Ain’t It Awful?

Beryl Gorbman

(public domain pic)

We longer-term expats sometimes sit around in weather like this (over 100 degrees fahrenheit for weeks), wondering exactly why it is we moved here and why other northamericans continue to do so. Why come to this place that is so foreign, where the weather is so alien, where it’s harder to do routine things like pay bills, where your electrician doesn’t show up when he says he will, where every house repair (and there are SO many of them) is a huge deal?

Why oh why did we think it would be romantic and elegant to live in one of the majestic colonial homes downtown when the thing turns out to be a constant money sponge what with deteriorating cement, peeling paint, bad plumbing and really bad electricity?

We may or may not be interested in learning the language of the land. If we don’t learn it (and it’s so hard), we can’t read the paper and know what’s really going on around us, or talk to our neighbors. This increases our isolation and need to congregate almost exclusively with each other. And many of us don’t really like each other.

We talk idly about all the people (like us) who came here for a lower cost of living and then realize that by buying air conditioners, arrugula and special cheeses, we are driving our costs right back up to where they were before we moved. We notice that a chicken costs as much here in the store as it does in New York or San Francisco and that although we are the tropics, it is hard to find a good cup of coffee. Gasoline prices are similar to those in the USA (high) and our electricity bills are gargantuan.

The terrain outside the city is featureless and ugly, a thin soil layer that supports only scrub trees. There are plenty of bees, termites, scorpions, snakes and millions of mosquitos that make forays into the city and find us. It’s a war.

Locusts in Campestre

And most of the food just does not measure up.

The sandwichon. Revolting or interesting?

Yes, there are those archaeological sites that all those tourists come to see, but how many times can you visit piles of rocks or museums? It isn’t exactly Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. And the crumbling haciendas, the smelly unrefrigerated markets, the unhealthy animals, it’s all just too foreign.

Unrefigerated meat market

Is there a paradise out there somewhere?

Why do we willingly, subject ourselves to these extremely high temperatures and horrible humidity? It is so hot that even our air conditioners sometimes get discouraged and give up. So hot that when you are sitting in a breezy room with two fans blowing on you, trying to read a book, sweat keeps falling onto the pages. So hot that most of us know we have to get everything outside the house done before 10:30 AM because after that it’s awful even walking from your car to the store entrance.

We find our life rhythms controlled by the weather. Shall we go out to eat? Does the restaurant have good A/C? Do they have anything we would actually enjoy eating? Is it too hot to cook?

And that’s just the beginning of it. Those of us who have put a lot into our homes are in a constant state of suspended anger because our decorator is falling down on the job and charging us exhorbitant amounts for items we are beginning to suspect are not, in fact, imports.

And there is no question that our “architects” made mistakes when restoring our bits of colonial heaven. Things don’t work. Lights are installed backwards. The electricity isn’t even grounded, for god’s sake.

We cannot get good dependable help to polish the “pasta” tiles on our floors. We bough a pound of ground sirloin at Mega and it smelled bad by the time we got home. Last night there was no electricity. Very few people speak English and when they say they don’t understand us, we suspect they really do. And speaking of the help, why can’t they be responsible and call if they can’t come? Sometimes, when we are expecting guests, this is calamitous. And why is it they sometimes ask us for loans? We can’t be expected to support their extravagant lifestyes.

Traffic is awful. The drivers are rude.

And even our own community won’t behave. Some of them are mean, self-serving liars spreading awful rumors about others. How can they attack obviously well-motivated, charming people who allow us to be helpful to the unfortunate masses by paying to enjoy elite cultural events we would never be invited to in New York? And why do members of our communty gather into little clusters like high schoolers and create exclusive groups? And criticize each other’s lifestyles?

And how about the villages just minutes from our doors? Those aggregations of hovels with dirt floors on squalid little bits of land that are dry and barren. It’s depressing to go there – the places are to be avoided. Can’t the government do something?

Crumbling hacienda

And you can’t tell one village from the other. I mean really, what’s the difference between one and another – there’s always a church, a ratty looking zocalo and a bunch of awful little stores and sometimes a pitifully deficient “museum.” Outside of that, there are the unpainted, untended, depressing looking houses with only enough food for that day, with no refrigerators or even running water. Children in tatters laughing at us. Men staring at us wordlessly.

Scary village people (?)

Why do we put up with this? Why are we here? Yes it’s true our retirement income goes a bit further here. Rents can be lower if you look carefully, food is cheaper if you eat rice and beans, and you can afford to pay a housecleaner here and there to clean those damned floors. But is it really worth it?

Yucatan: Is it a hellhole or is it wonderful? Can we look at the villages, the haciendas, the old plumbing fixtures, the food and everything else in a different way? Is it possible, that with very little money, we can enjoy free concerts, form rich friendships with local people, cook chaya, and see some unbelievably beautiful and fascinating sights? And is it possible that an application of a sense of humor can get us through many of the petty situations that we might find annoying?

Look around.

Drying henequen and transporting it on narrow-gauge tracks

Chac-mool, Chichen Itza

Cathedral, downtown Merida

Merida cafe au lait

Fruit flowers, at carnaval

Women of Poxila

Village house

Homeowner, Sisal

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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10 Responses to Ain’t It Awful?

  1. Jessie Dye says:

    Or you could live here in Seattle where we haven’t seen the sun since four months ago when we were in Merida, rain is twice normal, and everything is covered with mold.

  2. Grant says:

    Beryl,

    I’m just howling. I thought I was reading William Lawson’s blog for a minute.
    I think your article is more about the human condition than about any particular place they inhabit.

    Nice photos.

  3. Rummy says:

    Your self-puncturing, anti-posturing, inverted diatribe is just fab. Much better than some recent sanctimonious, smirky, aren’t-we-just-a-better-grade-of-gringos, “travelcades” I’ve read and grimaced upon lately. I feel like you hear these whines and whinges around you, and use an inclusively-self-deprecating humour combined with a good ole Spockishly-raised eyebrow to lampoon these neo-neurotic colonialists, and slap them with a much-needed attitude adjustment on why they’re there and not elsewhere. Muchas Gracias

  4. suk says:

    I heard this month is hot & dry. Houston is hot & dry but not 100F. Well, stay in the pool, drink ice cold beer & take cold shower. Still I love Merida. Lol

  5. Jeanne Sather says:

    Beryl–marvelous rant. I am so glad you didn’t try to wrap it all up for us with a nice bow …

    Jeanne

  6. Well, at least you don’t have tornadoes. (just hurricanes)

    Nice grousing. Everyone has unique problems with the weather… and weather is climate. http://thinkprogress.org/2011/04/29/climate-science-tornadoes/

    This may be a good time to know about an emergency web site for finding people after climate emergencies… setup by the Red Cross:
    https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php

  7. Pablo Villaroel says:

    Countries like Mexico should outlaw expats. Or they should require them to take a test to be allowed to stay more than six months. Spanish language, Mexican history, local culture, local cuisine, etc. They don’t have to be experts, but the test scores should show that they have at least made an effort to have learned enough and be interested enough to possibly make some contribution to their host country. Same goes for Costa Rica, Ecuador, many other expat destinations. Otherwise, you have a bunch of parasites who inflate prices, insult people (intentionally or not) and are rude when things don’t go the way they think they should.
    Yes, you can say they contribute to the local economy. How? By paying a few servants? By hiring construction workers and builders who put real estate in a new, unrealistic strata? By paying very young people for sex and corrupting families?
    Long-term visas should require background checks too.
    If they can’t appreciate what we have here – honor our pride and our culture – they should go home and be miserable there.

    • Wow. (re: comment above)
      And just so my readers know, this mail is from someone I do not know. Not who you might think it is. I am not trying to start another war of words, but I thought it was important to read this.

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