There’s a lizard in my room. No, I’m not making an allusion to Toy Story, or one of my typical sexual innuendos. There is an actual lizard in my room, and it has scurried along two of my four bedroom walls. There was a moment when it stopped right over my air conditioner, which is on the wall across from my bed; it tilted its head up and our eyes locked with a flash of electricity like in the movies. I waited a few moments, then I turned toward my cabinet to grab something to slaughter Godzilla with, but I realized that I only have two pairs of shoes, and I don’t want cold blood on them. Paper was not strong enough to squash it with, and I don’t have any books. I turned my head back toward the lizard, but it was gone…like a black guy in the middle of the night. I had him! The outcome was in my hands, but I waited too long. I presume Godzilla settled himself on top of the air conditioner because it’s hot in Mexico. I suppose this encounter was a rite of passage for Mexicans. Bienvenidos a Mexico!
My landlord’s router is far away from my room and his wireless internet is one of the worst connections I’ve ever experienced. It actually reminds me of the last month or two of most relationships: there’s a strong distance; a little bit of play every once in a while, which you prolong as much as possible because you know there won’t be too many more of those; and there are moments when you feel things may work out for the long haul, then comes the expected, but still sudden disconnect, which brings an ending at the most inconvenient time possible. Of course, I can’t change how the internet connection feels about me, and I’m sure it’ll find happiness with someone else. Probably more than one person at once, as it does get around.
Over a week ago, I took the EXUBI, which is an English exam that UVM requires every incoming student to take, so they will be placed in their “level”. It is 150 questions and you are given 150 minutes to finish the exam. I finished it in 20. The exam mostly made me laugh as the fifth level had situations about Tom Cruise on Oprah. Also, the last few questions had me cringing because of how ridiculous they were. Most of the questions are fill-in-the-blank with conjugated verbs, end the sentence, and the exam required that you follow and understand situations. The situation for the last five questions involved a young man, Jeff, who was in a motorcycle accident. He was taken to the hospital and his mom arrived and had a conversation with the Chief of Surgery.
The mom asked if her son was going to be alright and the doctor replied, “I heard he is almost done in surgery and you have to wait out here.”
Mom: “If only he had been driving slower, he could’ve avoided this accident!”
Doctor: “There is no use in ¬________.”
A) being happy
B) sleeping in a hotel
C) crying over spilled milk
D) time heals all wounds
Now, the only one that grammatically, and—somewhat—realistically makes sense is C. But what doctor in their right mind would say that? A Chief of Surgery? Not even House would use a lame phrase like that! Also, are they actually teaching these uplifting, corny phrases to kids here? How many of us still say, “There is no use in crying over spilled milk.”? You can’t take someone that uses that phrase seriously. It’s something that I still hear on TV shows or movies. All of them being comedies. I didn’t want to believe this question. It’s obvious that the Mexican education system is using the American image that the media spits out to educate their kids. I picked C and I found out that C is the correct answer to this question. Whatever, I have moved on now. There is not use crying over spilled milk.
While I was waiting for my results, I started talking to this guy named Enrique, who was also waiting for his results. He’s an incoming freshman that is studying Biology, and he is about half an inch shorter than me with dark hair and dark eyes. The typical Mexican. Although, he is skinnier than any guy I have ever met in my life, he has a head that looks sharp, and he looks like he weighs about 130 lbs. If he was around during the era of Mayan rule, then the Mayans would probably use him as a spear. We talked about where we’re from (I tell people here that I’m from Nuevo Laredo and because I grew up next to the border of the US; I learned English easily and watched a lot of American films, read books in English, listened to American music, etc.) for about fifteen minutes, then he asked for my email. Later that day, he messaged me on Windows Live and he invited me to a party—I’ll get to it later– on Saturday.
There are so many differences between here and the US. Some of them I knew a bit about, others I had no idea, and some I knew a bit about, but I didn’t understand until I saw it with my own eyes. Here are a few:
1. The Greeting and Goodbye: Woman-to-Woman and Man-to-Woman. They all greet each other with a kiss to the cheek and kiss each other’s cheek when they say goodbye. This also happens upon first being introduced to someone through a friend or an acquaintance. I had seen this a lot growing up within my own family, but I hardly ever saw it happen with Mexicans outside of their family. When I was picked up at the airport, Michelle tilted her cheek toward me for a kiss, as well as her sister afterward. This has happened for a bunch of girls that I have met through acquaintances here whether it was at a party walking around campus with a friend. It’s just a custom. I’ll say that since I’ve been here I’ve kissed and been kissed on the cheek by approximately 20 girls. It was odd at first, but I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve bought plenty of Chapstick. No Mexican I know, including myself, has ever gotten Mono. After experiencing this custom, which has been going on for a long, long time; I have developed a theory that Mexicans kissed each other so much over time that their bodies developed immunity to Mono. We’re awesome.
2. Animal Rights: If you’re an animal lover, then I’m probably going to make you cry. But if you’re an animal hater, or you could care less, then come on down to Mexico! It’s hunting season on any animal! All year long! Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen approximately fifty stray dogs or cats on the street as I’ve walked around. There is no animal control here. I also haven’t seen any pet stores other than the typical Pet Section in retail stores. If you want a pet, just pick one up off the street and nurture it just like Sandra Bullock took care of that guy in The Blind Side. Take it to a veterinarian for its vaccinations and you’re set! No one will care, and if you accidentally steal someone’s lost pet, then it sucks for them. Of course, you can also shoot a dog in the face and no one will do anything about it either. Dogfighting is illegal though, so they have one thing going for them. I’m also pretty sure that all of those animals in those ASPCA commercials, the ones with Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” playing in the background, are from Mexico. Until Sarah McLachlan came into their life and saved them, those animals had no reason to believe in angels. If dogs went to Hell, instead of Heaven, they’d probably be sent to Mexico.
3. Punctuality: People here are often late. That is not because they don’t care for you. It’s because most people here are people-oriented unlike many of us time-oriented Americans. People here stop and talk to their friends and have a face-to-face conversation even when they have other prior and immediate engagements. It’s also normal to ask a newly met acquaintance a lot of questions about their family, job, and their life in general without you sounding nosy. It’s sometimes rude to not ask enough questions about their life before you get to the point. I’m sure in people are not as people-oriented in business, but in just talking with people; you feel more acknowledged that you do in the US. I’m sure you’ve had the situation where you were walking to class on campus and you see a friend about 20 feet away that is walking in your opposite direction. You make eye contact, the space between each of you closes, then you have this conversation:
Person X: “What’s up?”
Person Y: “Not much! Life is pretty good; I’m just going to get some food! What about you?”
Person X: “I’m going to class in Capen.”
Person Y: “See you later then! Maybe dinner later?”
Person X: “Definitely! Bye!”
All of this happens in a few seconds, while you’re surrounded by other people, and the latter half of the conversation happens with your backs to each other because both of you never stopped walking.
4. Banter Between Friends/Parties: When I went to a party with Enrique and his friends (Doris, Grecia, Pati, and Jesus), I was surprised by their playful and very affectionate conversations when compared to friendships in the US. The guys and girls often referred to each other as “Mi Amor” as well as hugs and kisses and hand holding abound one second, then completely insulted each other with biting sarcasm and sexual jokes the next. I noticed that all of the singles in groups of friends at parties did this and if this happened in the US within a group of friends, people might say, “Wow! (Insert Guy’s name) and (Insert Girl’s Name) probably secretly love each other. They look great together!” or “Wow! That girl is a whore! Look at her flirting with all of those guys.” You could still tell who the couples were as they kept to themselves a bit more, but friends here are generally more expressive of their love of their friendship for each other. It puts Vitamin C to shame.
Enrique told me that this party was calmer than others, but there was still drinking, dancing, food, etc. The differences are that parties are usually held partly inside of a house and outside. As long as you’re on your property, you can be as obnoxious as you want and the police can’t do anything. People often bring chairs and tables out onto the street and hang out there too. Also, parents are often in the house away from the party, or even grilling carne asada, al pastor, etc. for everyone and they don’t what their children are doing. This is likely due to the legal drinking age being set at 18 in Mexico. By the time you’re 18, you’ve already gone through the rebellious phase were you get crunk, and get wild without your parents knowing. Everyone at a party is usually friendly with each other because the reason you’re invited is because you’re a friend of a friend, and that makes you familia. There is hardly any chance of brawls breaking out at even the wildest parties here.
I rode a minibus about two days ago because I couldn’t get a taxi. It crossed a bridge and went into a part of a city that I had never been to before. It was a district called “La Selva” (The Jungle). I thought I had seen the poor part of this city, but this was unlike anything poor neighborhood I had seen in my entire life. Most streets weren’t paved, and there were houses without roofs, abandoned cars, and dry blood on the walls of some buildings. But throughout all of this, there were still people walking around with smiles on their faces as they headed to a nearby restaurant or store, neighbors still met outside for a conversation, and the sound of a children’s laughter still filled the air as they played with their parents or played futbol with their friends on the street.
It reminded me again of “The Progress Paradox”, but it mostly just made me what truly makes someone happy in life. Even though the media portrays Mexico as a corrupt country consumed with violence, crime, (People here steal for just two pesos) and poverty; many Mexicans do still live happily down here. As long as they have their family, and the essentials for survival, then they don’t need anything else. Mexico isn’t even considered a third-world country—more like second-world–, and I thought about how critical the situation in Africa looks, and I remember watching interviews of Africans and reading articles on how Africa is the most religious and happiest continent on the planet. Why would they be more faithful to an invisible sky daddy, and happier than other people who have more luxuries and conveniences in other countries? When you’ve grown up with so much and been handed the world on a silver platter, you start to think you don’t need anything else in your life. So why would you need a higher power? I’m not religious and I hardly pray and almost never go to church…but as I see so many people be so happy even though they do not have the luxuries I grew up with and still have…I feel ashamed for ever being unhappy.
I wish that the symbolic, shared illusion of money didn’t exist. Within the past decade, many of family members who live in the U.S. began to resent each other over money issues. Sometimes it was jealousy that someone had a bigger house or car than the other one. We used to be so close and now those family reunions in Rockford of 100+ family members are now a once-a-year-event rather than once a weekend.
But just because I’m thinking this, it doesn’t mean I’m going to live a life like The Grizzly Man who left everything behind because he was tired of his materialistic way of life, and ended up as the dinner for the family of bears, which the guy thought were his family. My parents sacrificed so much to put my future in my hands, and I won’t throw it away.
As with anyone, you’re either used to luxuries and opportunities and you never want to lose them, or you don’t have them, but you want them or you want your children to have them. You see your child smile while they tell you that they want to be an astronaut, a superhero, a Power Ranger, a prince, a king, a princess, or a queen, and you know that they probably won’t be those things, but you want them to at least have the opportunity to be whoever they want to be.
You have this opportunity. Who do you want to be and what are you waiting for?