Tag Archives: self-employment in Mexico

Juggling all the eggs in one basket

small-poppins

So it’s been just over a month since the beginning of the school year and my schedule has me running around like a chicken with its head cut off. This year, at the school I work at, I’ve had the owners hire a second English teacher to cover the kindergarten classes and first grade. I continue to teach second grade through sixth grade. I thought it would free up my time some so I didn’t feel like I was dying at the end of each day like last year when I taught 2 kindergarten classes and five elementary classes (I combined some of the groups into mammoth groups to accommodate the school day and my availability). However, although I’ve given up some tasks, I have taken up others.

Instead of teaching kindergarten, I designed the curriculum and textbooks that the kindergarten will be using for all 4 levels, maternal, first, second and third grade. That took more than a few hours of my already limited time. I like doing that sort of work, but it doesn’t compare to the joy of teaching the little lovely happy souls ages 2-6.

The curriculum is already in place for first grade, but it’s been challenging to bring the new teacher up to speed. She’s had more experience at teaching kindergarten than elementary and the additional requirements that come with elementary teaching include things like diagnostic tests, parent meetings, grading with numbers rather than excellent, very good, good, regular, deficient and so on and new to her. Plus, the textbook we use comes with video and computer game components and she’s not really tech savvy. I’m glad that she’s open to learning these things, but it means more work for me at the moment.

Then there’s the pay. I’ve been making less money for more work each year I work in the Mexican school system. When I started, I made 85 pesos per hour and had 8 weeks off in the summer. Now I make 70 pesos per hour and have 4 weeks off in the summer. Of course, everything else has gone up in price during that time. Tortillas used to cost 6 pesos per kilo, now they are 13 pesos per kilo. And the peso had devalued to 19 per US dollar what seems like permanently now.

I’m also supposed to get a provisional teaching license from Guanajuato. Because of all these educational reforms, I’ll need to take the official exam too. The thing is, everybody knows the system is rigged. Several teachers I know that took the exam last year and passed, this year took the same exam and didn’t. What’s up with that? The list of requirements SEP requests keeps getting longer and longer and each required document has a price. So is it really worth it when I make $68.75 USD per week?

mototeacher

Then there are my private and Saturday classes. Since I’ve been working online, I decided to only teach private classes on Wednesday and Thursday during the week. I only kept my long-term students. However, lately, students have been canceling left and right. I have 7 classes scheduled for those two days, last week, I only taught 4. The same thing happens on Saturday. I have 4 scheduled for Saturdays, last week I only taught 1. If I were depending on these “regular” classes for my weekly income, we’d surely starve to death. Not to mention I haven’t raised my prices since I started. I still only charge $50 pesos per class, per student, per hour. That’s $2.64 USD per hour.

Camille Online

You might think that my online classes are my salvation. After all, they pay in US dollars. However, I’ve had internet connection issues this month. One day, my internet dropped just for a minute. I was able to return to the class, but my audio wasn’t working. The tech person instructed me to restart my computer, so I did. Only when I did, Windows 10 decided it needed to do updates. My computer was out of commission for over an hour while they installed. Then another day, the internet went out 10 minutes before my scheduled shift, in the entire town. It returned the moment my shift was over. Then, I’m only scheduled for about 10 hours per week, although Labor day weekend vacation requests bumped my schedule up to 15 hours. It’s not enough to live on, dollars or not. Plus, if the internet continues to be so unreliable, I’m pretty sure I’ll get fired.

I haven’t come up with any good solutions yet. I’ve committed to this schedule until December, then I’ll have to reevaluate the value of my time. Suggestions anyone?

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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.

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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 alcohol, 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 minuscule 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!

caves

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 became 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 thinks 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! See it here!

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?

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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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Failing at your own business–Tortilleria

tortillas

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 to 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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Failing at your own business–Taxi service

After dinner, last week, my husband began by saying I should hear him out about this plan he has and I immediately perked up and took notice. What new plan was this??? So he started with “There is this group of women and they would pay $100 each. . .” I thought perhaps he was talking about a tanda, which is a sort of chain savings plan where a number of women contribute a portion of their weekly earnings, paying it to the designated hostess and receiving it the week of her own hosting. I tuned out of the conversation for a bit while I tried to think of the word tanda and came back to full attention when my husband started making hugging and kissing pantomimes. What was he talking about?

His sister L, he continued, wanted to visit her young boyfriend (see Parenting challenge–Independence vs. safety) who is currently serving a five-year stint in the bote (jail) near Valle de Santiago on Sunday for a visit. She asked if my husband would drive her there in the truck. She had a group of 9 ladies or so that also wanted to go to visit their significant others and they would pay $100 pesos each for the ride. My husband pressed me to agree by saying we could drop them off at the jail, then go to the tianguis (flea market) in Valle and spend the day leisurely enjoying the shopping and refreshments with the profits of the trip.

I reminded him that every single one of his sister’s plans has caused problems for us. Her last move gave my husband a hernia, her involvement in some of our money making schemes has cost us money and so on. As recent as a week previously, she and the strapping Cornhusker-grown wife of M were brawling in the streets while my husband was trying to close a deal on the burra (donkey)  and he pretended he didn’t know either of them. How could any idea of hers be a good idea?

What if she was planning on breaking her man out of jail? I could just picture them, 9 cholos climbing out of the wrenched jailhouse bars that had been tied to the hitch of the truck, holding their pants in one hand and hopping in the back of the get-away vehicle (driven by my husband) with police and their Uzis firing after us.

As it appeared I wasn’t going to agree, my husband played his trump card. Well, if that did happen, he said, it would be something interesting for me to write about in my blog. OK. I’m in.

This was one time that the reality didn’t live up to my imagination. We got up at the unearthly hour of 4 a.m. Sunday morning so that we could take care of the animals before we left. We began the pickup round for inmate wives and families at 5 a.m.

I have privileged status, being the wife of the driver, so I sat in the front seat. My son, however, was ousted to the back of the truck so that a wife and baby could be in the front. I also was given a baby, a little tike about 3 months old, to hold. Although the driver is required to wear a seatbelt, no one else in the vehicle is subject to that law. Therefore, we held the babies in our laps. Fortunately, neither baby was fussy, so it wasn’t as difficult as it might have been.

jail

The State Penitentiary outside Valle de Santiago

We arrived at the Ceresa (State Penitentiary) about 7 a.m. The ladies hurried to the gate, leaving their children behind in my care, to get their ficha (number). They came back 20 minutes later or so, happy. All of them had scored numbers between 30 and 40, so they would be towards the head of the line. Then they scattered again to hunt down pan (bread) sold by local vendors. They came back with 2 to 3 bags each. These sweetbreads were to leave with their incarcerated significant other for breakfast for the week. There seems to be a concern that the inmates aren’t fed, but I think that’s just not true. I’ve seen some recently released men and they are in no way starving–in fact they were some of the fattest men I came across in Mexico. But then again, maybe their wives and mothers are very conscientious about their weekly visit.

After the bread rush, the ladies rushed to the gate for a second time to claim their credenciales (visitor’s passes). Each lady has her own laminated card, complete with her name and picture, the name of the inmate she is visiting, and the relationship to the inmate. My husband’s sister is not married to her young cholo, so I asked to see her card. She is listed as being G’s concubina (concubine). I had no idea that being a concubine was a legal status here in México. Well, I expect that makes it easier for her to request conjugal rights.

So by then the sun had come up, so the ladies began to primp and preen as any girl might before a hot date. Gel and blush, combing hair and brushing teeth, even a quick change of shirt, something more feminine. I shamelessly eavesdropped while they worked on themselves and each other.

So I learned about the trip last week to see the hombres encuarados (nearly naked men) and some mean gossip about two other ladies that didn’t travel with us. I was especially interested in what their men had done to be in the carcel (jail) in the first place, but I didn’t know them well enough to ask. However, my husband’s sister was free with her own gossip. The one girl with the 2 kids that sat next to me was the daughter-in-law of the lady who gave us donuts. They were here to visit a man who was in for 7 years for beating another man to death with a stone in La Yacata. (Hmm, must have been before we moved there.) The mother of the baby I held during the trip was there to visit her man who had been arrested for selling drugs, like G. The older lady was there to visit her husband who was in year 7 of a 12-year sentence, but my husband’s sister didn’t know for what. And the last lady was there to visit her husband who was in for 30 years for kidnapping an elderly man and holding him for ransom.

Enough gossip, it was time to line up. They left their jackets, cell phones and purses in my care. My husband helped them carry their babies and bags of food to the line. They were called in by groups of 10. We waited until we were pretty certain they had all been admitted and then went to look for breakfast.

Even by rural standards, there was nothing nearby that even resembled a store or restaurant. We stopped at a place that had a few tables set up in the yard desperate to eat. The only thing on the menu was carnitas (fried pork) which is not what I really wanted for breakfast, but the pico de gallo and salsa were very good.

Breakfast of champions in Puebla Nueva

Breakfast of champions in Puebla Nueva

So then we went in search of a gas station. We didn’t have to wait in line and they had free and clean bathrooms.

Waiting in line at the gas station in Villa Nueva

Waiting in line at the gas station in Villa Nueva

We couldn’t afford to drive around and waste gas, so we went back to jail and parked under a mesquite tree outside the compound to wait for our passengers. With the heat and the owls hooting in the palm trees, I soon fell asleep.

Patience is a virtue that we have learned to perfect in México. My husband has taken up smoking to help him to wile away these long waiting periods and keep him calm. My son has learned to bring his rechargeable games (DS or PSP) when we expect something like this to happen. I bring my notebook to record everything for posterity. So went the afternoon. No shopping, no escaping cholos, nothing but the heat and an occasional passing vehicle.

traffic

My siesta was disturbed by the passing traffic.

So at 3 p.m. we entered the prison compound again. My husband went to wait by the door when he saw ladies beginning to trickle out. I was approached by some other lady, not one that had traveled with us who said that she was the friend of Mari (I still don’t know which one was Mari) and that she was going to leave these 2 benches with us to take back to Moroleón. I said, sure. Then she went back for 2 more. About 30 minutes later, our passenger ladies came out loaded with things. My husband moved the truck closer to the door. The ladies were peeved that there were already furniture items in the back because that meant less room for their own things.

front door

Front door at the Ceresa

They had large wooden framed paintings of the Virgen of Guadalupe, several more benches, a large TV stand, a child’s desk, two children’s hat stands and some little end tables. My husband’s sister had a centerpiece sized paper swan that she was all paranoid about having damage. (I guess her man isn’t as talented as some and that was the best he could come up with.) After a bit of maneuvering of babies, women and furniture bits, we were finally loaded and left the compound at 5 p.m.

The significant other ladies all sported nice collections of hickeys that they did not have in the morning. I suppose it makes sense that since their men can’t be there to make sure the ladies aren’t stepping out during the week, that they mark their territories with hickeys during visiting hours.

One under way, I asked that lady in the front about the furniture. It seems there is quite a prison industry going on. The inmates that wish to work are given materials and a weekly wage (about $700 pesos per week) and make these items. Their wives and mothers then come and pick up the items and sell them in their hometowns. The inmates also make shoes that can be ordered through by catalog.

I was amazed. $700 pesos a week! I expect that the families of many of these inmate workers are earning more now that their men are behind bars than they were before. Work is scarce in this area. Crime does pay after all.

So we made it back to Moroleón before it began to rain, made the drop offs and arrived home about 7 p.m. After we fed and watered the animals, I asked my husband how much money he had made with this venture. He ruefully admitted that he only had $300 pesos free and clear, after gas and tolls. It hadn’t been a good money-making plan after all but it did make a good story.

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