Fighting for Flowers

flowering tree

Yesterday afternoon, I turned into the neighborhood where I live and came upon three men with machetes cutting down the flowering trees at the entrance. Without thought, I stopped and demanded to know what they were doing

The leader of the two said he was beautifying the neighborhood since the branches were low hanging and ugly. I asked if he had permission. I meant permission from the owner of the lot who borders the trees, although I suppose the trees were technically in the public thoroughfare. He thought I meant permission from the Departmento de Ecología (Department of ecology) since cutting green trees is a fine-able offense. He said he didn’t need permission to tidy up the place.

So I asked who he was. He said he was the owner of the trees–of course. I told him I didn’t believe him. As I am part of the community board of directors, I know nearly all of the people who own lots in the community. These three men were strangers to me. Not that my neighbors in La Yacata are any better.  (See Good Fences make good neighbors, unless your neighbor steals it) He told me that I should contact the town council and tell them to come and trim the trees in the neighborhood.

My Spanish failed me at this point. I wanted to say eloquently that the town council would not come and trim trees until after they installed water, sewer and electricity in our community. I wanted to say that cutting such beautiful trees is a crime against nature. I wanted to say that he was a lying piece of poop that really had some gall thinking I would believe his altruistic motives for cutting the trees when we both knew he would take and sell the leña (firewood) in town.

tree cutter

What I said was that I would take pictures and show them to the owner when he asks me who cut down his trees. So I did, not that it did much good. One man turned his back to me, the other partially covered his face. I thought maybe I could get some identification from the moto (motorcycle) that was parked there, but it didn’t have any license plates.

I remained on edge the rest of the afternoon and into the next day. I tried to go and see the president of the neighborhood, but he wasn’t in his office. So I sent an email with the pictures and an account of my interaction with the men. He wrote back and said that he would investigate the matter.

My husband scolded me afterward. I shouldn’t be going around taking picture of men with machetes. What was I thinking?

I have to admit to being impetuous at times. These men were destroying that which I enjoyed every day. The flowers on these trees and the scent they emit are my welcome home. How DARE they destroy that?

You see, that morning the mother of three of my students was shot and killed while heading to the gym. Last week, the father of a former student was kidnaped and is being held for ransom. Last month, someone in front of Waldo’s (a local discount store) was shot “accidently” by police officers. The month before that two transito (traffic) officers were shot and killed by “unknown” assailants. Not so very long ago, my nephew was taken and tortured by rival drug members. Before that, my mother-in-law was run down by a police vehicle and killed. And before that, my husband was kidnaped right in our own neighborhood.

Those are the local issues. Looking beyond the borders of my own town– Last month, 42 people and one police officer  were executed by the police just a few hours away in Michoacan. Last September, 43 students disappeared in Guerrero.  Mexico averages nearly 100 murders a day. In the past three years, more than 10,000 people have disappeared. Last week, a reporter and 4 female activists were tortured and murdered. Femicide is commonplace.

tree stump

And I can do NOTHING about any of these things. This place that I now call home is lawless, corrupt, and dying. The beauty that has existed for thousands of years is threatened by the unethical actions of man.

However, I could threaten the bejeesuz out of these three men. Maybe word will get out that a crazy “gringa” (white lady) lives in La Yacata that goes around hugging trees and dancing in the rain–someone these would-be wrongdoers should steer clear of. It’s a small, unrealistic hope. The truth is there is no enforceable consequence for their actions. They know it. I know it. The government knows it. The world knows it. But I have to try.

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Filed under La Yacata Revolution, Native fauna and flora, Safety and Security

Failing at your own business–Transcriptionist

transcript

Searching the online want ads I came across a transcriptionist job. I was looking for something to do when classes canceled now that my Business English course was finished. So I clicked on the link and completed the test. The idea of getting paid in US dollars really appealed to me, especially with the dollar at over 16 pesos.

The next day I received an email that said I qualified to become one of the transcriptionists for the company. They also had a need of translators Spanish to English, but I wasn’t sure my Spanish was up to the task. I knew my English was quite good, so I opted to stay with that.

There were a number of training videos to watch. And watch them I did. The whole process seemed a bit complicated, but I signed up for my first assignment anyway. The video reassured me that someone would always be available on Skype if I had any questions.

The email with the assignments was sent out at 6 pm eastern time with the assignments due by 4 pm the next day. Well, this presented somewhat of a problem. While I have computer and internet access, it typically is during the day since we have no electricity at our home in La Yacata. Then there was the one hour time difference to contend with. I checked in for my assignment at 8:15 am my time, only to find that my assignment had been classified as “abandoned.” I contacted the Skype person and she explained that it was because I needed to have verified my acceptance of the assignment by 9 am EST. She changed the classification and I downloaded the audio.

I moved the file into the Express Scribe Transcription program and began my work. The audio segment was a recorded focus group for Linkedin. For the most part, the recording was easily understandable. However, getting used to the Express Scribe program took some time. Before I knew it, it was time for my classes (See Saturday Classes) and I hadn’t really advanced much. After my classes, I set to work on it again, taking the time to transfer what I had finished to the Google document file. Again, my unfamiliarity of the procedure slowed me up. By the time I had the information transferred, it was nearly 3 pm my time, which meant I wouldn’t meet the 4 pm deadline.

I contacted the Skype on-call person again to tell her of my dilemma. I had only managed to get 12 minutes of a 30-minute audio clip finished. Boy, that was discouraging. I had spent more than 4 hours on it. She told me to mark the file with the “I need help” button and to stop working on it. I would get paid for my 12 minutes but the person who finished my assignment would get the remaining pay.

I thought maybe with practice I could get faster, so I was determined to try another assignment. Then I got sick and the days passed and I guess maybe I didn’t have the time after all. The problem was my schedule. I need to have a day or two to work on assignments since I can not devote my whole day to it. With the 4 pm deadline, there was just no way I was going to be able to finish. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t going to work out. So much for mucha moolah.

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Lifelong Learning

Welcome to the August 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Life Learners

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have talked about how they continue learning throughout life and inspire their children to do the same.

***

ghandi-quote-lent-2015

Although I graduated nearly 15 years ago, my education is not finished. In fact, I would say that I’ve learned more since finishing formal schooling than I ever did in school. My husband never had the opportunity to attend school for any length of time, so nearly all his knowledge, which is considerable, has been self-taught. The idea of life-long learning is an important concept for our family.

jimrohnmotivationalquote

Business learning

For a time, I ran my own online business selling children’s organic and homemade items. There was so much to learn. Things like product presentation, taxes, establishing a customer base, web design, networking, marketing, and Ebay were not new to me in theory, but in practice…well that’s a whole different story. What I didn’t realize at the time is that the things I learned in the 18 months or so that I ran my hobby business were just a taste of things to come. Like kindergarten to the business world.

I closed my business when we made the move to Mexico, 9 years ago. Since then, we have “failed” at a number of businesses here. Although for the most part they were not profitable monetarily, we did learn quite a bit in the process and therefore, don’t consider these ventures a waste of time. The businesses we have failed at include a produce truck, taco stand, clothing store, bread baking endeavor, tire repair shop, bricklaying, ranching, farming, gardening, essay writing, and blogging to name a few. Currently, my husband and I have steady employment, part-time employees, part-time owners. I run my own Saturday school and afternoon tutoring sessions  but also work for a private elementary school during the week.  My husband maintains our mini-ranch and sharecropping endeavors in the mornings and is the maintenance man for the same school in the afternoons. Being gainfully employed doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped looking for ways to expand our knowledge base. Recently I was asked to write essays for a Business English course. (See Failing at your own business–University courses) Not only did it pay well, but I learned quite a bit about Business English which I have now incorporated into my Saturday classes, teaching interested students how to write memos and other office documents. My husband was also offered a part-time position at a liquor store. He comes home eager to share what he learned about types of liquor, inventory processes and delivery systems.

So how does this impact our son?  He told me just the other day that he’s decided he’s not going to work for anyone else but be his own boss.  Entrepreneur in training I’d say. (Making a Living Without a Job, revised edition: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love)

cultural learning

Cultural Learning

Besides learning how to make a living, I’ve had to learn how to navigate a different culture since moving to Mexico. This includes not only learning new vocabulary but also learning how things are done. I know that I’m far from proficient, but I think I’ve made some progress. I accredit my miniscule advancement to my willingness to make a lot of mistakes and ask endless questions. Who would have thought I’d have to relearn how to bury a person (See Mass and Burial–Mexican Style) or how to shop for groceries?  How about learning how to wash clothes in the stream?  Or how to buy land?

natural

Natural Learning

As a family, we look for opportunities to learn about our natural surroundings on day-trip adventures.  I’ve recently discovered iNaturalist. Now I can upload all those photos of pretty flowers and someone, somewhere will identify them for me. From there, I can research how the local natural world might be useful (See Natural healing) now that my two main sources of Mexican home remedies, my mother-in-law and my husband’s grandmother, have died.  I’ve learned how to make a tea for stomachaches, use aloe to aid in wound healing, dry feverfew and use agave.  I have so much more to learn!

Cave exploration outside of Cerano, GTO.

Cave exploration outside of Cerano, GTO.

Learning in the next generation

Because of our family philosophy, we encourage independent learning of our now 13-year-old son. He wanted to learn how to play soccer, we made sure that has become a reality A few months ago, he asked if there were any teachers that I knew that could teach him Portuguese. I asked the Worldschoolers group on FB and was referred to Duolingo. My son has been regularly progressing through the beginning Portuguese course online. He uses it to chat with Brazilian Minecraft players. (See Hey Parents. What Minecraft is doing to your kids is kind of surprising) He’s thinking he might learn Vulcan after he finishes the Portuguese course.

His most recent interest is in learning how to make Youtube videos. It isn’t an easy thing by any means, and one that neither his father nor I can help much with. When an opportunity presented itself for him to make a video of his life (See What is it like to be a kid in your family? ) we purchased an inexpensive mini-camcorder and together made a video that his grandma in the United States is proud of!

bike repair

Our attitude has always been, if you don’t know how to do something, learn! No one is going to do it for you. Skills that my son has learned at our side include bricklaying, cooking, bicycle repair, and gardening.

planting

However, we fully realize that my son needs more opportunities for learning than we can provide him. With this is mind, he attends the local middle school, where not only does his Spanish continue to improve, but he also is learning quite a bit about carpentry. So far he’s made a clothing rack and lidded box, quite useful items actually.

We continually stress that even if he is soon to finish his formal schooling, there is no limit to the things he could learn. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer in our home. Is it in yours?

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • The Financial Advice That Saved My Marriage — Shortly after they got married, Emily at Natural Parents Network and her husband visited a financial planner. Many of the goals and priorities they set back then are now irrelevant, but one has stuck with them through all of the employment changes, out-of-state-moves, and child bearing: allowances.
  • Lifelong Learning — Survivor at Surviving Mexico–Adventures and Disasters writes about how her family’s philosophy of life-long learning has aided them.
  • Inspiring Children to be Lifelong Learners — Donna from Eco-Mothering discusses the reasons behind her family’s educational choices for their daughter, including a wish list for a lifetime of learning.
  • Always Learning — Kellie at Our Mindful Life loves learning, and lately she’s undertaken a special project that her family has been enjoying sharing with her.
  • We’re all unschoolers — Lauren at Hobo Mama embraces the joy in learning for its own sake, and wants to pass that along to her sons as she homeschools.
  • My children, my teachers Stoneageparent shares how becoming a parent has opened doors into learning for her and her family, through home education and forest school.
  • Never Stop Learning — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses her belief that some of the most important things she knows now are things she’s learned since finishing “formal” schooling.
  • Learning is a Lifelong Adventure — Learning has changed over time for Life Breath Present, and she is more excited and interested now than ever before.
  • Facebook: The Modern Forum — Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains why Facebook is today’s forum – a place where people from all walks of life can meet to discuss philosophies, debate ideas, and share information.
  • 10 Ways to Learn from Everyday Life (Inspired by my Life in Japan) — Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different offers tips she learned while living in Japan to help you learn from everyday life.

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Filed under Carnival posts, Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

The house gets a facelift

scaffolding

The roof on the second floor was our last major project on the house. It was a considerable expense and pretty much wiped out our house savings. So no major projects are scheduled right now. By major projects, I mean windows and tile for the second floor, a new roof for the animal area and a solar power system. Those projects are on hold for the time being.

front eyelash

That’s not to say that there aren’t some other projects we’ve been working on. The cement, sand and gravel left over from the roof project was put to good use. We spent Easter vacation putting on a pestaña, (eyelash) on the front of the house. This entailed filling in the existing exterior ledge at an angle and smoothing it over, ready for tejas (roof tiles) which we haven’t purchased yet. For filler we used black pumice stone, easily found in our immediate area, because of it’s light weight.

filler

This was a 3 person job. My son gathered and tossed up the pumice stone. I filled and transported the buckets of mortar to the dump site out the window and my husband did the actual construction. Since we still had some cement and the scaffold was already rented, we went ahead and patched the front of the house too. Patching reduces water permeability and will allow us to paint it, which will happen whenever the budget allows for it.

tossing stones

I’m pretty impressed with the results. Our home is starting to resemble my idea of a house. I think it looks quite friendly. Wouldn’t you agree?

finished front

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Just another weekend adventure

It's a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

It’s a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

Saturday started out rainy, which never bodes well. The amount of rain that falls is proportionately related to the number of classes I have.(See Failing at your own business–Saturday classes) Sure enough, I had only half my classes show. Well, I put my time to good use on other projects for the school until the rain let up and my son and I raced home on the moto before the next storm hit.

My husband arrived shortly thereafter for lunch. As it was clouding up again, he thought it best to take one of the vehicles back for his afternoon shift at the viniteria (liquor store) instead of his moto. Butch, the truck, had a slow leak in the back tire. He loaded the tire into Myrtle (See Placando Myrtle) to have it repaired in town before his shift. Then Myrtle, the VW bug, wouldn’t start. So he and I pushed her out of the garage, only to discover the back tire was flat. There was nothing to be done but put some air into the tire with the bicycle pump. That finished, Myrtle still wouldn’t start. We gave her a running push down the hill and nothing. My husband opted to take the battery out of Butch and connect it up, hoping that Myrtle’s battery would charge with the drive. We think maybe there’s a loose wire someplace but didn’t have time to run a full diagnostic during lunch break.

Joey posing for the camera!

Joey posing for the camera!

The rest of the afternoon passed quiet enough, except for an incident with Joey. (See Joey) Joey, as the biggest male in our animal kingdom, fully believes he is the head mucky-muck around here. Joey’s dad lives across the way in my brother-in-law’s B partially finished house but is seldom out and about. Joey’s dad is a full-fledged, ornery stallion. His bad-tempered self happened to be tied out near our house for an afternoon grazing session. Not thinking much about it, my son took out Shadow and Joey for their dinner grazing. B hollered over and told my son to take them back in until he got his horse back in his stall. Shadow obediently trotted back inside. Joey didn’t. He sniffed the air, snorted and was off, rearing and neighing. Of course, Joey’s dad didn’t take kindly to the upstart challenger. There was a lot of horse screaming, bucking and running about for the next 10 minutes or so. Joey’s dad was tied, so Joey felt brave enough to get right up next to him and throw some shadow kicks. My son and B had the lasso out and were trying to catch Joey before Joey’s dad broke his rope and caused some real damage. Throughout it all, Shadow was carrying on in the stall, eyes rolling in her head. All of a sudden, Joey gave up the fight. He ran right through the neighbor’s corn field and back to his stall. Joey’s dad snorted and huffed, then went back to his dinner. Of course, we waited until the coast was clear before taking our two horses out again.

While my son was out with the goats and horses, I cooked dinner. I wasn’t expecting my husband until about 11 pm but I didn’t want to be cooking at that hour, so I made his favorite cacapapa (fried potatoes, garlic, onion, and tomato) so I could just heat it when he got home. Well, 11 pm came and went. Midnight came and went. By 12:30 am I was starting to get worried. I tried calling his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. I dozed a bit, woke up to find that he still wasn’t home, and called his phone again. The next morning, he still wasn’t home. I called his phone at least 30 times during the course of the day.

We checked with my father-in-law, who went to town on his bicycle to see if he could find out anything. We drove around between torential rain showers, checking his regular route and hang out places and found no trace of him or Myrtle. By mid-afternoon, we were pretty sure he was dead in a ditch somewhere. I started worrying about how to get the truck out of the garage for the wake since the back tire was in the back seat of Myrtle. (See Mass and burial Mexican style) My son and I talked about which animals to sell to cover the funeral expenses. Joey, after his little stunt, was at the top of the list. Then I started to worry that nobody would inform us of his death. None of his documentation in his wallet has La Yacata since the community doesn’t have any street names. Neither is Myrtle registered at our home address, for the same reason. (See Getting Legal–License to Drive)

My father-in-law came by to say that none of my husband’s buddies had seen him since yesterday. He also told us that my husband’s nephew L, who had only been out of jail for a few weeks (See More thoughts on Safety and Security) had been in a serious moto accident on Saturday and was in the hospital. The passenger was in a coma. Due to the nature of the laws here in Mexico, should the passenger die, L will be charged with homicide (See And Justice for all?) Since he had been to the hospital, he was able to confirm that my husband had not been taken there. He suggested we contact the police. I told him that if he had been arrested, surely he would have been allowed to call to let us know where he was. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one phone call rule here in Mexico, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I sent messages to my sisters-in-law T and P. T hadn’t seen him. P didn’t answer. A little while later, T called to say that a muchacho (young man) had just been to see her to tell her that my husband was in the jail in Uriangato, the neighboring town. I didn’t even know Uriangato had a jail. T didn’t know where the jail was, nor had transportation to go and get him out. B, who is currently living with his sister T, knew where the jail was and had transportation but wasn’t interested in doing anything about getting his brother out of jail. My son and I went up the hill when the rain let up to see what my father-in-law had to say. He’s always full of good advice. He didn’t know where the jail was either, but his son C, who was visiting, did. I couldn’t follow his directions, but understood it was just minutes from where P had moved to recently. So I called P. From the noise in the background, it seemed like she was at the hospital. She sent her brother M and her sister L on the moto to check the jail and called me back. Yes, my husband was there (which I already knew) and that the fine was 200 pesos, which nobody was willing to pay. In any case, he could only be held 24 hours and as he had already been there more than half, he’d be released soon. I had the money to get him out, but I still had no idea where the jail was and no one was willing to take me.

About an hour later, my husband himself called me. He said that he had just been released from jail and was walking home. I told him to take a taxi home. He said he didn’t have any money. I told him that I would pay the taxi when it arrived. So 30 minutes later, he was home. The taxi ride was $70 pesos.

Here’s what happened. My husband got off work at about 11 pm. Myrtle’s tire was low again, so he started towards the gas station a few blocks away to put air in it. The car stopped. The battery was dead again. It wouldn’t start, so he tried pushing it. As he was doing that, a police car came up and asked what he was doing. They checked the car out, saw the truck battery in the back seat, arrested him and had the car towed to the police station. Apparently, someone had reported a truck battery stolen or so they said. Sounds like the time my husband was arrested when getting a load of water because someone reported a stereo stolen in Ojo de Aqua en Media (See Christmas in Mexico–La Aguinaldo)

While waiting for the judge to hear his case, he was put in the holding cell with 4 other hardened criminals. Three of the four were from Cuitzeo and had been arrested for changing their clothes. Yep, you read that right. Most of the manual labor workforce and domestic servants in Moroleon are from Cuitzeo, a small town just across the Michoacan border. They have the curious custom of changing clothes. They take the bus to Moroleon, walk to their job sites from the bus terminal, change their regular clothes to work clothes, work their shift and at the conclusion of their shift, change back into their regular clothes to take the bus back to Cuitzeo. That’s what these three men had been doing. It seems the walls of their job site weren’t finished yet, so their changing could be seen from the street. They were seen, arrested, and charged them with indecent exposure.

The fourth deliquent was the young man who runs the papeleria (stationary store). He had been arrested because his music was too loud. You know those paper store types, always causing a ruckus. Once he paid bail, he stopped by T’s house to let her know where my husband was.

Meanwhile, one of the three from Cuitzeo paid my husband’s bail of $341 pesos, a bit more than the 200 quoted to M and L. He told my husband to pay it forward. When he went for the return of his personal items, the $400 pesos formerly in my husband’s wallet was no where to be found. So the judge gave him 10 pesos to take the bus back to Moroleon. Unfortunately, by now, it was late Sunday afternoon and the buses weren’t running anymore. Thus the $70 pesos taxi ride.

On Monday morning, my husband took the car title and my identification, because Myrtle is registered in my name, back to the police station to get the car. In order to regain possession of the car, he had to pay the police grua (towtruck). That bill was $850 pesos. He borrowed a battery from el plomero neighbor and brought Myrtle home. Since the money was gone, there is the very real concern about his debit card. On Tuesday, he went to the bank to see what could be done since his card number has been stolen once already. That time we did not have to pay for the resulting mystery shopping spree because we had informed the bank and changed the card prior to the date the charges were made. So far, no strange charges have been credited to our account.

I have to say that I am mighty impressed with the local police force. They certainly know how to clean the riff-raff off the street and keep its citizens safe. I mean, just last month alone….the mother of three of my students was gunned down on her way to the gym at 9 am….oh wait, no one was arrested. And just after that, the father of two other students was stabbed and his taxi stolen…but no, no one was arrested in that case either. And before that, the father of another student was kidnapped, his dismembered body returned to his family even after the ransom was paid…yet again, no one was arrested. However, committing the heinous crime of having two batteries in your vehicle or changing out of your work clothes or playing your music just a bit too loud, well, the police all over that. Thank God!

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Filed under Driving Hazards, Safety and Security

Failing at your own business–University courses

A University education is not all it's cracked up to be.

A University education is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m pretty famous around here. People recognize me all the time. Some people know me for my involvement with my making La Yacata a better place campaigns. (See The Beginning of the Revolution) But most people remember me from one of the 4 schools I’ve worked in over the years. (See Learning and Teaching) Those people that remember me often recommend me to other people, who then remember me on down the line when someone else they know would benefit from my skills.

That’s how I came to be involved in University courses. The parent of one of the students I taught, recommended me to his sister who was studying for her master’s degree in Queretaro. Now, I’m the go-to girl when it comes to English dilemmas.

Here’s what I offer for those higher learners in need of English assistance.

I offer a TOEFL preparation course. I charge 50 pesos per hour and another 50 pesos for a copy of the TOEFL book exercises. Students do better if they answer the questions on their own time and then we go over the correct answers together. I explain grammar points that they are having problems with and offer suggestions on how to best eliminate incorrect answers. I also offer a separate listening course for motivated students. Unfortunately, it seems quite a number of students are looking for TOEFL miracles three days before the exam. I do what I can, but stress that three weeks before the exam would make for a better preparation.

Other students need some help with their actual courses. A good number of the University level business courses have a textbook entirely in English. Most of the students are not up to that level of English reading, so they come to me to see what I can do to get them through the course.

I offer a summary service. I will read the chapter, unit, essay, study, or textbook and write a summary of the material, highlighting important facts. I charge 50 pesos per hour, not per page. My summary is in English. I have had students that want me to write it in Spanish, but I really don’t think my Spanish is up to scratch. I tell them to plug my summary into an on-line translator if they can’t manage it. I expect there are people out there who are busy translating these textbooks, etc, and making bootlegged copies to sell. I’ve lost a client or two after they found a Spanish version someplace. I’m ok with that. It’s a huge time commitment. I’d rather do about anything else than spend hours hunched over the computer. But the money is good.

Most recently, I’ve broadened my offerings to include on-line courses. A former student of mine recommended me to a co-worker. The co-worker called me in mid-March and asked if I could help prepare her for the TOEIC exam that she was going to take on Saturday. It was Thursday night. I told her that I did not have any time slots available for her. I don’t do emergency English classes. She went ahead and took the test, failing miserably. After Spring break, she called me again and wanted to meet. I told her that I was not familiar with the TOEIC test, but that I did have an available time on Saturday afternoon.

After blah-blahing for about 20 minutes about the aggravation of having to take the exam to qualify for her diploma, asked me if I would do the on-line English course for her. Here’s the low-down. She would get 700 points towards her TOEIC exam for completing the on-line course that cost 1,500 pesos per month. She had 3 months to complete the course before retaking the TOEIC exam. She would only need to score 200 points on the actual exam to pass and receive her Licenciatura in Business. The exam was the final requirement, otherwise she would lose out the thousands of pesos she had already shelled out for the application and thesis requirements.

I said I would, with the understanding that I would charge 50 pesos per hour. She asked me to make a few errors so that it looked as if she were taking the course. She gave me the password and the go-ahead and I went ahead.

This was no measly ESL course. It was a bonafide Business English advanced level course with a few grammar activities thrown in for good measure. The course had 10 parts. Each part had 4 Units. Each Unit had 5 activities. Some of the activities were two-parters, essays or on-line research activities.

How many were going to St. Ives?

In addition, she wanted me to create a study guide so that she could be better prepared to earn those 200 points when the time came. When I sent the first week’s study guide, she was put out that it wasn’t in Spanish. Nothing doing. I wouldn’t have time for that and told her so.

It took 10 weeks for me to complete the course. I worked every spare minute of internet access on it. I averaged 10-12 hours per week. Some weeks she would come and tell me to “echale ganas” and get it done as quickly as possible. Other weeks she would caress the money in her hand at pay up time and tell me it was “bien ganado” a little resentfully. One week I had class cancelations and logged 20 hours of course time, which amounted be 1000 pesos of hard-earned cash. I think she died a little death when I sent her that bill. She certainly delayed long enough, not stopping by with the cash until Thursday of the following week.

Saturday of week 9, she sent a frantic text message asking when I would have the course finished because she needed money to buy some textbook or other and it would cost $1300. I told her it would be done when it was done, by Wednesday at the latest. She wanted to know how many hours I would be working on the course. She also wanted a perfect score on the course now–no more intentional errors. She would get the full 700 points with a 100%, otherwise she would get fewer points for the course and have to earn more with the actual exam.

I was feeling not only a little pressured, but also a bit annoyed and suspicious. I redid the less than perfect activities and sent my hours when I finished the course, but not the final 3 essays. If she decided not to pay me for the work I’d done, I’d at least have the last laugh.

She didn’t appear until the following Thursday. She thanked me for my work, complained again about having to do the course in the first place, and told me if she ever needed another course done, she’d come to me. She also paid me! WHOOPEE! I sent the missing essays the next morning, officially ending our business relationship.

I was so relieved to be done with this project. I earned over 5000 pesos during this 10 week period, all of which I spent gleefully on various and sundry goods. Now, I have a base-line price to give prospective clients that want me to complete this course for them. I also cut and paste the exercises from the course and offer Business English and TOEIC prepration courses on Saturday afternoons. (See Failing at your own business–Saturday classes). I can’t wait to see what other opportunity persents itself!

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Failing at your own business–Sharecropping

For the past few years, we have been sharecropping on a neighbor’s hectare (acre). It involves working 2-3 hours daily from the summer planting season in June until the fall harvest in November. (See Forcibly Green)

My husband waits to plant until the middle of June just to ensure the rains would remain steady because we have no way to irrigate the field. It’s a crucial decision in the life of a sharecropper. Plant too early and the corn sprouts wither. Plant too late and frost kills off the crop before harvest. We’ve had mixed results. Some years, there have been bumper crops. Others, the plants are puny and low producing.

The first step is barbechando the area to be planted.

The first step is barbechando the area to be planted.

The first step is readying the field called barbechando. Fiona was an essential component there, pulling the plow up and over the old corn rows. She does 5-10 rows per day. When the soil is suitably mixed, she starts at the beginning again making rows. Nearly straight is just as good as totally straight. The plants don’t seem to know the difference and grow anyway.

Making the rows.

Making the rows.

We plant in the tres hermanas (See Planting with the tres hermanas) style. Corn, beans, and squash are planted and tended together. Once the corn has sprouted about knee high, Fiona takes another swing through the rows. Any maiz coyote (non-ear producing corn) is pulled out and the regular corn plants in their rows are thinned out, although not aggressively.  Some sections need to be replanted.  Mice and birds really like organic seed corn.

Thinning out and replanting.

Thinning out and replanting.

The rainy season ensures that the non-edible plants grow faster than the edible ones. To keep the edible plants from being choked to death, it’s necessary to arrancar (pull out from the roots) the invaders. As soon as the weeding is done through once, it’s time to start back at the beginning again.

A nice morning for working in the field.

A nice morning for working in the field.

If the corn starts to yellow, we throw abono (fertiziler) around the roots. This is usually a one-day project, sometimes two if we get a late start on the first day.

As the crops ripen, we enjoy the steady stream of bounty. My husband makes a delicious squash, tomato and onion dish. Corn is boiled in its leaves or roasted over the open flame. Beans can be cooked fresh from the vine or spread out to dry for later.

A day in the fields removing the dried corn ears from the stalks.

A day in the fields removing the dried corn ears from the stalks.

Let the planter beware! The drive-by harvesters flock to La Yacata about this time. Unlike crows, mice and squirrels, the drive-by harvester is not put off by scarecrows or lines of plastic bottles swaying in the wind. We send out extra patrols, dando la vuelta to check the borders of our crops several times a day until all the fresh produce is in.

These drying stacks are called toros.

These drying stacks are called toros.

Once the corn has dried, we cut and stack it in toros (stacks). This is when the sharecropper pays his dues. We had a la tercia (a third) contract For every 3 stacks the field produces, one stack goes to the owner of the hectare. The owner and the sharecropper walk through the stacks together while the owner indicates which stacks he will accept as payment.

Bringing it home.

Bringing it home.

Once the crop is divided, it’s in the best interest of the sharecropper to remove his stacks as soon as possible, either by having the molinero (shredder) come or just restacking them in another area for further drying. Remember, the concept of ownership is more open here in Mexico. We’ve had entire stacks of drying corn stolen in the night. We could file a police report I suppose, but when have the police here ever looked out for anyone’s interests but their own?

Fiona, saddled up for an afternoon ride.

Fiona, saddled up for an afternoon ride.

This year, my husband decided not to plant. He was so determined not to plant that he sold Fiona. I opposed the sale. Fiona is a good worker. She earns her keep. She is placid and gentle when not working, unlike Joey I also prefer her lady-like steps to Beauty’s mountainous stride when riding. But he was not to be gainsayed. (See Reducing the herds) and away she went.

Moliendo rastrojo.  Milling the corn stalks for animal fodder.

Moliendo rastrojo. Milling the corn stalks for animal fodder.

Even without planting ourselves, we should be able to get enough rastrojo (dry corn stalks without the corn) from neighbors. A 7 x 20 lot size sells for less than $100 pesos. Entire hectares can be purchased after the harvest. We’ve done this before. My husband makes the deal and when the owner says it’s ready to be picked up, he goes with the truck and brings it back to stack next to our house. When we have enough, he calls in the molinero and we bag it up for winter feed.. Instead of a June-November work season, our gathering work takes about a week in late November.

I am not about to give up on fresh, organic goodness even though we aren’t sharecropping. So this year, I’ve been trying my hand at container gardening. (See Failing at Container Gardening).

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Failing at Container Gardening

Just because my husband decided not to plant this year, didn’t mean we had to go without organic, home-grown goodies. Now that the roof was up, I thought I might fill it with potted plants, maybe hang a hammock and create my own tropical, and edible, paradise.

seed starters

I started seeds indoors in toilet paper tubes during Spring break. My husband came home with egg cartons he picked up somewhere and I used them too. I used the plastic tops to cakes we bought over the past year to keep water from getting all over. Obviously, I’d been planning my planting smorgasbord for some time.

We have rich, black dirt in La Yacata, so I didn’t need to buy any potting soil or fertilizer. However, using natural, unprocessed dirt, left me open for surprises. While readying the dirt for yet another cake pan full of toilet paper tubes, I discovered a snake. No sir, it wasn’t a wriggly worm. It was a little black snake. After some hollering and hopping around, I managed to trap it in a cake pan and run it outside.

snake

Seeing my plant buffet inspired my husband to create a raised bed in the former pig pen. (See Miss Piggy didn’t bring home the bacon) I was delighted. I planted cucumbers, squash, beans, tomatoes, carrots, and jamaica. As the rainy season started in full force, my garden looked great.

cucumbersbeans

wpid-cam03280.jpgwpid-cam03394.jpg

I bought more pots for container gardening and more plants to fill the containers. I hauled them upstairs to the porch area and put them into the sunniest location I could find. Unfortunately, I put several of them directly under the downspout and the first rain washed the pots clean, seeds, dirt and all.

lavender

eucalyptus

I bought some eucalyptus too, to go with my lavender plant. I’d like to have a full fledged herb garden eventually. The lavender is still going strong, but the eucalyptus dried out. I gathered the dried leaves anyway and stored them alongside my feverfew from last year. (See Feverfew Tea)

Will you look at that?  Mama hen and chicks caught in the vegetables!

Will you look at that? Mama hen and chicks caught in the vegetables!

One day, I went outside to check on the plants in the raised bed and found it nearly completely destroyed. At first, I thought it might have been the rain. Then, I thought maybe the destruction had been caused by the cats. Devil has been sighted lounging among the plants enjoying his afternoon cucumber rub. My husband insists that all three cats have been using the area as a litter box, but I haven’t seen that. I think the more likely culprits are Mama Hen and the Red Rooster. Mama Hen and her pollitos (chicks) are allowed free-range in the backyard. Being outside the animal compound reduces the chance of a little one being accidently trampled by goats or horses and adds variety to their diets. Red Rooster is subordinate to Speckled Rooster in the pecking order and flees before him, right out of the compound and into the backyard. However, neither chicken had been given permission to forage in the area set aside for the garden. So much for cultivation.

wild tomatowild bean

feverfewsquash

On the other hand, several plants sprouted without being cultivated. So far, the backyard has random tomato, squash, bean and tomatillo plants, along with the regular yearly explosion of feverfew. Neither the chickens nor the cats seem interested in any of these plants, so I hope they will be allowed to grow to fruit or flower-bearing stage.

garden

As for my container pots, the onion sprouts seem to be doing well, although nothing else has survived germination. I haven’t given up hope. I have a sprouted potato all ready to plant this week. I’ve also started some more jamaica seeds. I’ve saved enough toilet paper tubes to fill another cake pan. Maybe I’ll try the cucumbers again, this time planting them upstairs. Although they are not necessarily safe there. Devil climbs the walls to his private bachelor sanctuary on the second floor. I think he likes the echo when he meows for food. He’s muy macho that way, despite his perchance for herbal rubs.

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Reducing the herds

When last I wrote about our animal kingdom, we were bursting at the seams. (See Old MacDonald’s Farm) Since then we’ve whittled away at our herds. For the most part, our animal conglomeration is more manageable. That’s not to say that expansion won’t happen again in the near future. After all, our goats reproduce every 5 months or so, which doubles the population. But, well, that’s in the future yet.

So the first animal to go was the bull, Toro. He was sold for a good profit to the man who owns the carniceria in town. We didn’t have him long enough to get too attached. The money from his sale went towards the purchase of Nanny goat, her little brown son and two borregas (sheep).

Nanny goat is the largest and darkest pictured.

Nanny goat is the largest and darkest pictured.

We sold Stinky Chivo, our macho goat. He was related to nearly all our female goats and we try to avoid a lot of inbreeding. (See Goat Genetics) Then we traded 2 chivitos (boy goats) for a new macho, Jason Boer. He’s a boer goat, obviously, known for their heavy build. We hope that his genes will buff up the next generation of kids a bit. He started right in on his husbandly duties even though he is only about 7 months old. We can’t wait to see the results in a few months.

Our herd was still too macho heavy, so we sold 3 more chivitos including Nanny goat’s little brown son. That leaves us with Peanut Butter and Jason Boer for male representation right now.

Jason Boer, our most recent macho.

Jason Boer, our most recent macho.

Then we sold the 5 borregas (sheep) and Vaquita to the man who makes birria in town. I was delighted to see the borregas go. The backyard barnyard is much quieter now. (See Separating the Sheep from the Goats) We sold Vaquita because, somehow or other, her leg had been broken. My son’s story was he had chucked a rock to scare Queenie back into the field, but the rock hit a boulder, ricocheted up and hit Vaquita’s front leg. Even after we used half of a plastic tube in a makeshift cast, her leg just wasn’t healing. I’m sure she’ll make delicious birria.

One of the twin vaquitas (daughters of Vaquita) also turned up one afternoon with a broken leg. We are still not sure what happened. She wasn’t able to use her back leg for 2 or three weeks, then suddenly she was all better. Now we can’t tell her or her sister apart again. And here we were planning a barbecue…

Our rabbits are no more. During a sudden squall, one of our rabbits drowned. We ate two, stewed with potatoes, onions and celery. Yummy! The last one died of unknown causes. It had a permanent tilt to its head, it’s ear seemed chewed off and one morning it suddenly didn’t have an eye. Our best guess is that the chickens pecked it to death.

Mr. and Mrs. Turkey are gone too. The goats trampled Mr. Turkey one day while rushing the gate, but after a few days he was up and around again. Instead, Mrs. Turkey just up and died the next week. It didn’t seem worth the time and effort to keep turkeys if we weren’t getting any eggs. So we sold Mr. Turkey for someone’s Sunday dinner.

As my husband has decided not to plant this year (See Failing at your own business–sharecropping) Fiona the donkey is also gone. For a time, there was quite a competition going between several old men. One offered to trade his old burro for Fiona. Another offered to buy her outright, but only came to the house when my husband was working, so they never came to an agreement on the price. My husband finally sold her back to her original owner. While the owner lacks something in the personal hygiene department, his animals are well cared for. They ought to be, living in the house as they are.

chokis

Chokis, the dog, went with Fiona. He trotted along behind Fiona all the way to her new/old home. They were best buddies after all. He was gone a week, then came back to us. He was overjoyed to be home.  He apparently tried to orchestrate an escape for Fiona as well.  He chewed through her halter before leaving, much to the annoyance of her new/old owner.

Available for adoption!

Available for adoption!

Our engorda de gatos (cat fattening farm) underwent a few changes as well. Devil 2 went in a burlap feed sack to the man who bought the borregas, free of charge. She wasn’t too happy about it though. Miss Licorice Whip delivered three more little kitties, Licky 3, Tiger and Angel. In a few weeks, they will be available for adoption if you’re interested. We plan on keeping only Miss Licorice Whip, Licky 2, and Devil 1, although my son is petitioning for Tiger as well.

chickens

Our hens have hatched 6 pollitos (chicks) so far. Any increase in the chicken population is welcomed. More hens mean more eggs. More roosters mean more chicken soup. It’s all good. (See Why did the chicken cross the road?)

The barn swallows made their nest on the beam of our recently finished second floor.

The barn swallows made their nest on the beam of our recently finished second floor.

We also have barn swallows nesting on our second floor. While we managed to get the roof on, we haven’t been able to afford the windows or doors yet. As a result, the swallow parents swoop in and out with ease. We will enjoy watching their hatchlings grow like we did with Mrs. Macho the pigeon, at least until we get around to claiming the second floor for ourselves.

Grazing Shadow.

Grazing Shadow.

We still have both Joey and Shadow.  With our decreased herd and increased space, each now has his or her own enclosure to shelter overnight and in inclement weather.  Definitely, an improvement there! (See Beauty’s Babies and Joey el potrillo)

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Local Elections

I didn’t want to write about the mid-term elections this year. I refused to get involved nor did I want to know anything about the campaigning. When I came across a bunch of flag waving, singing, partido (party) supporters, I hurried away as fast as my moto could take me. But, the story is just too good not to share. So here it is.

Election campaigning is of a very limited nature. Parties can begin their hoopla on April 5 and must end it all, I mean dead silence, three days before elections on June 4. (Get facts about Mexicos 2015 midterm elections) This time, June 7 fell on a Sunday, so no breath of public advertising was permitted beginning on Thursday. Mexico also enforces la ley seca (the dry law) the period before the election under the belief that sober voters make fair elections. No alcohol can be bought the day before the election. Again, since this was a weekend election, the dry period began Friday at midnight and lasted until Monday.

But during those campaigning days, what a hoopla it was! It was a far cry from the last local elections with conch shells and matracas (See Politicking) If I were to hazard a guess, the major political parties received huge infusions of campaign funds this year. Every partido (party) had two or three custom painted vehicles, complete with mounted sound systems to blare out the party jingle all day, every day of the campaigning period. Everybody had oodles of party labeled flags to give out as well, not to mention bags, aprons, hats, shirts, water bottles, balls and other promotional gear. Two of the partidos (parties) even had mascots. Partido Verde (The Green Party) marched about with their Toucan and PAN (National Action Party) had a Gallo (rooster) referring to the nickname of their current candidate–El Gallo.

PES was the only political party not represented in Moroleon during the 2015 mid-term elections.

PES was the only political party not represented in Moroleon during the 2015 mid-term elections.

This year the old standbys were represented. PRI, PAN, Partido Verde, PT, PRD. There were four splinter parties, Movimiento Ciudadano, Humanista, Nueva Alianza and Morena. They all offered more employment, fewer taxes, more security and less crime if only you would vote for them. (See also The Parties)

Election day had low voter turnout and plenty of funny business. Several members of PRD were caught buying votes and arrested. A half-page article appeared in the local newspaper categorically denying any vote buying activities by said family. Curiously enough, the accused are close family members of the current PRD president of Moroleon. Voters from los ranchos (small towns and villages that fall under the jurisdiction of Moroleon) have been heard to say that members of the local cartel did their own campaigning for PRD. So nobody’s surprised that PRD won the election.

That’s not to say PRI didn’t do its own vote buying. They just didn’t buy enough this time around, coming in a measly second. The third runner up was the candidate for the little party, Movimiento Ciudadano, which was quite a surprise. Had the elections been fair and the vote buying parties disqualified….well, that’s just too much to think about.

The neighboring town of Uriangato also had their share of shenanigans. Once the votes were counted, Partido Verde and PRI tied. The odds of that happening by chance seem astronomical to me. Partido Verde demanded a recount and were subsequently declared the winner. I’m not sure how many consecutive terms a local mayor can have, but the newly elected candidate is on his third term. Maybe this time he’ll be able to get board approval for the international airport he wants to build. I just bet he knows the perfect place for it and would be able to give the airport a good price….wink, wink. I can just imagine the posh visitors from Milan or London stepping off the plane to…..

ELOOTEES— ESQUIIIIITES

Nationally, PRI was the clear winner in the majority of local elections. Hmmm, could it be that the current PRI president, Peña Nieto, had a hand in that? Or perhaps it was the dispensa (gift) pictured below distributed to many municipalities?

This is the dispensa, give away, from PRI in Teocaltiche, Jalisco during the 2015 mid-term elections.

This is the dispensa, give away, from PRI in Teocaltiche, Jalisco during the 2015 mid-term elections.

Some candidates were taken out before election day. Also during the bloody election period, at least 7 candidates were murdered and another 20 dropped out due to death threats, in attempts to control the outcome of the elections. One of those candidates, Enrique Hernandez, was elected posthumously in Yurecuaro, Michoacan, confirming the fact that the only good politician is a dead politician.

Other areas opted out of the election process altogether. In Oaxaca and Guerrero, protestors burned ballots and refused to allow the elections to proceed. The military was sent in to restore order and killed yet another future teacher of Ayotzinapa. Thousands attended his funeral.

The government sent out the heavy artillery for this election. They could not allow the type of demonstrations that have characterized Mexico during the past 10 months to interfere with the electoral process. Such disruptions are breeding grounds for anarchy, chaos…or dare I say it…freedom? It just wouldn’t do for the people to call for self-rule… It just wouldn’t do at all.  (See As more Violations come to Light, US praises Mexican elections)

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