Saturday, April 23, 2011

Settling In

A path through the park across
from our apartment
What a strange feeling!  I woke up this morning and thought to myself: "This feels like a normal day..."  It is a feeling that neither I nor Julia have had in quite some time!  Yes, of course, I am using the term "normal" very liberally but it at least feels like we are developing some semblance of a routine.  We had the same breakfast of cheesy scrambled eggs and fried potatoes at the same time 3 days in a row!  Not bad.  But, as you might expect, living as foreigners in Guadalajara presents its own set of unique experiences and circumstances which often disrupt the daily routine we so desperately long for.  Here are just a few of the things that we are dealing with for the first time...

Watch out for these blue and white
Mercedes buses!
First of all, there is the daily concern for our own safety.  I am not talking about anything related to violent crime or drug trafficking.  Oh no, I am talking about the public transportation system, namely the bus drivers.  Yes, this appears to be the real safety threat here in Guadalajara and it is, unfortunately, our only means of transportation.   Case in point, just this past week, as I was getting off the bus, the driver slammed the door on my arm and started pulling away!  So there I was running beside the bus with my arm caught in the door screaming and banging on the bus to get him to stop.  Fortunately, other passengers alerted the bus driver and he stopped and opened the door as I stormed off in a huff.  Since then I have practically been running off the bus, with my arms in front of me!

Our lovely apartment building
There is also the issue of the unusual sleeping habits of our neighbors.  For some reason, they think that the hours of 2-5 AM are better for loud karaoke parties than for sleeping.  I haven't quite figured this one out.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of insulation in the walls here, it sounds like the parties are going on in our living room.  To remedy this, we went to Home Depot and bought the loudest, most powerful fan we could find (I think it could propel a small plane) and some earplugs.  So with the fan on high, and our earplugs firmly in place, we now can get a good nights sleep!  The next problem: How are we going to hear the alarm? I haven't figured that one out yet...

La Cucaracha!
And then, there are the cockroaches.  There is a reason why they sing "La Cucaracha" here in Mexico.  I think that co-habitation with them is just a fact of life here.  This is not easy to deal with.  The other night, we thought it would be a good idea if we left some tortillas out to dry so we could use them in a casserole.  Not a good idea.  When I woke up at 5:30 the next morning, I was greeted by 5 large, red, deceptively fast intruders in our kitchen.  I spent the next 10 minutes chasing them around the apartment with a shoe.  It was not a good way to start the day.  Julia tells me that if you see one roach, there are probably hundreds more that you can't see.  We are both trying not to think about that.  Anyway, later that day, we went to the store and bought these really cool roach traps.  Here is how they work: The roach comes out at night looking for some food and he is attracted to the trap.  Then he goes in and eats the poison in the trap BUT, it doesn't kill him right away.  It doesn't take effect until after he returns home to his family and friends, and only then, after he has infected the whole colony, does it take effect!  HA!  What a brilliant plan!  At least, thats what it says on the box.  I hope it works.

So other than roaches, loud neighbors and crazy bus drivers, we are doing really well here in Guadalajara.  May you feel blessed this weekend as you reflect on the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way.  And the Lord has laid on Him, the iniquity of us all."  Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Long Overdue Post

Well, we are still alive and well in Mexico!  Sorry it has been so long since our last post.   Anyway, we wish you a happy Dia de Benito Juarez!  As it is a holiday here in Mexico, we have finally had some time to catch up on some long overdue correspondence.  First of all, a quick update…

Los Aguilas (The Eagles), a short walk
from our apartment.
I finished my certification course at ITTO over 3 weeks ago and started teaching the next day.  The company I am working for is International Communication Institute of Guadalajara (ICI) which is a language school that specializes in Business English.  I am currently teaching classes at Dell and Hershey’s Guadalajara (ironic, yes I know) as well as giving private lessons on Saturdays at the institute.  Though the job requires a lot of bus travel through Guadalajara, it has provided a great introduction to the business side of teaching English. 

Julia finished her intensive Spanish courses at IMAC a couple weeks ago and is now speaking fluently…well, not quite.  But she has made incredible progress and continues to have numerous opportunities every day to practice her Spanish, though these are not always welcome or enjoyable!  Those who have lived abroad and learned a second language will understand this well.  Right now, Julia is planning on continuing her Spanish lessons at the institute where I work as well as looking for volunteer opportunities in the community. 

One thing that has kept us incredibly busy the past several weeks has been our search for an apartment.  We praise God that he provided us with a wonderful apartment in a very peaceful neighborhood (across from a park) and perfectly situated half way between the businesses where I work!  Only God could have provided such a place for a two clueless Americans who were beginning to wonder, as they wandered through Guadalajara, what they were doing in Mexico in the first place.  The search was not without its setbacks and frustrations, but we thank you for your prayers and support to us as we bungled our way through the whole process.  It was truly a miracle that we found a place!

Looking into the dining room and kitchen
There is much more to tell, but let me be brief.  When we finally found a place that was decent and within our price range, we had to go to the real estate office to fill out an application.  Fortunately, as we were trying to fill out an extremely confusing application for an apartment, a fluent English speaker who had lived in Michigan for a year happened to stop by and was able to help us through the process.  We also needed some references that lived in Mexico and she graciously allowed us to use her as a reference even though she didn’t know us at all! 

Living room...with some very necessary
cleaning supplies
Well, after we finished the application, we also found out that in order to rent apartments in Guadalajara, you need to have a co-signer who owns property in Guadalajara.  What a ridiculous policy!  But what could we do?  We didn’t even know enough people to have a reference for the application let alone a co-signer!  Once again, God had everything planned out better than we could have imagined.  Through a connection made by my grandma through her small bed and breakfast in Oxford, we actually had the contact information of somebody who owned property in Guadalajara!

So here is our new address:
Ave De La Calma 3969-7
Col. La Calma 45070
Zapopan, Jalisco

PS We have a spare bedroom in our apartment so if anybody is fleeing the law or simply just wants to practice their Spanish, let us know.  We are only a short flight away!  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Random thoughts on Mexico...

If teaching doesn't work out, I could
always wash windows.
Its hard to believe that we have been here for two weeks.  Sometimes it feels like two days.  Sometimes it feels like two years.  But no matter what it feels like, we have learned a great deal about Mexico and the city of Guadalajara.  So, allow us to share with you a little bit of what we have learned so far...

The oranges that grow on the trees along many of the streets here in the city are indeed edible...but really, really, really sour.

Mexican television is as bad as you think it is (probably worse)...and Mexican commercials are simply intolerable.

The keys to Mexican fashion for men (as far as we can tell) are shiny shoes, tight pants, a collared shirt (matching the pants - optional) with the top two buttons undone (not optional).

The 3 keys to Mexican fashion for women are earrings, belts and boots...the bigger they are, the better.

Do not ever start a game of punch buggy in Guadalajara.  Your arm may never recover.  The city is teeming with VW beatles from 1980-something.  The city of Guadalajara even uses them for municipal vehicles.

It is best not to ask what kind of meat they put in your taco.  No part of any animal goes to waste in Mexico.  I just found out the other day that my favorite taco - the 'surtido de carnitas' - is actually pig stomach.  Yum.

You can buy the whole pig!
As far as we can tell, making out with your significant other is perfectly acceptable anywhere - on a park bench, in the bus, on the sidewalk, while you are waiting to cross the street, etc.  It's a little awkward, but hey, this is Latin America!

Happy Valentines Day!!!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Our First Weekend

Our posada in downtown Guadalajara
I'm sitting cross-legged on our middle double bed, savoring my mug of coffee.  That was one of our purchases of necessity made last night (along with some chocolate cookies).  Apparently, most Mexicans don't miss their morning coffee...or afternoon coffee...or evening coffee.  It's pretty bad when the place recommended to us for a cup of "cafe americano" is McDonald's.  Recognizing our reliance on so much material comfort, Chris and I tried to make do with Nescafe Instant. If you have ever tried instant coffee you'd understand our mission last night....

Fortunately, we remembered a store that had a few coffeemakers in the window, and last night we determinedly made our way back to this store!!  On the way, Chris confessed that he did not know the word for a coffeemaker in Spanish, but was confident he could learn the word if he could explain the process of making coffee.  Once again, humor presents itself in every interaction...
Chris (in Spanish):  How do you say "to make coffee"? (meant to say "the thing that makes coffee")
Girl: To make coffee.
Chris: Oh, you just say 'to make coffee'?
Girl: Yes.
Chris: Good.  We would like to see the 'to make coffee' over there.
By the time we walked out of the store with our cafetera (the correct word) we had all had a pretty good laugh.

We spent most of our weekend walking around the streets of Guadalajara, trying to bring some sense to our mixed-up mental map.  Taco joints and Chinese restaurants abound, along with so many shoes stores!!  I have an affinity to shoes, so you can imagine my excitement.  I laughed at Chris' reaction, "So this is why you wanted to move to do women have this intuition?"

We've enjoyed good eating out...mostly tacos.  I'm learning most Mexican cuisine consists of meat, corn tortillas, and a variety of sauces arranged just a little differently.  However, there is variety in the sauces and the way the meat is prepared....and it is excellent!  So savory with a nice hint of picante spice!

Worship at El Rey de Reyes
We were encouraged to find a presbyterian church yesterday - El Rey de Reyes Iglesia Presbiteriano.  We navigated the bus system, paid our pesos for the bus ride and managed to get off at the right stop.  After a bit of walking through the neighborhood, we stumbled upon a large group of well dressed Mexicans pouring out onto the street with bibles in was a welcome sight!  There were probably close to 200 people at the service we attended and we felt very privileged at the opportunity to worship together with them.  Although I have a very limited amount of Spanish (nada), the praise songs were familiar and the body of Christ is able to connect regardless of language barriers.   We're looking forward to next Sunday already!

This brings us back to the coffeemaker.   One thing we overlooked in our desperation to get some good coffee, was the less than ideal electrical situation in our hotel room.  With the TV, alarm clock, lamp, and cord for our laptop using up all the available outlets, we had no place to plug in the machine!!  No worries, the coffeemaker had to replace the alarm clock....and the aroma of coffee woke us up to face a new adventure this morning!  Ahh.....

Friday, January 28, 2011

From PA to MX

At my parents before we left for the airport
Hey everybody!  Welcome to our blog.  Thanks so much for taking an interest in our lives.  Please pray for us when you think about it and let us know how we can pray for you.  We are going to do our best to record all the highlights of our time here.  I hope you enjoy it...

It is hard to believe that as I sit here in sunny Guadalajara that it was only yesterday that I was frantically shoveling over a foot of snow so that we could make it out of the driveway and to the airport on time.  As it turned out, the biggest snowstorm of the year occurred the night before Julia and I planned to fly out.  But thanks to the heroic efforts of my dad (who woke up early in the morning and cleared a half-mile lane of over a foot of snow) we made it to the airport on time and caught our flight to Mexico.  

In one of Guadalajara's many plazas 
We touched down in Guadalajara around 8:00 last night and proceeded through immigration.  I think it was probably the easiest entry into a country I have ever experienced.  The immigration official looked at our passports, mumbled some things in Spanish that I couldn't understand, stamped a bunch of papers and sent us on our way.  The whole process took about 15 seconds.  Customs was a different story, however.  

As we approached the customs official with our mountain of baggage on the trolley, he stepped aside and beckoned me to push a red button.  Not sure if this would result in the vaporization of myself or the baggage or some other catastrophic effect (too many sci-fi movies I suppose), I tentatively depressed the button.  As I did this, a red light appeared above me highlighting an image of a man looking through an open bag.  "Really?"  I thought to myself.  Apparently this is the Mexican way of randomly selecting individuals for baggage screening, and yes, we were chosen.  

We set our bags on the table in front of 3 very young looking customs officials, one man flanked by two attractive women.   They all seemed to be more interested in flirting with each other then with investigating the contents of our bags - which I had no problem with whatsoever.  Ironically, the only question that they had about anything in our bags was about a few packs of Giant brand taco seasoning that Julia had packed.  "What is this?" one of them asked with a strong accent.  I could hardly keep from laughing as I tried to explain to him that this is how Americans make tacos.  I don't think they understood.

The view outside of our hotel room.
Our door is on the left
Once through customs, we were able to make it out of the airport and find a cab.  Our cab driver was very friendly and enjoyed the opportunity to speak English with us.  Of course, I wanted to practice my Spanish so we went back and forth from English to Spanish and back again.  I was doing really well with my Spanish until I turned the conversation to politics.  Trying to show off my knowledge of Mexican politics, I asked him what he thought of president Calderon and his tough stance against Mexico's drug traffickers since this has resulted in so much violence.  I was not aware that this would lead him into a long series of abstract political principles and conspiracy theories which I had no chance of understanding in Spanish.  I heard the name Michael Moore, the Bilderberg Group, and the Obama Deception and thats about all I got out of it.  Fortunately we were almost at the hotel and I was able to save the conversation by asking how much it rained in Guadalajara.  Not much, he replied.  I understood that.

2 of our 3 double beds!
We are currently staying at the Posada San Pablo in downtown Guadalajara.  We will be here until I earn my TEFL certification after which I will be able to find work and move into a more permanent apartment.  The hotel is over 100 years old and has a lot of character.  It also has hot water (though the pressure is pretty low) and pretty shoddy electrical work.  But I think this is the norm for Mexico.  We feel very secure in our room and we are blessed to have a strong wireless connection!!  Thats all for now...