Saturday, September 18, 2010

Signing Out

Well, I need to apologize a little first about yesterday's posting. It was intended for an audience of one - me. I don't know why I felt the need to share it with the blogosphere.

Obviously I have a lot I need to work out. As such I can't continue this blog anymore. (Please, no crying.)

I hope you've found this space entertaining and informative. It was a pleasure writing for you and even a greater pleasure reading your feedback.

Good luck on all of your travels, and for those of you trying to get in, good luck with that as well.

And to you bloggers out there, keep up the good work.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Turning Over an Old Leaf

Yesterday was Mexican Independence Day (no, for the last time, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day). This year it is a big deal as this country celebrates its bicentennial.

But more than that, this year also marks the 100th anniversary of Mexico's second revolution, which culminated in 1917 with the new Mexican Constitution, so yeah, everyone here is pretty excited.

Entirely coincidentally, this period is marking a personal revolution for me as well. I'm locked in a war with myself trying to get rid of the person I've become and return to the person I used to be.

Like all bad habits, this version of me probably started a long time ago and continued to change me in small ways until I wake up and realize I don't even know myself anymore. Perhaps it started four years ago when I was denied a promotion I thought I had earned. Or maybe it was six years ago when my younger brother died. Maybe it goes back even further.

At one of those starting points, I became more of a pessimist whereas I had always been more of a happy-go-lucky optimist growing up. It was easy back then. I was given every opportunity to succeed, and for most of my life, I did. I took chances always expecting that if I worked hard enough, everything would turn out right in the end. And they usually did. And if they didn't, oh well, I'd either try again until I got it right or saw the error and moved on. Sure, there were frustrations, but I brushed them off easier.

Some where along the way, when something didn't turn out right, I'd blame part of the problem, or all of it, on someone else. How could it be my fault? I worked hard, am relatively intelligent and have a strong track record of success. Obviously, someone else is holding me back, maybe even intentionally.

All of this placing blame on others turned me into the angry, spiteful person I became. Which only made it easier to hold grudges, place more blame and so on and so forth. It consumed me, and it got to the point that even started blaming (in private) my wife for some of my hardships here. Though I never said it to her, my attitudes certainly were being reflected in my behaviors.

This came to a head, and after some long soul searching, I came to all of those realizations above. It took Mexico 100 years before the people said enough is enough and forced changes. I don't have that long. I've already started my revolution. I called my freelance editor and apologized for being a jerk for the past four years, as one example. Though as I replayed that conversation in my head after hanging up, I think she must think I'm going through the 12-step program. Whatever, it doesn't matter anymore, and maybe it will buy me some extra sympathy.

I'm trying to right my wrongs and along the way return to my old brighter outlook on life. Viva la revolucion, indeed!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Last week, we, the Endangered Families in Mexico (EFMs), had a scare-you-out-of-being-complacent meeting at the Consulate with all of the higher-ups there.

In other circles, I suppose this is considered a security briefing, but as this is a relatively secure city - look, I'm already pretty complacent about Hermosillo's violence, or lack there of - they talked mostly about the blood and carnage in Monterrey (which while upsetting and bad, is still no where near the disaster that is Juarez [can't pronounce Juarez without "war."]).

We are living in Prohibition Era America here where mob rule rears its ugly head from time to time. More so in the northeast, but it works its way into Sonora from time to time.

This wasn't my first security briefing since I've been here, and of course there are several unofficial security briefings in which you hear stories.

All in all, here is my list of findings regarding safety here:

Hermosillo is a safe city. So maybe this isn't a no-lock-your-door-at-night, American Heartland city, but I almost feel the only way you are going to be insecure here is if you go out of your way looking for trouble. Another American here describes Hermosillo as the eye of the storm, meaning that while all sorts of bad things happen around us, Hermosillo is quiet. My only problem with that analogy is that implies eventually the eye will pass and Hermosillo will go up in flames like some of the other cities, but I don't think that will happen here.

We are in the long narrow section on the left - no competition.
Life is better under single cartel rule. The big problem in the northeastern part of Mexico is that a part of one cartel broke off and created a rival faction. So now there are turf wars and competing interests. Here in Hermosillo, we essentially live under the thumb of the Sinaloa Cartel. Sure, it sucks that a cartel can have such a strong presence, but as long as it is one group calling the shots, we live in relative peace and tranquility.

The only threat is the effects of the war on drugs. The latest scare-you-out-of-complacency meeting did have one lingering effect on me. We were told that the Mexican and American governments' war against the drug cartels has resulted in fewer drugs and weapons crossing the borders, which is hurting the cartels' bottom line. This means they will look for alternative sources of income. One such source is kidnapping, and the fear is that there has been increased kidnappings in the northeast.

Red states have more cartel violence. Green has less.
We live in a dark green.
 As long as the cartels are strong, which will be for as long as I'm in Hermosillo, there is always the threat of danger. But in Hermosillo, we aren't exactly living in fear of potential outbreaks. Yeah, you are best off avoiding some areas at night and you want to stay off the highways at night for sure, but much of the crime here is similar to that you'd experience in any city with about million people, many of whom live at some level of what Americans would consider poverty.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

EFM: Earlier Football Mornings

I can't decide if this is the most or least appropiate
jersey to wear here. But if you were unaware, the
Bengals have a player who changed his last name
to Ochocinco (formerly Chad Johnson).
You can go ahead and move this one into the plus column: Mountain Standard Time = three less hours of waiting for football to start. At least for the time being. After day light savings, it will be two hours, but still an improvement.

Saturday morning, it was college football at 9 a.m. Today, the NFL kicks off at 10 a.m. It used to be in the States, I'd seldom stay up to watch all of the Sunday night game because it started so late as well as the Monday night game. Now they will be starting before dinner.

In my previous life before foreign service, I spent a week in London for work; tough assignment, but someone had to do it. It was about this time of the year, actually, and I remember how weird it was that the early games - the ones that start at 1 p.m. on the East Coast - didn't start until like 6 or 7 p.m. The afternoon slate didn't begin until 9 or 10 p.m. Forget about Sunday and Monday night football. Of course, I was in London for one week, so I really wasn't that interested in football anyway. I could survive a week without.

I don't know how those of you serving east of Eastern Europe get by. I love watching pro football, and even some college football, if there is a good match up. I found waiting until 1 p.m. to be a horrendous task at times. I couldn't imagine waiting until dinner, or later, or missing the season altogether.

It is just about 8 a.m., which means I only have two more hours until kick off. I am ready for some football.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stressful Friendships

A foreign service lifestyle is demanding and stressful. Many of us are moving to places we've never been too for, and in some cases, places we've never heard of before.

We are leaving behind our family, friends and much that is familiar to us.

It seems to me one of the few ways to remain sane (assuming we had some semblance of sanity before arriving - a large assumption in some cases, I suppose) is to make friends with the people at post, American or native.

If only it were that easy. Foreign service life is never that easy. There is always a curveball in store.

On Thursday morning, one of the families that we had become very close to moved back to the States.

The end of their tour will not mark the end of our friendship, but it highlights one of the frustrations of this lifestyle. During a short six-week period, we made new friends only to watch them leave.

I'm not trying to be overly dramatic about this. They weren't our only friends here, and they might not even have been our closest friends. But they are good friends to us, and having to say "See ya in a long later," after such a short period of getting to know each other hardly seems fair. It is enough to make you wonder what the point is sometimes. Should we only attempt friendships with those who arrive about the same time we did because we both will be here for a while. No time wasted in short acquaintances.

Of course not. Actually, I think that just goes to show how awesome this family was. When we arrived, they could have said, "Welcome, good luck, we're leaving in six weeks." They could have said even less than that.

But not only did they choose a different, more sociable route; they allowed themselves to make a connection with us. These are the type of people you want to make friends with.

I don't know when our paths will cross again. Probably not for a couple of years. Possibly longer. But I will miss them and look forward to a reunion. And this after just six weeks of knowing each other.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Untouched by Hallmark

One of the first tasks we had to address upon arriving in Hermosillo was to get a 40th birthday card for our brother-in-law. (For once, I actually planned ahead better than Natalie as I bought my Dad's birthday card in the States and left it at home to make sure it would get there on time.)

We stopped at a Wal Mart thinking it is an American chain, so it probably has everything American Wal Mart's have. And there indeed was a greeting card section, but the organization is, well, different. There were four types of envelopes - pink medium and pink large and blue medium and blue large. And they were all over the place.

The card selection itself was sparse, mixed up and generally poor. Cards had smudges and corners were tattered. We settled for a few blank inside cards, though we might have been better off making something at home. People should be expecting e-cards from us in the future.

Though we did find that the Sears here does have a much better card selection. Sears is a department store here - something between Kohl's and Macy's.

Natalie had more luck finding a card.
But alas, I'm not cable of driving to Sears by myself yet, so I had to turn to the slightly-better-than-Wal Mart selection at one of our grocery stores to get a card for our anniversary, which is today. Sadly, I couldn't find card and flowers on the list of year-appropriate anniversary gifts, but we just got back from Mexico City and spent a considerable amount on an obsidian Aztec God bust; plus it is just too hard for me to shop here right now.

I planned ahead to cover the month of August, but I should have bought cards to cover the rest of the year before coming to Hermosillo. Surprise, surprise, all of the cards are in Spanish.

Fortunately, I've been here long enough to know some words. For example, I know what Happy Birthday looks like, so I was able to eliminate them, though I did have my eyes on a couple that looked appropriate (they were flowery) if I couldn't find anything else. But then I saw the keeper - one that said Love on the front. I skimmed for familiar words in the inside to make sure I didn't find concubina or something else offensive when I came across "congratulations." A wedding card, apparently (later confirmed), but close enough. And other than that final word, everything else was very much appropriate for an anniversary.

Seriously, would you buy Hallmark cards,
if you knew this guy founded the chain?
From the best I can tell, Hermosillo, and possibly the rest of Mexico, has not embraced the greeting card. Apparently Joyce Hall and his brood do not have this country's male population by the balls like they do in America.

But alas, there is some expectation to have cards for some events, so the next time we work our way north to Tucson, I'll be card-loading to get me through 2011.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

EFM: Exploring the Finest of Mexico

So I've fallen a little out of rhythm since the arrival of our ground/surface/sea freight which flowed into a Labor Day weekend getaway. That set me back a few days, but I'm closer to being caught up, and only a few boxes remain.

We took advantage of the long weekend to get out and see Mexico outside of Sonora for the first time. It was a reasonable price and only a two hour flight to Mexico City (or D.F.E., kind of like D.C. vs. Washington). I don't understand the airlines here, by the way. Mazatlan, which is much closer to us, costs about twice as much to fly to compared to Mexico City. Other cities in Mexico, such as Cabo San Lucas and Puerta Vallarta and Cancun, are essentially non-reachable within Mexico from Hermosillo. We save hundreds of dollars by driving to Phoenix and then flying to Mexico. The joke here is that we can't wait to leave Hermosillo so we can explore Mexico.

Anyway, Mexico City, yeah. It is like D.C. and New York City combined. According to Wikipedia, its metro population is about 21.1 million people, though the number we heard down there was more like 29 million. Depending on the number you believe, it is either the second or third most populated metro in the world. Following Wiki's numbers, D.C. and NYC metros combine for about 24.4 million people, so approximately the same as Mexico City.

But similar to New York, Mexico City is the cultural center of the country while also playing the role of D.C. by serving as the governing center and historical center. We only got to spend three days visiting, and if I don't make it back there before leaving Hermosillo, I will consider it a colossal failure on my part.

One view from the observatory.
A good place to start your first visit to Mexico City is from a top the Torre Latinoamericana. It gives you a good idea of how vast of an area Mexico City is. We were there during the rainy season, which meant it was cooler there, and of course rainy, but that cleared out the smog.

We spent the rest of the day with a scary experience on their subway system, the Metro, just like D.C. But unlike D.C., it costs only three pesos (about a quarter) to ride. As it was a Saturday, it was not crowded, relatively speaking. We still had to wait for a second train to come as the first was packed beyond capacity, and the train we did get on also was beyond full. The problem with such tight confines is that it affords men (and women, I suppose) the opportunity to grope those nearby, which a few of female companions were subjected to. We were told that during the work week, there are cars reserved on trains for women and children only to avoid such an incident. And then we went around to some markets and ate at a couple of nice restaurants for lunch and dinner. Mexico City is similar to NYC and DC combined, but not when it comes to prices. Just like in Hermosillo, dining out does not break the bank.

From the Temple of the Sun's base, but
this angle doesn't do it justice.
From the Temple of the Sun, you can see
the Temple of the Moon through the fog.
Any visitor in Mexico City has to make the journey out to Teotihaucan (teh-oh-tee-wah-KAHN). We went on a Sunday, which can be very crowded, but the rain kept many people at home. It also made the stone temples that much more treacherous to climb, and I assume it closed off the upper tiers of the Temple of the Moon. Even if it is dry, this can be a dangerous trek as the steps tend to be narrow and steep. The people who built this place must have been 20 feet tall, with tiny feet and had very strong legs because we all had wobbly leg syndrome after climbing just one temple. This was a full day event, and I imagine if it had been crowded, it could be difficult to get to see everything here in one day, especially if children are involved.

Our final day was originally going to be spent at Xochimilco (soh-chee-MEEL-coh), which is a bit like Venice in that you ride gondola-type boats down canals, but with it being rainy season and all, we thought we check out the various museums in Chapultepec Park. But alas, it was a Monday, and we arrived to find the gates locked. Quite amazing, actually, when you consider the park is kind of like the National Mall in D.C., but only ten times larger. (By the way, we had two tour books that said some of the attractions might be closed on Mondays. Neither said anything about the entire park being closed.) So our Xochimilco visit was back on, and fortunately the rain held off during our boat ride.

A few more boats joined us on the canals.
Be ready to be swarmed by vendors and performers while on your boat. We saw multiple mariachi bands on boats (and bought one song; I'm sick of mariachi already and I have about 22 months to go here) as well as craft and food vendors. And because it was not particularly crowded, we were targeted by everyone.

It was a hectic three days with a lot of walking, but it only whetted my appetite to see more of the city. Chapultepec Park itself could consume an entire week to visit. And I intend to see it all.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Still Unpacking, and I'm Old(er)

First let me say that it was not lost on me that when I gave the first update on unpacking our stuff, I posted an Amazon ad for a book on leading a minimalist lifestyle. I'm curious how it ends. When you are done reading this book, throw it away; you don't need things, remember.

The unpacking process is a bear of a task. But by the second day, I had achieved a couple of small victories such as finishing the kitchen (about one-third of our stuff goes in the kitchen) and all of my clothes.

I decided that this was a good time to get rid of clothing that is in tatters, out of fashion (Natalie might say they were never in fashion) or just never worn. I did a little of this pre-pack-out, but you don't really appreciate how much garbage you own until it is paraded through your front door by a bunch of Mexicans.

This is one of the youngest shirts to get tossed out; I'd estimate it to be circa October 2005. It was part of a Halloween costume in which I donned a Bill Clinton mask (Natalie was Hillary; in no way did we have any idea that she would be working for Hillary for the State Department five years later.) By the way, now that Hillary is the chief diplomat, does that mean Bill is the chief EFM? Anyway, I was never really that picky. I think Tiffy might be a closet Republican, and she sleeps with us all of the time.

Moving right along, you might think this T-shirt is from 2003, but it is actually from the class of 2003, which means this one is circa the Summer of 1999. This was my first "free" college T, which was courtesy of a bookstore for spending way too much money on books. I later learned that I could buy the book, copy the chapters we would cover, and return the book for full value. The copies only cost maybe $10 to $20 as opposed to the $150 or whatever for a new textbook (which I also still have somewhere, speaking of collecting garbage.)
Reaching still further into history is this high school football state championship T-shirt, circa December 1996. I'm proud to say that not only was I a member of that team (I kept the bench very warm), but that 14 years later, the shirt still fits. This wasn't the oldest high school football T to get tossed out this time around either, but they were all pretty close to each other. These shirts had a little sentimental value, but not to the new minimalist version of me that can do with out.

I can't confirm it, but I'm fairly certain this was the oldest shirt I could dig up. The front of it says Kentucky Wildcats Basketball 1995 (or is that 1945?), so I would estimate it to be a birthday or Christmas gift from 1995; the only times I really got new clothes other than right before starting a new school year. That would make this sweatshirt 15 years old (still fits), and in a somewhat unrelated note, I turned 30 today. I'm no mathematician, but by my estimations, I have been wearing this shirt for half of my life.
In all, I filled a box with about two dozen shirts, many of which were at least 10 years old. I guess I'll see what the local flea shops will take, but many are probably too tattered even for a Mexican flea shop. But at least I lightened the load for future moves.