Category Archives: Cultural Challenges

Tiene azucar? — Diabetes in Mexico

Tiene azucar? (Do you have sugar?) is the local way to ask if you have diabetes. It’s not uncommon to see people who have had their feet or legs cut off because of complications with diabetes. The lady who talked to herself on the way to La Yacata had untreated diabetes. She died of a diabetic coma a few years ago at the age of 45. When my son was in elementary, parents were required to attend a workshop on how to diagnose diabetes in our children. We were to look for a purplish ring around their necks that looks like mugre (dirt) but that doesn’t wash off. 

According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is the number one cause of death with nearly 80,000 deaths per year. Mexicans with diabetes die on average younger, at 57 years, compared to the overall age of 69. Early death is not the only side effect. Diabetes can cause strokes, kidney failure, foot ulcers, nerve damage, and blindness.  By 2050, health care practitioners estimate that half of the population of Mexico will have diabetes.

One factor in developing Type 2 diabetes is lifestyle choices. Over the past 40 years, Mexicans have gotten fat. Soda consumption is out of control with an average of more than 176 liters per person per year. It’s hard to find a meal not accompanied by a coke, “la chispa de la vida.” Even breakfast might be served as a bolillo de trigo (wheat bun) and coke. In most areas, a can of soda is cheaper than a bottle of water. High alcohol consumption is another factor in the high sugar diet so popular these days, sugar tax be damned.

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You are what you eat!

The diet has changed as well. Moving from a predominantly plant-based diet based around corn, the average Mexican now consumes more than double the amount of meat consumed in 1960. Carnitas (fried pork) stands can be found on nearly every corner.

In addition to poor diet, Mexicans have become less active overall. Children don’t run and frolic outdoors, but instead huddle in corners playing hour after hour on their cell phones, tablets, and Xboxes leading to a rise in childhood obesity and early onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Of course, it’s not all in the diet. Mexicans also have a genetic predisposition towards developing Type 2 diabetes which compounds the problem.

And the prevalence of this disease places a burden on the healthcare system currently in place. Estimates average more than $700 USD per year per person out of pocket expenses for diabetes maintenance (insulin injections, test strips, pills) and that doesn’t include the cost of dialysis and kidney transplants that are services also not covered under Seguro Popular. Since minimum wage is still under $5.00 USD per day, this is a huge expense for many families

More education about the prevention and management of diabetes is needed. The general idea I hear is that we all die from something, we might as well die fat and happy. And you can bet, their death will be celebrated in grand style, carnitas (fried pork) and coke all around at the velorio and novena perpetuating the cycle.

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Filed under Cultural Challenges, Death and all its trappings, Health, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Buying appliances and furnishing a house in Mexico

I didn’t know that when you rent a house in Mexico, odds are the stove and refrigerator are not installed because every apartment I rented in the US had those two basic appliances. Therefore, as soon as we arrived in Mexico and threw our mattresses on the floor for the night, we began discussing where we needed to go the next day to get a stove.

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Our first appliances in Mexico.

My husband’s mother suggested Elektra’s linea blanca (appliance line) and not having a clue, that’s where we went. We had enough money set aside to purchase a small stove and refrigerator “contado” rather than in payments. They loaded them into the truck and back to the apartment we went.

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Overall, Eletreka seems the most popular store in our area for cell phones, kitchen appliances,  motorcycles and furniture due to its ability to approve financing for your purchases through its own bank, Banco Azteca. In order to apply for credit, you’ll need your IFE (voter’s registration card) if you are a Mexican citizen or your current passport and residency card if you aren’t. Other documentation include: recent proof of residence (water/electricity bill), two years at the same residence or employment as evidenced by predial (tax) payments or a letter from your employer, signed aval (a signed contract from a guarantor in the event you don’t pay), and a signed garantías prendarias (permission to repossess any items bought with the line of credit). Sometimes, you will be asked to give an enganche (downpayment) as well.

Most other mueblerías (furniture stores) seem to have similar policies when you buy on credit. Initially, this seems like a good idea since you can take the items immediately and pay over time. Additionally, Elektra inspires prompt payment by lowering your interest for each payment you make on time. So it seems like you’ll be saving money, however, remember it always works out in favor of the store no matter what you do.

There are some drawbacks to buying on credit. Payment lines are out the wazoo causing you the loss of several hours each week. Supposedly, you can make your payment at places like OXXO or at the automatic tellers. What happens if that payment gets “lost” in the OXXO system? Or the ATM machine is broken? So just suck it up and stand in line like the rest of these fine folk.

Then, no matter what, you are responsible for paying the full amount plus interest even if your motorcycle is stolen, your fridge breaks, or you die. A few months before her death, my mother-in-law bought a motorcycle on credit from Elektra for her recently returned son M. She was wise enough to take a life insurance policy on her line of credit. After her death, her husband took a copy of the Acta de defunción (death certificate) to Elektra. The policy cleared out her debt and M got his motorcycle free and clear which he promptly sold when he skedaddled out of the area. Without that policy, someone in the family still might be making payments on that motorcycle.

If you default on your loan, they will come and get whatever it is you bought on credit. My sister-in-law has found the loophole in this though. She bought a brand-new refrigerator, top of the line model and stopped paying on it. Before the repo men could come and get it, she moved and moved again, and then moved a third time in a one month period.

Then she applied for credit at another Elektra store adding Maria in front of her name (which is her legal name but since everyone and her sister is named Maria and it is often abbreviated M. or Ma. on the birth certificate she always has gone by her second name). She bought some more stuff on credit and did the same thing.

It seems she has lucked out yet again. Her latest motorcycle was purchased in her son’s name since she’d burned her bridges too many times with her own name. The same son who was murdered recently. (Test of endurance) If she had the forethought to get the life insurance policy, then she owns this moto free and clear upon the presentation of his death certificate. It seems some people really know how to work the system.

Elektra has been trying to reduce the chance of default by asking you for a list of family members when you apply for credit. The loan officer then checks the list of bad debtors against your list of relatives and if you are related to someone like my husband’s sister, may well deny you credit.

We’ve had issues with our Banca Azteca card being cloned. It’s happened three times. Twice we reported it and were issued a new card. After the third time, we cut up our card ourselves and have refused to pay any further debts incurred. Our guess is that someone that works either at Elektra or Banco Azteca is facilitating the cloning. Anyway, since the Elektra computer system now lists us as bad debtors we won’t be getting any more credit there.

In our area, in addition to Elektra, Coppel also has a linea blanca (appliance) line and even Soriana and Fábricas de Francia carry appliances, with Soriana being at the lowest end of the quality spectrum and Fábricas of Francia on the more expensive end. I found my washer at Famsa at a good price, but they are somewhat limited as to what they have to offer overall.

carpenteria

Most of the furniture items, tables, sofas, beds, dressers and so on, are really crappy at all of the aforementioned stores. We opted to buy handcrafted items whenever possible. Not only has it been less expensive, but the quality has been far superior. Our roperos (armoires) and bedside tables have been bought from carpenter tents along on the road, others we have had custom made to fit our needs and house from a local carpintería. The bed bases my husband made himself. If you aren’t so handy, you can find sturdy wooden bed frames sold from the back of a truck in most towns. My son’s fabulous corner computer desk was made by a local carpenter. 

Our tables are solid wood bought second-hand and the chairs, well, we have quite a number of handmade chairs (Sitting around the house). Kitchen cupboards, interior doors, and shelves can be ordered from the local carpintería and include installation.

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We have yet to buy a living room set because well, we don’t have a living room. I would suggest an upper-end mueblería for these items. We have one store that offers a scratch and dent sale periodically. The inventory most likely includes furniture that had been repossessed as well. We got two nice chairs there one year. Otherwise, their prices are way out of our budget.

Curtains and beddings, also known as linea blanca, can be purchased at places that specialize in those items, which often are named something like Casa Ramirez or Casa Lopez, or at the stores I mentioned before. You might want to have them made by a sastre (tailor) or costuera (seamstress) if you have odd sized windows or want a specific fabric for bedding. In fact, you might be able to have something bought at one of the Casa places altered by the seamstress on duty.

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I asked my husband about the Casa addition to the name. He said that before different haciendas were known for their needlework or embroidery. So when it was time for new bedding or curtains you would go to la casa de los Ramirez to place an order for your necessities. So the Casa part of the store name comes from that tradition which of course, as my son pointed out, you don’t really need to know in order to buy your blankets there.

Anyway, that’s what I know about buying appliances and furnishings in Mexico. Hope it helps!

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Filed under Cultural Challenges, Economics

Getting Beautified in Mexico

There are some challenges to a modern woman’s beauty regime here in rural Mexico. First, there’s where to go to find the services you may be in need of. Then there’s the communication issue between hair stylist and person in need of beautifying. Then there are the different concepts of beauty to contend with. So here’s some information that might make it easier.

Getting your hair cut isn’t as simple as it appears. The last haircut I got, I came out looking like I’d escaped from a mental hospital by climbing through the sewers. It was that bad. My husband and son just looked at me and shook their heads. My hair has grown out since then, but well, I decided I needed to learn a few more vocabulary words (and find a different stylist) before I tried again.

Hair Cut TermsSo you get your hair cut at a peluquería(coming from the word peluca which means wig) or Estética. Estética unisex establishments cut both men’s and women’s hair. However, a barbería (from the word barba which means beard) is a barber shop and caters to men only. As facial hair becomes more the mode, you can also get beard and mustache trims at most barberías these days. They don’t pull teeth though.

IMG_20180502_145701You need to be very specific in what you ask for. Most men in our area have el corte escolar which is the required haircut for school and is like a crew cut. So every stylist knows how to do this cut, making it the default cut for boys and men. Girls and I’d say 70% of the women here have the parece yegua (looks like a mare) haircut. That’s what my husband calls the pulled back from the forehead into a long, long ponytail or braid style. Older women tend to go with a short bob cut, again, not necessarily the most attractive style, but very popular among those that wear aprons to the store in these parts.

IMG_20180830_124030If you have extremely fine hair, your stylist may not be familiar with how to best cut your hair. You’ll know for sure after your hair has been cut, which is perhaps not the best time to find that information out.

IMG_20180507_092928.jpgThere are some strange hair beliefs as well. Girls who have long flowing hair but are anemic are sent for a much shorter haircut since all that hair is taking the nutrients from the body. Yep. And since everyone wants curly haired babies, those whose little girls are straight haired sometimes have their heads shaved so that it will grow back curly. Ok then.

There are more beauty options in addition to haircuts available at the salón de belleza. You should be able to find manicura and pedicura services at this sort of establishment or you could go to the specialty stores which do Aplicacion De Uñas (fingernail application). A salón de belleza will also style your hair and apply makeup for big events like quinceañeras and weddings. One salón de belleza in our town offers botox as well.

IMG_20180815_191503.jpgIf you are in need of hair removal, there are special places for that too. This one is called Depilación Frida, referring to Frida Kahlo who was indeed in need of a little upper lip and unibrow assistance. I’m not so sure that this location is ideal, however. It’s on a heavily trafficked road in front of a secondary school and there’s nothing but a curtain to keep you from flashing the passing pedestrians your nearly hairless lady parts.

If you’d like just your eyebrows done you can go to places that offer Delineación de Cejas. The optometrist where I bought my last pair of glasses offers this service I guess so that your eyebrows look nice with your glasses?

Depiliaction termsSo now you want to add a little pick me up scent either console or celebrate your new look? Head to the Perfumería. If you can’t quite afford what they have to offer, try perfumes similares where you can get casi, casi (almost) the same perfume at a fraction of the cost.

IMG_20180410_134835So a trip to the joyeria isn’t in the budget? Try the Bisturia for costume jewelry. Cosméticos (cosmetics) are pretty limited where I live. You might try places that supply the salones de belleza for a selection.

If you are in need of a little more pampering and the vibrating chairs at the shopping center aren’t enough, you can go to a sobador (literally a person who rubs or massager). Our area does offer a “spa” but I’m sure it’s not anything like you can get in the south of France.

IMG_20180221_155214How about some body art? Tattoos are done at places that offer tattoos. That one isn’t too hard to figure out. Sometimes the establishment also does body piercing. Although we live in a pretty conservative area, it’s not unheard of for regular men and women to have visible tattoos or a body piercing or two and all girl babies have their ears pierced before leaving the hospital. Of course the more adornment you have, the more suspicious looks you’ll get, and the more often you’ll be stopped by police for a frisk. Just saying. Maybe get those tats in a little less visible place and not across the bridge of your nose, eh?

Maybe this will helps take some of the angst out of your next beauty treatment.

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Filed under Cultural Challenges, Small Business in Mexico

Alcohol and Mexico–like oil and water

The first alcoholic beverages in Mexico were created from the agave plant which is the source of tequila, mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, comiteco, curado, Licor de henequén, and pulque.

The story goes that the creation of the maguey (agave) plant was the result of the ill-fated love between Mayahuel, a goddess of fertility and Quetzalcóatl.  Mayahuel’s busybody abuelita (grandmother) sought to separate the lovers so Mayahuel and Quetzalcóatl transformed themselves into a single tree with two branches. Granny sliced Mayahuel’s branch into many small pieces which Quetzalcóatl buried, weeping copious tears.  From Mayahuel’s remains, the maguey plant was born. When the plant matures, the sweep sap (aguamiel) that seeps from the center is said to be the remnants of the tears shed by Quetzalcóatl.

Unfermented aguamiel known as octli was given to the elderly, sick and women after childbirth and used as a ceremonial drink for the entire family including babies and children on certain occasions. The fermented aguamiel (octli poliuhqui) was used to treat depression and given to dull the pain before ceremonial sacrifices. The recipe for the alcoholic octli poliuhqui (now known as pulque) was given to humans by Patécatl who was married to Mayahuel.

Patécatl and Mayahuel had 400 children known as the Los Centzon Totochtin. These 400 minor deities de los borrachos (drunks) were associated with dreams and awakening, confusion and lucidity, and death. Their birth gave Mayahuel a holy duality. Not only was she a goddess of fertility and the earth with multiple breasts to nourish her many children, but also with the creation of pulque and her love for Quetzalcóatl, she became associated with drunkenness and adultery. Her influence was so great that one day of every month was devoted to her and children born on that day were destined to become drunks or commit adultery (probably while drunk).

Understanding the strength of the fermented aguamiel, excessive drinking was prohibited. In fact, public drunkenness was punishable by death unless you were over the age of 70. 

Not content with the local inebriants, Spanish conquerors imported plants from their native land and found that the climate and soil composition were an ideal environment to grow grapes.

Several areas were already known for their cultivation and fermentation of wild grades. The Mexicas called alcohol made from wild grapes acacholli. The Purépechas referred to it as seruráni. The Otomíes used the term obxi and to the Tarahumaras it was known asúri.

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Vineyards outside of San Miguel de Allende

After the Spanish conquest, Hernán Cortés had seeds brought from Cuba from plants originally brought from Spain for wine production in Mexico. In 1524, he decreed that Spanish settlers should plant 1000 grape vines for every 100 native servants owned. The first vineyards were established in Huejotzingo and around the conquered Mexico City. This hybrid plant was known as xocomecatl in náhuatl and the resulting alcoholic beverage was known as tlapaloctli.

In 1531 the Spanish king Carlos V ordered that emmigrants destined for Mexico settlement take grape vines and olives for cultivation. Converting the indigenous took a back burner to wine production in Metztitlán. The Augustine monks of the area managed to create enough wine to meet local consumption needs and export to Mexico City, which they sent by the wagonload. Not to be outdone, the Jesuit monks in Baja California cultivated grape plants to provide for the thirst of the California missions up and down the coast beginning with San Diego de Alcalá

Thus, vineyards became a profitable enterprise in Mexico post-conquest. This wine producing prosperity continued unchecked until 1595 when King Felipe II prohibited the planting of new vines in the country because the wines being produced in Mexico were of superior quality to wines being produced in Spain which made the Spanish wine producers unhappy.

Even Miguel Hidalgo practiced vitivinicultura in what is now known as Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato. Unfortunately, Virrey Francisco Xavier Venegas destroyed his vineyard in retaliation for Hidalgo’s treasonous acts against the Spanish crown during the War for Independence.

Fermented maguey and grape consumption aside, Mexico is the world’s tenth largest beer consumer and the third largest beer producer. There are two main beer producers in Mexico. Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma and Grupo Modelo

Before the conquest, a variety of beers were produced from fermented corn including Pox, Tejuino, Tepache, tesgüino, and pozol. The first barley based cervecería (brewery) was set up near Mexico City by Alfonso de Herrero in 1543 or 1544. Dark beers became popular under the rule of Maximilian I from Austria. Beer consumption has continued to grow in Mexico. As of 2010, the Mexican average annual beer consumption is 60 liters per adult.

Mexico ranks at the top for alcohol consumption with one of the highest mortality rate for alcoholic liver disease in the world. The prevalence of alcoholic liver disease and addiction is apparently a combination of these pre-conquest traditions and the post-conquest gene mixture.

Each weekend, approximately 30 million Mexicans consume more than 5 drinks per day while another 10 million Mexicans have at least one alcoholic drink daily with about 5 million Mexicans developing a strong alcohol dependence. Regular alcohol consumption begins in early adolescence. One study found that 61.4% of 12-17-year-olds are regular drinkers. In another study, over 1/3 of 12-year-olds in Mexico City admitted to drinking. By age 17, 82.5% have used alcohol. Another study found that Mexican adolescents who drink regularly have more positive beliefs about consumption than those who don’t drink. In part, this is because drinking alcohol during this key period of development of the brain causes permanent alteration of the brain.

Drinking is common at most social or religious events in Mexico including weddings, quinceaneras, and christenings. Although this is a culturally acceptable activity, alcohol dependence grows over time. Ten years after beginning regular alcohol use the number of beers consumed per event typically goes from 4 to 6 to 20-24 beers. Because of this social association with events and heavy alcohol ingestion, binge drinking, infrequent drinking with sporadic heavy drinking, is the most common drinking pattern in Mexico.

So why is this a problem?

Compared to other countries, Mexico has the youngest people with alcoholic cirrhosis in the world with an average age of 23 to 30 years. In part, this is due to the unique set of genes found in the general Mexican population.

Even after a diagnosis of alcoholic cirrhosis, alcoholics continue to drink themselves to death. 40%-60% of the risk for developing chronic alcoholism is also genetic which is the number one cause of cirrhosis in Mexican males and the fourth-leading cause of death in Mexico.

Not only does excessive alcohol consumption cause life-threatening medical problems for the drinker but there is a high correlation between acts of violence and alcohol use, not that anyone is surprised by that finding. The WHO has reported that in Mexico alcohol plays a part in 51% of injuries resulting from violence and 78% of paralysis and death incidents.  These injuries, paralysis, and death are not always confined to the person drinking. Domestic abuse, rape, and femicide come to mind.

So can those struggling with alcoholism get help?

The Mexican government recognized the growing issue of alcohol dependence among teenagers and young adults in 2000 and introduced NOM 028-SSA-1999 which outlines preventative and treatment measures available. As with most government-sponsored programs, there are a lot of good intentions but very little follow through.

Central Mexicana de Servicios Generales de Alcohólicos Anónimos, A.C. (Alcoholics Anonymous) can be found in most locations throughout the country. Local meeting groups and albergues (in-house detox centers) sponsored by AA are easily located. There are also Al-anon and Ala-teen groups in many areas. (Central Mexicana de Servicios Generales de Los Grupos Familiares Al-Anon A.C)

There are psychiatric hospitals (Clínicas) and rehab centers that deal with alcoholism, often at prices the average Mexican can’t afford. A variety of religious groups sponsor retiros (weekend retreats), sometimes free and sometimes at a set cost, as part of rehab programs.

Although with the cards stacked against the typical Mexican with their genetic predisposition for both cirrhosis and alcoholism, long-term recovery by any means is low. On the other hand, there have been promising results using the sage of the diviners’ plant (Salvia divinorum) from the Sierra Madre Oriental region of Oaxaca, Mexico as a treatment for addictions. Salvia effects the dopamine levels in the brain, specifically areas dealing with motivation and reward.  More study on its use and applications is needed, however.

 

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Filed under Cultural Challenges, Health, Mexican Food and Drink