- Roasting chilies are a vital, but painful component of Mexican cooking. So if you haven’t noticed by now, we are total foodies. Our amiga bonita, Laura taught us how to cook pozole — keep your eyes peeled for a recipe later this week! Part of the process is creating a chili powder from fresh chili de arbol where you first dry roast the suckers in a pan. Before starting, we opened up all the doors and windows to ensure proper ventilation. When the roasting starts, your nose slowly begins to burn; as the chilies begin to roast and develop in flavor, the bite of the pepper lodges its way into your throat. One little cough, another bigger cough and all of a sudden all four of us are coughing and gasping for air. That is apparently when the chilies are done being roasted. Once you regain normal breathing, you then put the roasted chilies in a blender with salt and garlic – which puts small particles of the pepper into the air. Coughing resumes, but then you have a delicious result of homemade chili powder.
- Protecting your financial identity is a cultural challenge. Depending on the region, we have come to understand that cash is king. People use cash to pay for everything from groceries to electricity bills. It is very rare to pay for anything online, and when you do it may be a more complicated process than paying in cash. For example when we went to the show STOMP, we purchased the tickets online and had to print a proof of purchase and bring a paper copy of our ID and debit card for their records. Another example would be that we reserved a hotel in Cuetzalan and since there was no online structure to pay in advance, they requested that we send our debit card information via e-mail. We refused on both accounts, but protecting your finances is more challenging due to the lack of infrastructure.
- Purchasing a small trinket from a vendor can open up a wealth of knowledge. If you’re traveling in Mexico, you are probably interested in tourist attractions at a local, mexicano price. Asking at the hotel will get you signed up for the “best” tour company in the area, which is likely 200% more expensive than the local way. Asking a street vendor how to get to Destination X without purchasing anything will only get you a shrug or two. Now if you take a Mexican approach to the situation, all you have to do is be friendly and interested in the product or food available. You can ask about the history of the place or what makes the food specific to that region or how that product was hand crafted. Not only will you gain a deeper understanding of the region, you will likely be able to get the information you need to arrive safely and cheaply to your chosen destination.
- Access to the best healthcare available can sometimes result in house arrest for days. Mom, Dad? Don’t be all worried. We still have access to the best healthcare available, but when we thought we had been exposed to strep, the only test available took four days to get results. We did not want to infect anyone else in case we were contagious, which meant that we were on house arrest for four days waiting for the results. The doctor called us on the fourth day when we were about to go crazy and told us the good news that we did not have strep whatsoever. The bad news was that we just stayed inside for four days without any good reason. Be thankful that the rapid strep test is available in the United States and Canada!
- Beauty is in finding appreciation in the small details. Since we have started our service in November 2012, we have kept a journal where we record one thing/event/person that we appreciate that day. It is not a deep or complex journaling process, but it has allowed us to realize the beauty of the everyday, small details of life. Some nights we will lay in bed and laugh about the things we expressed gratitude. When the entries circle around the basics of life, you know that it was a difficult day for Team Jander. We hope to continue this practice of appreciation for years to come.
- Camping in Mexico ≠ Camping in the USA. We packed our backpacks with compact tents, self-inflating sleeping pads, efficient cookstoves, and all the food they’ll need to survive in the wilderness for the night. We arrived at the “campsite” to find lots of people, loud music, and plenty of beer overflowing from an awning of a restaurant. Totally shocked, we asked where were we supposed to set up our tents. They pointed to a triangular patch of grass situated right in the parking lot. So much for the wilderness! Camping in Mexico is not necessarily a time to connect with the outdoors as much as it is an opportunity to be social. We ended up going back home and camping at the house – it was definitely the better option!
We’ll be back with more lessons learned for a September Edition, round two. Until then, keep up with your own adventures and keep us posted on your lives!