“Vivo en la Calle Olmos”

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I live on Elm Street.

The city of Torreón is divided into colonias, which are neighborhoods or boroughs. I live in Colonia Torreón Jardín, which is a sub-division built in the 1970s and possibly the quietest neighborhood in North America. It’s completely residential. No shops or restaurants here. There’s a park one block from my apartment where people walk and run early in the morning and late in the evening walk their dogs or push their children in strollers. There are soccer games on Sundays and little kids playing baseball in the afternoons. I can hear the cheering from my balcony.

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El Parque de Ranas (Frog Park)

“Jardín” is “garden,” and all the streets here are named for trees or flowers. “La Calle Olmos” is “Elm Street.” The corners are Calle Tulipanes (Tulips) and Calle Tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn).

Torreón Jardín is bordered nearest me, on the east, by Paseo de la Rosita (which as best I can figure out means “The Walk of the Little Rose”), a broad street with shops and restaurants and a lot of traffic.  It’s not comfortable to walk on Rosita because cars park on the sidewalks (where they exist), and the traffic makes me nervous about crossing it.

To the southwest, the neighborhood is bordered by Avenida Cipresses  (for cypress trees,  which are different than Louisiana cypress trees, but recognizable), a divided avenue with homes, a few shops, and within walking distance of my house, a laundry and a 7-11. The residents park their  cars on the sidewalks, so you’re sometimes obliged to walk in the street. It’s not really wide or busy, but it’s dirty and the cars that pass throw up dust.

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Colonia Torreon Jardin

I walked a long way up Cipresses  on a Sunday afternoon and then back home through the neighborhood. There was nobody around. Dogs greeted me with yips or snarls from behind garage doors and gates. A lone vendor on an umbrella-covered bicycle called out something I didn’t understand, his voice echoing from the walls of the houses. I didn’t see or hear anyone come out to buy any of whatever it was that he was selling.

On Saturday morning from my apartment I can hear garage doors opening, cars going in and out, and a horse clip-clopping by. The garbage truck rings a bell so you never miss trash pick-up.  A man goes by in the street calling out to us to buy brooms,  but I can’t get to the balcony quickly enough to catch a photo.

img_3654As I sit here in the kitchen, a puff of breeze carries a tangy restlessness to my nostrils and my skin ripples just a little. I feel a touch of cabin fever coming on.

To be continued . . .

 

Anderson Isaac

While I am growing in Mexico, my newest grandchild is growing in Louisiana.

This hurts.

His mother almost killed me. Literally. Both of us would have died in another place or time.

She liked the womb so much she didn’t want to come out. Complications developed. A Cesarean section ensued. Two weeks in the NICU followed.

The next four months were the most intense  months of my life. Friends  and family reading this will affirm: I was a basket case.  So was she. She screamed. I walked the floor with her. Her dad danced with her. For hours. We memorized all the lyrics to the B52s Good Stuff album because she seemed to be calmed by it.

Or maybe we were.

And now, she has a son.

She went to the house the other day to get a baby sling and the “baby book” which contains the record of her infancy. I haven’t looked at it in years, but she sent me photos of my notes (with tearful emojis).

I had forgotten the notes. I have not forgotten the torturous urgency I felt when she was an infant to fix whatever it was that was wrong with her.

Her baby is fussy sometimes. I know that in these moments, she feels as I did when she was a baby.  I understand and I feel it all again. I want to be there with her, walking the floor with him, rocking him, singing to him, dancing to the B52s and Joe Cocker.

I see photos and videos, but it’s not like being there. Skype is a blessing, but I feel awful, like a terrible mom, because I am not there.

And at the same time,  I have complete faith in her. Her child is thriving. She is making choices as a mom to put her child’s needs before her own. She’s making parenting choices that benefit her son now and will  benefit him his entire life. I know that she will continue to make excellent choices for him for as long as he is her responsibility.

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I can’t wait to meet you in person, Anderson. Your Granmama sends you love love love.

Taking Time to Think

My Spanish is so bad. It’s so bad that I drank a whole six-pack of Sol before I realized that it was non-alcoholic. It’s so bad I bought a bag of mustard seeds in the bulk foods section because I thought maybe it was quinoa.

But yesterday I really embarrassed myself. I told the taxi dispatch that I don’t know my own name.

I was so proud when I called from my apartment for a taxi. I understood when she asked what street I live on, gave the house number and understood when she asked which two streets it is between, and could tell her what they were! I asked how many minutes until they would arrive and understood her answer.

So when I was ready to leave HEB, I was feeling pretty good about using my cell phone to call again. So sure enough, when I said HEB and she said which one, I could tell her. Then she said, “Nombre?”

I repeated, “Nombre?” thinking, What number?

My Spanish speaking friends, or anyone reading this who has a basic level of Spanish, I can hear you laughing from here.

She said, “Si, tuyo.” Yours.

Since I don’t have my cellphone number memorized, I answered, “No lo se.”

For you English speakers,  that means “I don’t know.”

Yes, it is hilarious.

“Nombre” is “name” in Spanish.

Literacy includes reading, writing, speaking,  and LISTENING, and for me, listening is the most difficult. Of course I know that “numero” is “number” and “nombre” is “name.” I know that  “nombre” in Spanish also means “noun.”  I used the Latin root “nom” in a grammar lesson just the other day when teaching nominatives.

But my ears didn’t make the connection when I heard “nombre” in that particular moment. It took a few seconds to process what I heard. And since I am by nature a high-energy, impatient kind of person, by mouth often gets ahead of my brain.

If I had taken a second to process what she said, instead of wondering “Why the hell does she want my phone number?” I could have considered the context of the conversation and realized what she was asking me. Always when you call a taxi to pick you up at a busy public place like a mall or supermarket, they ask your name, because there are a lot of people  waiting for taxis.

But, when you think about it, it would still be pretty embarrassing. I mean, how long do you need to think when someone asks your name? It would be like the scene in A Knight’s Tale when Rufus Sewell asks Heath Ledger what his name  is and he answers, “Uhm.”

What’s my name?

Let me think a minute.

 

 

Independence and Isolation

I went to Atlanta last year by myself. I took MARTA from the airport to the car rental place north of the city and drove up to my brother’s place an hour and a half away. I went to Guatemala by myself this year and explored La Antigua Guatemala by myself.

I couldn’t have imagined that I would feel so isolated here, with no one to talk to and no one to hang around with.

Torreon is nothing like La Antigua. In the first place, it’s sprawling. Seven hundred and fifty square miles, according to Wikipedia. La Antigua is about seven square blocks, with a language school on every other corner and travel agencies, coffee shops, and restaurants where there’s almost always at least one person who speaks English.

It’s nothing like Atlanta, either. There are no trains, and the buses, well, the locals tell me that it’s not a good idea for me to ride the bus. They aren’t dependable, is what I heard. And even if I had a car . . . well, here, the streets have no lanes to speak of. Cars and buses and teeny-tiny taxis vie for every inch of space and nobody except me seems to get nervous when another vehicle shaves by. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to drive much.

So for the first four weeks I was here, the bus ride to school and back every day and my walks to the supermarket were the extent of my “getting out.” I was starting to get pretty stir crazy on the weekends.

I started asking my coworkers what I could do and where I can go on my own from the first week I was here. One kind soul took me with her on a Sunday to see traditional dancing. Another spent her planning period looking at the map and suggesting museums and parks where I can go on my own. She also told me about a yoga class which turned out to be in the same block where I live.

Finally, after weeks of asking around, putting myself out there, and failed attempts to call taxis from the burner phone the school gave me, I have located a place to get my hair done and a place for a pedicure and started going to yoga classes. I can call a taxi with a reasonable amount of confidence (although I don’t understand everything they say back to me, I can ask if there is a taxi available). I can go to a park or downtown by myself and tell the driver how to get back to my house.

I miss the independence that comes with having personal transportation, but I’m getting adjusted to using the taxis. I realize that sometimes its good to be a little less choosy about who I hang out with in order to alleviate crushing loneliness and isolation. I know that having my social needs met is worth the pain of asking for help.

I’m still growing.

 

Beginning

It’s time to start.

I’ve been procrastinating for weeks now, using all the excuses not to get started with this. The reasons for not starting haven’t changed–I don’t know how to use WordPress, I don’t know what to call this,  I have too many other things to do . . . but it’s time to start.

I’ve  been in Mexico for six weeks now, and I haven’t written a word except for my lesson plans. So these posts won’t necessarily be in chronological order.   I’m going to try to write something every day and that’s going to be a real challenge for me because I’m not good at writing on the fly.

I want to tell about my experiences learning languages, teaching, exploring the world. I’m not writing a travel blog nor a soul-searching, cathartic whine journal. I’m writing in order to practice writing and to share my experiences with the world–or in any case, with anyone who is interested. There may be some whining. There may be some soul-searching. There may be some traveling. I hope there will be some interesting anecdotes and some funny moments and some halfway-decent photos.

This won’t be “good writing” in the beginning.  My intention is that, by the time I’m finished here in Mexico, it will be better.

There’s no real plan here. So, I guess . . . stay tuned.