kites and boomerangs and signs, oh my!

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“Throw your dream into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, or a new country.” ~ Anais Nin

I just recently came across this Anais Nin quote. It took me by surprise because for one, I am a fan of hers and I had never seen the quote before. And secondly, because whenever I am stumped about which direction to go in my life – I use the term boomerangs.

For example, when I was looking for a job in 2010, I could not decide if I should stay in Chicago, move to Mexico or somewhere else in the states. So, I left it up to my boomerangs. I applied for jobs in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Mexico. I threw out the boomerangs to the universe and waited for them to return. I figured whichever boomerang returned was where I was supposed to be going. Yup that’s me…always looking for a sign.

I waited and waited. For six months I waited. No one in the states so much as called me for a phone interview. But job after job in Mexico called or emailed me with employment opportunities. So I finally said yes to the Mexico boomerang. I rented my condo, put my possessions in storage and wished my family and friends a temporary adios!

My boomerang had brought me a new life and a new country! And unknown to me at the time, but it was also going to bring me a new love and many new friends! A new exciting chapter was waiting for me! And all because I had been willing to throw out my boomerangs!

Therefore, it was interesting and surprising to me to find this quote. I guess it isn’t only me who is always looking for signs for the next step in life’s journey. And the symbolism can be a kite, a boomerang or a neon sign. All that matters is that you are looking for the signs and when they arrive you heed their message.  Whether that means you go to Mexico or you write a blog or los dos…hahaha…

money – easy come easy go

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Mexico was beautiful. I loved living there. The people, the culture, the beach, the food and most of all the laid backness of it all. But making money there was difficult. I often times found myself looking at my paycheck wondering where all my money had gone and how was I going to stretch it to the next quincena (pay period). Plus, wages for jobs are nowhere near western standards. Luckily, the cost of living, such as housing, food and utilities is also low.

But somehow one could never seem to catch up. And most definitely, one could never save up enough to get ahead. Even those of us who were visa holders and could legally work had difficulties with money. The expats who worked illegally had it worse because they usually got paid less. Only if you had a roommate, spouse or significant other could you make it work. However, if you were a western tourist or if you lived off of western money, as some expats did…well then you were golden. Your money went a lot farther.

This video gives a lovely example of the dichotomy between living and visiting Mexico. The video is in Spanish, but I think the movie plot is still understandable. Enjoy…

vaso o taza? oh hell just give me a copa!

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Sitting this evening at one of my favorite tapas restaurants, I was enjoying wonderful sangria! Of course, I was also practicing my Spanish with the waitstaff. I practice whenever I can because I fear getting rusty and losing everything I learned.

And while some of it came fairly easy – uno, dos, tres; agua; como estas, etc. The rest came with much difficulty. And embarrassment I might add. Or at least mild discomfort. I spent my first two weeks in Mexico ordering apple juice – jugo de manzana – because I could not say orange juice properly. In case you are wondering – it’s jugo de naranja. Something about the n sound coupled with the j sounding like an h tripped up my tongue. And of course I had the syllable in the wrong place.

I would like to add here that the Moors brought the word naranja to Spain and it was not an existing Spanish word. Some people have pointed out that could have been my issue with the words naranja and toronja (grapefruit). I’m good with that explanation. I have no problem blaming the Moors for my pronounciation issues. Really just kidding here 🙂

Other times, however, I did only have myself to blame. I had a hard time remembering words that were similar but not the same. It’s like when you meet two people at the same time named Mary and Maria – you keep messing up their names. And friends…was my issue with vaso and taza.

Vaso means glass and taza means cup/mug. Pretty easy right? Wrong! I was always saying vasa or tazo (I think that was Starbucks’ fault and their Tazo tea). It became easier to order a bottle of water (botella de agua) or a glass of wine (copa de vino). Copa is any glass with a stem. For some reason I had no problem remembering that! hahaha…

Finally, I learned how to remember the two words and use them appropriately. In a very silly manner, I might add. In the word vasova means go in Spanish hence the ‘o’ ending in go, so vaso. I know – silly. But it worked. It’s similar to remembering the name of the Great Lakes through their acronym HOMES – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Sometimes, you just need a little clue.

My Mexican friends thought this was hilarious. They could not understand my inability to differentiate between glass and cup. Of course, when they put it like that – it did seem silly. But then I would politely remind them of the words that they confused in English that were not confusing to me. For example, in Spanish, historia refers to history and story. My friend A was always telling me he had a great history to tell me. It took me a couple of times to realize he had a great story to tell me, usually juicy gossip.

Also, in Spanish to lend or borrow both derive from the verb prestar. Needless to say, in English, you don’t usually go around saying – “He borrowed me some money.” Usually at this point, we would all bust out laughing! Thankful we could communicate in one language and somehow be understood in the other. As well as grateful that we could make mistakes and learn from each other.

This evening at the tapas restaurant, the waiter complimented me on my Spanish – “Tu español es muy bueno.” His kind words made me smile, partly with pride and partly with remembrance of my time in Mexico. At this point, we decided to order more sangria. But we wanted a pitcher. Oh crap, how do you say pitcher in Spanish?! Not again! Oh hell, just bring me a copa! I promise I will know how to say pitcher next time I come.

are your squirrels squeaking?

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Son sus ardillas chirridos??

I have always been fascinated with languages! All of them! I even had a small stint in grammar school with sign language. Communicating with others in a variety of languages and methods was exciting to me. Plays on words and alternate meanings made language so much more alive!

However, it wasn’t always this way. My first language is Croatian and I did not learn English until kindergarten. Needless to say that was a taxing experience. So much so, that I managed to forget the first 5 years of my existence. But, I rebounded quite nicely according to my mom. And after three months, I was running around the house singing – “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream” – to anyone who would listen.

This fascination also extended to clichĂ©s and idioms. I once had a boyfriend who accused me of using too many clichĂ©s in my every day speech and writing. I remember at the time (much younger and less confident) feeling hurt. Maybe it was due to my love of languages or history. Maybe it was due to being a daughter of immigrants and so I grasped on to anything that made me seem more American. It did make me wonder why…

When I decided to go to Mexico, I began learning Spanish. There was textbook Spanish, Mexican Spanish, texting Spanish and don’t even get me started on doble sentido (that’s for another post). But there were also clichĂ©s and idioms. I was overwhelmed and excited. Sometimes I was even accused of liking those expressions more than regular Spanish. But I was older now and more confident, I realized I liked these very expressions for their history and colorfulness.

I mean isn’t it more fun to ask are your squirrels squeaking (son sus ardillas chirridos?) than do your armpits smell? Or are your dogs barking rather than do your feet hurt? I’m just sayin….

in the beginning….

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I’m sure you’re wondering how does one become an expat living in Mexico. Well, in my case, first you take one part Master’s Degree; add a study abroad program in Chiapas, Mexico; throw in a pinch of coffee lover and double dose on the most amazing beach and presto…magico…one expat living in Mexico!

Of course, it really wasn’t that easy. But that’s how it started three years ago today. More to come…