YUCATAN YENTA CROSSES THE LINE
I realized this week for the first time that I am more comfortable here than in the USA. This has taken years to change.
A few days ago, I went to Gran Plaza, paid my CFE (electricity bill) on their spiffy new machine, paid my property tax at the little module in the corridor, and my water bill at the booth outside CFE using the impressive huge machine (that also allows you to renew your drivers license). All the machines have attendants if you need help.
Then I strolled over to Cablemas (at the mall entrance to Sears) and paid my cable bill.
I knew that if I ran out of cash, there were several banks only steps away, all with cash machines that I could use with my Wells Fargo debit card.
Then, I bought a map in Burrell and went to Mega to buy a cucumber for my birds.
I remember not too long ago when any or all of these activities would have been the causes of some degree of anxiety and an exhaustive process of reviewing all the steps in advance. I would have bookmarked key words in my head and compulsively examined all the paperwork to make sure everything was in place. In fact, I did these errands spur of the moment and didn’t even have my predial (property tax bill) with me – the nice lady looked it up on her computer.
And after all these fun errands, I walked across the parking lot and had an Americano at Starbucks and looked at my new map. Special note: the Starbucks on the Circuito next to Chapur is infinitely better than the one in Gran Plaza. Next time I got to Gran Plaza, I’ll visit one of the Mexican espresso places in the mall. The trouble with those shops is that it’s hard to avoid the temptation of coconut vanilla coffee frappes.
In the USA, you can pay all your bills by mail or online, of course, but there is a certain comfort about seeing the transaction done and getting a receipt. In the USA, if I go to the grocery store to get a cucumber, it is probably not near the place where I pay bills or buy a map. In Merida, if I have questions about my property tax, I don’t have to go through an endless loop voicemail system – I can ask the employee with the computer where I pay taxes. AND, in the USA, I do NOT get a discount for paying early like I do here.
As it was still early on the drive home, there were plenty of news vendors on the Paseo and I waved one down and asked for a “Yuca.” (El Diario de Yucatan). I keep change in the car especially for newspapers and the red-rag guys (aka “viene vienes”) who are everywhere.
Here in Yucatan, you can pay some of this stuff over the internet, but those systems are new and I don’t know anyone who uses them. Yet. People want to pay them in person. Just like they all walk their kids to school and pick them up. Just like they prepare meals without using modern short cuts (as much).
The other day I went to Immigration to renew my FM-3 visa. I’ve done it enough times now that everything was in order. When I got to the dreaded Inner Room of Unpleasant Employees, the young woman smiled and admired my haircut and “rayos” and asked where I’d had it done. I, in turn, admired her nails, and we exchanged critical information.
When I got home, all the parking spots were taken on my block, but Jose, our red-rag guy told me to park at the yellow curb and he’d ring us when a good space was available.
All the transactions here feel human and good natured, unlike the USA where I am more likely to be snapped at or cut off the phone line by some rude phantom.
But it’s more than shopping, haircuts, and paying bills. It’s the whole ambience It’s even more than going to the beach whenever I want to, not freezing or having to drive everywhere, being able to watch the Cuban National Ballet, and eat mangos every single day at reasonable prices. I can walk down the streets here after dark in comparative safety. Plus we can find opportunities to directly help out in people’s lives instead of going through United Way. Teaching English, making desks and tables for kids, taking a family to the circus, having neighborhood parties, taking people shopping, helping with the care of elderly neighbors, taking pictures of family events and presenting an album, it goes on and on. Life is Good.
In all fairness, when we lived in the USA, we didn’t have enough time to pay bills directly or do nice stuff for people. However, even if we did have time, it simply isn’t customary in the USA, without some superstructure, to do these things. We have less feeling of community than we do here.
Tomorrow early in the day, I’ll walk down to the agricultural area of the central market, on Calle 54 between 65 and 67 and visit the Casa de Campesinos for raisins and pecans for the bread I make, and sunflower seeds for my cardinal. This place makes supermarket prices look like a bad joke and the raisins are big, fat, wonderful things. I’m thinking of buying some bulk peanuts and trying my hand at peanut butter.
I don’t look forward to my trips to the USA any more. I love seeing my family, but it seems so sterile there. People don’t say hello on the street, and juicy raisins don’t exist. Pollo asado is a yuppy specialty food found wilting in high-end food stores instead of bubbling right off the grill. And there are no little parades marching around at unexpected times, no music in the air, and all the colors are oh so bland.
I used to say that the things I missed most about Seattle were my family and friends, newspapers, movies, coffee, Japanese and Korean food, and books. Now there is good coffee is here. It’s a little hard to get, but it’s here. I’m buying an Amazon Kindle book reader which I hope helps with the reading material problem. I can ALMOST read the El Diario and there’s always the New York Times online. On the other hand, my family and friends don’t visit enough, their are no “films,” and the Japanese and Korean restaurants I will just have to let go. Poor me.