Monday, May 27, 2013

Got Quejas?

Quejas = Complaints

There's something I find very funny about Ciudad Juarez. All the local buses have painted on their rear doors: Quejas? And a phone number. It's something like, "How's my driving?"  But I prefer the Mexican version because it acknowledges the obvious motive for someone to jot down the number in traffic, and doesn't try to fool the reader/fellow driver into believing that some people might be calling to say, "That driver was being so cautious; he didn't cut me off once!" It just says, if ya' don't like what you see - here you go - call the number; we're ready.

But I have a different take on it. I think this number should be used to complain about, oh, just about anything one feels like. They should staff the phone line with sympathetic operators who will just listen, agree, and say meaningless things like, "I know, I know! But what can ya' do about it?" or, "Mmm hmm, no kidding, I agree!" 

If you'll allow me, I'd like to get on that line for a bit, because I think I could come up with a few local quejas myself. So, Mr. 616-45-19, here's what I'd say:

  • Ay this desert climate! Days after arriving into the high Chihuahuan desert my fingertips began to wrinkle and haven't unfolded since. Have you ever gotten Super-Glue on your fingertips by accident and for a while you can't feel anything right? Yeah, that's what it's like all the time for me. And yes, I use lotion. I use Norwegian Sailor hand cream. I use Working Hands stuff that only diesel mechanics need. I slather my hands in bag balm every night before turning off the light. (Naw, cat hair doesn't stick to bag balm...). NOTHING HELPS. My hands re-plump slightly overnight, but as soon as they feel this dang desert dryness and hard water in the morning, it's Prune City all over again.
  • Which brings me to the hard water. Water should not leave stains on surfaces, it's water after all, right? It's supposed to CLEAN things, not mark them. White high-tide lines mark all our sinks, shower doors, stainless steel stove top and tub tiles. And have you seen my flat, dull, dried-out hair? My god! And it makes some salty tea! Geez.
  • Can I talk about the roads now? I mean the actual surface of the roads, not the drivers or city layout. The combination of constant sun and high temps, lack of rain, dust, motor oil and tire rubber has burnished the Juarez streets to a high sheen akin to glazing a ceramic tile. Because of this shiny smooth surface, the car tires squeal at every move. Going from 20 to 6 mph to carefully turn into your driveway? SQUEEEAAALLLL!  Making a U-turn at 12 mph? That'll sound like a bank robber getaway car, for sure. And it's not only the sound, it's also the glare that comes up off the streets, obliterating any lane lines. For some reason, the El Paso streets don't squeak and shine like this. There must be some secret ingredient in the paving materials here that cause even the softest of new tennis shoes to squeak-squeak-squeak as one walks down the road. 
  • Spiders and roaches and scorpions - Oh My!  So far, we haven't seen a scorpion in the house or yard yet (sound of hearty knocking on wooden dinner table in background), but pretty much all of our coworkers have. One, in fact, took a picture of the nastiest, scariest looking thing.  This isn't his actual picture, but it looked just like this. Yeah, it was dark black and looked like it could surely could drop a cow with a single sting. Actually, my coworker later learned that this was the harmless type that ate other bad bugs in the yard, but my goodness, would you have waited around to find out if it were friend or foe? Not me. 

  • Did I mention we also have black widow spiders and big ole' roaches here? I've only seen the latter so far, a half-dozen of the buggers have wandered into our kitchen from outside, but we've been warned about the former. I refer to our garden shed as the Benevolent Home for Spiders and Scorpions and don't open the shed without first banging on the door and loudly announcing my presence. It's only a matter of time...

  • The wind! Dust storms wind winds of 50 mph regularly blow through the region during the springtime. After the events in Oklahoma and Texas one could hardly call this a true queja, right? But I'm going to anyway. The fine dust and sand is picked up in a hot wind and blasted against man, beast, home and car radiator. What's the best way to remove paint from a house? A sandblaster, of course! So that's what is happening to our door frames and window trims on a continual basis. But what about applying that sandblasting effect to softer things, like skin and eyes? Mmm hmm, you got it. The first two months here found me in the ophthalmologist's office more than once for various eye problems due to this dusty, furnace-like wind. 
Okay, it's time to get off the Quejas bus and back to reality. Thank you for listening; I feel much better.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Family Time

I've mentioned before that I've done very "American" things here in Juarez that I never did while living in the US (going to Wal-Mart, for example). To that list, I can add that the neighborhood where we live now is far closer to the suburban American stereotype (even from the 50s!) than any place I've lived before. The streets are wide, rollerblading-smooth and in the evenings, lit by attractive wrought-iron lampposts. There are three small parks, the largest of which happens to be in front of our house. Last weekend, this park was the site for the annual Kid's and Mother's Day neighborhood fiesta. We'd seen the signs posted for the 70s and 80s-themed dance that was going to happen at 8pm, but we didn't notice that the whole shindig was to start at noon.

The inflatable bouncy castle and wading pool being set up tipped us off. From then came the face-painting station, the frozen-fruit treat vendor and the nice teenager with his horse giving rides around the block to the kids. By afternoon, I couldn't resist and was out meeting neighbors and enjoying the scene. One of my co-workers was there with her family and as she introduced me to every single family within view, it became clear just how close this community is. Soon the tug-of-war games began: fathers vs sons (the fathers won), mothers vs daughters, boys vs. girls (the girls won) etc... At one point, when the young men were losing to their larger, stronger fathers, the teenage boy on his horse grabbed the end of the rope, wrapped it around his saddle horn and tried to bring it home with the strength of his horse, but it just made his saddle slip to the side and the dads won anyway. During each bout, the families cheered and yelled from the sidelines and I laughed like a 10 year old. After enough hands were blistered and people were dragged across the grass, the heavy rope was then used for double-Dutch jump rope, with all hands jumping in again. When was the last time you saw grown adults, some (inexplicably) in costumes playing jump rope? An entire day devoted to just hanging out with the family and doing things that kids like - it was so nice to see. Nobody was checking cell phones; there weren't sullen teenagers sulking in corners with their headphones on; everyone was involved and enthusiastic. 
Neighborhood party: Juarez-style

After sunset, the dance floor (previously the volleyball and basketball court) came to life with the hired DJ and lights, and the mothers retreated home to change into their best 70s and 80s gear. The fathers, one of whom owns a butcher shop nearby, started up a kettle drum of chopped meat "al pastor" (seasoned pork) and the food began to arrive in waves. The fixins' table held the obligatory salsas, chopped onions and cilantro, reams of tortillas, and another table was covered in pies and cakes and dispensing coolers full of fruity drinks for the kids, with chests of beer for the adults nearby. 

A neighbor came around to each woman present and gave her a yellow silk flower corsage for her dress, as now the focus went from being Kid's to Mother's Day. Yes, a week early, but probably because the families are away this weekend and wouldn't have been around to take part. In fact, Mother's Day is such a big deal here that we got Friday off work! Even after dark, the kids still played in the bouncy castle, and there's always a handful of pruny kids shivering in the pool way past dark. 

Tim and I chatted with a good group of neighbors, hearing about their jobs and receiving offers to visit various maquilas (factories, the main industry here) where they work. They were a variety of professions, from professors to engineers to lawyers, and in a recent shift in Mexican culture, the mothers are more commonly working now than in decades past. Most spoke English better than we spoke Spanish, and all were extremely welcoming to their city and neighborhood. Even with both parents working, the strength of the family was incredibly evident. One mother told me about a weekly meeting the community has called "jovenes con valores" (youth with values) where a different parent each week gives a talk about a different value. This would be the kind of topic one would hear in a Sunday school classroom, but this is without the religious setting.  

It's normal for young Mexicans to live at home through their college years (we saw this in Colombia, too), and nobody would make the "L" on the forehead of a 28 year old still living with his or her parents. (Side note: I think that is the most striking cultural difference I hear in my daily interviews. Most young adults live at home until they are married, and depending on their economic status - sometimes even afterwards.) 

We stayed, chatting, watching, laughing and listening to too-loud music until nearly midnight. I went to bed straight away, but I heard that the music lasted for many more hours. I was so happy to have taken part in this afternoon and gotten such a view into family life here. Now I just have to remember even a portion of the names and faces we met and continue getting to know people here to deepen our understanding and appreciation of our new environment. I think we're off to a good start.