Shannon writes at Casita Colibrí, another long-time favorite of mine.
What brought you to Mexico?
Even though I grew up in California, my first trip to Mexico was in 2007, when I came to Oaxaca to visit a friend. I immediately fell in love with Oaxaca, returned a couple more times, and considered eventually retiring there. The privately funded library where I’d been the director for almost 13 years lost its funding and closed in spring 2009.Full-time jobs for librarian/archivists in the San Francisco Bay Area were almost non-existent. Faced with the choice of working multiple part-time and substitute jobs to barely keep my head above water, versus renting my house and moving to Oaxaca to live a downsized and simplified life, in a culturally rich, full of life city, I opted for the latter.
What was the inspiration behind the name of your blog?
Casita Colibrí is the name I gave my first apartment in Oaxaca – a little rooftop studio surrounded by Tulipan trees. Their brilliant red-orange flowers are a favorite of the hummingbird — colibrí, en español!
What area of Mexico and topics does your blog primarily focus on?
My blog’s tagline is “gringa musings from a rooftop terrace in Oaxaca” and that pretty much sums up my focus. Most, though not all, of the posts center around the State of Oaxaca – people, food, traditions, celebrations, music, art (especially street art), textiles, my garden, and the weather.
Why do you blog?
Oaxaca is an incredibly inspiring place and so I started blogging to satisfy the need for a creative outlet and really didn’t consider that anyone, other than family and friends in the US, would want to read it. To my surprise, others have discovered my blog, found it interesting, and the readership has expanded beyond any expectations. Because of that, and the wonderful feedback I’ve received from readers all over the world whom I’ve never met and several who subsequently I have met, I’ve come to feel a responsibility to make each post as informative as possible and to attempt to improve my very limited photography skills. However, I still to blog about what interests me and hope readers will continue to come along for the ride.
What is your favorite blog post?
Yikes, I really don’t think I have a favorite. If pressed, it would probably say my “About” page, as that was the beginning and provides a glimpse into how it all began.
What has been the most difficult for you to blog about?
I would say, Mexican politics (national, state, and local) has been the most difficult thing to blog about. Firstly, it is spectacularly complex, nuanced, and confounding. As such, it is incredibly hard to comprehend, especially when looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner. Most importantly, Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution forbids foreigners from participating in Mexican politics. As with many things, that prohibition is open to interpretation. However, I don’t want to tempt fate and risk expulsion. Thus, for both reasons, I try to steer clear, though at times it isn’t easy.
What has been the best experience you’ve had in Mexico?
I would have to say one of my most favorite experiences was when a male friend and I were getting ready to leave after hours spent photographing the Danza de la Pluma (a day-long Zapotec dance re-telling the story of the Conquest) and I noticed that he had a slightly panic-stricken look on his face. To my question, he replied that he couldn’t find his backpack, which he had left under a big tree which was now surrounded by spectators. All eyes had turned to the unfolding drama, as I walked to the other side of the tree, held up his backpack, rolled my eyes, and said, “¡Como mis hijos!” Everyone cracked up – especially the abuelas. It was such a wonderful reminder of our commonality.
What has been the worst experience you’ve had in Mexico?
My worst experience was being summoned to my 89-year-old neighbor’s apartment one night to find that she had been beaten, stabbed and robbed. Thank goodness, she survived, regained her strength, and maintained her indomitable spirit. However, it was a horrifying experience and caused me to question the safety of our apartment complex and the feeling of refuge I had always felt when in my garden and apartment. Of course, I immediately took measures – installing motion sensor lights outside, closing the sliding door to my balcony at night, being hyper aware of my surroundings — even at home, and not being too dismayed about the concertina wire that now surrounds our complex. Lesson learned? This is something that could happen anywhere and perhaps because Oaxaca is so warm and welcoming, I’d become too complacent – I’d forgotten that this is a city with most of the same problems as cities all over the world.
If you are currently in Mexico, how long do you plan on remaining?
As I tell people, when asked, I’m here until I’m not. I have come to feel more “at home” in Oaxaca than I do when I return to the town in the US where I grew up and lived most of my life.
What advice do you have for those planning to move or travel to Mexico?
Let go of first world expectations and learn to relax, accept the differences, and live in the present. If you don’t speak Spanish, study it and (most importantly) don’t be afraid to use it (you don’t have to be perfect), treat everyone with respect, don’t assume you know best, and enjoy learning something new every day. Additionally, if you are moving to Mexico, develop a support network of other foreigners and/or locals to help you navigate the challenges.
Where do you see your blog going?
Plans are to let the blog evolve in whatever way Oaxaca inspires. It’s difficult to predict, as this is a place filled serendipity. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since living here is to be open to finding whatever is to be found.