Of Friends and Transitions

Living overseas seems to bring with it a mobile and transitory lifestyle of a caliber foreign to those who steward the home traditions. We become accustomed to a series of pronounced and frequent life transitions. In Tokyo foreign friends would transfer to assignments in other exotic locations every three to five years. It makes it nice for traveling, a privilege to be able to stay with friends around the world, but their departures leave huge holes in our lives. In Mazatlán there seems to be a frequent seven to ten year cycle to expat life, with beloved friends moving to the interior of the country or back home, closer to grandkids, so they can be an integral part of those children’s lives.

Transitions are a normal part of life; I know this. Life is comprised of cycles; I know and believe this from the depths of my heart. Yet dealing constructively with transitions is the reason I made a career as an interculturalist oh so many decades ago. I am not good at them. They hurt. Things change. They can even change for the better, open new doors and windows for which we’ll forever be grateful. But, they involve change nonetheless. Someone “moves our cheese.”

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Our friend Janet Blaser

Right now I’m dealing with the wonderful new cycle of a dear friend who has done so very much for Mazatlán during her life here—astoundingly so, in my opinion. I admire her greatly and love her dearly. Janet Blaser started and has run M! Magazine, that terrific English-language monthly we are fortunate to have seasonally. As part of that endeavor, she’s thrown some of the best parties the expat community has had over the past decade, in some of the most unique venues in town. Janet also was the visionary and founder of the Farmer’s Market, our local organic produce market, which has played a crucial role in transforming the reality of food and restaurant offerings in Mazatlán. She pretty much single-handedly organized our Women’s March Mazatlán last January, bringing together nearly 500 locals and expats so that we could be “on the map” and have our voices heard with the rest of the world as Trump took office. Personally, she’s always ready with an alternative viewpoint, a contradictory opinion, the inside scoop on goings-on around town, and a good belly laugh. I will miss that.

She is so ready for her new life cycle. She’s rented a darling home with a killer view in Nayarit (the state south of Sinaloa), and has it fully furnished in her mind. She has a two-minute walk to a quiet and incredibly scenic little beach; it’s going to rock. She’s already made her first new friends, who share her passions for organic, sustainable living and surfing. She is excited about the new projects she’ll now have time and energy to work on, which will take her new places mentally, emotionally and physically. All is good. I’m thrilled for her. It’s full of growth and wisdom; it’s right. Click on any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

And she is doing it right. With a month before she actually moves, Janet has already cleaned many things out, packed up a bunch of stuff, and advertised for a garage sale. This way her apartment reminds her on a daily basis of the excitement of her new life, and helps her deal with the reality of the shift. She’s smart and wise. Damn her. 😉

What a gift to be that type of person, one who leaves a place better than when she entered it. A new owner is now the custodian of M!; the growers themselves are now in charge of the organic market. Good karma for beginning a new cycle.

Godspeed, my dear. We will be visiting you very soon. Know you will be missed, by so many, in deep ways. And know we are all rooting for your joy. Thank you for moving my cheese, even though I hate it. Life is change, it is a journey, it’s all about transition. Darn it.

Focus on Responsible Tourism

Three cruise lines, new air connections, 12,000 rooms in 180 hotels… We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year in Mazatlán. Any chance I’ve gotten over the past eight years I’ve tried to encourage travelers to get beyond the stereotypical but wonderful beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico,” be it a visit to a small town, witnessing the shrimp or mango harvest, or admiring the Mayo-Yoreme traditions.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, on a project, and she cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. Lord knows I’ve witnessed this sort of thing happening in and around Mazatlán. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but they have also experienced downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to their culture. We in Mazatlán sure experience the ups and the downs of tourism, and know how important it is to our economy.

Maura said there were documentaries about both of these topics, made by the same Dutch cinematographer. She got me excited and I can not WAIT to view the two films!

The first documentary Maura told me about is called Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers  (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles).

The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. A preview is below:

 

The second film is called Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers (25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles).

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It is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamt of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? A preview follows:

 

While I’ve yet to watch either of these movies, it sure sounds like there’s a lot to think about for tourism in Mazatlán and Sinaloa. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Seeing Stars

starHappy New Year, and may 2017 bring you health, joy and many of your dreams! It is the time of year when many people around the world focus on much-awaited stars, including the star signaling the Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) birth, the Star of Bethlehem at Christmas, and the Star of David during Hanukkah.

December is also the time of year for stars of the not-so-desired variety. When I lived at 10,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado, we were blessed to regularly see the full Milky Way in all its glory, but we also had the unwanted joy of windshield “stars” (estrellas, as they are called here in Mazatlán—very apropos, as that’s exactly the shape of new windshield chips) each winter. The Colorado highway maintenance workers laid cinders on the snowy roads to provide us traction, and those tiny but mighty lava stones were murder on windshields. Nearly everyone on the road experienced a “starred” windshield at least once per season.

Though windshield “stars” were common in Colorado, I love that we have lived here in Mazatlán NINE YEARS and have never gotten one; at least not until earlier this week. Like I said, it seems to be the time of year for stars…

It also seems to be the time of year for our poor car to have trouble. First someone stole our motorized side-view mirror, then after we delivered the chickens and clothes on Christmas Eve a lady rear-ended us, and finally (we hope!), on the way back from picking up a friend at the airport, a rock flew into our windshield, creating a big, ugly, star-shaped crack. Friends attribute our bad auto luck to Mercury’s retrograde.

Thanks to Colorado mountain living, I am very familiar with the need to have “stars” fixed promptly, to prevent them from growing and necessitating replacement of the entire windshield. Our first Mazatlán window chip was very bad, so we knew we had to act quickly to get it repaired.

In Colorado, we luckily had special windshield insurance with only a $100 deductible, but repairing or replacing the windshield meant losing your car for the day while they worked on it.

Did we use insurance here in Mazatlán? Of course not. Did we lose our car for the day? Psshhht. We just headed over to Avenida de la Marina, across from Memín, to ask José Arzamendi to fix our windshield. He did so while we waited—the process took only 10-15 minutes. José used minimal tools that he took out of the trunk of his car. He worked with care and attention to detail, and repairing our star cost us 350 pesos. I’m confident we could have negotiated that price, but, hey, it is a holiday week and no one likes to feel like a Scrooge. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Nearly every neighborhood in Mazatlán has their own José Arzamendi. Estrella-fixers work with minimal tools and space, and seem to be able to make a living for themselves. José also takes out the cloudiness on car headlights, again with minimal tools he brings out from his trunk; his small business even has a website!

In addition to estrella-fixers there are so many great, affordable services available here in Mazatlán, whether it’s house calls when you need a doctor, the pharmacy delivering needed medicines, a caterer bringing you a special dessert or a favorite restaurant delivering lunch to your door. Just one more reason we are blessed to call this port “home.”

Thank you very much for joining us on this journey through a star-filled life, whether it’s stars we hope and pray for, or stars that we’d rather have pass us by. As we close out 2016, I trust you will be able to let go of those things that have not served you well, and fully embrace all the blessings and opportunities that 2017 will bring our way. May the Year of the Rooster wake us up fully to all the joy around us.

News That Made My Day!

IMG_2472It’s been such a busy summer for us, with over twenty different beds in the past two months. We have absolutely loved seeing great friends and family, and working hard amidst the fun, but we are sooooo ready to be home, and so very tired! Loads and loads of work to do, and miles between us and home…

Then, the mail comes today and, hey, it totally makes my whole week!

You remember a year ago, when O’Neil McGean at Café Playa Sur hosted that wonderful USA Independence Day party where we got to bash not just one but TWO Donald Trump piñatas? Well, I posted a clip of the festivities to the VidaMaz YouTube channel.

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Back at the end of April I received a message from a guy named Mike Cram, who asked my permission to use part of that YouTube clip on the Trump Bashing. Evidently he is involved in a project called “Trump Growing Nose Watch.” Having no idea what that meant, I said, “Sure, you are welcome to use the clip. Just preserve our © and a link back to our site.” I didn’t think much more about it.

Low and behold, on my birthday, August 6, Mike emailed me the promotional clip that incorporated my video footage. It highlighted our son. And oh what a hoot it gave Greg and me! Wonderful birthday gift!

Today I received an even better gift: one of the watches! On the left, normal Trump. On the right, Pinocchio Trump!

Thank you, Mike! It is truly funny. Thank you, Oneil, for hosting this event. I’ll let you borrow my watch anytime, buddy. 😉

 

Are You My Mother?

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You have read of the lovely rosy finch families that have nested on our deck the past 5-6 years. First it was one family, then two, and now up to three families nest on our eleventh floor terrace each spring. We love it! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Every year we are blessed to wake up to their bird song, and to hear it throughout the day. We watch as the mother and father make their nest, then as they feed their babies. They zoom in and out the windows, they dance on the railing, and they poop a LOT. The family below had three babies this year. Aren’t they cute? They climb on top of each other in order to peer out. Once in a while one or the other will get his feathers stuck on the edge. They grow so very quickly.

Then, suddenly, one day, the nest is empty. We hear no more singing, and we are sad. In the process, we usually lose one of our plants, because we stop watering it while the birds are nesting.

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This year, however, two unusual things have happened. First, one family of nesters left an egg that never hatched. How very sad! It is so, so tiny, and oh-so-precious!

Then, last night, Greg was awoken at 2 a.m. One of the small birds in the second set of nesters had either fallen or flown from the nest. He was standing on the tile floor right in front of our sliding glass door, looking in at us, and chirping his heart out! “Are you my Mommy,” he seemed to be asking.

Greg googled at 2 a.m. to read that the parents were no doubt nearby, and would take care of the bird; that we shouldn’t worry. We should just leave him alone. So we did. And he chirped all night long. Well into the morning.

Just before I left for church, we read on the Internet that it’s a wive’s tale that birds will abandon their young if humans pick them up and return them to the nest. The article cautioned, however, that young birds have parasites and germs, so it’s best to pick them up and move them with a container.

I used an old yoghurt container to gently take our baby bird and replace him in his nest. Twenty minutes later, he was down again, this time inside a pot of aloe. Again, he was chirping his heart out. I went to church, and Greg went running.

By the time we returned, our young friend was again out on the deck, looking in at us and crying. We were worried. It would appear his mother had died; we hadn’t seen her since yesterday. Then, miraculously, Daddy showed up!

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Our guess is that Mom has, sadly, disappeared. Thank goodness that this father isn’t an absentee Dad! He seems to be taking good care of the two remaining in the nest and, the one hyper-active child who keeps thinking he can fly before he’s ready.