I am not your typical expat, or what many people stereotype an expat to be. Many of my friends back in Winnipeg have this image in their heads of what my life is like here in Mexico.
Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed I haven’t seen a beach in over a year now. Guadalajara is more than five hours away from Puerto Vallarta.
My life here is not lying on a beach all day or suntanning on a terrace. I’m up early two mornings a week and heading for the bus before the sun is even close to rising. And three nights a week I return home from work long after the sun has set.
No, I do not have to contend with snow and freezing temperatures. And I do teach considerably fewer hours than I would if I still lived in Canada. Despite the numerous concessions I have made in adapting to this lifestyle, I am quite content with my life here in Mexico. And I enjoy hilarious discussions with others when we compare situations that have arisen and we compare them with how they would have been handled in the USA or Canada.
Of particular note is the Mexicans fascination with paperwork. After all, why complete only one form with a multitude of information when it is possible to fill out several repetitious forms instead? And let’s not forget all those absolutely necessary photocopies that are not required after all. And when it comes to proof of identification…………..well, I won’t even go there!
Let’s apply for a work visa, or a bank account, or health insurance. Why should you make only one visit to that office when it’s possible to return for several visits? The security staff become your friends, you talk to complete strangers in endless lineups and the hours pass by not so quickly.
And while we’re on the subject of paper, toilet paper has some other incredible uses here in Mexico. It is often prominently displayed on tabletops in lieu of napkins or serviettes. It doubles as paper towels in the kitchen. It is often seen on the dashboards of cars and buses. But it is often missing in the bathrooms, along with the toilet seats.
I admit it. I drink juice with a straw out of a plastic bag. And I eat lollipops in class with my students. I also suck candies out of a straw. I eat potato chips with crema and salsa. I sprinkle tajin on cucumber slices. And of course I squeeze lime into soup or whatever else I’m eating. Tamales and tacos have become breakfast foods. But I still can’t bring myself to drown my pizza in ketchup or salad dressing.
Riding the buses in Guadalajara is rather wild when I compare it with the experience back in Canada. I have yet to ride a bus here that would pass a safety inspection and be allowed on the streets in Winnipeg. The vehicles here are ancient, dilapidated and dangerous. The drivers are not paid a salary but receive a percentage of the take, so they race each other from stop to stop, trying to cram as many people as they can on board. Although certain areas are marked “parada”, the drivers often fly by as they want to get the green light. If there is too much traffic, drivers impatiently change the route to accommodate their mood. Obviously there are no schedules either.
What I enjoy is watching what people carry with them on the bus. I have seen everything from car parts to live animals. Yesterday a woman had a decorative castle that took up two seats. Vendors on their way to market get on with flowers, clothing, jewelry and food. People get on selling candy or religious items, or occasionally just begging for money telling a tale of their health problems. But what I like best are the people with guitars, harmonicas, violins or drums who serenade us. Some of them are actually quite talented. The ones I dislike are the face-painted clowns who natter on endlessly in Spanish with jokes that are far from amusing.
Of course the long distance buses are a completely different story. I use the first class buses whenever possible. These air-conditioned buses are extremely comfortable with reclining seats and computer terminals where I can watch movies or concerts and listen to music of my choice. And these buses all have Wifi. And you are given a bag with a sandwich, potato chips, a cookie and a drink as well.