What a year 2017 has been. I’m not one to wish time away, but quite frankly, I will be glad to usher in the New Year. I’m looking forward – not back.
In May I will become an “official” senior citizen and that absolutely astonishes me. Honestly –my hair is white now and I cannot run really fast for too long, but I can usually handle whatever is thrown at me. I can walk for miles, climb several flights of stairs or a steep hill without wheezing, and I still adore staying up late.
Over the next 365 days, I imagine that some awesome and some challenging events will assail me and my loved ones. My New Year’s resolution is to take myself less seriously. When people or situations get to be too bothersome, petty, threatening or whatever – I’ll just fluff out my tutu and keep dancing!
When I was young, time crawled by – but with each decade, the days and weeks seem to have gotten shorter and shorter – now they whiz by so fast, I can hardly keep track.
It is December again – how can that be – I mean REALLY!
Except for two weeks in September, I’ve been living in Canada since June. I like it there, but I have missed Jorge, my children, my Merida friends, my home of 40 years and my garden.
And yesterday, after 20 hours of travel, I arrived back in Yucatan. I unfolded my weary bones out of Seat 15F, and filed along with the crowd towards Immigration and Customs. I knew I’d soon be runited with my husband – and felt excited for that moment – but I was bereft knowing that I’d not be seeing my children too. They will be in Norway this Holiday Season, and it turned out that they had booked a flight on the exact same plane I had just arrived on… If only we’d coordinated our itineraries differently!
I kept going and to my surprise, I saw Carlos and Maggie looking out through the window of their departure gate. They appeared to be searching for someone – and when Carlos saw me, he nodded his head up and down and took off in the other direction – Maggie ran over to me.
I could see Carlos had the attention of a young airport employee, who quickly followed him over to where Maggie and I stood – our hands pressed together on either side of the glass. Hanging around the airline agent’s neck, I spied the key to my heart – literally THE key to my heart. She inserted it into the lock and gave Carlos, Maggie and me just enough time for a take-my-breath-away embrace. OMG, I wanted to hug her too. I felt so grateful, and only the thought of Jorge waiting further along made me turn away.
The reunion Jorge and I enjoyed was not quite as emotional but it was equally wonderful – and within an hour of my arrival at MID, I found myself walking through the rooms of my home, checking out the garden and dipping my toes in the pool. The water temperature did not invite me to plunge right in, but Jorge’s smile certainly did. In all the important ways, slipping back into the “Merida Me” felt as easy as changing my shoes.
Many friends (and strangers too) have asked what it has been like for me to live in Canada again, after such a long time in Mexico. Have you adjusted – What do you do – Do you still have friends there – Don’t you miss your family?
Obviously, my move to part-time residency in two countries is a BIG change. Before actually arriving there, I didn’t know how it would all work out. But I figured I could leave at any time, so why not try?
Over the years, I have experienced both wonders and challenges in Merida. Jorge and I raised two bicultural kids, we built a college, and we’ve both contributed to our Yucatecan and international communities. Nonetheless, my western Canadian identity has always remained strong – I never stopped missing my family and my life there. While my children were small, while I was working, and had other responsibilities, I could not be in Canada except to visit. And that was OK – I belonged in Mexico with Jorge, Carlos and Maggie. But once I retired, I wondered – why not live in both places? Jorge’s ties to his hometown and culture are bound by steel cable. Although we both wish the day-to-day logistics wer easier to resolve, he understands my need for time in Canada. We’ll just have to keep working at it, until we find the solution that works best. After all, BIG changes take time to fine tune.
And, getting back to the initial point of this post – what is it like to live in Canada after all these years in Mexico?
Vancouver, the city where I was born and raised, has grown from a secondary coastal hub into a teaming international metropolis. English used to be the only language I ever heard in my North Vancouver neighborhood, and now native English speakers are a minority there. Drivers, once so courteous, seem to be on a mission to get where they’re going as fast as they can – and if you are dawdling – you’ll soon hear horns blasting. Right away, I determined I would not be living, or even driving in Vancouver.
Vancouver is expensive too. Very expensive. Rents average $2,500 a month for a one bedroom apartment – if you can find one. Eating out is at least $25.00 a pop, without alcohol or desert. A modest grocery bill for one person is $150.00 a week. Last time I looked, gas was nearly $1.30 a liter at the pump. With the traffic, it takes hours to get anywhere, so just the fuel cost of running a car is considerable.
Kamloops, an inland city of 90,000 – 3 ½ hours east of Vancouver turned out to be just right for me. It is slower-paced and yet it has all the services I need. There is good shopping in small shops, in malls and in markets. Daily cultural events are interesting and varied – all summer I attended free nightly concerts in the riverside park. On Seniors’ Day (Wednesdays) entrance to the current first-run movie and a complementary bag of popcorn is just $10.00 – that’s the best deal I found. The library and the university both host free or almost-free courses and workshops. As my small apartment is located right downtown, I can walk everywhere. When I need to go further afield, I can take the bus. If company comes, I can rent a car.
Most of all, I have loved being closer to my brothers and sisters, other extended family and old-time friends. When I first arrived, they helped me settle in and since then, we have enjoyed so many dinners, walks and day trips. I have also made some new friends.
The weather is well-suited to me. It is a lot drier than in Yucatan – and much less humid. Canadians consider Kamloops’ summers to be unbearably hot, but I laugh at that! In the fall it cools off quickly – I immediately bought a warm coat and boots , and turned on the fireplace. It heats the apartment efficiently – so I have kept toasty and warm.
Of course not everything is perfect in Canada. There were surprises – in some ways, it is not at all like the country where I grew up. I already mentioned the size and faster pace, which seem to have ushered in cultural challenges. Although the majority of Canadians I encountered have been courteous and friendly, especially in Kamloops, a subculture has grown.
Drug use is definitely a problem and there is a visible homeless population in Kamloops. To me it looks like many in this group are mentally ill. Concerned individuals do what they can, but the issues are as complicated as the people who need help – they won’t “get better” with methadone treatment, shelters or “Chili and Coats” provided free from time to time. Most of the indigent population lives downtown, and I talk a bit with some of “the regulars”. I sense they want to change, but it’s a long, painful process, and they fear both long-term and pain.
Fair and equitable reconciliation for aboriginal Canadians is another dilemma that the government and citizens struggle to resolve. But I must say, Canadians try – they try hard to find fair solutions – and meanwhile they do the best they can.
And isn’t this what it’s like for all of us? No matter where we live or what our situation, life isn’t a cake walk for anyone – we do our best to enjoy what works – and we work on improving what isn’t. I call this the pursuit of grace.
The Serenity Prayer, written by the theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr pretty much sums up my feelings about adapting to the changes in our personal lives and addressing those we face as members of global society.
At Riverside Park, Kamloops residents gathered around the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day Laying of the Wreaths ceremony.
Starting promptly at 11 am, the ceremony included a Fly Past by the 419th Squadron from Cold Lake Alberta… the singing of O Canada and God Save the Queen and the recital of In Flanders Fields, the poem by Lt-Col. John McRae. Bagpipes wailed the Lament and trumpets sounded Reveille.. There were prayers and 2 minutes of silence.
All around the base of the centotaph, many wreaths were laid by government and private groups. And when the private citizens approached to salute the vets, they tossed poppies on top of the wreaths.
I climbd out of bed and padded to the kitchen. Of course the tea was at the back of the cupboard. After groping around and locating the tin, I dusted it off, filled the kettle, waited for the boil, and let the tea steep. Ugh! The hot raspberry, mint and licorice liquid tasted ghastly, and I was more awake than ever.
– Well, maybe a little time with facebook might help?
Oh-oh – oh-oh
But after twenty minutes of scrolling through inane comments and out-of-focus photos, my eyes started feeling heavy.
I was just about ready to pack it in when this post caught my eye:
Social media is leading the way, and in just two days, 1,300,000 Mexicans have made their views known.
2018 will be an electoral year in Mexico and the political parties traditionally receive funds from the “government” (the money of course comes from taxes paid by all Mexicans). The amount is 12 billion pesos! The change.org petition urges the parties to decline the 12 billion pesos slated for their electoral campaigns in 2018, which would free up the funds for use in earthquake relief and rebuilding efforts.
We don’t need to hear empty promises on TV and radio and see banners blowing in the wind. We want the parties to stand up for Mexico and be of some real use.
If they do, they will be acting like the LEADERS they claim to be – and God knows we desperately need some good leadership!
¡VIVA MÈXICO SEÑORES!
If you’d like to sign the petition, here’s the link:
Yesterday, Tuesday September 19th, the central region of Mexico was struck by a powerful earthquake. As I painfully type this post, the death toll stands at 241 – twenty one children are among them – they were crushed when their primary school collapsed.
It seems perverse that yesterday’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake came on the anniversary of the devastating 1985 quake that caused so many deaths in Mexico City. To compound the irony – the shaking started just after a citywide earthquake drill. No “plan” can possibly cope with such sudden destruction, but I wonder – I hope – the simulation exercise saved at least a few lives.
Since the last BIG one – 32 years have passed – and our world has changed. Mexico has suffered from countless natural and man-made disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, environmental catastrophes, a breakdown of traditional values, corruption, narcos, devaluations, one political mess after another, inflation, slander by the international media, bullying by neighboring countries – I did not think one more thing could possibly befall the country – and now this.
It seems like TOO MUCH.
And yet, the minute the shaking stopped yesterday, men and women ran through choking dust and began clawing at the rubble – moving anything they could lift. As others began hauling the rubble away – buckets, shovels, work gloves and masks materialized. TV footage showed bare-backed young men balancing on the top of twisted metal and broken concrete – swinging sledge hammers to loosen the girders and beams. The crowd raised their arms and passed the twisted steel over their heads to those who loaded it into the dump trucks that soon were on the scene. All through the night, the makeshift rescue workers have continued working. They know that each passing minute reduces the chances of finding survivors.
They remember the horrors of 1985 and they remember the acts of heroism, like those of Los Topos—The Moles—a group of young people who spontaneously grouped together and risked their lives by crawling into collapsed buildings to look for survivors. The Moles had no equipment, training, or knowledge of rescue tactics, but they were instrumental in saving countless people, including newborn babies from Hospital Juárez—the most heart-wrenching, heart-warming story to come after the earthquake.
That quake brought the citizens of México City solidly together and caravans arrived with relief supplies from Canada, the U.S., Central America, and from every state in México.
What will it be like this time? Will the world help?
The students at our college here in Merida are collecting baby supplies for needy families. You can help by bringing diapers, wet-wipes, talc, formula, new or used clothing, blankets, bottles, or whatever you think would be useful. On Friday morning (Sept 22) they will deliver the collected goods to the Red Cross , who will in turn distribute them. TTT’s address is:
Calle 57 No. 492, Between 56 & 58, Centro Histórico, Merida.
If you’d rather, the link provided below will direct you to a number of verified agencies who will make good use of anything you can give:
I went to a small gathering the other day and struck up a conversation with a woman I was meeting for the first time…
We exchanged the usual pleasantries and before long, she confided that she felt a bit out-of-place in Kamloops, but she figured this was because she’d lived most of her life in Vancouver, a much larger city with many more amenities and lots of “diversity”. She then asked me if I have ever lived anywhere else.
My new acquaintance was full of questions when I told her that indeed I had lived in another place – another country in fact – for most of my life. After a brief description of my lifestyle in Mexico, she threw her arms up in the air and shook her head back and forth. “I could never do anything so eccentric,” she said.
That rattled me a bit. I’ve always considered an artist like van Gogh, an actor like Robin Williams, an entertainer like Lady Gaga or those older ladies in purple hats to be eccentric – but me?
I decided to go on line to read some definitions and more opinions. I found psychiatrist David Weeks website – he has conducted a study called, “Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness”. The short video on the site
intrigued me and I delved further. Bingo! I found Dr. Weeks’ inventory of the 25 descriptors of eccentricity. He lists them in descending order of importance – the first five being the most significant.
Strongly motivated by an exceedingly powerful curiosity and related exploratory behavior
A constant and distinct feeling of differentness from others
Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations (usually about five or six)
Intelligent, in the upper fifteen per cent of the population on tests of intelligence
Opinionated and outspoken, convinced of being right and that the rest of the of the world is out of step with them
Not necessarily in need of reassurance or reinforcement from the rest of society
Unusual eating habits and living arrangements
Not particularly interested in the opinions or company of other people, except perhaps in order to persuade them to their contrary point of view
Possessed of a mischievous sense of humor, charm, whimsy, and wit
More frequently an eldest or an only child
Eccentricity observed in at least 36% of detailed family histories, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle. (It should be noted that the family history method of estimating hereditary similarities and resemblances usually provides rather conservative estimates.)
Eccentrics prefer to talk about their thoughts rather than their feelings. There is a frequent use of the psychological defense mechanisms of rationalization and intellectualization.
Midlife changes in career or lifestyle
Feelings of “invisibility” which means that they believe other people did not seem to hear them or see them, or take their ideas seriously
Feel that others can only take them in small doses
Feel that others have stolen, or would like to steal, their ideas. In some cases, this is well-founded.
Dislike small talk or other apparently inconsequential conversation
A degree of social awkwardness
More likely to be single, separated, or divorced, or multiply separated or divorced
A poor speller, in relation to their above average general intellectual functioning
Hmm-m-m-m-m… I do fit a number of those descriptions, especially the last one… thought I. Maybe I’m a a bit unconventional, but I don’t think I’d go so far as to call myself eccentric.
What about you? Do you see yourself as someone who fits this profile?
The North and South Thompson Rivers merge in Kamloops
This morning I scrolled through the posts I’ve written since arriving in Canada. Pickings are slim – there has been a lot going on, and I’ve not had a lot of time to blog.
Living in Kamloops and living in Merida are as different as you can imagine. Both places have their own beauty, and their own challenges.
Merida is hot and humid for much of the year, but the winter months are glorious. The city lies just 30 kilometers from the Gulf of Mexico and the topography is flat as a pancake. My garden is lush and tropical. Kamloops is cold and dry in the winter, but during the summer months, the days are long and lovely. It is far from the ocean, but a string of lakes are close by. Sage and Ponderosa pine cover the surrounding hills.
The ancestral people who settled in the Kamloops area, called it, T’kemlups, which means, “the meeting of the rivers”. Indeed, right alongside downtown Kamloops, two major rivers join – the South Thompson, flowing from the warm interior – and the North Thompson from the frigid high mountains. The merging causes the water to rise and spill over the banks to form Kamloops Lake. Later the lake narrows and becomes a river again. A few hundred miles further downstream, the Thompson River meets the Frazer River in a gorge called Hell’s Gate. After a series of deathly rapids and undertows, the mighty river calms and meanders its way west until it reaches the Pacific Ocean.
Oh the parallels I could draw from this tale of two rivers! I lived fulltime in Mexico for more than 40 years. Through my family life and my involvement in the community, I grew to feel at home there. Nonetheless, memories of my Canadian home and that identity never left me. Most of the time, the loyalties I feel to both Canada and Mexico harmoniously coexist. Nonetheless, there are occasions when my emotional equilibrium feels like “Hell’s Gate”.
A bicultural life has its share of turbulence – my decision to live in Canada for half the year created a good deal of inner conflict. But after three months here in Kamloops, I think my two “halves” are fusing again. I feel strong and peaceful.
And guess what? Even though my Canadian stay is not finished, I will be traveling to Merida for two weeks. I have some paperwork to look after and I long to see Jorge, Carlos and Maggie. I want to swim in my pool and see how my garden is growing.
Jorge will fly back to Vancouver with me, and before his return flight to Mexico, we’ll spend Thanksgiving, Halloween and Dia de Muertos with each other.
Changes in our Lives – Whew! You can say that again.
Now that’s an ambiguous title for you, but you’ll see the point after reading a bit further. Many thanks to everyone who has written to ask how I am doing.
In some ways, my Canadian experience has been exactly what I figured it would be. I’ve reconnected with friends and family and met new people too. We have enjoyed concerts and dinners, morning cups of coffee and evening glasses of wine – we’ve spent hours talking and reminiscing. But there have been differences too. I’ve had little time to concentrate on the writing and painting projects I had planned. Scheduling phone calls with my family is a priority – I bless Telcel’s long distance phone plan, facebook, whatsap and Skype! Hearing each other’s voices sometimes seems vital to our family’s sanity. When I think back to how limited communication was during my first decades in Merida, I don’t know how my mom and I coped.
Fixing up my second-floor apartment has been fun – “decorating on a dime” – as my sister calls my forays through yard sales, craft markets and “vintage” shops. Re-cycling, re-using and re-purposing are trendy in BC. An original late-1940s watercolor, painted in San Miguel de Allende by Leonard Brooks is my absolute top find. Who knows what else I’ll unearth in the coming weeks?
San Miguel watercolor by Leonard Brooks
(A little aside… Born in England, Leonard Brooks served as a Canadian army artist during WW II, but once back in Canada, he did not find the art scene to his liking. He took his veterans’ pay and set off for sun-drenched San Miguel de Allende. There, he and his wife Reva lived for 60 years – they were founding members of the informal artists’ colony that is now a magnet for English-speaking expat creative types)
Filling out forms at government offices and grocery shopping are usually on my daily to-do list. I don’t buy much at a time because I’m not driving here, and I need to lug home whatever I purchase. But when I don’t have a heavy load, one of the best parts of every day is spent just walking around town, getting my bearings.
And even while I am occupied with some or all of the above, I ponder the changes in our lives. Truth be told, I feel overwhelmed quite a lot of the time. Before leaving Merida in June, people (who are wiser than me) warned that it would be like this. What are you talking about – thought I – I was born in Canada, I have family and friends. I’ll be like a duck landing on a familiar pond.
True enough. I was born here and my Canadian friends and family are wonderful. If I need anything – anything at all – I know I only have to ask. But I feel like my balance is a bit off. I am not a duck gracefully gliding onto the water – I am more like the deer I see all around me – staring wide-eyed as they bound from one veggie garden to the next.
And another funny thing. I spend a lot of time cleaning. I’ve always found that getting my exterior surroundings all shined-up puts my thoughts in order.
It feels strange without Jorge and the rest of my family. But he will be coming to Kamloops this fall and Carlos was here a couple of weeks ago. The smoke from the wildfires will be completely gone by the time Jorge arrives – we look forward to spending Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween together.
I have my return ticket to Merida booked for December 11th. I joke that I’ll be like one of the Guadalupe pilgrims, carrying my torch all the way from Canada.
Changes in our Lives – I did not realize how prophetic my new blog’s name would be – changes aren’t easy or exciting all the time. But they are impossible to ignore. It is not always smooth sailing as our family adjusts to new circumstances, but a little voice inside my head keeps reminding me that over the years we have successfully weathered many storms.
And after all, change seems to be a constant for everyone. When we reflect on all we have experienced in our lifetimes – it boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
As soon as I saw the large group standing outside the “Services Canada” – I could tell they were Mexican. I also assumed they were recently arrived participants in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker’s Program (SAWP) – and I was right. SAWP was established in Canada in 1966, but it has only been open in British Columbia since 2004. For many of Mexico’s unemployed farmers, it is a preferable alternative to crossing the Rio Grande.
To say they were surprised to hear me speaking Spanish is an understatement – even after I explained that I had lived full time in Yucatan for more than 40 years, and now I live in Kamloops part time.
“I am from Merida,” one guy called out, “where is your house?” I told him, and a big smile spread across his face. My new amigos wanted me to tell them about “Desert Hills Ranch” – the farm where they would be working. I had never heard of the place, but I assured them it must be big if so many had been hired.
They said they would be given time for shopping after their papers had been processed. I pointed out “Value Village”, a good quality second-hand shop in the next block, and the super market, down one more block. “Come visit us,” they said as we waved goodbye.
Once home, I looked up the SAWP program and I learned that through the SAWP, employers must provide housing for their workers, although sponsors are allowed to charge rent of $5.36 CAD per working day. The workers’ flights to and from Mexico also have to be paid by their employer. On some farms, 3 meals are provided for $12.00 a day. If meals are not prepared for the workers, the employer must provide a cooking facility, equipment, utensils and fuel. Depending on the type of work the workers do, they are paid by the amount they harvest or $10.85 CAD per hour. If they work more than 8 hours, they are paid overtime. Life insurance and health care costs are also covered by the employer.
One worker I spoke with had been in B.C. the four previous years and he said, “There is a lot of clarity about the work that is expected and protection for the guys who come up here.” He emphasized that the contracts are strict, but he has never had any significant problems with the program.
In the ten years since SAWP started in B.C., farm owners have come to rely on the program, to the point that many could not operate without migrant workers from Mexico. The online article quoted a manager, “The workers coming from Mexico are experienced and they’re reliable. It is difficult work and it’s not easy to find a source of workers locally.”
When I googled “Forest Hills Ranch”, I found that the place is a local tourist attraction. It offers fresh produce for sale and special events are staged throughout the year. One reviewer wrote that the restaurant offers the “best tacos outside Mexico”. Obviously the Mexican employees work in the kitchen as well as in the fields.
To me, the SAWP sounds like a well-thought-out program. The most common employee complaint I read against the SAWP is that it does not lead to permanent residency in Canada – the workers cannot stay in the country for longer than 8 months at a time. As well, temporary farm workers are under contract with a single employer and cannot change jobs without the written consent of that employer. While some do move from farm to farm throughout the season, their right to be in Canada is tied to the contract with their sponsor.
My sister and I plan to visit Desert Hills Ranch this summer, or maybe for Fiestas Patrias and again in the fall when the farm has a big Pumpkin Patch festival. And of course, I want to see how my 150 new amigos are faring!
Many children have a tattered coverlet or a favorite plush toy they carry everywhere. It gives them confidence and comfort. As we get older, our security blankets are not made of wool or stuffed fleece. When I feel down or insecure, I let my mind drift back to happy times. Sometimes I fall asleep and dream about them.
Either way, the memories make me feel better quite quickly. They are like a patchwork quilt with many colored squares – they come from different periods of my life – but I must say that many of the warmest ones are of the house where I grew up.
My childhood home was a panabode – a cedar log house – built in 1953 by my father and my grandfather. Both of them were good carpenters and they could also wire and plumb. They knew how to lay shingles on a roof and fasten siding over a foundation. Granddad was a master at grooving hardwood planks together to make a floor. Mom and Granny varnished the wooden walls, sewed curtains, and they planted roses, dahlias and lilac in the garden.
Fifteen years later the original house could no longer accommodate us all – two additional bedrooms and a family room were added – our house grew with us.
I was 20 when Mom and Dad sold it and moved to Princeton, a town in the interior part of the province. Since then I have driven past the place a few times but I never went inside – until last Tuesday.
Serendipity was certainly at work when I met “Cheryl” at Auntie Alice’s knitting retreat on Pender Island. I learned that she and her family live five doors away from my former home and she said she’d try to get an invitation for me to visit. Fortunately the present owner was pleased to oblige.
The angle of the front stairway felt immediately familiar, and at the top, I pivoted to face the front door – the original front door with its long black hinges and the same “tricky” lock – I couldn’t believe it.
The coatroom seemed smaller to me, but the living room with its wood burning fireplace looked just the same. Several new skylights are a great addition – they allow lots of sunshine inside. My parents’ bedroom is now a sleek kitchen and my mother’s galley has been repurposed into a pre-teen’s bedroom.
Looking all around, I remembered how my grandfather’s paintings used to decorate many of the walls, and now the present owners’ art works hang in their place. The backyard has been beautifully landscaped – my mom loved gardening and she would be so pleased to see the way it looks now.
When I went to see the house, I took a floor plan of how it looked when our family lived there. I told a few funny stories from the “good old days”, and I think the family who now own the house enjoyed learning about the history of their home.
Seeing how much they love it created a happy new memory for me, and I know my parents and grandparents would feel gratified to know that the house they built has stood the test of time.