I have decided to write a post based upon my experiences living with a Mexican family here in Mazatlan. I do not believe in stereotypes. This post is based solely on my experience. I am sure that not all families live like this one did. I have heard stories far worse as well as far better than mine. But this was my reality when I first arrived here in Mazatlan. I should add that the director of the school where I was teaching when I first came here found me this accomodation as A was a close friend of hers.
I arrived in Mazatlan on a bright and sunny Saturday, very early in the morning. It took over an hour to find the house. I had been given an address that was impossible to find as there are no numbers on the houses in this low income, working class neighborhood. The street names also change every few blocks. When A finally answered her phone, she gave the taxi driver better instructions as well as a description of the house.
I was relieved when we finally found the place. From the outside the house was painted a brilliant orange and was most attractive.
But the inside was the complete opposite. Sparsely furnished with decrepit items, it was dark and stuffy. The steps leading to the second floor had not been tiled. A white plastic table and chairs had exposed wires hanging above where a light fixture should have been. The kitchen was tiny with next to nothing in terms of cooking equipment which I will save for later in this post.
My bedroom was dark and gloomy. The bed did not have matching sheets and the pillow was a toss cushion. There was a small closet, a handful of shelves and a chest of drawers that were all missing handles. There was also a small nightstand and something that passed as a desk with another of those white plastic chairs. There was also a TV missing a remote control. The best part about the room was the ceiling fan (albeit it sported exposed wires) and the air conditioning unit mounted in the wall.
The walls themselves definitely required more than a paint job. Big chunks of plaster were missing and basically the walls were falling apart, fresh polvo on the floor every morning. There was children’s handwriting scribbled all over the walls and the closet doors.
OK Karen, don’t unpack those bags. Just turn around and walk out the door. You don’t have to live like this. And I hadn’t even seen the bathroom yet!
But I was exhausted after two days of traveling and instead passed out on the bed for a couple of hours. I woke up and contemplated my fate. I wanted the experience of living with a Mexican family. I wanted to be immersed in the culture as well as the language. My room was on the main floor so no stairs. Give it a chance for a while until you get to know the city and decide where you want to live.
The first week was a blur of adjustment. I began teaching on the Monday. Thankfully the house was conveniently located to bus routes. There was a convenience store, Kiosko, right across the street. There was a totilleria, a hamburger stand, a chicken grill and tacos close by. I never did buy meat from the butcher just doors away. Unrefrigerated meat in soaring temperatures had no appeal.
I actually spent very little time in the house, mainly due to the disgustingly filthy kitchen. A was a single mother with a daughter aged 10 and a son aged 12 when I moved in. She would cook breakfast in the morning and leave the only two frying pans dirty on the stove. The children left dirty dishes everywhere and the sink was always filled with dirty dishes. Saturday morning was the only time A made an attempt to wash dishes or clean the house. Because they had so few dishes they would switch to styrofoam plates and plastic cups, also left lying about. The garbage was always overflowing although it was picked up regularly if it was placed by the curb, which it seldom was. Only two burners worked on the stove. The fridge had no light and was missing shelves. Leftover food often lined the shelves uncovered when it occasionally was refrigerated.
I bought some cutlery, plates, cups and a crock pot and cooked in my room when I was home. I also bought some containers and microwaved food as well. I was probably the only one who ever cleaned the microwave. I wound up washing my crock pot in the bathroom as I could never get near the kitchen sink to wash it.
And I don’t even want to talk about the bathroom. It was supposed to be my private bathroom, but there were always other people using it. The bathroom itself had the same gouges in the stucco, broken tiles, and a sink faucet that leaked constantly. The toilet needed repair and a dirty towel hung on the rod and stayed there until the day I left. I never used it. The saving grace was the passable shower, although there was no hot water.
After a couple of months the walls starting closing in on me and I started looking around for somewhere else to live, but only halfheartedly. It was nice having A and the kids around, they had a dog, I liked the neighborhood and was starting to feel at home there. I was the only gringa in this area so I was constantly able to practice my Spanish.
But there were other problems. Like clockwork the internet always disappeared around the 10th of the month. There was no gas for over a week. The water was cut off once. A told me it was a broken pipe in the street. But when I took the water bill as I needed proof of residency to renew my health insurance, there was a disconnect and a reconnect charge. Yes, the time to pay bills was apparently when services were cut off, not when the bill was due to be paid.
But what bothered me the most was the neglected children left to their own devices for hours on end. The youngest did most of the cooking as the mother was never around, and her skills were limited to refried beans in tortillas, hotcakes and macaroni. This is definitely not a healthy diet for anyone. And the children would roam the streets with their friends at all hours of the day and night. They hardly ever ever locked doors and there were always lost keys when they did.
I was gone for the last two weeks in October. When I returned to Mazatlan I knew I had to move right away. I had a place lined up for December, but I knew I had to get out before that. I’ve met some wonderful people through my church here and one of my friends offered me a spare bedroom in his house. I eagerly accepted.
A was not at home when I left, but her son was. I left the keys with him and said goodbye. To my amazement I received a text from A asking when I was going to give her rent money for the month of November. I couldn’t believe the audacity of this woman! Not only had I always paid my rent in advance, but I had also kept a spreadsheet on my laptop with all the cash transactions for my rent. When I informed A of this, I never heard from her again.
As parents we have the huge responsibility of modelling behavior for our children and instilling certain values upon them in order to provide a safe and secure environment in which to grow and thrive. I feel for this family and they are in my prayers.