Leaving my family was so hard to do and those three hugs (dad, brother, and my mom) were the longest of my life. We had to wait about an hour before I could head through security, so we took some pictures together. At the moment that I finally had to leave and embrace my parents for the last time in a long time, I suddenly started to cry a bit. I could still see my family from a distance as I went through security, and right before I could no longer see them, I yelled, “Los quiero mucho!” (I love you so much!). A lot of people did look at me because I yelled, but I didn’t care. I kept looking back as long as I could, then I went to the lobby and waited to board.
The liftoff felt great, and as we ascended, I looked out my window and saw Chicago and all of its lights. It was a gorgeous sight and it made me understand why tall monsters act like badasses. If I was as big as Godzilla, that ridiculous Cloverfield monster, or the villain at the end of a Power Rangers’ episode, I would feel like I own the place as I’m walking around the place and putting my tail where it doesn’t belong.
We arrived in Mexico International Airport in Mexico City around 6:30 am, by the way every time I will mention is in Central time, and the first thing I noticed as we were told we were about to land is that it was as dark as Dark City. I had known about Mexico City’s pollution for a long time, but I still didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. In Illinois, sunrise is about 6 am, but here it was still dark and the sun didn’t rise until about 7:30 am. I called my parents from the airport to let them know I was alright, and then I waited about two hours to board my flight at 9:30 am.
Our plane was set to leave at 10:15 am, and it had made the turn onto the runway and was starting to accelerate, when it suddenly stopped, turned around, and for some reason we had to wait another hour before the pilot could get it up. What a tease!
Villahermosa, Tabasco was a sight to behold from above. There were lakes, vegetation, crops, trees, etc, everywhere. Villahermosa is called La Esmeralda del Sureste, which means The Emerald of the Southeast, and the name barely does it justice. After I picked up my luggage in International Pick-Up, I was asked by a young woman who worked for immigration, “How long were you in the United States?” “Twenty years,” I said. The woman’s jaw dropped, then she let me go. What was she going to do? Deport me to the US?
My advisor, Michelle, and her sister, Lydia, picked me up and I had forgotten about the Mexican custom of women kissing other women or men on the cheek upon meeting each other, but I just went with the flow. As soon as we stepped out of the airport, I could feel the heat. The city’s best comparison would be Miami, Florida, so I have essentially have taken my talents to South Beach ;-). Michelle told me that the weather isn’t too bad right now because of the wind, and I did the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit in my head and it was approximately 85 degrees. They stopped to get gas and an employee filled the tank for us. In Mexico, you never have to pump your gas anywhere. Anyway, the city was still gorgeous and they showed me some of the city’s landmarks such as Catedral del Señor de Tabasco, which is where the Diocese of Tabasco is. There is a picture of the cathedral at the beginning of the blog.
They took me to the university I will be attending this fall, which is called Universidad del Valle de Mexico (UVM). What I found surprising is that there is a railing surrounding the school and you have to show your university ID to enter the campus. Do any US universities or colleges have a railing protecting the school? At least it wasn’t like that security fence on Lost which uses sound waves or something to incapacitate you and block the Smoke Monster from coming in. Actually, Mexico City could probably use that kind of fence due to all of their damn smog. The buildings have a futuristic atmosphere as most of them are painted silver and they all have automatic doors. It’s a small campus and only about 1,000 students are enrolled.
I was introduced to a few Department Chairs and I was told by a woman in Admissions that I was likely going to have to go to Mexico City to turn in my high school and college transcript. Eff that! What’s the point of the Secretary of Education’s existence and location in every state, if I have to go to Mexico City, which Mexicans also call La D.F. (DE EH-FEH) or Mexico. I still couldn’t pay my initial fees because Associated Bank still wasn’t allowing me to use my debit card even though they were informed that I was going to Mexico, so Michelle and Lydia took me to the Secretary of Education and I was told that the Admissions woman was incorrectomundo.
M and L took me to some restaurant called VIPS, which is the equivalent of an Applebee’s or Chili’s in Mexico. I told M and L that I felt like a Persona muy importante/Very Important Person, but they didn’t get the joke since the acronym isn’t the same. The salsa that is served in the US at most Mexican restaurants is not the same one that is served here. Pico de Gallo and some other delicious, spicy, green salsa are commonly served. After eating a delicious meal of Fried Milanesa with Noodles on the side, I got my check and told myself I would not come here again for a long time after seeing the price of my meal.
I should probably establish the cost of living here versus the US’s. The current currency rate is $12.5 pesos to $1 USD. The minimum wage in Tabasco is $85-$100—depending on the job– pesos per DAY. Most people here make between $7-$8 USD per day. That’s astonishing. It made me appreciate the lifestyle I lived in the US more.
I bought a prepaid cellphone before M and L dropped me off at my hotel for the night. Bellboys still exist at all hotels too, and it felt strange having someone carry my luggage and open my suite door. I just relaxed in the hotel and fell asleep early because I knew I had another big day tomorrow.
In the morning, I went exploring the area that my hotel was in. I was in the centro of Villahermosa, and it was obviously very busy. I didn’t grow up in a city, so I didn’t know what it was like walking through downtown while being surrounded by hundreds of people. Something that shocked me was that there was a lot of Federal Police standing with their AK-47s at various locations on the street. I felt protected, yet insecure about it as there were often trucks with soldiers driving through the city.
I definitely had to check out the prices on food here and I realized that most places sell two tacos for eight pesos. Very nice! You want something to drink? Pop, lemonade, water? They’re all ten pesos! You want to buy some new release DVDs? 30 pesos each! Well, they’re all pirated, but technology here is expensive and most people can’t afford to spend money on a real DVD.
I picked up Villahermosa’s main newspaper, Tabasco Hoy, and I started looking for apartments or any place I could live. I was thoroughly confused because everything was labeled with Atasta, Aguila, Mario Brown, Palmitas, etc. and I didn’t know what they meant. Whaaaat does this mean!!! The hotel manager clarified that every city, no matter how big or small, in Mexico is divided into colonias/districts and that we were in Centro. She told me what colonias are near UVM and that obviously helped me get started on calling the right landlords.
In the afternoon, M and L picked me up and drove me around colonias near UVM in search of apartment. I ended up calling a man who told me he had a room with a fridge, closet, desk, mirror, bathroom, and gas, water, electricity, air conditioning, and wireless internet all paid for only $3,200 pesos per month, or $258 USD. I set up a meeting with him for Saturday at 10 am, and in the afternoon, M and L took me apartment hunting, but no place was as good as that one.
After we were finished hunting, we picked up one of Michelle’s colleagues at UVM named Erika. She is the Director of UVM Marketing and is recently engaged. She asked us if we don’t mind her smoking in the car, and that it wouldn’t be much of a problem because she doesn’t smoke that much. Within twenty minutes, she had smoked four cigarettes. We picked up another one of Michelle’s friends named Susie, who was recently fired from UVM, and we went Michelle’s house. Besides the obvious the difference in architecture between US and Mexican houses (always colorful, balconies, no basement), the biggest difference is that almost every house has a security fence about ten feet in front of the front door (If someone doesn’t have a doorbell, and their fence isn’t open, then you’re going to have to yell their name to get their attention), back door, and for the garage. I’ve seen so many cars in cages, and it looks as if they’re pets, prisoners, or robot slaves.
Susie seemed to be fascinated with my story and especially why I would choose Villahermosa—it was the UVM campus with both my majors, it’s close to the Mayan pyramids at Palenque and the beach, it doesn’t have that much American tourism, and it is far from my relatives in Mexico—since she still lives with her parents and the city is so hot. She asked me to teach her English for some money, and I said that for now I would just like to learn the important Mexican slang that I should know to survive, so she, Michelle, Lidia, and Erika started teaching me cuss words. Susie told me that she only knew one American cuss word, so I asked her what it is and she said, “Hassle” with a strong, Mexican accent. I had no idea what she was talking about and explained that she was saying a word for bothering someone (Later that night, when I was in my hotel room, I was saying “Hassle” out loud, when I realized she was trying to say “Asshole”!
After just hanging out with them while they watched their Telenovelas/Mexican Soap Operas, being told about which futbol team I should say I am a fan of so I am not beaten up, and hearing a lot of sex jokes, I was dropped off at my hotel, and I started counting sheep.
This day was ridiculous as I went to check out the room I found advertised in a newspaper yesterday and it was gorgeous. The only downside is that it doesn’t have a kitchen and it’s about half a mile away from UVM. I told the landlord, Rodrigo, that I would decide by tomorrow at noon. I was still waiting to hear back from a guy, Jesus, one of my advisors referred me to that had an actual apartment for the same price that was three blocks away from UVM.
I went back to my hotel and Enrique Iglesia’s Escape/Escapar was playing in the lobby. I talked to my dad about the apartment a few hours later, and he told me that I should’ve just paid Rodrigo and moved in because I haven’t heard back from Jesus—he had not answered my prayers—and someone else might take the deal. I looked up the nearby Banamex (Mexico’s strongest bank chain) and realized that the bank was closed and that it didn’t open until Monday at 9 am. I called Rodrigo around 4:15 pm, and he told me that someone was going to look at the apartment at 5:00 pm and it was possible I may not get the place since we never came to an agreement. Rodrigo told me that if I just paid him $1,000 pesos, he would give me the key and I could move in. He may have been lying just to get me to pay him, but I couldn’t risk losing this place since Jesus hadn’t called me. The next 45 minutes were some of the most thrilling of my entire life.
I ran out of the hotel and down the street to the Banamex ATM because my dad told me I had over a $1,000 pesos in my account. There were 10 people in line to use one of the four ATMs and two people were struggling with two of the machines. They were saying that the system was malfunctioning. Two of the ones I tried didn’t work, so I sprinted two blocks to a Del Sol (It’s kind of like a Macy’s department store) to try their ATM, but the machine told me that it doesn’t accept foreign cards! The store was crowded and there was a family with kids in front of me, so I had to slowly walk behind them. I got an opening and started running when a 30-year-old, 5’6’’ buff man with dark, spiked hair suddenly walked in front of me and I knocked him down. He yelled at me, I told him I was sorry, but I had to start running. He yelled, “Te voy a matar!/ I’m going to kill you!” I looked back and he was right behind me chasing me down the street. I was praying to Jesus—not the hassle that wasn’t calling me back—that I didn’t knock anyone else down and that the Federal Police didn’t stop me. I kept looking back while running and the guy was still chasing me. I yelled for a taxi—which are very common in this city— and one stopped for me. I practically jumped inside and told the driver that I would give him $25 pesos (all taxi rides are $20 to anywhere in the city) if he just started driving. He started driving, I looked back, and the guy had stopped running after me. I felt like I was in an action movie. It was epic.
I told the driver to just drive in a circle back to the Banamex. I asked him to wait; the ATM worked this time, so I got my money, got back in the taxi, and told him the address. I haven’t talked about the taxis in Villahermosa, and I don’t know what they’re like in Chicago or NYC, but being in a taxi sometimes feels like a rollercoaster here. Since they have a set rate to anywhere in the city, the driver tries to get you to your destination as fast as he can to consume less gas. You almost crash every two or three blocks because of the other taxi drivers. It feels exactly like the game Crazy Taxi. I haven’t seen or been part of an accident yet, but because of so many close-calls; the drivers are either amazing drivers for avoiding so many accidents or terrible drivers for almost getting into one every few blocks. As long as I get to my destination in one piece, I don’t care.
I got to the apartment right around 5 and Rodrigo started asking me for some information as he filled out a receipt. At one point, he said, “If you’re good, you can stay here a long time.” Due to me having been raised on a lot of U.S. fiction and media, I interpreted it as him being a rapist, pedophile, sex deviant, or some other kind of monster who was going to tie me up, torture me, and tell me to be good. I thought about not living there, but I told myself that I’m simply misinterpreting what he said. He gave me the key and the receipt, and I was told I could move in whenever I wanted to. I still had one night at the hotel, so I took advantage of it. Later that night, Jesus would tell me that he wasn’t going to be able to let me rent his apartment. Thank God that I already decided on another one.
I stayed at, packed my bags, and waited for Michelle to pick me up and drive me to my apartment. She told me that she was going back to live with her family in Veracruz because she didn’t renew her contract with UVM. She dropped me off, we said goodbye, I paid her for all the gas she had spent on driving me everywhere, and I thanked her for everything that she had done for me the past month. I moved in, and I asked Rodrigo where the nearest retail store was located. He told me that there is a Chedraui (Mexico’s most popular retail store and the equivalent of Wal-Mart, but Chedraui is cheaper) about twenty minutes away.
As I walked there, I heard, “Baby, Baby, Baby..ooooo” coming from someone’s house. You can’t escape Justin Bieber’s love in any country. When I got to Chedraui, I looked up and saw their logo (Scroll back up and look at it), which I also posted at the beginning of the blog. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Wow. Chedraui’s founder must’ve really hated his dad, or his family liked doing sexual things with each other. Why else would the son be fisting his father? And why is it ‘Cuesta Menos/Low Prices’? Is the act of fisting, and other sexual acts provided for a low price here? Should I go back, but watch my back as I do so?” It is actually a nice store and I bought food, pillows—actual sleeping pillows, not those sexual pillows which Chedraui’s founder must be accustomed to—water, and a few other things. I carried everything back and now I’m completely settled-in.
I do have a balcony and the sliding door that leads to it also has a security fence. There is a basketball court right in front of my apartment, a mom-and-pop clothing store, a Laundromat, a few restaurants, a park, a convenience store, and a public university all within two blocks, and one of the city’s plazas (Plaza Cristal) is within thirty minutes walking distance from my apartment. I’m completely settled in now and all I have to worry about is getting Rodrigo the other $2,200 pesos tomorrow, and getting all my education documents, voting card, military card, and license in order.
I know I said that none of my entries would be as long as my first one, but a lot happened these past few days, so take it or leave it or else I’m going to get Chedraui’s founder to put his fist up your Hassles.