Posts Tagged ‘paradise’

A Different Kind of Stress: Living the American Dream in a foreign country is not a walk in the park –it is more like an adventure on Mars!

marzo 4, 2010

It is my second visit to this office in eight days. Today, as the last time, there are not many people waiting. I say good morning as I enter and the words bounce against the faded institutional posters that decorate the walls, one listing the documents one needs to present to contract service, another reminding customers of their rights and a third one depicting the achievements of the company, always working to improve service to the customer, in the last several years.

When my turn arrives, I approach one of the two ladies sitting behind twin desks, each with her eyes set on the computer screen in front of her. I say hello before I sit down, finally catching her attention. Noticing she is not the same person that took care of me the last time, I explain the purpose of my visit. I need to request additional service, but the last time I was here it was explained to me that, for that, I need to fill out a form, which was not available at the time, so I was invited to come back in a week or so.

She does not know if the forms are available now, but I can check myself, with the person that handles that area. I find that person sitting behind another desk in an office with a closed unmarked door. She hands me the form and a list of the paperwork I need to submit before they can consider my request. Copies, not originals, of passport, proof of address, property taxes receipt and the deed, along with a croquis (a rough sketch of a map) to our house and a list of the appliances we have. I can bring back the paperwork anytime, Monday through Friday, between seven and ten AM.

Two days later I return with all my paperwork in hand. The service I am applying for is two new electric meters and the company I am dealing with is Mexico’s one and only electric company. The person that handles the requests for new and additional service receives my paperwork. Once checked and stamped with the date, she hands me a copy of the request form and tells me to come back in a month.

A month? She explains to me that presently they are out of meters and that a month is the timeline for the main office to review and respond to this kind of request. “Will I be contacted if you receive the response any quicker than a month?” I ask, knowing in advance what the answer will be: “No, that’s the timeline.”

To most of our friends we lead a life of leisure, with no stress and no worries. My husband and I did what every other man or woman dream of, the true realization of the American Dream: we sold everything we owned in the States and moved to Cozumel, Mexico.

My life is a vacation, I often joke. I no longer live for Fridays, my lunch brake can run into dinner and the only permanent things on my agenda are yoga practice, belly dance classes and writing. I take care of our home and garden, let my creativity run amok in our spacious airy kitchen and spend endless hours at the grocery store, where one can run into dozens of acquaintances in one single trip. A self-proclaimed domestic diva, I do not miss the stress of my former life at all, but that does not mean we lead stress-less lives. It is just a different kind of stress.

Far from retired, we own and run a business down here and that is no walk in the park, it is more like an adventure on Mars! If that is the paperwork and the time of response to get two new meters, imagine what it entails to open bank accounts, import products, file taxes and apply for and renew licenses. This is a place where if the bank teller cashing a check decides that the signature on it does not match what they have in file, he or she can and will turn it down; a place where I can not file the request to set up banking online because the main name on our personal account is my husband’s, even though my name is on the account and the bank customer service representative that helped us open it is the same person that would help us through the set up.

But things have improved. It used to be that going to the bank, paying your phone bill and paying your electric bill had to be done on separate days because it took that long to stand in line. Nowadays, there are more banks and both the phone and the electric companies have twenty-four hour service machines where you can pay your bills.

Grocery shopping used to take another day and planning a menu ahead of time was out of the question since one had to go supermarket-hopping to find the basics. With four big-chain-name supermarkets on the Island, we now have an array of choices and one can find almost anything from peanut butter to arugula and smoked salmon to low-sodium soy sauce.

Progress may be catching up with our little piece of paradise, but some transactions can still take over thirty days to be resolved. When I get home I put a note on my calendar, on a date a month from now. Between now and then I will continue riding my bicycle to run errands, juggling domestic diva-ness, business co-owner responsibilities and writing aspirations with long walks by the beach and periodic visits to the electric company to follow up on the status of our request –just in case!

Yes, it is a different kind of stress –the kind that strengthens your spirit.


SEEDS FOR THE SOUL: Driving in Paradise

febrero 20, 2010

There is no sacred space when it comes to the road.

As I approach the intersection, my hands claim autonomy; all ten fingers tighten around the steering wheel, jerking my body up and forward, eyes wide open. Ah, to be a dragonfly and be able to see all around me without having to turn my head!

I look from one side to the other several times, holding my breath, right foot firmly pressed on the brake pedal. It is the furious blare of a claxon that finally propels me to move on, but not before looking up and down the street one more time.

Years ago I exchanged my business suits, pumps and Honda Civic for shorts, flip flops and a bicycle. I live in paradise. But even in these 24.21 by 7.94 miles of heaven called Cozumel, it is necessary to drive a car every now and then. And when you do, no amount of defensive driving classes can prepare you for the experience.

There is no sacred space when it comes to the road. One shares it with tricycles, horse-drawn carriages, parked cars, street vendors, left-their-common-sense-at-home tourists, and mopeds carrying up to five passengers swirling around like flies in a garbage dump. Sometimes there is one of each, lined up side by side, all in one lane, waiting for the traffic light to change! If there is a rule, it is to be alert – and you can never be too careful.

If the experience of driving here is challenging, try to imagine what it is like to be involved in an accident. There was a moment in particular, or rather a series of moments that culminated with a crucial meeting in an intersection that will forever be rooted to my spirit.

One splendid morning, due to road repairs, I was forced to take a detour. Unfamiliar with the area, focused on finding my way around, I hit a lady on a moped, sending her to the hospital and me to the police headquarters. Thank God, her injuries were not serious, but my sorrow for having hurt her was and continues to be beyond measure.

The police headquarters in Cozumel is not a cozy place, as I imagine neither is any other police headquarters in the world. It is a place inhabited by egos inflated by the false power of authority. A moment in this environment can be devastating, but it can also feed the spirit.

With hundreds of minutes at my disposal without anything more to do but wait, I devoted myself to concentrating on my breathing, convincing myself with every inhalation that everything was going to be okay, and with every exhalation, obliterating all doubt. More than ten hours had passed when the possibility of spending the night there became almost certain. It was then that I thought “anywhere but here” – pleading with the universe to remove me from my immediate reality.

At the mere idea of having to spend the night there (in jail, if we are going to call things by their name) my mind became a growing monster of images fed by stories told by other people and the thousands of movies that paint horrific scenes of the jails of the world. My knees began to tremble like castanets and all I could think was how very unpredictable life is. Short of getting on my knees and begging for forgiveness, it took a lot of persuasion and goodwill to convince the Public Ministry legal representative in charge to put through the paperwork for my release that same night.

The whole ordeal lasted all of fourteen hours, but there, where I experienced so many anxious moments, I also found compassion from a few public servants. Among them, police women who radiated humanity in their smiles, an official who insisted on bringing me something to eat (scrumptious pork chop tacos that I ate without reserve in spite of the fact that I claimed not to be hungry) and a Public Ministry aide who turned off the air conditioning when she noticed that I was shivering – gestures that one may expect to find anywhere, but there.

There were moments that day that tested my level of tolerance; one of them, finding out that had I called my insurance agent sooner, I would not have had to go through the whole judicial process. But who can assure me that things would have been different had I lived somewhere else?

We all have experienced the desire to escape, to be in another place, under different circumstances… But to evade the moment is to evade the essence of life itself. Good experiences and not so good ones coexist in the same moment; it is a question of being alert to discern and to choose what helps us to remain calm.

Sometimes, one has a plan, but the universe has another. Accepting the plan of the universe can unveil great surprises. Driving in Paradise can be hell, but frankly, there is no other place I would rather be than here.