Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Intimacy in Africa

I can't believe I'm admitting this to you.

I'm in Africa this week and I've developed this fear of holding hands. I still can't get past the fact that grown men here holding hands. Not just holding hands, but interlacing fingers.

I've been walking around with my hands in my pocket a lot.

I remember being at a youth group function at my girlfriends house in high school. The youth group leader had us stand in a circle and hold hands. My girlfriend's mom was standing next to me, so I took her hand. Without thinking about it, I interlaced my fingers with hers. Her hand squirmed at first but then resigned in defeat. It wasn't until half-way through the prayer that I realized I was holding her hand in a way that was a wee bit too intimate and weird.

My girlfriend broke up with me the next day. Now that I think about it, I wonder if the two were related.

African men, I guess, don't have an issue with this type of hand-holding. They do this to their very best friends. I must be the equivalent of my friends back home high-fiving me and saying "You da man!".

Yesterday, while riding in the back seat of a car, I let a grown African man rest his head on my shoulder while he slept. A grown man. Not a kid.

I admit I didn't have much choice. He was too asleep to ask if it was ok and I didn't have any room to decide otherwise.

I'll post a full summary on the very cool work that is going on here in a week when I return.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I promise you I'm going to get to the bottom of this. I'm going to find out about these two and what they are up to.

You see a version of this at every authentic Mexican restaurant in Ameria. Some have the couple sitting and petting deer. Others have them sitting at a table eating chips and salsa (I think this version is not officially approved and may just be a marketing gimmick to sell more food).

My guess would be one of the following three:
1) Power nap during a camping trip.
2) A professional wrester and his female sidekick lost in the wilderness while delivering chips to orphans
3) A human sacrifice of some sort.

I'll investigate and post here. In the meantime, ask your waiter about it while you're asking for the chips and salsa basket to be refilled and post here if you have any clues.

A Seamonkey's Life

We’ve been in Mexico for two weeks now.

That's long time if you are a Seamonkey. In fact, I think that's about your entire life.

The first week was rough, but the second week started to make sense and we found our ‘Seamonkey legs’

Here are three things I have learned in two weeks here that I’m going to remember for the next family adventure we are on.

1) Every adventure has some unexpected turns. It’s funny how we build something up in our minds and plan it all out. And then when things don’t go exactly like we planned, we get frustrated or grumpy. I am going to just expect some speed bumps on my next adventure. And when they don’t come, it will be that much more of a delightful time. (Thanks Dalene Fisher—http://fisherstine.blogspot.com/)

2) Don’t take an adventure at face value. It is what you make of it. I wish I were better at this. My friend, the famous movie and retro-toy guru, Kirk D. (http://secretfunspot.com/), is one of those people I want to be when I grow up. Kirk has this way of taking the good and the ugly in a trip, and mixing them together for a fun and memorable trip.

3) Giving thanks is like an amusement park for the soul. It sounds trite, I know. And I am not the best at applying it. But every time I’ve tried to do an inventory of the things I am thankful for, instead of the things I’m miserable about, I always have more fun. (and my wife likes me better too).

I'm sure the happiest Seamonkeys already know these tips for their short lives. But I'm sure I'll get another shot at practicing these before someone tries flushing me down the toilet.

Kissing Lessons for Mexico

Everybody does it. It’s expected and if you don’t kiss, it’s a wee bit rude.

Of course, folks make allowances for the dumb American who hasn’t yet caught on, but for the most part, kissing is just something you have to get used to here.

For future visitors to Mexico, I’ve outlined a few of the basics to kissing in this great country and even posted a photo for a visual aid.

1) Kissing is for friends and family—You don’t kiss the janitor in the airport, or the guy driving the taxi, but you kiss pretty much everyone else. If you think you are going to see them again, and you want to be on friendly terms with them, a kiss is in order.

2) Guys don’t kiss guys—This is a relief to most of us men. Some exceptions apply. At the airport this morning, my dad kissed me goodbye as he headed out on one flight and I on another.

3) It’s not real—When you greet someone, you don’t really kiss them. It’s more of a cheek to cheek touch but making a kissing sound. My kids have asked me about the technicalities of this and what percentage of the lips should touch the other person’s cheek. I don’t know the Mexican answer to this, but my guess is that a 60% LTC (Lips Touching Cheek) contact is about right. If you don’t care if you see the person again, a 20% LTC ratio is about right. (In the photo here, I would say it is a 50% TLC ration).

4) Right side—You always kiss the other person’s right cheek. This is confusing, I know, but it means you always move to the left when you go in for the kiss. It can be wise to strategically place a dab of cologne on your right side of your neck, if you are wanting to smell nice, or if you prefer, a fake mole with hair protrusions if you anticipate meeting someone you really don’t want to get close to.

5) It’s not about the kiss—It’s good to keep the spirit of the law in mind, and not the letter of the law. It’s not about lips to cheek contact, it’s about expressing warmth, hospitality and acceptance. I suppose you could kiss someone, fulfilling the letter of the law, and punching them in the gut at the same time. Even if you don’t kiss, making good eye contact, showing kindness, respect and affection with a lingering handshake or an affirming look will do.

I’m heading back to the US today en route to Africa. I’m going to see if I can get away with kissing someone and I'll pull the, “Hey, I’m a Mexican now!” card.

Go kiss someone today and post a comment on how it went. Tell them a Mexican told you to try it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Our Town

If you promise not to stalk me or rob dog food from my back porch, I'll tell you exactly where we live in Mexico.

We live in a little town called Valle de Bravo (Valley of the Brave) and it's nestled high in the mountains around a lake outside of Mexico City.

The little town comes alive on weekends but during the week, it's a pretty quiet little place. The tourists and weekenders come out from Mexico City, currently the worlds most populous city, and they come seeking a little quiet, recreation and some fun shopping.

My dad tells me it is older than any city in the U.S. My dad is pretty smart so I believe him.

How to get here?

If you start in Mexico City and fly directly west, like a bird over the Volcano and other mountains, you will arrive in our house within a half hour. If you're a car or bus, it's going to take about two hours over roads that snake around and through the mountains.

Watch out for the burros and goats, and soon you will arrive into a little cobble-stoned street with a gazebo and Cahtolic church in the town square. You can ask where the crazy American lives and they will point you to my dad.

Come see us!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Toilet Paper Lunch Lady

I'm not making this up.

My daughter told me something about school this morning that still has me befuddled. I've spent all morning trying to work and not think about it, but it wont' let go of me. I'm open to any wisdom you have on the matter.

She told me that when she went to the bathroom at school yesterday and there was no TP. (Nothing extremely unusual there, but here is where it gets crazy).

When she came out of the bathroom stall, a teacher told her that when she needed toilet paper, that she should get it from the cafeteria lady. She was the one that keeps the school toilet paper and dispenses it.

The cafeteria lady?

I can't figure it out. Is TP so valuable in Mexico that they have to dispense it in a rationed way to keep students from carting it away in their backpacks? Are students using it for spit wads? Is this a clever way to keep students from using the 'going to the bathroom' excuse?

Why the cafeteria lady? I don't get it? She already has to put up with all sorts of stuff, why make her the bad guy in the toilet paper conspiracy.

I'm open to any ideas that might put my mind to rest.

El Guappo

I think the words, "El Guappo" means 'handsome one'. I'm not for sure because I never get called that. But Von does.

Von found this hat at Oma's house. She also has this costume flintlock pistol that is supposed to look like something a Spaniard left in Mexico a long time ago. I think it looks like a bottle of tequila when you stick it in your pocket-turned-holster.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mexican Cereal Boxes

Professional Mexican wrestlers on cereal boxes. This is what I was expecting out of Mexico.

This was the best bowl of Corn Pops I have ever had.

Religion is Only Ugly in Other People

I saw something yesterday that I have never seen in 38 years of living.

I saw my dad playing a game of pool.

He was raised in a very conservative home where movies, make-up and pool were no-no's. These rules had good intentions, no doubt, but in the end, they are just rules that keep us preoccupied from the real goal, a relationship with God.

(I'm extremely proud of my dad, by the way)

I've heard that honesty is the most universally desired attribute in people. You can go anywhere in the world, search any people group or culture, and you will find that deceitfulness is the most hated attribute in human character.

But I think there is another culprit that tops deceitfulness and slips past us. I think a religious mindset would be the most universally hated attribute if we could only see it.

We all have these things we do or expect of ourselves and others to be near to God or endear ourselves to Him to gain His favor in some way. They aren't relationship builders but rules and mechanisms that help us appear closer and more knowledgeable about God than our fellow neighbor.

The funny thing is, while we don't see it in ourselves, religion is so easy to hate in other people or cultures.

Today, I'm asking myself what dumb rules I've accepted as normal good living that keep me preoccupied from the real goal–a relationship with God. And I'm going to play pool while I do it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dinner and a Wonder Woman episode

We've not been the best at having people over in our old house. Maybe because of space limitations or maybe because we've been surrounded by so many friends that do it so well and make it look so easy that we've relegated the joy of it to them. But we're changing that now.

We now have a formal dining room table and we tried hot dogs and potato salad on it and my parents were the guinea pigs.

We finished out the evening with vanilla steamers and watching an episode of Wonder Woman.

It was a good night.

It's not a bribe, it's an adjustment

This isn't me getting a Chiropractic adjustment.

You can tell because my butt isn't this tiny. This is the telephone/internet guy.

My earlier post said I was opposed to bribing the telephone guy to come to my house to hook up the internet. But on my way home, outside my gate, was his truck, and he was finishing up a job for someone else.

I invited him to come to my house and see about getting me hooked up. He and his worker came over gladly and promised they would have us up and running by tomorrow. Then they saw Lisa's Chiropractic table and started rubbing their shoulders and complaining about pain in their backs.

Lisa gave him and his worker friend adjustments as a thank-you for stopping over. Is that considered bribing?

My clients will be thankful that I am once again connected to the 'real world'. And I'm thrilled that I didn't have to technically bribe anyone.

Pushing the 'expectation' button

There is this tiny innocent phrase made up of eight little words which is single-handedly responsible for retarding the development of the Mexican infrastructure and economy. Ok, I made that up, but it has to be mostly true.

I go to the store to buy an oil filter and they give me one that is almost the same size. When I inquire why? "That's just the way it is in Mexico".

The cellphone plan you bought won't let you make calls out to your clients in the US, because? "That's just the way it is in Mexico".

The water to your house quits on Monday, every Monday, not because the utility company is working on it, but because "That's just the way it is in Mexico".

My ex-pat friends are laughing at me. They think it is funny that I expect an efficient and reasonably responsive interaction with the local utility company. The locals can't understand why I don't want to drive through the streets looking for the utility man and offer him a 'gift' to come to my house to fix my internet connection before the next guy listed on his 'to-do' clipboard.

I wonder what would happen if there was this 'expectation' button I could push. And tomorrow, when everyone wakes up, they instantly have higher expectations. They expect their oil filters to fit, their cellphones to work, and their water to run consistently.

Would things be different?

And then I start thinking about this same thing when it comes to my personal life.

My dirty socks are left on the floor because "That's just the way it is in Jason's house".
The shower faucet drips all day because "That's just the way it is in Jason's bathroom".
The weeds in the flower-beds are abundant because "That's just the way it is in Jason's garden".

I'm going to push my own 'greater expectations' button. Hopefully it will rub off on the utility guy. But even if it doesn't, I'll have a shower faucet that doesn't drip.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Expectations and Week One

I don't know what I was expecting.

I'm sure every new venture in life has a season of adjustment. I'm remembering the first week of a new job, the first few days of college, and moving to a new community in Ohio where we knew nobody at the time. I'm trying to remember that there has always been a period of 'weirdness' to any new chapter of life.

Take a normal new venture in life and factor in a new culture and language, and, well...it's going to take at least a week or two to feel normal.

In the spirit of exercising a grateful hear, here are a few things I really like about Mexico (and a few that I'm adjusting to).

Things I'm grateful for:

1) I like the cooler mountain climate, the sound of wind through the pine cones and the clouds as they roll in over the mountain tops.

2) I like the way people greet you here. You get to kiss as many women as you meet.

3) I like the way you can drive here. You can pass anyone you need to and ignore the solid yellow lines.

4) I like the bread at the local bread store. Where can you go in the US and get a piece of bread smeared with raw eggs and coated with sugar?

5) I like the sounds of the birds in my yard. They are new sounds and exotic ones and make me think I live far off in a rain forrest.

6) I like being near my parents and seeing my kids get grandparent time. I especially like to see them light up when they hear we are going over to their house.

7) I like the refried beans.

8) I like walking into a store and practicing my Spanish. People are so accommodating and helpful when they see me trying.

9) I like seeing my family fitting into a new culture and hearing my kids practice their Spanish on the dog.

10) I like the fact that my wife is adventurous. She always seems ready for a challenge. I'm a weenie compared to her.

Things I'm getting used to:

1) I'm getting used to locking and unlocking the gate that leads to our driveway on the golf course. We never locked our house back home unless we were leaving for vacation or something. Life would be so much more fun without keys to keep track of.

2) I'm getting used to people kindly lying to me. They mean well, but they will tell you what you want to hear. For instance, the promised time the internet connection at my house will be made is anywhere between two days, to two weeks, and yesterday, I heard two months. Which is it? I'm getting used to that.

3) I'm learning to like speed bumps. In the US, we have policemen and speed limit signs that reminds us to slow down, enjoy life, and drive safe. In Mexico, we have walrus sized concrete bumps in the road to remind us to slow down and keep us from running over chickens or dogs.

4) Since we don't have internet at our house yet, I'm working from my parent's front living room. I'm learning to appreciate the frequent, daily visits from people from all over who drop in. I'm learning like this. But I'm not a very fast learner, I have found.

5) I'm just now getting to like the toilet paper handling situation here in Mexico. If you don't know why that is unique, you will have to email me and I'll explain.

One thing is for sure, we are better equipped for week two in Mexico because we finished week one.

Friday, June 6, 2008

We're not Mexicans

We watched the movie, The Three Amigos, tonight as a family.

There is a scene where Steve Martin walks into a cantina and announces the obvious in a loud voice, as if that helps the bartender understand English any better.

"We're not Mexicans. We're from out-of-town."

That is us right now. We are living that scene in the movie. We go about town, trying to find our way, hoping to be inconspicuous and thinking we are blending in.

If you need a good laugh, and you want to think of us, rent the movie and enjoy a plethora of good times.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Superrr Burrrrgerrrrr

If you come to visit me, I promise to take you to SuperBurger. But you've got to roll your 'r's when you say it.

My hats off to the artist who is really good at drawing people in tights.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wrestling on the First Day of School

I asked for a show of hands tonight around the dinner table of who wanted to go back to school for day two. Four little hands were raised high in salute of a near-perfect day.

Even Von said it went well. I asked him what he liked about school and he said he got to wrestle. I pressed him for more details and he said he wrestled a kid on top of a table. I asked him to tell me what the teacher thought about it and he said, "her liked it."

I guess they start luchador training early here.

They still don't know Spanish yet, but it's only day one. I think we'll give them another day or two.

Our House

This is our house in Mexico.

The front entry has these cool metal doors and my wife likes to point out that they have huge knockers. (Reference the movie Young Frankenstein).

There is a shallow creek the runs right next to the house and you can fish in it from the deck. The score on who has fallen in most? Moses 2, Von 1.

Vienna and the girls went swimming yesterday, it was so nice out.

There is a lovely porch overlooking the golf course.

Oma bought us a hammock that we've all enjoyed.

Oma also is loaning us her dog, Goldie, who does a great job of barking at the golf club's night watchman when he walks by. She and Moses liked each instantly and Goldie is teaching Moses the ropes here in Mexico.

Kala, this one is for you and Jorden! Tell Samson his cousin is having a blast in Mexico.

This is the view of the 15th hole on the golf course Lisa has to look at out the kitchen window. She has started cooking more already.

Lisa was spying on the golf course gardners and was snapping photos of them. She keeps saying how cute they are and I'm getting jealous. I'm going to get me one of those hats first thing in the morning.

A Handsome Man in a Volkswagen Van

My wife ran into a handsome man this morning named Joe. Literally, she ran into his VW bus with our truck and I quickly jumped off the motorcycle and apologized to him and buffed the marks off his fender with an apologetic smile. He was very kind and nice about it.

I don't have a photo yet to prove to you how handsome he is, but I am working on it.

We were dropping the kids off for their first day of school and the whole morning was a bit hectic, not to mention the traffic in the narrow little streets being intimidated by a large dump-truck belching out smoke and spilling rocks. Lisa gave generous room to the dump truck at Joe's expense.

Turns out, Joe is from California, lives here with his wife (she is handsome too) and their three kids, They live and work at an orphanage up the mountain. We're looking forward to hanging out with them sometime soon.

They moved here in September and they immersed their kids into school just like we are and their kids are now fluent in Spanish. They looked pretty normal and didn't have any nervous twitches or cuss profusely, at least not that I could see.

I'll work on that photo and post when I can.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Never trust a taco stand owner

I know it’s not politically correct to say it…but never trust a Mexican who gives you advice on hot sauce at a taco stand.

We arrived yesterday to our new little town and unpacked the trailer and headed to town for Tacos. I asked the proprietor of the taco stand which, out of the seven hot sauces he offered for the tacos, was the one that was not hot.

Either I’m not as tough as I’d like to think I am or the taco guy was a liar.

Road Trip Diversions

My dad was always the crazy guy who stopped his car by the side of the road to read a historical marker or watch an airplane land.

At the time, it always seems like a bother, having to stop your progress of your immenent arrival to your point of destination.

But I always look back on those stops and like them a whole lot better than the day we made them.

We stopped somewhere in Mexico in the desert because my dad squaked me on the talkie and told me to stop. (I found out that you’re supposed to call them ‘talkie’s and not ‘walkie talkies'. The folks at Best Buy chortled a laugh in their shirt sleeve when I called them by the un cool name and they corrected me by saying, “Oh, you’re looking for ‘talkies', are you?”)

The clouds out in prairie dog hacienda were as amazing and captivating as the little critters themselves. I love the photo of my dad looking out into the vast wilderness, trying to spot something of interest to point us to and justify the stop.

The kids and the dog had a blast and seeing Von poke his head into the prairie dog hole was worth it.

Reference the 'dead guy' post. I think I want to be remembered as the 'crazy road-trip diversion guy.

Refried Beans at McDonalds?

Next time someone gives you the speech about McDonalds and how consistent they are and how a quarter pounder in Beijing is the same as one in Grand Rapids, slap them in the face and tell them they are a liar.

We stopped at a McDonalds in San Juan del Rio to eat lunch. It was 12:30pm and the breakfast menu is all that was available. Why? I guess Mexicans eat lunch later than American’s.

What really impressed me was the Egg McMuffin. I’ve never had refried beans on an egg McMuffin before.

Border Crossing

If you’ve been to a border town, you know you are likely to run into a few characters in few choice parts of town.

After changing some dollars on the US side, we headed across the Rio Grande. It was very late and our family was taking it all in with wide eyes.

My daughter Ellie asked in all sincerity, “Dad, did they have a war here last night?”

Which confirms what I’ve always thought about border towns. They are always a lousy representation of the broader culture and people and landscape. When someone tells me they've been to Tijuana and know what Mexico is like, I get a little sad thinking about all the good and wonderful and delightful surprises Mexico has to offer that the border towns cannot.

Big brothers sometimes dont' know best

What does an older brother know? Not much.

This is my little sister and her adopted daughter, Ava.

Knowing my sister already had 4 kids of her own and a happy, busy home, I was one of those people who sat back in silent wonder when I found out they were adopting. It wasn’t that I didn’t support them, but I just didn’t have the vision for it like they did.

She, her husband, her kids and Ava are all doing beautifully, and their house is just as busy, fun and eventful as it ever was, but little Ava is receiving a whole lot of love and they are fulfilling their dream of having her.

The next time someone shares a bit of their dream with me, I’m going to be a whole lot more openly supportive.