Tuesday, December 29, 2009


A few posts ago I debated getting a roommate. You may recall that The Learning Center, a local NGO that helps poor students, had a young woman who desperately needed housing. And I had an empty "maids room" on the back porch. As a number of you pointed out, the idea of an 18-year-old Mexican female living with an old gringo could...would...raise eyebrows. It wouldn't be a problem for ME, but for her--in the eyes of family and friends--could be a serious problem.

Solution to the problem: she found a room with a female American expat friend of mine, who now has 2 female Mexican university students living with her. They've become friends. And for Janet, who lost her husband recently, she has some friendly young company in the house. There are now several of us in Oaxaca who are housing Mexican students, including my former landlady who houses a young high school girl.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. The director of The Learning Centerhttp://www.tolc.org.mx/ called me to tell me that they had a young MAN, a university student, who needed housing. Would I like to come over and meet him? I did, and after a couple of meetings, discussions with the staff at TLC, and a tour of my place, Jaime (that's not his real name) moved in. That was Monday, the same day I got back from Puerto Escondido. In fact, about 2 hours after I landed. That was a busy day. It's now been a week and all is good. He's clean..just as I am. He helps me with cooking and keeping the house tidy. I offer free room & board. I enjoy the company....watching stupid cartoons together on cable TV, discussing the day's news in Oaxaca. Plus, he's a live-in language tutor. I told him, "Please, please correct me when I make mistakes in Spanish." And he does, vigorously!

Jaime is enrolled as a first-year student at the state university here. I'll see very little of him with his busy schedule of studies, so this shouldn't be a problem having him here. It will be neat having a "local" around to explain to me how things work in Oaxaca. I'm looking forward to a relationship based on respect in which I can learn more about Mexican culture.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

On this special day, I thought I'd post two photos from the picnic we had a couple of weeks ago. This the group from the Child & Family Welfare Office (state agency).
They have a program for street kids (the ones who sell candies, earrings, gum, souvenirs, etc. on the street). I hired a Santa Claus and we wrapped presents for each of the 35 kids. The little angel is Jesus, nicknamed "Chucho."
Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What To Do On a Rainy Day

It was overcast and cool with drizzle a couple of the days I spent in Puerto Escondido. What to do? Why, sketch, of course. I found this wonderful old rickety table with a view out over the gardens of the hotel, hammocks in the ready in the background. I felt like Gauguin in Tahiti or Hemingway in Cuba, in an artsy tropical kind of way. (Minus the talent, of course).

View From the Hotel Balconey

Footprints in the Sand

A Dash of Sea Salt

British Poet Laureate John Masefield had it right in his classic poem,
Sea-Fever. Sometimes you just need to stand at the water's edge. That's how I felt watching the sunsets in Puerto Escondido last weekend. I've posted some of my photos below. As a reminder, here's the poem:

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

There's Something About a Beach at Sunset

Nothing to Beach About

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Vacation from the Vacation

Being retired and living in Mexico is like being on vacation every day. No meetings, no boss(the best part), no stress. I pretty much do what I damned well feel like doing. And I enjoy that.

So after months of wasted time and idle leisure, I decided I needed a break. So I went down to the coast, to Puerto Escondido, for a long weekend. It's a 40 minute hop up over the mountains in a tiny little plane.

I'll write more about Puerto in the next few days and post some of my photos.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Very Best Christmas Gift

Back when I was living in Phoenix, every Christmas I used to scout out one of those "Angel Trees" and pick a kid--or a family--to buy a present for. We had one each year at my college. And that was, for me, the very best Christmas gift--knowing that I could share what I had with someone who really needed....the bike...the shoes...the new pair of pants.

Now that I'm in Oaxaca, my charity of choice is Casa Hogar, Hijos de la Luna ("Children of the Moon" in English). This is the shelter for kids of prostitutes. I've posted photos of the kids in the next 4 posts. I volunteer there every Saturday, and I've come to love these kids. They're dirt poor, but full of inquisitiveness, energy, and love. Coco--the lady who founded the shelter--began by taking a few kids into her own home. It's still a seat-of-the-pants kind of place. Lots of "make-do." They can only afford meat twice a week for the kids' meals. But lots of rice & beans and vegetables. Coco's adult chilren and in-laws help her run the shelter.

I had an idea: if any of you kind readers feel so moved, a charitable contribution to the program would go a long, long way. We need to renovate the playground (it's dirt now) so that it can be used when it rains. We need to replace the beat up car which is transportation to and from school for a dozen kids. We need to improve the living quarters and the common room. There's a lot to do. I try to give a little each month since I can see EXACTLY where the money goes....it's very tangible, not a check mailed off to a charity I don't know much about. Our work is directed through the Oaxaca Lending Library. Go to the Web site at: http://www.oaxlibrary.com/ and follow the link on the left side of the page to "Ninos Adelante." If you want to do something really worthwhile this Christmas, this is it. It will be your Very Best Christmas Gift.

A Christmas Card

A Christmas Card

A Christmas Card

A Christmas Card

Sunday, December 6, 2009

In Consideration of Roommates

Dear Readers,
Thanks for all the thoughtful feedback on the last post. Very good points. Yes--there is a lot to consider here in deciding whether or not to welcome a college student into my home. Some of you suggested that I should NOT ask this roommate to help clean or cook....that I would probably NOT ask that of a young male student. Nope. I absolutely WOULD ask that of a male student. It has nothing to do with gender. If I--a 58-year-old male--can clean a toilet and make a pot of chili, then I would expect a 19-year old male OR female to help around the house. Also, I look at it as part of my tutoring or mentoring: It teaches responsibility. And work--any type or amount of work--gives one a sense of dignity and self-worth. I think of the Chiclets vendors down in the zocalo. They'll let you know quite clearly they ARE NOT beggars. They are vendors and they won't take donations...only your money in exchange for a candy. Why? Dignity. I don't think asking a kid to sweep the floor every day is onerous.

I met with Gary Titus, the founder of the Learning Center, this morning to get acquainted and talk about the specific case of this young woman from the Isthmus.

An important consideration has nothing to do with me, but rather the social impact how SHE would be perceived in her community. Gary suggested that he and his staff would have to do a lot or preparatory work talking to and explaining the living arrangement with the girl's family. After all, they are indigenous campesinos and very traditional. Her living with me wouldn't be a problem for me. For her, it may very well be so. And I have to be considerate of that. On the other hand, if not having housing means she must drop out of university (she's on full scholarship), I would hate to see that.

Gary recommended that the ideal arrangement for her would be to room with an American woman or a couple. It's not uncommon here in Oaxaca for expats to welcome a Mexican student into their homes. Gary will continue to look for that type of arrangement, since we have a month and a half to find something until the young woman must move from her present lodgings. Of course, one can measure the breach between "ideal arrangements" and Reality as exactly the distance between a future and desperation.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Lately, I've been so aware of the great good fortune I enjoy and the severely constrained fortunes of many (most) Mexicans. It's hard to ignore simply walking down the street. Right now I'm sitting here watching Cirque du Soleil on A&E on cable TV and blogging on my high-speed WIFI connection. Right now thousands of Oaxacans are going without an evening meal.

So when I moved into my new apartment and noted the 3rd bedroom--a "maid's room" on the service patio, the thought occurred to me "hmmm...should it sit empty?" So I mentioned it to the ESL coordinator at the Learning Center (Centro de Aprendizage) here. http://www.tolc.org.mx/ That's the place where I volunteer-taught an English class this last summer. They do wonderful work with tutoring and academic help for poor kids who come in from the rural area of the mountains and the Isthmus. Mostly indigenous kids going to high school and university here in the capital.

So tonight, I received an email from the Center's director asking me if I'd offer room & board to a 19-year-old female student from south of Oaxaca. Her parents are poor campesinos and can't pay for her college (she's on scholarship) or housing. The place she's staying now is kicking her out at the end of January.

I'll talk to Gary, the Center's director tomorrow. Decisions, decisions. Roommate or no roommate? What do you think?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Confessions of a Money Launderer

Yep, I did it. I laundered money. A whole pocketful of bills. What's worse, I laundered my cell phone. If you've ever wondered, cell phones don't much like that.

It all started when my long-awaited furniture arrived yesterday (at least part of it did). I was thrilled not to have to eat and sleep on the floor any longer. I helped the delivery guy carry it upstairs. Unfortunately, the pieces were stained and waxed in a reddish finish. Which led to reddish-finished jeans, shirt, and hands. I had the bright idea, "just strip out of the clothes and throw them in some soapy water in the wash sink out back." (see...I'm full of brilliant ideas). So I did.

About half an hour later, I decided to go out and threw on some pants. I began looking for my money clip. Hmmm, not on the dresser. Hmmm, not on the kitchen counter. Hmmm, must be.....in my soaking blue jeans! Right there along with the cell phone (now deceased). Crap!

I think we call these "senior moments."

I went to Chedraui (like a Super Walmart), where I was able to buy the same model phone. They switched out the old (damp) Sim card into the new unit, and I was able to go on my merry way with the same telephone number. I did lose my list of contacts, though. They're all underwater.