Happy 99th Birthday!

Happy 99th Birthday Puerto Vallarta!  One of the things I love best about my new country is it’s love of parties.  Mexico really loves to celebrate, and although I look around and see a lot of problems, I also see a lot of singing and dancing and joy.  Any excuse to turn up the music is a good excuse – and you can imagine that a 99th birthday is a REALLY GOOD EXCUSE!

Although we don’t live in Puerto Vallarta, we are close neighbors and last night we headed down to the Malecon to celebrate the city’s 99th birthday with our friends.

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The streets were packed – thousands of Mexican families and gringo tourists singing and dancing along with Celso Pina, the famous Cumbia singer.  My new favorite music!  We were lucky to find a table at an open window on the second floor of a pizza restaurant overlooking the Malecon and the ocean – a perfect view of the band and the fireworks, with room to dance while we ate pizza and sipped sangrias.   It was a great night with great friends and I can’t even imagine what the 100th birthday will be like!

Feliz Cumpleanos Puerto Vallarta!

 

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Be Bold – Daniela is my ‘WHY’….

2017 is almost ½ over – unbelievable!  I told you about my words for the year “Be Bold”.  I have thought of those words often and they have given me courage many times.   I tend to analyze decisions – a lot – and I have convinced myself on many occasions to stop thinking so much – just be bold and do it.  Recently I was reminded of the ‘why’ behind those words.

We met Daniela in 2011 – she was 5 or 6 then.  She was the friendliest, smiliest little girl and we connected right away.  Every time we returned she was waiting with open arms.  I remember the first time Team Restore came to work at the orphanage. Daniela followed us around with her little notebook writing down every English phrase she could find – t-shirt sayings, backpack logos, shoe brands.  She really wanted to learn English.   At some point – I forget just when – she told us she wanted to be called Dani.  I have noticed that these children often shorten their name or start using a middle name – I wonder if they are trying to establish some type of personal identity in the midst of an uncertain life.

Dec, 2011                                              Oct, 2012

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Reunited Dec, 2016

Eventually Daniela left Manos de Amor to move back with family – I think with her grandmother.   We didn’t see her for a couple of years and then this past Christmas she came to spend her vacation at the home.  We reconnected in a big way – as if no time had passed.  My biggest worry is always whether our presence in the lives of these children is good, knowing it may be temporary.  The days we spent together at Christmas assured me that love is good – period.

A couple of weeks ago a volunteer invited the children to a restaurant for pizza and Daniela (yup – she is back to being called Daniela now) was invited.  We were so excited to see her.  And I couldn’t believe the shirt she was wearing.  Be Bold.   Seriously.  She was wearing a shirt that said Be Bold.  As I looked at her it was as if she was my own personal billboard reminding me of the WHY to all this

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Yes I want to be bold because life is short and I want to have adventures and experiences.  I want to live life fully.  I don’t want to hold back out of fear or insecurity.  But Daniella’s shirt screamed at me that it is because of little people like her that we are here, that we are stretching ourselves so taut that some days I fear we will tear.    Not just for Daniella but for all of them.    They are my WHY.  Daniella – and her shirt – was my reminder.

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A Crappy Week? Or a Great Week?

No point lying – this week was difficult, with more bad situations than good.  Or at least that is how I felt at first.  Bad things always take more of our attention, more of our energy, more of our focus. If we’re not careful they will settle in our hearts and become larger than they need to be.  That was my test this week.  Was it a crappy week or was it a great week with a couple of crappy moments?   I mostly failed the test, but when I sit here and think about how to recap our week, I remember we had a lot of great experiences too.  So for the sake of being real I will share some of the bad stuff – but no need to dwell on the details:

  • We had some stuff stolen and lost some stuff – the golf cart keys, Grant’s phone, a watch, a big tub of bungee cords from the back of the truck. Aargh…..
  • I didn’t feel so great.  I had an ear infection and pink eye – painful, plugged ears and red, goopy eyes.
  • We had to take baby Alison to the hospital twice – she had a bad flu and seems to have an allergy to milk. The pediatrician tried to convince her 15-year-old mama that she needs to nurse the baby but she’s embarrassed to discuss that.  She’s 15.
  • We first began the process of importing Grant’s trailer full of tools in September. We have hit roadblock after roadblock.  Months of bureaucracy.  Come back in 3 months.  Bring more papers. Bring different papers.  Pay more pesos.  We finally made it to the final stage of getting the actual plates but needed one last inspection.  We took all the papers – stamped by every imaginable Mexican department – to the inspection place.   And then….. No.  The serial number on our Saskatchewan registration form does not match the serial number on the paperwork done at the border in Nogales.  WHAAAT??
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    Doomed inspection

    In all these steps no one had noticed that the trailer manufacturer had placed 2 VIN stickers on the trailer.  Saskatchewan had recorded one of them.  Mexican had recorded the other.  And they don’t match.  “Okay but senor, you can see both stickers are there.  It is clearly the same trailer.”  No sorry – you will have to take the trailer back to the border and start over.  Have you ever seen 2 gringos stand and just stare blankly at a Mexican official – no language, no emotion.  Just unbelief.  Our only hope is that he said to come talk to his supervisor on Tuesday – maybe he will have a solution?

 

BUT, we had some fun too.  Yesterday we went roller blading AND boogie boarding.  One afternoon we took the golf cart and the Bucerias map and drove up and down a whole bunch of streets and neighborhoods we had never experienced before.  Everywhere we went people waved at us and children ran alongside our cart.  We found new restaurants, new tiendas (stores), new potholes and speed bumps and dirt piles.

Friday we bought a piñata for little Kevin.  Last week when we picked up Jose, his little 2-year-old nephew Kevin kept saying he wanted a piñata.  I have no idea where he got that idea from but he was very serious in his request.  So I told him I would bring a piñata on Friday when we came back.  Of course, I promptly forgot my promise and on Friday morning Grant reminded me.  My first thought was “Oh, he won’t remember I said that”, but after Grant gave me the look of incredulous shock, I remembered how important it is for these children to be able to trust our word and to be able to depend on us.  So we went piñata and candy shopping in a little shop in San Vicente.  The only piñatas they had were far bigger than Kevin but I filled that giant Spiderman with a pile of candy and we delivered it to Kevin.  He was so excited – I expect Kevin has never had anything given just to him.  In a few weeks his 16 year old mama will give him a brother and he will have even less for himself.  We couldn’t stick around to play with him as we had to take baby Alison to the hospital but before we drove away I saw a whole bunch of 2 year olds – most with few clothes, no shoes, droopy diapers – gathering to have their own piñata party in the dirt.

Last night we had good friends over.  I grumbled about our week.  I think I whined.  But as we sat in our candlelit garden sipping coffee and eating cake, I remembered that I really love living here and believe I am placed here for a purpose.  I don’t love everything that happened this week, but I know that every good thing comes with opposition.  I believe in spiritual battles.  And I believe in being bold in spite of it all.  I believe that this week Kevin needed a piñata and that Alison needed to get to a doctor.  I believe that 12 children will have better lives because they learned a couple new English words and were kissed on the forehead by Maestra.  I believe in the Good Shepherd who leads me through the valley and to the still waters on the other side.  So I just step out in faith and say “This was a good week”.

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Who Follows Signs Anyway?

One of the things we love about Mexico is the more relaxed and fluid attitude about almost everything.  Except for driving, things just move slower here and matter less.  Manana is real.  Sometimes that can drive us crazy.  Our insurance agent told me three times in the past 2 weeks that she will call me back in 5 minutes.  I am still waiting – and I suspect she had absolutely no intention of calling me back.  People don’t mean what they say and rules are meant to be ignored.  The up side is that we can get away with a lot and we feel a kind of freedom that you won’t find in Canada.  On Friday we decided to take our golf cart into Centro to find a burger, which meant going the wrong way down the highway lateral for a block.  Meh.  No one cared and a woman on a motorcycle slowed to let us pass with a big smile.  We then drove right through the middle of the market stalls yelling “permiso”  so that vendors would pick up their chairs and move out of our way.  They just smiled and waved us through.  I can’t even count how many traffic rules we broke, but the burger made it worth it.

The trick is to figure out when ‘they’ mean it – we have been given tickets for not wearing a seat belt (fair), for going through a yellow light (come onnnn), for driving too slow (what?) and for speeding (we weren’t – and the electronic speed sign RIGHT BESIDE US proved it).

Here are some signs around our neighborhood that don’t seem too effective:

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No Littering – or you will be punished

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No Parking – Respect my space and I’ll respect your car

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No Tenting sign – right beside the tent

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No Passing – on the double solid yellow line.

These photos below come from videos I took of stop signs a block from my house – neither of these cars even slowed down.  I don’t even know what that sign on the right is for – it is in the middle of a block and there is not a crossroad there at all.

And these aren’t the only unheeded stop signs in the Bay.  Last year approximately 20-30 new stop signs were installed in Nuevo Vallarta – I have never seen anyone stop yet.

Of course some ‘signs’ are useful for finding what you are looking for since addresses are completely useless here.  This church used what was handy to point the way!

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Of course, directions to important places are important!

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Emergency signs don’t always translate well:

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Only porpoises can use the phone?

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Warning at the Zoo…. “Hello Giraffe, please meet my hand….”

But you don’t always need language to get the message:

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No flip flops for construction workers on this site

Warning signs are always good but unfortunately this DANGER: Do Not Use sign was only at one end of this sketchy bridge and we saw it after we had crossed over.

And finally, this sign is just an irony I laugh at every day.  One of the main reasons we moved was to get away from Canadian winters.  Well now I live on Calle Invierno:   Winter St.  What are the odds?

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Happy Mexican Mother’s Day

No, I’m not early in wishing you a Feliz Dia de La Madre – here in Mexico Mother’s Day is always celebrated on May 10th, no matter what day of the week it is.  Our observation so far is that this day is celebrated with:

  • Flowers
  • Cake

While we were at Costco waiting for our battery to be tested (nope it was no good so they gave us a new one) we watched all the carts go by on their way out the door.  The place was packed with Mexicans (usually it’s mostly Gringos at Costco) and there was a constant lineup to get out the door.  Well over 90% of the carts had at least one bouquet of flowers – most had 2 or more.  And more than 80% had a cake.  Flowers and Cake in almost every single cart.    We also saw a lot of tables set up in the streets selling bouquets and the street vendors at every stop light were doing a brisk sale of their roses.  Tonight as we drove home from our evening with friends, we saw families with tables set up in the streets, laughing and listening to loud music.  And eating cake.

Feliz Dia de las Madres!

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A lot of flowers and a lot of cake!

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Mexican Mother’s Day Dinner with my Mexican children

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Saturday Night Is for Dancing

We have settled into our routine – although it is still pretty flexible and I intend to keep it that way.  I work at my desk in the morning – answering emails, planning programs, balancing budgets.  Grant putts around in the garage – fixing stuff or making stuff – inevitably needing some part he will never find.  Our afternoons are spent at the orphanage – teaching English 2 days a week, and being silly the other 3.

But Saturday is for experiencing Mexico and on Saturday nights we often jump in the car with our friends and head to one of the nearby towns to hang with the locals in the town square.  There are 18-20 towns in the surrounding area and every one has a town square with a raised bandstand and colorful flags and ice cream vendors and taco stands.  Each town has a specific night in which the community will gather in the square to listen to music, dance and visit with their neighbors.  Grandmas and Grandpas dance together while little children run among them.  Old men in cowboy hats sit in circles telling stories and teens flirt with one another.  Although Grant and I are often the only gringos in the square, we are welcomed as though we belong.  It is fun and we stay until the band stops playing at 10:00.  2 weeks ago we spent the evening in San Juan de Abajo and last Saturday we were off to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.  I am a terrible dancer, made only worse by the Mexican quick tempo music and the realization that everyone around me was born with the rhythm DNA that my white parents did not have.  Grant is worse.  But we have fun anyway and we feel like we are becoming part of the fabric of our community.Map

The town of San Juan de Abajo

Fresh, hot Mexican Churros – tastes just like a mini donut at the fair

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As we head into summer months, the demographics have shifted drastically.  Most Canadians and Americans have now headed home.  Many shops and restaurants have reduced their hours or closed completely. It is sinking in that we are definitely not here on vacation.  As we walked into one empty Mexican restaurant, it’s owner asked  “What happened, did they leave you behind?”.

“Nope – we live here now.  We’re locals”.   Best. Words. Ever.

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El Dia de Ninos – Kid’s Day

In Canada, we look forward to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – a day for children to express love for their parents.  Mexico celebrates those days too.  But every April 30th since 1925, Mexico has also celebrated Children’s Day, El Dia de Ninos.  It is a day – a few days actually – where everyone stops what they are doing to honor children.  We noticed that even in the poorest neighborhoods, homes were decorated with balloons and children were hauling around bags of candy.  I spend a lot of time with children here and I tend to see all the things that are wrong – poverty, disease, lack of decent education and medical care and shelter.  But when I let myself relax a bit I also see a country where family is important, where children are allowed to play with abandon and where laughter is loud and common.

This weekend we celebrated Dia de Ninos twice – once with the children of Casa Hogar and one with the children in our community.  Because Natalia’s birthday fell on Thursday and the children had Friday off school, we had a combined Birthday/Children’s Day party.  Natalia and her brother and sister live at Casa Hogar during the week to help their mom who works at night during the week.  She is young and had her first daughter as a very young teen. But she loves her children in the best ways she can and they love her too.  On Friday, she brought a giant pot of pozole and a cake for all of us to share.  We played some games, had a dance party and eventually filled up the water balloons for a giant water fight.  It was a super fun day for the children and the grown-ups too.

Natalia’s mom (top) brought delicious pozole for us all to share

Water fights and dancing party – yup I was soaked too!

On Sunday night, the local church had a community Dia de Nino’s party – over 300 children showed up to play games, eat hotdogs and cake and watch a bunch of Trolls tell them that Jesus loves them.  We picked up Jose to come to the party and while we were waiting at the house his 3-year-old nephew Kevin gave me the ‘look’.  The ‘please don’t leave me here while you take Jose to a party’ look.  “Do you want to come too Kevin”.  Giant smile.   His 16-year-old pregnant mom gave me a tired smile and a nod.  So Kevin came for his first big outing with us.  I don’t think Kevin has been out of his neighborhood often and he clung to Grant and I as he tried out the activities.  I have never seen a child ravage a hot dog like that and by the end of the evening my dress was literally dripping with green juice, snot, and catsup.  Once I asked Grant, “Do I even want to know what I feel dripping down my leg right now?”.  Twice he wiped out on the play structure hard enough to make most children cry – instead Kevin got up and kept going, not wanting to miss a second of this new freedom.

Kevin’s first adventure

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Hanging with my buddy Lucio

Obviously, I still worry about the children in this country.  Every day Grant and I get up and we work to find ways to help the children in our lives experience futures with hope and opportunity and possibility.  But this weekend we put that all aside and we joined with our community in celebrating these little people and the simple lives they live today.  Feliz dia de los ninos mis amigos!

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