Monday, January 21, 2013

Things I Miss

I have been feeling a bit more homesick lately. Oaxaca has a great deal to offer the visitor, and it took us several months to run through the easily available places to see. Lately, we've been doing a lot less traveling and a lot more staying at home. Homeschooling the children is my main daily activity, along with housework and cooking. I'm still a housewife, I'm just in a different place now, and the tasks have changed in nature. More on that later.

Homero has (finally) begun the work of site preparation on our little plot downtown. Hopefully before we leave he will have the retention wall built, and the water, drain, and electricity installed. I think that's probably the best we can hope for. The pace of progress is painfully slow, but it keeps him busy all day, just about every day. I have more time on my hands, and it's making me miss so many things....

- My family and friends. I can make phone calls from the computer here, but the sound quality sucks, it frequently hangs up on me for no reason, and nobody answers the phone anymore when their screen says "caller unknown." Yes, I do have skype, but many of my family and friends do not. The people I used to speak to daily - Rowan, my sister - I might speak to twice a month, and those I used to speak to weekly - my girlfriends - I have spoken to two or three times since I left town. I am not by nature a super-chatty person, but I am definitely feeling the lack of long, deep conversations with many of my favorite people.

- My house. This is pretty all encompassing. I miss my king sized bed, I miss my hardwood floors, but mostly I miss being surrounded by my own art and the things I picked out because they please me aesthetically. We are pretty comfortable here, but it isn't our environment, not the one we created for ourselves in our own house back home. I am in someone else's consciously created environment now, and while it's a nice one, it wears on my psychically after a while. 

- Being the mistress of my own kitchen. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and I like mine. SeƱora Maura's kitchen is pretty well appointed, but there are so many people using it. Her kitchen organization makes no sense to me and everyone uses everyone else's stuff. Almost every time I want to cook, I have to start by cleaning up someone else's mess. Of course, it is true that at home I also start by cleaning up the last mess, but that mess was mine. 

- Hot baths. There are no bathtubs in Mexico, period. I have seen them in shiny showrooms, but I have never, ever seen a bathtub in a private home, nor even in a hotel. When I get home, I'm getting into a hot bath and I'm not coming out for a week. 

- Work. As mentioned above, I am a housewife. But back home, I am a housewife who supplements with volunteer work. Most of the time, I am volunteering three or four hours a week for one organization or another. I've been an interpreter for several outfits, and I've worked at the food bank, and so forth. Occasionally I even get paid gigs as an interpreter. It's a small but (as I've found out by not doing it) important part of my life, and I miss it. 

- Decent grocery stores. Yes, yes, the mercados here are amazing. Sensory overload, and dozens of fruits and vegetables you've never tried before and can't even name. Very exciting. But on the other hand, the mercados are not so great when you go looking for a specific item. Thanksgiving was case in point. I went everywhere looking for russet potatoes - plain old boring idahoe potatoes for mashed spuds. Nothing doing. In all of Oaxaca, there is only one kind of potato - round white. Sage? Nope. Garnet yams? Nope. Cranberries? Nope. Sometimes, you find what you are looking for, but if it isn't as frequently used item in Mexico it is quite likely to be spoiled. This happened to me with both dates and walnuts.

There are also big chain grocery stores (nearly all of them Wal-Mart subsidiaries, I've discovered) but the selection is even worse than in the mercados. It's odd, because in terms of sheer square footage they are just as big as a Wal-Mart back home. But whereas that store back home would have about 50,000 different items, this one has perhaps 2,000. Let's take a look at the bean aisle. At my favorite store in Seattle, I can probably find 20 different types of legumes, at least. There are four kinds of lentils, alone! Here, a fifty foot section of shelves is packs floor to ceiling with one pound packages of black beans. The other side of the aisle is equally packed with pinto beans. Down at the end somewhere you can usually find lentils and chickpeas. That's it. Rice? White long grain. One kind of lettuce. One kind of apple. One kind of cooking oil. 

-While we are on the subject of monotony, I miss ethnic restaurants. There is only one kind of ethnic restaurant in Oaxaca (not counting different styles of traditional Oaxacan cooking, of which there are many), and it's a piss-poor version of Chinese. Apparently, my husband was not the only Mexican who developed a taste for the ubiquitous Chinese Buffet while in the states. In fact, if you ever go to those places, you will find that most of the time they are filled with Latinos. Mexicans love the all-you-can-eat concept. But they sure haven't done a great job of importing Chinese food to Oaxaca. Hunger for variety drove us into a few Chine Buffets here. Limp, oversalted fried food and watery canned vegetables drove us right back out. 

Even in my smallish home town in Washington, there are very good restaurants providing fare from nearly all over the Asia. China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Korea... I miss all of it. 

- Books. Books are so expensive here, and for some reason nearly all of them are in Spanish. There's one English-language bookstore downtown, and they even carry some secondhand books. It's a great place to browse, but I hardly ever buy anything because even a used paperback costs ten dollars or so. I do a lot of my reading online, but I miss having a book in my hands.

Especially in the bathtub. 


  1. Like so many places in the world, "it's a great place to visit, but..." That is how I feel about almost any place but where I have made my home for the past forty years and more. I love traveling, but I can not imagine ever staying away from everything familiar for more than a visit. I think you were incredibly courageous to try it, for a year. And I really am in awe of the courage of the people who pick up and leave all they know and love to come to another country and seek their fortune in an unfamiliar land, among unfamiliar people and customs. Bravo Homero and others like you. Bravo for my ancestors who left the Ukraine, Germany, and Ireland to make a home in a raw, new country, so alien to everything they knew. They have far mroe cou9rage than I could muster. Mom

    1. They had compelling reasons to try it. You don't - just fun and adventure.

  2. I like a Kindle better than a book - lots of books for free and nearly everything available at Amazon.

    Share much of your views - miss a good tub with some candles and a bunch of magazines ;-)