Tag Archives: making a living in Mexico

A room of her own–the quest

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So it’s been a few months now that I’ve been working at my online teaching job. I’ve been using the school computer room, which has both internet and electricity. However, with school events coming up, it’s become clear that I need to find a room of my own.

My first line of defense was to contact Super Prez. His family owns several buildings and sure enough, there was a room for rent behind one of their holistic stores. His wife stopped me on the road one afternoon to tell me to go and see Super Prez’s sister at the other holistic store for details. So I did. Only the sister didn’t know too much about it. She told me to go and ask la encargada (the woman in charge) who lived in one of the other rooms.

So I went, but she wasn’t in yet. I left my phone number but she didn’t call the next day. So I tried again the next evening. Much to my son’s surprise, his chemistry teacher answered the door. She also lived in one of the rooms and told me that the woman in charge would be there shortly. So we waited and she arrived.

She obviously didn’t want to show me the room although she had been told about me. I explained that I wasn’t looking to live there, but to work. She wanted to know what hours I would work and didn’t seem happy with the 10 pm answer I gave. (I’m actually only working until 9 pm most evenings, but really is that any of her business?) She continued to have the just stepped in dog doo-doo look on her face, but agreed to show me the room. The four rooms for rent shared a common patio and the bathroom. I wasn’t happy with that. I thought at least the room would have a bathroom. The woman in charge didn’t seem to like the look of my son. I don’t know what she thought he’d do, peek in windows or leave the toilet seat up?

She seemed relieved when I didn’t bother to ask the cost and thanked her for her time. The room itself was ok, but without a separate bathroom and with her continued hostility, I didn’t think either my son or I would be comfortable there.

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Then one of my co-workers mentioned that there was a room/office for rent right across from her and next to the same holistic store that I had visited to talk to SuperPrez’s sister. Sure enough, there was.

The sign said that no children or pets were allowed. No problem there. My son is hardly a child anymore. And the rent would be adjusted according to the amount of space one would be using. Seemed ok, but then I remembered that it’s half a block from the center of town. It would seem ideal except for the part where the bandas (musical groups) play until the early morning hours and I need quiet for my online classes. You would think a half block would be more than enough however as we can hear the bandas quite clearly all the way to La Yacata—well, the volume would be horrid that close.

So then we drove past a place with a sign out front that seemed lovely. I oohed and awwed about it until my son said it looked like that old lady movie I liked to watch. Then I nearly peed myself laughing. The old lady movie he referred to was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and yep, it looked much like that from what we could see from the front gate.

So I screwed up my courage and rang the bell. An old lady with purplish-red hair eventually made it to the front door. I asked about the apartment for rent and she said the only one available was 3 bedrooms. I didn’t bother to ask the price–downtown, three bedrooms, in a hacienda type building meant out of my budget. Sigh.

So then the other English teacher at my school said that the house across from her was for rent. She took it upon herself to get the number and call for information and set up an appointment for me to see it. I was beside myself with excitement.

The teacher vouched for my character, otherwise I probably wouldn’t even have gotten the appointment.  It’s quite a feat to find a place to rent in our area.  Quite stressful actually.

The owner lived in Yuriria and couldn’t make the first appointment time. I was downcast. I had to wait another 24 hours to see it and yes indeedy, it needed work. My son didn’t go with me to the appointment. He had teenage things to do. It was painted this horrible green–literally every inch of the wall, some of the floor, the doors and even part of the curtains.  The ceiling had holes in it, the toliet leaked, the boiler looked like it had blown up, and some of the electric sockets smoked when you plugged it in.

Despite all that, I rented it. It was the same price as the first room where I would have had to share a bathroom with 4 other women. Calling it a house is a bit of a stretch as it is a little bigger than a bread box, but I don’t need too much space.

I was determined to make it work!

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Working boy

My son has been carrying on like a typical teenage boy about how BORED he is with his life. So I decided it was time to find him a job. I sent an email to my local acquaintances listing his stellar qualities and work experiences and asked if anyone knew of a job would they let me know.

I also started scanning the streets for help wanted signs. There were a quite a number, however, for the most part, they were looking for empleadas (female employees) because they are “known” to be more responsible than male employees. Whatever.

Of course, the other glitch is that although my son looks 17 with his bitty ‘stache and impressive height, he’s only 14, thus underage for most positions. So our cruising around didn’t get us very far.

Then my boss’s husband’s sister sent me an email asking if my son was employed. If not, she could offer him some hours at the papeleria (stationery store). He’d work there before but was replaced with a ‘chacha (girl) after a few months with no explanation.

The catch is he would be working with the elderly mother as sort of a caretaker/salesperson until the daughter gets home from work and takes over. She’s well into her 80s and quite set in her ways, which makes it a bit challenging to work there and all. Well, we’d give it a shot.

The first week he was supposed to work Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday from 3 to 8. I took him to work, and the store was closed. We knocked on the door, and the old lady said his hours started at 4. So he went back at 4. Then she stated that I had said he would be starting at 5, which I hadn’t. I sent an email to the daughter and asked for clarification of the hours. 4-7:30 was the response. However, that changed yet again, now it’s 4:30 to 7:30. All righty then!

The days changed too. His days would be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and not Saturday. Well, ok. But then on Monday, she changed them again. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and not Friday. My son changed his guitar lesson from Tuesday to Friday to accommodate the hours. Then on Tuesday, the days changed yet again back to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Well, the music class was already scheduled so he wouldn’t be going on Fridays. (See Music Lessons)

Meanwhile, my son was invited to be a chambelan for a quinceanera party. Dance training would be Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 7 pm. (See Attending a Quinceanera) Now he was up to his eyeballs in activities!

So, feeling overwhelmed and missing his computer time, my son didn’t want to work anymore. He said he “hated” the job. It was SO BORING. I told him that I would take him home right after school then. That wasn’t enough motivation. I said he would need to tell the girl whose party he was supposed to grace with his presence that he could not participate in the quinceanera because he didn’t have any money for the formal attire required. OK MOM I’LL GO TO WORK!

His arguments for not working were valid. He is only 14, and none of his friends have jobs. He doesn’t like it. It is pretty slow for the most part. He would rather work for himself. I said that would be great! Did he have any start-up money for his business? Nope, well, then he’d have to work at a ho-hum job until then. I reminded him how many hours I was currently working and he said that was different because I was a mom and it was my responsibility, but he was a kid and didn’t have to. So I replied that because I was a mom, I should be home baking cookies instead of working and as a male, he needed to be gainfully employed, that is if we were going to talk about stereotypes and all.

So now his hours are on Monday and Wednesday only so that he can continue with the guitar classes and begin the dance classes. I told him to stick it out until December and then we would talk again. He whined and moaned about that, but I think he’s going to try.

In the short time that he’s been working there, he has already made an impression on the local clientele. A teenage girl, maybe 16 or 17, stopped to pick up some supplies, clearly expecting to be waited on by someone else. When my son asked her what she needed, she sputtered and choked. He asked her again, and she mumbled and blushed. The third attempt allowed her to spit out her paper needs and my son packed them up in a bag. She then circled the block 3 times casting furtive, longing looks his way. He asked me why she acted like that when he had done nothing to provoke the response. I told him that teenage girls all go a bit crazy and act like that and he should just be kind when they are rendered speechless in his presence. I also told him he should be thankful that she didn’t run into a light pole. (See Knockout)

I expect as word gets out, business will be booming Mondays and Wednesdays between 4:30 and 7:30. Don’t you?

working boy

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Failing at your own business–Tortilleria

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One ordinary Friday afternoon, T, my husband’s oldest sister, suddenly appeared in La Yacata. A co-worker in Nebraska had reported her to La migra (immigration) and she had been fired from a job she had for over 10 years. So she packed her suitcases and caught the next bus back to México, thus avoiding deportation.

After a week of cleaning out her father’s house, as 3 single males do not a clean house make, and visiting Mama Vira and Mama Sofia in Cerano, both of who are in their late 80s, T started casting about a way to make a living.

She decided that making tortillas would be a steady source of income and spent several days looking for a suitable local (commercial space). Finally finding one just off of Morelos (the main street on the closer part of town to La Yacata) she set about cleaning it up and procuring the items she would need to go into business.

She bought a comal (large gas heated circular griddle) and moved the refrigerator from her father’s house in La Yacata to the local. As there isn’t any electricity to run the fridge in La Yacata, this wasn’t as big a sacrifice as it might seem. Then she borrowed the glass vitrina (display case) that we had from the Crappe Shoppe (See Failing at your own business–Crappe Shoppe) and bought a scale to weigh out the tortillas, which can be sold by the kilo or the peso (for instance, a person can buy 1 kilo at 13 pesos or buy 10 pesos of tortillas–less than a kilo). She bought the paper to wrap the tortillas in and the plastic bags and a press. She also purchased a costal (grain sack) of corn and lime.

The first day’s sales were good, over 100 pesos. Day 2 wasn’t so good, only 20 pesos. Day 3 was good again, nearly 70 pesos, but day 4 was terrible, not one kilo sold. T came home in tears and had herself a good cry.

With all her preparations, what she had failed to prepare for was envidia (jealousy). Other ladies in town also have their own tortillerias and don’t take kindly to foreigners setting up shop. Although T had lived in Moroleón for 15 years, she had been gone for over 12, so she was deemed an interloper. I suggested she put up pictures of her mother, who was well known before her death last year (See on Life and Liberty) and maybe even my picture since I’m on my way to being just as famous as La Gringa de La Yacata. With our combined fame, perhaps she would be more accepted until she could establish her own reputation.

Then there was the family discord to contend with. Her sister L also has a tortilleria, although it isn’t anywhere near where T set up shop. After the second bad day, we happened to pass L on her moto and she didn’t even nod in greeting. This made me a bit suspicious and later I asked my husband if maybe L had something to do with T’s poor sales. Of course, he didn’t know but said that his brother M had also passed that day and although he saw them (my husband and T) he did not acknowledge their existence.

Both T’s father and I urged her to not despair, telling her that it takes time to attract clientele, but she has the same impatient disposition as my husband and was ready to throw in the towel after just a week. (See Failing at your own business–Taco Express). Moreover, I told her that the change from living in U.S. to México took some getting used to and she should give herself some time to readjust. I know Moroleón likes to style itself a small city, but there is no getting around the fact that it really is a two-bit town, nothing like Lincoln, NE where she had been living for more than a decade. And then there is the fact that we all live in La Yacata, which isn’t even technically a village yet, without water, sewer or electricity–talk about extreme lifestyle change.

Anyway, T decided not to open the next day and go instead to see Chencha, la curandera (healer or wise woman) (See La CuranderaThe first reading). She wanted to know whether she should give up or keep trying.

So up early on Tuesday, she waited for her consultation. When I talked to her later, she was much calmer about things in general. She said that Chencha had told her to have patience, but that things would be slow for awhile. She told her not to invest heavily in the business right now. She said that she saw T going one day back to the U.S. but by plane. As T has never been deported, there is no impediment to her getting a tourist or work visa, provided she owns property and has the required amount of capital in the bank.

Chencha also said that her sister had done something to cause T’s business to fail, thrown some sort of black magic or curse at the local (commercial space) and that this negative energy had attached itself to her. But T shouldn’t worry. This type of negativity always returned rapidly to the originator (sort of like karma). In order to speed that process up, she gave T a spray, a candle, and some soap and to come back again on Friday for the first of the 3 cleansings. T’s egg had come back salty and half rotten. (See La Curandera–A fifth reading ).

When she talked with her sister M, who is still in Nebraska, M scolded her for going to see Chencha. She told T that she should leave things in God’s hands and not be cavorting with witches. When T told me this, I had to laugh over this so-called piousness from the woman who had me falsify a confirmation certificate for her daughter to complete the requirements for her quinceanera (15th birthday) mass after having failed in her attempt to bribe the priest. I told T that Chencha was a curandera (wise woman), not a witch and that she should do whatever it was that she had been told to do. Her father told her the same, having been cured of a debilitating pain in his back through Chencha’s prayers and herbs some years ago.

The next day, T sold every single tortilla. There wasn’t even a kilo left to bring home for supper. The second day after the cleansing was nearly as good. However, she had a surprise visitor at her local. J, the long lost brother, stopped by and brought tamales he said were from their sister L. After he left, T threw the entire bag into the trash and washed her hands thoroughly, not being sure that the tamales weren’t poisoned or cursed.

After that, things started looking up. She started selling menudo on Sundays and always sold out by 11 a.m. Then she asked my husband to make pozole on Saturdays to sell in the afternoons at the local. She also asked a loan of my glass baking dishes to make flan and cheesecake and began making geletinas (jello) as well. (See Failing at your own business–menudo)

She earns about $100 pesos per day with the tortillas, which is enough to get by on and buy supplies for tomorrow’s tortillas. The same holds true for the menudo, she earns about $100 pesos profit, which in turn pays for next week’s supplies.

But there are days when the bus doesn’t pass and she has to walk all the way to La Yacata after a long day, and the water has run out in the tinaco (water storage tank) so she doesn’t have water to bathe, and the gas runs out in the oven, so she has to gather leña (firewood) to heat tortillas for the afternoon meal and she despairs. These days, I stop by with an emergency chocolate ration and commensurate with her in her misery and we work on coming up with a better plan for tomorrow. What else can we do?

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Declaring Solvency

thoreau-grasshopped

Oh, you say, but you live in México and everyone knows things are so much cheaper there. But the truth is, they aren’t. For example, a loaf of bread costs $24 pesos, a liter of milk $11 pesos, and a stick of butter up to $8 pesos, a bag of sugar $16, an ice cream cone costs $15 pesos etc and the average wage is less than $50 per hour.

Oh, but you don’t have very many expenses then, you might say. But that isn’t true either.

We have accumulated a little bit of debt. Last year, my moto fell to pieces and we had to buy a new one on credit, which wasn’t easy to obtain. However, making prompt and weekly payments of $315 pesos, my moto will be paid for in 14 weeks! Yippee!!

We have regular expenses such as tortillas (now $14 pesos per kilo), gas for the vehicles which every month is more expensive, clothing and shoes for a growing pre-teen and during the dry season, feed for the animals. Then there are the occasional expenses such as my current quest to become a Mexican resident (See Getting Legal–Trip 1 and Trip 2). And finally, there are emergency expenses like last week when my husband accidentally sliced open his arm with the machete while cutting grass for the horses and had to get stitches.

Since employment is iffy at best (See The Working Man) for my husband and I, becoming self-sufficient has been essential to our survival.

We have been able to eliminate some expenses entirely.

We have no running water, so we bring our water from nearby springs in water storage containers instead of supporting the Pepsi and Coke companies that sell water in garafones (water jugs) here. (See Water Woes) We do not have electricity, so we don’t have that bill to worry about. We use a power converter from our truck battery to run or charge the occasional electric appliances we use, like the blender for salsa, or the laptop and DVD player. Not having a refrigerator also means only buying what can be consumed in a day, so no prepared frozen foods for us.  (See Simple Living)

We have been able to reduce some of our daily expenses to next to nothing.

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Our mini-orchard provides us with limones (limes), duraznos (peaches), guayabas, naranjas (oranges), chayotes, chillimoyas, and moras (blackberries) in season. La Yacata provides us with nopales (cactus), pitayas, (See Picking Pitayas) and tunas (See Picking Tunas) in season. Our goats provide us with meat and milk (See Separating the Sheep and the Goats) and our poultry (See Why did the chicken cross the road) with eggs and meat. We plant maiz, calabaza and frijol (corn, squash and beans)–the three sisters–for both us and our animals. We have also recently decided that our weekly loaf of Bimbo bread was a luxury item, so now we make our own, cutting our expenses from $24 pesos for one processed loaf to $15 pesos for 2 loaves of home-baked organic goodness.

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It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of life and what methods have been taken to obtain them–Henry David Thoreau

Our wardrobes have been reduced to a few serviceable sets of clothing that are replaced when needed. Our cleaning supplies have been reduced to soap and water, a broom, a mop, a rag, and bucket. Our entertainment expenses consist of board games, horse or donkey rides (See Donkey Races in La Yacata), long walks, bike rides, visiting friends and relatives, reading, gardening and the occasional incidental adventure or two, all of which cost next to nothing.

When we moved to México, we decided to make a fresh start and live within our means. It has been an ongoing process and one that hasn’t been easy. It has required a rethinking of our lives, not just how we spent our money, and reclassifying many things that we thought were essentials as luxuries. (See Forcibly Green-Obligatory Organic) Our diet, our spending habits, and our family has changed dramatically in the 7 years we have been here. I can’t say that it’s been a bad thing becoming solvent.

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