Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Que Vaya Bien

Please forgive my poetry, I know it's gauche to rhyme,
But I'm knee-deep in suitcases and running out of time.

I thought a poem'd be a nice tribute to end my blog
But then I got distracted and wrote a post for my dog.

So now this poem's not exactly what I had in mind,
I tried to hit the highlights and thought it'd be nice to find

Old posts to link to each stanza but, seriously? Uh, no.
So, now, without further ado, my Ode to Mexico:

I arrived in Mexico with my father by my side
My life back home was all packed up and I'd said my goodbyes.

I'd left Chicago mid-blizzard and marveled at the heat
It was even be warm enough to sleep without a sheet.

My eyes grew ever wider as I took in my new town,
I got out of the car and my whole world flipped upside-down.

Thirteen in-laws surrounded me with fourteen kids in tow,
But sadly not the mother-in-law who I barely got to know.

My breath came quick as my new family embraced me to their heart,
And they welcomed this pasty gringa without a second thought.

Despite the culture shock I tried my best to get along
And joined my sisters in the kitchen, pretending I belonged.

The water didn't take too long to get accustomed to,
You drink from bottles otherwise your tummy says "oh poo".

I quickly learned to bathe without a shower or tub,
I woke up to my first earthquake that made the locals shrug.

Ibis got food poisoning and we rushed to the ER,
I got stung by a jellyfish that left a three-inch scar.

A local dog that Ibis had adopted as his own
Was poisoned by a neighbor and we knew it was time to go.

We moved to Zihuatanejo, a fishing village on the coast
And jumped for joy at the running water (the thing I'd missed the most).

Little things about this place were different from back home
And each day brought surprises that we never could have known.

The helicopters overhead, machine guns in the street,
Their presence meant to reassure but making my heart beat.

The paper guys shouting 'bout the latest beheadings,
Music drifting through the air from the neighbors' weddings.

The lions that they drag through town to advertise the circus,
Megaphones on top of cars to announce things sure to shock us.

Some things seemed more natural than anything back home
And the relaxed nature soon seemed like the only thing I'd known.

Sure, I had my moments when I'd wish things weren't so slow,
But then I'd watch the sunrise and be glad I had nowhere to go.

In Mexico it's assumed that you'll be an hour or two late,
But no one gets upset—you kiss hello and grab a plate.

A funny thing is that most Mexicans are really short,
And for the first time in my life I'm considered average, not a dwarf.

I discovered that my DC driving skills prepared me well,
I can be speedracer and no one yells to go to hell.

On weekends the hotels put on cool fireworks displays
That we watch from our living room while wearing our pjs.

And then there's Owen—how could I not mention our little pup,
Who came into our lives the day we lost the King of Pop.

He filled a void that I was sure might never be replaced
And brought a joy into our lives that'll never be erased.

Despite this newfound happiness I still felt at a loss
And longed to live where I could rediscover my purpose.

I made a choice that's proved to be the hardest in my life—
I'm leaving Mexico without him whom makes me a wife.

Over the past month I've really tried to appreciate this town
And soak in all the things I'll miss when I am not around:

The trickling sound the cobblestones make when you drive atop the bricks,
Being surprised when I look outside and see a giant ship.

The fruit, the bread, the cheese, the fish,
The fish. Did I mention the fish?

The molé enchiladadas that my husband makes so well,
The frozen-fruit paletas you have to inhale before they melt.

Sunday nights in the plaza when we run into our friends,
That quiet calm in the evening when the music finally ends.

The early mornings as the sun's rays stretch across the sky,
The lazy days spent lounging in a hammock with my guy.

For he's the thing I'll miss the most when I say adios,
I have no words… right now this is the way our story goes.

Adios... Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Never Say Goodbye 'til It's Closing Time

Yes, I have a medley of farewell songs running through my head. I'd also forgotten how exhausting it is to say goodbye to everyone, and I hardly even know anyone here. In Chicago I had a full week of goodbye parties and I still didn't get to see a couple people. So far there aren't any welcome back parties planned, but I'm sure something can be arranged...

Anyway, saying goodbye sucks. I'm sure most of you have moved at some point in your life and I hate that niggling feeling that I'm forgetting something or someone. We saw Ibis' entire family yesterday -- that was bittersweet, to say the least, although seeing my baby niece with a mohawk more than made up for that -- and there's only one person left that I'd still like to track down before I go.

Today I ship my computer and let's not even talk about how freaked out I am about that. The DHL store here doesn't sell boxes large enough for my iMac, so Ibis fashioned a box out of cardboard and foam that will hopefully keep my baby intact. I am planning to insure it, and really, beyond that there's nothing I can do so I'll just try not to think about it.

I have a final post scheduled for tomorrow, but in the meantime, I have an essay up at a new blog, An Army of Ermas. I'm one of nearly two dozen contributors and so far we seem to have quite a variety of stories.

Friday, February 19, 2010


That means I'm leaving in FOUR DAYS. FOUR. Ninety-six hours. (You don't want to know how many fingers and calculators were used to figure that out.) I've knocked a couple more things of my list of things to do once more before I leave. Among them:

I saw circus animals.

Watched ANOTHER piece fall off the car.

Ate the fabulous, yet slightly dangerous due to their proximity to the police station, tacos.

Ate a giant Hershey's kiss (okay, maybe that wasn't on the list but HELLO!).

Admired yet another gorgeous sunrise.

And played with my puppy (okay, that's definitely not on the list, but look at that face! Or those eyes since he's really fricking close to the camera! [yes, he licked the camera]).

Shockingly, I accomplished A LOT in the past couple days and my to-do list is shrinking much faster than I thought it would. This means that I'm dreading the flight even more because SOMETHING will go wrong and if it's not in the planning, it will be the actual trip. Maybe I should pack a bikini for Owen in case he ends up in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Believe This is What They Refer to As "Coming Full Circle"

When I was in Chicago preparing to move to Mexico, I had a small stroke of luck: my employer switched health insurance. This may not seem like a big deal, but as a woman facing a move to a country with uncertain medical standards, the opportunity to squeeze in all my doctors appointments even though it'd been less than a year since I'd last seen these doctors was HUGE.

I discovered an eye infection and a cavity, both easily fixed. On my last day of work I returned to the office after a final lunch with the girls and someone called out that my doctor had called while I was out. I knew she was planning to call with my test results (she knew I was moving) so I hurried to my desk to return her call.

My stomach dropped with her first words:

"I had a bad feeling when you told me you were leaving the country that there would be a problem."

Just what a girl likes to hear before moving to a country with uncertain medical standards. I had a going-away party planned for that night (my fourth that week) but I asked if there was any way she could see me since my insurance ended THAT DAY.

She said no, then kindly assured me that the tests I needed were very common and I shouldn't have a problem finding a doctor to perform them. She spelled out everything I needed & what the exact procedures were, then offered to stay in contact via email (which she did for a couple months).

And with that, I moved to Mexico.

I found a doctor within a week and thus began what ended up being one of my closest relationships in Zihua. In the three years I've been here I think I've seen this doctor at LEAST twenty or thirty times. Probably more. (and that's just off the top of my head.) I can't tell you how many times we've be thankful that we ARE in Mexico because even though I don't have insurance, the average visit costs 300-500 pesos, roughly $25-40 US. Sure, US co-pays are less, but I'm not paying a monthly deductible.

Anyway, over the past three years I've had countless exams, one biopsy, two minor procedures and one major procedure. Each time I go back for a follow-up, she's found something new. To say this has been frustrating would be an understatement, but at least now I speak Spanish well enough to go on my own. Ibis had act as my translator on those first few visits and he wasn't always as helpful as I'd have liked. Not to mention the doctor viewed me as a delicate American. Once I ditched him, my relationship with the doctor grew.

I wasn't due to see her again until the end of March, but when I decided to return to Michigan I scheduled an appointment at the beginning of February. On Monday Ibis and I went to get my results (they don't mail or call here) and she greeted us with a smile.

"You're fine."

"Everything is okay?"

"Yes. You're healthy."

It didn't seem real. After three years, visiting her on average every other month and CONSTANTLY getting more bad news, I didn't quite believe her. Ibis even asked her again to make sure.

I'll have to find a new doctor and schedule an appointment in another six months, but that's so much better than "fill out this prescription and come see me again in two weeks."

I keep feeling like she's going to call and tell me there was a mistake -- THAT would be fitting for the way things seem to go for me -- but for now I'm trying to focus on the fact that I'm healthy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another "Last" and a Beginning

Remember my post last week where I was all jazzed to start the edits on After the Fall? Yeah, I haven't started those yet. I did, however, write a couple pages for my NEW, yet-to-be-properly-titled-or-talked-about-in-public, YA wip.

This is the first time I've been so aware of a character's voice right from the beginning, and I hope that means I won't have to spend a draft fixing voice issues (like I am now with ATF). I find it fairly easy to talk like a teenager, but I don't want THIS character to sound like the teenager in my other book, so I'm making the effort now.

Then I swear I'll get going on my edits.

In other news, Friday night Ibis and I went to dinner with my dad at our favorite restaurant, Il Mare. It's on a rocky outcrop between Playa Madera and Playa La Ropa and overlooks Zihuatanejo Bay. It's usually hit or miss whether or not we'll get a nice sunset, and we TOTALLY lucked out.

We went a little crazy taking pictures -- my dad's eyeballs were permanently locked in the back of his skull -- but how often do you get a backdrop like this? We joked that the people at the table next to us probably thought we were nuts, but then they started taking pictures too.

Now I can cross off "eat at Il Mare" AND "take fabulous sunset pictures with my sweetie."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Another Day at the Beach

I leave in eleven days so I'm trying to do a lot of things "one last time." Among them: take a trip to Las Gatas, the beach directly across the bay from our home. As far as the tourists are concerned, you can only get there by boat, but you can actually hike along a narrow rocky trail. Since we went with my dad and another couple (who'd never been) we opted for the boat.

Owen's first boat ride!

Wouldn't you know it, there was a cruise ship! Talk about up close and personal!

Las Gatas is known for it's excellent snorkeling, courtesy of the rocky break that extends across the mouth of the inlet. (At least I think it's called an inlet...) The beach can feel a little crowded if all those tables are full, but it takes a LOT of people to fill those up.

We live just beyond the cruise ship and it was fun to see it from the opposite side of the bay. We kept waiting for it to move a little bit more so we could point out our place to our friends, but the cruise ship was very uncooperative.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This Writing Life

I haven't talked much about fiction writing this year because I hadn't written any fiction this year. Between caring for my grandmother for most of December, then getting back into my routine back here, then writing freelance articles for MONEY (I already have thirty published articles!) then, uhh... deciding to move to Michigan, my creative juices have sort of been on hold.

I sent the second draft out to a handful of beta readers in December and I've read their comments as they've trickled in but had yet to do anything with them. I came up with an AWESOME young adult idea in December that I'm still really really excited about, but I haven't been able to come up with a storyline that really clicks for me, so it's just sitting there. I've done hours of research, just not plotting.

I've been thinking about my new idea and my current wip but just haven't had the urge to get to them. Well last week my friend Lurker Monkey posted a prompt for our monthly flash fiction group and I wrote half the story before I could even reply to the blog post.

Read my story here.

Then Monday I decided enough was enough and I began compiling my beta readers' notes into one document. Let's just say there are a looooooot of comments in that first chapter. Wow. By Tuesday night at 8:30 (just in time for the Lost premiere -- we're a week behind the US schedule) I had all my notes plugged in and I'm officially ready to begin draft #3.

I leave for Michigan in two weeks and I decided that if I don't start working on my wip before I go it'll be too easy to keep putting it off -- even though I LOVE my story. It means too much to me not to keep moving forward. And this will give me something to do on the plane other than worry about Owen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

That is One Sick Puppy

Let me give you a tip:

If your dog is sick and you're trying to find out ways to help him, don't google "sick puppy." Trust me on this.

Early Thursday morning we woke up to the sound of our adorable cuddly puppy puking his guts out. I managed about three hours sleep between rounds and we brought him to the vet as soon as they opened. He determined that Owen has a bacterial infection and that it's common in dogs here when we have heavy rains. All the crud rushing down the hill collects at the bottom -- where we are -- and finds its way into dogs' bellies.

The vet gave us some pills for Owen and sent us on our way. He was lethargic and didn't eat, but he didn't seem too bad. Friday we took him to the beach, and again, he was tired, but still his normal puppy self. Well, late Friday he started getting sick again and wouldn't stop throwing up. We were getting progressively worried and didn't know what to do (enter more googling), so back we went Saturday morning. The vet gave him a shot, said no food or water for 24 hours, and said to bring him back that evening.

During the second visit the vet weighed Owen and he'd lost half a kilo -- one whole pound -- since Thursday! He started at 6.6 kilos and was down to almost 6. That's a lot when you're so itty bitty! The vet told us to come back in the morning and approved Owen to eat ice cubes. Woohoo!

Then we had a minor incident while driving back from the vet. Ibis was teaching an English class so I was alone with Owen, who insisted on riding in my lap. Fortunately we've got a 5-10 second window between when he starts gagging and actually gets sick, so I was able to pull the car as far to the left curb as possible, hit the hazards, and fling open the driver's side door. I held Owen over the sidewalk with one hand while cars squeezed by on the right. I think people must have been able to see what was going on because even though traffic was heavy, no one honked at me.

Once I got him home he was still sick -- and very weak -- but eventually seemed a little better. He slept all night and drank a bit of water before his appointment, and the vet didn't give him any more shots. In addition to allowing him water, he also gave us this Nutri-Gel stuff that's made for animals and is loaded with nutrients. I've been calling it Nutri-goo because Ibis used to eat this energy goo when he ran marathons and that's a lot more fun to say.

As of mid-day Sunday Owen's been sleeping a lot, but he seems more and more like his normal self. He's run up to the roof on his own and even went to the door when Ibis left -- something he wasn't doing for a couple days. Even the water guy was weirded out when Owen didn't greet him Saturday night, so he asked to come in and pet him. Everybody loves Owen.

I'd like to thank all my friends who held my hand over the weekend and gave me endless support, advice, and encouragement. This is the first animal I've been solely responsible for and it helps to hear what others have been through (and some of them are still going through).

UPDATE: As of Monday morning he's finally acting like his old self. He's running around, jumping on the furniture, and even barked!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Who Says Rain Dances Don't Work?

*checks calendar*

Yep, it's February.

*checks sky*

Yep, it's raining.

This could be why:

I took this around 5pm on Thursday and that SAME cloud has been hovering over Mexico since late Tuesday night. It seems all my complaining about the hot, blistering sun worked and it's gone into hibernation. I feel a little bad for the tourists but super excited about the amount of writing I'm getting done. I haven't actually worked on a novel yet this year, but I am cruising through my non-fiction articles -- and those actually pay!

Rainy season ended MONTHS ago but it seems someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. The previous two winters that I've lived here it didn't rain a single time from early December until mid-May. Since I returned from Detroit the first week of January it's rained more days than it hasn't, and the past two days have been CONSTANT. Unending.

Just ask my dad, who arrived here Monday afternoon and has yet to go to the beach. At this rate he'll finish all his reading material by next week.

And lest any of you lash me with a wet noodle, I'm NOT COMPLAINING. I love this. :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More Violence

And this one is a little unsettling.

I've mentioned here before that our favorite beach is Barra de Potosi -- a stretch of beach at the southernmost end of a 9K beach just south of Zihua. The airport is at the north end and you can see Barra from the air when you land. The water is cleaner and bluer than in Zihua, there are less people, you can actually see the fish in the water (and watch the birds fishing for them), and there's a lagoon around the bend that you can explore by canoe.

We go there maybe once a month and always tell people to make sure and include a daytrip there in their plans. Every friend and family member who's visited here has been there -- that's where we saw three whales last year with my mom, dad, and sister.

Well, last week someone (or multiple someones) shot as passing vehicles. It didn't make the same headlines as the shooting in Ixtapa, but once again, tourists were targeted. I don't know many details or I'd include the links here.

A narrow two-lane road winds through the fields from the main highway to the beach, and once you're on it there aren't many options for getting off, aside from stopping at someone's house. Yet there are lots of places for people to hide. We never go there at night because the restaurants all close around 6pm so I can't say what it's like there after dark.

Ibis brought some tourists there on Friday and stopped off at the new ecological park on the way. He met a local ex-pat on the tour and when he returned to the parking lot, discovered the man's van had been broken into. Inside the parking lot. The logical assumption is this is all the work of the same people (the shooting near Barra, not the Ixtapa shooting -- they are almost an hour apart) but my bigger concern is: what if they aren't? I always tell people that the economy here sucks and people are getting desperate, but I never imagined people being shot at in broad daylight.

It's really too bad. I'd have loved to gone there once more before I leave.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Twelve Days Short of Three Years

You might want to grab a fresh cup of coffee for this one.

* waits *

Ibis and I have come to the difficult decision that it's best if I move back to Michigan. If you're a regular reader of this blog, I don't think I need to explain why, but the biggest reasons are the increasing violence and the whole not-having-money thing.

Owen and I will be flying into Chicago on February 23rd, then I'll drive my dad's van to my parents' house in Michigan, where I will become a cliché. Yes, I'm moving into their basement.

I'd rather not get into all the details on the internet, but I'm sure you have a couple obvious questions.

My Marriage
No, we are not getting divorced. We've talked about sending me back to the US to work for well over a year now and I've always resisted (again, for a lot of reasons I'd rather not get into).

A Job
No, I don't have a job yet, but I'm working on it. I've applied to one place (I know…) and I have a list of "industry" folks that I plan to contact. Michigan's economy is among the worst in the US, but that's where my family is.

The good thing is I no longer have the limitations I had by trying to work in Mexico or Canada. As an immigrant you are required work within your field of study -- for me, graphic design -- and there just aren't that many design positions in a struggling economy. Now if I want to wait tables or work at a bookstore (or both), I can.

I've also started writing for Demand Studios -- an online company that supplies articles for eHow, Livestrong, and several other website. I've already had two articles approved, and yes, I'm kicking myself for not doing this two years ago.

Ibis & The US
No, my being in the US will not change anything about Ibis getting into the country. He is facing a ten-year ban for unlawful presence and that ban will not be lifted. Period. The answer we received in September was regarding an extreme-hardship waiver that we filed on my behalf. Appealing that decision or reapplying will only waste more years and more money. He can reapply in seven years. Period.

Travel to Zihua
Yes, I still think it's safe to visit Zihuatanejo. In fact, my dad arrives today for two months and my brother will be here at the beginning of March.

True, the violence helped persuade me to leave, but the dangers I face are because I'm a local. (I'm going to generalize here, so bear with me.) When some locals see me -- a white American who doesn't work -- they assume I have money, or if I don't have money, my family does. After all, we're getting by somehow, right? That puts me in danger, especially when all around us people are struggling to survive. Burglaries and muggings have increased drastically since we moved here three years ago, and you can only avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time for so long.

If you've been here you know that the local police and government takes tourism very seriously and it's very rare for anything bad to happen IF YOU STICK TO THE TOURISTY areas. The Canadians who were shot in mid-January were on a deserted bike path. Another tourist was raped a couple days after that, but again, she was on a fairly isolated beach. (I don't know the details of that attack or I would tell you more.)

Yes, bad things happen, but that's not limited to Zihuatanejo or Mexico. I've decided I've had enough of this place, but that doesn't mean I'll never return to visit.

Okay, now everyone take a deep breath.

* inhales *

* waits for everyone to join in *

* turns blue *

Okay, seriously people. Take a deep breath.

* takes another deep breath but only pretends to hold it and breathes out my nose *

Because I'm leaving Mexico, this blog will no longer make sense. So… I have a new blog:


Go check it out!

* waits *

What do you think? There are still a couple things I'd like to tweak, but for the most part, I'm happy with it. I decided to switch to Wordpress for a couple reasons, number one being I can still keep "melanieavila" as the name.

One question for you fellow Wordpress bloggers: is there a Followers button? I know I can see who's following me, but I like having it displayed on the main page.

A benefit I didn't anticipate is the extra pages Wordpress allows you to set up. As you can see (you looked, right?) I've essentially turned this into my writing/author/whatever website. Some of you may recall I have another website that also has my writing info on it. Well not anymore! I've changed that too:

Melanie Avila

* waits *

This site hasn't changed as much, but I've refreshed a couple things, including the About Me photo. Ibis and I had a mini photo shoot on the roof over the weekend. Didn't he do a great job?

But wait, there's more!

Because designing a five-page Wordpress blog and updating my design site weren't enough, I started yet another blog:

What Am I Doing in Michigan?

* waits with a big smile *

Eh? Eh? What do you think?

I feel bad retiring What Am I Doing in Mexico?, but not bad enough to stay. I'll continue posting here until I leave, then transition to Hoosblog once I get settled in Michigan. Once there, I'll keep this blog online, but I'll probably deactivate comments.

One last favor before I go: Will you please follow my new blogs? I'd really appreciate it. :)

* takes a big sip of coffee *