One of the reasons we chose to move to San Miguel de Allende instead of some other place in Mexico is because we thought it would be easy for the kids to make friends. Among the nearly 15,000 foreigners wandering the streets buying bottled water, wooden donkeys, and bad pizza, are a fair amount of gringo families relocated from the United States, Canada, and Europe. We figured at least one of those families would have kids that liked our kids; and maybe even have a parent who would become my drinking buddy.
And through the magic of Dungeons & Dragons (THANKS Chris, Kelly & Kit!!!) Coconut and J have met a quirky bunch of adventurers including a naked barbarian, a dancing druid, a half-orc bard, a dragon-borne Paladin with a divine sense, and a dwarf named Weird Lime. While I have been leading this merry group of treasure-seekers to the Slag Heap, R has been watching the sunset and drinking wine with their parents. But more on that later.
Let's talk about what most people think of when you say "our neighborhood" - the people that live next door. The people that live next door to the house that Joyce built (which is where we live) are a man, another man, and a woman. These people run a little convenience store - a "tienda" - that has all of the day-to-day necessities; small yogurt cups with granola on top, home-made potato chips, and cold beer. They even sell dog food by the serving if you find yourself in a pinch. It's just like any tienda that you can find on any street in SMA, and dare I say, any street in any village in Mexico. But it's right next door to us.
It's also exactly the type of convenience store that R and I tried to avoid when we were in the States because of the processed crap that Frito-Lay and Hostess have pushed on America as food, the gross mark-up for products that you can buy cheaper in a grocery store, and the fact that any money benefit goes to a giant corporation and not to the poor Joe working an 8-hour shift behind the counter.
But, we are in Mexico now, and we like our tienda next door. Yes, it pushes the Mexican version of crap - sponsored by Bimbo - but it also sells fresh fruit and vegetables, decent bread, and the mark-up goes like this; one egg in the market = 3 pesos, one egg in the tienda next door = 4 pesos. And that extra peso goes in man, other man, and woman's pocket, not in the overstuffed pockets of Seven & I Holdings Co.
Our neighbors also raise roosters for cockfighting. These fellas make quite a bit of noise and initially this gave rise to a few "what have we gotten ourselves into" moments, but it hasn't been too bad. It's the kind of thing you get used to, especially with a good pair of ear plugs. Anyway, according to our neighbors, under direct questioning from R, cockfighting is legal in Mexico. Google agrees. But we spoke with a Mexican woman and she says it is illegal. My Spanish is not currently good enough for me to get to the bottom of this, so stay tuned for more in a future post.
If you walk further down our street you come to the gym where R and I lift weights while a guy in work boots leads a group of dutiful, middle-aged women through their Zumba routine.
Further on is the fruit and vegetable market where the six-fingered man can get us whatever we need, the butcher where we have a discount card, our rotisserie chicken place and tortilleria, Leo's grocery store, an ice-cream vendor, and an artisan's market for any household items we might need (though Joyce has accumulated plenty of hand-crafted items for the kitchen over 20 years so we just breeze through.) There is also a maze of mall-like shops selling underwear, shoes, and shrimp cocktail. It's kind of like Sesame Street in that we never have to leave the block.
Granted, we only know the Mexican peeps running these shops by sight and don't know anything else about them, but it's nice to have a routine where we greet the same folks every day. The only place in Alexandria I went with any regularity and could say that about was Trader Joe's. Otherwise, I didn't have much contact with anyone other than the people that I worked with. And except for the gym and the butcher which seem to have staff, the other places are all family run affairs. It feels good to be able to rub elbows with the owners of the joint.
But what makes us feel really good is knowing that this was the right place to come for Coconut and J. Besides the group of friends that they've started to accumulate, Coconut has already said she likes school here better than her public school in the States because of the things they are doing in class - it isn't focused on test taking. For example, they made "globo de cantolla" (hot air balloons) out of tissue paper in science class over a week and met one night at the reservoir to launch them - only a few caught on fire.
And by extension, the right place for the kids is the right place for R and me. That naked barbarian I mentioned, he's part of an ex-pat family relocated from Portland that hosted a pizza party game night. That is right up our alley. The half-orc bard and his mother moved here from Oklahoma less than a year ago. We went to a birthday party at their beautiful new house where there was a taco truck and a roving bartender - I didn't even need to hang by the bar to get a drink. They have also been part of the group of families that meet on Saturday afternoon at the Deportiva - a local sports complex where we play soccer, tennis, and otherwise horse around while trying not to pull any muscles.
The dancing bard belongs to Lori and Ben, who have been one part school PTA for us - hosting a party for Coconut and J to meet other kids from the school on the day before the semester began; one part caterers - they brought us dinner the first night we arrived in town; one part taxi company - driving us to and from the Deportiva and grocery; one part realtor - Lori hooked us up with our rental from Joyce and the friend of the woman who's house we are currently renting; one-part cheerleaders - Ben is ALWAYS positive, even when he is talking about something neutral (like politics) or negative (like the New England Patriots) and Lori kept our eyes on the prize in those pre-departure weeks when we were nonstop purging and packing; and one part social coordinators - the party is always on (and usually at their place).
I know that's a lot of parts and maybe you lost track, but trust me, you add it up and it comes to one hundred percent awesome. I would say they have been one-hundred and ten percent awesome (because they have been) but my eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Dick (I am not making that name up) marked me down on an essay because I wrote that someone had given 999% effort and Mrs. Dick pointed out that you can't give more than one-hundred percent effort. Mrs. Dick, I learned that lesson.
So, we feel good about things. The kids are happy. We are happy that they are happy and have friends and we have a social life. All that's left is for me to find a drinking buddy. But, it's like coming face-to-face with a horned, cloven-hoofed, bestial humanoid agent of the Witch Queen in the bowels of the Slag Heap, I'm sure it's going to work out.