Laurita Dianita

Reflections and art on the topics of public health, social justice, and love

Archive for the ‘México’ tag

Día de muertos

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I am called to reflect, with gratitude and love, on my first experience of Day of the Dead a decade ago. I am called to share how I have seen it celebrated in Oaxaca, México, where the traditional is still very much alive, and I am called to thank those who introduced me to this tradition and those who have shared it with me in the years since.

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November 1st, 2012

10 years ago today, I woke up in the small, cement floor home that my friend Cynthia Caballero Rojas shared with her mother, Serbia Rojas, in Southwest Oaxaca City, México. We made breakfast to feed ourselves and to offer fresh food and chocolate to the altar that we had spent the last two days preparing for our muertos (our dead).

I’ve always regretted not taking a photo of that altar, because in all these years it is by far the most beautiful one I have helped build. It was made tall by the two milpas (corn stalks) that Cynthia had lashed together to form an archway, and which we had then stuffed full of cempasúchil (marigold) and cresto de gallo (cock’s comb) flowers. From the apex of the arch, Cynthia hung an apple. The altar was covered in photos and candles, fruits and nuts, marshmallows–because they were her brother’s favorite food–hot chocolate, beer bottles, and tamales de mole negro that we had wrapped in banana leaves under the expert guidance of Serbia and cooked over a fire in a hug pot in the dirt floor kitchen yard. On the ground we had made a tapete (floor mosaic) of flower petals around the stone bowl in which we burned copal. Alongside Cynthia and Serbia’s loved ones I placed my wallet photo of Stevie, my high school best friend who had killed himself two years prior, and a little piece of paper on which I had written “ti voglio bene.”  For the first time since his death, I had found a way to pay attention to and honor this young friend I had lost in a way that was both solemn and joyful, and that was culturally-supported and in community. I was gifted this by Cynthia and her mom, who knew I needed it, and by the people of Oaxaca who have held to their indigenous traditions and could therefore teach their children and the world to do this.

Cynthia outside the Mercado Central de Abastos as we buy food and altar ingredients

Of course, the gift was not simply the altar and my own relationship with my muerto, but seeing how this relationship with our loved ones and ancestors is celebrated on a community level. The night before, our Oaxacan friends Cynthia, Claudia, and Gil had taken me and another exchange student, Katherine, to the village of Xoxocotlán where the people spend the entire night of October 31st in their cemetery, holding vigil and sharing food and music with their muertos. The 31st, Gil explained, is the day in which the dead are called back with music and good smells, the day in which they first get the message to return. For this reason, many communities have musical events in the street on the 31st, and some, like the people of Xoxocotlán, stay up all night.

On the morning of the 1st, Cynthia explained in the morning, we welcome back the angelitos, the spirits of children who have passed away. With this in mind, Cynthia, Serbia, and I brought tamales over to the neighbor’s house and paid her angelitos a visit. Serbia was speaking animatedly to the neighbor when all of a sudden she noticed the neighbor had placed a petate (a woven grass rug) under the altar. Serbia began to cry: “Se me olvidó poner un petate bajo nuestro altar. Dónde se van a sentar los angelitos?” (“I forgot to put a petate under our altar. Where are the child angels going to sit?”) It was clear to me then how real this was. These altars and these visits to the cemetery were not simply remembrance or ritual; they were an earnest invitation to those who were gone.

Cynthia and I walked to the cemetery to visit her father’s grave, and back through neighborhoods whose streets were filled with comparsas: men dancing to brass instruments in full costume. Some were dressed as Vicente Fox or George Bush with plastic masks and suits. A good number of men wore various kinds of sexy woman outfits, replete with very tall heels (and they sure could dance in those heels). Inviting back the dead by offering them a raucous good time.

The next day, November 2nd, the primary day celebrated as día de muertos, the five of us set off to see how the day was celebrated in the neighboring pueblos of Teotitlán and Tlacolula.

Claudia, Feyley Gildardo, Katherine, Cynthia, and me in Teotitlán when we were all about 20 - 21 years old. These are the friends to whom I will be eternally grateful for sharing the tradition of día de los muertos, and for sharing so deeply about culture, art, politics, language, and so much more.

After a day of bus rides, churches, copal, dirt streets, and eating fruit and tortillas bought in the markets, we made our way through the Tlacolula cemetary at dusk and then another in the dark. It was there in the crowded cemetery, its darkness illuminated by so many flickering candles, that Gil explained to us the theme across many places in the Northern hemisphere.  At this time of year, the veil between life and death is thinner. As the earth dies for winter, food–life–is harvested from the earth. Life and death meet, cross paths, co-exist. It is for this reason that the pre-Christian Europeans celebrated Samhain, when spirits would come back to visit (the origin for trick or treating), that the Catholics worldwide celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day, that the Aztecs have the mythology of Quetzalcoatl going into the mountain for the winter at this time of year, and why Mexicans sit at their altares to chat with their ancestors as they come back to visit. (Indeed, Gil told me a year or two later that the year after his abuelita died, he was crying as he built her altar, so she came back and scolded him for crying and told him to appreciate her visit.)

Cemetary in the village of Tlacolula. Families clean graves; adorn them with cempasúchil, cresto de gallo, alcatraz, and other flowers; and provide fresh water, nuts, fruits, candles, and other nice things.

As we arrived back in Oaxaca City, we came upon a group gathered on the stone plaza outside of a church built a few centuries before. There was an altar built over the ground, and in front of it, a tapete made of beans, flowers, corn, and other plant materials in the shape of a woman.  The scene was lit by candles and accompanied with a man’s soft playing of the guitar. People wrote messages into the paper laid over the stone walls of the church. Pamphlets were distributed that explained the messages and explained the woman in the tapete: this altar was dedicated to women lost to gender violence, including domestic violence homicides, human trafficking, and the hundreds of rapes and disappearances in Ciudad Juárez, near the U.S. border. The group organizing this was La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos, who would eventually become the organization on whom I based my undergraduate thesis research. They represented the somber side of this day, but did so in a way that was beautiful, congruent with the tradition, and that brought community together.

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Me in front of my home altar in 2004. Unfortunately, Bush got re-elected the night of Nov 2nd that year, so it ruined the día de muertos environment.

A year later, back at Mount Holyoke College, I called on my Oaxacan friends for help explaining día de muertos to my friends at school, who had agreed to bring their muertos and build an altar with me. For the first time, I was able to gift–to some small degree–what had been so kindly shared with me. I have tried every year since to celebrate by building my own altar at home (which always includes salmon, Stephen’s favorite food), and by sharing altars and celebrations with others, making a space for our muertos and our memories and our love and to be together. As a 3rd grade teacher, we had a día de muertos celebration in the classroom and parents came for a potluck and art. In grad school, as an effort of the Latina/o Social Work Coalition, we built an altar in the common area for women killed in Ciudad Juárez. Last year, Oscar and I invited friends over to eat and make art and build things for the altar. Among other things, the event served as a way to honor a baby lost from our community and lost to our friends, little Seketl’e, who you can see in our altar this year.


Minimalist home altar this year, due to being sick and busy. We are missing a few departed dear ones and many of the decorations, and I believe it's the first time I've included dogs in an altar (Oscar's idea). But it is our little altar, and it feels sacred nonetheless.

One of my most significant experience of día de los muertos since returning from México was in 2010, when I worked with artists Dena Drake and Melanie Lombard to create an altar at the Out North exhibit dedicated to the topic of suicide in Alaska. The altar attempted to honor those who we’ve lost and to use art and metaphor to explore the feelings that might lead someone to suicide, alerting friends and family to what they could do to help prevent suicides in their communities.

Día de los muertos 2010: Suicide in Alaska altarback of día de muertos altar

What I’ve found is that there is no way that I will have here an experience like that I had in 2002 in Oaxaca. But I can use each día de muertos, each Samhain, each time in which the veil between life and death is thinner, to reflect on and give great love to those who I have lost and to share the space so others can do that as well.

This year, we add la abuelita Betulia to our altar. This year, I honor my grandmother Pat, la abuelita Betulia, my great-grandmother Ann, my grandma Dianne, baby Seketl’e, and my friends Stevie, Anthony, Lorenzo, and Sig. (Yes, and the dogs Ruby and Nena too.)

If you are in the Anchorage area and looking for a way to celebrate, Out North is hosting the 8th Annual Día de Muertos celebration and exhibition of altars: http://www.outnorth.org/events/DiaDeMuertos.php

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November 2nd, 2012 at 9:51 am

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Toward Global Justice: La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos and Transcultural Feminist Dialogue

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I took this photo in 2002 in the market of Juchitan, Oaxaca.

I took this photo in 2002 in the Zócalo of Oaxaca City. I spent a lot of time with these sisters who sold scarves in the streets and didn't attend school.

I was reminded recently of why I should share my undergraduate thesis. Janie, the intern at the Alaska Native Epidemiology Center, where I work, found online a Master’s Thesis about the very little researched topic of Iñupiaq women’s pregnancy and birthing beliefs and experience. This was very useful for the work we were doing. I felt  grateful that this young student researcher shared his work publicly online. I told Janie about my student research and thesis, and she suggested I share it too. So here it is.

Despite having written this thesis 8 years ago and it containing some errors, and perhaps there being moments of naïeveté in my theory, I decided I should make it available because it is useful. It is original research that has not been published anywhere else, as far as I know. It brings together original research with feminists in Oaxaca and global human rights theory to make an argument about the need for dialogue about justice and gender justice across cultures. It makes an argument that I still stand strongly by and practice in my daily life and work, in ways beyond what I would have imagined when I wrote this as a 21-year-old.

This is my honor’s thesis from my senior year of college at Mount Holyoke College (2004), based on interviews I had conducted in the summer of 2003 in Oaxaca, México and a lot of immersion in history, feminist theory, sociology, political discourse, etc. Unfortunately, I have lost the cover page, which had a wood block print I made of downtown Oaxaca City, and I’ve lost the table of contents.

So, to give you a brief preview:

The introduction explains how I came to this topic and why it matters, and the theories behind it. It introduces why I think we need transcultural feminist dialogue in order to arrive at globally-valid concepts of justice and human rights.

The 1st chapter provides a history of feminism in México and its ties to other social justice movements there.

The 2nd chapter covers what I learned from the feminists at La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos, a feminist organization based in Oaxaca City. (Oaxaca City is the capital city of the state in México that has more ethnic diversity, in terms of indigenous groups, than any other state in the country.) This chapter discusses the organization’s work, how each woman became a feminist, how each woman conceives of the concept of justice,  and how that translates into the feminist work she does.

The 3rd chapter uses the themes about feminism, gender justice, and justice that the women from La Casa de la Mujer brought up to make the argument that feminism arises organically out of everywhere. Because feminism arises out of different environments, it is necessarily different across cultures, countries, etc. At the same time, there is an “hilo conductor,” that is, a wire that connects all feminisms everywhere. This hilo conductor is the idea that we should be able to live lives with dignity and free of violence. Because feminism is both universal and grounded in the local, we need democratic, equitable, transcultural feminist dialogue in order to establish what about gender justice–and justice in general–is universal and what isn’t. That way, we can create human rights standards that people all over can buy into and feel a part of.

I sent this thesis to La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos in 2004. When I visited in 2005, they were almost done translating it into Spanish, so I got to assist with some of the translation.  I have not returned to Oaxaca since, but when I do, I hope to find that is has been useful. And I hope that is is useful for you. If you do use it, here is a suggested citation (although when I wrote it, my last name was Norton-Cruz…):

Avellaneda-Cruz, Laura. (2004). Toward Global Justice: La Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos and Transcultural Feminist Dialogue. Undergraduate Thesis, Mount Holyoke College. Retrieved online at author’s website: www.lauritadianita.info/?page_id=458

FULL PDF HERE:
Thesis_Global_Feminism_Oaxaca_2004_L. Avellaneda-Cruz_p

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June 3rd, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Recently-Killed Chicken: Reflections on De-centering

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pig skins! pig skins!

6.9.10

Today I had of those moments of de-centering that comes from travel, maybe you know the type, the type that confronts you with how very non-universal are your views. Third World countries are famous for offering such experiences to First Worlders, and First Worlders are famous for trying to avoid or otherwise ignore the value of such moments.  I can see why; sometimes they’re really hard. But today’s was a gleeful decentering, easier to absorb.

I biked down to the busy intersection by the train tracks to get groceries for the next few days and to take a photo of three pig skins that I had seen hanging in front of a carnicería the day before. I locked up my bike on a pole next to the pig skin store while eyeing the chickens at a butcher shop nearby. The yellow meat laid out in the hot, exhaust-filled air by the intersection and the train tracks, and I could not bring myself to buy it. My fiancé, Oscar, and I have been eating almost entirely vegetarian here in Jalisco, México, in part due to the heat in which the meat hangs all day in the markets. But tonight he wanted to make me roasted chicken with achiote, and so I was on the hunt for chicken breast.

After taking my photo, squeezed up against a truck on the other side of the busy street and trying to make myself small as buses went by, I bought my naranjas and chayote and ejote, and asked the man helping me where I could buy chicken “que no está afuera en el calor todo el día” (“that’s not out in the heat all day”). I was thinking, in my imagination filled with grocery stores that have entire sections so refrigerated you can feel your skin stick up, in my imagination filled with chicken breasts wrapped in plastic packaging that fly from Montana to Alaska, that there may be a little store nearby with some sort of refrigeration. The man turned to the woman who seemed to be in charge and asked, “¿Dónde puede comprar pollo recién matado?” (“Where can she buy recently-killed chicken?”) They pointed me to a place just around the corner, where I found the same bright yellow chicken legs, feet and breasts out in the heat being sliced and sold by a woman with an apron. freshly killed chickenRight behind, however, was a young, short-haired woman grabbing a white chicken as it squawked, steadily bringing a blade across its throat and bleeding it, with great calm and equanimity, into a large steel drum. The old, peeling metal was lined with the feathered and bloody remnants of the chickens that came before it–the same ones sitting on the table for me to buy, I suppose. A telenovela played quietly behind on an old television set, and the Virgen de Guadalupe watched over the proceedings from the wall with that same accepting calm.

In the U.S., watching a chicken being slaughtered by a young woman who stands, smiling, right behind the sales counter might be considered an offensive business practice. Here, however, this was not only a convenient use of a small space but also a way of signaling to the buyer that the meat is fresh and safe, a way of assuaging worries over salmonella. freshly killed chickenRefrigeration, the solution I had been pulling on in my mind without fully realizing,  was translated by the imaginations of the fruit and chicken vendors; translated by the brutal functionality required by these hot, loud streets; translated by a place that lacks the infrastructure for keeping meat cold.

It is as though the language, the streets, the infrastructure of our lives shape the little spaces in our brain where our imaginations are continuously born. We are built this way, I think–built to make sense of the world through our experiences, adding bits and pieces to the schemas we create as children, and then creating new schemas when something proves ours inadequate. I suppose we universalize our own thinking and expectations by design; maybe there’s not space enough in our imaginations to fit all of the things we have not seen, the religions and traditions and ways of eating. It seems that the best we can do is to take moments like this for what they offer: humility, the chance to reflect on how big the world is and how little we still know, the inspiration to ask more open-ended questions like, “What measures do people take to have safer food and how can I look for those?” rather than working only from within the schema we bring with us and judging on, say, the storage temperature alone. It is a reminder for me as a researcher of why research must be careful to not just hand out surveys, but first to draw out, in people’s own words and schemas, what they do or what they believe in, so that questions are fit to the contexts of the people, interacting truthfully with their worlds. And of course, it is a reminder that when we step outside of our normal lives, and even as we walk within them, we should always expect to be surprised.

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June 15th, 2010 at 9:26 am

Love in the Time of Rabies: Noticias de Guadalajara

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We are in Guadalajara, the sprawling city of 7 million that is the capital of Jalisco, México, staying at our friend Arqui’s house upstairs from his little brother Moises (Arqui’s in Anchorage, where he lives and works now). We are stuck here for Oscar’s 30 day rabies vaccine series. Well, I extended my ticket an extra week anyway, but will eventually have to get back to work and leave him here by himself, el pobrecito. It is hot, the air is filled with dust and pollution and the smell of people burning their trash, and the whole place overwhelms us, the whole experience overwhelms us.

I will back up and tell the story of why we are here.

The Coast

Erika flew home to Anchorage to be with her beaux and I flew to Puerto Vallarta to be with mine. We spent a beautiful anniversary weekend in the isolated village of Yelapa that has not a single car or street, but is built over ocean cliffs with stone and cement paths. I am anxious to see my photos of the people we met there, the parents making sand sculptures of their children’s bodies in the sand, the mother playing games with her children during the water taxi ride. Then we spent a day in PV to deal with the dental visit from hell (note to others who prolong needed dental work in order to wait and do it in a country with cheaper dental care: DON’T wait if you really need it because it gets worse and more expensive), and the next morning took off on our ride over the mountains to Guadalajara (me on Erika’s bike).

The Bike Ride Over the Mountains

[At our first campsite]

The first night we stayed by a beautiful little stream outside of Las Palmas under a giant tree, which, as very romantic as it was, was accompanied by about 70 nasty bug bites on my legs. This was followed by a hot and dehydrated day of climbing about 3,000 feet and feeling more exhausted than I have since running Crow Pass 13 years ago. Then a night of sleeping in the plaza of the pueblito of Estancia after the teenagers that had gathered there to sing and joke and play Norteños on their cell phones and the middle aged men who had gathered to drink Coronas had all gone off to their homes and the dogs began their caucaphony of discussing whatever it is that rural dogs want to discuss all night…needless to say, it was not the best night of sleep. The following day we climbed about 3,000 feet more, but with better food and drink and earlier in the morning and with good conversation and humor. We then descended and rode a long time into the beautiful little colonial town of Mascota with its cobblestone streets and clay tile roofs. In Mascota we met curious young men and women at the carníceria and a kind old woman in the comedor, and I was finally able to take better care of the nasty blisters that had been forming on my butt from the unfamiliar seat. Then a heartbreakingly long and hot and steep ride up to the damn/lake where we were to camp, a delicious sopa de res, and a night of feeling angry and agitated by the pendejo restaurant owners on the lakeshore who decided to get drunk and blare the jukebox late into the night, after it had already been blaring all afternoon and evening. We took a rest day in which we decided in late afternoon to ride down the hill and camp by the river to avoid the late night party scene at the lake. This led to an evening spent playing in the river with and teaching two curious little grade school aged “chayoteros” (farmers/vendors of the vegetable chayote, photos of whom are on the link) about camping gear, and another night of sleep interrupted every hour or so by Norteños playing loudly from someone’s big truck, some borrachos, somewhere.

[Oscar's photo with my little half-broken Canon of the full moon rising over the lake. Peaceful view, not peaceful music blaring.]

Not Just Another Mexican-Hating Gringa, Really

So, there are some themes here, right? Men drinking and (mostly) men playing music–specifically, Norteños–at all hours, often with big trucks involved. See, I love Norteños, love their springy polka rhythms and funny lyrics, and especially corridos, the story songs, but I was getting worried for a while that their constant presence, their being pushed into our every waking (and potentially sleeping) moment would spoil me on them. I also love México and was getting worried that this would spoil me on México. I kept telling Oscar that it’s not like this in the South–he’ll see–, that it’s more sensilla and indigenous and that when I heard music in the streets in Oaxaca it was most often a funeral or wedding parade with lots of brass instruments. And of course, I told him about Gil and Cynthia and Claudia, my dear friends from Oaxaca who questioned gender norms and machismo, anti-indigenist sentiment, materialism, the worship of US Americanism, etc. But I said these things most of all to remind myself, to assure myself that I’m not just another Mexican-hating gringa, another First Worlder afraid of the Third World (or Second? Where does Mexico fit in this scheme?)

I’m not just another gringa, but I find myself critical as always of machismo and more critical of the Mexican government and the ways in which corruption and inefficacy seems to trickle down into even the smallest institutions and businesses than I was when I lived in Southern Mexico 7 years ago–maybe because I’m farther North, maybe because I’m older and understand systems better, maybe also because I never had to deal with the medical system before, having never had rabies exposure…so, on to that story:

Love in the Time of Rabies

On Saturday, Oscar’s mother’s birthday, after a 5:30 am morning and a really hard 4 1/2 hours of riding, mostly climbing, we stopped at a shack covered by a roof of wood and straw where an old woman was making tortillas. She prepared us food over the fire as I cleaned my wounds and then we sat down to eat the most amazing meal of cow heart in a guisado of tomato with beans and freshly-made tortillas. As I think back on it, the Carolyn Forché poem keeps running through my head in which she writes, about revolutionary El Salvador, something like “You can’t eat heart in times like these.” I don’t think it quite fits, but there is something to the gravity of it that I like in this situation.

We had stopped at the shack to eat rather than eating our previous night’s leftovers like usual, because we intended to break for a few hours in the shade to sleep and repack. However, this plan was quickly interrupted by the family’s dog biting Oscar out of nowhere, us realizing that there were potential rabies-related behaviors in the dog and that the family had never vaccinated it, cleaning the wounds, and quickly getting on our bikes to ride the 15 K down the mountain to Anteguilla where we hopped a bus to Guadalajara. Once in the city, we checked into the first hotel we found and adventured out on the buses to 5 hours of walking and calling around from hospital to hospital and chatting with women in pharmacies (where, by the way, the women wear peach-colored dresses with collars and double buttons up the front, which I thought was interesting and old-fashioned) only to be told that the Cruz Verde should have the rabies treatment/vaccine but they don’t…and no one else does. We asked each other, “How is it that everyone points their fingers at an institution responsible for toxicology that acts as though they’d never even considered treating rabies?” and, the next day, upon making dozens more phone calls “How is it that even the medical emergency line doesn’t have a working number for the Secretary of Health that is responsible for rabies?”…and we don’t know the answers. We know only that the giant holes in communication between institutions is something we see reproduced between business people and clients and, we would find on Monday and also in my follow-up dental apt. on Thursday, between patients and medical providers.

Upon returning to our hotel, my earlier suspicion that there were fleas was confirmed by many little bites and Oscar squishing one open, and so we spent the next hour or so re-packing, demanding my money back, and calling Arqui, who got his kind friend Enrique to come pick us and our bikes up in his little sedan to go to Arqui’s house, where I left all of my clothing on the patio outside for fear of fleas. And so, it was while undressed for fear of fleas, on the dark cement porch at 1:30 in the morning, that Oscar knelt down and told me how strong and wonderful I was and asked me to marry him, slipping onto my finger the beautiful ring he had had made for me in Puerto Vallarta while tears slipped out of his eyes and down his cheeks. Of course I said yes. How could I not want to marry this man who proceeds with so much strength and grace after being bitten by a dog, this man who rubbed ointment in little circulitos on my aching bug bites with the intention of calming me down while Norteños blared around us at the lake, who is so strong and competent and curious and kind and smart, who has talked sweetly on the phone about our future for months now despite what I now see are incredibly trying days?

¡Viva Public Health!

So, the sleepy now-fiancés slept on a bed (a bed! a bed with an absolutely perfect mattress!) and woke up to a morning of laundering the fleas out of the clothing and cleaning the dusty house (dust from the streets coats everything in only a day or so). We proceeded on to phone calls all day, and finally a plan to proceed to the Secretaria de Salud in the morning…because, being government, they were closed on the weekend. Just as my dad telling me over the phone that the rates of rabies in Jalisco had dropped almost off the charts since 2000 had calmed us down, so too did walking into the Secretaria de Salud and seeing signs over the doors with the words “epidemiología” and “estadistica.” I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that por fin we were in the hands of people/an institution with a public health perspective. Maybe that’s just grad school heady Laura needing to grasp something in terms she could be comfortable with, but I think it’s also that a public health perspective is so qualitatively different than the “It’s not my problem” perspective we had gotten from the hospitals and the profit motive from businesses and vendors that often means cheating people outright.

[Mi Osquitar in the waiting area of the Secretaria de Salud, waiting for his consultation, nervous.]

After a visit with an oldish doctor who could stand to improve in clarity of communication and some extremely young nurses who forgot tell Oscar the side effects and contraindications of the vaccination, Oscar began his first of five injections of rabies vaccine. (After his fever and weakness started, we went back to ask about side effects.) In the US, this vaccine would have cost thousands of dollars. Here, they’re giving it to him for free. This is, indeed, a public health approach. Despite everything else, ¡Viva México! ¡Viva la salud pública!

Country Bumpkins

We have until Tuesday to make sure Oscar isn’t showing any symptoms of rabies to then fully relax, but we’re confident he’ll be fine and we want to get the hell out of the city this weekend and go to Arqui’s mom’s house. We are such country bumpkins, such Alaskans. I don’t know about Oscar, but I don’t think if I’ve ever missed Alaska as much as I did a few nights ago while suffering from food poisoning and smelling the neighbors burn trash and being hot and dirty because the house didn’t have enough water left in the tank to shower or wash dishes…all I could do was try to imagine the mountains and clean glacial lakes, the snow and the air and the trees, and imagine us there, try to dream about home.

The Upside

But we’re here, not in Alaska, and it’s not all bad. We are eating lots of delicious fruits and vegetables for cheap and trying new ones. Guadalajara seems to be a queer-friendly city; or if it’s not outwardly friendly, at least lesbians, gay men and trans individuals seem to feel safe enough being out because we’ve met and seen a number of them. And there’s certainly more options for women and girls to wear their gender than in the campo, with the roqueras opting for baggy t-shirts and jeans and less makeup. Plus, Oscar and I often get to exchange those looks of joy when we watch multiple generations of family members enjoying their children and when we notice the casualness with which men touch one another, not always avoiding one another so as to not look gay, like American men do. We love the way buses stop wherever people put out their hand and how people pass their money forward to the driver from the back of the bus when it’s crowded. And we loved the simple kindness of the people in the pueblitos and of the women in the corner store in this neighborhood.

Plus, we are learning! Living in this house that didn’t have water for a few days and so learning how to catch water at every opportunity, siphon water from the bit that remained, use gray water to flush the toilet, wash dishes with as little as possible, and begin our nightly ritual of washing one another’s feet in a bucket before bed has made us way more conscious of how to conserve water and how much even we, little environmentalists, waste when we are in the US. Now, we are not going to use gray water like this back home because it stinks, but we will take these lessons with us. In general, scarcity like this makes one aware both of how much government services are important for quality of life (and grateful that we have them) and of privilege and waste, how imperative it is that those of us in the First World don’t continue to consume resources at the same devastatingly quick level. Catching and reusing water, walking or riding a bike or taking the bus, not languishing in the shower, buying produce from local markets that don’t use extensive packaging are all little things that México will remind me of when I return. I am grateful for this.

And most of all, I am grateful to be problem-solving and working and cooking and sleeping next to the love of my life, the very good and beautiful man who I will marry. Who will not have rabies. :)

[My engagement ring! Mexican silver and turquoise, crafted esp. by a local jeweler in Puerto Vallarta, per Oscar's instructions. Now I have to find him something fitting and beautiful and local as well. No luck yet, but I'm searching. This photo is from the not-so-romantic location of the Secretaria de Salud.]

p.s. Next installment I want to reflect on diet, overweight and obesity here. I am astounded by how like the US it is.

Update 7/10/10: Here are Oscar and my engagement rings together. I found him one a week or so later. He has never been used to wearing jewelry, but now he loves it & wears it & kisses it before bed. It makes me so happy that we both, from afar, have these symbols on our body of our committment:

anillos de compromiso

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June 4th, 2010 at 11:38 am