Tuesday, August 7, 2012

20%

2 years ago today, at this time exactly, I was in the fetal position in the corner of a dingy motel room on Ejercito Nacional. The pase-1980’s-southwestern décor was enough to make anyone want to vomit, but I had bigger things on my mind than the cactus pattern on the comforter. Like what the fuck was I doing in Juarez?

What was I thinking?

Who does this shit?

Seriously though, who does this?

Where are we going to live? Am I going to have to live in this puta’s paradise of a motel for the rest of my life?

Would I become another murder statistic?

Melodramatic much? Yes, at that moment, as I drank Boone’s Farm Sangria straight from the bottle and stared cross-eyed at the rental section of El Diario, this was how I felt. I was never a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of person and I decided in that moment that moving to Mexico was by far the stupidest thing I had ever done… and I’ve done some pretty stupid shit. When I look back at that moment, I realize how much I have grown in the last 2 years. I thought that our 10 years here would be something lamentable that we would one day refer to as “the lost years” as we regrettably whispered explanations to our children.  Instead, I learned the most valuable lesson that I may ever learn; life is what you make it.

I have tried so hard to focus on the good and “fake it till I make it” and blah, blah, blah. For a while there I was doubtful, but PSA people: It works. There really is something to all that “when life hands you lemons,” bullshit. I wasn’t sure I would survive a week in Juarez and now here I am, lovingly referring to it as mi Juaritos as I jokingly duke it out with other expats over which border city is inferior. (Much love to my TJ beach bums. #wink) I’m sure a lot of what I have grown to love can be shared with people all over Mexico, but I have to assume that some things are specific to this region.

1. I love hearing the people. Mexican people are a passionate breed. They love big and fight big. When I first got here I just silently thought, “Why can’t everyone just shut the hell up?” Of course I was a different person then and was quite used to the idea that the world revolved around me and that everyone should go to sleep when I went to sleep. After a year of living behind a park where teenagers played soccer until midnight most weeknights, I suppose you can say I’ve gotten used to it. The random dog’s barking is even growing on me whereas just over a year ago I was strongly considering slipping my neighbor’s Chihuahua a lethal dose of quaaludes.

2. I like chile con queso although that’s more of an El Paso thing than a Northern Mexico thing. Artery cloggingly delicious nonetheless. I no longer scoff at burritos that are the size of my pinky finger. Apparently the US has the whole burrito thing all mixed up. Burritos are not supposed to be that big. Whaaaatever. On that same note I have become semi-obsessed with street food. I will try anything from anywhere. Balls to the wall. I had an incident where I bought a bean burrito from the back of a Sandusky-ish van to fight a fierce hunger pang and actually bit into a chunk of bar soap. Other than that the street food can be pretty superb and in a worse-case-scenario, edible. I have finally stopped dreaming about Barro's, Rubio's, Filiberto's, House of Eggroll, Burrito Express and Gecko Grill.

3. I no longer question when someone says they’ll show up (or pay us back or deliver XYZ) on Tuesday at 4:00 pm and I don’t hear from them until the following Sunday at 6 am. That’s become normal to me (outside of the workplace) and although it’s not how I operate, tardiness no longer drives me to fits of rage.

4. I don’t bat an eyelash when I see a caravan of bullet-proof SUVs. This is probably the most fucked-up change in mi ser but when I look at the big, worldly picture of it all, it’s not a bad thing. I have learned to drop my head down quickly and draw little or no attention to myself. I’ve also learned what areas best be avoided so that the aforementioned becomes irrelevant.

5. Above all, I think I can accredit my newfound happiness and Zen with life to my fellow expats and others involved with US immigration. I don’t know what I would have done or become had it not been for you all. I’ve met some of the most amazing people in the last 2 years, along with a few people I wish I’d never met. I’ve learned to be cautious with everyone, especially people I’ve met on the internet. It’s hard to tell who’s going to be that friend that you go to the movies or share a bottle of wine with and who’s going to be a raging, hormonal, lunatic who shouldn’t leave the confines of padded walls. Some people are good company and some people are just Kelly Bensimon.

6. I can’t imagine paying more than $4 US for a hair cut or more than 30 cents for a pound of potatoes, onions, tomatoes or jalapenos. I have quickly learned which items are cheaper in the US and which are bargains in Mexico. It’s taken some time to get used to it all, but at this point shopping has become smooth sailing.

7. On that same note I have learned to live on so much less. We earn less than half of what we earned when we lived in the US and we are still alive and pleasantly plump. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment by any means but we have adjusted to some degree and if nothing more we have become more grateful, humble people in the process.

8. I can find things! Office buildings, people’s homes, restaurants, stores... I can find them all! I don't need a Garmin or a Tom-Tom, I just find shit. Can you believe it? At first I lost my mind when I realized that no one uses major cross-roads here and East and West were confusingly referred to as Oriente and Poniente and not Este and Oeste as I had assumed. Now, if someone tells me that it’s “a few kilometers down from the red building next to the burrito stand by the elotero behind the gas station with the graffiti,” I no longer revert back to the desperate fetal position of my first night in Juarez.

A lot has happened. I have changed in ways that even I cannot see at this time. I never expected it. I don’t regret a single moment and couldn’t feel more blessed. Thank you.

22 comments:

  1. Wow! What an amazing post! I love that you have learned to not only accept but enjoy your life in Juarez. In 4 weeks I will begin my journey in Mexicali and I am so nervous. It's so nice to read a post like this and makes me feel that I can do it too. Congrats on making it 2 years and may the rest of your time in Mexico be just as amazing! :)

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  2. I am just a few months behind you 7 to be exact. I can honestly say that I haven't adjused as well as you, but I can now say that I do love where I live. I have my days that I hate being in Mexico and can't wait to return to the States, but then most days I can't see myself living any other place than here.

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  3. I know who ups and moves to Juarez. A hard working, devoted, brave wife with a strong will to survive in tough times that's who! Imagine all the people in your shoes Emily who you are helping through your writing. I am not in your position, but you do help me to look at the bright side when times seem unfair. Thnx.

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  4. I spent the last day (yeah, I have no life this weekend) coming back and forth to read all your posts and the voice of the writer from your very first post to now has definitely changed. :) You're incredible.

    ~*~

    Ceri

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  5. Love this post Emily. It is true that we learn, grow and change so much during this process. I have to agree that is has only made me a better and stronger person.

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  6. I'm so glad to have found your blog...my husband and I are in a similar situation (the hopeless kind, though) and I cannot believe it has taken me almost 5 years of this hell without realizing there are other people out there in the same boat that I could talk to/relate to.

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  7. I will be on my way to Mexico in one week. I find some peace with my move knowing that I am not alone.

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  8. Just heard your story on TAL, you are a sweetheart.
    Best part being happy with your hubby.
    All the best,
    me

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  9. I just heard you on TAL as well and was so moved by your devotion and sense of humor and attitude. You rock.

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  10. Thank you for your doing such an honest and open piece on TAL. Yours was one of those stories that I will remember for a long, long time.

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  11. I just heard your piece on TAL and can relate to a lot of what you are going through, as my husband is from Honduras, (but we are currently living in the US). Do you ever wonder, if after 10 years, if you’ll be able to adjust back to living in the United States? There are so many tradeoffs, and on different levels. It’s not easy, but thanks for shedding some light and bringing a voice to what is a reality for so many of us!

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    1. I do wonder that. All the time. I think it would be equally as difficult as adjusting to Mexico has been...

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  12. I just listened to your interview on TAL and read your posts, I really like your blog. Ive wanted to start something like this for a while now - i moved to France 2 years ago to live with my french husband (then boyfriend) and I can relate to all the immigration woes. Its a shame that the foolish, hateful acts of some people have led to these unfair regulations on everyones lives. We've honestly had my fair share of it in france and in the US and are tired of it. Your story is insiprational and I love your quote "life is what you make of it" , I couldnt agree more.Its important to realize how lucky you, and rise above all the hate and regulations and laws and be with your love. I wish you two luck and happiness.

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    1. Thank you so much! You really should start a blog. Most of the Expat blogs I know of are written by folks in Latin America so it would be a treat to read more about Europe. I say go for it :)

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  13. Just a few days ago heard about your story through Chicago Public Radio. After the podcast I went straight to my laptop to look up your blog. Love it!!! I can relate in more ways than one, but most of all I love your attitude and the love of course you have for your husband. You had me at "some people are like Kelly Bensimon" oh man how I laughed out loud!!! I wish you continued happiness, love and safety!!! You Rock Lady!!

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    1. HAHA! Thank you! You are the first person who commented on my remark about Kelly... and LOL, what a fucking nut bag.

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  14. I literally laughed out loud at the biting into a bar of soap. I've had some interesting food stories, here, as well. I really love the way you write. My blog is geared towards family and former students, so I have to watch my mouth a little, but you, you are just fabulous. www.quesoadventures.blogspot.com

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