Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bigger is not Always Better

Sometimes bigger is just bigger.

In Mexico, while it has everything a person could want to buy, eat or do. The people are not friendly in our area. In 9 months I have met 3 people. Yes, you read it right… 3 people. My BELIZEAN Spanish teacher, a BELIZEAN massage therapist and one neighbor who is originally from the city of Merida, a very friendly place. That’s it.

At first I attributed it to the fact that in the beginning I didn’t get out much, I was very focused on setting up my studio and painting. I have to remind myself, I always get what I want. On Caye Caulker I suffered from Noseyneighboritis, people always up into my business. People love to talk here, and there is a fine line between gossip and information, and I have to admit, I participated in the listening and the saying. But what it comes down to is I really need a very quiet controlled environment to do my best work. I can’t be talking, answering the phone or having interruptions. I am the most like my father in that attribute. I need mental space.

When we moved to Mexico it was to a middle class neighborhood of modest homes with two working parents and live-in Guatemalan maids. I felt the open mouth stares from behind closed drapes as we would exit the 10 foot high security/privacy fence to drive somewhere in the car.

“There goes the neighborhood” I imagined them saying to themselves. A white lady and a giant BELIZEAN! What is the world coming to?

My best friend became the pug dog living next door who would only growl at me if I spoke English, but he would try and talk to me if I spoke Spanish. He told me that he was lonely and could he please have a piece of chicken?

I found myself shopping at Chedraui, looking for white ladies to crash my cart into, just for conversation. That's really weird, and I know it, you don't have to tell me.

So, I really got what I wanted. I wanted peace and quiet, and no interfering neighbors, no one calling me bothering me, taking up my time, trying to get me involved in their constant small town drama. I wanted to lower my cost of living, and live in a safe neighborhood (remember my best friend the machette). But life is not perfect. And you don’t know what you got ‘til its gone.

I’m back on Caye Caulker for a few days taking a break from Mexico and to do inventory at the stores selling my artwork and prints. I’m here to TALK. AND TALK AND TALK, as I sit on the street side verandah and people call out to me walking past, in their bikes and golf carts cruising…

"Eeeey! Miss Lee Ann, when you come back?"

"Miss Lee Ann, where you been?"

"Miss Lee Miss Lee Miss Lee, how come I neva de see you again?"

"Miss Lee Ann how you like Mexico?"

"Miss Lee Miss Lee, bring me some ah dat cheap food from Mexico!"

"Miss Lee, I gonna come see you in Mexico!"

"Miss Lee Ann how yu like Mak Donals?"

“I like Burger King better” I reply

“OFF OFF OFF” the little kids chanted on the street as the electricity flickered on for a moment and then browned out again.

Caye Caulker in the dark with no boom boxes or lights, people sounds only, no machines. Its nice. I’m fine, I can operate on batteries for quite a while. There is a breeze blowing, no need for a fan.

“Shutup gial!” I hear a tired mother trying to run a restaurant without current hushes her daughter who is happy and excited about another power outage. "This current jussa harass mi!" To kids its fun, but to businesses its a killer.

“Gial, current gaaan agayn” Bigness booms from the bedroom where he was watching Belize TV news discussing the Maya alliance and their conflict with central government over land rights, titles and leases. This problem is not unique only to Belize, it is this way all over the world, indigenous people treated like immigrants and immigrants treated like royalty.

Current back on for a few minutes, I’m ready to plug again and down down down the lights go. I stay unplugged during these episodes until I’m sure its safe. I don’t like the effect that the power surge has on my things and we all know that the electricity company never wants to take responsibility for damage from power outages, brownouts and spikes.

“Gial, the TV cure itself” Bigness announces from the bedroom. As the power goes back on.

One good thing that came from this power outage is, the sound on the TV in the master bedroom magically started working again. For 3 days Bigness has been lip reading the news and watching 12 Corezones, and doing, of all things… reading. I told him the "sound out" was practice for when he goes deaf, and then instantly felt guilty for saying it. It got a chuckle out of him, he LOVES my insults. I know, that's weird too, you don't have to tell me. If my 74-year-old mother heard me say that to my husband, she would wash my mouth out with Fels Naptha soap.

Now that the current is back on the only thing standing between Bigness and Caso Cerrado is that the cable TV company isn’t back online yet.

I feel like telling Bigness to hit it with a hammer to see if he can make it work. That’s my father’s personality in me and something I heard him say over and over facetiously as I was growing up with a self-taught mechanical genius. But I stifle it.

We go like this in fits and streaks. Current will be good good good for months, and then blip blap blam, its off. We are not experiencing the blackouts that San Pedro and villages on the mainland are, due to the fact that our juice comes from 3 giant diesel engines on the back side of the island. We are not hooked up to the national grid, and I don’t know if we really want to be either. Given that the majority of Belize’s electricity comes from a national grid that is supplied by Mexico, and Mexican hydroelectric power is at a low due to less rain this year. The Mexican newspaper announced that there will be power outages as they are not able to keep up with demand. I’m o.k. with the 3 diesel engines on the back side of the island and marvel sometimes at how very reliable our current is.

If I have to be anywhere in the world when the electricity goes off, it would be Caye Caulker with its people noise and the sound of palm trees in the breeze.

So, during my self imposed exile I created many many many little things. With this economic climate people don’t want to spend much money, so if any sales are made, they are the smaller pieces. I have new jewelry and small paintings. I’m now creating a silk self matt for these 10” x 10” silk paintings. They are available online (soon to be offered on my website) and at River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, Michigan, in Belize at Pretty Ethnic in San Pedro, Caesar’s Place in San Ignacio, Fine Arts in Belize City, Los Cocos Cantina on Caye Caulker, and Art-n-Soul in Placencia. The price for a framed painting at River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, Michigan is $97.00. I am offering them unframed in Belize for $47.50 U.S. and for an internet sale add $30 U.S. for shipping.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Living La Vida Boca

Prior to moving to Chetumal Mexico I searched the internet for a Spanish school in Chetumal, to no avail. An acquaintance found me a private tutor, a Belizean man studying at the university and living in Chetumal. So at least once I week I get my Spanish class, which is tailored to what I need to survive here. I couldn’t imagine sitting through a public Spanish class and asking the teacher… “Como se dice ‘Do you have hormone cream for menopause’ in Espanole?”

How do you say “I am 48 and learning a new language.” In Spanish?

My first meeting with the Spanish Teacher established that I knew quite a few words, which made me proud. My pronunciation and grammar were, let’s say, not as good as the 3 year old who lives in the house behind us. I am unlearning all the bad Spanish grammar and pronunciation taught to me by Bigness so that people won’t laugh (and call me an idiot to my face) or get that puzzled look on their face which tells me “we think she is saying Spanish words, but what are they?” Bigness thinks my Spanish is already good enough, all he has to do now is to teach me the curse words.

My one saving grace is that I don’t care how stupid I sound. No, really, I don’t. And when I get real frustrated I revert to English, which has a startling effect on sales personnel (especially when I use the phase “No speaky Spanish” and turn my palms up). A couple of times the have answered me in English. And I wonder why they couldn’t have put me out of my misery a little sooner.

I came here with some misconceptions. I assumed I would start out asking questions in my mush mouth Spanish and invariably I would get an answer in English. I assumed that if the clerk didn’t understand me, he or she would find someone to interpret. I think every foreign country should be this nice when dealing with egotistical English speakers. NOT SO. Big new to me: in Mexico they speak SPANISH and in Chetumal, Mexico which borders an English speaking country, they have just started teaching English in High School THIS YEAR. Nobody is busting out in English here to rescue me when I refer to MYSELF as ustedes. For the non-Spanish speaker, a rough translation is that, I have a bad habit of referring to myself as YOU in the plural form. I just blunder through with my 100 phrases adapted and borrowed from. I just describe the thing if I don’t know the word for it, the colors, the size, and eventually someone understands my kitchen Spanish. I've stopped caring how ridiculous I sound when I point to the door and call it a window, because maybe someday “me talk pretty”. Yes, I actually pointed to the door at Sam’s Club and said “Abierto la ventana, por favor” and they opened the door, even though I had just called it a window. See... I’m making progress.

So now Bigness and I play a game when we are out shopping. I do all the talking – in SPANISH. And I only talk to him in ENGLISH and I act as a mentally challenegged interpreter for him. He lets me know how close I am to understanding what they are really saying. I get more respect that way, no one clicking their teeth at me. I would like to think it is because my Spanish is improving, but down deep I know it is because my ham fisted 6 foot 4 inch husband is so scary looking. I make excuses for myself trying to joke in Spanish and explain to the unsuspecting taxi driver or store clerk that my school for spanish is the telenovella (Spanish soap opera), it sometimes gets a chuckle, but most of the time I get a worried look.