There is work to be done at FIL, the largest Spanish language book fair in the world, held each year at the end of November in Guadalajara, Mexico. Fortunately, I don’t have to do any of that work and just get to tag along with my children and enjoy this beautiful, warm, rich with culture city, soaking up all it has to offer.
Guadalajara; birthplace to the Mariachi band, the beautiful, Poinsettia plant and a very dear friend.
Our first trek to Guadalajara was when my daughter was two. My son had just turned five. The English-speaking Mexican gentleman who was sent to the airport to pick us up by the hotel we were staying at, was named Ernesto. A day or two after our arrival, we ventured out, taking a cab to and from city sights, by nameless drivers who spoke no English and left us feeling, well, less than comfortable to be honest.
We decided to call Ernesto back after that and ever since.
Over the years, nine in fact, we’ve come to know about Ernesto and his family through his easy-going manner, his protective nature toward my children, dinners we’ve insisted he join us at and long conversations during the 5-hour drive we take to Puerto Vallarta half-way through our trip. His information on history and historical sites is endless. He insists on teaching my children new Spanish words each time he sees them. He has a medical degree and has even prescribed medicine for my son and daughter when we needed it. He raced Hannah and I to a private hospital when Hannah fell off a monkey-bar two-years ago and fractured her wrist, comforting me with the knowledge that this is where he would take his children.
Last year, for the first time,we met Ernesto’s entire family.The idea of our children meeting and hoping they would make the important connection of just how unique this friendship is, despite the language barrier was heartwarming to say the least. It was the highlight of my trip, a real treat to put the names to the faces of those people we had heard so much of. I could tell it meant a lot to Ernesto too.
We’ve been to many places with Ernesto, our guide and our friend; the zoo, the Children’s museum (Trompo Mágico), horse back riding in Ajijic, visiting Lake Chapala and the Guachimontones Pyramids to name a few.
This year Ernesto proposed a day trip.
Not just any day trip but a 3-hour drive to Guanajuato, a colonial mining town rich in silver and gold. This historical city is known for its architecture and naturally mummified bodies. The mummies were discovered between 1865 and 1958, when the law required relatives to pay a tax in order to keep the bodies in the cemetery. If the relatives could not pay this tax, they would lose the right to the burial-place, and the dead bodies were disinterred. Ernesto’s proposal, also included his family. Delighted, we accepted and last Sunday Ernesto rented a large white van and we all set out to explore the city of Guanajuato, together.
Most of the thoroughfares lie beneath the city’s narrow cobble-stone passage ways amidst an elaborate labyrinth of underground road tunnels. Thankfully, for us, Ernesto is an extremely skilled driver who knows exactly where he’s going!
Guanajuato is also the home to the Festival Internacional Cervantino, which invites artists and performers from all over the world as well as Mexico. Luckily for us, the annual Madonnari side-walk, chalk festival was fully under-way when we got there and we were able to see some awesome drawings…..
No, this was not just another day trip and while my children may not remember everything they saw in Guanajuato last week, they will never forget that we went with Ernesto and his family.
It was a special day that is now a treasured memory. You can’t put a value really on the feeling of safety or trust or friendship and while it’s true we are all diamonds in the rough in our own way, some of us sparkle just a little bit brighter than others….
Photo Credit #1-5: Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
Photo Credit #6: Mummies of Guanajuato
Photo Credit #7-14: Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
I am trying to recall the fateful infraction that made my mom go from being awesome to embarrassing when I was a kid. I can’t quite pinpoint the exact offense but I think I was around the age of 12 or 13. Sadly, I think the image change is all part of the natural process of separation and signifies the beginning of our break- away to independence. As a parent now, I’ve been careful to keep the public displays of affection toward my children to a minimum. It’s a conscious effort to prolong the process and hang on to the image of “awesome” for as long as I can. Well, it was anyway. It’s just another pipe dream now. The cruel truth is, nature stops for no one.
Perhaps, the natural process of aging and the separation process, go hand in hand. In the last year or so I’ve started to hear myself saying things like, “Excuse me, can you repeat that please?” or “Pardon me? I missed the beginning of that.” It’s bad enough when you are speaking in your native tongue to not hear everything but now imagine being in a foreign country, say Mexico for example, where I’ve been for the last 10 days and where they speak Spanish and I don’t. My kids do however and I’ve relied on them often to translate for me. Although, there is a certain level of comfortability that comes with visiting the same city for eight years in a row. You pick up words and phrases after a while and feel confident using them. Let’s face it, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand simple things like “hola” or “gracias”. Heck, everyone knows that means “hello” and “thank-you” in Spanish. So, when the nice gentleman in the elevator, or the waiter, house keeper, hotel clerk, driver or merchant would kindly wish me a “good afternoon” in Spanish over the past week or so, I simply smiled, repeated back what I heard and went along my merry way, at first anyway.
After a few days however and many, many “good afternoon” exchanges, I began to notice bewildered looks, odd expressions, a smirk here and there and the most common; a blank look accompanied by a hollow smile, in return of these greetings. What?? Was there something stuck in my teeth? I didn’t get it. Not until my 12-year old son was with me one afternoon that is. As per usual, with a huge smile and an air of confidence, I kindly reciprocated a store merchant’s “good afternoon” with a very cheery, “Buenos Aires!” Again, the perplexed look and hollow smile was received in return. It wasn’t until we were out of ear shot and the store that my son turned to me with a look of pure mortification on his face and said, “Mom, what did you say to that guy?” “Buenos Aires. Why?” I replied. “Why did you say Beunos Aires?” he asked. After explaining I was just trying to be nice and insisting I knew what I was saying, after all I had been “Buenos Aires-ing” people all week now, he looked up at me with that ‘I am so embarrassed by you’ look in his eyes and said, “Oh, my God mom, come on! Buenos Aires is a city! That’s like someone saying good afternoon to you and you replying, ‘New York‘! They are saying Buenas Tardes not Buenos Aires!” (Apparently, the “t” in tardes is silent. Who knew? Obviously, not me.)
Good Lord, now it all made sense though! Okay, so people were wishing me a good afternoon and I was cheerfully replying with the name of a city in Argentina. Nice move mom. Now my 12-year old son (who has been showing signs of approaching that point of separation over the last several months as it is) won’t even go to the hotel lobby with me. Yes, it seems I’ve lost my “coolness”, at least for the next 5 or 6 years where he’s concerned anyway. Nature set its course and me and my slight loss of hearing were in it’s path. Inevitable.
So by all means, go ahead and cry for me Argentina and all the other parents who are in the same or soon to be same boat! But before you do, please tell me your “I used to be awesome until..” story. You know what they say, misery loves company and I know I can’t be alone on this one.
A few weeks ago, Marisol Valles Garcia was hailed by many as the bravest woman in the world. Marisol, a new mom and a criminology student, is the only person in a drug infested mexican municipality willing to take on the role of top cop. That’s right, the new police chief in town is a mom and she’s only 20. Armed without guns and only a 13-person police force, mostly comprised of women, her strategy for this battle is to take a non-violent approach that focuses on building a sense of trust between authorities and the . ”We have to try something new,” says Valles Garcia. Is she scared? Of course she is “…. but I really had the desire to do something for my community.” Where does a 20-year old new mom find that kind of inner strength? How does she conjure up that kind of courage? From a desire to help her community?
She is inspiring. To me anyway and how I might approach my battles. For instance, I have an on-going battle with my 11-year old son. He is addicted to multiple forms of communication. At any given time of the day, he is either texting on the cell phone, talking on Skype or Facebook-ing. Sometimes he’s doing all three at once. Ironically, while he seems to be a master at communicating with the other 11 and 12-year old tweenagers at large, I can barely get an audible response, let alone a nod, to a simple question such as …”How was your day?” It maddens me, frustrates and drains me. It’s a daily battle and occasionally, it gets ugly. I find myself becoming hostile even and the angrier I get, the less I hear him speak, to me that is. So maybe I should take a que from this 20-year old new mom. Perhaps I need to try something new, take a less demanding, more peaceful approach, build trust and draw my strength from a fearless desire to have a relationship with my son. If Marisol has the courage to take on a drug cartel, surely I can get through to just one growing boy or at least try.
I am curious, what’s your battle? Who inspires you? Where do you draw your strength? How do you get through?
Photo Credit: Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images