Friday, August 31, 2012

Our Living Quarters

We are settling into our new space fairly comfortably. Until yesterday we have had only one room, instead of the two we were expecting, because Mama had been using the second room as storage and the job of cleaning it out was too big for her to do alone. Homero and Estalin (my brother in law) spent all day yesterday moving boxes and boxes of clothes, blankets, books, and assorted small appliances, electronics, etc. Mama is a bit of a pack rat, and she is certainly a world-class clothes horse. She has more clothing than anyone else I know, and a lot of it is beautiful traditional costumes.

Here is Homero's and my room:

As you can see we have our computer set up, and some closet space (the washing machine doesn't work, we are using it as a clothes hamper/table). Homero's guitars are on Ivory's bed. It took her a while, but Iovry learned to climb the wrought-iron spiral staircase and come upstairs to sleep with us. 

The same room from the other side. The bed is a double - at home we are accustomed to a king, but I find I am rather enjoying the closer quarters with my husband. We have a tiny little Romeo and Juliet balcony, which is just large enough to stand on and watch the kids playing soccer in the street. Perhaps someday my husband will serenade me, and I can come out on the balcony and toss him down a white flower or whatever the signal is that means "okay, come on up and get some." 

This is the balcony outside the room. It's a great space; wide enough for a table and chairs, roofed but unwalled, with a view of the big green hills that bulk up the northern horizon. Here is where I set up our little "school" for the girls. It's simply a table with our supplies stacked on it, separated into the categories  "math," "science," "language arts," and "fun and games." On the wall there is a schedule and every day we list the lessons we did that day.

Gotta run, more later

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Arrival (Photos)

Twenty-one days since we left our house, fourteen of them on the road. That's how long it takes four people and a dog to get from Bellingham to Oaxaca in a dodge caravan that has well over 200,000 miles on it.

It turned out we didn't have to rent a van in Saltillo. Once again, Homero fixed the van. Don't ask me what it was this time, because I don't know. Something about a badly soldered wire and a faulty connection between the computer and the transmission.

We limped into Oaxaca about 7:30 last night, where of course everyone was waiting for us. Mama made chicken soup and mole, and had both cold beer and hot coffee. Real food! I was so happy; we'd been subsisting off of puro bimbo for days. I'll make a whole post about road food in the future, for now I'll just say that gas station food in Mexico is worse than gas station food in the states.

Homero's brother Ulises and his family came by, and although his sister, Temy, is out of town, her daughters were here as well. The house was full of cousins running around and playing while we recounted the horrors of our trip. Bed early. Homero's still asleep. 

Keeping the children amused in the car was not really so hard. I packed a big bag full of homeschooling books and games (more on that later) and we had lessons as we went along. The iphones, of course, and the ipod were a big help. And as you can see, the kids came up with their own ideas on how to pass the time.

Frequent rest stops were a must - not just to let everyone stretch their legs, but to rest the cars as well. We spent about an hour on the side of the road here waiting for our brake pads to cool down. It wasn't the wisest choice, perhaps, to go from Hermosillo to Chihuahua through the Sierra. Two full days of unrelenting hairpin curves and steep ups and downs. Twelve or fourteen hours to go 450 miles. 

Also, 450 miles of spectacular scenery. Most of the good photos are not downloaded yet, but it was mostly cliffs. Red cliffs, white cliffs, black cliffs, cliffs like a stupendous bowl of eggs, cliffs like a waterfall of striped stone. Canyons and cracks that plunged for hundreds of feet below us. Most of the Sierra is empty. I had no idea there was so much uninhabited space left in Mexico! We went for hours without seeing a house, a cow, or any other sign of humanity except the road we were driving on. 

The pecan tree at the hotel in Saltillo. While we were waiting for Homero and Crecencio to fix their respective vehicles, the children collected and cracked dozens of pecans. Mary braided the girls hair in travel braids, and I lounged and thanked providence for the shade. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Have Mechanic, Will Travel

I'm planning to write a book in Oaxaca this year; I could write it entirely about our car troubles. I can't give a full account until I get to Oaxaca (assuming we ever do). For the moment I'll just say that the van has finally given up the ghost and we ate stuck in Saltillo, which is better than many other places we could have been stuck, but which is still pretty much an armpit.

Every single one of our six (seven? Eight?) days on the road, Homero has had to make some repair  to the van. Day before yesterday we were caught in the worst thunderstorm Ove ever been in with no windshield wipers. No shoulder to pull off. I was driving, I just followed the lights of the truck in front of me and thanked god the road was straight.

Solenoid packet. Serpentine belt. Idler pulley bearing. Head gaskets. And now transmission.
Our current plan is to leave this piece of junk to spend enternitu rusting away in a Mexican junkyard and rent a van to get to Oaxaca.

Wish us luck

Thursday, August 16, 2012

At Last!

Here we are, at last, in Mexico. I'm writing on my phone and using the wifi in a restaurant (a very good restaurant, where we have been enjoying a mixed grill and cold beers, after a dip
In a beautiful pool) so I'm keeping this short. We waited a week at my dad's house in Tucson for our friends to arrive. There was a further delay when the van threw a head gasket, and turned out to need a whole new head, poor Homero was working all day in 109 degree heat. This
Morning early we left Tucson and crossed in Nogales. The crossing was
Complicated by the fact that our friends are paperless- when I have access to a computer I will have something to say about this. For now I'm just going to say I was so ashamed of
Country that I cried.
It took all day to pass customs, but at last we re here and celebrating. More later.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

All About Ivory (Musings on Faith)

Ivory is our dog, who we adopted as a puppy from the pound and who is now eleven years old. She is an all-around perfect dog, being all things that a dog should be: a sweet, cuddly companion; an alarm dog at night and a fierce protector against strangers; an excellent farm dog, killer of rats and herder of goats.

Also, as you can see, she is just about the cutest dog who ever lived. We love Ivory beyond all reason. We love her excessively, rediculously. There was never any choice about bringing her with us or not bringing her with us - the thought of spending a year without Ivory was just not even worthy of entertaining.

The trip, however, has not been easy on Ivory. Starting about a month ago, when we began emptying out the house and rearranging everything, Ivory noticed something was amiss and she was nervous about it. Always a little high strung, she began to chew on her tail and lick her paws raw. The vet prescribed a mild sedative for the trip, but once we actually got in the car and started traveling, she settled down so nicely that we haven't used it.

On our second night in a hotel, we almost lost her, due entirely to my own stupidity. At home, Ivory sleeps with us, and if she needs to go out in the night (which she often does, being eleven) she gets up, stands by the door, and flaps her ears. I mean, she shakes her head vigorously, and her large ears make a loud flapping sound that wakes me up instantly. I open the door and let her out, go pee myself, and when I get back from the bathroom I let her back in. This is all automatic pilot, you understand.

We were staying in the most enormous Motel 6 I've ever seen, a gigantic complex made up of four large two story buildings, right off the I-10 in San Bernadino. When Ivory's flapping ears awakened me at about 4:30 a.m., I launched into my regular somnambulant routine - opened the door and went to the bathroom. As I was sitting mostly asleep on the toilet, Homero barged in, irate, and demanded "what the hell have you done? Ivory is gone!"

I don't know what I was thinking; maybe that she would pee right next to the door on the upper balcony? Of course she had found the stairs and gone looking for greener pastures. She was gone. The next ten minutes were some of the scariest of my life. Homero and I pulled on our pants and went running barefoot around the complex, whistling and calling. Horrible scenarios went through my mind, of Ivory running along the interstate, hungry, thirty, tired, and lost. Of Ivory picked up and dropped off in some awful suburban pound, where she would be euthanized because of her age. I knew I would never, ever be able to forgive myself, and I knew my family would never forgive me, either.

When Ivory came wiggling up to me from the scanty bushes behind the farthest building, I was so relieved I cried. My husband quite rightly chastised me harshly, but I didn't care. She was back. After that we kept her on a leash every time she left the van.

For the last several days, we have been at my Dad's house in Tucson. Dad and his wife, Joann, have two dogs. They are Noodles, a completely innocuous schnauzery-type female; and Pooka, a recent acquisition. Pooka was a rescue, a full grown male found wandering in the desert. Pooka is medium-large, totally unsocialized, and on our second day here he bit Ivory for no reason that we could determine. Poor Ivory now has half her eyebrow hanging off. She is fairly traumatized. Pooka hasn't made any further aggressive gestures toward her, but Ivory is slinking around the house on her belly, casting a wary eye into all corners. She doesn't even want to go outside to pee unless we are right beside her.

Here's the thing I've been thinking about: Ivory is on the same adventure that I am on, but Ivory is not here of her own volition. Ivory has been conscripted. She doesn't know what lies ahead, where she is going or what awaits her. I have been moaning about my own uncertainty for months, but Ivory knows far less than I do. She is going one hundred percent on faith: faith, poor thing, in me.

In a way, I almost envy her. She has us to rely on: she may not know where she is, where we are taking her or why, but she surely knows that we love her and will care for her. She has no uncertainty about where her food is coming from, and no fear of being abandoned. She simply follows us, wherever we ask her to go, trusting us and loving us. Life may be temporarily hard and confusing, but our presence is a rock for her, we are her constant, and while she is with us, she will fear no evil.

I wish I had such a constant. This trip was my decision, and here I am, lying in the bed I made. If I am afraid, if I am uncertain, I have only my own guidance. Or do I? It's been several weeks now since I went to church, but thinking about Ivory's simple faith has made me think about my own. This is not a straightforward parallel analogy: I am not a dog, and unlike Ivory, my own free will has brought me here. But perhaps there are similarities. Perhaps I also have a steadfast companion. Perhaps there is a loving presence that I can rely on as well.

It is true for me, as it is for Ivory, that the presence of a loving friend will not save me from pain or fear. Ivory has suffered anxiety on this trip, and the fear of being lost, and physical pain. I have suffered, and will continue to suffer anxiety, fear and discomfort. This is not a sign that faith is lacking, or evidence that God is absent. Faith does not save anyone from these things. God does not save anyone from these things. Those with the strongest faith suffer from fear and pain as much as do the faithless.

But they do not suffer alone.

Who has not said in their heart, to God or to a human friend, "if you are with me, I can withstand anything?" Who has not found the strength to be that source, that companion, for another? A mother for a child, a husband for a wife, and even an owner for a dog? Every one of us has felt the gift of compassion from outside ourselves, and been moved to offer that gift as well. Our pain is no less real for being shared, but it is certainly less burdensome.

This is another thing I have to thank Ivory for. What a wise spirit, to guide me, even as I think I am guiding her!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just Kill Me Now

We arrived at my Dad's house in Tucson last night around eight o'clock. The drive from Bellingham took three days, which is what I predicted. We spent both nights in hotels - driving until about midnight each night before deciding we aren't so young anymore and the thought of pulling an all-nighter is just not appealing the way it was ten or fifteen years ago.

We took a relatively long break in Ashland, Oregon, which is exactly as adorable as everyone says it, being one of those small western towns with an old hippie/young money dichotomy that makes for such an enjoyable blend of high end boutiques, good coffee shops, public art, and plentiful bookstores. You know the mold: Missoula, Montana; McCall, Idaho; Idyllwild, California, even places like Bisbee, Arizona or La Conner, Washington. They vary in the proportion of grunge to chi-chi vibes, and some are sportier or artier than others, but they are clearly in the same family. In Ashland, we arrived at the public performance hour of the evening and watched some acrobats.

Hope wanted desperately to see some of Hollywood, so we stopped and walked the boulevard. There was a world premiere at that one theatre... some movie I hadn't heard of and can't remember the name of now. But there were paparazzi and crowds and people in fancy clothes, so Hope was delighted. We went to the wax museum and the Ripley's believe it or not museum and got some good pizza. They found Brittany Spears' star, which was the only one they recognized, except for Mickey Mouse.

Yesterday Homero wanted to deviate from the route to go see Slab City, which is a kind of anarchist camp site in the most godforsaken corner of California, near a town called Niland. It's a few miles from the Salton Sea, a salty, fly-ridden expanse of water that shrinks every year. Slab City is fairly boring, to me, anyway, being mostly just a bunch of dilapidated trailers in the desert. Some of the trailers were decorated pretty fancy, it's true. And there's the hippie-christian church known as Salvation Mountain, which is surreal. I understand you can actually go inside, but I wasn't about to get out of the air conditioned car. The air temperature was 120 degrees. That is the hottest temperature I've ever experienced outside of a sauna, and I didn't like it one bit. Makes me feel like fainting dead away, in fact.

Temperature here in Tucson is slightly more moderate - 106. The weather report says daytime highs of between 104 and 109 as far as the eye can see. Nighttime lows are in the high eighties. Kill me now.