It’s been a tough year

I really hope the next half of the year will be easier. First my mother was diagnosed with cancer in January, then she died much faster than expected in March. We had a difficult relationship, so it’s a lot to deal with.

Seems like that would have been enough trauma for one year. The universe had other ideas.

The last week has been so bad, that it’s colored my entire year here in Mexico. It’s made me question whether I ever want to return. I hope that with time I’ll gain some perspective and be able to see the good with the bad, but I doubt I will ever set foot in San Luis Potosi. My memories are ruined. Sadly, I’ve found my belief in people has fallen greatly since I’ve become a vagabond.

Starting in January, I’ve been living with a family as their personal English Teacher in exchange for room and board. Since the hours at school were so unreliable, this was a good situation for me, especially since I really loved this family. I did lots of things with them and felt that I was a part of them. Clearly, I was wrong.

Friday night, Meliza came to my room and told me they were missing a lot of money, 7,000 pesos (about $385US), that belonged to her mother. As they continued to check, other items turned up missing, too: an iPad, jewelry and some kitchen things. I was told that they suspected the housekeeper, which made sense to me. I checked through my things and found I had even more money missing than them! There’s at least $500US plus more than 2000 pesos, all in cash, plus a few items of jewelry. Someone would have to dig through my things to find that money, too. It wasn’t just lying around. I felt terrible about the whole situation and Meliza said that Ivan planned to confront the housekeeper Sunday morning.

I don’t know what changed, but by Sunday morning, I was a prime suspect and was fingerprinted along with the housekeeper! It was a total shock. And Ivan, Sr. was very clear that I wasn’t fingerprinted to rule me out, but because I was a suspect. I was terrified! How could they believe I would steal from them? They invited me to live with them; I didn’t ask. I couldn’t stop the nightmare I was having: A foreigner, accused of a crime, with no citizen’s rights, locked into jail with little legal recourse and poor language skills. There isn’t even an embassy nearby.

By Sunday evening, I got them to agree that I didn’t take the money. Or at least I got Meliza to agree. I wouldn’t have wanted any of the trivial things that were stolen, the money came up missing only after the new housekeeper was there and I’ve recently inherited money and don’t need to steal theirs. So at least Meliza believed I was innocent and apologized. Ivan said nothing. I don’t know what he thought/thinks, nor how he will proceed. (Also, I found it interesting that they thought the housekeeper was cleaning my room every week and doing my laundry. NOT!)

But here’s the problem: I had more money taken than they did and I didn’t suspect them for a moment, not even their two teen-aged sons. I didn’t accuse them of theft. I didn’t have them fingerprinted. I trusted them, but they didn’t trust me. It’s been my experience that once someone stops trusting you, you can’t trust them. You need to do what you can to prove your innocence and then extricate yourself as quickly as possible. Once trust is gone, the friendship is gone, too. Loosing their friendship was far worse to me than the money.

So I packed up everything and moved into a hotel for the night. Most of my cash had been stolen, but fortunately, I had a credit card as a backup. I spent three (expensive) nights there before I could arrange a room for the remaining 3 weeks of my time here in San Luis Potosi. It took all the cash I had to pay for the new accommodations, and I missed a couple meals until I got paid on the 15th.

I shed a lot of tears this week.

People are alike everywhere you go. And that’s not always good. I’ve had things stolen from me in every country I’ve lived in. I’ve been lied to in all of them. And I’ve been accused of things I didn’t do.

One of the issues with being a traveler is that you never get time to establish a track record with anyone and build up trust. Working hard, doing your best isn’t enough in the short term. Everything seems fine, until something goes wrong. Then, you are the outsider and the first person to be suspected of a crime. You are never going to be a trusted insider, one of the family. If they are forced to choose, they won’t choose you. And you don’t know who to trust, either. I’ve made a few costly mistakes with new friends (especially in Turkey).

And my week hasn’t improved. I’ve used the time to go through every item I own and reduce my stuff before the next series of flights. I tried to ship a box of items ahead to my next teaching job (Arequipa, Peru). I lugged the package to FedEx (8 blocks!), but the woman at the counter had to open it and go through everything. Then, after weighing it, she gave me a price of roughly 1000 pesos to ship it (about $50US). Fine. But the price kept going up, with no explanation. Suddenly it was almost 4,000 pesos, more than the cost of the items inside! It seems even more suspicious since she suddenly had to have cash, no credit card. The person in front of me had used a card. It’s true that I have trust issues at the moment, but I suspect the box would never have arrived. She would have stolen anything she wanted from inside, and my money, too. I called her a liar (mentiroso), grabbed the box and left. I took the package at the Centro branch (downtown) of the school and gave the items to the staff who happened to be there.

And just to add insult to injury, on the way home, I went to an OXXO (local convenience store). Two men pushed ahead of me in line. When I said something, they laughed. An employee saw the whole thing and wouldn’t intervene. She just shrugged her shoulders.

Maybe this isn’t such a good country for me.

Random photos from February

How did it get to be March already? I took a little siesta on posting, but still took photos. Here are some to share.

Plaza del Carmen, at night.
Plaza del Carmen, at night.
On Sundays, they close down Calle Carranza, the main drag, and make it a pedestrian street. Everybody walks their dogs, practices skating skills or bikes. It’s lovely.
Even the dogs get social on Sundays.

A local wrestler.
There’s an organization that puts together weekly bike rides in the evenings.
They are replacing most of the sewer/drainage in the older sections of town. Desperately needed since a single hard rain can turn the streets into rivers of sewage.
All this construction will be worth it eventually, but it’s a mess right now. This is Carranza, the main street of SLP.

A peace lily in front of my school. Love that there are flowers year around here.
Guavas are really tasty here and happen to be in season. They taste a bit like a pear and apple mix, with notes of orange.
We’d call them Popsicles. Ricas means delicious or tasty.

My new neighborhood

Some of the great Mexican landscaping, along Calle Reforma near Caranza, on the edge of El Centro (downtown).

I’ve just started to investigate my new neighborhood, Insurgentes. This is just the first glimpse. Also, a few photos of a party at Meliza’s amazing weekend house in Orquídea.

Still learning my new neighborhood, but this is near my bus stop.
This is the neighborhood market–jam packed with stalls that sell fresh fruit and vegetables, clothing, toys, household items and meat.
This is the one side of the food hall, serving antojitos. If you google it, it just translates as “snacks” but these are really heavy snacks, like gorditas, tacos and sopes. The other side serves cocina economico meals–full dinners at very reasonable prices.
There’s even a place to pray if you feel so inclined.
Everyone was very kind about my lack of language skills, but still attempted to speak with me. The food was great.
They are SERIOUS about their salsa here and there’s always lots of it. This particular one would have blown this gringa‘s head off with the heat, however.
Surprisingly, you often see dogs on the roof. They serve as part of the home security system.
I love the colorful buildings.

One Saturday, the family had a small party for teachers and the level 18 class, which Meliza is in. (The school has 24 level, each 4 weeks in length, so you can get through the classes in 2 years.

Meliza’s mama, in the kitchen at the weekend house. She’s heating up the tamales. Don’t you love the tile?
The tamales are so good here, but filling! Eat three and it’s like you just ate Thanksgiving dinner.
There’s some lovely landscaping at the weekend house, scene of a few relaxing parties. I particularly like this tree, in full bloom, and covered in tiny bees.
Eric, Josue, Alex and Marc, relaxing at the weekend house. Josue (pronounced Ho SWAY) is one of my level 18 students (now level 19!) and the others are teachers.
Marc, working on his banda (flag)–a shot each of lime (green), Sangrita (red) and tequila (white-ish).
One of the things I love about SLP–the landscaping. The trees and bushes are often sculpted into fantastic shapes.

I’ve moved. Again.

This is Ivan and Meliza, my new family! They let me teach their sons in exchange for room and board. They are here pictured in El Centro, Plaza de Armas.

I really didn’t have a concept of how many times I’d move during this adventure. It’s not always that I’m in a bad situation, but sometimes I just find something better. In this case, MUCH better.

The shabby rooming house I was living in was going downhill. There was always a plumbing issue. Usually at least one bathroom was always unusable. But lately the owners had simply stopped responding to requests–like the day we had no water, with no explanation or estimate as to when we’d have water again. It was over 12 hours and I never knew what the problem was.  Others had already left–half the rooms were empty–and I was looking for something better. One of my dear, dear students, Meliza, offered to let me live with her family in exchange for teaching her two sons English. It’s turned out to be a godsend–lovely people, a very nice home and a comfortable, safe situation for me. The boys even act as though they don’t mind my English lessons.

Sign on the boys’ bedroom.

The only downside is that it’s an hour’s bus ride to the main school branch. At least the buses run pretty regularly and are mostly clean and not too over crowded, but there’s lots of cobblestone streets and barely a shock-absorber in sight. I was working 26 teaching hours a week, commuting into the school twice a day (4 hours total commute time), all the usual (unpaid) prep time/paperwork/grading) and teaching the two boys daily. It made for long hours, less opportunity to blog and and a very tired girl.

This 4 week session I’ve landed a better schedule with half the commute time, so I feel much better and hope to come back to blogging more. I also hope to explore the new neighborhood more and—some please hold me to this–join a gym.

One event I didn’t post about from February: The Chocolate Festival! It was a small event, but it’s the first annual, so I expect it to grow.

Costanzo is the local chocolate maker in the area and a very popular choice.
Fortunately the festival had some nice samples. I particularly liked the mole bar–a dark chocolate with mole spices. It was mostly spicy with a hint of salt and sweetness. That’s a popular combination in Mexico.
Hugo and his mom, Meliza, pose with one of the chocolate sculptures.
all chocolate!

Looking down on the Chocolate Festival.
The building is right off Plaza de Armas, a perfect location for rotating exhibits. Last month they had King Tut.