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Greetings from Cosolapa, Oaxaca, Mexico

September 4, 2010


Well, here I am again at the cybercafe, to report that I am indeed enjoying this ancient but new-to-me and certainly no longer "pure" way of life in rural and small-town Mexico (which has been contaminated significantly by capitalism in all its worst aspects).

Please don´t imagine that my existence here merits idealization. The land and climate, and relative shortage of technologies we take for granted in the USA, as well as the social condition of the country, do create challenges for me and at times, in moments of fatigue and momentary contretemps, I too experience what we call "negative emotions". Fear, sadness, anger. But these rough patches also serve to make the happy times all that much more joyful. The chiaroscuro effect, off canvas, if you will.

I already forget exactly which day it was, but one day a couple of weeks ago, my dog Lolly was suddenly stricken with symptoms indicative of poisoning. She was crying out, almost shrieking with pain, could not stand up, her body twisting and stiffening, foamy saliva and staring eyes. She could not pay attention to me or assist me in any way as I labored to untangle her from the thorny branches in which she had gotten her toenails caught; at last I freed her and was able to hoist her up the steep slippery slope of the garden area, but midway up I started to slip and could not manage to carry her any farther. So I had to leave her lie there while I went to seek assistance.

Fortunately one of the uncles was home and he was able to carry her the rest of the way. I didn´t have the truck with me at that juncture; it was in town with my friends there. So we made an emergency "Help!" phone call and they came to get us and take us to a veterinarian. By that time Lolly had begun to revive and I was no longer afraid she would die on the spot.

The vet said that here such cases are quite common--usually the result of the animal having ingested pesticides from the sugarcane fields. These chemicals, such as Malathion, are organo-phosphates and damage the nervous system. They spread, airborne, far and wide from the cane fields and can land anywhere. It could be that Lolly´s taste for the tips of fresh grass was the way she happened to ingest the poison.

Other possibilities, suggested by my friends, were a scorpion bite, or a squirt of the venomous liquid ejected by the large toads here when they feel threatened by another animal or human being. We discounted the idea of a snake bite, as she had no tooth marks on her. In any case, the vet gave her two anti-poison injections, at which she resumed shrieking for a few moments, and then we took her home to rest. She has apparently recovered completely.

The next day it was me who wasn´t so well. At first I thought I had an infection, and indeed I had a couple degrees of fever. But by and by it began to seem to me that it wasn´t illness, but a pulled muscle or muscles in my belly--this could easily have happened when I was trying to rescue Lolly.

Anyway, after some pretty intense pain, the next day I seemed to be all better. And then the next night I had what they call here "mal de orín", that condition that makes it hard to urinate, even impossible at times to control urination, and leaves a burning sensation just after the urine passes.

I went to a doctor (about $2.00 for a consultation, and the low levels of expertise evinced by the doctor are justly commensurate with the price), and she prescribed an antibiotic and two other medications. I started taking them as instructed, but it was soon abundantly clear that the side effects pre-empted the intended healing effects. I reported this to the doctor, but she could do nothing but repeat, parrot-like, that these were only "side effects" and that everyone experienced them. I explained to her very carefully that the "side effects" were doing me more damage than whatever supposed benefits the medications might be providing, and her only response was that I could choose to stop taking them. She refused to prescribe a different antibiotic that I could tolerate.

Anyway, I decided to just stop taking the pills. And good old Mother Nature took care of me just fine. In one day I was sure of being well over whatever it was...... The adjustments one´s body/mind makes to a new (and less sanitary) environment? Yeah, I think so.

The climate, too, is challenging. Lately it seems that the entire country is in the grip of unusually copious and unrelenting rainy weather. And this is an abundantly rainy zone even in "normal" times. My little raingauge from the USA is pretty irrelevant here. It rains by the bucketful, not by the inch, let alone the millimeter!

And there aren´t any dryers. All laundry has to hang dry. Which can take several days, due to the near 100% humidity, and the fact that, washing by hand, it is almost impossible to squeeze most of the water out of any but the smallest and thinnest articles of clothing.

Sometimes I have little adventures. For example, the day I didn´t see the deep drainage ditch at the side of the road between Morelos and Cosolapa, when I tried to move a little to the right to give a little more space for the car approaching from the other direction.

Suddenly I found myself with the right front wheel hanging down uselessly in the air over the ditch! Thank God, the three guys in the car stopped, got out and offered to help me. Since they couldn´t budge the truck via force of arms, they volunteered to go back up the way they had come to look for somebody with a tractor, and as luck would have it, they returned in short order followed by a huge red Massey Ferguson; there are lots of big tractors around here for working the cane fields. The driver lost no time hitching my truck to the tractor and pulling me out.

I asked him how much I owed him, and he said, "Nada!", but I gave him 20 pesos just to thank him. Thank God for the abundant "caballerismo" here in Mexico. A lot of guys here are still really worth their salt and proud of it, in spite of the corrosive effects of capitalism on our collective moral fiber!

Another day, or actually, night, I drove one of the little cousins, together with most of his family and some friends, to another town to find the "huesero" (bone man, if you will; i.e., somebody who knows pretty much how the body is put together with regard to bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and is adept with some traditional folk methods of alleviating damage to same), to see if he could "fix" the boy´s hurt elbow. He had taken a nasty fall some 8 days previously, and could not move his left elbow without excruciating pain.

The road to the other town was typical of the state of Oaxaca--terrible, full of holes and rocks and puddles, etc.-- so I had to be extremely vigilant so as not to have an accident or subject us all to any more discomfort than absolutely unavoidable.

At last we arrived at the huesero´s house, and he treated the boy´s hurt elbow, beginning with a massage with a cooling pomade, and then the unbearably painful part of twisting and otherwise manipulating the arm in various ways, to discover exactly in what consisted the damage, and I suppose to realign the joint properly and stimulate healing.

Afterwards he wrapped the boy´s arm in a bandage and told us to bring him back if he showed little or no improvement withing the following 5 days. Fortunately, it seems that he is healing nicely, but golly gee, it was hard to watch his suffering during the treatment.

Boys here, after all, are all on the road to becoming Mexican men, and campesinos to boot. It´s not a path for the faint of heart, to be sure, and the culture makes every effort to instill values of stoical toughness. So you know this little 13-year-old was really suffering intense pain when he could not manage to keep from crying out during the treatment.

Meanwhile, I am fortunate. My friends are proceeding, between thundershowers and other pressing responsibilities, to make improvements to my house. Within a few weeks I should have running (but not hot running) water, a shower, a sink in the bathroom, a laundry sink with the the old-fashioned water-extracting roller device I made sure to purchase before I left the states, and a dish-washing sink.

A smooth, or relatively smooth concrete floor (so far it´s just a very rough concrete floor which is almost impossible to keep clean). And cabinets wherein to store clothing, books, etc. Most (all? I`m not sure) of the stuff I shipped to myself has already arrived; I still have to open two boxes to see if I´ve received everything I sent to myself. During their transit, apparently, Mexico imposed a new rule on the package transporting companies: no box can exceed 70 kilograms (about 150 lbs.)

So, they said, it was necessary to open and divide the contents of the boxes I had so carefully packed into other, much less-carefully packed boxes. Instead of the original six, I have received thirteen, unfortunately including some items that arrived bent or broken.

So I felt somewhat chagrined, but in reality, I can do without the lost items. The ones that stung the most were the two tops of my two water filter housings. Now I only have the two bottoms (the reservoirs for the filtered water, which include the taps to take water out of the device). But I think I can contrive a workable top if I can find a big terracotta flowerpot whose diameter matches the diameter of the bottom part, and a ceramic plate whose diameter matches the top of the flowerpot.

The school year has started, and so I thought it was time to start offering English classes to the village children. This is wildly entertaining, and I do mean wild! I´m not a natural disciplinarian! But it´s a start, and we´re having a great time.

So far my debilities as a teacher are significant--little experience and virtually no educational materials. Dn. Antonio made me a chalkboard by cutting me a large quadrangle of thin plywood, fitting it with a little frame and screw-eyes with which to hang it, and painting it with green chalkboard paint.

The only other materials I have so far are chalk, pen, and paper. Actually, probably if I look through all my books that I sent to myself, I will find some materials, but given the lack of any bookshelves on which to arrange them, I haven´t found the time/space to do this yet.

My aim is to offer these classes for several months at no charge, to gain experience and build up my repertoire of methods and materials, and then to start offering classes for a fee in Cosolapa and Tezonapa (the sister-town just across the line in the state of Veracruz). If I could assure that my pets would receive adequate care, I might also aspire to actual employment in a language school, in a bigger city where there is more need for English instruction due to the presence of a tourist industry or other business requiring communication in English. But we´ll see. For now, it´s enough to be getting a foothold here in Morelos!

Well, so much for the recent mundane events of my life here. In addition, learning to make tortillas; learning to navigate the streets of Cosolapa and Tezonapa (I get lots of practice, looking for stuff I need /want, on market day (Sunday mornings), and because of the "mandados" --errands--I undertake for various people who don´t have transportation, or are sick and can´t get around); figuring out how and what to feed my dogs -- who now number 3 instead of just the original 2 I brought with me, because I have access to a big open area and my friends didn´t want to keep her tied up in their house in Cosolapa, and she´s a beautiful beautiful dog and I couldn´t say no! -- putting my life patterns together step by step and one error at a time! Or multiple errors, as the case may be. And at times, successes. New bits worthy of addition.

Love to you all!



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Hi Myra, thank you so much for sharing your experiences living in Mexico. My husband is from Monterrey and we have talked about eventually living near there some day. He tells me I am too spoiled and could not survive, and from what I've been reading I feel he is right:) I did get my passport last month and hope to make a trip to Mexico soon. Funny that you mention the "huesero", my husband hurt his back recently, and relief was unsuccessful from the chiropractor I work for, so he went to a pain specialist and was given an injection, still no help, he swears if he could only find a huesero here in NC he would be fine. He has also told me of going to the doctor for an illness and given vitamin shots....unheard of here in USA!!! Please keep posting, I love to hear about your adventures!! Dawn

Hi Myra,
I am enjoying your first 2 emails and wish you the best. You are living many people's dream which is refreshing. I am fortunate to have found your blog on Dr. Kim's site and am thankful for that.
I have lived in several countries and have traveled in Mexico. About 6 months ago my son was in your region of Mexico. I write this to give you a heads up to the possibility of what happened to him, so you can at least know of the chance of this happening. He was using cybercafe computers on his trip and someone had installed a key logger on the computer he used. This enabled the individual to have access to his passwords and all his information. I know the chances are slim that will happen to you but they were also slim for it to happen to him.
I hope to be able to travel to Mexico again and if I do I'll be sure to come through that area.
God Bless.

Myra, I thoroughly enjoyed your contributions on your life inMexico. You are so fortunate to be able to make a change that many dream of but very few follow up on. Please continue to provide us with these accounts so that we may live vicariously. Thank you

Myra, Good luck on your adventures and teaching English! I have 2 comments: 1) Don't make the concrete in your house TOO smooth. We had a back patio that was too smooth. Every time the concrete got wet, it was as slippery as ice. I can't tell you how many times, my kids slipped and fell on that stupid patio. 2) You can shoot rabbits to feed your dogs! Good skill to have anyway.

Hi Myra, As with all adventrues, the first few days/weeks/months are the toughest. You should be writting a book for others who want to follow you to Mexico, into the wilds.

If the farmers sprayed Malathon, you could have gotten some in you as well. They sprayed here and we all got sick. Get Dr. Ben to get you a list or from his store some things to help keep you from getting sick from the side effects. Bless your heart.

Teaching for free is a good idea, for the folks around you. I used to teach. Visual aids were the best things. I would do an idea a week. Like the first week we worked on 'my name is _____________. What is your name? I think it was easier when they circled around, trying to remember all the names. Then the names of the cats, dogs, animals. I used a picture for each item. A mirror for their picture if you don't have instant pictures. The next week we did foods like the kinds that were around us. Then the pictures of the foods that were not so common to them. Beware though you could get like I did, I showed them a picture of my dog and it came back food. Each day I had picked something that I thought was not to be in the group to make them think. I make the mistake with the dog on that one.
They learned quite quickly, and make play money for the values of the US money as well as the Mexican money.

I am excited to hear about your future adventures.

Myra is doing exactly what I want to do. I have lived a life close to mother earth for many years but am now in Santa Fe, NM, to finish a degree in counseling. However, my wish is to return to Mexico some day! I would love to contact Myra personally if possible!! Dr. Kim, please pass on my email address. Thank you, Michelle

Many, many years ago while living in Texas a friend and I traveled to Oaxaca and fell in love with the area and people. I have often said if there was one place I would like to live, it would be Oaxaca. Now that I am of advanced age this would be an unlikely move, but through Myra's letters to Dr. Kim I feel I am living the adventure with her.

Thank you so much for allowing Dr. Ben to share your journey.