Three Days in the Life of an Expat

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Wake me up in Dreamland

Wake me up in Dreamland

This morning I did something that I never do. I woke up, looked at the clock and saw that it was 7 a.m., and then closed my eyes and lay my head back down on the pillow.

Usually around this time I get up and go downstairs to make the kids a hot breakfast before we leave to walk to school at 8 a.m.. Lately, though, they’ve been coming to the kitchen later. They’re older and we are more efficient with our use of time. I don’t have to help them get dressed and brush their teeth anymore.

The dog usually starts making noise in her crate at the foot of the bed at this time too, but she seems content to sleep a little bit longer today.

So, I close my eyes and take a few more minutes for myself. Not really sleeping, but laying there contentedly.  It’s cold in the mornings - in the 40’s usually, but today sitting at 33 degrees - and I push against R radiating warmth, laying next to me.

You would think that someone who is “retired” could indulge like this everyday. But, what does “retired” even mean. Webster’s defines it as “having left one’s job and ceased to work.”

Certainly, I have left my job. I’m no longer chained to a desk from 9 to 5 each day. But, have I ceased to work?  No.

Just the fact of having a dog is more work than I ever imagined. She’ll never be able to get her own food, take herself to the bathroom, give herself a bath.  And the kids. Sure, the work has changed, but they still need guidance. They still need me to connect with them in relevant ways. That’s harder work than changing a diaper.

One of the ways we connect is that I get up to make them breakfast. Finally, I do drag myself from bed, make the kids French toast, walk them to school, get the dog her play time at the park, and spend an hour at the gym. Now, I know the rest of the day is truly mine.

This, then, is what it means to be retired. The freedom to choose how I want to spend my time.  I could go for a walk - San Miguel is a beautiful city and after the sun takes off the morning chill, the weather is perfect again. I could visit with some friends who are as “retired” as I am - meaning we could knock off for a few hours playing cards or drinking coffee. I could go see a movie or read a book. I could think of other things.

But, what I want to do is write. I’ve pitched an idea for an article to International Living magazine and the editor liked it.  I’ve got to get him a draft to review. I don’t have to do it today - I’ve got a month - but I want to do it today.  It’s exciting, and frankly, easier than some of the other writing projects I have on my plate.


So, I spend a couple of hours researching and writing. I break for lunch and to play with the dog. I hang some laundry - we have a washer but no dryer.  That’s no problem. On a sunny day - which is most days - temperatures get into the 70’s and laundry will dry in an hour. I learned to only wash clothes on a sunny day

R is away today. She is in the deep-end with non-profit work and has several board of director meetings. She has taken the car and has promised to be back in time for me to pick up J and his friend after school at 2:30.

I start texting her at 1 to see where she is. She is notoriously late for everything. The concept of “Mexican time” - the idea that you don’t really have to be anywhere until fifteen or sixty minutes after you said you would be there - seems like it was contemplated specifically with her in mind.

Today though, she is on time and I am in the car going to pick up J and his friend from school at 2.15.  On Tuesdays, we play pickle ball at the Deportiva, a sports complex outside town. When I play on other days I walk there; it’s only a 30 minute walk. But I can’t do that with the boys. So, I pick them up from school and we are there in fifteen minutes.

Just the thought of walking 30 minutes to get somewhere probably makes people scratch their head. I know, just one year ago it would have made me laugh. I rarely had the extra time to spare.

Pickle ball is the fastest growing sport in North America, watch for it in the Olympics in our lifetime, but I never heard of it until I got to SMA. Now, I play three times a week; on Tuesday, on Thursday afternoon with friends, and on Saturday morning in a more competitive environment. I like games and like to compete, and pickle ball is what I have right now.

The best part of my pickle ball game is the beer drinking that comes after.

The best part of my pickle ball game is the beer drinking that comes after.

We had high hopes for our flying soccer player.

We had high hopes for our flying soccer player.

I used to think J could be a professional soccer player. He’s fast, smart, and athletic. But he’s not interested in that. But he’s still very coordinated and now I think he could be a professional pickle ball player. The winners of the 2018 Las Vegas Pickle Ball open won $2,000 each. In a few years it will be more and by the time J turns professional, it could be a living wage. Even though we are removed from the daily grind, R and I still have dreams for our kids’ futures.

J sits in the back seat on the drive home from pickle ball. He usually does. It’s like he still thinks he’s a toddler and isn’t allowed to sit in front.

I ask him a few questions about his day but he’s 13 and not too interested in talking to me, so I give him his space even though I am dying to wrap him up and cover his face with kisses.  I settle for telling him that I really enjoyed playing today and thank him for joining. I realize this is only going to last as long as he wants it to.

This is what 2 kilos of broccoli looks like.

This is what 2 kilos of broccoli looks like.

We’re having breaded chicken cutlets for dinner. This is something that we only started eating in Mexico but the kids really like it.  R or I will buy the cutlets at the butcher down the street in the morning after the gym and we also pick up some broccoli or string beans, and potatoes, at the vegetable stand. I like that we buy the food that we eat the same day that we eat it.

R has some work to do after her meetings so I dip the cutlets in egg and breadcrumbs and fry them. I chop the broccoli and saute it with garlic. Potatoes go in the microwave. The kids like fried potatoes too, but we have enough fried stuff tonight. Plus, we only have two frying pans and they are being used.

I listen to music while making dinner. I’ve downloaded a bunch of John Cougar Mellencamp stuff recently and listen to a record. It’s as good as it was in 1982.

J takes the dog for a walk before we eat and Coconut does the dishes afterwards. That’s the division of labor, though, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes I do both. Or R does. Teaching the kids responsibility and how to help around the house is a work in progress.

After dinner everyone goes to their room. Coconut does homework and watches stuff on her screen. J plays video games with someone online. Hopefully, not a pedophile.

J wants to sound proof his room, but R and I like hearing him talking to his friends while they are playing video games - even the curse words.

J wants to sound proof his room, but R and I like hearing him talking to his friends while they are playing video games - even the curse words.

R and I watch a few episodes of a show she likes - Grace and Frankie.  The show is about two older women who just found out their husbands have had a 20-year long sexual relationship with each other.  It’s a comedy, but it’s a bit sad, actually.

I think the lesson is that just when you think you know what you are going to do with the rest of your life, life goes in a direction that you couldn’t predict. It makes us feel fortunate to be able to be right here, right now.

Friday, February 1, 2019

On Fridays Coconut and J’s school has electives rather than academic study.  I supervise the morning gym elective - which has nine or ten kids, including J. It’s as close as I guess I will ever get to being a gym teacher.

To say I teach the gym class, though, is too much.  I mostly stand around and make sure the kids don’t get hurt by doing things that are fun but that are also kind of stupid, like tossing a bottle in the air and then throwing rocks at it.

In the past, all “gym class” ever did was play soccer. We still do some of that, but I’ve introduced some other things. We play stick ball (with a broomstick and tennis ball), kickball, and football, and have also done some track and field type stuff - standing long jump, running long jump, fifty-yard dash - that I remember doing in gym class when I was young. The kids seem to like it, and are excited because I told them I’m looking around town for a javelin.

Because javelins cost nearly $200 USD, I ordered a practice javelin (hence the rubber tip) for a lot less. It looked a lot cooler in the pictures online. We had fun throwing it in class anyway.

Because javelins cost nearly $200 USD, I ordered a practice javelin (hence the rubber tip) for a lot less. It looked a lot cooler in the pictures online. We had fun throwing it in class anyway.

It’s a ten minute walk to the field and when we get there the boys want to challenge a group of Mexicans shooting a basketball around. One of the boys approaches and makes the challenge in Spanish. Before long everyone is running up and down the court.

Even though most of the Mexicans are my age or older, I don’t play. So far in gym class I’ve pulled my hamstring racing against J in the 50-yard dash and smashed my nose into his head trying to catch a pop-up in kickball. I’ve decided it is safer for me to just observe.

The game is fast-paced in a disorganized way, but everyone is respectful and has fun. The Mexicans win 10-2 and everyone laughs when I raise the arm of one of the older Mexican woman who put on a ball-handling clinic and declare her “la estrella del partido” (the star of the game.)

Afterwards the boys - who range in age from 10 to 15 - create their own obstacle course on the playground and try to get from one piece of equipment to another without stepping on the ground which, of course, is lava.

On the walk back to the school a local drug addict latches on to us. He looks like hell and smells like glue and once we get rid of him, we have a pretty good discussion about the dangers of that type of lifestyle. There seem to be a lot of glue-sniffers in San Miguel, I guess because it is a cheap way to get high.

I learned how to say “way cool” in Spanish. Padrissimo!

I learned how to say “way cool” in Spanish. Padrissimo!

After I drop the kids back at school, I hustle over to my friend Ben’s house and together we walk to Spanish class - stopping for a fresh squeezed juice on the way. One of the goals I had in moving to Mexico was to learn better Spanish. After a year though, my Spanish hasn’t improved. It’s no surprise because mostly I hang out with gringos. To remedy that, I recently enrolled in a class with two friends. We go Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for two hours each day.

I stop at the butcher on the way home to pick up chicken livers and hearts for Charley - our dog. We started mixing her dog food with chicken parts a few months ago. It’s supposed to be better for her and maybe it is even cheaper.

A big bag of Kirkland dog food that will last a few weeks costs almost $50 USD while a kilo of chicken livers and hearts (the butcher will also throw in chicken skins for free) is less than $5 and will feed her for three or four days. I don’t really know if it is cheaper, but she sure does like it better than round, hard pellets of turkey flavored kibble.

Our dog Charley thinks chicken  hearts are “padrissimo.”

Our dog Charley thinks chicken hearts are “padrissimo.”

By the time I get home I’m hungry enough to eat the stuff raw, but instead I have some leftover chicken wrapped around bacon, spinach, and cheese that R made the other night. The kids get out of school at one on Friday and even though it is 1.30, no one is home. I know R took J shopping for shorts and Coconut is probably gone out with her friends to one of the coffee shops they hang out at.

One of the things we like about SMA is that the kids can and do walk to most of the places they want to go. Coconut takes advantage of this by going to her friends’ or out to a cafe several times a week after school. We ask that she WhatsApp us to let us know where she is and then walk home in time for dinner. Rarely do we have to pick her up. In fact, we don’t often have to take the car out during the week.

A few weeks ago there was a gas shortage in our area of Mexico. The incoming president was taking steps to eliminate gas theft from the pipelines that has been going on for decades and halted deliveries until things could be sorted out.  There were gas station lines that stretched a mile down the road and lasted for hours. Several of our friends waited more than five hours to get half a tank of gas.

Even though we can walk just about anywhere we need to go, having a car made us a bit lazy. The gas shortage helped R and me re-evaluate how much time we were spending in the car. We are walking more now.

To kill some time I go to our room - always the brightest and warmest room in the house - and  read a few chapters in a book called “We Shall be Free.” It’s a memoir by a family who overlanded in Africa. It’s a good inspiration for the memoir that I am working on about our travels in our VW camper a few years ago.

When I hear Coconut come in, I go downstairs and get her a snack and we chat while she eats. We talk about her classes, her friends, and summer plans. She’s going to spend the night at her friend’s house but has to do some homework first. I offer to walk Charley for her in exchange for her doing the dishes in the sink.

R and I walk Coconut to her friend’s house and then go to a Lebanese place that we have been wanting to try for dinner.  San Miguel is very cosmopolitan and has all kinds of restaurants. We don’t go out much, though. It’s not because it is expensive, but mostly because we eat well at home. Tonight, dinner and a few drinks costs 400 pesos (about $20).

Afterwards, R and I walk through the main plaza and to a churro and hot chocolate place for dessert. A churro is a fried and sweetened piece of dough, and we get three and a hot chocolate and sit in the plaza of a nearby church. It’s fairly quiet for a Friday night. The temperature is in the fifties, so it’s comfortable with a light jacket.

We walk home around 10 p.m.. J has spent the night playing video games online with his friends. He made himself tuna for dinner. Though, later, I learn that he just opened and ate two cans without fixing them.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

I got a call on Saturday night from the best pickle ball player in San Miguel. He was inviting me to a game at 8:30 on Sunday, which I accepted. I don’t often get to play against such a good caliber of players and even though I’m the worst player on the court, I’m not so bad that anyone is rolling their eyes. At 10:30, we go from the pickle ball court to the soccer field.

Since we arrived last January, we have been playing an all-ages, co-ed soccer game on Sunday mornings with several other families.  Because San Miguel is somewhat a transient place, different families have joined and moved on over the course of the year. But the five families that call ourselves “regulars” look forward to “sportsball” every week. It was originally envisioned that we could play any number of games, and a few times we did play football or kickball, but now we just play soccer.

Part of our Sunday morning “sportsball” crew.

Part of our Sunday morning “sportsball” crew.

Even though we’ve got kids as young as 8 years old we still play a fairly competitive game, involving lots of running. Today it is even more so because some of the older kids from the kids’ school have come out for the first time. They are young and fast and good and us older folks have a hard time keeping up. But we try.

The combination of 2 hours of pickle ball and 2 hours of soccer has me worn out, but R has made plans for us to have lunch with some people in town. Rather than relaxing for the rest of the day until we go to the Super Bowl party we’ve been invited to attend, we come home, shower, and are immediately back out. The restaurant is a short walk.

The people we are meeting are not here for pleasure. A few months ago, their parents were visiting San Miguel as a place to move when they died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their Airbnb. Their sons are here to take the bodies back to the U.S. after the investigation has finally concluded. It’s tragic. R knew the couple well from our time in Alexandria and has arranged for a place for Carl and Eric to stay free of charge while they are in town to take care of the final details before they can finally take their parents home.

R and I got to spend time getting to know Eric and Carl - one good thing that resulted from their tragedy.

R and I got to spend time getting to know Eric and Carl - one good thing that resulted from their tragedy.

Despite the sad circumstances, we have a nice lunch and invite the guys to join us at the Super Bowl party later in the afternoon. We hustle home to make cornbread to bring to the party and they go off to get beer and wine.   

We pick them up at 4:30 on our walk to the party at Ben and Lori’s and shoot the shit for an hour until the game starts. There are about 40 people at the party and nobody wants the Patriots to win, but they do.

The view from bed each morning.

The view from bed each morning.

Coconut has skipped the party - she’s not a football fan or a party fan, either - so J carries the big bowl of chili that Ben has sent us home with. We used to eat dinner with Ben and Lori and a few other families at least once a week, but we don’t do that anymore. I guess everyone has gotten so busy. Really, the life of an expat is just like the life of anyone else. The main difference is that I don’t go to work 40 hours a week. I have to fill my time with other, meaningful, endeavors.

In that sense, I’m a little sad that football season is over. I enjoyed going to my friend Scott’s on Sunday afternoon after “sportsball” and watching the games. Now that’s over and we have to figure out something else to do. I told Scott and the other guys that I’m going to start a Sunday afternoon book club. They can come over, we’ll read a chapter or two in whatever book we are reading, and then take a nap.