Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hot Dogs & Eggs

I remember when I first met my husband. I lived in a one bedroom apartment without electricity (because I couldn’t pay the bill) in a bad neighborhood in Mesa, Arizona. The complex I lived in was full of coyotes and drug dealers and poor immigrants fresh out of Mexico, getting their first taste of the “American Dream.”

Enter husband.

When he came into my life I had just lost my family to my drug addiction for the second time in my life. I was wild. I was irresponsible. I was fun. I didn’t think about tomorrow, only that night, that minute, that high. I lived for the night. It was probably the most fun time of my life while also being the loneliest, most depressing and embarrassing time of my life. I don’t want to talk about that time in my life though. Not yet. Tonight I want to talk about what it was like to be really, really poor. And being poor was a direct result of that constant state oblivion so I felt the need to mention it.

We are getting tastes of that again, here and there, depending on how low our electric bill is, or if I get any overtime at work, or if it’s a lucky month where there is no electric bill (it only comes every 2 months in Mexico.) Sometimes I work a few extra hours, and the car doesn’t break down and my credit cards aren’t maxed out and nothing out of the ordinary happens. Those are the good months. We get those months more than we don’t. This is not one of those months. When you only have one US income but a couple’s worth of US bills, the slightest glitch in your finances can throw you to the floor.

I know I talked about this last summer when we had another particularly rough patch and here it is again, just as before. I don’t really see this as something we can entirely escape from while we are here in Mexico. We just aren't in the position to save for the unexpected... Sure we could probably just eat rice and beans and never go out, but I am trying to enjoy my time here in Juarez to the fullest, not resent it. We gave up cable and some other luxuries to be in this house and I still don’t regret it, but times like this definitely make me reflect on the past.

We lived on Mesa Dr. and Broadway in Arizona in a one bedroom apartment that cost $675 a month. At the time my husband brought home $300 a week, I wasn't working, and we both had horrible spending habits. We were smack dab in the midst of some sort of twisted mix of generational and situational poverty. We considered electricity to be an option yet water to be a necessity. A big shopping trip consisted of a walk to the Food City on the corner to purchase a dozen small eggs (78 cents at the time), a bag of store brand corn tortillas ($1.19), a package of Bar-S hot dogs (88 cents) and the smallest bottle of Tapatio hot sauce that they sold (99 cents.) We would alternate this menu with the splurge of $5 pizzas from Little Caesars every 4 or 5 days. We had no furniture in our apartment other than a mattress that we had dug out of the dumpster. Our pillows were several t-shirts stuffed into another t-shirt. We didn’t have cell phones or a computer or a DVD player. We did have a television that I had traded some drugs for.

The reason I am even thinking about all of this is because we had hot dogs and eggs for dinner tonight. Although now we had the rica addition of jalapenos and onions thanks to the cheap produce here in Mexico. This is what I really wanted to talk about. Yes. I am getting to the point. I swear.

I feel blessed tonight because of the little things. Mexico is built around the poor (and the rich of course, but that is another blog entirely.) There is a little thing about Mexico that makes it easier (no... not easier, si no que more convenient) to be poor here than it is in the US. This is about quantity. I got to thinking about this today because I was Googling, “What to cook when you’re poor” (YES!) and came across a couple’s experimental blog from 2008.

The blog discusses the amount of money the majority of people have in this world to spend on food a day and while the average in the US is well over $5.00, I actually think it was $7-something, the rest of the world has an entirely different figure to work with. Someone commented on the blog and pointed out that the factor that screws so many poor people is their inability to purchase goods in bulk. This hit home with me today.

Thankfully, we have been blessed with a refrigerator and a stove, but we sure as hell aren’t in the position to go to Costco and buy 15 pounds of pinto beans right now. This is what got me thinking about a wonderful characteristic of Mexico that the US just doesn’t have. Here in Juarez, I can walk to the corner store and purchase 1 egg. That’s right, one. I could also buy just one kilo of dog food instead of a 10 lb bag. I can buy 2 jalapenos and the workers wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. I can purchase 1 roll of toilet paper, or 2 apples or half a head of lettuce or 1 slice of ham without any strange looks. Hell, you can even buy just one hot dog. That is the way of life here because the people of Mexico simply cannot afford to plan ahead, or stock up. It's a society built around survival and making it through the day and honestly, it’s something that I am forever grateful for when we are going through hard times.

It makes me sad too, of course. Knowing that I have friends out there who are enthralled with the idea of $300 million going into renovations at Sun Devil stadium while others in this world starve is a tough pill to swallow. On that same note I also know I have more than enough and there are many people out there would be unquestionably jealous of my lifestyle and spending habits.

I am just having one of those humbling realizations that so many people have so much less than me, even when I am at my worst. I may have no breathing room this month, but my bills are paid and I am fed and for that I really just want to thank God. I want to give thanks for all that I have and all that I don’t have. That is all. Enough rambling for the evening…


  1. You raise a good point, about the economy of scale, that I don't think a lot of people think about. I know that when money is tight, I find it easier to give up "luxury" items than I do to change my shopping for everyday things. It kills me to look at the unit price when I have to buy the smaller size of something because I can't afford the bigger one, which is a better deal. For some reason, it's easier to say I can't afford to go to Starbucks or have HBO or whatever, but to know that I'm paying more for toothpaste because I can only afford the smaller tube this week really pisses me off. I get the packaging costs more, etc., but it is galling to know how hard it is to get out from under that trap. And I guess in some ways it is a good thing, because it makes you think about how other people have it even harder, and having a little more empathy for others is never a bad thing.

    1. I know exactly what you mean! It's frustrating, but yup. I just keep trying to remind myself that I've got it pretty good.

  2. Very nice heartfelt (and poignant) post, Emily. Know that this too shall pass and one day you'll reread these blog posts and remember how hard these times were. I like how you find the ability to be empathetic and recognize that there are others so much worse off. So many homeless these days. . . Have a really great Easter, Feliz Pascua!

  3. hi! my husband listened to the TAL segment and told me about your life. amazing. this blog post is great, too.

    I'm just curious - why Juarez? would it be possible to live somewhere in Mexico that's a little less intense and dangerous? I mean, I know there are beautiful, chill places in Mexico. but could you guys go? I completely understand moving to Mexico to be with the man you love, but Juarez?

    a few years ago my husband and I sold everything we owned and picked up and left our life, changed everything. we're much happier now. I guess money is part of it - we were both working and could save enough to get us out. but we didn't have a car (huge expense) and cut back on everything else we could. when we landed, we had to just take what work there was (I went back to waitressing for a few months, then got a job writing crappy copy online). we kind of forced it and there have been some lean times with this kind of focused shopping and penny counting. but it's better. at least our struggle has been ours. no car, no commute, very few bills, lots of time together. and now we're doing really well, even though we make a lot less money than we used to (and a lot less than our friends in the US think we do!) I think we qualify as poverty level, but we don't live that way. we just don't spend money on anything except food and transportation. heh.

    I can imagine that you have a very good reason to stay close to the border, but I can also imagine that you might be happier - if poorer - elsewhere in Mexico. I don't know. just wanted to throw the thought out there. in any case, I wish you guys the best and I am angry at the sad and inhuman immigration policies in the US. keep your chin up!

    1. We definitely would have preferred to go to the interior. But we have student loans to pay off, credit card debt in the US and I have a child that lives in the US that I still try my best to help support. My husband has a grade school education and I never finished college. We don't have the means/education to secure jobs in Mexico that would allow us to support ourselves and still keep up with all of our financial responsibilities. So, one of us had to keep earning a US income. Border living it was. We weighed the different border options and chose El Paso/Juarez because of the economical situation in El Paso and because of Juarez's proximity to my husband's family in Parral and my family in Kansas City. Thank you for the well wishes.

  4. Hi Emily, I've started reading your blog after I heard you on this American Life. I think that it is so important to portray a side of Mexico that isn't just about poverty and violence. I too have moved abroad for love and am currently trying to put my perception of the American dream into perspective. I find that I tend to idealize a lot of things about the US. Reading your posts, I have become interested in how you got sober. Have you posted about this somewhere? I have been trying to help a family member suffering from drug addiction and am always interested in understanding people's journeys to sobriety. Keep up the interesting work and I wish you guys all the best.

    1. I don't have an answer for you. I don't really know how I got sober. I suppose I should write about that so I can explore the topic a bit more... emotionally. That's a fantastic question. I guess something just sort of clicked for me. I was done. I'd had enough, I'd seen enough. Too much really. I was done.